Tag Archives: Training

Ending the Boltless Year (Part 2)

Living in a cloud isn’t ideal for rock climbing.  Though once the rain stopped and the overwhelming grayness left our life, Ten Sleep Canyon morphed back into its magical summer state of cool, dry conditions.  There was a little over a week left in the trip, and all I had managed to do was punt off the top slab of Esplanada 5.12d in a sleep-deprived mania.  Taking this short trip to Ten Sleep was partly to observe an emerging personal tradition of making an annual pilgrimage to the glorious carbonate cliffs of Wyoming and partly to see how/if I had grown as a climber.  I decided a good evaluation for this would be to attempt to send Sky Pilot 5.13d.  Sky Pilot is one of the most sought-after lines in Ten Sleep.  It ascends a narrow golden streak located in the middle of Sector D’or et Bleu, the highest quality blue-streaked wall of the canyon.  Consensus seems like it is solid for the grade, and in an area where route “enchancement” is sometimes acceptable, Sky Pilot is completely natural.  The route is engaging: two stacked cruxes on amazing pockets, a decent but not quite relaxing rest in the middle, some consistent face climbing to reach another okay rest below the anchor, and an exciting (heartbreaking) finish move to an epic jug lost in a sea of tiny pockets and crimps.

Sky Pilot

Enjoying the opening boulder problem in the blue rock of Sky Pilot.  Photo by Charles Marks.

The first day on Sky Pilot solidified my confidence.  I managed to do all the moves, and in typical boulderer fashion, half of them were twice as hard as they needed to be.  Unfortunately, I wish I had known earlier that these sequences were too hard for me to execute together.  I turned the opening V6/7 crux which uses mono pockets as intermediates into a solid V8 in which I locked off a sharp one pad mono pocket, and quite late in the game (the last day of the trip), I figured out that I didn’t have to dyno to the finish jug, which I had tried and missed four times from the ground.  Fortunately, I eventually realized easier ways before the trip was over, and I was reminded of an important lesson:  always find the most efficient and consistent way to climb.

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This is how you can make the finish sequence harder than it should be especially when you lack endurance.  Photo by Charles Marks.

I knew I could send Sky Pilot during this trip, and I was quite patient in the whole process.  Even after a random rest day involving some freak stomach flu in which I couldn’t move for about 12 hours without vomiting, I remained positive, chugged some ginger kombucha, and was more than psyched to climb a route that I had always walked past with dreams of sinking my chalky digits into its snug pockets.  On the last day of the trip, with a looming 16 hour drive back to the fiery inferno of the Eastern Sierra, coming off of the previous climbing day having fallen with my fingers tickling the finish jug three times, I knew I had to focus or be prepared to deal with excessive self-shaming and a validation of how much I suck.  While not a healthy behavior that I sometimes engage in, I have accepted my negative reinforcement as inevitable when I fail in something that I care about.  Simultaneously, I have learned that it is best to make it as brief as possible and to avoid bringing the amazing people around me into my temporary self-destruction.

Sky Pilot 2

Such a juicy mono pocket in the opening boulder problem.  Ohhh but pockets are tweaky, I don’t like them, why don’t you set some more running jump start sideways dyno to sloper-volume problems, they flow better… Photo by Charles Marks.

First attempt of the day:  fall on last move on a perfect burn…dynoing there is stupid…you are can figure out something better…yes, you can lock off a sinker two finger to statically reach the finish jug.  Then, it starts to thunder, and my mind starts to race.  I felt like the worst friend for being distracted, quiet, and completely worried about whether or not I would be able to give my project another attempt with the possibility of rain when I should have reciprocated the supportiveness of my best friends as they enjoyed their last hard-fought efforts.  It doesn’t rain, and I proceed to give Sky Pilot the most anxious and sloppy attempts ever.  Yeah, chill out for a while, eat some chocolate, drink some water, give it one last try, and APPRECIATE being with two of your best friends in one of the most awesome places in the world.

