Dr. Dre’s Cure for Elbow Tendonitis

Back in the days when I was a teenager (before I had status and before I had a pager), there was an entirely different approach to my climbing. As is common with the youthful sect, patience, planning, and strategy were not arrows in my quiver. I wanted to be on top of the boulder and I did not give a hoot in hell about conserving energy, utilizing prime conditions, or injury prevention; I just went for it.

That was a long time ago. Dre put it best when he said “things just ain’t the same for gangstas, times is changin’, young (gentlemen) is aging, becoming old G’s in the game and changin’ to make way for these new names and faces…” Not sure if the Doctor was referring to climbing, but it’s all the same to me. My body is older and slower to recover. Climbing hurts more than it used to. Working has taken over a larger portion of my time and rising gas prices coupled with a growing sense of financial responsibility have made tri-weekly trips to Chaos Canyon and beyond things of the past. So it goes.

I strive to maintain a high standard in my climbing, and I understand that to remain at the level I am accustomed to adjustments to my training routines, climbing schedule, and overall strategy need to be made.

Problem: When I climb too much my elbows, fingers, and skin hurt, among other body parts.

Solution: I climb less now than at any point in my career. However, when I do climb it is focused on specific goals. By decreasing the volume of climbing while increasing the intensity I am able to get stronger while limiting exposure to overuse injuries. Five hour gym sessions are no more, in their place are two hour training blocks that work a particular facet of climbing, be it power, core strength, finger strength, endurance, technique, or general fitness.

Problem: I can’t spare the time to climb outside as much as I used to.

Solution: Make it count! I used to go to my project whenever I could, regardless of conditions or freshness. Now I am more selective, only attempting projects on days when the weather will cooperate and I feel well rested. You have to give yourself the highest probability of success that you can; good temps and fresh muscles help a good deal in that area.

Problem: It takes my body longer to repair itself after a rough day of climbing than it used to.

Solution: Again, make it count! Proper stretching, a protein drink and decent meal after climbing go a long way towards not feeling like death the next morning. More importantly, and this is especially hard for me, make fewer attempts on the project and rest longer in between burns. Once you have dialed in the movement, there is no reason to try a climb if you do not feel with a high degree of certainty that you can send. If I still feel a little pumped or my skin still stings a bit, I sit back down and wait until I feel completely ready. Take the time to clean any part of your shoe that will touch stone. Is there a tick mark on the hidden topout jug? Better take a minute and put one on there. While there is something to be said about the power of sheer will and determination, in my experience this has gotten me up a boulder far less often than proper rest and preparation. Leave nothing to chance…

None of this is to say I am old or anything. Far from it. However, with every passing year I am more aware of the aging process and how it effects physical performance, and with that awareness comes an ability to adapt and progress. I eagerly anticipate the next ten years of climbing to be better than the first.


Journey vs. Destination and Whatnot

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to summit Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. I have spent somewhere near 150 days bouldering in the Park and had never more than glimpsed the famed peak from the confines of the talus fields I enjoy so much. So under the cruel tutelage of my co-workers/besties, I hauled myself up the Cables and enjoyed a hot espresso at the summit. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday.

At any rate, the highlight of the day was watching a party attempting the Casual Route up the legendary Diamond. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind has lurked the notion of ascending that clean triangle of alpine granite, and seeing its pristine face close up rekindled that desire. I have done approximately zero multipitch alpine trad routes, so I have a lot to learn before attempting any route on the Diamond, but the goal is set.

While it was a good feeling to stand on top of Longs with a great group of close friends, what was most interesting was how much I would have preferred to take a more difficult route to the summit. Or, rather, the Diamond is so much cooler in my mind, probably because it is more difficult and definitely because it looks more badass.

That thought got my mind churning over my motivation for climbing and why I have dedicated my life to it for nine years. I enjoy the social aspect of climbing, bouldering in particular, and I definitely enjoy getting out into the quiet hills and seeing marmots and stuff but, ultimately, I am motivated by difficulty and the necessity of pushing myself to grasp at success on difficult lines. Which isn’t to say I want a big number attached to a climb, though that is always a bonus. Rather, I do not feel fulfilled unless there is some amount of suffering, pain, anger, failure, blind rage, and/or frustration involved in the overall process. To me it is not about being on top of a climb, it is about getting on top of a climb (that’s what she said?). If it was always easy what would be the point?

