If you haven’t read this post by crux crush about 5 things they wish they had known five years ago, you should. While reading that article, I thought to myself, “hey, damn, that seven rule is pretty good,” since it is true that sometimes you have no real way of knowing if you’ve tried ‘countless’ times or just a couple. Counting is an objective measure of tries (as long as you give it your all) after all.
The amount of different little things that you learn from time and experience is just wonderful to have and apply. Passing that knowledge on can be greatly informative for newer climbers or people that haven’t yet figured it out. Even seasoned climbers can take a grain of salt from these sorts of discussions as we sometimes forget our own advice and our own teachings. So, in a nutshell, here are the five things that Crux Crush detailed:
- Try hard stuff (things you may not usually try)
- Try often before calling it quits (seven times at least!)
- Focus on your movement (the power of mind!) and the body will follow
- Ask for help
- No one cares how hard you climb, no one is watching you
These are some really good rules to live and climb by! The second one about not calling it quits is especially important. You are stronger than your half-assed flash attempt (that you didn’t fully believe in). So get after it!
Truly though, climbing is quite hard. Real hard. Harder than you think. And it only gets harder as time marches on. So learn as much as you can and you’ll get better. Keep doing the same things and you’ll become stale and it will feel impossible. That’s really how it is.
So let’s do this: what have I, CC the rock climber, learned in his years? Lots of shiz.
1. Tame your ego, keep your emotions in check
“Where ever i climb i am followed by a dog called Ego” -Nietzsche
As Arno Ilgner from the rock warrior’s way concludes, the ego (sorry psychologists out there, but this is the ego of egotism and not Freud’s Ego) is a really powerful and toxic monster that keeps us from doing anything well. You know that guy in college that was too proud of going to math class because he found it easy and then eventually got a C: he’s got the toxic ego. Same idea with some rock climbers that can’t be seen falling on something easy, or can’t be seen falling. They don’t try so that they don’t get spanked or they give it a half assed try and figure it’s not worth it and let go. What’s that even supposed to accomplish? This is a weak, evolved trait that was meant to protect our roles in the hierarchy of our society, but in the world of climbing it’s just dumb.
You want to get better? Stop acting like you’re too good for it and just climb what’s good for you (what makes you work hard and is fun). So many times I have seen talented climbers hop on things much too hard for them and get spanked and then angrily simmer and waste time instead of trying something more appropriate in the first place. I’ve also seen climbers not climb routes because they think it will be too easy and is thus, to them, wasted energy that they must save for their ‘harder projects.’
However, do try hard stuff (like Crux Crush mentioned). Just don’t let yourself be fooled by the trap of working only hard things. Some projects seem like some parts will go, but you must accept defeat if it’s been 10 sessions and you haven’t made progress since the first session.
Ideally, you should send at least 10 of your grade before moving to the next one, sending 10 V3s before sending a V4, then send a few of those before wasting time on a V5. If it looks like it will go, do it, but know that you should continue to build that pyramid of climbs.
In the same sense, if you get all worked up about climbing and let your emotions run rampant you’ll never truly harness the power of serenity while climbing. Being frustrated is okay, but loosing your shit about a rock climb is just about as smart as letting the internet trolls get you upset. It’s so obvious to me now that this serves no purpose other than to get you pumped full of cortisol and to make you hate the sport. Or at least make people hate you for being such a dick to everyone and yelling like a gorilla.
2. Work on your weakness
Again, this is pretty much the same as the Crux Crush article about trying things that are hard. Work all the skills. Let’s imagine that there are 30+ skills you can get good at: crimping, compression, slopers, body positioning, balance, head-game, etc. If you only practice a few of those skills and continue to get good at them, when you encounter a hard move that doesn’t use that particular skill set you’ll be screwed. “I don’t dyno!” is a common phrase that I hear short climbers say. Work those weaknesses. Try the dyno. Get up, and try it again (seven times!).
This means climbing a variety of grades before moving to the next one. Climb a bunch of 5.10a climbs and you’ll be ready for the next 5.10b climb. That’s the name of the game! And make sure they are somewhat different. Obviously, radically different styles will not seem the same (crack vs. face climbing). But even then, radically different styles will test your skills and help you build new ones. Build that base and climb harder!
