Hold on. Back up, you’ve jumped the gun here big-time.
Nobody actually cares how hard you climb. I mean it. Nobody does. So why do you want to train for climbing? Do you think training is fun? Most people don’t. (Note: I think training is fun, but I’m going to keep reading anyhow, because that’s not the point.)
“I’m just so scared all the time when I’m on the lead.” No amount of fingerboarding will fix this.
“I never feel solid on the wall.” Campus boarding probably won’t help you here.
Think about it, why do you want to train for climbing? Do you know? If you don’t have a specific reason for it, then no training can’t possibly help you. You need a target to shoot for, or you’ll wander aimlessly, frustrated.
I know a guy who went out one day and climbed a cumulative total of 3,000ft in one day in North Carolina, as you can imagine he said it was one of the most fun days of climbing he’d ever had in his life. Anyone want to wager a guess as to how hard the crux-pitch was on this massive day? It was 5.6
I’m not kidding; the crux was 5.6 and the majority of the climbing was even easier than that. It was some of the easiest climbing Evan’s ever done, but one of the most fun days we’ve ever had. So apparently, all you need to have fun with climbing is the strength to crank 5.6. So why bother with training?
We all get caught up at some point in this notion that we have to climb HARD and that’s the real point of climbing. It’s not, and you don’t. I don’t know about you, but I usually hate climbing hard. I mean… I like being able to climb “hard” (or at least being able to pretend until someone who climbs hard shows up), but I don’t so much enjoy actually climbing at my limit. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule for me, I do like a good challenge from time to time, but I’m also really lazy and would kinda prefer to just hang out and have fun at the crag!
We read all these “how to climb harder” books, and usually it’s a little bit of a struggle to apply what you’re reading, right? The usual formula is “You want to climb hard, and I can teach you how to climb hard, because I climb hard,” but what if I really just want to climb happy?
My favorite instructional book on climbing is “Speed Climbing” by Hans Florine. Right in the opening he sets out the “why” behind his publication: in short, to paraphrase, Hans doesn’t expect you to become a speed-climber. So why should you read a book on speed climbing? “Because the only thing better than climbing, is more climbing.” Given that we have a finite number of hours in this world to do our climbing, if you climb faster and with more efficiency, you will have more climbing. Hans didn’t write a book on speed climbing; he wrote a book on how to enjoy climbing more.
Now isn’t that a notion? Rather than write a book on how to climb harder, or how to climb faster, or how to avoid killing yourself, Hans wrote a book on how to climb happier and it just happened to be through the lens of speed climbing.
That’s a book I love to read, and it’s a premise that has enhanced my life. And isn’t that really the point of climbing? To enhance your life?
What if we stopped thinking about how to climb harder and considered how to climb happier?
It’s a funny thing, if you climb easier routes, you’ll naturally move faster. That’s a quick and easy tactic to get “more climbing.” Another tactic is to get stronger. If you get stronger, more climbs will feel “easy,” and you’ll get more climbing.
One way to get strong is via training, and here’s the cool thing: When I’m training, I can make forward progress with as little as two or three hour-long sessions a week. Then for the rest of the week I have license to climb as easy as I want, socialize and have fun. Hold on, isn’t that why we started climbing to begin with? To meet rad people and have entirely too much fun?
Now that’s a concept I can get behind. Some folks get too serious about their climbing, ultimately it’s supposed to be fun. If it’s not, you’re doing something dreadfully wrong. I mean, why else would a human spend time at deadly heights if not to enhance life and to have fun? Surely there is no better justification for climbing than simple enhancement of one’s ability to enjoy life.
To me, that’s the perk of training. It increases my ability to relax and have fun while climbing, and it releases me from the pressure of having to “climb hard,” whatever that even means….
“Here’s an article on how to climb happier, it just so happens that training might make your climbing happier.” That’s a notion I can get behind. If training doesn’t make your climbing happier, why do it? Life’s too short to avoid something as fun as actually climbing things without a good reason.
So, why do you want to train? Submit your motivations in the comments below!
The healing has moved fast. In fact, I’m back to work, I’ve returned to climbing, training, and this past weekend I went soloing for the first time since the accident. Below is some writing from the recovery period that explores some of the unexpected quirks of hearing loss and equilibrium.
The Sound of Silence:
My perceptions have changed.Not in a smug college-freshman-who-just-discovered-Kafka sort of way, but in a more nuts-and-bolts sort of way. My inputs have been limited and altered. Less like your brain at Burning Man on LSD, more like when your laptop looses half of its screen after you attempt to feed it a shot of scotch down the wrong pipe.
Now I’d like to ask everyone to please observe a moment of silence for that scotch. It shall be missed.
The laptop you ask? To hell with it, got what it deserved if you ask me. Damned lightweight can’t handle it’s liquor. Macs are cool, but apparently they’re not that cool.
To be more specific, I’ve lost the hearing out of my left ear, and with it my sense of equilibrium. I‘m not sure which is more annoying: The loss of hearing, or the fact that it’s been replaced by an incessant ringing. As far as the equilibrium goes, for the first couple of nights in the ICU, I felt like I’d been tossed inside a home-depot paint-shaker every time I closed my eyes. I must note that it’s a bit tough to go to sleep with that sensation, so I opened them again. Close, open, close, open…. Every time the world stopped spinning I’d try closing them again until finally the hospital bed stayed beneath me where it belonged and I was able to catch some sleep. My equilibrium has been re-programming rapidly. I was able to walk out of the hospital.
