Not A Fluke

I’ve been attempting more V5 problems since I completed my first one earlier this month, with varying levels of “success”, measured in number of moves I can make before falling off.

I tried one this weekend where I slipped off a hold so hard I couldn’t feel my fingertips for a few minutes.

Today, I examined the move, the options, the balance, and the remaining holds. Then I attempted the problem again.

Success! My second V5! Yaaaaasss!!

I puzzled through a challenging-to-me V3 and V4 before that. Hip turn, hip drive, hang angle, feet high, leg extension, timing. So many details. So satisfying to piece it all together.

I credit today’s tenacity and progress to the guy working on the steep V8. Climb, fall, study, session, climb farther, fall, study, session, repeat, repeat, repeat. He finished the problem.

Balance and Tension

Today in the bouldering room was a climber I’d never seen before. She made up her own routes and used only the most difficult holds. I watched her push and pull and shift her body as if it were a fluid, maintaining balance and tension the entire time.

I introduced myself and asked what goes through her head as she’s climbing.

“Don’t fall.”

It was kind of hilarious. At the same time, it made perfect sense.

After our conversation, I re-attempted a V4 that had been giving me trouble. With balance and tension in mind, I shifted my body farther than I’d previously been comfortable with and completed a move I didn’t think was possible just a couple days prior.

Another check for surround-yourself-with-people-better-than-you.


Despite completing my first V5 last week, there was a V2 in the other room I couldn’t finish. Try as I might, I could not figure out how to hang on to reach the penultimate move. I’ve watched many others try and fail at the same for weeks.

This morning, Evan my Balance and Technique instructor was bouldering when I arrived. He was working on a V6 that he said felt more like a V7 to him, and I made an offhand comment about how I couldn’t even finish a V2. He asked which one, so I pointed to it, then described the move I was stuck on.

“I just skip the move before that. Why use a bad hand hold?”

I hadn’t considered skipping the move before that. It felt like a long vertical reach without it.

Still, I wasn’t making any progress the previous way, so I climbed up to the move before the bad hand hold and looked up.

“Don’t turn your hips like that.”

Oh, right. Plastering my frontside to the wall wasn’t going to help me stick the next move. I turned my right foot to stick my right hip to the wall, sprung for the hold I couldn’t reach, and grabbed it with my right hand. Solid.

So solid.


I finished the problem.


Evan grinned.

I did too. It felt good to check that problem off the list.

Hips Don’t Lie

a.k.a It’s All In The Hips Part 2.

Today I found myself working on a V4 with some not super wonderful (for me) holds. On a couple occasions, I’d reach a hold but not be able to hang on.

After reaching for and sliding off the second to last hold, I took a moment to assess. Clearly I could reach the hold, and in the brief moment I touched it I assessed that it was decent. So why couldn’t I hang on?

Because I was reaching for it. I was reaching with my arm, getting my fingers on the hold, then getting pulled off by my body, which in that moment was about as useful as a sack of potatoes.

Duh! Climbed my way back up, got my body oriented properly, planted my feet, initiated movement with my hips, and drove up toward the hold. Grabbed it hold of it no problem. Super solid.

I’ve been focusing on straight arms during my warmup climbs. Looks like I should add hip drive to the list.

Of Course It’s White

There’s a new V4 I’m working on.

It’s white.

That is all.

Update 2018-12-26 @ 9:15 PM

I left for vacation the next morning, flew back yesterday, and solved it this morning.

Sideways dyno with right hand and foot barn door landing, check!

Update 2018-12-30 @ 12:56 PM

This morning I watched as a middle school aged phenom playfully swung her way up this problem, employing moves neither I nor anyone I’ve watched ever thought to do. It was a beautiful sight, and a wonderful lesson in creativity and technique. There’s so much to learn, in the best possible way.

It’s All In The Hips

The last time I went bouldering, I struggled on a steep (overhanging) V3. Despite having climbed this problem before, I couldn’t get my hand up to a hold and hang on, and I couldn’t figure out why.

At home, I’m slowly making my way through a book on climbing technique. I’m currently reading a chapter on movement initiation, center of mass, arching your back, and leading with your hips.

All of a sudden, everything clicked. I had trouble reaching that hold and hanging on because my hips were pulling me down.

Revisited the problem this morning. Initiated with the hips. Easy peasy.

It’s all in the hips. I’ve learned this lesson over and over again: shooting a hockey puck, riding a manual (the few times I’ve managed one), playing taiko, rotating freestyle, and now on the climbing wall.

I want to start playing tennis again, now that I have a better understanding of body movement and power generation. I’m super curious about doing something I learned naturally as a kid with my new analyze everything mindset.


The day I solved That White V4, I attempted a different white V4 that had recently gone up in the other room.

Three moves in, I hit a wall. Or maybe a gap. The fourth move was a left hand hold 5 feet above the previous hold. I’m 5’6″. That’s a long distance.

I tried jumping, but my first few attempts landed my hand short, or too far from the wall.

