Monthly Archives: April 2011

psychological battle

Every morning, after leaving my comfortable, warm, bed I get dressed, give my girls a good-morning hug ‘n kiss and then head over to the computer to see what’s happening in the world.  Typically I don’t make it past sifting through facebook as my attention dwindles fast (I’m not very lively and or attentive “early” in the morning).  However, this morning I came across a posting of Chris Sharma sending his long awaited project, “First Round, First Minute”–most likely his hardest climb to date.  This is a big deal.  Now, of course I’m totally stoked for him but the fact that he sent his route wasn’t what caught my attention in the posting, but more so the psychological battle he faced in the process.  I was intrigued by the interview on “Planet Mountain” , so I pulled out a can of redbull, slammed it, and thwarted on to read the entirety of the interview.  (The interview wasn’t that long, but my lack of energy in the morning needed a bit of a “kick start”…hence the redbull haha.)

Being caught in a psychological fight between yourself and a route can be physically and mentally demanding.  In past, with various routes, I’ve found myself in such battles, however this winter a specific route “trapped” me in the mother of all battles.  For me, it was the hardest route I’d faced to date.  And what made it more intimate, and some what immediate, is that I set the route.  For years I had stared at the potential line and finally, after training and gaining more experience the line I set was staged for its first ascent.

“It’s all about the difficult task of finding the right balance. When you climb a route at your maximum level you need to want it more than anything else in the world. But at the same time, this desire can keep you from succeeding. So you need to find the balance, let everything go, just climb for the pure joy of climbing, let things flow and try as hard as possible while not being concerned about the outcome. “

Chris’s words (above) hit home in a huge way.  With my route, “El Matador”, I was beginning to think it was out of my reach.  For several attempts I wasn’t progressing on the route, falling at or before my most successful “highpoint”.  A feeling of failure was setting in, and just about took over.  Reading through Chris’s interview, his perspective on his mental battle rang true with exactly what i went through.

“You were certain you could do it.
Yes, I knew back in 2009 I had the potential to climb it. But then a feeling crept in that perhaps I might not succeed after all. I was confronted with the feeling of failure, and in the process learnt that this wasn’t the most important thing after all.

Had you encountered this psychological block on other routes before?
I think I had it on Biographie. These experiences are interesting, you can learn a lot about yourself, about the psychological battle and although I’d already had this in the past, I found I had to relearn the lesson again.”

How far was I willing to go to send this route, dealing with things like weather, flooding (in  my case)?  Every minute that I wasn’t down there, in the canyon…attempting the route, it sometimes felt as though I was wasting time.  And when the weather started to turn for the worse (temperatures rising to above zero), I became desperate…panicking to find anyone who could belay me.  It was a weird place to be in, and some what of a reality check.  Climbing is fun.  Don’t get me wrong, there are times when it can become serious, whether in competition and or sending a project, but even then…it still needs to be fun.  I had lost myself in the route, in  a sense-forgetting why I was climbing it in the first place.  My mental state had forgotten all that I learned, knowing how to deal with various psychological battles.

Nearing the end of the season, coming to the realization that, “oh yeah…climbing is fun”, it was then, and then only that my mental state calmed down…soon after sending the route.  I had to let go of the pressures of sending to actually focus my energy on climbing.  I had to let go of all the “what if’s” to actually enjoy myself.

When facing a psychological battle, it’s no easy task to prevail.  Just remember…climbing is fun…no matter what level or situation your at or in.


Pink tape, blue tape, orange tape, green tape

Four years ago I built a climbing gym in my backyard.  It was constructed so that I could train at home (more often) as well as keep my sanity when the weather turned to crap.  Well for the last week the weather has been crap.  Snow, wind, rain…crap.  Currently I’m looking out my living room window and it’s puking snow.  It’s April and it’s snowing…a lot.

Recently I was dragging myself through the isles of Target whilst my wife shopped blissfully.  Trying to keep it together, suddenly my eyes honed in on a big shelf filled with colourful tape.  Pink, purple, yellow, green, orange, blue…the works.  My spirits were instantly lifted as i had found purpose in target, life in-fact was not ending (anymore) from boredom, but now inspired–I had found a rainbow of tape that could be used for new routes in the back yard gym.

Every few months I spend as much time needed to strip all the holds down in the backyard gym.  Hold by hold, with a makeshift allen wrench from MEC, they all get taken down and piled onto the stack of “used” mattresses–awaiting their new place and purpose.  I used to see this as a bit of a drag (as there’s a lot of holds to strip), however now as excitement and opportunity.  I’ve learned the value of new routes, how change is important…and with that has come motivation and inspiration.  In a climbing gym, there should be no “classics” that stay up for long periods of time.  Change-over allows for creative works.  A fresh canvas presents opportunity for imaginative and new movement.  The longer routes stay up, the more stagnant your movement becomes.