Your sense of equilibrium is comprised of three sources: Tactile, Visual, and the actual sensory receptors of the inner ear. I can feel gravity’s pull through my hands and feet; I can’t naturally sense it’s pull from the inner ear; so when I closed my eyes the input went from 2/3 correct (manageable) to 1/3 correct and the world spun. No big deal, ultimately I just have to reprogram the cerebellum to keep me upright using only tactile senses and visual input. It’s already starting to work, I was walking before I left the hospital.
In the ICU I slept like a dead thing; after years of insomnia that felt wonderful, but it was short lived. The morphine drip probably had something to do with that, a hefty dose of fukitol will put anybody out, even me. Two nights later I was back to my usual cycles of sleeplessness, even through the pain medications.
Since I’m stuck hearing in mono, that means I can’t hear what directions sounds are coming from. In the warehouse at work if someone shouts my name from a distance, I’ve found it’s better just to remain standing in place rather than look for them… otherwise we end up circling around like we’re both lost. Granted… we are, but that’s beside the point. Nobody cares if you are lost, just if you look lost.
One delightful chain-reaction clusterfuck came as some friends and I were departing dinner. Just to be friendly one of them honked her horn to say “goodbye.” It damn near scared the piss out of me; I couldn’t tell what it was or where it was so I spun in a full 360° circle. Upon seeing Lisa waving at me from her car I figured the whole thing out in time to rase my arm, wave my hand, and perform a backflip over a parked Honda Civic. Turns out my equilibrium wasn’t ready to handle a 360 yet, so I bounced off of stationary objects until I finally quit trying to move and just relaxed.
The final and peculiar affect this has had on me is an odd quirk… I’ve got 28 years of experience telling my brain that the sound of a human should come from the same direction as the visual of that human, so when it doesn’t (which is all the time now) my brain pretends really hard that none of this is really happening. If a waitress comes up on my left side I usually don’t realize it until the third, rather testy, “excuse me SIR?” Whether this happens before or AFTER they’ve explained the daily specials depends on a confluence of factors best determined by cross-referencing the relative position of the planets (excluding pluto, of course. We’re being scientific.) and a Ouija Board.
So I’m constantly learning how to walk again, and any time my thoughts wander my direction of travel wanders as well. It’s fine, I’ll get there eventually. This is most pronounced in the morning when I’m dehydrated from not drinking fluids during my daily 10 hour faceplant (I don’t actually sleep, I just perform a faceplant and pretend really hard). Usually in the morning I stagger out of the house like a college freshman staggering forth from a frat-party with the smug wiped off his face by a hangover. Kafka won’t help you now, will he? Orange juice on the other hand works wonders. On a related note, given that I wake up every morning more-or-less with a hangover, adding alcohol to that just makes it even worse. Apparently my laptop handles its liquor better than I do at this point, but I’m not really keeping score… We’re both just lucky to be alive.
So things are a bit lonely inside my head these days, I miss a lot of what’s happening in group conversations due to the hearing and the extra vigilance required to avoid walking into a doorway (instead of through it like you’re supposed to). If we’re one-on-one I do well enough, but lacking the ability to hear in stereo has made it significantly more difficult to manage multiple streams of audio at once. I’m figuring it out day by day though, and it’s not as bad as it was initially. The effort of re-learning how to walk, and the stress of managing to hear all of you from limited inputs is exhausting. But there is one nice thing: If I need to recuperate a little I can hear the sound of silence any time I want; All I have to do is focus my attention a little to the left, where it’s ringing loud and clear.
PS: Speaking of figuring things out, deciding when to solo a given route… Those calculations involve planetary charts WITH pluto. Obviously.
PPS: In social gatherings, can we make sure to sit all the assholes on my left? That’d be greaaat. Thanks.
“How’ve you been man?” Fucking Terrible. I mean, I almost died. What were you expecting? Sunshine and roses? Lets start over.
“How’s it going man!” Fucking fantastic! No seriously, it’s going fantastic… I’m not stored underground in a pine-box, I can pee by myself, and I claweded my way to the chains on “Rage” (5.12+) with only three takes this weekend! Although… upon reflection I have to admit, the pine box would’ve been significantly easier to afford. #ImNotBitter…..
“Where the hell have you been man!?” Now that’s an interesting question, and it has no short answer, but I’ll try: Yosemite, Dead, Texas, Mississippi, Not Dead, Georgia, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, and The Obed. Not bad for two months….
I haven’t written much lately. Or at least not anything worthwhile, I mean sure there were a couple knee-jerk posts that roughly amounted to mind-vomit while my brain attempted to clean itself out by purging the effects of its concussion and head trauma, but nothing I’ll really look back on with pride. The thing is that writing anything worthwhile requires a great deal of thought, and lately thought has been an uncomfortable activity for me. Firstly it’s been uncomfortable because thinking had become very difficult, head trauma will do that. Secondly thinking has become uncomfortable because of the thoughts which tend to surface while I think. When thinking is difficult, it takes a certain amount of extra effort to process your thoughts and string them together. It’s the kind of thing that’s hard not to notice, and so I wind up thinking about how hard it is to think, and then think thoughts like “I wonder how bad the brain damage is?” or “am I going to be stuck like this till I die?”