Judging by the amount of folks on Longs in shorts and sandals and the wide array of body types visible under those shorts and sandals, it is safe to say nearly anyone is capable of hiking to the top. The route we took was not difficult, nor was it easy; frigid, soaking wet alpine 5.4 is absolutely no joke. But I didn’t have to learn anything, didn’t have to make any adjustments to my technique or approach, didn’t have to go to that primitive place in my psyche where the body takes over and the mind is only an observer. Those are the moments that keep me motivated, keep me working towards the overall goal which is…I dunno, to get to the top, or something.

Longs story short (ha), next summer I am going to try the Casual Route. Someone is going to have to teach me about building belays and placing cams and hauling haul bags and things of that sort, and I’m going to have to confront the abject terror I feel towards non-bouldering methods of climbing, but that is the point. Even if I have to rappel (fortunately I do know how to do this…) off the first pitch and never make the summit, the whole process is one that will challenge me and put me outside my comfort zone and, hopefully, progress my overall climbing ability.

Unrelated note: someone please teach me how to trad climb…

Me and Steep: My Time at the Candyshop

It is my opinion that the best way to train for hard climbing is to climb on the steepest angles you can find. Nothing boosts your power and develops your core like pulling long moves on a vicious overhang.

Where can I find such an overhang, you might ask. Well, on the second floor of RJ1 of course! Constructed during the boulder remodel of 2009, the Candyshop (so named for the wide assortment of brightly colored holds that adorn the wall) is a great training tool for building power, finger strength, core strength, and the mythical power endurance so many Rifle climbers speak of.

How do I use the Candyshop, you might ask. Well, it’s pretty easy. The wall is plastered with holds, which you are free to use at your discretion. All climbs start on one of the three blue start jugs, and each color and type of hold is its own climb (such as the yellow Teknik finger buckets or black e-Grips mini-jugs) that you can do either with open feet on the yellow jibs or tracking only. The tan e-Grips mega-jugs is the easiest at V2, followed by the aforementioned black e-Grips mini-jugs at V3. Blue Teknik finger buckets is probably V6 and the green e-Grips comfy crimps is solid at V9. Make up problems on your own or try to send a pre-set testpiece (yellow Teknik crimps is the hardest on the wall and remains undone…)! At first it might be annoying that the padding is so close to the wall, taking away the rockstar dynos and foot-flying heroics, but keeping your feet on the wall will increase your core tension and body awareness exponentially. And bring a friend! Epic games of add-on are best enjoyed in the quiet comforts of the Candyshop.

When I’m in training mode (much different than project mode and definitely not the same as project takedown mode…more on those in a later post…) I aim for climbing on the Candyshop for two hours at a time two or three times a week. Generally, I warm up downstairs on easy boulder problems for half an hour or so before heading upstairs to get serious. Once at the Candyshop I run through my warm-up circuit, which consists of eight boulder problems that increase in difficulty by about a grade each. When the warm up circuit is done and I’m primed to pull hard, I will try a project for about an hour. Usually I keep three projects lined up that I’m able to do moves on but are near my limit. After an hour of trying projects (occasionally sending them) I’m feeling gassed so I’ll spend half an hour or so making up problems that I can do in a try or two, focusing on specific moves or techniques that I know I need to practice (for me: toe hooks, heel hooks, and pinches). Next I run through my warm up circuit again, this time in reverse order, to cool down. After some stretching and a chocolate milk, I’m out the door, feeling tired but accomplished.

As always, individual results may vary…

hard or easy for the grade?

what makes a route hard or easy for its specified grade? how can one route rated 5.10d (just as an example) be so much easier or harder than another route also rated 5.10d?

unfortunately, the answer is not simple.  many factors contribute to a route’s difficulty, and many of these factors can combine in odd and unique ways.  let’s list some of these factors:

  1. hold size: obviously, the smaller the hold, whether for hand or foot, the harder it will be to use.
  2. hold type: jugs, crimps, slopers, pinches
  3. hold orientation: in order of easiest to use…straight down pull, side pull, undercling, gaston (reverse side pull).
  4. wall angle: this one is subjective.  the angle can range from slab (less than vertical), to vertical, to overhanging, and depending on your specific physical strengths and weaknesses, any of these could be harder than the other.
  5. distance between holds: the farther apart they are, typically the harder the move.

once you start looking at combinations of these factors, things get complicated.  so when evaluating the grade of a route, it is extremely important to think about and consider all of these factors, especially as they relate to what your own strengths and weaknesses are.  i will use myself as an example.

