Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Problem with "Projecting"

I read this bit from Rob Shaul on his site the other day:

"I spent the weekend sport climbing in Lander with a few of my sponsored athletes. There is no strong tradition of mountain athletes such as climbers, free skiers, snow boarders, mountaineers, mountain bikers, kayakers, etc. training in the gym to prepare for their sport. I think we're on the way to changing that. Within the rock climbing world, there is quite a bit of literature available on sport specific training. I experimented with it at first, found it lacking, and now we are developing our own training programming and philosophy.

I'm not an accomplished climber by definition. I'm still learning, and progressing slowly. When I actually do get out, I find I spend most my time watching the other athletes, and looking for fitness attributes which need work. One of the reasons within the rock climbing world for the lack of a training tradition is the idea that a huge part of climbing is technique. And certainly this is true. But what I saw this weekend impressed up on me that being strong as hell - specifically core tension, pulling power and simple raw finger strength, can only help. Strength not only adds to performance, but it also makes the athlete more confident - which also increases performance.

What I saw this weekend was my athletes need more strength. It's coming.
On the technique side, there is a tradition to "project" routes far above your climbing skill, and eventually work to climb them cleanly. I'm beginning to think this is a wrong approach. What happens is climbers jump ahead without the foundation, "project" a difficult route above their climbing skill, then at the end of it, can only complete this route - their broader climbing technique base has not been expanded.

In the weight room you can't do this. Even though I may want to snatch 250#, and perhaps have the athletic potential to do so, there no "short cut." I can't "project" this lift. I've got to build technique and strength the old fashion way - thousands of hours in the gym and bunches and bunches of reps. Along the way, I have to snatch 150#, 200#, etc. and work my way up. I can't "skip" ahead.
And consequently, when I do eventually snatch 250#, I can also snatch all the heavy weight below it.

This isn't true of the "pyramid" climbing "project" approach. 5.10 climbers may "project" a 5.12 for weeks, and finally get it. But this doesn't mean now that they can climb a 5.12 route, they can also climb all the 5.11's below it. Often they can't.
As a result, all those weeks worth of work "projecting" the route above their head has done noting to raise their overall climbing ability. They have a "circus" trick to show for it, but in the mean time have lost many opportunities to truly grow as climbers through reps and work needed to build a foundation. They can't then say they are 5.12 climbers.

Understand that my concern here isn't in "projecting" per se, but in projecting a route or problem far above your climbing ability. The issue isn't working on something hard, but making too great a leap. Again, I can't do this in the weight room. If my current 1RM snatch is @ 150#, I've got to lift 155# for my first step to 300#. I can't jump ahead.

So if a 5.10 climber is "projecting" a 5.11a route, great. This is progression."

The issue outlined in these comments are what bother me a lot about the sport climbing mentality. It also, in a round about way, reinforces why someone who is interested in all forms of alpine climbing and mountaining needs to really think about how they use their training time when sport climbing indoors and outdoors.

In my opinion, the physical climbing attributes that are most important in the mountains are 1) on-sight ability, 2) general and local muscle endurance, and 3) the ability to move fast and securely over moderate terrain.

On rock, the only way you're going to be able to build these skills is through the volume of climbing outdoors. That means climbing (up and down) on all types of routes and rock - at various levels of difficulty. It does not mean speading large amounts of training time hanging on the rope rehersing specific moves for a specific route

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Alpine Climbing in Pitztal

On the left is the upper part of the Tasachwand in Pitztal from about a week ago. The tracks that are visible on the upper right side of the flank are from me, Christos and Vaclav. Climbing the 600 meter north face was the highlight of our short four-day trip to the Tasachhaus.

We were also able to climb on the Sexegartenerspitze. We climbed through mixed ground in a couloir placing rock protection as we ascended the 250 meter line.

Conditions and weather were good in south western Tyrol. There was still quite a bit of snow on all of the faces and on the glaciers. the other north face climbs, such as Brochkogel, Petersenspitze, north side of the Wildspitze, etc., all looked good. There is an abundance of alpine climbing possibilities in couloirs, faces and ridges in the area. Additionally, the Taschachfener offered some nice training ground for steep ice.

The slide show below is of a few photos from the trip. The photos can be accessed by clicking on the slideshow. (Additional photos from Christos Palaontas)

Human Folly

The folly of the human mind is never more in evidence then with a person who has superficial knowledge of sport climbing. Due to arrogance some people think they know all there is to know about climbing safety – and worse are “teaching” their friend, spouse, or child how to climb


I have been accused of being a crass surly individual at times. And when adults are doing stupid things at the crags or in the climbing gym my attitude is more or less live and let die. When I am climbing privately, many times I just move away to avoid the risk of being splattered by blood.

But what do you do when an adult is climbing with children? I mean you can kill yourself, but an 11 or 12 year old?

Scene: A rainy Saturday afternoon in the climbing gym. Dad is belaying his 10 year old son on top rope. He has a tuber but is using it as if he is belaying with a HMS knot. The son is climbing barefoot. The rope is through one screw-gate karabiner 17 meters up the wall. It is not screwed closed. The son is attached to the rope with a single HMS locking karabiner. Is it screwed closed? What do you think?

There are so many things wrong with this that I don’t know where to begin.

I have jokingly said that the most dangerous places in Salzburg are the climbing tower at the University Sport Center in Rif and at the climbing gym. It is really not that much of a joke. One or two people seem to die every year at the climbing tower, and it is just a matter of time before there is a very serious accident in the climbing gym.