Those are really uncomfortable thoughts.
Additionally, I had essentially lost my ability to run on auto-pilot for a some time. Every action required deliberate thought . So I started thinking… worst case scenario, what do I do? If I will be stuck like this for the rest of my life, then what? Get on with it, that’s what. Fuck that, I’ve got shit to do. If the mind is slower, I just need to try harder. Begin with the basics. I began remembering all the meditative practices I’d read about and started to employ them on a daily basis in the moment. I had to, it was the only way I could string sentences together. Meditation, in essence, is simply bringing your mind to bear on a single input. But even so, all that thinking required throughout the day gave me little leftover energy for writing.
And no, I’m still not particularly adept at sitting down on a cushion and chanting “Om.” I’m distractable.
Thanks to the concussion, I’m deaf in my left ear so I’ve got fewer inputs to worry about. And more than that, thinking had become difficult to the point where processing multiple streams of information was too much to bother with. Dealing with groups of people was, to say the least, interesting. Single-pointed awareness was the only thing I had for a while, and so I brought it to bear on every situation I faced. I didn’t need to build a new habit of focused awareness, because my mind had been forced into a state of simplicity. Grabbing a coffee cup? No auto-pilot available? Great, so I pour thought into my head to think out where the cup is, coordinate my arm and fingers, and hope that my hands don’t drop the damn thing this time. The hope I was working on was to deliberately enter into challenging situations that required me to think hard to maintain control of my mind and body, perhaps that way I could regain my abilities by retraining good habits?
It worked. I’ve re-built a lot of my auto-pilot now.And I can almost walk straight, even if my limp is a bit more pronounced these days. And for that matter, I can’t seem to decide which leg to limp on anymore…
Emotionally it’s been a roller coaster, but I had the opportunity to watch myself freak-out as if it were in third person so it hurt less than it would have otherwise. I’ve been injured and recovered before, so I had a good idea what was around the corner. It’s hard to be surprised when you know what’s coming. Been there, done that, it’s old hat now. Except for those times when something new and surprising came along and threw me out down the rabit hole. Thanks for the support, I needed it.
And then, finally, my brain started showing signs of improvement, but thankfully the habit of awareness has remained. As far as my mind, the dust is settling, and I think I might wind up better off than I ever was in that regard. This habit of awareness during day-to-day interactions and actions is something I’ve tried to develop unsuccessfully for over a decade now. Turns out all I needed was an appropriate amount head trauma to knock some sense into me. Who knew it would be that simple? Hopefully I can make it stick.
PS: Actually, for the first time in known history I managed to onsight the approach trail to a new crag this weekend. I might actually be walking straighter now! I didn’t fall over even once!
PPS: I tried writing again last week as well, and it came out to over 5,000 words, and that’s so long I didn’t even want to read it, so I’m pulling the pertinent bits out for several separate posts. The mind is clearer now, and I’ll post more as it comes, but I’m not holding myself to any sort of schedule.
Forgive any mistakes in my last post, I wrote it on my iPhone with one hand. Please forgive any mistakes on this post too; though I have a keyboard I’m still operating with one hand in a splint which makes typing interesting. Now, I don’t believe my story is remarkable in and of itself. Many have befallen worse circumstances than I have, many have overcome greater adversity, many are stronger than me, and many have ended up worse off than me. But that’s the thing, there are many. I only claim that my story may be relate-able to many, because many have and many will experience various aspects of what I’m going through. It helps me in my darkest hours to hear from those who’ve tread similar paths; hopefully I can pay that forward and deliver a little good mojo those of you who might need it when the time comes.
The hardest part of training for climbing is not climbing. If you can manage that, then the rest is easy.
The hardest part of recovery is deciding to begin. Just keep telling yourself that. Especially if it’s not true.
Once upon a time in the hospital:
It’s like free-solo walking just to get to the bathroom. I close my eyes and the world spins, so I open them again and wait for the mud in my brain to settle. Eventually the world sobers up and I can see straight. Might as well take stock of my situation. At this point I have one useful arm (the other is in a full cast), no sense of balance, my neck and skull are fractured, and there are nine staples in the back of my head. Days later I would finally be able to reach my skull and my hand would return with tufts of hair and chunks of dried blood. My vision was blurred and my eyes had trouble focusing farther than a few yards away. At this point, I’m still not accustomed to the deafness in my left ear (for that matter, as I’m proofreading, I’m still not accustomed to it). My sensory inputs are diminished, as is my capacity to think. Everything takes effort, but I am aware that all is not well in the land of Oz. I know my faculties are diminished, and I proceed with ever increasing caution. I’m a firm believer that the only safety in this world lies in being able to make good decisions; if that ability is compromised I must be particularly wary. In essence, my world is a ten-foot-eggshell, and just as fragile. Anything farther than about ten feet simply doesn’t exist. I cannot fall. If I were to lose my balance, there would be no chance to brace for impact. My left arm is immobilized in a full cast, and my right arm feels inexplicably weak. It wasn’t until I came off the pain medications that I would realize my right shoulder was injured. I knew that a fall would be utterly catastrophic in this condition.
