According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, we do not have an excess of vacation time. Thereby, the average weekend warrior does not have an abundance of time to climb outdoors and the time spent outside is expressed as short, local weekend trips and maybe a few week-long climbing vacations.
With limited time outdoors, how can we make the most of it? Better still, how can we ensure our time climbing on location is worth our travels?
One of my favorite outdoor tactics that I have been using to answer these questions is the “Second-Try Send” as discussed on Episode 97 of the Power Company Climbing Podcast.
It has personally changed my mindset and helped me optimize my time outside, leading to some proud ascents – even if I didn’t exactly do them on my second try. So let us dig into the Art of the Second-Try Send - and keep reading, because it may not be what you think it is.
What is a “Second-Try Send”?
A “second-try send” (the kind that we’re talking about) is an ascent that should be pretty hard for you. The strategy is that on your first go you collect all the beta, polish it, and memorize it. It will look like you’re doing the route in segments: linking things, rehearsing sequences, etc. As discussed in the podcast, you use whatever tactics you need to in order to get things dialed in during your first go. From that first burn, you should have all the information and confidence necessary to make your second try a redpoint attempt.
What the First Try Should Look Like
There are a myriad of strategies for redpointing that you can engage while working on a second-try send. The objective for your first attempt is to do all of the moves, rehearse the cruxes, and be prepared to pull on for the second go to be a redpoint. Here are a few concepts to remember while performing your first attempt. Check out this audio for a run-down and explanations below for additional detail:
This is not an onsight attempt, so take it slow! Even if you are not tired, go bolt-to-bolt, making sure to clip each bolt and do a move or two after the clip. Take time to consider if you could clean anything up - work through that if you need to - and then pull back on for the next bolt. Even when I was working Starry, (5.12a) in the New River Gorge (which Mountain Project claims the first half of is 5.9 or 5.10) there was some critical efficiency that I needed to figure out on the lower half in order to leave enough juice for the big moves over the roof at the finish. I did even the easy stuff slowly on my first attempt.
Bottom line: be patient and stop at every bolt.
Pulling Back On
If I stop to hang on a bolt, I find that it is extremely important to pull on below the bolt or a couple moves before so that I develop sequences that overlap sections. This is especially critical before cruxes. Additionally, when you stop at each bolt, make sure to do a move or two after each clip. Make sure the whole route is truly linked together by the time you reach the top.
Dialing in the Crux
I have found that I am prone to freezing and forgetting my beta at the crux so I am obsessive about crux sequences. Typically, when I do my first burn on a route - especially if the crux is long or I find it especially tricky - I will rehearse the crux sequence 3-5 times once I have it figured out. I know that having it memorized perfectly greatly increases my confidence and chances of sending. Be mindful of wearing yourself out with excessive rehearsal, but make sure you are confident with the crux.
Quick tip: One way that I ensure I know my crux beta is to explain it in detail to my climbing partner. If you can tell them all about it, you really know your stuff.
When you are trying to do something on your second try, you don’t have time to get intimately acquainted with the rock. If there is a critical foot hold, or a precise place that you need your fingers to land in order to stick a move, put a meaningful tick mark on it (and brush it off afterwards, of course!). If you’re interested in a quick and informational rant on tick marks, you can give it a listen in the clip below.
REALLY Know All the Sequences
During the episode, Nate mentions a friend who had spent essentially an entire weekend falling off the same moves at the top of a route. For whatever reason, he wouldn’t pull back on and figure out the beta at the top. He fell on what should have been an easy send all weekend. However, on the last day, as soon as he finally gave in and rehearsed the beta, he did it next go. Check out this clip to hear the story.
The message here is that when you do your first go, you must know all the parts. And if you fall on the second try, don’t say “Dirt me!” until you’ve worked out any parts you were unsure of. You are not going to magically get better at that section on your third go. Figure out why you fell, rehearse the moves, clip the chains, and then lower off. Personally, I always finish the route. Doesn’t matter whether I’m trying to onsight or redpoint something, I always clip the chains.
How to Select “Second-Try Send” Routes
Routes you plan to do on your second try should ideally fall somewhere between your hardest onsight and your hardest redpoint. For me, my hardest onsight is 5.11a and my hardest redpoint is 5.12a, so good routes to attempt for a second-try send are from 5.11a to 5.11d.
