Friday, February 5, 2016

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Last weekend was absolutely riddled with indoor climbing enthusiasm as we all clambered on top of each other in a dusty poorly lit gym sweating our balls/labia’s off for hometown recognition and (for a lucky few) a chance to pick a crash pad, chalk bag, or rope bag (what’s up with all the bags??).  Yes, after five or six years I finally attended a climbing competition.  Feeling in great shape and climbing quite well lately I entered the Tacoma Throw Down not necessarily over confident but sure of myself enough to win Advanced and maybe even be bumped into men’s open(?). 
The day of competition coincided perfectly with the day of the ABS nationals’ semi-finals and finals and I wasn’t sure which event to get more excited about.  Okay, that’s a bald faced lie, I was WAY more excited about watching ABS nationals instead of pawing at overly-chalked holds amidst a spraying orgy of teenage angst, thirty-something glory haze, and tiny blonde girls elbowing their way to the front of the queue. 
The Tacoma Throw Down, albeit in a tiny gym with relatively outdated holds, was exactly what you would expect from a small gym bouldering comp.  Besides the organization of the comp being an absolute mess and the comp process being a total free for all no holds barred type of affair, the problems were actually quite good.  I sampled most of the harder stuff and a little of the medium hard stuff.  I liked the fact that they didn’t resort to using tweaky holds to make the problems hard, instead they were mostly difficult but at the same time incredibly doable.  There were only a small amount of problems that did not get done and looked totally heinous but for the most part a lot of the higher end Open problems were sent in a matter of tries by the subsequent competitor. 
My performance waned considerably after my first few attempts of a hard’ish problem and I spent the rest of the comp working the jitters out.  It’s funny to me  how nervous you can get even when you have a long history of climbing under your belt, situations that call for intense focus, climbing on real rock in sometimes life or death situations; and yet here we are in a gym, over gripping and hoping people don’t think you’re a complete gumby.  How silly.  But, that’s the reality of it.  You can also tell who the real comp climbers are by the way they casually stroll up everything that looks impossible.  They also seem to have herculean amounts of power endurance and are able to give hard problems handfuls of tries without showing a bit of wear or tear. 
I mostly milled about waiting for the herd to thin, trying this and that.  I never topped a single hard problem unfortunately.  My moment of glory was snatched away from me as I lurched to a finishing jug on a problem I had tried six or seven times now and watched as my hand unfurled from around the juggy lip of the last hold and I was sent to the chalky mats below accompanied by a sigh of shame from the crowd.  Oh well.  With a little less than an hour left I started making the rounds on easier problems to buff up my scorecard but the clock was ticking and suddenly I had ten minutes left and had only completed four problems, one of which was not going to help my score in the least.  I tore my score card up and tossed it in the trash.  I knew I had made a mistake by not warming up to these challenges properly and so I refused to turn in a scorecard that didn’t accurately reflect the kind of climbing I know I’m capable of. 
Comps aren’t just about whose the strongest, sometimes it’s about whose got the best strategy.  Besides all of the climbing, the best part about this comp was seeing and getting to climb literally with all of my favorite people in the Washington climbing community.  We had Tex, Waterfalls, Sachs, Ken, Billis, Hannah, Yogi, Jimmy, Geoff, Josh, etc.  It was a strong showing for the World Wall 1 god fathers for sure.  Most of whom I had never seen climbing on plastic before which was mind blowing in and of itself.  The really bad news came when Waterfalls, who had finally muscled his way statically through a huge sideways dyno, engaged a drop knee to get out of the roof and felt a pop in his knee.  He dropped to the floor and instantly knew something was wrong.  He spent the rest of the comp limping around with a bag of ice lashed to his knee.  It sounds like he tore his ACL.  HUGE bummer, because if that is the case he will be pretty much out of the game for almost the entire season.  I’m still waiting to see what the MRI shows.  Sending a lot of positive vibes his way. 

I had a good time regardless of how I climbed.  It was fucking awesome to get to sample new problems, climb with some of my local role models in the climbing community, and re-learn how to climb in a competitive e setting.  It actually got me kind of stoked to compete in the future. 

However, the real competition happened in Madison, WI on Saturday, January 30th 2016.  I spent close to 15 hours watching footage from this event not wanting to miss a single step, dyno, fall, French blow, or commentator foible.  I love this shit!  I wish we had more nationally recognized comps in a year.  I’m tired of only having one major comp to look forward to in the US when the world cups can range from 5 to 8 comps in a season.  I know/follow most of the competitors in these comps which makes it more interesting because you know how they’ve done previously and it’s cool to follow their progress.  I was in it mostly to see how well Puccio was going to do after her seemingly effortless recovery from an ACL tear.  The commentators were saying things like ‘…Puccio suffering from a disastrous knee injury’, and all I could think was, ‘Really?  Disastrous?  Didn’t she send V.12 like six weeks after her surgery?’  I would hardly call that disastrous. 
But as the competition wore on you could tell Puccio was nervous about her knee.  She opted to down climb almost every problem she topped 2-3 moves before hopping off, and even her dismount from the problems was different in the way she dropped as lightly as she could onto her feet and then immediately bowled over backwards letting the brunt of the fall impact her butt.  Plus I also noticed a few times where a hard right drop knee or heel hook would have helped her and she seemed hesitant to engage it.  However, a psychologically scarred Puccio is still stronger than the majority of human beings anywhere, and this was evident in her performance.  The highlight of the entire comp, and I don’t think I’m alone on this, was when Puccio (seemingly injured after a disastrous second go attempt of female finals problem 2) was helped off the mats by an EMT only to re-emerge for female finals problem 3 and flash it with some of the coolest looking horizontal heel hook beta ever!  What an athlete.  I was left howling at the screen and cheering.