But I’ll be damned if I’m going to piss in that bottle again.
I can sense balance through my fingers. I don’t need my hands to support myself, just to feel which way is up and down… I can work with that! I survey my surroundings; The world spins as I turn my head. It stabilizes as I touch a finger to the bedside railing. There is a chair three feet from my hospital bed. Three feet from that are the beefy bathroom door hinges. Three feet from there is the door handle, and then the railings inside the bathroom.
-I push the button on my bed to raise my back and sit up.
-I swing my legs over the bed and the world spins.
-My finger finds balance on the bed-rail and I lower my feet to the floor. The world doesn’t spin. My plan is working.
-I tap the chair.
-Two steps forward.
-Tap. I steady myself again
-Two steps sideways.
-Stop. Its spinning again.
-I tap the door handle and the world steadies itself.
I needed no support from my hands; my legs were strong. I just didn’t know how to coordinate them without some sort of alternative sense of balance. Congratulations, I can now wipe my own ass.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
You’re battered, you’re broken, you’re down but not out. What do you do? That depends, what CAN you do? Where do you want to go? Once you know those things, its just a mater of connecting the dots. When you get down to it, that’s a lot like training in a general sense. And life too. If you don’t have a target, you’ll never hit the bullseye. Recovery is not a spectator sport, neither is it a passive activity. You have to reach out and grab it by the horns.
If you know where you are, and where you want to be, connecting the two is just a matter of logic. Google maps does that millions of times a day. Granted, there are obvious conditions which affect connecting two places or two states of being, and I know there are factors that could ruin my goals, but even this is just logic. Google maps won’t find driving directions from Japan to Costa Rica, but if you’re smart you can hop a ride on an airplane. There’s no way to connect those dots with four wheels, but there’s more than one way to get around. There’s more than one way to face your obstacles as well.
I want to send Separate Reality roughly a year from now. I don’t yet know if that’s possible or reasonable, but I have a rough idea of what it’ll take to get there, and I know the effort and rehab it will take to get there will enrich and enable my future regardless of whether I achieve the goal. Especially if I play it safe and avoid pushing anything too soon. To achieve this, I’ll need to train. To train, I’ll need to get back to work. To get to work, I need to drive. To drive, it would be nice to have both hands, and the ability to turn my head. I can’t regain use of my arm and my head while they are immobilized, and they’ll be immobilized until a doctor clears my injuries for movement. I need to see a doctor. That’s something I can do. That is my goal, I have a target. And nothing else matters.
I have broken many things in my body, but not my ability to hope. I still have that. For now.
You won’t always be the strongest or the fastest, but you can be the toughest. (internet wisdom)
Note: I have seen the doctor now. Many doctors, actually. But more on that later once I’ve collected my thoughts. For now I’ll just keep telling myself that the hardest part of recovery is deciding to begin, and try not to prove myself wrong in the meantime.
Another Note: I’ve got my left hand back, after a fashion. It’s too bad off for surgery, but at least I can use it. It might remain useful for five days, or the rest of my life, there’s no way to tell. It’s been bad for at least five years now, and I’ve been managing because I was unaware, so at least there’s some measure of hope. Its a ticking timebomb with an unknown fuse, but it’s lasted this long; There’s no telling what I can accomplish before it goes off, so I might as well get it while I can. The good news is I can drive now. There’s nothing to be done for my wrist, so they let me have it back.
P.P.P.S: I’ve been recovering faster than I can comprehend. These posts will be constantly lagging a few weeks behind my current condition because it seems it takes me longer to collect my thoughts than it does to heal. At present I’m working on rehabilitating my injuries through a little bit of easy movement, and signing all the documents it requires to go back to work. Don’t fear for me too much, yet. You’ve got to wait and see how the story ends, and it’s already progressed farther than I could cover in this post.
Okay, so you’re strong, and you can do all the moves on your project, but you’re just too bloody tired to pull the last few “easy” moves and scream in frustration as you fall off with the anchors tantalizingly near to your face. Frustrating. At least the path is clear, you just need a little more endurance to keep chugging to the end. This is my favorite training phase, because the best way to get endurance is usually just through climbing more, and the only thing better than climbing… is more climbing!
What is Endurance? There are actually two different facets of endurance, and this tends to send folks barking up the wrong tree in terms of training. Climbing laps at the gym will help you climb longer days outside, but your numbers won’t progress any higher in terms of maximum redpoint grade.
Muscular endurance: This is your ability to keep pulling one hard move after another without pumping out, think in terms of 15-30 difficult moves with little rest. Commonly this is referred to simply as “endurance,” but endurance is more complex than that. If you fall off the crux of a route because your forearms feel like they’re filled with concrete, and you can do the moves when you’re fresh, then working on endurance might bring the send!
Cardio Endurance: This is your ability to keep climbing hard routes/problems all day long at the crag. This is what separates folks with the ability to give one good project burn, from those who can work a hard route 5/6 times in a day and still progress. It’s your ability to recover, and it’s what gets blood flowing in your muscles. This is essential for recovery between moves, between routes, and between sessions. If you find yourself overly fatigued after a short session at the crag, lack the ability to keep climbing “easy” routes at the end of the day, perhaps your days could be extended with a little cardio that’s specific to climbing.
