Archives for category: climbing

My weekend sessions are endurance-heavy right now because my weekend partner is on a climbing break and in belay-only mode. I still rest in between routes, but not as much as I would if he was climbing, too. Today, I went in with the intention of leading all my routes and climbing to failure (no taking to rest, I only get to rest on the rope if I fall).

I wound up finishing eight routes total ranging from 10a to 10d, sending seven of them clean and falling once on my last route in a two hour span. I managed to push through three overhung cruxes where I might have normally called for a take by finding spots to shake out. Not bad, brain and arms. It’s definitely time for some stretchies.


The desert is beautiful, but damn if it isn’t trying to kill me. Humidity in the teens packs a punch and there’s no lotion that can protect my skin enough. Our two days of climbing coincided with a heat wave, so we were definitely maneuvering around sun exposure.

I accidentally left the Ohm in my gym bag at home, so I ended up leading the entire time. We climbed 15 routes over two days at four different walls, ranging from 5.9 to 10b, so I’m pleased as punch about my endurance and mental game.

Civilization Crag: Shade, plentiful shade on the east side, sun for climbers on the west side after mid-morning. Good assortment of doable routes for us.
The Hamlet:
     Lower Hamlet: Sun for everyone! My only bail-out of the weekend was at the J Wall on a thin 10b, where I couldn’t figure out the last move to the hold by the anchor. I joked to T, “The beta is a dyno to the last hand!” while I was working it out (when you’re 5’1″, that’s the beta you get often), but when I looked up the route online after the fact, it turned out to be not so much of an exaggeration.
     Upper Hamlet: Shaded gully for belayers, full sun for climbers past mid-morning. Generous routes with stemmy starts, nice for a tired afternoon.
The Gallery: Early morning shade, full sun by mid-morning on the easier stuff. Long, scrambly approach was a workout before the workout, mostly because we missed the cairns. Even the “easy” routes on this wall felt pretty crimpy, but maybe because the high-gravity nature of day 2 kicked in and I was having some abdominal cramps.
Wake Up Wall: Advil kicked in by the time we got here and I was happy to on-sight a couple of delicate 10a’s to wrap up our trip. Much-appreciated shade for everyone.

Final recap after our arrival back home:
     T: We did a pretty good planning and executing this trip.
     m: And we —
     Together: — didn’t kill each other.
[exchange pointed looks]

I woke up yesterday morning to the news of a deadly rockfall on El Cap during the height of Yosemite’s climbing season, right as I’m planning my own outdoor trips for the fall. Someone had commented to the tune of “The idea that I could do everything right and still die doing it is terrifying.”

But that’s what life is about, isn’t it? There are no guarantees. If being in biology research has taught me anything, it’s this as a fact of life. Some people with amazing genes will smoke like chimneys and live well into their 90s and some people with an unlucky mix of genes will live the most non-smokingest, healthiest-eatingest lives and develop lung cancer in their 30s. Say it with me: There are no guarantees.

According to a park geologist, 15 people have died in rock falls in Yosemite in the past 150 years. These numbers cover the entirety of the park, not only climbers, so considering the amount of foot traffic in Yosemite (millions annually), I consider this an acceptable risk.

According to motorcycling statistics, riders are at a much higher fatality risk per mile travelled compared to drivers, but there are several definitive things we can do to significantly mitigate that risk. I’ve taken the precautions that I can and for now, I also consider this an acceptable risk.

At the end of the day, we choose for ourselves what is acceptable and what is not. Living freely is about recognizing and accepting both the risks and the rewards. My practice enables me to find where these two are in balance without excessive hand-wringing so that from that point, I can commit to my decisions. The more I practice, the more intuitive this becomes, and I know for a fact that this skill has saved my ass at least a couple of times. As long as I’ve done my best to clean my side of the street, address how much failure I’m willing to live (or die) with, the rest has always taken care of itself.

TR 12a[12b stem](11b)
L 11a(11a)
B 3/4(3/4)

I’m getting better at on-sighting the low-11s and V3/4s, but I’m still plateaued because crimps and I love my hands uninjured. I’m working on endurance and whole-body strength more than anything else because I think that’s more important for leading outdoors than pure crimp strength.

I’ve definitely hit a high-11s-low-12s plateau in the gym, but I’m pretty complacent about it since at this level, there are still plenty of route options and enjoyment to be had outside. My first priority is to stay uninjured and my second is to develop and maintain mental strength for outdoor climbing, so I’m well-able to work on both of those goals without pushing myself to try higher and higher grades where I risk blowing out my fingers if I don’t back it up with appropriate drills.

