Climbing Style – Effects of Traveling and Road Trips

29 11 2007

Climbing well is more complex than just being strong and pulling down hard. Climbing is about being in touch with your body and understanding the style of movement required for a particular ascent. As climbers we travel for many reasons beyond the simple pursuit of cranking in new places. I enjoy the different scenery, rock texture and challenges provided by new areas. As well I am excited to climb local classics and learn a new style of movement. Traveling can allow a climber to increase their repertoire of moves as well as their fitness.

All over the world there are destination climbing areas and each has a bit of specialized style that allows a climber to excel in that area. Some skills are more easily translated between areas but others must be learned. Many people try to split climbing into three simple categories of bouldering, trad and sport each having a different style of movement. I think there are more subtle attributes to climbing than these divisions. The way a climber moves on routes at the red river gorge is very different than how they would at maple canyon, even though both are sport climbing areas. It comes down to the fact that steep cobbles provide an alternate challenge to pockets and sloping rails. Each of these styles requires different strengths and will teach climbers a specific skill.

While most areas provide a variety of hold types there are some where locals have clear advantage. Areas such as Horsepens have a very distinct style and can be very tricky for the traveling climber. Slopers the size and grain of horsepens are rare and require subtle movement and squeezing that has to be learned in order to send the local test pieces. Being able to spend many days figuring out the intricate of southern slopers will allow a climber to push themselves harder.

I have never been a true local at any climbing area. I have been a weekend warrior and sent all of my hardest climbs on road trips. Near the end of a stay at a climbing area I would have tailored my skills to fit the demands of the given rock type. Learning how to pull on the holds or how to keep the pump at bay would allow me to take the next step. Beyond just adapting to the style of the rock an extended trip would allow my body to flow better over rock. Constantly climbing for even a few days can give a climber a better awareness of how to pull and move their body.

The problem is that mentally it can be hard to climb at your limit if you keep mixing up the style you climb in. Bouldering one weekend on granite the next on sandstone and then sport climbing on limestone can put a person out of touch with how to move. A climber needs to balance variety so that they can still benefit from different challenges. It can be really annoying to switch rock types when you have finally dialed your footwork in one style. I think the key is to take something from each experience and try to apply it to the next; sometimes it will work even though other times it will be a step backwards.

When I started leading I was a sport climber and to this day I probably still am. I started trad leading a year or so later and it made convinced me that the Yosemite Decimal System could not relate bolted climbs to those where you had to place cams and nuts. There was no way I should get spanked so badly by a 5.9 crack when I could clip up 5.11.

Trad climbing came to me slowly and I started going through the grades. As I placed more gear and cam sizes became obvious I realized that it wasn’t trad climbing it self that could be more difficult but rather the type of routes that one would place gear on. Certain rock types and climbing areas lend them selves to particular types of routes. It wasn’t the gear placement that made the trad climb harder as much as the expectations of the route and the style of movement.

This past weekend, climbing out in Red Rocks, I found my self in a new situation. The end of the day yielded an onsight of both an 11a crack and an 11a face route but which had been more difficult? In recent times I have been trying to remove doubt I have had about falling while trad climbing. While I have not taken more than an eight foot fall on a cam I have been able to push my self to trust the gear more than when I first started. While I had to place gear on the crack I did this weekend I found the climb slightly easier than the face route. The jamming was slightly insecure but the line and sequence was more obvious and faster to decipher. For once it seemed that with the right mindset I could keep pushing into the next level for trad climbing.

With trad climbing and sport climbing, granite and sandstone, it is important to keep an open mind and keep learning. Don’t take bolts for granted and don’t forget how to place cams. Take each jamming experience and relate it to your latest crimpy test piece. While I believe that it may be beneficial to specialize in a style of climbing there is much more to gain from being an all around climber. It allows one to travel all over the world and climb classic routes without having to worry about bolts or hold types. Whatever way you take it go on a road trip and test your self in a new area!