In the end, Puccio took second to a nearly flawless performance by her ‘protégé’ Megan Mascarenas.  Of course the narrow minded and controversy driven media tried to play up this defeat as a some sort of off kilter rivalry between the two but Puccio, the savy veteran, hopped into the interview booth shortly after the comp to set the record straight by espousing her many losses on this National stage as well as her many defeats on the World Cup circuit.  We really like to hold up ‘our’ climbers as some kind of representation of what the ‘best’ in the world is, but its sadly just not true.  With that being said I’m fairly confident in my assertion that Puccio, regardless of her amazing record as a competition climber, is also the strongest female rock climber in the world today (I’m seemingly immune to the overt implications by the mainstream climbing media that the ‘best female rock climber is a 14 year old girl’, no offense Ashima). 

I was a little bummed that some of the old school female competitors were amiss, no Payne, no Johnson?  What gives?  Plus where were even some of the young up and comers like Francesca Metcalf and Isabelle Faus?  Ashima was a no show because of her age, but man it’s going to be ON next year when she can compete as an adult for the first time.  Without some of these names it kind of turned into the Puccio/Mascarenas show and that’s not a knock against the other competitors, it’s the truth.  Nina Williams, Kasia Pietras, Molly Renny, Megan Martin, Claire Buhrfeind, Kyra Condie, and Grace McKeehan are all VERY strong, but they just don’t make it to that next level like some of the other female competition climbers I’ve seen (Jule Wurm, Akyio Naguchi, Myio Nanaka, Mina Markovich, Jain Kim, Shauna Coxsey, just to name a few!).      

Also, there were 90 male competitors to the females 45, what’s that about?  Either we need to enforce some kind of vetting process for the males OR the females need to step it up and start coming out for these events.  They’re kind of a big deal, at least to some anyways. 

My main gripe falls in line with everyone else’s which has to do with the fact that the scoring system that is in place for USA climbing is garbage.  While it may be technically sound and look relatively ‘good’ (read ‘complicated’) on paper, it translates into a bunch of frustration for the athletes/viewers and inaccuracy when accurately judging a climbing competition.  This is twice in a row Daniel Woods has gotten completely shafted by this scoring system and it makes me sick.  All I can say is the real climbers out there know who the real champion is, and frankly, it’s Daniel Woods.  He did the best on ALL of the problems and thus, deserves to win.  Case closed.  Now, where the association will go from here is a mystery but all I know is that if they keep using this method of scoring they will lose a lot of the momentum they’ve picked up in the last few years and it will be a real shame as well as an easily avoidable detriment to this burgeoning sport.  Do I have any suggestions?  Yes, I do, I’ve been watching world cup comps for the last few years and I don’t see anything wrong with that system besides needing a few small tweaks.  I would like to see each hold gain a point value after a bonus hold, and tops of course should remain supreme.  If we assign each hold a point value after a bonus hold this would incentivize moving upwards and also sort the competitors’ efforts out in a more realistic fashion.  Getting to the bonus hold should represent the first challenge, with every hold past the bonus hold representing a higher ranking and thus motivating the competitor to keep going.  This way, even if we have three competitors that make a bonus hold we can sort them out based on who got the farthest past the bonus hold by tallying up points.  I like this system because it rewards you for moving past the bonus wherein if a competitor almost tops the problem they aren’t held at the same level as someone who just managed to get the bonus and no further.  They can still be ranked higher because of the point system allotted to each hold after the bonus. 
Daniel Woods came in fourth because he failed to top a boulder (by one move) that a lot of the other competitors did, even though he crushed all three of the other finals problems.  No one else had this kind of performance, so why did he come in fourth?  Because the fucking system in place now for ABS sucks!  Jimmy Webb got second place and he didn’t even come close to topping the first problem.  This just does not make sense to me.  Although, we all know Jimmy and Daniel are pretty much the best boulderers in the world anyway.  I do have to mention Nathaniel Coleman’s send of male semi-finals problem number 4 which no one else was able to do.  If that doesn’t entitle him to some kind of competition glory then I don’t know what does.  When he made it past the heinous iron cross pocket campus section at the beginning we were all thinking ‘that was sick, but how much does he have left in the tank?’.  And just to shut us all up he grabbed those two heinous bubble wrap pinch slimpers, eyed the top flat jug, and slam dunked it with both hands like Shaq does when he gets anywhere near the rim in the post.  That was definitely the other stand out moment in the comp for me. 