This spring, thus far, has not been good for rock climbing.  It’s been really cold, super windy, and above all else…it’s still snowing.  It seems as though a state of being caught in limbo can define my climbing currently.  For the most part, ice has melted and the rock is cold (plus rock climbing isn’t all that fun when the snow is blowing in your face).  So, the ol’ climbing gym in the backyard is where i’ve been spending most nights as of lately–training and setting new routes.  But what i’ve also  discovered is that there’s something peaceful about being in my backyard gym at night.  It’s quiet, calm, no wind, rain or snow.  It gives me time to think about whatever’s in my head–time alone to reflect on the day or dreams in pursuit, and it gives me time alone…did i mention that twice?

Hold after hold, positioning myself on my scary–rickety wooden ladder, I stripped the gym down to bare walls.  This time around, however, for some reason, I felt a little more of a “push” to set new routes.  I was actually more-so motivated than usual.  Maybe it was because I actually embraced the current weather conditions instead of complaining about them and tried to stay productive with my climbing regardless.  Maybe because life isn’t all that bad (despite the fact that it’s snowing harder outside right now) compared to those who are suffering in Japan.  Or maybe it’s because I actually like to train, to grow, to get better, and the gym offers a great opportunity for it with a little bit of work.  And why would i complain? I have a perfectly good place to still climb/train out of the current “crap” weather.  So this time around I was psyched and ready for setting new, challenging, boulder problems in my “little engine that could”, and after several nights’ work holds were stripped and re-set with new problems easy to hard.  Every minute i spent back there became one step closer to getting stronger in my climbing, I was able to see the good in what i was doing, vs. being pissed off about the weather.

Spending the last few nights in the gym I realized that there’s more important things in life to worry about, and to utilize the “moment” for good and to not waste energy on mindless out-of-my-control factors.  We only have “x” amount of energy to spend…so…spend it wisely, not frivolously.  That’s all.  Oh, and it’s still snowing…so i’m headin’ into the backyard gym again to flail around like a monkey…good thing i built this thing (I don’t think my wife thought i’d actually do it.  Was she ever wrong!).

The Petzl GriGri 2

Last April (2010), I attended the CWA conference (Climbing Wall association) in Boulder Colorado. I was in serious pursuit for as much information as possible for my new climbing gym project. By the end of the conference I was overwhelmed by truck loads of info, to the point where my brain felt as though it was going to burst. This was a good thing.

Throughout the entirety of the weekend, there was one specific moment that (later that summer) made me laugh. I specifically remember talking to my good buddy Tom Adams from Petzl during one of our “breaks” at the conference. I recall bringing up the topic of the Petzl Gri Gri and how they (Petzl) had to get on with designing a new device that worked better with smaller ropes. For at least 20 mins I peppered him with ideas, thoughts, concerns, etc. He, in his kind nature, humored me with sound answers; however giving no indication that something like that would be available any time soon.

In August of 2010, once again, I found myself in the middle of chaos at the Summer Outdoor Retailer Show, in Salt Lake City. Upon my arrival to the show I made my way to the Petzl booth. Right away, like a bug being drawn to the light, my attention was caught by a shiny new piece of gear. Instantly I burst out laughing (quite loudly in fact). And as I turned, there was my “good buddy” Tom Adams laughing behind me. Cheeky bugger. Petzl had actually been working on the Gri Gri 2 for some time, releasing it to the public eye at the summer OR show. All that I had asked Tom about months before was right there in front of me. It was smaller, lighter, allowing for narrower ropes, and had more control with the assisted braking design. Naturally I gave Tom a good shot to the shoulder for keeping such a secret from me.

The first time I put the GriGri 2 into action it took a bit of getting used to, mostly because of it’s size. It was like holding a baby hamster in your hand. But within the first few times of belaying with it, there was nothing more to think about. I naturally adjusted to its new size, and actually gained a bit more confidence when lowering my partner. My belaying had once again become second nature but with a few new perks. Everything was back to normal, except now I was holding a baby hamster instead of a rabbit.

I typically use the Petzl Fuse 9.4 rope when I’m redpointing (or close to), and the 9.8 Nomad when I’m “working” a route. With the old Gri Gri, both ropes fed beautifully (especially the 9.4 as it was a “bit” small for the gri gri). When I was first introduced to the new GriGri 2 I was concerned to how it would handle larger ropes (like the Nomad at 9.8 or the new Xion at 10.1) because the device was considerably smaller. But quickly that concern was replaced with confidence as the GriGri 2 fed a range of sizes with no hindrance whatsoever (I used the Fuse, 9.4, Nomad 9.8, and the Zephyr 10.3).