You don’t have to fool yourself either. There’s no way if you’ve never climbed crack that you will just hop on a 5.11+ crack and send it first go (note: unless you a small handed superman who is a genius of jamming). Lower your expectations when trying new things, set your ego aside and climb what’s hard for you. Ask anyone about their first time crack climbing, and see what you hear. Or the first time someone bouldered outside. Everyone’s been through that learning curve. No one can climb the same grade of every style unless the are real seasoned veterans.
3. Climbing has finesse (it’s important!)
You can brute through many, many, many climbing problems. You can campus them and show off if you are strong. Doesn’t make you good at figuring out the slight differences between climbing well and climbing hard. Everyone is guilty of, at least once, using their fitness to overpower a route, whether it being using foot holds as hands, huge dynos or improbable lock offs that make an easy climb much harder.
Climbing well takes a lot of time to learn. Knowing that there is a best way to climb something will save you so much effort and will help you climb more efficiently. As i mentioned in my previous blog post of the Dave Graham interview with Udo, trying hand holds with slightly different grip, trying alternate beta and getting in the perfect position or ‘box’ is important to climbing hard. Yes you can get away with using holds poorly, bad beta and improper stances, but you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t use them the best way possible.
As Arno teaches in the Rock Warrior’s way, the body is very slight, even a small change in hip rotation can cause you to save power enough to fire the rig. There is no such thing as perfect beta, in my view, there is always something you can improve. Becoming aware that there is a massive difference in small adjustments can make your climbing much more powerful.
4. Climb with people who are better than you
This is one that was passed onto me by a climbing guru. He told me that if you want to be a Wizard, you have to hang out with Wizards. There’s just no real way around it. Who pushes you harder? The friends who are impressed and in awe over 5.10 onsights or the ones that flash your 5.12 projects? Are you thinking you’ll get better climbing hundreds of routes that are three grades below your safe grade? Wont that just become your safe grade in the long run?
Plus, who would you ask if you were working out beta? Someone who knows the climb you are on and has done it to the chains or someone who is too afraid to get on it because they know that they can’t do any moves and are telling you to try it a dumb way. How would they know how the feet/hands/positions feel? Not to say you shouldn’t ever climb with people you like that aren’t as good as you, but there is a huge advantage of having someone that is stronger or as strong as you around. Someone who can teach you things you don’t know. Even people who are a bit weaker in certain areas can surprise you if you put them on the right route and ask for their beta.
Climb with wizards and before you know it you’ll be a wizard too, as long as you listen to the teachings. Ask for help and watch attentively. They are doing something you can’t, why is it? Are they more human than you? Do they have a third arm? Of course not! Mimic them! Let them spray you down with beta! Obsess over getting better than them!
Every time i climb with someone that is better than me it gives me hope, guidance, psyche and awareness. It also give me an idea of what they are doing that I’m not doing. Are they stronger? Can they lock off higher? Do they weigh less or more? Are they taller? Ask the questions! Get your answers. Follow in the footsteps. Climb the routes that are hard and let yourself be helped.
Most importantly, buy them beer for taking your draws down when you fail horribly on that project.
5. Climbing trips make you better and keep you psyched
Personally, this is another thing that I learned from a guru. They told me that the single most important thing to their climbing was taking long trips and climbing hard for days. Getting used to different styles of rock and learning their secrets.
“Rock, tell me your secrets. Whisper them in my ear.” -Yours Truly
Now, climbing trips are cool in two ways: first, you get to see a whole new realm of technique and figure out new beta based on this new terrain, and secondly, you get to see the magic of exploring the world. Sounds too good to be true? It isn’t. And if you haven’t traveled and climbed, you really should think about what you want out of climbing. Or life for that matter…
Climbing at the Red is like nothing I’ve climbed. Neither is Cathedral or Rumney or T-Wall or Hueco or the Rockies or Squamish or whatever. Each of them have beautiful routes. Each area is incredible in the culture and people. Meet locals! Taste the culture. Enjoy the attractions. Climb hard. Meet other travelers. Exchange beta. Get them psyched on visiting you and your home crag! And know that when you leave there is a part of that climbing you just did that will stick with you. A willingness to get stronger and technique that will stay ingrained in your muscles for at least a year or two after the fact.