All in all, it was a VERY good competition.  It’s hard to compete with ABS 15 (you know, when Daniel won but there was this crazy back and forth between him and Vasya and Daniel had to perform on the last problem, which he did, but we were all on the edge of our seats because the last problem was this heinous looking sloper compression power problem that none of the other competitors could do until DWoods crushed it second go!!).  It’s hard to live up to that legacy, but this comp was close.  It had all of the ingredients of a good competition, the problems were extremely well set, and they accomplished something that I think is very hard to do, which is to separate out the truly best climbers.  The fact that the scoring system is all fucked up isn’t the route setters problem, it’s a logistics thing that will settle over time.  A personal highlight for me was watching Ty Landman climb.  His style is just so dialed and beautiful to watch.  He has this crazy control that comes from his core and his steel cable finger strength and I never get tired of watching him crush.  So good to see him back in action; if you are new to Mr. Landmans abilities I highly recommend picking up the flick ‘Between the Trees’ by UncleSomebody films. 

Allright, that’s it from me.  We’ve got one more good National comp to look forward to before the World Cup circuit starts in April.  Hope everyone is out there having fun and getting ready for the season to start!

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Trail Called 'You'

My legs are almost as sore as when I did Mt. Rainier.  Granted, I have been doing hardly any cardio lately and my running is pretty much non-existent but I talked myself into running the Mt. Si trail this past weekend on the grounds that I had been snowboarding every weekend for the past five weekends and in my mind running and snowboarding, they’re like, the same right? 

I woke up Saturday morning, for once NOT at 5:00am to go ride the mountain, looked at my cell phone which glared back at me the numbers 6:25, and I promptly rolled over and enjoyed another two hours of blissful sleep before I decided I needed to wake up for reals.  Okay, I wasn’t going to play in the snow today, so instead I needed to fill that gaping white void with something.  Hmmmm, what could I do? Well, I just got paid, so, I guess I’ll spend lots of money today!  Hooray!  And let me reiterate the fact that ‘lots of’ money means different things to different people.  My agenda for the day was centered on the burning hot REI gift cards in my pocket and I was intent on letting them burn through my pocket in the actual store instead of my bedroom.  So I was off to buy, uh, well, stuff?  I wasn’t really in need of anything crucial, so its times like these when you have to dig deep and manufacture new hobbies in order to buy more stuff in order to pursue said self-created hobbies. 

I did have a legit need for some new gym shoes so I stopped in the mediocre climbing section REI offers up like some homage to the ghost of Caldwellian after thought.  Of course, the giant black and white cut out of Kevin and Tommy on a porta-ledge during their siege of the Dawn Wall they used to sport at the front of the climbing section has long since been retired now that the voracious and exponentially decreasing attention span of the sheepish and virtual horde of pseudo climbers has obviously thinned.  But their sporadic bursts of enthusiasm around climbing notwithstanding the flagship REI store might possibly have the WORST selection of climbing gear of any climbing store I’ve ever been to.  Why is this??  It’s the fucking FLAGSHIP REI store for Christ’s sake!!  I checked out a pair of on sale Shaman’s but they didn’t have my size and that was pretty much it, it was all downhill from there.  I tried on a pair of Evolv ‘Luchadores’ next and they were quite possibly the worst thing I’ve ever put my foot in (save a pair of hand me down AT ski boots).  I checked out the backpacking/camping stove selection and of course they only had one XGK-EK in the entire building!  Fuck me.  I went upstairs and they didn’t even have the latest Brooks Pure Grit trail runners.  Flagship my ass!  Who does the ordering for these people??  You don’t even want to know what I spent all $90 of my gift cards on (it was overly priced Friction Labs chalk, energy gels, and a beanie).  Sheesh, but at least I finally picked up a pair of sweet stretchy tights for running in and also for creeping out nearby heterosexual women.  Oh yeah, LOOK AT THE BULGE!!

I left the REI store, disgusted and turned off from wanting to purchase anything outdoor related and headed over to the Brooks store on Stoneway.  After buying a pair of brand spanking new Pure Grit 4’s, I was out!  I got so psyched to run the Mt. Si trail I could barely keep myself from singing out loud every single word to the Bamboos ‘Keep me in Mind’ on the car ride out to the trail head.  The weather wasn’t even that bad and despite the ominous clouds and drizzle there were little hints of sunshine here and there.  I started my run and literally .2 miles into it I felt as if I was going to die.  Is that blood filling up my lungs?  Better keep moving.  I was through entertaining the consumer-driven fantasy of stampeding up this beast and decided to take my run to a jog to a power hike instead.  I put the hammer down as well as my head and stormed up the trail.  Even in slightly shitty weather, with half the trail in snow pack and ice, there were like 100 people on this fucking thing.  I passed group after group as well as a lot of people coming back down.  I did the first half relatively quickly and felt in good shape but there did come a time when I thought  to myself “If I see another switchback I’m going to throw a fit right in the middle of this god forsaken trail, stretchy pants and ALL!!”.  But luckily I kept my cool and was rewarded with frozen fingers, ethereal sun beams set on fire by the mist and steam rising from the forest floor and cutting through the canopy, views of I-90 swerving and meandering eastward up to the pass, North Bend spread out like some agricultural spider web, and the summit of Mt. Si.  A place I have always viewed from the comfort of my shady ledge at World Wall. 

