Part Two of The Once and Future Sport Climber: 2018 Recap

We are now one step closer to being caught up to present day.

My first post summed up the past few years leading up to this point and how my intentions of becoming a better sport climber were foiled by bouldering (it definitely had nothing to do with me or my inability to keep the goal the goal).

This will be a review of 2018 in regards to goals, training, climbing, numbers, injuries, and lessons.

Injuries:

I dealt with a pretty mean hip impingement for around a month this year, but thanks to the wonderful Allison Stowers I was able to work through that just fine. Other than that, I managed to remain fairly healthy all year. One of my best years ever in that regard.

I have a finger that I hurt several years ago that only bothers me when I do a lot of hard crimping indoors. It never bothers me crimping outside, so I’ve put off really working on it in the past since I don’t like crimping a lot indoors anyways.

With a bit more plastic crimping in my routine this year I started having some issues with the finger, but with some dedicated open hand climbing, extensor band work(or rice bucketing when I had that available), and single finger eccentrics I managed to finally get it to a much more manageable state and it’s now able to handle a much higher frequency of indoor crimping. While this seemed fairly small at the time it ended up having a compounding effect on the quality of my training sessions throughout the year.

In the past I’ve dealt with some nagging shoulder issues. I would say the main difference this year was consistent strength training, particularly getting my turkish get ups and arm bars in every week. Because I travel in my van for most of the year it’s easier for me to travel with kettle bells than anything else, so being able to have those and my Organic Blubber (the perfect size for me to do TGU’s on) made it easy to get some reps in just about anywhere.

Goals:

Wow I’m bad at this.

I’ve struggled a lot in the past with goal setting. My tendency is to lean towards things that are too difficult (i.e. 100, 5.13’s in a year). If a goal feels “too easy” it’s hard for me to stick with. I’m fully aware that it’s the simple goals that are done consistently that make the biggest difference in the long run, but knowing and doing are two very different things.

My main goal this year was to alternate between sport climbing and bouldering/training each month.

-While sport climbing, my goal was to send new 5.13’s while maintaining a minimal amount of strength training.

-When I was bouldering/training (this was all in Lander and predominantly in the Machine Shop) the goal was to try hard and get stronger at straight forward board-style climbing.

I had never tried to alternate back and forth between sport and bouldering so frequently and I had never heard of someone else doing it either. I wasn’t sure what to expect out of my time bouldering or sport climbing so a lot of this was observational.

My initial thought was that a blend of the two methods (boulder and sport climb in the same week) would be better than trying to alternate between the two. However, I wanted to see how my body would respond to this and to view the year as a learning experience.

Numbers: Numerically, 2018 wasn’t an “impressive” year for me. I did no new 5.14’s and only climbed a handful of new boulders (to be fair, one was probably my hardest to date). However, I climbed more 5.13’s this year than ever before (18), taking my total to 100 5.13’s. Most of those 13’s were in Rifle as well which has been a notoriously difficult area for me. Not the best year numerically, but many of my best years for growth haven’t been.

Photo: Darkroom V12, the boulder that felt like my hardest climb to date

Climbing Overview: (Starting when my month-to-month switch between sport and bouldering began)

The New (April): My goal was to climb as many 5.13’s as I could. I did 5 in my first week before it started to rain and seep. Once that happened I was forced to steeper crags that I had already spent a lot of time at. At these areas, I only had harder project-level routes to climb on.

I spent several days trying a 14a/b called Trebuchet at the Cirque. The rough breakdown is:

  • 70 ft Bouldery 13b+ with great rests breaking it up

  • Decent shake

  • V8? Roof boulder on edges and the coolest foot cut crux move (move at 3:32 of video) I’ve ever tried on a route.

  • Without rest you launch straight into a 15ft section of steep edge climbing that clocks in somewhere around 13a or b

  • Massive jug rest with fairly high feet

  • Low percentage v5 that ends with a stab move to a jug slot

  • 5.8 hero climbing to the top

My power felt great for the route. I never fell on the roof boulder off the hang, but with this being the very beginning of my year returning to sport climbing my fitness was horrible when I went for any substantial link. I wasn’t stressed over it since this wasn’t part of my initial plan and I had no reason to expect my fitness to be good at this point in the year.

