Thursday, October 05, 2006

Yam Almost (day 13)

Yesterday Cory I and went up on Yam with the goal of sending the Yam project we've been working all September (day seven this season, 13 into the project). It was an absolutely perfect Fall day, a sensory feast. The first six pitches went down first try, including the sixth, which I'd been unable to climb in the past. We were super-stoked at the top of pitch 6, especially 'cause the last hard move on pitch six is low-percentage. Six pitches down, two more "easy" pitches to go--or so we thought... In retrospect it was a bit like when Bush hung the "Mission Accomplished" banner for Iraq, it wasn't really over now was it? I'm going to write about pitch 7 because I can't stop thinking about it.

Pitch 7 started off with some 5.10 climbing up a less than vertical headwall of very sharp "Yam Velcro," meaning that the surface of the limestone looks like a dry bowl of Captain Crunch cereal, only each crunch spike is skin-cutting sharp. The spikes tend to break off occasionally, but the rock is in general excellent grey limestone. The pitch is generally well-protected with bolts (as is most of the route, some bigger runs but you're unlikely to die on this route). No problem, paste hands, feet up, let the spikes hurt so good. Then the pitch steepened up to vertical to gently overhanging, with blobs of the grey Velcro mixed with more friable yellow limestone. Those of you who climb on Rockies limestone will know the mix. I was tired but still felt reasonably strong, and kept thinking that in one or two moves I'd get a good hold and then it would be jugs to to the belay. The slow slide into being pumped silly started when a foothold broke and I had to give all my power to hang on. Suddenly I was on the edge of falling after climbing maybe 10M of a 35M pitch. No! Up and just out of reach I could see a bigger than usual Crunch nubbin, but so far away and it would probably break anyhow... The clock was on, no time to rest, I hiked my feet up on lousy footholds that were crunching like mad and thought, "This won't work," but I had to try, fuck it, go down fighting man! I hit the Cruncher but oh so barely good enough to hold or maybe not, no, yes, wobbling, barely barely on. For the next 20 minutes I was able to oh so barely bust out a move, recover just enough to make another one, repeat. I have never, never, tried so hard on a pitch for so long in my life--so many times almost falling off, then not, just a swinging quickdraw's force from falling off. Normally when I'm that pumped I fall off, but this was pitch 7 on the redpoint effort of the biggest rock route I've ever put up, I refused to fall and so somehow didn't. Footholds broke slightly, my skin started to bleed, but I was making it work. Finally I got to an awkward rest where I could alternate hands, but my feet were on crunchy nubbins so I was only able to get the feeling back in my hands, my forearms were bloated like balloons and weren't going down in pressure. I could see the belay so close, and then the "rest" started to turn into work. Go! A paralyzed friend of mine once explained that he could use his hands better with "extensis," which means bending his wrists back so the tendons were stretched and his finger stayed curled better. I think this is part of the reason our elbows go up and out when we're pumped stupid, we're using extensis to stay on. My elbows went up into the super pollo as I scrabbled upward, Crunch nubbins flying off until there was nothing left to give and I was in the air and hanging on the rope, a jug in plain sight about a foot higher. 20M of all-out desperate climbing came down to a foot... At first I was too tired to do more than hang there, then the pain came in the skin and the world returned with a rush. I had given absolutely everything I had for the last 35 minutes--skin, energy, will, and I had come up short by a single move...

I lowered down thinking I'd just find the good sequence, pull the rope the rope and redpoint next go, but I couldn't do any of the moves I'd just done, there was nothing left in my mind or body, and each time I touched the rock I had to consciously not let go from the skin pain. The splitter Fall day was cooling fast as the sun set, and I suddenly realized we had to get to the top of Yam somehow (rapping after the fifth pitch would be very complicated, the ends of 70M ropes hang totally free a long way from the wall). What if the next "easy" pitch was like this too? Quickdraws became my friends, and fortunately the last pitch wasn't too bad, relatively easy 5.11. We had done an ascent of the route from bottom to top, but not free, and not free is not done in my mind.

