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

Injuries and Recovery

24 10 2007

This week has been pretty crazy down in San Diego with the out of control wild fires. What this mean in climbing terms is no time outside for cardio and no going to the gym. I usually bike to work and because of air quality issues I have been quite hesitant. I may try it out tomorrow since the wind has been calming down but we will see. The climbing gym has been closed the last two days and we will see if it is open tonight.

What this means for me is that I forcibly got a bunch of rest. While I don’t like to take so many days off from climbing I think it has been really good for my finger. I have had some minor tendon pain that occasionally was a bit intense. This has been an injury that is usually solved with tape. It gives me little pain while climbing and is tender afterwards. A bit of massage and stretching help a lot and this injury doesn’t really affect my climbing.

About a year and a half ago in March of 2005 I dislocated my right shoulder at a climbing comp. I was on some thuggy boulder problem and was doing the typical cut feet campus beta. I was not working on technique I was just trying to get it done. I hit the next hold with my left hand but in that instant I felt my right shoulder lift out of its socket. I jumped down and walked out of the cave with my right hand in the air. It felt weird but not very painful. I moved my arm around a bit and it popped right back into the socket, lucky me. I had what is considered a subluxation and I was pretty lucky.

This injury put me out of climbing for the next few months and really changed my attitude towards how I climbed. In the past I was a very dynamic climber and didn’t really consider movement very carefully. I had learned how to propel my body in the right directions and to pull really hard. As well my training was to get huge forearms and be strong, not at all considering that I would need muscular balance.

As Lynn notes it is important to pay attention to our bodies and make sure to develop them correctly. Personally I need to make sure that I get the proper amount of sleep and adequate days off between hard climbing days or workouts. After injuring my shoulder I had to make sure to pay lots of attention so that I did not re injure it. My doctor told me that if I could keep from dislocating it again for the next few years the likelihood of a complete recovery would be much better. I started physical therapy and after the sessions I would ice and massage my shoulder. It was amazing to see how weak my shoulders really were and how much I how little weight I could lift.

In addition to more cross training I am constantly trying to learn how to move better. I have been inspired by a lot of the blogs that Lynn Hill has written lately. This one on prevention really strikes true because I know campusing that boulder problem led to the dislocation of my shoulder. As well, as she notes, staying injury free is really key to continued improvement. How can a climb expect to climb more routes if they are nursing old injuries?

Having hurt my shoulder has led me to climbing in a new style. While some times I am more hesitant I am climbing stronger now than I was before my injury. I have to step away from certain routes and problems because of reachy or dangerous moves but I still have plenty of things to climb. In terms of climbing harder and more routes I am constantly looking to improve my technique. By climbing more I have been increasing my move vocabulary but I want to keep learning. This blog about visualization is pretty cool since I am not that much in touch with my body yet. I still am struggling with how to do some of the moves that I am already familiar with.

Hopefully in the future I can learn how to better listen to my body and how to use it while climbing. Currently I pre-visualize sequences, foot positions and which ways my hips point. Taking this a step further to examine forces and where my center of gravity is may allow me to climb routes while expending less energy and using smaller holds. It will be exciting to try these techniques out next time I am at the crag.

– Luke

Movement and Flow

24 09 2007

As I have been climbing more freqently I have really began to think about how we climb. I am an active reader of all things climbing and I love watching videos of the pros. It is quite fascinating to see how they move over the rock and how impossible looking routes get sent with ease.

My current infusion of climbing info has been coming from the multitude of blogs that I have found around the web. Instead of having to wait to see an ascent feature in Climbing or Rock and Ice I can read about it first hand. No longer does a DVD have to come out for there to be footage of the hardest sends. All of this information is much more easily accessible and I am loving it.

I have been reading Lynn Hill’s blog and she recently had a great entry about Flow . It coupled with recent climbing outings has made me really think about how we move over rock.

This past weekend I was out at New Jack City and got destroyed by one route by my style. Decent climbing fitness and strength allows me to power through routes when I should be thinking more about moving my body. I struggled on an initial boulder problem of a route many grades below my usual onsight limit. I got confused, pumped and I fell. The second time I got through this cruxy section but without much more technique. I made a sequence and grunted through it wasting much energy.

On comes my girlfriend who shows me a thing or two and sails through this beginning section. She used more feet and less power and had a much easier time with the route.

When I climb at the gym as many climbers do I think we forget that you don’t have to be square. Using feet out to the side and leaning and pulling with your body can be very effective. Strength can help with bigger moves and core tension but I forget to “train” technique.

I think that the biggest problem I face when confronted with irregular movement is how to properly assess the forces and apply the right pressures. I think what this all comes back to is move repertoire. Climbing more routes, especially with funky sequences can really help expand your mind. I think that believing in your movement and proper evaluation of your options can lead to climbing crux sequences more easily.