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.


Back to the bouldering cave this morning to work on a not yet solved V3.

The penultimate move on this problem is a jump to a fat, non-juggy hold. These kinds of holds are not on my list of strengths, and it took me well over 10 tries over 2 sessions to start sticking it half the time.

Once there, both hands end up on this hold, and the next move is another jump to finish.

For me, the first jump is facing the wall. The second is with my right hip on the wall.

All this is to say that I warmed up on a few V0s this morning and my forearms felt crappy. I wasn’t really in a mood to work on the problem, but then one of the regulars I know came by and asked what I was working on. He gave it a try, had similar difficulties on the final move, and we took turns trying to puzzle it out. It was way more fun that way, and eventually I stuck the whole thing.

It felt a lot like last week. I’m really digging the weekday morning bouldering crew.


Back to the bouldering caves at my gym this morning. Got some good tips from a couple folks there, one who happens to be the gym manager, and one who’s better than me in that played hockey in high school kind of way. It was interesting to study them make the same moves with totally different body positioning. When they saw me struggle on problems they’d completed, they offered tips. “Turn your hip” or “use a heel hook”. I learned a lot by tweaking techniques I’ve found generally workable into something more solid. It’s all basics, but it never hurts to have a reminder.

– turn your hip to get your body closer to the wall
– use your feet to pull you into the wall
– trust your feet when they’re pushing on a hold
– get your feet higher
– body tension
– use your thumbs, they’re opposable!

These are all things I already know and often coach others on, but being reminded to do it better by someone who just did it better was incredibly valuable. Also, we cheered each other on. There’s a lot to be said for good vibes and encouragement.

This is one of the things I love about bouldering. You don’t get interaction like this on a rope.

Playing On Rocks

Took an outdoor bouldering class today. This was my third time climbing outdoors. The first two were top rope outings.

Bouldering has a totally different feel to it. It’s so… simple. Shoes, chalk, and crash pads. I really enjoyed not having to set up and manage extra gear.

We worked on 6 problems at a couple sites across from Castle Rock State Park: Hash Rock and Nature Nazi. The most obvious difference between indoor and outdoor? Outdoor holds aren’t nearly as obvious, and are generally way smaller than the ones at the gym. While a V0 indoors might be all jugs, you may get a single jug outdoors. And often you won’t know it’s there until your hand lands on it.

The more important difference between indoor and outdoor, however, is that the outdoor problems allow for a lot more creativity. There may be a recognized set of moves to a problem, but there’s much a much greater variety of holds and positions to choose from.

Our group was comprised of one instructor and four students. It was the perfect class size, and a fantastic mix of enthusiasm and encouragement.

My best (although perhaps not favorite) moment: Getting near the top of a problem and not feeling like I had any good options. I noticed myself starting to feel uneasy, then remembered how a couple other students had wound up in similar situations earlier in the day. Watching them it was clear that unease only made things worse, so I made myself stop and chill for a moment before continuing on. Not-good options became workable options, and I found my way to the top.

Spending a morning in nature playing on rocks! A+++++++ WOULD DO AGAIN!!!1!

Today’s aftermath: I can’t fingerprint unlock any of my devices. I find this fairly amusing.

On Rappel!

Filed under: Things I’ve never done that I’ve always wanted to learn how to do.

Also filed under: Things I love about REI #537.

Rappelling. It’s a thing you do if you climb out in the world a lot (which I don’t). It’s a thing they raffle off for fundraisers. It’s a thing that looks kind of fun. It’s a thing I’ve never done. Until Sunday.

Because REI is super rad, learning how to rappel was as easy as signing up on a website and showing up.

Easy, but not simple. There were a lot of steps, mostly centered around teaching us how to not die rappelling carelessly.

How to not die rappelling carelessly, artificial top rope environment edition:

1. Climb up. Tension.
2. Set two anchors. Test them out.
3. Come off belay.
4. Set up the rappel rope. I finally used both holes in my ATC!
5. Make sure the rappel setup works.
6. Set up third hand.
7. Make sure the third hand works. Will it stop you?
8. Unset anchors. Your third hand’s got you!
9. Rappel down.
10. Profit!

It’s hard to explain what the rappel should look like, and what the third hand looks like. That’s what internet guides are for. Mostly, I’m documenting what we learned.

How do we set up all those anchors, not lose the rope, and tie a third hand? With knots! And maybe some hitches. And maybe learn about the difference between knots (which can exist on their own) and hitches (which require something else to exist) along the way. I won’t talk about them all here, but…

A knot I’ve never tied before but find super cute: The barrel knot. Great for keeping your rope from flying off at the end! Oh, and did I mention super cute? It’s super cute!