I had completed my only goal of the trip…in the final hour…on my last try (its always on the last try?).  I felt bad in some ways that Charlie and Aaron had supported my efforts, and it might have to do with spending so much time bouldering by myself in the last year knowing that my projects were always a completely selfish endeavor.  Or it might have been the self-imposed separation from the people around me?  Or it might have been the feeling that someone I loved left my life?  They shouldn’t have wasted their time on me.  Is this what too much time by yourself does?  You end up wanting to be around people, yet when you are with your friends, your inconsiderate habits emerge unintentionally after the tendencies have been repetitively reinforced?  Some people have told me that I should use my time alone to better understand myself…I have dealt with too much of this time while my brain has started to melt in this high desert void.  I want to be better at balancing my thoughts and avoiding the worried distractions of the ego.  I want to consistently be a supportive partner who sincerely wants others to succeed.  I don’t think I am a terrible person for dealing with egotistical thoughts, but I feel like I have recently become more aware of how I interact with my community.  Let me practice something that I think I am starting to grasp.  Navigating this newly realized individuality and loneliness of my life is a project that won’t ever be sent.  One can only hope for some good days when you link a bunch of moves.



Ending the Boltless Year (Part 1)

Since the first day that I tied into some jug-filled toprope at Kendall Cliffs after a draining high school track practice, I became deeply and constantly curious about how other people got “stronger” and what I could learn to benefit myself.  By “stronger” I mean “better at climbing”, and this is a somewhat normal phenomenon in an activity in which an individual’s mental, technical, and physical abilities are tested on common ground with other participants.  Most of my climbing life has revolved around progressing on single-pitch routes.  For five years, I had great access and supportive partners to explore the endless cragging of the Red and New River Gorge.  But, I learned quickly that there were more efficient ways to get better at climbing than simply climbing all the time.

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Peace Frog 5.12d at the Sanctuary.  An interesting double heel-toe cam move out the roof at the start leads to a characteristic overhang of iron oxide jug slots at the Red River Gorge.  Photo by Paris Achenbach.

As was my tradition of spending the week-long, mid-semester breaks in college at a climbing destination, I clearly remember the last week of March 2012 at the Red.  The weather was surprisingly good, and though I had ventured down to Miguel’s by myself, I had quickly found great friends and reliable climbing partners.  Besides having a good time climbing and experiencing some personal best performances, I also remember a specific day at the Undertow Wall.


My friend Andrew cruising up the Bob Marley crag classic, Dogleg 5.12a

As I lay on a comfy slab of Corbin sandstone waiting for another burn on the Kentucky classic, Ale-8-One 5.12b, and weighing the benefits of certain rests between sections of the route, another climber rolled up to the Undertow Wall and asked if he could take a lap up the route on my draws.  It wasn’t a problem at all as I was still pumped from getting spit off 2/3 of the way up the route on my previous attempt, and I gladly shared the route.  As he started to tie in, I recognized that he was Brad Weaver and was one of the elite climbers in the Southeast.  I began to analyze everything a little more carefully and started to remember reading about him taking years completely off of sport climbing to…boulder.  Sport climbing at the Red is about endurance; why would anyone do that? I was still pumped in that moment; how could someone think that it would be a good idea to avoid endurance training to progress at an area known for its unrelenting style.  Five minutes passed as I watched Brad Weaver warm up on my project without bulging a forearm vein.  At the end of my spring break, I did manage to redpoint Ale-8-One, my first 5.12b, and it felt hard as I could barely clip the chains.  More importantly, I began to realize that there might be something to be gained from investing some time strictly devoted to bouldering.


I miss my mohawk and rest days at the Wild Turkey Distillery.  Photo by Andrew Freeman

Last summer, I had one of the best times of my life which was filled with exclusively sport climbing from finishing a good spring season at the Red, followed by the continuous and beautiful beat-down of Ceuse, and ending with the American glory of Ten Sleep.  I have always been attracted to more sectional or bouldery routes, and I had decided that I would move to Bishop and immerse myself in its bouldering mecca greatness.  My initial plan was to spend fall through winter bouldering while figuring out some organized training plan that would cater to the progress I wanted and what I could tolerate mentally.  Often, the balance of training and the daily fun (stress relief from life) is something that is overlooked when you first are really psyched making your plan.  During my first months, I learned that I needed to be doing more actual climbing, and that the typical linear training plan that was easy and effective for sport climbing in an area with very specific climbing seasons was not as effective for bouldering in which a high level of technical skills, POWER, and weird (often hard to train in an exercise)  body strengths are necessary all the time.  Winter slowly melted in spring, and I had become so clearly identifying as a boulderer that I didn’t feel like dealing with the logistics of cragging or big days out climbing in the mountains.  Bouldering is so freaking simple, very high quality, and easily accessible in the Eastern Sierra, and I saw no reason nor had any motivation to do anything else.  My plan of bouldering through winter turned into a year hiatus from clipping bolts.  Many of my new friends didn’t believe that I had ever climbed on a rope in my life.  I only used a rope to climb two times in the last year, and they were both 5.7 traditional climbs in Tuolumne Meadows involving a significant amount of simul-climbing:  Matthes Crest and Euphoria on Pennyroyal Arches.