After trying the route for several days the rain finally became severe enough that the route became unclimbable and I decided to leave.

Takeaway: Ideally I would have been able to climb more 13’s to build confidence and fitness, but with the circumstances being what they were I’m happy with how things went. Not to mention I got to spend time climbing with some great friends that I might not have seen as much of if I was bouncing around smaller crags trying to tick things quickly.

Photo: One of those friends, Jeremy Rush sending Welcome to Conditioning (12d) New River Gorge

Rifle (May): With my girlfriend living and working out of Rifle/Glenwood Springs, Co for most of the year, it was important that I spent a decent chunk of my time out there. This was the only time I sport climbed back to back months this year.

Rifle and I have a bit of history, and it’s not that I went, sent everything, and had to leave and wait for more hard routes to be bolted…

My climbing goal for Rifle was to build fitness and do a lot of new climbs. The year was still early and I knew I would spend the next month in Lander, so I was fine losing a bit of power to continue building my initial endurance base for the year. Unfortunately, the mixture of wildfires and my asthma made these few weeks I spent around Rifle pretty rough and sidelined my plans of getting a lot of volume. I already find Rifle climbing difficult enough as it is, but when you mix that with being completely out of breath by the 2nd bolt of every climb that meant that I got absolutely crushed.

Takeaway

This was a bit of a backslide as far as overall fitness and strength goes.

As a silver lining, the lull in my climbing motivation led me to add some more supplemental training to my daily schedule so that I wouldn’t feel like I was going crazy by not being able to climb well on anything. Because Rifle climbs are so close to the road, I could do a few warm ups, and instead of doing a fourth pitch, I would walk to my car and sling some kettlebells to my tension block and do a 20 minute session of some heavy hangs and kettlebell presses.

I didn’t implement this method until the very end of this first stint in Rifle, but it felt like it had potential so I kept it in mind for my next trip.

Photo: Kettle bells and a bloc. All I needed for the summer’s finger training program.

Lander (June): I felt ROUGH. After dealing with a lot of wet climbing in the New and not being able to breath in Rifle my general climbing fitness was much lower than I anticipated for this point in the year.

I spent the month bouldering a lot with Kris in the Machine Shop, doing strength work twice a week, and once a week I would make a solo trip to the Rodeo Wave at Wild Iris early in the morning to run laps on The Ground From Upside Down (13a). TGFUD is a unique climb because a ramp of rock follows along behind you for the entirety of the route, allowing you to climb it without the need for a rope or pads. Ironically, it’s the longest independent line on the wave at somewhere around 45+ ft. It’s a lot of fun so I never got tired of going out and running laps on it.

I mentioned in the first post of this series that a bonus to picking certain circuit routes is that they can set you up for success in the future. TGFUD happens to be the connecting piece between the left and right side of the Rodeo Wave. This means that all of the link-ups that connect the two walls have to cut through about 80% of this route. Bonus points.

Takeaway: This was a productive stint of time. Not only did the time in Lander allow for Kris and I to work together without having to communicate over the internet, I was very happy with how the training went.

Rifle (July): Because of my crash and burn first trip to rifle this year my goal was still to get volume in and to try out the training method that I thought of just before I left Rifle last time. Most importantly, I wanted to avoid getting burnt out by the heat. With this being the hottest part of the year, I was content to having fun climbing with my girlfriend and keeping some strength training going. I’ve spent several summers climbing in the Red River Gorge. While it can be done, it’s very easy to feel burnt out by the time the good weather finally arrives. I hoped that keeping a slightly more laid back approach would help me to avoid that.

It was during this stint that I really realized just how important it is to have circuit routes at crags you aren’t as familiar with. Rifle climbing is weird. Everything is beta intensive and takes time to figure out. It would take me as much time to figure out a 12d as it would a 13c. Because of this, I couldn’t just romp up a few new 11’s and 12’s at the end of the day to get some volume in. Once I had a few circuit routes figured out it was much easier to get the amount of climbing in each day that I wanted.