I sauntered up to the top of a rocky outcrop and looked out over the windy display of moving clouds, pica-boo sightings of distant ridges and valleys, and felt the warmth of the sun on my face for a fleeting moment.  My hands curled into numb motionless balls and it was all I could do to tear off the top of a gel, stick my camel back spigot in my mouth and gulp down water and sugar.  I pulled my hood over the top of my head and started back down the trail.  Although I was intimidated by the snow pack and grade of the trail I gave in to gravity and ran the entire way back to the bottom.  Downhill trail running is easily one of my favorite activities and as soon as I start I’m instantly transported back to being a spry 12 year old kid bouncing off the half pipe grooves of the sandy brown Southern Utah trails that snake their way through the myriad of sun scorched canyons. 

I got to my car just as it really started to rain, and I felt my muscles tighten up due to being dehydrated and hypoglycemic.  I felt good though.  I had gotten all of my new purchases thoroughly muddy and broken in and it felt validating to see the mud streaked pants, the soaking wet shoes, and the sweat drenched hat I had just bought that day in the back of my car crumpled up and awaiting the laundry.

And this is how I know.  Yes, I’m a climber.  I’m also more than JUST a climber (obviously).  I love being outside.  But more than that, I love testing myself while being outside.  I feel as if every time I engage in activities like trail running, snowboarding, climbing I am interacting with my environment in a holistically deeper fashion than being a mere spectator.  Pushing myself to do things I have or have not spent months training for, in an environment that is at times inhospitable and characteristically uncontrolled; pressing myself to keep going for another mile, regulating my mental outrage at a trail that never ends, facing insecurities and hang ups and realizing they aren’t that important, they don’t define me and accepting them as a beautiful imperfect part of myself.  Standing on a summit and being able to hone in even for a second on that moment, to be present, to be thankful for where I am, not how much time I’ve wasted, or how much time I have left.  It is also a fantastic gift to be able to utilize my body in a way that not only brings me pain but joy, and leaves me genuinely exhausted at the end of the day.  Is there anything better than lying in bed at night and knowing you are going to sleep like a falling brick because you pushed yourself to and maybe even past a physical limit you thought you had? 

I regret not bringing my camera up on my run because I did miss quite a few beautiful shots; like the sun breaching the trees and illuminating the mist near the top of the mountain, the expanse of sun and clouds contrasting the beauty of the I-90 corridor, and even some misguided rube plodding up the trail WITHOUT shoes??!!  All I could do as I ran past him was look down and say ‘That looks miserable’.  Whether he heard me or not, or whether he cared what I thought, is another thing entirely. 


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Frigid Inclinations

This last weekend was an absolute stunner!  If you weren’t climbing at Index, Gold Bar, or North Bend than you missed out on some beautiful and seemingly ‘rare’ January PNW weather.  I was psyched, as always, but also a little skeptical of just how good it would be based strictly on the ball-shrinkingly cold forecast.  In the end I will always favor getting outside in mediocre (too cold or too hot) conditions over the alternative: staying indoors playing D&D while sipping boons farm and watching re-runs of Scrubs. 

I was so stoked when a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in months showed some interest in getting out despite the frigid forecast.  It was blue bird and crisp as we drove out on I-90 and as soon as we rounded a small bend in the road Mt. Si popped out sporting a nice crop of thick white hair mostly located on the norther facing slopes and rocky crags of its imposing presence above the town of North Bend.  It’s pretty sweet to drive 25 minutes away from a major city like Seattle and be surrounded by snow-capped mountains and lush valleys on a gorgeous sunny day.  I forgot about how much suffering we might endure in the face of some ice cold Rhino rock and instead fell asleep in the shade of the nostalgia tree. 

I actually worked up a sweat on the approach to the crag and the ambient temps seemed to be quite good.  I hadn’t been to Little si in 3 months which is the longest break I’ve taken from my beloved crag since I moved back to Washington in the Spring of 2014.  It’s funny to think about how in just 4 months I will now have two years under my belt as a born again Washington resident and a Seattleite at that!.  It was also nice to catch up with my accompanying climbing partner Eleanor.  She had just returned from a three week stint in Bishop and was assuring me that her endurance had gone down the drain but I wasn’t buying it. 

As we marched up the trail I found myself being filled with delight at the old familiar sights and sounds of this all too familiar haunt; the gushing of a stream that cuts the trail midway and was almost dry at the height of the summer season; the lone bare alder that sticks out like a white spike splitting the lapis lazuli of the sky and marks the shallow valley that separates Little si from Mt. si as you round a bend in the trail.  Rays of light penetrate the canopy and create whimsical patterns of folly and contrast the dark niches of decaying nurse logs and bare patches of needle strewn dirt.  The complication of gnarled root systems lay bare and polished from the countless encounters with boot rubber and black soles creeping through dark rich soil and shattering the perfection of the manmade trail.  And finally the grey behemoth, the massive ships prow run aground, the seated giant rhino rear, the lonely white tower, the cream castle, the elevator of echoes, the arena of madness the wall of all worlds. 