Some of the best bouldering on the Eastside.  Mantling out the slopey topout of Soul Severity V6 at the Smolko Boulder under the Wheeler Crest.  It felt amazing to climb these beautiful lines put up years ago by fellow Ohioan and motivating climbing partner Damon Smolko.  Photo by Kyle Queener.

Currently, I am sitting in the typical climber Internet spot/shelter from the elements:  the Ten Sleep Public Library.  When my best friend Charlie suggested at the beginning of summer that we take a trip back to Ten Sleep, it seemed so natural and like a great way to see how I have changed in the past year.  Ten Sleep has become this consistent feature of my life, and it feels so good to be here.  Though, getting here was borderline painful.  After Charlie made espresso drinks all afternoon and I grinded through another 9 hour shift at the Gear Exchange, we quickly loaded up his van and drove 16 hours through the night.  Stopping only to switch drivers and get some tasty coffee and pastries at Lander Bake Shop, the psyche-fueled drive left us drained.  Yet, nothing could stop us, and we drove straight to the French Cattle Ranch parking lot and loaded up our packs for an evening of sport climbing.  I felt vey confused while I placed my rope and shiny new sport draws in my pack; it seemed like I was forgetting some integral piece of climbing equipment.  Regardless, we crushed the approach up to the Grasshopper Wall.  We both decided that it was quite fitting and somewhat comical that we climb the short, three bolts in length, and four-move crux right off the ground “route”, Lil’ Smokie 5.11.  (Volcanic Tableland V2) I love this mini-route, and I find the other Lil’ Smokie routes a worthwhile and quirky experience of the climbing in Ten Sleep.  After I ran several laps on the classic Lil’ Smokie, I was so psyched to be sport climbing again, though with only maybe 2 hours of sleep while getting tossed around in the back of the speeding van, I was falling asleep sitting on the nicely arranged rocks at the base of the cliff.  Esplanada 5.12d, a hard for the grade and continuous face climb, seemed like a good idea?  I had never sent the route before; I had always overlooked this area classic in favor of harder routes.  I didn’t remember the route having any hard moves, and I proceeded to hang the draws.  As expected, the moves felt too easy.  I usually warmup on problems with moves that are significantly harder, and the footholds on the route felt huge.  Despite this impression of the route, I managed to punt off the upper slab crux twice.  Still about to fall asleep between my pathetic burns on Esplanada, I gave up for the day in favor of eating and sleeping.


This route has been on my mind for a year, and I cannot wait to see how it feels.

Waiting out the heavy rainstorms seems quite foreign after having lived in the Eastern Sierra for a year, but I remind myself that the beautiful blue streaks of Bighorn dolomite will be prime in cooler conditions tomorrow.  My body will also probably be better suited for physical activity too.  I know I am stronger in many ways, but in order to realize this improvement, I need to refresh those rusty route climbing skills and more importantly, enjoy being back in one of my favorite places in the world.

Return to the Buttery Sickness

For the past three summers, I have raced out west to Ten Sleep, Wyoming to savor the most “American” sport routes located in the magnificent and isolated canyon with its endless vertical walls of pocketed and chert-infested Bighorn dolomite.  During my first trip out West in which I had originally planned to go to Rifle, my friend, Lena, convinced me that I should stop by Ten Sleep.  I was a little skeptical since I had never heard of the place before, but after my first day climbing at French Cattle Ranch, I was completely psyched.  There was a slow start to each summer day as we waited for the shade and crisp air.  The routine was just like Ceuse except mornings were usually spent hanging out in town at a cafe or the amazing Ten Sleep Public Library.  Once everyone had finished their Internet binge, we returned to the canyon (where there is no distracting Internet or cell phone service) to grab our climbing packs, endure the hot hike to the cliff, and experience the “real dope Shinto”.


Welcome to Ten Sleep Canyon via U.S. Route 16 Cloud Peak Skyway Scenic Byway.