i am not a very good ‘technical’ climber.  when things get less vertical and the holds get small, i tend to climb quite poorly.  i started climbing at the red river gorge, in southeastern kentucky.  for those of you that have climbed there, ‘technical’ is not really the name of the game.  techniques such as ‘grip it and rip it’ or ‘yank and yard’ are much more suitable.  so when more than that is required, things get difficult for me.  but i know this about myself.

so, in rifle, where the lines are steep and powerful, i have redpointed 5.13c.  in shelf, however, where the lines are vertical or slabby, and the holds are thin, requiring delicate balance and movement, i have only redpointed 5.12b.  quite a disparity! but i adjust my expectations accordingly.  in rifle, if i don’t on-sight or flash 5.12a, i’m upset.  but when in shelf, i shift my expectations, and am happy just to do 5.12a.  and believe me, it doesn’t happen often! to be such a talented climber as to be good at all styles, i believe, is a bit of a rare thing, especially as the climbing gets more difficult and the grades increase.

“how does this relate to what happens at the gym,” you might ask.  well first and foremost, it is important to remember that grades are very subjective.  there are so many climbers of differing sizes and strengths.  if the routes in the gym were to stay up for a really long time, we would eventually get a true consensus on what the grade actually is.  much like long-standing routes outside, that have become ‘benchmark’ routes of their respective grades.  but, we don’t have that luxury inside.  you, our customers, would get bored with the routes and all the holds would be really greasy.  plus, we (the routesetters) would be out of jobs!

the second thing to take away from this is that with many different setters, we have many different setting styles.  sometimes there are very straight-forward climbs, and sometimes there are more technical and devious climbs.  sometimes you’re making big moves on big holds, other times you might have to trust bad foot smears with small hand holds.  one setter’s style might be typically hard for you, while another setter’s style might just suit you to a ‘t’.  different strokes for different folks.

the third thing to take away from this is that if a route isn’t ‘straight-forward,’ perhaps it can teach you something.  i think this point is extremely important.  this is up for debate, but i believe that by the time you hit 5.12c, perhaps 5.12d, you have seen all the different types of moves you will encounter while climbing.  as the grades get harder, you will see more difficult combinations of these moves, and the holds will most likely get smaller and/or farther apart.  to me, this means that even if you have redpointed up to 5.12a or 5.12b, you can probably still learn a thing or two (or more).

with that in mind, some routes that we set might have movement that is either completely foreign to you or seems to be really difficult for your typical style of climbing.  it doesn’t necessarily mean that the route is harder than the suggested grade.  it could be perfectly reasonable movement for the grade, and this could be an opportunity for you to get introduced to it.  these situations can prove that grading something at or above ones limit is really difficult.  realize that as you get more acquainted with a certain grade (read: climb that grade A LOT), you can more accurately assess the grades around it.  this, of course, takes time.  and if you think about it in simple terms, who is more ‘qualified’ to comment on something graded 5.10d: someone who has climbed over 100 5.10d’s in different areas and gyms *or* someone who has climbed 5 5.10d’s at one area or gym.

so before you mark a certain grade on the customer rating sheets, think about all of the factors touched on above.  doing so can help the grades in the gym be a little bit more consistent.  of course, we (as setters) aren’t perfect.  but we don’t miss and/or sandbag our grades ALL the time…

The Process

At this year’s Hueco Rock Rodeo, I saw a slide show presented by the prolifically esoteric Dave Graham. One of his primary topics was the method he follows when working a hard boulder problem. The Process, he called it. In short, it goes something like this: clean all the holds with a brush, place tick marks on critical or hard to see grips, imagine the sequence you are going to use, try very hard to flash the problem. If you don’t flash it, try to send it second try. If you do not send it second try, work out all the moves individually, do the top out, then try from the bottom.

He emphasized two points, which I found the most interesting.

1) Each time you pull on, know what sequence you are going to try and do not deviate from it. Hesitation wastes time and energy. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be perceptive to new beta, but each time you try to send you should know what you are going to do so that the only thing you have to think about is execution.

2) Learn the top-out; do not fall there. Nothing wastes energy like falling off the end of a climb. I know from years of personal experience that this is true.

My lack of patience is a detriment to my climbing. Too often, I get excited about a possible ascent and ignore things like memorizing the top-out or resting an appropriate amount of time between efforts. I really want to be on top of the boulder, and it is difficult for me to take it slow and make sure everything is in check before I go for it. This tendency of mine leads to lots of failure on non-crux moves or blown top-outs, what many refer to as punting. Punting leads to anger, and anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the dark side.