I thought about the setup, and what I learned doing that OTHER white V4 earlier this year. (There is definitely a theme here.) I decided I needed to pull in with my arms, push up with my right leg, and keep pushing with my left leg.

That launched me high enough to reach the hold, but I couldn’t hang on with my full body weight and momentum swinging away from the wall. That, and my left shoulder is not super happy at the moment.

I climbed up to the elusive hold, grabbed it, and put my left foot on the hold it had launched from. I didn’t need to launch.

The next go around, I pulled in with my arms, pushed up with my right leg, and pushed up with my left leg with just enough power to boost me to the hold, but not so much that I came off.

I caught the hold, continued swinging left, and fell off.

Back to the drawing board. What was my right hand doing? Nothing. I climbed back up to the elusive hold, grabbed it with my left hand, grabbed it with my right hand, and swung. Solid.

All right, then. Everything I did before, plus put my right hand on the hold for the swing.

That did the trick.

I had the same reaction after watching this video as I did after watching the one from last week. How could something I found so difficult look so easy? Is it actually easy, or am I making it look easy?

I guess that depends on how good a climber you are.

Update 2019-01-02 @ 7:28 AM

Earlier this week I saw a guy do this with one hand and his foot on the launch. It was a good reminder that I probably could do it differently with better grip strength.

If I were super serious about this climbing thing I’d hang board and O-ring and elastistretch thing, but I’m happy to just let that develop with wall time.

That White V4

I haven’t been writing much about climbing. The last couple months have mostly been morning bouldering sessions. I’ve been climbing everything between V0 and V3, plus a smattering of V4s. Once I decide to climb something, I generally work on it until I solve it. Most things don’t take more than a couple sessions to solve.

Except for this one white V4. They put it up at the beginning of October, and I must have climbed this thing 20 times over 6 weeks before finally solving it. I’d try and get stuck, try and get stuck again, go home, think about alternatives, try and get stuck, repeat.

I went home and thought some more. The thing I was stuck on were a pair of near-vertical holds toward the top. They’re shaped and angled such that there’s nothing to hook or hang your fingers on. The hold is all about hand strength. (At least it is to me based on my current skill.)

Fortuitously, I destroyed my hands at taiko a couple weeks ago. I wondered if some liquid chalk would provide some blister-free grip, so I finally sprung for a tube of the stuff. The chalk arrived, did exactly the opposite of what I wanted for taiko, but now I finally had some long lasting crazy dry grip for the holds I kept sweaty hands sliding off.

A fresh application of liquid chalk, plus a dusting of plain old Gorilla Grip chalk was all I needed to trust that I could stick well enough to complete the moves:

I cheated a little in this video: My left knee actually bumps against the long black hold when I rock to the left. I adjusted after watching this, straightening my knee a little more (I think) and rocking a little less to the left to finish the problem cleanly.

Upon studying the video, I decided to write this post for my future self. This problem actually required a lot of skills I’ve learned in the past year. I wanted to write them down, then come back a few years from now to see much more I’ve learned.

  • 0:08 – Upper body low on the start. You’ll peel off the wall if your upper body is up high, which I didn’t realize until a guy was trying to do this the other day and asked how I wasn’t falling off the start.
  • 0:10 – Turning your feet (and thus body) in place.
  • 0:17 – Back flag. I flag a lot, back flag almost never, but it was perfect here to keep my body from barn dooring.
  • 0:32 – I’ve actually tucked my hip onto that hold on the right.
  • 0:50 – I’m pushing down with my right foot, up with my right knee, and wedging my right leg in place between the two holds.
  • 0:53 – Repeating, “Trustyourgrip trustyourgrip trustyourgrip,” over and over ahead in my head.
  • 0:57 – Left knee is in an ugly rock-over. I’m just learning this technique, and as I study the video I realize I could have relied on it more at 0:42 as well.
  • 1:00 – OMG I made it to the far left hold!!!
  • 1:04 – Switching feet. Could have been cleaner, but at least I didn’t slip switching like I did at 0:13.
  • 1:10 – One attempt before this video, I felt sooo good knowing I could reach that final hold. In this video, I’m disappointed that I touched my knee on the black hold again. In the next and final attempt, I’m super thrilled about solving it fully.

Too much? Am I overanalyzing?

I think that’s actually a good thing.

Update: 2018-11-22 @ 9:02 AM

When I went to the gym yesterday morning they were replacing all the bouldering routes in that area. I solved this just in time!


This weekend, I looked at a 5.10a route and asked, “How quickly can I climb this thing?”

I tied in and scrambled up the wall as fast as I could. 57 seconds.

Once back on the ground, I counted the number of hand hold moves: 20.

Given the standard pattern of hand hold, move one foot, move other foot, repeat, that comes out to approximately one move per second.

On one hand, I’m pleased that I could decide and move without interruption. Also, my forearms weren’t at all tired from the climb.

On the other hand, it simply wasn’t fun. It turns out one of the things I like about climbing is deliberately planting and feeling a solid hold and balanced body position. I don’t get that when I’m just trying to move fast.

Speed climbing (this wasn’t even close), definitely not my thing.