We made it to the wall, half bathed in sun light and half bathed in the dry cold of shadows’ provided with ease by the looming firs and hemlocks immediately adjacent to the crag.  We decided to install the ‘two pitch’ rule, which is kind of crucial in colder times at the crag and allows you to do an easy pitch to get the blood flowing, lower down and then attempt a more serious pitch while you have something resembling sensation in your fingers.  Right off the bat we knew it was going to be a struggle.  The wind was howling so bad across the wall any kind of body heat you generated was whisked away immediately.  Eleanor did Abo, lowered down and in five minutes said her fingers were feeling better and then attempted Techno, but the wind was too unforgiving.  It was my turn and I did Abo and it was absolutely terrifying and miserable, terrifying because every hold I grabbed felt as if it either wasn’t there, OR that I was going to dry fire immediately upon putting any kind of weight on it.  Yikes.

I did Abo, came down and went through the screaming barfies routine, before booting up and amazingly making it up Softliner even though I was pumped from over gripping and colder than a snow leopards vacant vagina in the middle of a Tibetan snow storm.  However, after coming down and waiting about five minutes my hands were on fire and felt as toasty as ever.  The heat fled though as I waited for Eleanor to do her two pitches and when it came to be my turn a couple of frozen gumbies were questing up Abo.  In light of this new development I decided half-heartedly to get on Chronic.  My hands went so numb and my forearms were so tight that my right hand actually locked up into something resembling a claw.  I could barely open my hand as I yelled ‘TAKE!’ at the type writer.  I made it a few more clips before giving up entirely.  Eleanor gave Psychosoamtic some good burns but gave up as well and I ended the session by running up Techno which felt AMAZING and was easily the best pitch of the day (also a Bald Eagle was flying overhead as we climbed and the snow atop Mt. Si framed the back drop quite nicely), and as a finale I went for Chronic one more time coming off at the very last move due to a heinous pump I could not shake off. 

We ended the day in classic Little si style at the NBBG over pints.  Great way to spend a frosty yet beautiful day in January.

I hadn’t thought much about it at the time but this trip was the kick off to the 2016 season!!  And a chilly one at that.  It got me psyched!!  I’ve been doing a ton of snowboarding lately and just the day before this trip I slammed pretty hard and gave myself a small concussion.  It kind of reminded me why I am not more into snowboarding than I am and glad to have the climbing season just around the corner.  We are in for some interesting weather patterns here in the next couple of months, apparently there is a split weather pattern going on that will leave us with occasional bouts of dry sunny weather perfect for climbing.  While I’m not ready to retire the board just yet it is invigorating to get out on some real rock in the middle of Winter and get back in touch with what makes my soul sing.  I have a pretty fat laundry list for this season and I’m already five days in on my training cycle.  This month I’m going to focus on diet and power endurance.  Hopefully by late February there will be some dry rock to test out any newfound strength I gain over the next four weeks and we’ll see if any of my projects this season will be doable.  I’m refocusing on my long term goal of getting a little lighter and increasing my power and finger strength.  I’ve been talking to quite a few people lately in the gym who are intent on getting better at climbing and setting their goals high which in turn cranks my training wheel as well and gets me motivated to step up my intent and focus when I think about getting stronger. 

Staring out the window at this very second makes me pine for endless blue bird days and perfect sending temps.  Hope everyone out there reading this is moving forward in life, in love, and certainly in their climbing. 


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Party Goblin


It’s a new year obviously so I thought I would start off this year with a post about my trials and tribulations when it comes to getting stronger, training for climbing, and the gym culture as seen through my eyes.  I know this is a topic that is on everyone’s mind seeing as how we have things such as the Rock Climber’s Training Manual, Training Beta Pod Cast, Gimme Kraft, the Sensei, online couching, countless new climbing gyms opening country-wide,, and an ever increasing interest in climbing competitions and climbing teams, not to mention a virtual plethora of training tools from simplistic wood-based hangboards to the ultra-futurisitc and all-inclusive rock prodigy hang board, to the Zlag board, the beastmaker, the moon board, circuit boards, to TRX, forearm massagers, finger massagers, thera-bands, thera-canes, and all matter of recovery tools and training implements.  Training for climbing has turned into an industry.  You can now download (for a hefty price) specific training plans tailored just for your skill level and time commitment, you can talk to professional climbing coaches online, you can buy books with endless amounts of information and numbers to back up their claims that ‘their’ way will get you to that ‘next level’, there is a seemingly endless parade of climbing media online from exposes on how other professional athletes train to basic climbing porn and streaming competitions and exhibitions.  But…

Does any of it work??  Of course it does, it’s been proven!  But don’t fool yourself into thinking that by doing any of these suggested methods for improvement that you will simply become a rock god overnight.  My personal experience has been, even with a good base of fitness, it takes at least 2-3 months of consistent training (that means doing the same boring exercises over and over again week in and week out) before you see and feel an actual improvement in your climbing performance.  And the change can be as subtle as feeling just a little less tired going into the crux on your 5.13+ project, or making it two moves farther on that V.hard boulder you’ve been working in the cave; my point is that progress comes in many forms and does not always facilitate or necessitate a send or a drastic improvement in your climbing.  Training is also sometimes a misnomer.  When we think of training we think of getting into the gym and wailing on our muscles until they get stronger, but we seldom associate training with our attitude and our mental approach to the activity in question.  The kinds of things we think when we are training or after we have trained can have a sometimes dramatic effect on our physiological progression.  The Harvard milkshake study is a great example of this. 

