Looking out the window at the drizzle means one thing, no two. Firstly, no excuse not to go down the wall for some training and secondly no excuse not to write a blog about something… Normally my blogs are super easy to write, this one’s a bit more complicated, requiring more thought, but here we go, just bear in mind this is a massive subject, so this is really just an overview – the internet is full of great articles, and some utter rubbish as well.
For years I was kidding myself “off down the wall to get strong” I’d say, rubbish. Is going down the wall with a mate and doing a few routes training? No. I’m not saying it’s pointless, it’s great fun and you’ll get some benefit, as you will from any climbing, but don’t kid yourself it’s training. Sorry about that.
Do you need to train, and more importantly do you want to train? If you’re happily climbing a grade and going to a climbing wall is just your way of ticking over when you can’t get to a crag then great, keep doing what you’re doing! If, however, you’re trying to improve your grade, think about what’s stopping you succeeding.
It’s important to understand a few key words when giving the above points some thought.
How do we train our weaknesses? With hard work! Remember you’ve got to want to do the training, so have a think about what motivates you. It could be a particular route or grade, it could be to burn off your mates, or to make the most of that upcoming trip to the Costa Blanca – whatever it is, use it.
Before anything, warm up! You need to prepare your body to perform, get the heart rate up with some jogging, star jumps etc, do a bit of mobility stuff to get your muscles and joints moving and do a bit of co-ordination work as well. Then move on to some EASY climbing or bouldering.
This is such a complicated subject. You’ll want to train all these different elements in phases, but we have to keep on top of them all. If we focus entirely on endurance, you’ll be stumped when you come to a crux section on a sport route, if you focus solely on power you’ll run out of gas hanging around placing gear on a trad route.
Don’t forget to rest. All this training requires your body to rest and rebuild to get stronger & fitter.
Remember I asked why you’re failing on routes? We also need to consider what we are looking to achieve from our training, maybe that’s linked to what’s motivating us. If you’re aim is to onsight The Strand, E2 at Gogarth then you’ll need endurance just to keep on trucking, if it’s to redpoint your a cruxey 7a somewhere then it’s probably power endurance you’ll need.
Well done for making it through that lot! Hopefully it’s useful and gives you something to think about. I get such a buzz from succeeding on routes that I’ve had to work hard to achieve that it’s easy to stay motivated to train and I enjoy the training itself, and that’s super important I think. If you don’t enjoy the training, even if it’s type two fun, it’ll be hard to keep doing it, week in week out.
Lastly, remember this blog is just a bit of an overview, this is, as I’ve already said, a massive subject… If you’re going to get training, get as much knowledge as you can, whether that’s reading stuff or seeking advice from a climbing coach.
Get training and smash those goals!
Grades are just arbitrary numbers and yet we get so hung up on them. I’ll happily admit I’m motivated by them and they provide goals and targets for me to work towards.
Type “how to climb 7a” in to Google and you’ll get plenty of results, the top one being by Steve McClure, the man who’s just climbed 9b, read it, it’s good.
Unlike Steve, I don’t have many grades in hand when I climb a 7a! My best onsight is only a grade harder at 7a+ and my best redpoint is 7b+, this year is the first year I’ve put some proper effort in to trying to push my grade and I’m about to start working my first 8a (nb. working is a long way from succeeding..!)
Here’s my take on it anyway!
Train. I spent years going to the climbing wall thinking I was training, I wasn’t! If you go to the wall and just mince around doing a few routes, that isn’t training. It’s still useful, it’s mileage isn’t it, but think about what you’re trying to achieve. Training is a massive subject, about which there’s shed loads written (even how many moves you should be climbing per week to climb a particular grade, or how much weight you should be able to hold hanging on a finger board), but have a think about why you’re failing on routes, lack of endurance, lack of power, lack of strength, lack of power endurance, these will dictate what areas you need to work on. Consider getting some outside advice on this, personally I needed to be told by someone else what I needed to work on, despite having a reasonable amount of knowledge on the subject.