Reps, Sets, and Rest: My standard rule of thumb for Muscular endurance is about 20-30 moves, more if your projects are on longer walls. The idea is to pump out in a number of moves that simulates the number of moves on your single-pitch projects. I’m still holding myself to a minimum of 5 minutes rest between runs.
For Cardio Endurance the best exercise is to find routes that are so easy you’re not really going to get pumped and run laps on them. This should be a fairly hot and sweaty routine, and you shouldn’t be falling. Rest should be kept to a minimum, as should intensity.
My Enduro-Masochism Routine: My Muscular endurance routine consists of performing 5 hard things in a session. First, I warm up with easy bouldering or roped climbing, then gradually work up until I feel ready to try a project-level boulder problem. I find one that looks suitable and I give it a try or two, then move on. This is just to remind your fingers to stay strong, and to avoid losing gains in Strength and Power that you’ve made in previous weeks.
So five hard things right? For each “hard thing” you can choose whatever you want, just so long as it causes you to pump out and fall from fatigue in that 20-30 move range (or whatever your project length is). Below are the “hard things” that I’ll use for my personal routine, and suggestions for how to adapt them. Remember, you need at least 5 minutes rest between each “hard thing”, and what qualifies as a “hard thing” might change over the course of your session as you become tired. This is normal.
Diet-Coke Projecting: It’s like projecting, but you really don’t care about getting to the top. The point of this training is to fall off, so if you send the route, that’s considered a mistake. Enjoy the falls! Some folks try to project gym routes by essentially falling up them, and asking for prolonged takes on the way up. If this is fun, and you’re stoked on trying hard moves high up, that’s fine, but it’s rather useless as training. The movement doesn’t last long enough to train endurance, and the rests are too short to help build strength. Instead, I go for a method that lets me work the moves and avoid hanging on the wall for half an hour.
I find a route that will be challenging, and very unlikely for me to onsight.
I allow myself two takes on the way up, and then push it until I fall.
The takes should be limited to 60 seconds or less, if you need more rest, then the route is too hard for this exercise.
If you find one day that you call for two takes and then clip the anchors, start climbing with one take and one fall.
If you call for one take, and then manage to climb to the top, start going for redpoint burns, climbing up from the bottom until you fall off.
When you fall off, lower to the ground and begin resting.
4×4’s: Folks are becoming more used to these, but the idea is to climb four boulder problems back to back and carefully select problems so that you pump out and fall off of the last problem. Problems are between 5 and 8 moves typically, if you multiply that by four we have 20-32 moves. That’s perfect!
Campus laddering: I’m a complete masochist, and I’ve been campus training for a long time. As a result, I can ladder hand over hand to the top of the medium rung campus board, back down, and then back up. 30 moves. As my training session progresses, my high point starts moving lower down the board until I’m cranking about 22 moves. That fits. Most folks can’t do this, however, you could use a foot jib or something of the like to reduce intensity, and ladder up and down the first three rungs of the board to hit the same target. There are three sizes of campus rungs (S-M-L) so you can vary the finger intensity. Make sure the intensity is more on the fingers than the biceps, you don’t want to shortchange your session by falling off because of burning arms. We are targeting failure in the fingers for this exercise.
For Cardio Endurance it basically comes down to climbing as much as possible. There are a couple routines that I’ll try, but they all basically come down to “CLIMB EVERYTHING!” It’s my favorite part of training, because the only thing better than climbing is more climbing and that sums up the workouts in this section. In all these sets I’ll typically climb blocks of three or four laps, then let my partner climb a lap, and then repeat until the goal has been achieved.
Pitches per hour: I’ll set an interval of time, and try to climb as many pitches as possible in a set timeframe. You can track progress by simply counting how much climbing you do in terms of vertical feet for your session.
Points Game: a 5.8 becomes 8 points, a 5.9 becomes 9 points, a 5.11 becomes 11 points, etc. Things get hard in the double digits, but that doesn’t matter. To score your points, you just have to get to the top of the route in any style, hang-dogging is allowed but it slows you down and makes it harder to score higher. I’ll set a goal (say 10, 20, or 30 pitches) and try to score as many points as possible with a fixed number of laps. 20 pitches of 5.10 scores 200 points, but 20 pitches of 5.11 would score 220 points, so you can track progress based on the total score.
Rest and Recovery: Typically I have to rest at least 48 hours after an endurance session, I can handle this training three to four times a week. It’s okay to perform a very light Cardio Endurance session when you’re slightly sore, and this can sometimes speed recovery if you do it right, but you still have to be careful. A light Cardio Endurance session is basically just a proper warmup. Meanwhile, Muscular endurance should be treated with a similar respect to strength training, and I avoid training Muscular endurance when I have sore muscles. Remember: Nobody ever built strength in a gym. They built strength asleep at night afterwards, and recovering with light activity when their muscles were sore from exertion.