So here is where my experience comes into play.  I’m a total head case when it comes to climbing and while I’ve gotten better I’ve also gotten worse in some instances.  The major obstacle for me to overcome in my climbing is not just a physical one, but has to do with self-perceived social pressures that in my mind generate thoughts of fear, inadequacy, jealousy, and last but not least rage.  I’m always putting pressure on myself to be better than the other guy/gal.  When I find out this isn’t possible or maybe even that someone that I had previously thought was not as strong as me in fact is as strong as me or even stronger I feel inadequate, jealous, and eventually this turns into rage and sometimes depression.  I’m terrible at practicing humility and selflessness because I’m impatient, vane, and sometimes vapid.  I suffer from what David Foster Wallace sums up quite well in this phrase, “Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence.” Now, while this may be true inside of my head it doesn’t exactly benefit me to live it as a reality.  Which is why climbing (and other competitive sports for that matter, or competition by itself) can be such an eye opening activity.  It pulls the curtain back on this ideal of ourselves and reveals what we are most afraid of, that indeed we are not the center of the universe, the most important person in existence, nor am I the best at whatever it is I’m trying to be the best at.  I know what you’re thinking at this moment, “wow, this is daunting”, so let me un-daunt you.  Being the best is relative and in something as subjective as climbing you should unburden yourself of comparison as frequently as you can.  It’s no coincidence that this advice will help you in a myriad of ways throughout your life. 

I’m aware of my mental setbacks when it comes to climbing and allowing me to step out of the social straight jacket I as well as the members of my culture have been more than happy to help me wear.  So now when I climb and I start to feel this way I acknowledge it, and climb through it.  And yes, it’s been a painful process.  I’ve forced myself to fail over and over again in front of my peers,  and even in front of people who I don’t consider my peers.  My ego has taken quite a bashing but, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Just the other day, I wasn’t feeling necessarily strong or motivated, but I pushed through it (like I had been training myself to do) and came out the other side having completed several boulder problems I had failed on numerous times in the previous month.  They weren’t the hardest problems I’ve ever done but they signaled a nice change in an otherwise stagnant pattern.  It bolstered my faith in the new routine I’ve adopted lately and it granted me the courage to admit that failing in situations where the outcome makes me look 'weak' will dull this sense of grandiosity I feel so entitled to have. 

The Gym Life

Climbing in the gym is an oddity.  The gym itself is a static environment but it fosters its own glowing microcosm populated with all the villains and heroes of the dynamic real time world.  There is no place in the climbing environment where number grades are so magnified.  Where egos are shattered and legacies are built!  And yet none of these indoor accomplishments really matter (media-wise).  When was the last time you heard of someone getting a sponsorship based off of their ascent of the ‘black project’ on the 45??  And yet, we glorify competition climbers, so in a weird roundabout way competitions are our way of validating hard indoor ascents.    

Grades are an important measuring stick.  The gym uses this measuring stick ruthlessly to punish anyone who attempts to solidify themselves at a certain grade (unless you’re Sean McColl).  It’s certainly been the case for me.  As soon as I get comfortable climbing at a V.6 level a problem is set that zeroes in perfectly on my weaknesses and I’m left with that bitter beer face complaining about how this problem is too reachy, or too scrunchy, or too crimpy, or too technical.  Ha!  Gym climbing is meant to challenge you and expose your weaknesses, so when you criticize the problems in the gym for being too hard or too whatever you’re complaining about the point of gym climbing.  True, there are poorly set problems but that’s not my point here.  I complain about problems in the gym until I realize it’s not the problem or the setter that I have a problem with it’s a particular move or hold that is giving me trouble and letting me know that I need to work on becoming better at a certain move or hold type.  With this approach to climbing in the gym boulder problems become unique challenges that can help me to become a better more well-rounded climber.  I bring this up to highlight a problem I see pop up from time to time with climbers in the gym who feel entitled to climb at a certain level.  When failure rears its ugly head these climbers (myself included) are content to complain and point fingers instead of looking at it the way I’ve highlighted above: as a unique challenge, an opportunity to learn, and grow. 

My new training regimen has actually been going quite well and like I said earlier I have seen bits of progress here and there.  But the struggle continues and it’s always an uphill battle.  Sometimes I feel energized to get after my routine and work it to the end.  Other times I want to just go home and lay in bed and think myself to a level I’ll be happy with, but we all know this doesn’t really work.  The most important thing to have during a training cycle is patience.  And goddamn it’s hard to cultivate.  I think what motivates me the most in these cases is going into the gym and seeing stronger climbers put the tools they’ve collected to the test.  It reassures me that I can get there too, but I have to maintain some kind of consistency or else I will always be stuck at the same level.  In order to progress from where I am some things have to change and this new year is a good excuse to set some new things in motion.  I’m training POWER right now, and I’m really enjoying it.  It’s not nearly as boring as training endurance, and I’m finally healthy enough to start campus boarding.  I’ve had three power work outs so far and I have already noticed a difference in my climbing.  Just a month or so ago I struggled with this one problem on the 45 that involved going from a scrunched up position with the two good holds next to each other to extending out to a sloper that you had to grab in control.  I did this move one time but didn’t complete the problem, falling on the move at least 10 more times and never sticking the sloper again.  Just the other day I walked up to this problem after not having been on it for weeks and day flashed it, the best part was how I felt doing the move that had shut me down weeks before.  It’s that moment we train for and not necessarily the send sometimes.  That moment when you realize that you now have a new tool in your tool box.  It can be more rewarding than struggling to the top of a climb and then never getting back on it again.  The mastery of a move or a hold type, it’s something Ondra displays constantly when he climbs.  But it takes a lot of patience; patience to approach the climb with the right mindset, patience to let progress build and ultimately become a part of you, and patience to understand how to train in a productive way. 