If I had been able to hang on for one more move and make the belay I'd call that pitch the best "onsight" climbing of my life (I'd rapped the pitch, but didn't know the moves at all, so not a technically pure onsight effort). I tried harder and succeeded more than I ever have on a single pitch, but still came up short. I alternated between feeling heart-broken over failing so close, and yet calm with the fact that I'd done my absolute best.

Today I wonder how hard that pitch is--could be relatively easy, on top of Yam I felt like I do at the end of one of those cragging days where you've climbed more hard routes than normal and then climbed some laps on a hard route and then tried to do the "warm up" to cool down and can't... It doesn't really matter, I met my match high on Yam. I really want to do a continuous free ascent as that always feels best, but I know it's common to claim an ascent redpointing each pitch in sequence. We could go back up, rap down and redpoint the last two pitches like others have done on big wall "free" routes, but that seems somehow weak to me, the goal is always to climb from the bottom to the top. I don't think I have the fitness to climb six pitches, four of which are solid 5.12 with one likely 5.13, and then figure that pitch out, so perhaps the thing to do is to rap down, figure it out, then head back up for a one-day free ascent? I'm sure there are climbers who could onsight the whole climb, and I hope that happens as it would be cool, but I want to do my best and finish this rig in a style I feel good about. But it's early October here in the Rockies, we only have so many days for success before the days are too cold, and the rare warm days too short for a route of this size and difficulty (for me). This morning I can barely walk with the foot pain, and my hands are oozing plasma road rash so it's going to take some time to hang onto anything but smooth plastic keyboards or maybe gym holds. Climbing sure is interesting!

I just got an email from Cory: "My hands are fucked...I can't even be clever about
saying it...they are just plain fucked!"

Yamineering sure is fun.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Training Thoughts

I've been on a binge of rock climbing and training for the last couple of months. As usual, I've re-relearned a few lessons about climbing, training and performance. I thought I'd share them to remind myself of a few basics. Just wrote the following in about 20 minutes of raging typing but I like it, it cleared some things in my head, which is why I write this stuff. Maybe some of it will resonate with you.

1. Don't train "power" after doing anything seriously aerobic. Yesterday Cory and I went and hiked up and over a snowy Yam (about 3,000 feet of vert with some horizontal too) at a fast pace despite my intentions to just idle along (we had to get some gear we left on top of Yam and it's always fun to beat around in the snowy mountains). I then went into the Vsion bouldering gym and got my ass kicked on relatively easy problems. I went through the motions and did my best, but I couldn't hang onto much of anything, my body was tired, no power, no "cling," low motivation. This always happens when I go too hard aerobically before a power-oriented session, I just had to learn the lesson again. But I did my best.

2. Do your best. Very rarely is any training session "perfect." There are always, always issues. Not enough time, not enough food, too late, too early, too hot, too cold, whatever, there are always going to problems. Deal with it and do your best. Despite my belief that yesterday's effort was a less than perfect it was still a hell of a lot better than having done nothing, and I can feel my upper body did at least get some sort of workout despite the fact I could barely do my normal warm-up problems. I need to rest today to climb on Yam tomorrow, so I'm glad I got it done even if my ego said I sucked at the time. I didn't suck, I trained, and tomorrow I will be stronger for my goal.

3. Have a goal, and fight for it through failure. Mine is to climb this route on Yam right now, and it drives me into the gym even when I don't "feel like it." Nothing is more powerful than having a real desire to get something done. Goals are intimidating because they imply a large chance of failing. So what, failure is better than existing in a twilight of, "Well, gee, I'd sorta like to maybe do something I think is worthwhile." Buck up, make a goal, succeed or go down fighting. Every failure is one step closer to not failing, use the energy of failure to move forward. I fucking hate failing and find no happiness in it, but an honest failure is a pure moment of existence and respectable on the road to the goal.

