Last year marked my highest achieving year as a climber (by far). I pushed myself physically, stuck with a several month long conditioning routine, and ultimately achieved the goals I strived for. But as I start to think ahead to the upcoming climbing season, changes in approach and a slight rearranging of priorities are certainly in order.
There are a couple of no brainer goals this season. I want to climb Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and I also want to climb Hallett Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. Hallett Peak was named after my great, great, uncle W. L. Hallett (I believe it’s William). William was an early settler and mountaineer, and when the Appalachian Mountain Club came to town to do first ascents, they called on William to guide them. The club documented their climb in Mountaineering in Colorado: The Peaks about Estes Park (1889) and named both the peak and a nearby snowfield after him. The goals for Hallett Peak are to first hike the backside with my folks, and then climb the technical face with Robyn.
Using climbing as a vessel to travel has also cropped up as a cool way to share fun activities, and explore new places and cultures. Our latest trip to Mexico left us immediately brainstorming another Spanish speaking country to explore and climb (Costa Rica?).
As we settle into Golden, we immediately jumped on the opportunity to become members at one of the nation’s premier indoor climbing gyms. The odd part however, is that the weather has been so damn mild, it seems kinda silly to be climbing indoors. Our previous pattern for climbing has usually included at least a month or two of temperatures that simply didn’t allow much climbing in the winter. This far south however, and in the rain shadow of the Rockies, climbing year round is no sweat.
So what to do? I guess that comes down to what our goals for the season are, and how to best approach them. When I think back on my best days climbing, they are all outside, in beautiful places, and I am usually feeling strong. Last season, this happened quite a bit in the early spring and summer. I trained hard. Starting in February I followed the Building a Better Climber routine (given the facilities I had) and stuck with it for 33 weeks. I logged workouts, pitches climbed, notable sends etc. with my peak sends coming at weeks 19-25.
By week 30, summer had ended, fall was upon us and we were shifting back to warmer weather crags. Trouble getting rides, conflicting schedules and trips revolving around things other than hard sport climbing filled most weeks. I continued to climb at a higher level than last year, but also felt a distinct decline in power and endurance as the summer wore on, and I think I know why. Early season I trained A LOT to prepare for the year. As spring came I focused on mileage, and eventually strength. Before I knew it I was climbing harder than ever and was encouraged to push my grade. What comes with hard sends however is a marked decrease in volume. As I projected my routes, I noticed I would often only climb a handful of routes on any given weekend. Two warm-ups, burn on the project, 40 min rest, burn on the project, 40 min rest, last burn. The next day would be the same. While I was climbing hard routes, I wasn’t climbing hard. The whole experience was much more mental, and as I dealt with this aspect of the projects, my peak strength windows were closing. What I really needed to do was take a break. Get some miles in, train a bit more, and hit the project again in a few weeks. The issue with this technique however was that in Hailey we had limited time at most of our crags (except Dierkes). Summer crags have a short climbing window at high elevation, and when it passes, you have a long 6 month wait ahead of you.
So what!? What does it all mean for this season?! I guess what I would like to strive for is a season full of exploration, and a season where I recognize (or anticipate) performance plateaus and put the work in to bust through them. In Idaho I had a sense of scarcity. We wrote in all the climbable weekends on the calendar MONTHS ahead of time. “Okay we have Dierkes for a few more weeks, then we can start to test out The Fins. If it’s too cold we bail for Dierkes.. Okay. Then we are off to Oregon, and then we are at The Perch and then off to Maine for a family reunion.. Dang. That’s like 4 weekends gone at The Fins..”
I think the story here in Golden could be much different. There are several summer crags, a wide variety of bouldering and alpine objectives, and the only limited resource may be the winter season. With so many places to go and explore, I don’t think it will be near as hard to duck into the gym for a month mid-summer. Or switch to bouldering for a month to increase power.
So goals for the year? Assuming training doesn’t get too grueling, and that I keep my sacrifice versus reward balance in check, I am gunning for a 5.14a this season. What I hope to avoid is any slump that comes with long term projecting at my limit. So if this starts to set in, I will switch it up, boulder or train for a while and then if the motivation is there, get back at the project.
As much as I want to say that the reason I climb is for this totally spiritual and loving connection with the outdoors, there is more to it than that. The reason you climb waterfall-covered choss in Valdez, or freeze your ass off in the shade of a 15 F January morning at Dierkes isn’t due to your love for the outdoors. A big part of climbing for me is rising to a challenge. Setting goals. Strategizing. It keeps me healthy, and keeps me motivated. And as we all know, there is hardly a better feeling in the world than clipping the chains at the top of a climb, lowering past the crux and thinking, “Really? Did that just happen?”