Though, this trip was a little different than what I had experienced the previous years.  Instead of driving with my girlfriend across the desolate wasteland of GMO corn that is the central United States, I was by myself and going to meet one of my best friends from college who had just started climbing.  On top of that, I was not returning back East after Ten Sleep; I was moving to Bishop, California.  My Honda Civic was packed to the brim, and my life felt different in so many subtle ways.  I had just graduated college, and I did not know what to do with my new freedom/responsibilities just like my first days of college.  I had just returned from an amazing European climbing trip, and I felt fired up to get back to a familiar and sentimental place.  Over the past year, I implemented a new approach to my personal training, and this was the perfect time to measure my improvement over the past year on routes that I struggled with before.


A picturesque Wyoming summer sky.

First on my agenda for my two week trip was to redpoint 5.13c (8a+).  I was still slightly bitter about leaving Ceuse, but now it was time to go all in on Hellion 5.13c.  The route is absolutely awesome and has so many things about climbing that I love: slightly overhanging terrain, a great mono pocket crux, pumpy pocket pulling, and some victory climbing thrown in on your way to the top of the Supererratic Pillar.  (Note: I saw some people climbing all the way on to Great White Behemoth in the opening sequence of Hellion so they could take a much better rest before the crux.  This is significantly easier…)  During my first day, I managed to do the crux sequence twice and figure out the rest of the route.  I felt confident though I was a little surprised that the meat of the route was quite sustained.  Regardless, if Sasha could send this route, so could I…right?


My new friend, Sam, onsighting the Shinto wall classic Wyoming Flower Child 5.11d. Right after this ascent with barely any rest, Sam went over to the left side of the wall for some more magical Ten Sleep Shinto sickness to onsight her first 5.12a, Dope Shinto.

I had been making consistent progress on Hellion over a few days, but I was repeatedly falling on the last move of the sustained two finger pocket sequence.  A double rest day was in demand, and they involved belaying my friend, Charlie, and going to the crag as the designated photographer.  With fresh skin, rejuvenated muscles, and overwhelming psyche, Charlie and I once again returned to the Superratic Pillar.  I warmed up and felt great.  On my first burn, I fell AGAIN at the same spot; though this time, I realized my own stupidity with this accuracy move to a sinker two finger pocket.  I quickly re-worked my beta, and a simple drop-knee made the move much more consistent.  I lowered down and rested.  As I rested, the winds started to pick up and the sky turned gray.  Initially, I was excited for the cooler than usual conditions, but then, a thunderstorm began roaring through the canyon and droplets of friction-death fell out of the sky like bombs sent to destroy my possibilities of sending.  I knew most of Hellion would initially stay dry, so I quickly tied back in and fully committed to each move.  I cruised through the mono crux which ended up feeling like V2 and rapidly pulled through the following pockets to reach the dreaded pocket stab.  I stuck that damn right hand MR pocket jug, and I was going to the top.   I stopped at the huge double jug rest (all I could think about was the guidebook photo of the mythical Dave Hume staring down this amazing position), and despite my heavy breathing, I didn’t feel pumped.  I relaxed and gave myself time to calm my nerves as I only had one more tricky 5.11 move to do in a sea of jugs.  Then, I felt it.  The rain had reached me, and I started to get wet.  The whole time I was on the route, bolts of lightening were shooting across the dark sky, but I did not feel threatened until the moisture started to coat my skin and drops splashed into my eyes.  Sometimes, people talk about having a hard time determining how long to rest at a certain point on routes.  I wondered about this often on other rests, but clearly, right now was the time to go.  I climbed as quickly as I could and shouldered out the last relatively hard gaston move.  Finally, I was at the top of Hellion getting rained on in a thunderstorm and smiling as I clipped the chains.


Post-send joy.  Photo by Charlie Marks.

I felt so relieved and amazed that I was able to send Hellion, and like most climbers, my mind started to race about what to climb next.  Two beautiful gold streaks clouded my thoughts as I enjoyed some celebration chocolate in the pouring rain: Sky Pilot 5.13d, one of the king lines of the canyon, and Super Mama 5.13b, an old nemesis from the previous summer.  I had just completed my “big hairy goal” for the summer, and I made the more prudent decision to clean up some routes in my final week.  So after a solid rest day, it was back to Super Mama, and I remembered the beta like it was yesterday as I easily went from bolt to bolt.  I struggled to link key parts of the route the first day, though I got a little closer on the second day.  But, my skin was trashed; Super Mama’s pleasantly abrasive crimps and pockets ate away at me as I flailed.  The smooth and somewhat glassy white face of Hellion was pretty nice because it barely wore away my skin.  Knowing the Super Mama was quite attainable, I once again took the double rest day, and the results were amazing.