– Luke

Hesitation and Commitment

20 11 2007

‘I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.’

– Bene Gesserit “Litany Against Fear” from Dune by Frank Herbert

A climber’s mental attitude has everything to do with how he or she is going to perform on a climb. While hesitation and commitment can be lumped in with motivation I want to explore these mental elements as they effect the moment. The thoughts that are rushing through your head as you climb above your last piece or try to top out a boulder problem are very insightful. How can a climber improve their mental game so that the negative self talk can be reduced or eliminated?

When climbing a route or problem I think that climbers exert varied amounts effort throughout the duration. While the amount of physical exertion may be easy to gage the amount of mental effort can be harder to comprehend. Some times on a climb it can be very important to keep the right mindset even when the difficulty eases. A climb may be runout, have serious fall potential or a bad landing where hesitation could cause an unsafe fall. Keeping focus all the way to the top will help to insure success.

Comprehension about the gravity of a situation can have large consequences on the ability for a person to perform the needed actions. Many times a climber can deal with runouts and dangerous situations because they are not fully aware of the potential consequences. A climber can be unnerved when their belayer warns of ground fall danger or other possible problems that the climber thought they had under control. This mental insecurity can easily translate into a bigger problem if the climber starts over gripping or making bad decisions.

There are different mindsets that I think can be very helpful when climbing in order to be more successful. Pressure to send a route can be problematic when it causes a climber to be tentative or worrisome. Being able to be in the moment and distance ones self from expectation and pressure can be quite helpful. Many climbers do not recall the details from hard sends because they were fully engaged in the moment.

Being in the zone does not solve everything; being able to have control over your emotions can be as powerful if not more so than the zone. A problem with climbing in the zone can come when you snap out of it when the climbing becomes more difficult than expected and you are not properly prepared. Willingness to commit to difficult movement can be necessary and mental toughness is necessary. A mind set that allows commitment without taking difficulty for granted is very powerful.

Expectations of a route can have varied effects on a climber. Some climbers are easily intimidated by cruxy routes while others fail to maintain mental energy through sustained climbs. Knowing where a crux is on a route should give the climber an advantage because it allows them to mentally prepare for the complex or difficult sequence. A climber can make sure that they are rested and willing to give 100% to the next section of rock. We as climbers must strive to conquer our fears and hesitation and give a genuine effort.

As the act of climbing becomes more challenging I find my self more engaged in the movement. Clipping bolts and placing gear become integrated into the climbing motion and I am not overly worried about fall potential. Many times when I fail to assume the right mind set or am worried about falling I will dwell on the gear or bolts. The action of clipping a bolt does not help a climber recover lost energy but it often helps bolster a climber’s confidence. Many times I will feel much better after placing a cam even though the difficult of the climbing has not eased.

Looking at how climbing changes our mental state will ultimate lead to both a better understanding of ourselves and a break through in our climbing. Climbing highballs out at bishop this past weekend really made me think about how mental climbing really is. I would be perfectly able to do all of the moves on a climb but my body would not allow me to continue when I would climb far off the ground. Conquering this fear would open a new realm of climbing and it will be interesting to see how I can deal with fear in the future.

– Luke

Levitation 29 part 2 – Dealing With Fear.

7 11 2007

Climbing routes recently has been a mental push for me. I don’t know if it has to do with a low level of motivation or just being disconnected from the zone. I have been feeling a larger than normal amount of uncertainty with my climbing. Perhaps it has been all of the sport climbing and the disconnect from the do not fall mentality. Maybe climbing at my limit more often has given me more doubt. I don’t exactly know the cause but I hope to fight through it and figure out how to climb more confidently.

Doubting my ability comes into play when I climb because I am in the middle of a burn and I struggle to keep climbing, since I don’t feel I can do it. It has been a bit frustrating to have all of this doubt when there is no obvious cause. There seem to be a few different mind sets that I encounter when I am climbing. They range from a relaxing send, free from doubt, to a fearful onsight where I struggle to commit to every move. I think what is happening to me is that I am hesitating and unable to commit because I am afraid of failure. I am tied to the success related to sending the route and unable to fully commit my self because of fear.