The solution to this problem is following The Process. Every time, on every boulder, follow The Process. Even in the gym, it is possible to prepare yourself mentally in the same way you would for an outdoor climb. Obviously there are no top-outs to learn, but the rest is all the same. Know where every foot hold is, know what sequence you are going to use, know what draws you are going to clip. Repetition is how we train our bodies and brains, and I know that if I follow The Process every time I climb, it will become second nature to me, and hopefully I will spend less time punting and more time sending. That would be nice.

Leading – The Holy Grail of Indoor Climbing

Passing your first lead test at your home gym is a milestone that many climbers don’t forget.  My first lead test was at the Boulder Rock Club with Chris Wall judging my performance.  To say I was daunted is an understatement, which is why giving shy new climbers their first lead test is one of my favorite things to do.  This is for anyone who is contemplating taking their lead test at one of our gyms in the near future.


1.  Why do I have to lead a 5.9?  We chose that grade for a couple of reasons.  Leading is obviously a harder way to climb since you have to know some pretty advanced climbing techniques, like how to let go with one hand, keep your balance and fumble with a rope at the same time without falling.  We feel that a climber that can flash a 5.9 should have the climbing skills needed to safely lead in our gym.  Another reason is simply the layout of the leadable walls in our gym.  Most of our draws are pretty steep terrain, meaning that setting anything easier than a 5.9 is difficult.  At the time of writing this, we have 2 leadable 5.8’s in the gym.  If you have to struggle up a 5.8, you will have slim pickens for what you can even lead in the gym.

2.  Why is the lead test where it is?  We chose the lead test locations for a couple of reasons too.  First, we want to see that you are comfortable flashing a 5.9 on lead at the gym.  To do this, we moved the test route to a wall that is lead only so that the climber won’t have as much of a chance to wire out the route.  Second, once we changed our lead test rules to include taking a lead fall, we decided that we are not going to ask our customers to do anything that we ourselves wouldn’t do.  That being said, you will never see me take a lead fall on a vertical wall, which is why the lead test is on a steep part of the wall.

3,  What would I have to do to fail?  Back clipping, z-clipping, sloppy clipping, unbalanced clipping stance, getting your foot behind the rope especially when you’re above your last clip.

Following is a good example of how to fail your lead test.  Watch as Tyler back clips the first draw and z-clips the third,

Here is a perfect example of how to flawlessly pass your lead test.  Kathryn not only climbs with confidence, but she chooses a smart clip line, chooses a balanced stance for each clip and clips in what I like to think of as a climber’s strike zone – not too far over your head so that you are pulling a lot of slack which could lead to a dangerous fall if you blow the clip and not too far below your hips which would also create a longer fall than you might want.

An inability to clip the draws quickly is usually the accomplice in failing the lead test.  Fumbling around trying to clip will not only make you more physically tired, but it will ruin your mental focus.  A great way to practice your clipping is to hop on the auto belay on a leadable wall with a lead rope tied to your harness and mock lead routes.  Another way to help you pass your lead test is to take our Learn to Lead class offered monthly at both gyms.  It is a two day/three hour class that goes over both leading and lead belaying.  The cost is $75 ($60 for members) and preregistration is required, check our calendar for the class schedule.

Fast Track to Fitness

Every Tuesday and Thursday night at RJ1, you may hear noises coming from the third floor ranging from ground shaking crashes to an occasional “Aaaaarp!” or the treadmill on full blast.  Those aren’t sounds of us torturing poor souls who forget their RJ ID cards.  It’s the sounds of normal people like you getting stronger.

The workout goes like this – two sets of four exercises performed for 30 seconds for four rounds with a nice rest between sets.  The exercises for one of the nights last week was:

1st Round – jump rope, lawn mowers, weight snatch and jack knife sit ups.

2nd Round – sprint on the treadmill, jump lunges with weight, turkish get ups and one arm planks.

Please enjoy the following videos of Chrispy leading Kylie, James and Kai in a few exercises.

Round 1

Round 2

As you can see, the exercises are obviously challenging.  But if you have a physical limitation or you are simply not strong enough to do any given station, Chrispy will modify the station for you and help you develop your strength, coordination and stamina at your own pace.

We run two circuit training sessions twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays at RJ1 with Chrispy and two sessions once a week at RJ2 with Dan on Wednesdays.  The times are at 6:30 & 7:00pm, four people maximum in each group and it’s only $5 plus entry.  Get on board and get in shape so that your next New Year’s Resolution can be ‘flash 5.12’ or ‘eat more ice cream’.