One of my favorite parts of Super Mama: THE “Peanut” hold. This crux involves a left hand bump to a split two finger pocket. I found it easiest to hit it IM, and then twist it to a mono as I gaston to grab a right two finger crimp. Photo by Alan Moles.

I ran up my favorite Lil’ Smokie 5.11 a few times as a nice warm up, and I then took a nice little hike into the woods further down the cliff.  I returned after a few minutes and as I approached Super Mama, I smiled and could not have felt more relaxed as I tied in.  I embraced the starting jug, and my body easily and automatically flowed up the route like an extension of my tranquil hike.  I had no thoughts and each move was perfect.  I felt like I was watching a video of myself climbing until I reached the rest ledge under the final crux when my conscience mind returned to the experience.  After some positive self-talk and an excessive amount of shaking out, auto-pilot was off, and I purposefully grabbed each hold as I set up for the blind deadpoint.  I dug into the razor edges and sprung to stick the jug.


Carefully balancing myself on a crimp undercling in the final crux. Photo by Alan Moles.

I hopped through some final easy slab moves and let out a euphoric scream while dropping my rope into the open hook and clipping the fixed biner.  After so much thrashing on Super Mama during the previous summer and some bad attempts in the previous days, I was so happy to experienced one of those rare moments where you effortlessly redpoint a route on your first go of the day.  With so much sunlight left in the day, it would be a waste to leave the crag when the conditions were so good.  I tried Pussytoes 5.12d a little and only managed to loose some skin.  Because the next day was my last day climbing in the canyon, I made another prudent choice and pulled off a quick ascent of Kielbasa 5.12c, which was a fun route but not nearly as high quality as Super Mama or Hellion.  Leaving the crag that day was a little sad because I realized I wouldn’t return to French Cattle Ranch until maybe next summer, but overall, I could not have felt better hiking back to camp as I watched the smoky sky glow in the sunset.


Sticking the final deadpoint on Super Mama 5.13b. Photo by Alan Moles.

On our final day, Charlie and I cooked in the sun while hiking up to the iconic Cigar.  Once again, I had my sights set on two routes that had given me some trouble the previous summer:  Sleep Reaction 5.13a, a roped boulder problem, and The Name of the Game 5.13a, consistent pumpy pocket climbing.  These routes are complete opposites, and last summer while working the routes with my friend, Dan, I couldn’t even do all the moves of Sleep Reaction.  After another great lil’ smokie warmup, I quickly started figuring out the beta, and I became so frustrated until Charlie surprisingly pointed out a possible glassy foot smear near the arête.  It worked perfectly, and I lowered quickly to hastily shake out and re-chalk my hands.  I pulled on and crushed it;  it felt like a V7? boulder problem to 5.9 vert climbing.  I was not done, and I began to feel somewhat cocky.  Like most climbing trips in my experience, you leave with a feeling of incompleteness, and this trip was no different.  I was racing against the approaching darkness to send The Name of the Game on the inside of the Cigar, but I just didn’t have it in me.  I was tired, and I wasn’t climbing as efficiently as I needed to send the route.  Recently, I have developed a preference for bouldery or more sectional routes, yet this sustained face undoubtedly exposed my weakness.  Three desperate efforts filled with aggression did not work, and I accepted defeat.


Charlie onsighting the classic and over-bolted Euro-trash Girl 5.10b.

Being able to return to Ten Sleep each summer has been so much fun and a great way to measure my improvement in climbing.  Though for many climbers, it seems crazy and/or too difficult to accurately see if they are improving for a few different reasons.  Either they are constantly trying to climb routes that are new to them or their testpiece problems in the gym get stripped every few weeks.  Also, sending a harder grade doesn’t necessarily mean one is improving, and more often, it just means a certain route better suited their strengths.  Following an actual training plan in which I meticulously record what I am doing makes it easy for me to see if I am improving in my day to day workouts.  I am not saying that all climbers should do these things if they want to improve, but doing these things makes the answer to the question “Am I getting better?” painfully clear.  I have derived much satisfaction from addressing my weaknesses through training and then revisiting rock climbs that were difficult for me.  I already know that Sky Pilot is next on my list when I return to Ten Sleep, but for now, I will be spending a lot of time here in Bishop, bouldering mecca.


Spring Springing Springly

The pains of winter have been expelled from us for we have arrived in Purgatory.