We learned a couple third hand hitches: The autoblock and the prusik. The idea is to make a hitch that allows the rope to slide if you position it so it’s loose, but cinch tight if you let go to stop you from falling. I’d never thought about using ropes in this manner and am all of a sudden finding knots and hitches super interesting. Also, I find the prusik very symmetrically pleasing.

I wish the word symmetric were a palindrome of symmetrical letters.

We also used a bunch of slings, and clipped all sorts of stuff to our harnesses. I say stuff and not gear here because even though it’s gear, it’s only a small and gentle subset of what you’d use for outdoor lead climbing. Still, it was nice to finally use a few of those loops on my harness.

Now I know how rappelling works! And I can say I’ve done my own non-careless setup and lowered myself without dying. :)

Friction Series

Planet Granite held a climbing competition at their SF location yesterday. I missed the one at my home gym last month, and have been coveting people’s comp tees ever since. So I decided to go up there and get my own.

I had no idea what the format would be. I wondered what category I belonged in. As it turned out, I didn’t have to decide! Our 25 routes were ordered by difficulty, and not visibly rated. We simply climbed what we thought we could from looking at the route.

I’ve never fallen off the wall so many times in one day. It was awesome.

Not that I like falling, but I generally climb what I think I will probably be able to complete, based on rating. These days, that means I mentally top out at 5.11a and 5.11b routes. (Knowing that I do this and remembering to change my behavior aren’t quite in sync yet.)

I have no idea what I tried to climb yesterday, but everything I attempted was a challenge. Every time I fell off, I added a new skill to work on to my list.

Here’s to falling! *clink*

At the end of the day, we watched the top 3 male and female climbers compete in an on-sight final. I loved the radically different styles between climbers. In the end, only one climber reached the top. I had seen her at my gym in the mornings practicing super hard bouldering problems, trying and failing, trying and failing again, while her mother took notes.

Trying and succeeding. Trying and winning. I love seeing hard work pay off.

I also love all the fun events my gym puts on. What a great way to encourage member interaction and build community. Thanks PG!

I love my comp tee.

Tall Walls

Spent a couple hours on the top rope walls for the first time in weeks yesterday. Some observations on what it’s like to boulder for weeks:

Endurance, ugh. Power through!

I’m better at hugging the wall when needed. It got me all the way up a 5.11a with the tiniest (to me) of holds. Thinking about it now, I remember the bouldering problem that taught me that.

I used a heel hook mid climb without thinking about it. Worked beautifully. Yaaass!!!

I found myself looking at a mini leap 20 feet off the ground, realized I’d done this without a rope many times before, and went for it. Turns out it was it wasn’t even hard. Just mentally hard.

If it’s not hard it’s not fun?

Stubbornness, It Gets The Job Done

One month ago, I spent a morning doing this, over and over:

I must have jumped and failed 20 times that morning. I probably jumped and failed 20 more times both before and after that morning.

I refuse to admit defeat, so I kept at it. I thought about what I could be doing differently. Jump harder? Pull up more? Pull in? I was so close. All I needed was another couple inches to wrap my hand around the hold. I climbed it in reverse a few times just to get a feel for the body position.

I knew I could do it. I just had to do it before they refreshed the problems.

I watched many try and fail. I watched a couple succeed. They were just… stronger. Quite simply, they could jump higher.

I could be stronger too. But I also knew I could find an extra couple inches with technique. I just didn’t have that technique yet.

Last weekend, I watched a high school kid do the jump. He was super excited about having just figured it out, and was practicing it over and over.

His jump had a weird kink in it. What was that?

It got me thinking. Perhaps a single leap wasn’t what I needed. Maybe I needed to push with my feet, pull up and in with my arms, and then finish the move by pushing up with my left arm.

Three attempts later, I got my hand around the hold and hung on to finish.

Success! Joy! Relief.

Climbing has been a fantastic exercise in grit and deliberate practice.


I haven’t written about climbing in nearly 2 months. I make it to the gym about twice a week these days. Not often enough to improve by leaps and bounds. Also not often enough to totally stress out my hands. Often enough to keep things interesting.

I’ve mostly been working my way through V3s. I’ve had to work through many of the current V3s piece by piece, then put everything together. I find this process incredibly satisfying. I actually like it more than flashing them, because it makes me think and try and think and try and think and try again, sometimes over several visits. It’s great for honing technique, and learning to trust my abilities.

So no, I’m not climbing V5s yet, and that’s okay. I’m building a solid foundation for the day I do.