Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kalymnos 2010

"Dafni", 6c+, Ghost Kitchen
At the end of July, I will be traveling to Kalymnos for a four week climbing trip.  It will be my sixth time on the Greek island.  I enjoy the indulgence of being able to focus on improving my rock climbing in the weeks on the island.  Sport climbing on Kalymnos is situated over a geographically compact area with now around 50 different sectors and probably more than 2000 routes.

In the last three years I have been able to devote four weeks in July/August to sport climbing on Kalymnos.  I have generally used this time to on-sight as much as possible and to concentrate on climbing volume.  A side effect has been that my level during the month-long trip has always moved slightly upward through the grades.  I can't really say that I have tried to use a more typical sport climbing approach of identifying a project and then working on the route until a successful redpoint.  I don't plan on using this approach on the coming trip per se, but one of the things I want to do is get on a lot more harder routes.  I think it is important for me to see sport climbing in the proper relation to everything else I do in the mountains.  I want to climb 7a+/5.12a sport so that when I do something like the Cassin route on northeast face of Piz Badile (TD: 5.10/6a/VI+, 830m), I can move through it extremely fast, clean and with a great margin of security in my climbing technique.

"Oetida", 6c/7a ext., Iliada
Another thing about me climbing hard sport routes is that I generally suck at them.  I mean when you hang with guys who have all climbed above 8a, and who have great strength, power and movement skills bouldering, well 7a+ is not really that much of a big deal.  Besides a golden rule of getting better is to train your weaknesses.  I have always been one who has excelled in developing endurance in the different aspects of alpine climbing skills: 12+ hour days, long approaches and descents, long moderate rock and ice routes, long ski tours, etc., are some of my strengths.  When climbing ice or rock, I have developed a lot of stamina so that I can hang on to sort things out, climb in a more static and controlled way, and recover en-route very well.  However, hard powerful cruxes seem to mentally and physically thwart me at times.  Additionally, I want to be able to generate power quickly on demand and improve my finger and hand contact strength.  All of these deficiencies can be addressed by climbing hard sport routes - and most importantly really, really trying hard. (I'll come back to that point.)

"Resista", 6c, Ghost Kitchen
About a year or so ago Will Gadd linked this blog entry from his friend Gergory Thaczuk about what it takes to climb 7a+/5.12.  There is a lot of to-the-point, simple and what seem like very obvious remarks in the post.  But the point is, are you doing these seemingly simple and obvious things in your own climbing.  And if not, why?

In the climbing gym I see the so-called experienced climbers doing the same thing over and over again.  They get on an easy route or two to warm up and then they move up through progressively more difficult climbs until they get to the 7a/7b level (If that, because this level is really the exception.).  At this level they climb trough the route from bottom to top, stopping and hanging on the rope saying that they don't have any more strength, but never falling.  The climber gets to the top and then comes down and maybe does a top rope lap before stopping for the night.  They climb every other day and do the same routine every time.  Some of these people have been climbing for 20+ years and at the same level for the majority of that time.  Unfortunately what then takes place is that less experienced climbers in the gym see what the "good" climbers  are doing and then do the same things because, well, so-and-so is better than me., and he or she can climb the blue overhanging 6b and I can't.

"Totenhansel / Super Totenhansel", 6c+/7a, Ghost Kitchen
As a climbing trainer in the gym, it is an interesting dynamic to watch a beginner struggle with the conflict of going against what the so-called "good" climbers are doing as you try to get them to train differently.  It is also funny to experience the reactions of these climbers when you do things a lot differently than they do.

When I want to train maximum strength in the gym, I usually will get on a route that is 7b+/7c to work individual moves.  To improve maximum strength I want to do moves that are at my absolute limit and have 4 to 6 repetitions.  A while back, as I was training this way in the gym, one of the "good" climbers remarked that I didn't have a chance of climbing the 7c route I was getting on because he couldn't do it.  I, in my nice way, ignored the insult and tried to superficially explain max strength training to respond in what was obviously now an uncomfortable situation.  I regret that I didn't just use a more appropriate response devoid of social niceties.  Anyways, the fact is that I was, and continue to train, very differently than the majority of people in the climbing gym.  People with a herd mentality tend to get very defensive and uncomfortable when their beliefs are directly or indirectly questioned.

"Remeber Wadi Rum", 6c, Ghost Kitchen
I've gotten off track here a bit.  This post is about what I am going to do to improve during the four weeks I have to sport climb in Kalymnos.  The two things that will help me the most to improve my sport climbing.paradoxically don't even involve climbing; they are body composition and falling.  I need to lose body fat and weight and then I need to intensely practice falling.  The body composition issue is most likely the greatest single thing I can do to immediately improve my climbing.  Now I am at 79.kilograms and 16.2% body fat.  If I shed some body fat and muscle mass, primarily in my lower body and around my belly, I will get down to 76 kilograms and under 15% body fat.  I believe this will in the short term automatically bring me up one letter grade level.  Further improvement in body composition is most diffidently a long-term goal of mine. 

I have also made a commitment to do some type of fall training every time I am sport climbing.  I have done fall training in the past, but not with a high level of intensity or regularity.  Committing to regular fall training outside is something that I have never done.  I believe that a serious commitment to training falling will bring tremendous mental benefits to me and further improve my climbing by one letter grade.

The American sport climber Dave Graham was interviewed in the latest issue of the Austrian climbing magazine, Climax (02/10).  In the interview he says, "throughout the past few years, I have challenged myself to attempt routes that are absolutely not in my style, and to do things that I was convinced that I could never accomplish".  This is the attitude of a person looking to embrace adversity and challenge.  How many times do some sport climbers get lazy and avoid the mental adversity of climbing hard at our limit?  What about searching for a high-graded route that is a one-move wonder, or under graded, or can be top roped from the neighboring easier route?

"Athina", 6b+, Iliada
I want to routinely get on hard routes and not shy away from the mental stress of climbing at my upper limits.  I want to seek out situations in which intensity will cause personal growth and the experiences will be deep and long lasting.  Practically put, you are only going to climb hard routes when you get on hard routes.  You will only develop mental strength by putting yourself in uncomfortable positions.  This is then my third point of focus while on Kalymnos: routinely get on routes and attempt climbs at the 6c+ to 7b level.

Other climbing goals during the trip are: 1) improve on-sight level to a solid 6b/6b+ (85% success rate).  2) Send 6c/6c+ in 2-3 attempts, 3) climb some very long endurance-type lines at the 6a+ to 6c level that are between 40 and 55 meters long, 4) climb in the new cave sectors, and other sectors, on the neighboring island of Telendos, 5) do the long multi-pitch routes of, "Wings for Life", 5c/285m and "Wild Country", 6a, 265m.

I plan on doing some blog entries from Kalymnos to record how things are going with my trip as well as updates regarding climbing on the island.  I am very excited and pumped to be heading to Kalymnos again for the great routes, the Aegean sea, Telendos beaches, and a Mythos or two ...

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