The pains of winter have been expelled from us;  we have arrived in Purgatory.

It is beautiful to see the hours of challenging, punishing, and boring training manifest itself in the accomplishment of clearly defined goals.  Last fall, I spent my final climbing day struggling to stick the crux move of the direct start to Table of Colors.  I had sent the original line a few weeks before, and I had done all the moves of the harder start.  Yet, I couldn’t control the sharp hematite crimp with my left hand in order to stab out right to an oddly-shaped crimp divot when I started from the ground.  I wasn’t pumped approaching it, yet I also couldn’t consistently do the move even after hanging on the bolt.  I was pissed, but it was exactly what I needed.  Left Flank is one of my favorite crags in the world, and the beauty and quality of routes there have always motivated me to improve.  Thanks to Mark and Mike Anderson, I knew what I had to do and how to do it.

Cruising through the opening moves of Table of Colors Direct 5.13b. Photo by Melanie Xu.

Cruising through the opening moves of Table of Colors Direct 5.13b.
Photo by Melanie Xu.

I was lacking power, and I generally needed to be stronger on crimps and pockets if I was going to send Table Direct in the spring.  So, training began in December with a month of hangboarding, and it was quite convenient that the hematite crimp, which was giving me so much trouble, very closely resembles the smallest flat crimp on the Trango hangboard.  January involved a bouldering trip to Bishop, an area characterized by powerful climbing on crimps, and by February, I was back at it fighting freezing conditions in Eastern Kentucky.  I could feel that I was stronger and more than physically capable of climbing the route, but I needed to figure out the proper way to apply the new level of power.  I had one good session on the route in February, but early in March, there was heavy rain that brought send-crippling condensation.  I wasn’t surprised; the Red River Gorge is basically a rainforest.

Resting right before the crux, which links back into the original line.  Photo by Melanie Xu.

Resting right before the crux, which links back into the original line. Photo by Melanie Xu.

During the last week of March, I had a week-long spring break, and the weather looked promising.  After visiting a good friend in Lexington and horribly playing darts for too long at a college bar the night before, I was rolling down Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway blaring the Offspring all the way to Left Flank.  I was so psyched, and more importantly, Waffle House seemed to be sitting well.  On my first attempt on Table Direct, I still felt a little weak and not properly warmed up after walking up Aquaduct Pocket.  On my second attempt, I completed the bottom and stupidly missed the “bass mouth” in the middle crux.  I knew I only had one more good effort for the day, and as the sun was setting, I tied in for one last try.  I cruised through the bottom section more easily than I had ever before, yet pulling each successive move after that seemed increasingly difficult.  In the middle crux, I felt like I was falling off the holds while somehow moving up and stabbing my digits in the correct place.  I was amazed that I was still on the wall and sitting in a comfortable rest position.  My mind raced, and I rested for an eternity.  After finally calming myself down, I mentally ran the final sequence over and over.  Once I came to the realization that I need to leave this rest, I chalked up my already obsessively chalked finger tips and executed the final section with ease.

Clipping after finishing the direct start.  Photo by Melanie Xu.

Clipping after finishing the direct start. Photo by Melanie Xu.


Beginning the most desperate yet successful battle with the “bass mouth” crux. Photo by Melanie Xu.

Spring break started off extremely well, and after a solid rest day, I was ready for more.  Recently, I have been somewhat annoyed when climbing at Muir Valley because I hate hiking out, there aren’t many routes that I want to do, there is an overwhelming amount of people, and I HATE HIKING OUT.  I mean I love the climbing there and could not be more thankful for this area, but personally, I would rather go somewhere else given the plethora of world-class crags within minutes of driving.  Despite all of this, I went with my friends to Muir for the day and proceeded to almost whip off a disgusting and freezing cold 5.10 warmup.  Not the most ideal start to the day, but I was excited to try a route that had spit me off too many times.  As usual, Solarium was packed, but no one was on Bundle of Joy.  I quickly hung draws and found myself staring down the final crux at the top of the cliff.  I tried the dyno beta, but failed.  I tried it a few more times and failed even though I had done that beta before.  I wanted something more consistent and remembered some of my friends talking about using tiny (heinous) holds to statically pull the top.  I found exactly what they were talking about, and it involved a small and sharp left hand crimp, which allows you to rock over your right heel to reach the ledge.  I rehearsed it until I completed the crux sequence three times in a row and made sure the holds were clean before lowering to rest.