Fall off, again and again and again. The head game is massive and falling off lots will help it. If you slap for that final hold you might hold it, if you don’t try you’ll never know, if you’re scared of falling you won’t slap… Fear of falling saps energy, makes you climb poorly and will hold you back. When I’m climbing laps indoors I never clip the top lower off, just jumping off once I’ve got the top hold, so I’m falling off a minimum of 16 time during my laps session. I used to practice random falling to build up the belayer trust but I don’t need to now, I just climb hard (for me) stuff until I fall off. Go for that next move, that one more move, every time! Bear in mind I’m talking about training here, not redpointing a route, we need to conserve our energy sometimes. Remember though, poor falling off practice could make things worse, so give it some thought and don’t do what I saw the other day – people taking their first ever lead falls on a vertical arete (hard to land well, you’ll bang your shins etc) and then not high enough up the wall so the belayer was almost kicked in the head and the climber getting quite close to the ground.
Performance Preparation. Mine used to consist of an espresso and an easy climb or two and that just doesn’t cut it. I remember chuckling to myself seeing people running around, doing star jumps, getting a theraband out and so on, now that’s me, every time. Again this is a massive subject but think about getting the cardio going, mobilising the joints and muscles and getting your co-ordination kick started, then get on some easy stuff for a bit to recruit your muscles. This happens at the beginning of the session and also before each climb when I’m outdoors. Part of the performance prep is route reading, spotting the rests, clipping positions, particular moves, where you’ll need to move fast and visualise yourself doing it and succeeding.
Don’t be afraid of failing and always take the positives. You want to push your grade? It sucks but sometimes you won’t get it. Take the positives though, it’s so important! Many years ago I threw my sport ‘draws on the floor and shouted “sport is sh*t, I’m never climbing sport again”! These days, to be honest I’m usually smiling when I fail, something will certainly have gone well or I’ll have learnt something about my climbing or the route itself and it motivates me to try harder!
Reading that won’t make you climb 7a, sorry. Reading that and giving each point some more thought might do… Each point could be an article in its own right and you might need to do some further reading or even get some outside help, but maybe it’ll be worth it. There are also other things to think about, such as nutrition, self discovery is all part of the journey, and there’s a lot that’s applicable to pushing your trad grade too.
One day I might write a how to climb 8a blog, but we’ll have to wait and see on that one!
So what’s stopping you climbing 7a?
Last year was a good year, in many ways, but especially in a climbing sense. I’ve loved climbing for as long as I can remember, but 2016 was the year I really started training properly and I made a conscious decision to try harder.
In terms of training, I mixed it up with bouldering, finger boarding, laps on the auto belay and some core workout sessions. The single biggest piece of enlightenment came from bouldering, and I’m saying that as someone who would never call themselves a boulderer! It was the realisation that sometimes you have to try hard, I mean really hard, every last bit of energy you have might need to go into that move and instead of not trying, and letting go, giving it everything and trying might mean you get that route. Outdoors I bouldered Font 7a and indoors 7b and this has really translated to my sport and trad climbing, if you don’t give things a max effort attempt, you’ll never know if you could have got it or not.
The other biggest improvement came on my climbing trip to Spain. A month of climbing with super psyched people (in some amazing places!) really sorted my head out, not being held back by unrealistic thoughts of hurting yourself etc. really frees up your climbing. On that trip I managed to onsight my first 7a, then 7a+ and redpointed my first 7b then 7b+.
On returning to the UK I’ve been super keen to keep riding the wave of psyche so I’ve tried to translate the extra fitness I’ve got from the sport trip and the good mental state from taking loads (I mean loads!) of falls on sport routes. Yesterday I managed to get my first non slate E4, Katana on Holyhead Mountain, which has really got me excited for the climbing possibilities of 2017.
The list on my fridge helps give me some focus, sometimes I find the amount of climbing on offer a bit overwhelming and struggle to know what I want to do. Last year the list was 43 routes long and I only ticked about half of them, but the list provided a bit of structure and my total number of routes was just shy of 200. Highlights included routes like Left Wall E2 5c, The Strand E2 5b, Khubla Khan E4 6b, Heading the Shot 7a+, Quartz Icicle E2 5b and Dale Duro Negro 7b.
This year’s list is going to be hard to complete, I’ve made it quite challenging! But I’ll love every minute of working through it!
I love climbing, obviously, and I love sharing my passion for it with all my clients, none of us should ever stop learning so this year I’ve enrolled on some coaching courses to improve my own delivery so I can really make the most of my clients time with me.
A massive part of the fun hasn’t just been the climbing, but also the amazing places I’ve been and the awesome people I’ve met along the way that have made the last year so brilliant.