Onsighters vs. Redpointers
Personally, I would put myself into the redpointer bucket. All of the 5.12a’s I have done so far have taken me 4-7 attempts over a couple days. Summarily, I enjoy redpointing and the redpointing process. I try to fit onsighting into my time outdoors as well, but I am not as good at it.
As a redpointer, I am comfortable attempting second-try routes that are pretty close to my hardest redpoint. For example, I took on a 5.11d in Birdsboro, PA this summer. Although I didn’t send on my second try, I one-hung it immediately after one very long beta burn. I didn’t have time to give it a third go that day, but when I came back the following weekend, I warmed up, ran through the moves again bolt-to-bolt, and did it my second try that day. The process wasn’t two tries per se, (four tries total) but it was a relatively quick win with my beta dialed very early on in the process.
To Onsight or Not to Onsight?
You might be thinking, “Well, if I can do it in two tries, why not try to get it done in one?” This is a fair question and it comes down to an assessment of your own abilities. If you genuinely think you can onsight something and that you won’t need to spend time working out the crux, then maybe this isn’t a good second-try route choice for you.
Additionally, you need to consider that onsighting can be pretty tiring. Your onsight attempt may just sap you of the energy to get the route done that day. This can be a real detriment, especially if you don’t have much time because you’re at a crag that’s far from home. Nate sums up the exhaustion that can come from trying to onsight in the following clip:
Think about it: if you’re about to really try something that you may or may not be able to onsight, would it maybe be better to skip the onsight attempt, and conserve energy by just going for the second-try send instead?
Low Crux vs. High Crux
So let’s say you do decide to try for the onsight and you fall at a low crux - one of the first few bolts. At this point, you are likely not sapped of energy and it is not too late to change your strategy and start preparing for a second-try send. You can spend the rest of this attempt as your first try in the second-try strategy, bolt-to-bolting, dialing beta, etc.. Then rest up and try to redpoint!
However, if you fall on the onsight up high, it might be a wise idea to save the route for another day out. Kris notes that this is what he usually does. Then when he comes back fresh, he treats the route like a second-try send.
I have actually done this same thing in Spring 2018. I wanted to do Air-Ride Equipped, a classic 5.11a in the Red River Gorge. When I tried to onsight it, I got pumped and wasted time figuring out the moves up high. I came back a couple weekends later, worked out the low crux beta, determined where I would rest, and came back down. I went on to do it my second try that day, which was especially exciting since it was my second 5.11 ever.
Understandably, this way of managing failed onsight attempts works better at your home crag - not as helpful a philosophy if you’re running out of time on a climbing trip. Personally, on the last day of a climbing trip, I do my best to go balls-to-the-wall (intelligently, of course) and see what I can squeak out. If, on the last day of a trip, I fell high on an onsight and it was something I was really motivated to do, I would probably keep trying it anyway.
Four Reasons to Implement the Second-Try Send
So if you aren’t already sold on this strategy for getting hard routes done more quickly, here are four reasons why this is a beneficial tactic to have in your toolbox:
Reason 1: Intro to Redpointing for those Who Hate Redpointing
Although I personally thrive on the agony of falling off the same crux moves over and over again until I send, I can see how redpointing is not appealing to everyone.
The second-try send is an awesome way to start incorporating redpoint tactics into your outdoor climbing without committing too much time and energy to a single route. If you really hate redpointing, you can still bring up your numbers by working second-try sends into your outdoor climbing plans. Kris and Nate discuss this in this clip from the podcast:
Reason 2: Translates Brilliantly into Projecting
If you haven’t figured this out already, redpointing is a skill. If you are practicing the skill of learning challenging beta quickly on a regular basis, you are going to become more skilled in redpointing.
Personally, implementing the second-try send mentality on my hardest routes has been hugely helpful. When I worked on Butch Pocket and the Sundance Pump, (5.12a) in Wild Iris on my recent trip to Lander, WY, I was able to one-hang it on my second try. Although it ultimately took me seven tries over two days, I made inspiring progress in my first two tries which was very motivating. Additionally, I did the route second try on my second day, after taking my first burn to warm up the beta and get the draws hung. So even though it took more than two tries, the second go strategy was in the background all along.