My hardest trad onsight to date came on a tricky finger crack in Squamish called Crime of the Century. It was much harder than anything I had tried to onsight before. The lack of precedence allowed me to give everything. Even though it was very difficult I was less worried about failing to onsight the climb. This disconnect from having to send allowed me to be less hesitant and through a lot of grunting and hard work I got to the top.

This all relates to Levitation 29 because it is a route that has been in my mind for over a year now. The goal was to onsight the route and when the time came to go out and try the route this weekend there was a lot of intimidation. I was afraid that I would not be strong enough; I would be too tired after the long approach or that I would just fall/fail.

I had recently been training on longer sport routes but nothing would compare to a nine pitch route. Almost half of the pitches were 11a or harder and I would be leading all the hard pitches. While the crux fifth pitch would stand out as the technical crux of the route I would have to make sure to keep it together to the top.

The first hard pitch was the 2nd which I linked to the first. The climbing was fun and complex to a difficult crux. It seems height dependant as there are good holds but they were too far away for me to reach. This lead to some easier pitches which I followed and then the 5th pitch. The plan had been to skip bolts and link this to the next pitch for 150 feet of fun. As I started climbing up the climbing was harder than expected and I knew I would have to climb the pitches separately.

The crux of the 5th pitch started from a good 2 foot long hand jam sized pod. It moved from there up a few moves of laybacking into a fist pod with some bad face holds inside and a decent left hand crimp. You had good feet for the clip but had to move up to smears for the next move. This move, my crux, was a reach from either a bad fist jam(for my hands) or from the small but positive left crimp. I watched my right fist sliding out of the jam as I stabbed for the next finger lock. I got it and moved up to the next clip but I was physically and mentally fried.

I had spent so much time trying to find a better sequence through the crux that I was now really tired. The pitch did not ease up for many more clips so I really had to fight for the onsight. I wanted to send this route so bad and I knew that I could do it. A quote from Steph Davis’s Blog was in the back of my mind as I kept refusing to let go.

“I’ve done all my groundwork. I am totally capable of doing this, and I know it for a fact, because I trained, practiced, meditated, and I am absolutely prepared to pull this off.”

I still climbed slowly and hesitantly through the pitch but I managed to make it to the anchors without falling. The next pitches were less difficult but I was still quite tired. I wonder if climbing the crux pitch faster would have been successful and saved me energy. I am still trying to figure out the best strategy for climbing onsight. I have to learn to work through my trust issues and climb with more certainty.

This climb was an amazing experience and I would be excited to go back and do it again. It pushed me both physically and mentally and I am still reflecting on the experience and learning lessons.

– Luke


7 11 2007

Just wanted to post up a couple exciting Equinox-related links.
Current thread on SuperTopo about the Equinox FA
I love this part:

“Largo first showed me that crack. He said” Ho man, you gotta see this thing”. We thought he was nuts but Richard Harrison knew about it too. He gave me the look and said ” yep” and off we went.

Long also brought this young girl with us out there. She just started climbing and could only do 5.10c on a toprope. Anyway when we finally got there my jaw dropped.

We set up a top rope and Harrison asked the girl if she thought she could do this thing. She said, “Oh yeah, no problem”. She went first and started laybacking the initial fingercrack section and actually made past the first crux! Our eyes popped out. She actually laybacked the slightly offset finger crack start. Her name was Lynn.

Anyway, I remember we all tried it and I top roped it that day”


Also, check out this video of Kevin Jorgeson sending it… his first week of trad climbing… (how ridiculous):

Levitation 29

5 11 2007

So we just got back from Las Vegas and the ever-impressive Red Rocks. Overall it was a really successful weekend.