Anyone can improve their climbing if they want to, I’ve just been lucky enough to meet the right people to give me the drive and determination to up my game a bit, but if you need any help working towards your own targets, get in touch!
Sometimes you’ve just got to say no to work and go on an adventure!
I’d never heard of Chulilla but Fay assured me it was the place to be. It turns out she was right!
Before getting anywhere near to Spain though I had to drive a long, long way from North Wales. First stop was picking up Fay’s dog Zeberdee from Newbury, then picking up Fay herself from Chamonix, before finally heading down to Chulilla in Spain which all took some time involving lots of toll roads, lots of shaky Dachshund, lots of smelly tuna and lots of tunes.
Waking up in a car park to the sound of rain didn’t fill me with confidence that this was the place to be, but Fay had to work that day anyway and I was pretty glad to have a day of chilling out after all the driving. The town of Chulilla is pretty small but has all you need to spend a bit of time climbing there, a small shop for food essentials, a bakery, a slightly manky bar and a decent climber’s bar which has good wifi, good pizza / burgers / salad / coffee/ beer. We were van camping in the car park, which seemed absolutely fine and lots of other people were doing the same thing without any grief from anyone. There’s no public toilets or showers but there are taps for water, there is a leisure centre not far away where you can shower, and I believe one of the nearby petrol stations has a shower too. We were ok though as our new best friends Dave and Martin had an apartment in town so we just pestered them on a daily basis!
There’s quite a few bits of Chulilla that stay dry in the rain, but the next day was dry anyway so it was time to get climbing at last, at the sector called Sex Shop which has some amazing lines, with a lot of good names… We stayed in Chulilla for a couple of weeks and it was some of the best climbing I’ve ever done, the atmosphere there was ace, really chilled but everyone there was trying hard and pushing themselves so much. We climbed loads, fell off heaps (as evidenced by my knackered rope!), ate lots of pizza, got massively drunk one night, climbed loads more, cheered on other people and just generally had an amazing time. The psyche levels were so high from everyone, I redpointed my first 7b+ and got my first flash of a 7a. My favourite sectors there were Sex Shop and Oasis.
I’m 100% going to have another trip there and I’d probably van it again, although it’s easy to fly in to Valencia and hire a car, rent an apartment or stay at the refuge. Once there all the climbing is within walking distance, although if you have a car you’d probably use it to get to some of the sectors, there’s so many friendly people around though that you’d have no trouble hitching. We didn’t get a guidebook as we just looked at other people’s, but they’re available in the refuge and bar.
You’ll need an 80m rope to make the most of the best routes, a clip stick for the start of some routes is useful and plenty of quickdraws, especially as most routes are well bolted. To really make the most of the climbing there I reckon you want to be climbing in the high 6’s – early 7’s or above, they tend to be stamina fests rather than super techy but there’s exceptions…
My must do route there is Dale Duro Negro, 7b, it’s a mega route, varied and great fun.
We were super sad to be leaving Chulilla, but we had arranged to meet other people in Costa Blanca. So we went there, got robbed when the van was broken into, were a bit underwhelmed by the climbing and left when the rain came. Don’t get me wrong, there’s good climbing there and I onsighted my first ever 7a+, but I found the atmosphere very different and a bit less Spanish. I’m not sure I’ll go back.
After that Fay & Zebers the dog had to leave so I had a couple of days each at Margalef and Siurana with Laura. These are well known venues and they’re fantastic, I’ll definitely be heading back to Spain for some more action at these areas. Margalef was pocket fun times (so hard to read onsight!) with steep starts where as Siurana was generally crimpy, techy climbing. Both these areas were pretty van friendly and had loads of other super psyched people around. I even had a trip to Chris Sharma’s climbing gym in Barcalona followed by the best tapas I’ve ever had in my life!
Spending a month sport climbing was great fun and my climbing came on loads, I probably came back home weaker but with good endurance and with my head in a super confident place. Thanks to all the superstars I met on the trip but especially Fay for all the psyche and catches, Laura for all the help, Dave & Martin for the showers (!), Alex & Katy for the mega psyche and Zebers for being my hot water bottle!
I’ve written my wish list of routes for 2017 and it’s going to be a challenging year for me to tick off lots of them!
Happy climbing in 2017!