The ability to lower a climber smoothly off a route, with a GriGri, takes time and practice. Heck, it took me years to master this art, not jolting the climber to the ground. But with the new GriGri 2, the design that allows, “excellent control during the descent. One hand holds the rope and the other uses the handle to unlock the cam. The patented handle design allows a very gradual release of the rope. In combination with the strong braking action of the cam, it gives a great feeling of control when lowering a partner or rappelling.” This new feature is especially nice for those just starting out with a GriGri as it allows more fluidity (in the first few degrees of pulling back the lever–not opening the cam fully) when lowering your partner, as opposed to opening the cam right away (with the older grigri). A belayer’s confidence will certainly go up a lot quicker then usual…this is good.

The GriGri 2, in it’s new state, is optimal for ropes from 9.4mm to 10.3mm, however allowing for ropes as small as 8.9mm-feeding with total fluidity. With it being about 20% lighter, featuring a new progressive descent control system, like its predecessor, it will be the standard for many (more) years to come.

The Howitzer

For the past couple of months I’ve been thinking about how I can move faster in my climbing. Growing up i could run like the wind blows and was confident to dodge any bullet. I had fast reflexes…quick as a cat you could say. Obviously, as you get older you tend to slow down a bit and your body aches a lot more after doing something active. But regardless of my age or how my knees, back, and ankles feel , somewhere inside of me is a big ball of explosive energy, waiting to be unleashed.

With climbing, training, traveling, family, etc., there isn’t a lot of time in the day/week/month/year. Always trying to fit too much on my plate, there’s a lot i don’t get around to. And thus certain things don’t make the cut for what actually gets done. However, as of lately I’ve been motivated to search out various ways to jump-start the rockets within. I used to play a lot of badminton when i was younger. Now that game forces explosive movement, fast reflexes, left, right, forward, backward…a fantastic way to get your body used to moving fast. I’m going to start playing again. Tonight I went out to a friends annual birthday dodgeball match. No matter how old you are, that game always puts a smile on your face. The joy of unleashing a howitzer at someones head is like nothing else. For near 3 hours 20 of us were running full tilt, wheeling balls at each other and loving it. Tonight i was reminded that my body can move fast, that i have the ability to react quickly…I’ve done it before…many times. I just needed to go back to what i knew. It may seem silly, but a simple game like dodgeball gave me the confidence in my ability to move swiftly.

I stopped playing a lot of sports when I discovered my passion for climbing. As far as sports go now, all i can think about is climbing. Any spare time that’s presented to me…I’m going climbing. Now, in climbing there’s a lot of movement required, very specific movement. But I can feel that my body has slowed down within this style of movement. I’m no longer moving as fast as I once could. And just recently I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s perhaps because I’ve forgotten how to move fast. When i was younger it was second nature because i was always performing in sports that required explosive movement. I didn’t have to think about it back then. But now, now I have to really focus on telling myself to get my ass in gear. Even still, whether by me or people yelling at me…I still struggle to move fast (enough).

Playing dodge ball tonight reminded me of bein’ a kid again. My feet were fitted with readiness. I was agile, hostile, mobile. Now, despite the fact that i’m sitting here on the couch with swollen ankles, an ice pack on my shoulder, and a sore left knee, it felt amazing to move that quick again. I’m excited to get my body back into explosive shape. I really feel that by playing badminton, perhaps some tennis (when i was growing up, I thought tennis was going to be my future-man i loved that sport), even more dodgeball…that these sports will help remind my body how to move fast again. I’m also going to do some research on how to train explosive movement. I’m totally psyched on this. And whoever reads this…if you have any insight on training explosive movement…I would love to hear your thoughts.

In my climbing, I know what holds me back, and what i have to work on. Speed is one of them. Every day, every minute, as a Christian I need to renew my mind, trying not to conform to the patterns of this world, but to focus on God and all that he has for me. Super cool. In Climbing, I’ve realized that i need to utilize the same tactics. I’ve been taught so much that if i don’t continue to renew my mind with that knowledge, constantly performing/putting into action, I’ll forget certain things and inevitably under-perform. Just how I used to move quickly without having to even think about it. Stop moving quickly-start forgetting how to. Above are just thoughts; ideas that i’m exploring on how to get my body moving quick again. At the very least, I’m excited to brush off the dust on my racquets and start playing badminton and tennis again. Great for cardio, reflexes…and of course–fun.

(Funny, i was going to write about something totally different…but got off topic by the time i was through the first sentence. Obviously I needed to get those thoughts out.)