Post Edit: This post was written one-handed on an iPhone during my last days in the hospital. There’s a lot I’d liked to have fixed, but I don’t like to perform large edits once a post goes “live.”this is the first of what will likely be several posts reflecting different periods of recovery. Check back for more as time goes on. Hopefully I’ll be more coherent. This post was mostly me ranting, raving, and being angry to keep myself busy in the hospital room. Though the writing is poor, it served the purpose of mass-updating my friends and family, that was the only intent for this piece. </ PostEdit>
If you drive through the valley, all you have to do is take one turn an everything changes. Suddenly you’re out of the lowlands and riding tunnels through the walls of Yosemite high above ground. Park at one of these tunnels and you can scramble straight off the rim. Rig your rappel at the right spot and your reality changes again as you drop into panic for a moment landing in 40′ of pure freespace before you are deposited at the base of the iconic climb “Separate Reality.” You’re not the ground, but you’re not on the wall either. Yet. Anchor your belayer and lieback up for 30′, and then prepare your soul for the final transition as the world goes horizontal again. Unfortunately , you’re on the wrong side of the earth and have to crawl back out, you’re in the Separate Reality.
You’re not exactly on the wall, and you didn’t start on the earth, and this certainly isn’t vertical. It’s pretty out there.
This route was established by Ron Kauk, mixed up in the advent of cams, sent by the Kings of yosemite, and legendary from free solo ascents such as Wolfgang Güllich (who sent the first 5.14d), Alex Honnold and (of course) Dean Potter.
So it’s obvious that I had to touch the thing when I came to The Valley, Separate Reality is more dear to my heart than any climb on earth, even more so than The Nose.
In another reality… Everything was laid out in our canvas shelter for visitors on that rainy night as I adjusted my sleeping space. There, that’s comfy, Daniel would probably appreciate if I snored less, perhaps a comfy space would help! As everyone arrived and I doled out sleeping supplies I realized this sturdy little shelter would be a fully packed house tonight. Surrounded by friends, all geared up for days of adventure, a good shelter so everyone can rest, welcome to Camp Mojo indeed! Rolling over onto my mat it occurred to me that I had never felt so comfortable , so at peace, or so happy. Being able to facilitate everyone’s trip like this is the ultimate satisfaction.
I could feel the world spinning like someone had tossed me in with the laundry. I couldn’t even feel what way was up. Opening my eyes clued me back in to reality once more. Can I go back to my canvas shelter now?
I had been in a fall
This was my third night in the hospital
I have 5 fractured vertebrae
My wrist and skull are fractured
I have no sense of equilibrium, I cannot feel up and down
9 staples are holding the wound in my head closed
I am completely deaf in my left ear
I have double vision and my eyes refuse to focus on anything further than three feet away
My doctor says the loss of equilibrium means I will never climb again
I say that’s horse-shit
I have six months to learn up from down again, whatever Cerebellar dysfunction remains after that will likely be permanent. The doctors say I will have a hard path to a normal recovery. He also says I will never climb again, he obviously has no proper concept of what “normal” means for this patient.
Photo: Julia Watson
Road to Reality
Here’s my recovery plan: I will send “Separate Reality” on, or at least I n time for Dean Potter’s one year anniversary. Dean isn’t dead, he’s just not here man. Just practice
That idyllic scene in the shelter never happened, it was just a dream produced in the delirium of extreme duress on the fine line between sleep and reality. I awoke from that dream state in the middle of my own private nightmare, but at least it seems my brain was already trying to bring me home the only way it could: in my dreams. Thanks for the help little buddy, I’m guessing the sweet dreams were your way of saying “thanks for the helmet!” Now my brain and I have to partner up for a more permanent return this time as I begin my #RoadToReality. It’ll be long, and it won’t be easy…. But hell…
“Life is uncomfortable, but that’s why it’s so fun”
-Daniel Woods on lessons learned from Dean Potter
I can focus in mid distance now. Rare bits of blurred vision, I can focus all the way out to about 50yds
I no longer experience vertigo when my eyes close, but stil need assistance walking straight since I can’t feel “down” very well
Still deaf in my left ear
We need to have my left wrist inspected for risks ofcomplications including necrosis of the bone. With luck the blood supply to my scaffoid bone remains intact through all of this
Here’s the best guess for what caused the accident based on my fractured memories and reports from the scene.
I was on the first pitch of “The Nose” (5.10+ or C2)
I wanted to free the moves, but the crack was too wet to climb safely.
I feared slipping on wet rock would send me on an unpredictable fall through the low angle blocky terrain
I began leapfrogging link cams as handholds while leaving C4’s as pro. I don’t trust link cams so under no circumstance would I allow them to be the only point between me and the ground.
I planned to leave fall protection every 10-20′ while aiding. Because of the wet I remember deciding to leave gear every 3-6′ just in case.
Wet gear is less likely to hold, so I was avoiding purely parallel placements (PS: Terribly written. I was placing in bottlenecks as often as possible…), and exploiting my offset cams. I was also leaving extra gear in to shorten fall potential and hopefully limit impact forces to give the gear every chance to stick, plus the extra gear should’ve been there in case it didn’t
Reports state I fell 20′ to the ledge atop the “Pine Line” with no gear arresting the fall. Daniel reports that the rope never came tight on his belay (which was solid).