Now, here’s the main thing that bugs me: you can’t actually get strong on your climbing trip (if you ask me). This is The Cycle of Climbing Trips:
- Go to the gym, get stronger at the gym, fantasize about trip
- Get to trip, climb really hard, learn new shit about yourself and love climbing there
- Get spanked on multiple occasions and learn from it. What is wrong? Why is it like that?
- Get so wrecked that every day you climb harder only due to style changes and not actual physical progression
- Eat and sleep like a pig and yet don’t ever think you are getting enough rest or calories
- Drive home, exhausted, content and grieving the loss of your vacation
- Return to your bed with knowledge and psyche, rinse and repeat (from step 1)
For me, i knew that i had to work bouldering cruxes when i left my last climbing trip. I also need to learn compression. So what am i doing? I’m learning these things in hopes that i will be able to crush harder next time. And that’s what keeps us going is that next time. Those gym rats stay on the same plateau, but if you go outside the mousetrap you get to see what you actually can accomplish and you’ll break the stale air that is accumulating in your climbing.
If nothing else, travel for fun. The world is beautiful. Enjoy the richness and pleasure of travelling.
6. The mind is a muscle you must train
Climbing is weird because you can train all day to be strong and still be weak as hell. I know guys who can bust about 20 weighted pull-ups and can’t climb as hard as me. Why? They are scared as hell of falling or of trying hard. They use the dangers of injury and falling as excuses to climb easy things that they can do laps on. They tell me that this route isn’t their style and they chase grades as though that dignifies them.
Your mind is a muscle (not really at all but let’s pretend) and you have to flex it. Get out there and learn your mental weaknesses and train through. Fear and the Ego are crippling weaknesses that only make you weaker when it comes to sending that project.
Example: some people hate failure. They get so worked up during the end of a climb that they shake and then fall because they were too scared to fail. They’ve failed. Loop-dee-loop. They’ve accomplished what they were most scared about.
How do you train this? Relax. Climb for you. Don’t let yourself get too excited. Try climbing the end of the route after a nice rest. Believe in yourself and gain confidence. Set the bar lower for yourself and don’t focus so much on failure. Don’t feel bad if you can’t climb it today. But, make sure you give it 100%.
I’ll let you figure out your own way out of this can of worms, since this is so personal and it’s impossible to dive deeply into anyone’s mind but your own. However, know that climbing is 50% mental, if not more. I also recommend “The Rock Warrior’s Way” as a good book to read for the mental game.
7. First try, Best try
This one I learned recently. It’s about the superpower of onsight tries. The first time you pull off the ground, whether it be anything (trad climb, sport climb, bouldering, whatever), give it 100% of everything you have and then just keep going and throw to the last hold if you can.
Stop thinking about failure or even sending. There is no such thing as failure or success, just climbing.
Onsight climbing is incredible, it allows you to just let your body do it’s thing and lets your mind stop thinking so much. It’s so organic that sometimes I wonder what happened, it’s like I was on autopilot and was watching myself climb in the third person. Often i get through hard sections without much trouble not knowing they are the hard section, and later obsess over details my body didn’t even have to focus on. So, don’t waste this incredible power. Try so hard that you are completely winded by the time you fall (or send). Try like you need to send this. First try, best try. You’ll see, this is incredible and you can really work on utilizing this superpower locked deep within yourself.
Disclaimer: you don’t always have a really great first go, but thinking you might and letting yourself be surprised never hurt you in the least. Trick yourself if you can’t believe in it. Pretend it’s the softest of the grade ever and people are thinking of down grading it. Also, warm up since you really can’t crimp that hard until you have a few routes done.
There you have it. That’s all I know that I’ve been able to accumulate in my short time on this planet, doing this sport. Make sure that if you think there are some secrets that need to be shared to post them in the comments, or even just share them with people you like.