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

What Once Was

A picture of me on the iconic arête test piece Latest Rage(5.12b) in Smith Rock.  A bitter memory for me and one of my latest from Smith.  The onsight went horrible, and then on the second go I was all pumped up and ready to crush and blew it at the second clip after completely sketching out on a deep mono pocket.  The memory alone brings a bad taste to my mouth even though the route itself is actually quite good.  I’ve alluded to this sentiment in previous posts but I still have a long way to go before I earn my Smith stripes.  One of my top priorities for the early 2016 climbing season is to spend a chunk of time (hopefully a week) in Smith trying to decipher its secrets and finally earn a spot in the 5.13 club there.  I’m sure it will be frustrating and awesome all at the same time. 

Looks like my blog will be in the winding down phase in the next few months.  I don’t see any climbing trips on the horizon. I did have some grand plans to finally make my first climbing trip to a new continent but the plans were chaotic and unstable and in the end I didn’t feel comfortable committing to a $1,100 plane ticket and not knowing if anyone else would be going so I scrapped the idea in favor of waiting for a better opportunity with a more stable outcome.

In the meantime it continues to rain incessantly here in the NW.  The only thing I have to look forward to these days is a newly set wall at Stone Gardens and re-tooling my outlook and approach to training for a new climbing season.  The thing I’ve struggled with the most lately, besides the utter lack of sun and real rock, is getting out of my comfort zone.  I’ve made some good steps towards working on power and finger strength but I find my motivation lacking.  It’s hard to plan for something so seemingly far into the future.  So I’m thinking of ways to generate muses for my climbing.  I won’t need them all the time, my love for climbing and the movement therein is enough to keep me going for a long while, but pushing past my limitations takes something special.  I’m not sure what my muse will end up being, but lately I’ve been really amused with the idea of getting better at climbing inside, specifically hard boulder problems.  For the entire year of 2015 I’ve only completed four new boulder problems and I can see a huge difference in where I was  a year ago (in terms of climbing inside) and where I am now.  I find dynamic movements slightly more taxing and low percentage, my lock off strength has withered considerably, and my staying power (my ability to do several moves at my threshold) is almost entirely gone.  It all comes down to the fact that I just don’t have the same kind of power I used to.  And I’m blaming finger injuries and my devout adherence to training strictly for endurance for my weak little arms and lack of compression strength.  Just the other day I spent nearly four hours in the gym, and the majority of my time was spent bouldering.  It was kind of horrific how little I accomplished in this time.  I remember coming into the gym after a new set and being able to tick nearly the entire wall (that is to say V.6 and below) with mostly flashes and now the tables have turned so dramatically it’s either sad or funny. 

But I’m a hard one to sway, especially when it comes to climbing.  I’m using this ‘weak’ period as a time to understand humility, to learn from others, and to gain confidence.  I’ve climbed with so many different types of climbers over the years; some who can turn off their brains at the drop of a hat and just crush something first try, some who need to calculate each movement slowly and devise a plan, some who just jump in head first with their eyes closed and thrash away, some who get emotional and take every defeat personally, some who are afraid, some who don’t know they are afraid, and some so weathered that experience shines through and sending is like a second skin.  I get frustrated when I don’t feel as if I’ve progressed, and even more frustrated when I have to work harder than I’m used to just to keep the tools that I’ve acquired over the past year.  I think there is a general fallacy that exists within us or maybe even within certain aspects of our culture that we happen to exude from time to time and ultimately leads to stress and frustration, and that fallacy is: “One day I will be done.”  And it is partially true, one day we will all be ‘done’ (death), but in another meaning I feel like we have an attitude towards work, physical fitness, academia, writing, art, climbing, whatever it is…that one day I will have accomplished ‘enough’.  As if there is a limit to what one can achieve.

I’ve definitely felt this way lately (like I'm done); pulling onto a V.5 in the gym with big moves to good pinches and incut crimps and getting to the top feeling shaky and unsure and being confused as to why.  I never used to feel that way on a problem that catered to what I thought was my style, but in that moment I have to remind myself that you lose what you don’t practice.  It’s been difficult to say the least to realize that I’ve taken a step back from where I used to be.  You start to grow so accustomed to climbing a certain style or a certain grade that when it doesn’t come so easily you almost feel insulted.  I think the most humbling moment in my entire climbing career happened this past week when I was bouldering in the gym amidst the SG climbing team.  I’ve seen the kids on this team climb for the past 16 months so I feel like I have a pretty good gauge on where they all are and what they are capable of.  I’ve paid attention to their progress and some of them have made leaps and bounds in their abilities which was made very clear to me when I saw one of the younger guys, maybe 15 years old, do a V.6 in maybe 7 or 8 tries.  This particular kid, approximately a year ago, was barely making his way up V.3’s consistently and projecting V.4’s.  The kicker, was that I spent the next hour working the same problem and never sent it.  Boom, totally humbled.  As the climbing team floats up and down the campus board behind me I realize now that I don’t know everything about climbing, training, or progression.  Every time I feel as if I have made progress, broken out of a plateau, or broken down some mental barrier I sink back into my comfort zone and all of the work I’ve done to get out of it evaporates.   This cycle has been so prevalent in my life I’m wondering if I will ever snap out of it?  Yet at the same time it’s these humbling moments that I need in order to shed light on (apparently over and over again) what it is I need to keep working on.  Perpetual motivation.  I’ve talked about this before, possibly lamented the fact, and even though I’m tired of re-visiting this topic I do think it’s important to keep re-learning this lesson until I actually get it. 