4. Eat and sleep as best you can. Being sleep-deprived before a training session will hurt the session's quality. It's supposed to be "manly" to stay up all night and still kick ass at a sport, but it's not realistic in the long run. Being under-fed will mean an early end to a session. A couple of days ago I was doing a high-volume day at a local crag and simply ran out of juice, even though I'd eaten a big high-quality breakfast. I hadn't brought enough food to the crag, and after climbing solidly for a couple of hours I was moving like a slug instead of snapping along. Climbers are generally over-focused on diet, rather than enjoying food as fuel and making sure to have enough of it; exercise often, eat simple high-quality foods, avoid anything in a package with more than about two ingredients and you'll become lean and strong. Eat a lot of pre-packaged junk and sit on your ass and you'll have lower energy and likely be fatter. There's a really good summary of "world class fitness" on the site, check it out. I don't follow the Crossfit program during my peak performance cycles, but I respect the philosophy and attitude and find it helps keep my body younger.

5. Learn to listen to your body. It took me a long time to hear my body, I used to think it spoke Portugese or something. If you're having a shite session ask "Why?" Have you trained to the point where every joint feels creaky and the skin on your hands is dessicated from chalk? You've over-trained, back it down, train differently, change. My body is not "it," a seperate "thing;" my body is me, and I have to work with it, not declare war and hope to win through decimating my opponent... When my body is happy it is incredibly strong and will meet challenges far beyond what I think it can do. When I don't listen to its complaints and pains I end up injured, demotivated or climb like I've never seen rock before.

6. Focus on results that matter, not results that look good. This is tricky, but if your goal is to climb harder routes then having buff biceps is totally irrelevant. If your goal is to be able to climb more routes in a day then being able to bench-press is irrelevant. Judge the effectivness of your workouts not by how much better you are at working out, but by how much better you actually PERFORM. I see far too many climbers focusing on easily quantifiable gym exercises because the progress is obvious, rather than the more important goal of climbing better. I generally fall off of hard routes because I can't hang on (yeah, that's obvious, but I keep having to learn the lesson). Either I'm pumped stupid or there's a move I lack the finger power for. All the bicep curls and bench presses in the world won't help with either of these problems. Neither will protein powder, vitamins, or eating 1,000 calories a day until I'm "skinny." Bouldering will increase my finger strength, and linked boulder problems or laps on routes will allow me to hang on longer on routes I used to fall off of from the pump. It's not complicated, but focusing on performance instead of training accomplishment is hard to do.

7. Organize your day so that you can have the best training and performance environment possible. Yesterday I went on the aerobic mssion late 'cause I was too pressed with work, and as a result didn't have enough time to recover before my bouldering session in the evening. I could have done better. Rule your time, it's yours as long as you claim it and don't let others steal it.

8. Be honest about where you are, where you're going and where you've been. I often hear a climber say something like, "Well, I used to onsight 12a and I'd like to get back to that level within a month." Actually, Joe 12a flashed a 12a once about four years ago after the only summer he ever spent climbing regularly, and is now way out of shape. Joe 12a really currently onsights 5.10 regularly, low 5.11 occasionally, and is a likely several months to several years away from being able to onsight 12a reguarly. Joe 12a is cool with me, but his self-perception is way out of whack, and he is setting himself up for a frustrated self-inflicted lashing for no reason. I am getting close to my best fitness ever, but I'd be lying to myself if I said I was there. But I can work at it, the results will be evident when I don't fall off and not before then, no matter how much bullshit I talk to myself or others. One day I'm going to climb to the top of something harder than I ever have, and then I'll know where I am...

And some other stuff. Rant off.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Yam on Hold, a new view on "Fat Camp"

The weather is shite here, so Yam is on hold, but going to hike up over it and then hit the climbing gym for a simulated "Yam day." Yeah, we're obsessed, it's good. Wed. looks like the next decent day...

A friend of mine decided he was a bit fat, and has an unusual take on getting not-fat, check it out.