Starting up Bundle of Joy 5.13a.  Photo by Melanie Xu.

Starting up Bundle of Joy 5.13a. Photo by Melanie Xu.

While relaxing on a comfy rock and eating a banana, I realized for the first time how cool Solarium really is.  It is a consistently overhanging and beautifully streaked wall littered with good holds.  It is hard sometimes to see the beauty when there is a mob of people waiting in line for a route with some dude flailing his way up and saying, “None of the moves are that hard; linking it is really pumpy etc. (DUH that’s what most of the climbing is like)”.  After this contemplative moment, I tied in and quickly made my way to the giant hueco rest below the crux.  I love these massive holes in the wall where you can hang out.  I usually like to try to find the resonate frequency of the hole by humming, listen to my heart beating, clean my shoes, look for any crag literature, make chalk drawings, imagine I am being birthed from the cliff, peek my head out to watch other climbers, and/or optimally adjust my clothing situation.

Chilling in restful hueco.  Photo by Melanie Xu.

Chilling in restful hueco. Photo by Melanie Xu.

After much procrastination, I yelled to my belayer that I was still alive and wanted to make sure she was still belaying me as I worked my way out of the hole.  I climbed as fast as I could to the last clip, which felt more desperate than I had hoped.  I precisely executed my sequence to set up for the final move to the top, and all I could think was “I am going to pull as hard as I possibly can, so I don’t have to do this again”.  It worked, and I excitedly grabbed the sloping ledge and shook out quickly before the final mantle to the chains.

Chalking up the left hand finger tips to ensure perfect contact with the sharp crimp.  Photo by Melanie Xu.

Chalking up the left hand finger tips to ensure perfect contact with the sharp crimp. Photo by Melanie Xu.

The second half of my break involved a struggle to find partners for a few days and a weird negative feedback loop in my mind that developed from not being successful on routes that I thought were in the bag.  Everything worked out, and I even headed back to Ohio with smile despite being not sending and having to do homework.  I have realized that on a very superficial level I am concerned with the concrete results of my performance (sends), but what I care about more when it comes to pushing the difficulty of my rock climbing is consistent execution of things within my ability.  I derive great satisfaction when I do something well, and I am very annoyed when I screw up something that I know I can do.  I wouldn’t call myself a control freak, but I savor complete power of my domain.

I harnessed the power to balance more chess pieces than my engineer friend.  Definitely a fun way to kill time in Miguel's basement when you are sick of playing real chess.

I harnessed the power to balance more chess pieces than my engineer friend. Definitely a fun way to kill time in Miguel’s basement when you are sick of playing real chess.

Welcome to food that you don't have to cook, warmth, and a line for a better toilet.

Welcome to food that you don’t have to cook, warmth, and a line for a better toilet.

Welcome to the party, smelly people, and sometimes dogs pooping on the floor.

Welcome to the party, smelly people, and sometimes dogs pooping on the floor.

Spring break was great, but I didn’t have many good opportunities for climbing after that.  The next weekend was a reenactment of Noah’s Flood; even if you were fortunate not to have your car drown in the lower parking lot, you couldn’t get anywhere because roads all around Slade had rivers running through them.  The following weekend was my last chance to sport climb before taking some time off to focus on music and begin a training cycle for the summer.  I spent both days at Summersville Lake throwing myself at the Pod 5.13b, but I left (once again) empty handed.  It still amazes me that on my second attempt ever on the route I climbed cleanly to the anchors, and struggled to clip for eons before falling.  That weekend on the best attempts, I would climb from the bottom and fall in the middle crux, but I could from a hang:  do the crux, climb to the top, AND CLIP.  I have started training again, and now I have some fresh mental images to remind me to get aggro.

Spring has been a bundle of joy.

Spring has been a Bundle of Joy.

There’s a Tweaker on that Feature

The only thing scarier than the bat living in 8th of Crack or a wocket in your pocket is the feeling when an explosive rupture of muscle and connective tissue shoots from the palm of your hand down through your forearm like a tensioned guitar string being slashed by a samurai sword.  Why would anyone want to risk tearing themselves apart by throwing their body around with just a couple fingers stuck in holes? Rock climbing.  Duh.  It’s so much fun.


Pulling the crux of Strangely Compelled 5.12a at Ten Sleep Canyon, Wyoming. This is a nice warmup if you can cruise two finger pockets and avoid inhaling a deadly virus from the massive pile of bat guano .  Photo by Dan Brayack.