On Friday morning we drove out to Vegas and after picking up the 2 new guidebooks (both of which are excellent and highly recommended!) and procuring a campsite (which was good because the campground was full when we got back that night) we headed out to Black Velvet Canyon. We’ve done a couple routes out here before – Prince of Darkness (5.10c, 6 pitches, lots of bolts) and Epinephrine (5.9, 13 pitches, lots of chimneys, we topped out after dark and nearly epic-ed the descent with tricky cairn-finding in the dark). So the approach was no big surprise. We finally got to climb Dream of Wild Turkeys (5.10a, 7 pitches), which was super fun. I followed the last pitch in semi-dark and we rapped and got back to the car safely, where we had some yummy breakfast burritos for dinner in the parking lot.

After passing out before 10pm on Friday night, we awoke early on Saturday morning to head out to Levitation 29. We left the Oak Creek Canyon parking lot at about 6:45am after lots of repacking of bags, breakfast, and the several miles of loop road preceding the parking lot. I’ve climbed Johnny Vegas, Solar Slab, and Black Orpheus before, so the first bit of the approach was already familiar to me. We made really good time hiking up the wash to the Black Orpheus approach, although we still had tons of wash to hike up. We had hoped to take a shortcut (approximately following the Black Orpheus descent I think), but due to a misunderstanding ended up hiking the standard (long) approach that goes up the wash to the really big pine trees. But it was ok because we were the first to the base of the route and actually had Eagle Wall entirely to ourselves save for two guys who climbed part of Eagle Dance.

Luke linked the first 2 pitches into one and I followed, unfortunately falling at the 5.11b roof crux. I lead the next two easier pitches (5.8, 5.10b) which were really fun, getting us to the base of the crux pitch, which Luke lead brilliantly 😀 I fell once at the crux of this pitch, struggling with a wide pod that I couldn’t even fist jam. The pitch was surprisingly sustained and I was really tired after following it. The next pitch was a little less steep, but still quite hard with many small crimps (which were very common on the route). This was followed by a weird, hard pitch with some rather crappy-quality white rock. I fell near the top of this pitch at some strenuous layback moves – my hands were cramping so badly I was losing motor control of my fingers – not able to keep holding on. Then there were just 2 more pitches, which Luke lead for me (and linked) to the top featuring some more sketchy rock. Hoping to use the remaining light to get back to the wash the faster way, we rapped immediately from the top of the 9th pitch (where we saw some climbers topping out Black Orpheus). We got to the ground with some light to spare, and started working our way down the wash. We ended up at some sketchy steep downslabbing in the dark, but found a rap station and rapped/bushwhacked our way back into the wash, making it back to the car by 8pm.

It was a great experience and a huge challenge for me and for us. The hiking took us about 2.5 hours each way, which added to the challenge of the route due to the shortness of the November days. The hard pitches of the route were a lot more challenging than I might have expected and I really struggled with keeping up my energy throughout the day. We left our sandwiches at the base to be lighter, so I ended up doing most of the climb on a package of shot blocks, a gu, and a clif bar, which considering the difficulty of the route was probably nowhere near enough food. We also only brought 2.5 liters of water, so I think both of us were also pretty dehydrated, which contributed to both of us getting cramps in our hands (which had never happened to me before). It’s made me think a lot about how we could have addressed this problem better – different food, more food, supplementing our water with some gatorade, or maybe even a potassium supplement to fight the cramps. These are really important things to consider and learn about because as we push ourselves more it’s only going to become more critical to be adequately hydrated and fed to be able to function and achieve at a higher level.

I do think all our efforts to improve our efficiency did help us out, though, because our belay transfers were in general fairly efficient and (due to the bolted belays) were able to keep the wasted or excessive gear to a minimum.

Hopefully this is just a starting point for us for climbing routes of this quality and caliber of difficulty. We were dreaming on the route back about future projects in Red Rocks, including Cloud Tower and the Original Route on the Rainbow Wall, both of which involve much harder cruxes and (in the case of the Rainbow Wall) long approaches.

I’m sure Luke will have more things to say about Levitation 29… what a day…