Reason 3: Great Way to Build up Volume of Routes Below Your Max
For our own sanity and to diversify our time spent outside, it’s not wise to spend all of our time projecting. At the same time, spending all of our time outdoors performing high-volume days and not pushing ourselves up through the grades won’t yield much progress either.
Racking up routes a few letter grades below our max is important to progressing steadily. You can read more about the concept of building up a route pyramid here and here. Implementing the second-try send tactic is a great way to build up your route pyramid.
Reason 4: Road Tripping
As you likely know very well, our time outside is precious and time on climbing trips is even more so! I do not have unlimited time outside, and certainly not at crags that are a flight or two away. In 2019, I set the goal to do twelve 5.12’s in four different climbing areas. At the time this is being published, I have two out of my twelve routes ticked. In my upcoming trips, my goals will be to tick one or two 5.12’s per trip, so I am going to be doing some projecting on location.
However, I am aware that the thought of getting into a project, spending too much time on it, and coming home without the send is unappealing. I will supplement the projecting on my trips with second-trying lower graded routes. This strategy can help me pull out some high numbers on trips, but still gives me the freedom to get on routes a bit above my onsight grade. Plus, becoming a good second-try sender will help me get more done outside in the long run.
Bottom line: if you are a weekend warrior, you need to be good at the second-try send.
Alex McIntyre photo
Fitting This Into Your Time Outside
As I write this, I am preparing for a long weekend at the Red River Gorge. I will use my plans for this trip as an example for how to work the second-try send tactic into your time outside. I will only have four full days in the Red and I plan to take one rest day. My main goal for this trip is a route that shut me down in Fall 2018 called Beattyville Pipeline, (5.12a). If I can bag some high 5.11’s and maybe another 5.12 while I’m down there, that’d be great, too. Here is how I plan to make this happen:
Day 1: PMRP - Bob Marley/Drive-By crags
Warmup by trying to onsight a couple of 5.10+ routes at Drive-By.
Perform my first try of the day on Beattyville Pipeline. (I worked on it for an entire day in Fall 2018. Since I’ve actually sent the grade and gotten a bit stronger since then, I hope to do it quickly.) Hopefully, I’ll take down Beattyville in 2-3 tries.
After sending Beattyville, I’d like to head over to Crosley, a 5.11c around the corner, and attempt to second-try send this as well. Of course, I am not sure how the battle for Beattyville will go, but I’m hoping to get my main trip objective out of the way on Day 1.
Ideally, I’d round out the day on a couple of 5.10’s to cool down.
Day 2: The Motherlode and The Chocolate Factory crags
My climbing partner has a project at the Motherlode, so I’ll likely head over there on Day 2. I plan to dedicate this day to to onsight/second-try send climbing. There are plenty of 5.11’s around the Motherlode and Chocolate Factory areas. So I plan to try to rack up as many of these as I can while my partner works on his project.
Depending on how I’m feeling, I might hop on Chainsaw Massacre, (5.12a) to gather some beta as I would like to work on that route on Day 4.
Day 3: Rest Day
Rest days are important for optimal climbing performance on a trip - and when else do I get to read a book in a hammock? (Sorry, Nate Drolet; I heard you hate hammocks!)
Day 4: The Motherlode
On Day 4, I’m hoping to be able to make short work of Chainsaw Massacre. Though I will have perhaps gathered beta for it on Day 2, I plan to treat it as a second-try send.
Then I’ll spend the rest of the day climbing easier grades, onsighting, and having fun! I can only be hyper-focused for so long.
Rule of Thirds
Looking at the “ideal” plan I have laid out above, about 1/3 of my time and effort is spent projecting routes at the top of my pyramid, 1/3 is spent trying to second-try send routes that are a few grades below my limit, and 1/3 is spent climbing grades that I can onsight. If you were to look at my time spent climbing outside all year, it would probably line up to be split like this as well.
Summing Up the Second-Try Send
The Second-Try Send is a tactic that is universally beneficial for sport climbers - especially those with limited time outside. Whether you need to rack up more routes just below your hardest redpoint, you need to send on a limited time budget, or you need to practice the art of redpointing, this is a tactic you can begin to implement on your next trip outside.
What do you think? Can you see yourself using this in the future? Are there any routes you can think of right now that you might like to try this on? Leave a comment below - The Power Company would love to hear from you!