managing your expectations on a climbing trip (or how to cope with the fact that you’re not going to send the one climb that you were really psyched to try to send)

success and failure while on a climbing trip…the high point and the low point. if you have ever taken an extended trip to just climb (at least a week), you have stared this demon straight in the face. how much time do you devote to one climb, when you only have a limited window to actually climb? should you sample more climbs at a lower grade and get more volume in? these are, no doubt, the burning questions in your mind right now.

obviously, there is no easy answer. there rarely is. but the easiest answer, in my mind, depends on one factor: how familiar are you with the area, i.e. its rock type and/or the style of climbing? if you’re visiting a new area, it is probably wise to step down the grade difficulty and climb for volume. this allows you to get used to the subtleties of the area and gives you a good base of “knowledge” for moving on that specific rock. but if you go back to an area that you have previously spent some time, the answer isn’t quite as easy to arrive at.

projecting something at your local crag is one thing. you can put time in on the climb intermittently, and there isn’t really much pressure (all things considered) since you can typically get to it at your leisure. for all intents and purposes you have “all the time in the world.” but several things can work against you when you decide to project something while on a trip: there is a finite amount of time; the time invested versus the payout or reward of sending may not be worth it; climbing a bunch of routes below your limit might be boring; there may be other people working the same route and you have to play nice with others, etc. thus the conundrum.

one thing working in your favor is that while on a trip, you are usually just climbing. you aren’t bogged down with the minutiae of the daily grind. you can tune out all that other stuff and focus a bit more on remembering beta, sequences, and details of one particular climb. you can get the necessary fitness and strength with few distractions.

ultimately it comes down to your level of confidence in your ability to send the route. this is not something you will know right off the bat. i would recommend getting on your chosen project route early on in your trip, ideally within the first few days. this way, you know what you’re up against in terms of style and difficulty. after you have been on it a few times, that confidence level will kick in (or not…), and in your own head you start to know if your goal is actually reasonable and attainable.

i have personally had both ends of this spectrum, oddly enough at the same place, the red river gorge. bear with me for a little longer, it’s story time!

flashback to early october 2010. i had a 10 day trip planned for the red. i had just finished a sunday shift at the north gym (9a to 6p), and right after locking the door, i hopped in my car and started driving east. i made it as far as columbia, mo, before the proverbial wheels fell off the bus and i had to stop. driving solo for that many hours after a full day is rough! after sleeping for a bit, i continued east and arrived in slade, ky, by 6p. i met up with some friends, drank whiskey, beer and ale8, then went to bed.

that next morning, feeling really rusty and stiff from the drive, we headed down to the ‘motherlode’.

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the madness cave at the motherlode

my intended project was ‘bohica‘ (13b), in the madness cave, a brilliantly steep route out a 45 deg angle wall with perfect 1- to 1.5-pad deep edges the whole way. it’s absolutely amazing.

so after warming up on a few classic routes (chainsaw massacre and ale-8-one) it was time to test the waters on bohica. the first burn was a junk show! the moves felt really hard, and i didn’t have the endurance to do more than 2 bolts at a time. i had my work cut out for me.

the next day, we went back to the ‘lode. it was time for me to get my endurance up in preparation of starting to link sections on bohica. so i decided that i was going to go for a no fall/no take day, and no pitch could be easier than 5.12a. so myself and my friend ‘little’ dan proceeded to knock out pitch after pitch of 12a and 12b for an entire day. i ended up doing 10 pitches, dan got in 12, and we thankfully had a no fall/no take day. completely worn out, but psyched with a good endurance day.

the next several days were spent working bohica, with a rest day tossed in there somewhere. each day i got on the route twice, and each day i was linking more sections, and getting high points. my confidence was building.

my final climbing day of the trip, i went out with my buddy nik. he also had a project at the ‘lode, so off we went. after warming up and giving nik a catch on his route, we walked over to bohica for the ‘hail mary’ attempt. first section of the route felt easy and robotic and with seemingly no effort, i found myself at the first rest, staring at the remaining 60 feet of that perfect 45 deg angle wall above me. after lowering my heart rate, i launched into the rest of the route. each move was executed with confidence and precision. there were no wasted movements, no second guessing. before i knew it, i was at the final rest looking at the last 15 feet and the anchors. i composed myself and fired. i made it to the anchor, clipped, yelled triumphantly, then lowered back down to the ground. i drove back to the house, packed up my stuff and started the drive home. success!

contrast that with my recent trip earlier this month. the first few days were spent getting used to the rock again, as it had been 3 years since my last trip. plus, my endurance these days feels fairly poor, compared to previous times and trips. everything felt hard. things that i had sent previously felt so much more difficult! i was up against a big challenge with extremely low confidence.

so third day, i got to check out my intended project: ‘swingline‘ (13d) at a crag called ‘the dark side‘. i did the moves first try on the route, and got incredibly psyched. it broke down as a 5.13a/b to a very poor rest to a legit v8 boulder problem. while i rested at the base of the route, i started thinking about what was actually necessary to send this thing. getting to the poor rest on link would have been a healthy goal, and probably doable. but to tack on a v8 boulder problem after that seemed daunting. after much internal debate, i decided that i lacked the necessary fitness to put it away in the amount of time left and ultimately had to walk away from it. i was bummed. this line is beautiful and inspiring, and a very sought after route. but it wasn’t to be. i found another fun line there, ‘tuskan raider‘ (12d) that i was able to send 3rd try. that ended up being my only real send for the trip.

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swingline

while the trip as a whole was incredibly fun due to the good company of old and new friends, i consider the climbing side of it to be a bit of a failure. this was due to poor training before hand, leading to generally bad fitness, etc. i have to make sure that i am better prepared for the next go ’round.

so there you have it…both ends of the spectrum. success and failure. elation and frustration. in the end, you just have to look at the whole situation. sometimes you decide to throw your chips in, sometimes you throw the cards away instead and wait for the next round. someone famous once said ” you gotta know when to hold ’em, know…”. eh, never mind, you get the idea.

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