I’m sure I’ll still continue to slowly develop strength, but taking my body type and age into account, I probably can’t count on gaining 16-year-old-phenom strength. Lately, I’ve been focusing on technique starting with my footwork, particularly in utilizing small chips with the toes and developing trust and familiarity with those sensations. At some point, I’ll probably also start training my hands more, working specifically on finger and open hand strength, but I’m having plenty of fun already and I hate training drills enough that I can’t be bothered to start that just yet. Once I get sick of being stuck, I’ll look into mounting a campus board somewhere in the house.

I’ve always valued grace and efficiency in movement and I’ve even been criticized for being overly slothy (sorry young-climber-dude-coach, I don’t need to start dyno-ing at this point in my life since I love my shoulders intact in their respective sockets, thankyouverymuch), but after today’s session, I found that I had a smattering of small bruises around my left knee. The fact that I don’t know when I got them speaks volumes — I still have a lot of room for improving my body awareness and proprioception. Honing the mental strength should help that and that brings me back to my daily practice.

But of course it does. I feel like everything brings me back to my daily practice. I love that my studies give me the choice and power to improve myself, but at the same time, I’m really frickin’ lazy and I just want to go be horizontal (which is my absolute favorite state of existence) while filling my brain with all the external stuff life has to offer. My inner struggle with immaturity continues…

Now that I’m in a mental space that allows me to lead into the high-5.11s and pull moves on lead with the confidence I have on top rope without that paralyzing resistance I used to feel leading low-5.10s just a couple weeks ago, I’m left wondering — what happened to the fear?

I guess I should back up first — what is my fear? All the fear I contend with in my everyday life comes from an irrational space. With regards to climbing, I’m tied into a rope, clipped well above decking risk. Rationally, I can understand that I’m not in danger, but I sometimes can’t make myself believe it. This fear is a wasteful use of energy. It’s anxiety; it’s my brain dreaming up the unreal what-ifs that won’t happen, distracting me from what is right in front of me. It’s always my brain, isn’t it?

I know for a fact that the onset of the climbing slump happened when I fell off the daily meditation wagon. A schedule change hit me pretty hard and “I’ll practice tomorrow” turned into weeks of postponement. I also know for a fact that the slump abated when I started meditating every day again.

Meditation is an exercise in disciplining the mind. I can find meditation in my activities (climbing, riding, playing music), but in all those exercises, the focus is diluted by involving more variables (physical movement, auditory input). When I’m sitting, my effort is in keeping my focus on one thing and one thing only. This is how the formal practice differs from the informal practice. In any other activity that might feel meditative, there is no way to limit the focus to just one thing. This isn’t to say that the informal practice isn’t important or invalid (on the contrary, the informal practice is a necessary application to make the formal practice relevant to real life — why practice at all if it only benefits me on the cushion?), but I do believe that there is nothing that can take the place of a formal meditation practice.

The expert expects to find a way to climb through the hard sections so he quickly homes in on that way. He expects to be able to rest, and he finds rest positions. We, on the other hand, home in on the difficulties, the obstacles, and the certainty that we will become exhausted. The expert knows there may be difficult moves, but is confident he will find a way, and that he has enough reserve for a climb of this difficulty. We balk at hard moves because we fear we won’t make it unless we do them exactly right. We fear the moves will exhaust our reserves,and we won’t be able to cope with what follows. These are mental habits produced by our image of our abilities. This image, not our lack of strength or technique, is our most limiting factor.
       Arno Ilgner, “The Rock Warrior’s Way”

I’ve noticed that since I’ve started sitting regularly a couple years ago, I second-guess myself much less often and I regret those split-second decisions less and less all the time. I perceive situations more accurately and I’m able to do it more quickly. Nothing happens in a vacuum, so it makes sense that these changes would affect how I climb, too. It’s helped me see routes from the perch of curiosity, not fear, and I’m able to use my brain for problem-solving, rather than fantasizing fear-inducing scenarios. I don’t know how the practice works; I just know that it does and so, I sit again tonight.

TR 12a[12b stem](11b)
L 11a(11a)
B 3/4(2/3)

I’m finally out of my slump that lasted seemingly-forever and I’ve had multiple personal-record-breaking sessions in the last week — on-sighting high-5.10s/11a’s on lead, plus leading 11d’s indoors. Woopwoop. Climbing (and falling) is fun again! (And a reminder to self: meditation works. Duh.)