If I’m to write honestly about climbing it seems to me that I for the most part got into it because of a competitive mind state.  Not sure if this kind of mind state is sustainable, in fact, I’m quite sure it’s not.  So in order to transcend this unhealthy approach to climbing and progress within climbing and within myself I need to change my overall approach to why it is I climb and why it is I want to get better at climbing.  The frustrating part is that I know why I want to get better and why it is I love climbing, it’s indescribable but not impossible to write about, and yet it’s deeper than just changing a routine, it goes to the very core of why I do anything in my life and that takes time to change.  It takes a different approach in the gym, outside, with climbing partners, and stopping yourself when you start to fall back into old patterns or habits in order to harness what has worked and reject what hasn’t.




Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Organic and Raw

 Well, it’s December, and I’m fat again.  Thanksgiving was another food parade that has left me incapable of walking upstairs without gasping for air and clutching my chest praying to whatever god/s that may be out there to let me see the light of another day.  My arms feel like giant racks of lamb attached to my hambone body and my ground chuck brain driving this slow moving meat machine gets confused about whether or not it should start gnawing on my suckling pig thighs or use them for limited mobility. 

While in Texas I ate nothing but food resembling tan, dark brown, or off white decors, limiting my vegetable intake to one serving.  Yep, one serving, in four days.  You know the drill people.  I haven’t eaten that much ice cream, pie, fudge, meat, and starch in a long time and now when I pass the candy bowl at work I feel a gurgle of vomit tickling the back of my throat.  I need a sugar purge! 

And of course the entire time I was away from my NW paradise it did nothing but rain on me in Texas meanwhile back in Seattle it was blue bird and crisp.  Shit!  Oh well.  It’s the start of the very last month of the year 2015.  Any chance of accomplishing anything on real rock went out the door when I sat down with a large bowl of blue bell ice cream last week.  Now it’s all about gluttony and spending money for the next four weeks before looking my haggard and pudgy self in the marshmallow that used to resemble my face and shocking myself into a boot camp mentality.

I am pleased that I was able to spend almost every weekend of November in Smith.  The downside being that I still haven’t really sent anything hard there yet.  That place is a fucking mystery to me.  As soon as I think I have it all figured out, it back hands me down so hard I want to give up climbing.  I’ve never in my life been so humbled before and for that, Smith, I thank you. 

December.  It’s cold, it’s kind of wet.  You can’t really make plans with any kind of firm certainty.  It becomes a total mind fuck after a while and you have to resolve to just giving in to the weather and committing to the gym.  Which I have kind of done.  When the season is in full swing I shy away from trying hard in the gym.  I mean, come on, the last thing you want during project season is a blown pulley or strained tendon due to trying too hard on a boulder problem indoors.
Yuck!  But, when it’s your only refuge from the daily minutia of societal sewage; literally your only form of meditation and paramount to maintaining your beacon of introspection, well, I guess it’s time to try hard inside.  I read that you should train with intent and purpose which is to say you should train ‘trying hard’.  And that makes sense, but I just have a hard time taking plastic projects seriously.  Maybe I’m flawed.  I have been thoroughly enjoying my time on the circuit wall at SG.  Making up challenging problems that focus on my weaknesses has been making me smile lately.  I’ve found that I try really hard when it comes to doing three or four move boulder problems that I’ve created and that in itself is a victory.  Not sure if it’s actually making me stronger but at least I’m enjoying the raw power and aesthetic grace of the movement of climbing.  Endurance training can be really fucking boring so switching into power mode is a welcome change.

Big shout out to everyone in Bishop right now who continue to make me jealous that I won’t be able to go this year.  Noah, Fabian, RJ, Kearney, Tyler, Kevin, Emma, Eleanor, Josh, Zach, the Zoo, and just about every other person I meet lately.  Keep the dream ALIVE!  God how I miss those massive monzonite boulders.  This will be my first season in five years that I have not been in Bishop.  Not sure how to deal with that??  Talk about developing a ‘Feeling-Left-Out-Syndrome’, sheesh.  I don’t think I’ll be ‘through’ with my time in Bishop until I’ve done Evilution full or Paradise Lost or some kind of mega-hard mega-tall boulder, but I’d settle for Mandala, even if it is a total choss pile at this point, it’s still a beautiful and tall line. 

Fuck this weather, I want to climb on real rock!!!!!!
PS: Computer broken so no photos from Texas.  Suck it computer!