Bouldering day! My left triceps were still sore from all the tuck and bail attempts Sunday, but the rest of me felt decent so why not? To the climbing gym!
Warmed up on 2 V0s and 2 V1s. Then I went straight for a blocky V3 I’ve been looking at. It was easier than I thought it would be. Climbed it on the first try, then climbed it again immediately, more cleanly.
Spied a super hangey (a.k.a. steep) V3 with nice deep holds. It was quite the full body workout. I almost got stuck on the final move, until I remembered to turn my left knee in so I could get my hip closer to the wall. It felt like an odd position, but once I locked it in I was super stable and could reach the final hold fairly easily.
Flashed a V2, then its sister V3. I’m starting to feel pretty comfortable with fingertip* side pulls, probably from battling the fingertip pull-rific V3 I couldn’t finish a couple weeks ago.
That reminds me, I need to go solve that problem.
* I bet you there’s an official name for these. I also bet you I’ll look back at this post someday and chuckle at how I thought these fatties were “fingertip” holds.
Returned to the bouldering walls intent on solving the V3 I’ve been working on. Warmed up with a V0, V0, V0, V1, V1+, took a short rest, then started in on it.
Made it up to the final move without too much trouble. Remembered that I had decided it was a slightly harder mirror image of the start. Channeled my start position, went for it, and missed. Except today, my other hand remained firmly attached to the hold it was on. I was surprised, then remembered that my Balance and Technique instructor had mentioned how I tend to let go with both hands when I leap for things that only require one hand. Hanging on is progress! Reset my hang, wound, and sprung again. Success!
There was a V3 in the corner of the room I’ve been looking at. I couldn’t figure out how on earth to get to the top, until I saw someone solve it last week. She had somehow tucked herself into a super tiny package perched upon a single foothold 8 feet off the ground. So I tried to do the same.
Getting into the compact perch was kind of fun. Reaching the next hold from that position was… challenging. I tried and bailed, tried and bailed again. I remembered watching Danny MacAskill’s repeated tries and bails yesterday. So I kept trying. And bailing. And trying.
After maybe the 8th try, one of the guys in the room commented, “That’s quite a problem.” We talked a bit about it, then he asked me for some advice on a V1 he had just climbed. He could tell there was a better way. I could tell it was because he wasn’t turning his hips, so I told him about that technique and showed him how it applied to the problem he was asking about.
I got back on the V3. This time, while in my little compact perch 8 feet off the ground, the guy I’d been talking to pointed out a couple things I could try. Another pair of eyes was exactly what I needed; I improved my position a bit, reached with my left hand (I’d stupidly been reaching with my right hand even though my left hip was on the wall) for the elusive penultimate hold, got both hands on it, set my feet, and finished the problem. Yes!!!
Hopped on a sloper-tastic V3 on my way out. Totally getting comfortable with the sideways hang on those holds. It puts your weight directly under your hands and the force vectors just right for maximum grip. Climbed it, then climbed it again cleanly. Called it a day.
Headed back to the bouldering walls intending to solve the uncompleted V3 and V4 problems from last time.
Warmed up on a V0, V0+, and V1. Then I attempted a new (blue) V2 with a start that completely puzzled me. I tried a bunch of times and could not hang on to the first move.
Hopped on a different V2, one that I’d attempted unsuccessfully once last time. Finished it. Felt better.
Tried the blue V2 again. Puzzled some more. Successfully climbed everything after the first move. Puzzled some more.
Climbed a new V2+ to make myself feel better.
Went back to the blue V2. Puzzled.
Climbed another new V2+ to make myself feel better.
Went back to the blue V2. Finally asked the other guy in the room if he’d ever climbed it. He had, once, and after a bit remembered how he’d done it. It involved getting my foot onto the same hold as my left hand, which I had attempted while puzzling. I’m not quite powerful/flexible enough to get my foot up like that. I cheated my way into that start position (I think “legal” because I had my hands on the correct start holds) to complete the climb.
Then I worked on the start until I could do it without cheating. Completed the climb again. Yeeh!
Remembering as I write this what my Balance and Technique instructor said about getting our feet high. Get those feet high!
Next, the V4. This one had a tricky move early that involved a crazy sideways lean followed by swinging both legs from left to right. I tried it a couple times and failed. I wanted to make sure that the second half of the climb was as doable as I thought it would be, so I climbed that separately. Tried the tricky move again and figured out the sequence (another move before the leg swing). Rested, then did the whole thing.