Given those known facts:
My link cam must have popped when I pulled on it
All of my fall-protection cams must have ripped out when I fell
Judging by my injuries, the fall was upside down. Or at least my landing was
Perhaps my aid gear failed before I was able to fully deploy my fall protection system, Though I find it unlikely I would expose myself to danger like that.
There were three parties lined up and we were at the head of the line, I can surmise that it’s possible the pressure of being responsible for a traffic jam could have caused me to brainfart on my well made plan, but ultimately we will never know for sure. I remember climbing and evac. I don’t remember falling or hitting the ledge.
You know what? Fuck this shit, I need to stick to soloing…. The gear is MUCH more predictable and complains loudly before its at risk for failure….
“There are only a few more moves left to the obvious holds where the roof starts and the world turns horizontal; these holds are the last position of safety. Then I will move into the ‘other reality.’ Separate Reality free solo—out onto the edge of the roof and over it—is what I want to do! The crippling fear that made my every move freeze at the very thought and left my hands damp with sweat is gone. Finally I have all the information I can get about the route. I know every detail, know how much strength it is going to require…. I have already done the route with a rope several times without mistake. But having to do everything perfectly can cause you to freeze up, to obstruct the precision of your climbing, to prevent you moving economically. What would that mean? Maybe somewhere out there on the roof the vicious circle of panic would start and you would be left to shrivel up with your hands locked in the crack.” -Wolfgang Güllich on preparing for Separate Reality
Güllich described the free solo as entering ‘another reality in free climbing.’
‘An incredible feeling of joy melts all the tension and I suddenly have the impression that it was not a game of gambling with my life; it was not subjectively dangerous. I sit in the sun on the flat summit plateau – the ‘other reality’ is now part of the past. It is the thought of death that teaches us to value life.’ – after his first free solo – ‘Separate Reality’, Yosemite Valley, 1986.
well, that’s enough for me to digest this week. I’ve dissected the accident to my satisfaction, assessed my injuries, plotted a course to heal, and fixed my motivation by tying my past and my heroes into my future. Here’s hoping my #RoadToReality goes well, I’m looking forward to clawing out of this nightmare. It certainly beats the alternative!
“We are the last of the Wild. If we keep excluding the next most-wild-creature, sooner or later there will be nothing left.”
I’m tackling this aspect of fitness first because it’s probably the most important. If you look at long term trends in a climber’s progression over the course of a 10, 15, 20, or 30 year career, the limiting factor on progress is almost always finger strength, or injuries. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that most of these injuries come in search of greater finger strength. We know how to warm up properly to prevent injuries now, so it’s time to get strong!
“If you do not have the strength to do the individual moves, then there is nothing to Endure” – Wolfgang Gullich
*NOTE: Fingerboarding and Campus Training are severe and shouldn’t be attempted unless you’ve been climbing for about two years, climb at least V5 or (5.12-), and you’ve reached some sort of plateau that you need to break through. Climbing is severe, and when you remove the support of your feet it becomes MUCH more severe, approach these exercises with caution, because they are the quickest way to injure yourself if your technique is poor or your body isn’t ready
What is Finger-Strength/Power?
Strength: How much force can you apply with your fingers, what is the smallest hold you can grab? This is the limiting factor on boulder problems and stopper-cruxes. If you find yourself failing on a problem/route because you simply can’t hold onto the crux holds, even when fresh, then training strength might break your plateau. Lack of strength shows up when you fall on short difficult sequences.
Power: This is a climer’s zero-to-sixty. Right now, as you’re reading this, make a fist. Now squeeze as hard as you can. Do you feel how it takes a moment to engage all of the muscles in your forearm? Power is how quickly these muscles will engage. Power is the ability to snatch a small hold on a desperate move and apply full strength momentum pulls you off. If you have difficulty latching the hold on crux lunges, even after your fingers touch the hold, perhaps you could benefit from increased power.
How hard is too hard? The idea here is high, but not dangerous load. Think about the crux hold on a boulder problem, you can hold it for a few seconds, not very long, and it’s strenuous, but hopefully not dangerous to the point of injury. Your arm motion is to snag something awful with your finger tips, hold it for a few seconds, release, shake off, and hit the next one. So that’s the motion we want to repeat on finger-strength exercises. Likewise for power, we want to simulate moves where we throw with all we’ve got and barely manage to snatch the target.
Reps, Sets, and Rest: One rep for a fingerboard repeater consists of hanging for a set time, and then shaking off for a second or two. My standard rule of thumb for strength is 3-5. You want a hold that you can hold for 3-5 seconds, which you can repeat for 3-5 reps. Then you rest 3-5 minutes between sets, and perform 3-5 sets total per session. For a hard session, 5 sets with 5 minutes rest totals up to approximately 30 minutes. When starting this routine, it’s best to start with 3 sets and work your way up to 5 when it feels appropriate. You should be somewhat fresh at the start of each set.
For power I use a similar guideline, but remove the hangtime. You want an exercise that can be repeated a few times (3-5 double-dynos, or 2 lunges for each side), then perform 3-5 sets with 3-5 minutes of rest in-between.
The idea for strength/power exercises is to come at them fresh and send the signal to your muscles that they aren’t quite strong enough even when you are well rested. This will cause your body to build stronger muscles.