Takeaway: I stuck with my “hangs”/kettlebell work and overall I’m happy with how this went. It was hard to tell how much of an effect it had at the time, but I felt like my hands were feeling really good when I left. Building fitness in Rifle turned out to be much harder than in the Red, but I felt like I was beginning to get the hang of it.

Photo by Rachel Avallone

Lander (August): Day one back in the machine shop I felt much better than I previously had returning from a month of sport climbing. It only took a week to be right back to the power I had before I left Lander a month before.

I was surprised by how well the finger training method I used in Rifle worked for keeping my hands feeling strong without seeming to take away from the rest of my day. Rifle isn’t very finger strength dependent compared to a lot of other climbing areas, so it’s easy to feel like your hands are getting weaker by climbing there.

Lander training went great, I used the same training methods as the time before. One day when it dipped into the 60’s I popped out for an evening session at the cabin boulders where I finally got to climb a very unique Todd Skinner boulder called Honest Joe (v8) that I had always looked at.

Takeaway

By the end of this phase I was starting to really get an initial feel for this method of swinging disciplines every month. Keeping some strength and finger work during the sport climbing phases worked very well, and having my route climbing day once a week while bouldering seemed fairly sufficient as well.

Photo: Morning fitness laps on The Ground From Upside Down (13a boulder-route)

Rifle (September): September in Rifle is about as ideal as conditions get. Not to mention, it’s beautiful there this time of year.

The colors surrounding Rifle’s project wall changing over the course of the month.

The colors surrounding Rifle’s project wall changing over the course of the month.

My goal was to do ten new 5.13’s, without asking for beta, during the three weeks that I would be there. My reasoning for this goal was multifaceted.

  • First: after flailing around this place through the summer, I wanted to spend some time cleaning things up and building momentum for the approaching fall.

  • Second: my plan for November was to go to the New and project two technical 14a’s. While many people are capable of slamming their head into projects for months at a time, I have never found enjoyment in it. If I wanted to put all of my eggs into those two routes for the fall then I knew I would be better off not burning myself out by projecting one or two hard routes for this entire month.

  • Third: After nine more 13’s I would hit my 100th 5.13, a long time goal of mine.

  • Lastly: Rifle has always been a notoriously difficult place for me to climb. If I ask for beta for the climbs there then they’re not a big deal (this post from Andrew Bisherat does a good job of describing this uniqueness of Rifle), however when I would go up routes without beta it felt like I might as well be blindfolded since the rock was so hard for me to read by sight. If I could do ten 5.13’s without asking for beta* then I felt like that would be a great learning experience for me in this style.

*In regards to not asking for beta, it wasn’t a big deal if I belayed someone or saw someone else climbing a route that I wanted to do. This wasn’t about keeping strict ethics like with onsighting. I just didn’t want to go out of my way to get spoon fed the answers.

After four climbing days I had done seven new 13’s up to 13c. Now, if you remember my goals section at the top of this post then you’ll remember that I’m bad about seeing things through when they seem too easy. In the next few days I knocked off another two that were a bit tougher for me. This meant I hit my 100th 5.13 and only had one route left to do with another two weeks left before I planned to drive east.

If you think that I was reasonable and picked a low hanging 13a to finish my goal before moving on to something harder, then you have a lot more faith in my attention span than I do. Naturally, I decided to try a new route that was significantly harder.

I ended up putting a few days into Simply Read (13d) and really enjoyed it. My time spent climbing on easier routes left me feeling very comfortable with the blocky Rifle style, and I felt like I had a solid chance at doing the route quickly. I wasn’t able to get it done in the few days that I put into it, and pretty soon the ten day weather forecast turned to all rain. With that I decided to leave rather than try to stick it out. This turned out to be a great decision since it ended up alternating between rain and freezing temps for the next month.

Takeaway

My decision to send a lot of easier routes in order to build momentum worked wonderfully. My fitness was at a good level for the routes I wanted to do in the New, and I felt very confident in my climbing. That month I had made the mental transition from just trying routes to pulling on with the intention of sending them. Maybe best of all, now that the good weather was about to arrive and I had just climbed a lot of volume, I was now dying to start trying harder routes.