Finally, the V3. I’d had a lot of trouble sticking the second move of this problem (I’d been trying to dyno it), and today I realized the solution was a heel hook. My first actual useful heel hook! From there it was easy to get to the last move, which I still haven’t figured out. Leapt for the finish and missed. Try again next time, when my arms aren’t super tired. Happy to have made progress on this one.
Back on the bouldering walls this morning. They completely redid one of the rooms so I got to climb all new to me problems: V0, V1, V0, V1, V2, V3, V4.
I then attempted a different V4, half heartedly. My arms were tired, so I flashed an adjacent V1, then another adjacent V2.
I figured I’d work my way back up, so I attempted a hangey V3. I made 4 or 5 attempts at it, progressing with each attempt. I couldn’t quite commit to the final move, but after I hopped off I realized I should have tried to boost with my other foot. Alas, my forearms were too tired to try it again, so I called it a day and headed out.
But not before I climbed a new V1 and V0 near the exit. This was my first climb / down climb / climb without dismounting. Kind of a fun flow.
Did some bouldering on short rest this morning. Warmed up on a V0, V1, V2, then did the V2+ from last time a little more smoothly. I then set about working on a V3 I started Wednesday night. Tried and failed over and over. Studied it, came up with a new approach, tried and failed again.
Switched problems and flashed a different V3 one of my classmates had pointed out. Lots of side pull switches and traversing.
I thought about my progress these last two months vs. when I climbed on a regular basis in my 20s. Back then I never managed more than V1s and a 5.10b. I’m certainly not as young and spry as I was back then, so why am I doing so much better now?
Approach and mindset. In my 20s I didn’t know how to go about learning. I just did things and figured I’d get better. I applied that same approach to hockey, which worked great until I wanted to move up to Maroon Division. That was when I realized I had to practice specific skills, adjust, and practice some more.
I’ve since learned to apply deliberate practice wherever I can. It makes everything so much more interesting.
Balance and Technique class 4 of 4. We learned so many different things today!
First we talked about back flagging, which is like flagging, but behind you. Flagging is useful if you have a foot and hand from opposite sides on holds. Back flagging is useful is you have a foot and hand from the same side on holds. Basically, back flagging keeps you from swinging away from the wall like a barn door.
Next, we talked about dynamic movements. Not quite a fully let go dyno, but just springing for holds with a dynamic motion. I like to do this anyway; it feels way more fun than reaching for holds statically. We talked about the dead point, which is that point at which you cease upward motion and have yet to begin downward motion. The idea is that we should control our motion in such a way that our dead point puts us at exactly the hold we’re going for.
We practiced this a bit with one handed traversing. It was also really good practice for understanding our center of gravity and the ever important triangle.
We went over down pressure a bit, where you push down on a hold to boost yourself up. I’d actually picked this up over the last few weeks from my class partner Karen. She’s shorter than me and does this a lot. I naturally started doing it as well, and it worked great.
After that, we talked about how to get our feet high. Having our feet high gives us way more grip and stability for the next move, so learning different ways of getting our feet high is useful. Smearing, from our first class, is one way to do it. Another is to think about getting our hips higher, because that will naturally allow us to get our feet higher. One way to do this is to let go with one hand, since that lets us unsquare our hips and raise one higher than the other.
Related, we learned about the rock over, where we plant a foot high, then rock our hip directly over it with knees bent.
After that, heel hooks, followed by toe hooks.
When we finished going over skills, we talked about projecting. The idea here is you pick a route that’s hard for you, and over time you work on segments of it over and over again until you can do each segment, then put it all together for a single climb.
This is totally different from how I’ve gone about climbing. I’ve been picking routes I think I can complete, then bumping up the grade just a bit to the next one. I’ve never not completed a climb, even if some of those completions have been ugly.
This is exactly why “I’m not pushing myself hard enough”. I’ve approached choosing my climbs differently.
Noted. Try harder stuff. It’s okay to fail. That’s what ropes are for.
Before class, a few of us warmed up in the bouldering area. Ron pointed out a V4 he was working on, whose final move involved a scary finish-or-fall maneuver. We both got to the end and bailed, but later we asked our instructor to show us. After that, Ron completed it. After class, I decided I had to do it too. I couldn’t quite hang on on my first attempt, but then I got back on and completed it on my second attempt. My first V4!
Hooray for classmates. It’s fun working on problems with them.
Back to bouldering this morning. I made myself sequence everything before I climbed it. Worked great!