Rest and Recovery: Typically I need to have at least two rest days after a strength/power session, and I can only handle this type of training twice a week. Think about it, if you went out to the local bouldering crag and tried to crush your hardest, how many times a week could you keep it up without hurting yourself? Remember: Nobody ever built strength in a gym. They built strength asleep at night afterwards, and recovering when their muscles were sore from exertion.
Do not train on sore muscles. This will lead to injury.
My Strength/Power Routine: I like to do circuit training for strength/power, this condenses a lot of exercises into a short period while still maintaining adequate rest periods.
Below is my current circuit, but it’s important to note that this is just an example. You don’t need to copy my circuit. The ideas behind this workout can be applied to anyone if you change or modify the exercises for each muscle group, and suggestions to make it harder or easier to match your current fitness are listed below:
Arm Strength: Again, you’re looking for an exercise where you are capable of performing 3-5 reps. I can’t do 3 One-Arm Pullups, so I’ll begin performing negatives when I’m too tired to complete a one-arm with good form. Below are some alternative exercises, listed from most to least difficult:
Weighted One-Arm Pull-up (probably a bit silly)
One Arm Pull-up
Assisted Pull-Up (pulley or banding systems can be used to good effect)
One additional exercise that works great, and can be used for any level is the Lat-Pull-Down machine in the weight-room. You can start with low resistance, and work up to pulling the equivalent of your bodyweight. If you can pull down your body weight, you’re ready for pull-ups! When you’re ready for more progression, you can add weight, and once you can pull double your body weight, you are likely ready for the one-arm pullup.
Injury Prevention: NEVER extend your arms fully, this shock-loads the elbow and shoulder joints and will RAPIDLY lead to injury. Always maintain engagement of the muscles and avoid hyper-extension of the joints. Make sure to include stabilizing exercises to prevent over-use injuries.
Finger Strength: Climbers have been training finger-strength for decades, and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Keep it simple. There are only a few ways to get this, and the best I’ve found is fingerboarding. When are you ready for fingerboarding? I’d say as soon as you start having trouble making progress simply through bouldering. Fingerboarding removes any support from the feet which makes it more severe than just climbing, so it’s important to make sure you are ready for the added stress. As a general guideline I’d say anyone who can climb V4 or 5.11+ would be fit enough to carefully begin fingerboarding.
Find a grip you can hold for 3-5 seconds (this will vary over the course of your workout). Simply hang on the holds, with elbows slightly bent and your shoulders engaged. Don’t perform pullups, just hang. Adding pullups to the routine is virtually useless since you’re training two muscles at once, and one will quit first which shortchanges the training on the other. Training must be specific, so we only target one muscle at a time.
Hang, shake-off, repeat 3-5x and that’s a set. It doesn’t take much. Start with 3 sets per training session, and increase to 5 sets as you become accustomed to training.
I take a page from Dave McLeod and do my fingerboarding exclusively with holds that utilize 3 to 4 fingers, this reduces stress on the tendons and helps you live a long and happy life. If you can hold onto the worst hold on your fingerboard for more than 6 seconds with 3 fingers, start adding weight to your harness instead of going to two-finger-pockets. Unless you’re specifically training pockets for some reason… In which case I wish you luck, and may god have mercy on your soul.
Injury Prevention: NEVER train in full-crimp. Use half-crimp or open-handed finger positions. Stop if your fingers feel weird, do not train while the forearms are sore. NEVER extend your elbow fully, this shock-loads the joint and will RAPIDLY lead to tendinitis. Always maintain engagement of the muscles and avoid hyperextension of the joints. Make sure to include stabilizing exercises to prevent over-use injuries.
Power: This one is tricky, and this is the most dangerous exercise category to attempt. Never train on a campus board or perform lunges more than twice a week unless you’re looking for an injury.. [Link to masochist line] Below is a list of exercises for power, from most severe to least:
Hand over hand laddering (match hands after each reach)
Foot-assisted laddering (same as above with footholds to assist)
Injury Prevention: NEVER train in full-crimp. Use half-crimp or open-handed finger positions. Stop if your fingers feel weird in any way, do not train while the forearms are sore. NEVER extend your elbow fully, this shock-loads the joint and will RAPIDLY lead to tendinitis. Always maintain engagement of the muscles and avoid hyperextension of the joints. Make sure to include stabilizing exercises to prevent over-use injuries.
Stabilization: These training methods are severe, and can easily lead to injury if one is not careful. Part of that care is strengthening of the joints that you’re abusing in the rest of your workout and your climbing life. Nobody wants surgery, nobody wants a torn rotator cuff, tendinitis sucks, training to the point of injury will cause regression and you will become weaker. Let’s not do that.
Olympic Ring Pushups:
Get a pair of Olympic rings and lower them as close to the ground as you can, then perform pushups. The higher off the floor they are, the easier the exercise becomes. I do this after every campus board session, and so far have managed to avoid any form of over-use injury in my elbows and shoulders, despite the fact that I’m a masochistic campus-board addict.
Core: You probably know more core exercises than I do, this is one of my major weaknesses, but my preferred exercises is to perform “Leg Wipers”. You lift the legs as far up and left as you can, then lower. Then raise them as high up center, and down. Then up to the right, and back down. Repeat 3x, more if you can. This can be made easier by bending at the knees.