Photo: One of the nine 13’s I climbed on this trip. Skeletor (13c). Photo by Rachel Avallone

Lexington, KY (October): Despite what most people think, October tends to be a fairly warm and gross month in the Red River Gorge. Great days happen, but the big swings in temperature leaves the rock condensed (like a coke bottle when you take it out of a fridge) and temps in the 80’s aren’t unheard of.  

Between the unpredictable weather and my initial goal for the year of alternating between sport climbing and bouldering, I planned to predominately train through October while getting out and sport climbing outside on the nicer days.

Sure enough, October was awful and I ended up spending most of my time in the gym bouldering with a focus on low angle boulders since this was the angle of my upcoming projects. I wasn’t very concerned about my fitness since my two goal projects for the fall were techy routes in the new that weren’t very endurance oriented. A little fitness plus plenty of power would do the trick. I got around six or seven endurance sessions in this month on top of the bouldering I had been doing.

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Takeaway

This month went well. I continued to stick with my plan earlier in the year of alternating every month between sport climbing and bouldering. Bouldering/training went well and I also went out to the Red on a few warmer days and got to scope out what I thought would be projects for the spring. As long as the November weather cooperated I would be in exactly the shape I was hoping for...

Photo: The cave that I thought would have to wait until spring.

The Red (November): The terrible Southeastern weather from October decided to stick around for November. While we got a handful of nice days, the bulk of the month was raining, condensed, or very cold. As much as I love the New River Gorge, the two routes that I wanted to try are both impossible to try in rainy or generally poor conditions. Not to mention, my girlfriend had been working 7+ shifts a week since March and finally had time off to climb now, so going somewhere that could possibly be unclimbable for most of the season was out of the question.

Staying in the Red made the most sense. We could continue climbing on the steeper routes with larger holds that aren’t as affected by rain or poor conditions.

It goes without saying that if I knew that I was going to spend my fall trying big steep endurance routes that I would have prepared a little differently than I did. As happy as I initially was with how my training had gone, it was now brutally clear that I had studied for the wrong test. I was in shape for bouldery face climbing with big rests and now I was climbing on steep seemingly endless resistance routes.

Thank god this was just an observational year...

Photo: Ultra Perm (13d), the finish of the route I would end up spending November trying. Definitely not a face climb.

I initially started trying Southern Pump (14a/b) a steep endurance link up in the Bob Marley cave that was put up by Dani Andrada a few years ago. I went up this a few times with a buddy in October and really wanted to come back to it in the spring. This route shares most of Southern Smoke’s (14c) independent climbing. When Southern Smoke breaks right to connect into Ultra Perm(13d), this route continues straight up the cave and links into the top of Fifty Words for Pump (14b). This link up feels like 14a to a decent shake to a 13b finish. I tried this route for three days before having to abandon it. The second to last move before getting the good rest which ends the hardest section is a wide shouldery move. It felt fine when I was fresh, but when I got to it pumped I couldn’t do the move with good form, which caused a dull ache in my shoulder. It was a cool route, but not worth getting hurt on.

On the upside, the time I spent on this route meant that I had most of Southern Smoke already dialed in. I had to figure out two connecting bolt lengths and then I would be in Ultra Perm, a climb I had done many years ago and felt fairly confident on. I spent the rest of the good days that month trying Southern Smoke with the intention of setting myself up to try and climb it the next time I came back. It was frustrating trying a climb that was so different from what I had prepared for, but at the same time this route is a ton of fun. Southern Smoke did more to build my motivation to try hard sport climbs than anything I’ve been on in years. I even spent a few working sessions trying the boulder problem that guards the direct start.

I didn’t send Southern Smoke. I wouldn’t even say that I got close. But now I know what I need to be successful and that route has become my new goal.

Training in Houston/Hueco (December-February): This is where we are now. I plan on going back to the Red in April to try Southern Smoke. My training has been split between building fitness for that and getting strong for this Hueco trip that I’m on. I would like to say that Smoke is my sole priority and that Hueco is just happening because I’ve had it planned for months and because I love being out there.

That would be a lie though.

My next post, (which will come out in early March) will cover how I took what I learned from this last year to plan my training through December and January, how I used my time in Hueco to prepare for the Red, and my training plan for the time between getting back from Hueco and heading to the Red.