Climbing on pockets is an inevitable part of sport climbing, yet I rarely see gym routes set with pockets.  Is this because the route setter had a bad experience with pockets and dismissed them as too tweaky, or maybe the setter has only been bouldering and never really climbed on many pockets?  Whatever the reason is, I still don’t see many pocketed routes at gyms, and the gyms where I set have very few pocket holds in relation to other holds…like bulbous slopers.


Yes, I decided that it was easier for me to mono the bolt hole of that massive sloper for this problem in Cleveland Rock Gym’s Boulder League. Photo by Kevin Knallay.

Climbers have every right to be afraid of hurting themselves on pockets especially if they don’t practice pulling on pockets, avoid strengthening their pocket grips in a structured way, or use risky techniques to hold pockets.  Personally, I have injured myself two times pulling on pockets, but I have learned very useful information from both experiences.  After climbing for about a year, I started working 5.12s at the Red River Gorge.  On a typical June day when it was 80 degrees Fahrenheit and 100% humidity, I had just onsighted my first 5.11a, Monkey in the Middle, at the Zoo.  I decided to walk over and start working the very classic Hippocrite 5.12a.  The route is short and steep, and most people struggle to consistently stick the deadpoint moves on the second half.  As I was climbing between the first and second bolt, my left hand was cranking very hard on a three-finger pocket (pinky pulled closely into my palm), and then a violent twinge burst down my forearm as I tried to cross with my right hand.  I freaked out and somehow made it to the next clip.  I could never climb again, I can’t play guitar, I am done forever…Though oddly enough after I calmed myself down, I realized that it only hurt to pull in the same way in which I injured it, so I finished working out the beta for the rest of the route.  I researched everything I could find on the Internet about what to do, talked to other climbers’ at Miguel’s, and continued to worry about the future of using my hand for anything (of course I avoided consulting a doctor’s professional opinion because that’s scary).  From what I could feel and understand, I had strained a muscle in my hand that runs down the forearm adjacent to flexor tendons called a lumbrical.  It only hurt when I pulled inactive fingers tightly into my palm when pulling on a pocket.  This was very useful:



The direct start to Table of Colors 5.13b at Left Flank is littered with two-finger pockets, and the feet in the beginning are comparable to small, screw-on foot jibs.  Both of these things are becoming rare in climbing gyms, yet I always hear climbers talking about wanting to send this route?  Photo by Carly Broderick.

I rested like a week and then avoided aggressively dropping the inactive fingers for months.  I gradually started to work back in hard moves with pockets.  Amazingly for my own sanity, I healed.  This experience was a good lesson that taught me different ways to use pockets and motivated me to practice climbing on pockets more often.  Though you can apply more force to a pocket when you pull in your inactive fingers, you are more likely to tear the lumbricals.  This past August when I was hangboarding for the fall climbing season at the Red, I stupidly strained a lumbrical in my right hand training a one-pad two finger pocket.  I had increased the weight on the grip after not successfully completing the exercises in the previous session.  I stopped training that grip and was careful how I used those fingers the rest of the season.  Currently, hangboarding with this grip feels fine, but I was prudent when increasing the load.


Pockets everywhere on Full Circle 5.13a at Wild Iris. Techy moves between shallow pockets on the vertical face to a horizontal roof with big moves between sinker pockets.  Photo by Carly Broderick.

Almost all my favorite sport routes have involved pockets, and the places that are most memorable to me are the Red River Gorge, Ten Sleep Canyon, Wild Iris, Sinks Canyon, El Chorro, Siurana, and Margalef.  I pulled on some drilled granite pockets in Boulder Canyon, but that was not fun.  Pockets can be tweaky, but with some mindful practice (and training if you are into self-inflicted torture), you will be able to stick any amount of fingers in the rock and not worry about breaking yourself!


Ohhh look at this beautiful 60ft sandstone cliff full of pockets and incuts. I wonder where it could be. Wait, I know where it is. This is at Liberty Park in Twinsburg, Ohio. Unfortunately, no one has the LIBERTY to climb here supposedly because some bats are dying from a mysterious disease, yet destroying acres of habitat is okay for a new parking lot,  new paved bike path, and new “nature” center. I love parking lots.  Great job Summit County Metro Parks!

I don’t claim to know anything about how the body actually works.  I am not responsible if YOU hurt yourself.  Though, think about how cool it would be to send Action Directe…or Realization…or First Round First Minute…