Reader Questions: Know When To Hold 'Em,...

I get immensely motivated when I know that climbers who are really putting thought into their approach to our sport are reading this blog.  I've recently had a few great comments that force me to articulate my ideas from other angles, which is exactly the sort of communication I was hoping for in starting The Power Company.

Gian, a reader who obviously takes a measured approach to climbing (one that could be an asset to many of us), had this great question for me, regarding my Recovery post:

"it is trivial that being able to "shake out on anything" can have a massive impact on onsight ability, but many people seem to get a total opposite twist on redpoints : climb as fast as your technique and mastery of the beta allows, skip dubious rest and "chalk ups", stop at obvious rests only.

the most successful advocate of this style is probably...adam ondra.

Siurana local Toni Arbones said he counted at least 10 moves between each chalk-up of the wonder kid.

Ondra himself said in some interview that if it's not a hands-off rest, he rarely shakest for more than 2 minutes.

Sean McColl reports in his blog that on his recent redpoint of PuntX, it took him 1:40 to climb the route to the victory jug (more or less 30 equally hard moves).

How do you comment? Where to put the balance between resting on anything and speeding through anything?"

12d onsite, after navigating between sprint and rest.  Sinks Canyon, WY.  Photo: Joe Kinder.

Let me start by saying that this post will most certainly leave several unanswered questions about pacing, and that I'll be posting more on that subject shortly.  This is simply part one.

Gian brings up a great debate about sprinting vs. resting.  In a very short answer, I'd say that they are two distinctly different techniques, and both have their specific application.  In my mind, it's the same as the power vs. endurance argument.  Which is more important, more valid?  The answer is that the two are equally important, and need to be accessible to the climber at the appropriate moment.

The technique needed to ascend a section of rock will differ with each pitch.  Maybe you'll need to call on your edging, crimping, and highstep techniques for one section.  On the next you'll need to access your abilities on slopers, compression, and smearing.  You have to make similar judgements about the pace at which you choose to climb. 

 I believe that my recovery training has given me an added advantage on several notorious "all out sprint" pitches by allowing me to stop briefly at a perfectly usable rest around the mid-point, where most climbers keep motoring.  The two specific routes that come to mind are "Golden Boy (13b)", and "Cutthroat (13b)".  Both are notoriously difficult for the grade, and have a reputation of being a race to the chains.  On both, I quickly found a rest at the halfway point where I was able to recover much needed energy.

There are occasions, both on onsight and redpoint, when I don't stop, instead preferring to sprint.  Because of my recovery training, I have a very clear grasp on what size and type of hold I can really rest on.  If that size hold doesn't appear, then I don't waste time looking for a recovery stance where there isn't one.  Instead I push on, racing the pump to the chains, or to the rest jug, whichever comes first.

In the case of Ondra, I'd argue that we still haven't seen him really push his limits.  Some great climbers spend months working out the moves that he puts together in under a dozen attempts.  It's entirely possible that when he really decides to take on a major project (25-40 attempts, to throw out an arbitrary number?), his current style will need to change slightly, and maybe he'll have to take advantage of a mediocre shake to regain energy for the all out crux above him.  Maybe, maybe not.  Fact is, none of us are Adam Ondra.  To even dream of climbing on his warmups, we have to maximize our training, and reach closer to our potential.

In McColl's case, he also refers to his only other 9a ascent, "Dreamcatcher", and comments that it was a totally different style, boulder problems separated by rests.  Sean was able to distinguish between the two styles, between the two "paces", and in doing so, accessed one of the most important techniques required to send the two very different routes.

Basically, I don't believe that one is better than the other.  I nearly became the type of climber who only climbed at one pace... slow and methodical, always shaking out, always chalking up.  The moment I distinguished "sprinting" as a valuable technique, and not just a stylistic thing, I made efforts to train for it, and filled a little more space in that important bag of tricks we all carry.

More on those "sprint" training techniques later...