Heading the Shot is a route that I’ve wanted to do for a couple of years, the trouble is it’s hard! It gets given two grades, E5 6b if you don’t pre-place the quickdraws and 7a+ if you do, as although it’s bolted there’s a couple of bits you’d deck out from – they’re pretty spaced. I’d long ago decided that if I was to ever get on the lead, I’d pre-place the ‘draws.
Over the last two years I’ve gone up there three times and worked the moves on a fixed line and every time I felt like I was so far off the mark. The holds are mega thin and the hard moves are sustained – they keep on coming! Although I’ve been training down the wall a lot over the last few months the strength gains don’t really help on a route like this, there’s no big holds to crank on, it’s all about delicate rock overs and balancy climbing on very small holds. What does translate though is the confidence and head game, I’m happy falling off and super confident that my belayer will be concentrating which helps massively. Having never climbed 7a+ before it was always going to be a big challenge.
So yesterday we went up to Serengeti where Heading the Shot is to have a play on a top rope. I abbed down the route placing ‘draws to keep the rope in the right place so we didn’t swing around too much when falling or resting, the holds looked as small as ever! Michelle went first and although she rested a few times got all the moves done. My turn, this is hard, shit. I got all the moves but lowered off pretty despondent about it and with toes in agony from them being crammed into tight Five Ten Whites, pushing onto tiny edge after tiny edge.
Michelle went for the lead getting up to and past the first bolt, there’s a tricky move to get in to a position where you can clip the bolt and her head wasn’t in the right gear so she took a small fall and lowered off. Now I had decided there was no point at all in having a go that day, but had a quick change of heart sensing maybe, just maybe I could do something Michelle couldn’t! Past the first bolt, all steady, up to the second bolt, still good. The next moves make up the crux sequence and I just couldn’t commit, I lowered down, happy to have got on it but still not sure I had it in me.
We made the decision to go back the next day.
Now one advantage I do sometimes have (apart from being lanky!) is if I really want a route I can switch my leading head on enabling me to concentrate and climb far better than when I’m practising on a top rope, and I really wanted this route and knew I could try harder.
Walking back up this morning with Michelle and Oreo, the weather was amazing with wall to wall blue skies and when we got there the slate was warm to the touch. Days like this put all the rain we’ve had to the back of your mind.
Michelle was up first, top roping it one last time before the lead, she got it clean which was great, this meant no more excuses for her about not getting on the lead. I’d decided not to top rope it, there wasn’t any point, I knew the moves and all I needed to do was try harder so after a quick warm up of jogging on the spot and swinging my arms around, I went for it.
Go number one (that tells you what’s coming up!), the climbing was just as hard but I was progressing move after move feeling confident on every one of the small holds. First bolt, second bolt, boom – crux done, clip the third bolt and I’m on to the big holds of the traverse. Arghhh! My foot popped when I really wasn’t expecting it and I was off. I was super pleased to have cruised the crux but so frustrated to have failed after the hard part of the climbing.
Michelle’s go, she has to do the crux differently to me and she peeled off the route coming up to the third bolt making what seems like a really hard move.
Go number two for me, psyched up off I go, second bolt clipped, noooo, foot popped before the crux and I’m dangling again.
Mid fall screen grab!
Michelle’s go number two and she fell off the tenuous move she has to do again after looking super solid up to that point.
Go number three for me. I didn’t want to have to get on this again after this effort so I was ready to give it my absolute all. Up to the crux fairly easily, this is it, awesome I’ve made it on to the good holds of the traverse. DO NOT FALL OFF NOW! I crimped hard and made sure I wasn’t going come off here again, this time I made it in to the finishing groove which still isn’t a push over and was standing on great holds – the kind it’s hard to leave. The fourth bolt was clipped, a fall would be perfectly safe, I just did not want to ruin this attempt so I took my time, stayed calm and stupidly proceeded to climb the top section via a completely different sequence, which luckily worked…
I was super stoked to get this route ticked, it had taken time and effort, afterwards I definitely felt a sense of achievement and a healthy dose of relief to have got it.
Michelle still hasn’t got it, but 100% will next time!
To put it all in to perspective for me, someone came along just after and on-sighted it with relative ease!
Heading the Shot is an awesome route on a great looking slab in the Slate quarries of Llanberis. There’s a brilliant guidebook for the slate by Ground Up and more importantly there’s great cafes nearby.
Check out the Facebook page for more shots etc. of what we’ve been up to lately.