There are 3 V2s and one V2+ that I’ve been working on, and today I finally solved them all.
The first was thanks to sequencing, turning my hip, and trusting that I could stick at the very top of the wall with my legs all weird, because that weird is actually a wide backstep, which we learned about a week and a half ago.
The second was a set of slopers I and many at the gym have been working on, over and over. Someone who had done it described the final move last Wednesday, and today I resolved to complete it. I positioned myself under the last two holds and dynoed for the top. I missed by two inches. This was my first fall from that high. Turns out it’s not terrible. Tried it again and finished it.
The third was the V2+ I couldn’t figure out two weeks ago. I watched someone do it last weekend and realized I’d been trying to tuck the wrong foot where I’d gotten stuck. Tucked the other foot, got into a better position, then switched feet to complete the climb.
The fourth was a set of smaller slopers. I’d gotten stuck at the top of this problem, and today saw a couple other people get stuck in the same way. As I was contemplating the final move, Tim from my climbing class came to say hello. I told him what I was working on, and we each took a turn on the wall. Even though he didn’t finish the problem on his first attempt, I saw him do something that made me realize we should be turning our hips for the final move. Hopped back up there. Turns out it’s easy if you have the right technique.
I suppose that’s why I’m taking that class.
Flashed a bunch of new to me problems: V0, V0+, 2 V1s, and a V3.
Balance and Technique class 3 of 4. Today we spent the entire session working on sequencing, where you plan your moves for how to climb a problem or route beforehand. I’ve known that I need to get better at it, and it turns out I just needed someone to force me to do it.
We started with a little sequencing game in the bouldering area. Our instructor came up with a sequence of moves, and we had to memorize and reproduce it. Easier said than done! It collectively took us 12 tries to reproduce the 14 moves.
It was a great mental warmup for the next exercise. We were tasked with choosing hard-for-us top rope routes and sequencing them before getting on the wall.
In my mind I think 5.10b is a challenge, and I found an interesting looking problem so I started with that. “Too easy!” yelled our instructor from the ground as I zipped up the wall.
I’ve only ever completed one 5.10d, and it was super ugly with at least a couple rests. I did one of those next. Finished it cleanly. “Still too easy!” said our instructor afterward.
I’ve never attempted a 5.11 anything, so I moved on to a 5.11a. Finished that cleanly too.
The official instructor verdict is I’m not pushing myself hard enough. That is fascinating. I don’t hear that a lot.
It’s refreshing. And he’s right. If I’m able to complete those climbs on the first try I should be trying harder climbs. I think I just need to find the right balance of pushing myself vs. brute forcing really hard things with terrible technique.
Back to sequencing. It works! Knowing what you’re going to do ahead of time lets you move way faster. In turn, your arms feel less tired, and you’re able to execute more cleanly. I’m sold!
Balance and Technique class 2 of 4 taught us all about turning our body as we climb. This was a great follow on to the footwork class, since we often have to pivot and shift our feet to set up and turn our bodies.
First, hips. One basic rule: Whichever hand you’re going to reach with, that’s the hip that should be closer to or against the wall. This helps greatly with balance and reach.
Next, feet. In general: Whichever hand you’re going to reach with, that’s the foot you’ll want to have planted and weighted. Makes sense, if you imagine where the hip is from the last paragraph.
Then, legs. Beginners often complete entire climbs completely facing the wall. That’s because in order to turn sideways you need to do things like backstep. For example, if your right hip is on the wall and you’re facing left, then your left leg is extended and your right leg is bent, with its outside edge on a hold behind you. With your left hand on a hold, this pulls you into the wall and gives you stability to reach a variety of holds with your right hand.
After that, flagging. In this case, the bent leg isn’t behind you. It’s more in front, which puts your center of gravity behind you, so the straight leg is out for counterbalance. I’ve been doing this a bit on my own and find it really useful.
Along with flagging we learned the step through. This was super useful for transitioning from one hip to another in our flag-every-move exercise. Basically the straight leg steps through the space between your body and the wall to plant on the other side, allowing you to turn and get your other hip on the wall. I’ve watched videos of this, but I’d never quite understood why I’d want to do it until tonight.
Finally, we talked about how keeping our arms straight helps us save energy. I started doing this over a month ago and got great results. I’ll need to remember to keep doing it as I work on footwork and body positioning.
Our homework is to traverse with our new skills. Looks like I’ll be doing some sideways climbing this week!