How to tell your Mom you rock climb.

If you’re like me, you’ve more often than not had to explain to “non-climbers” what rock climbing really is. People frequently have an image in their minds, and it roughly looks like this:



We call this, “scrambling.”

Scrambling does not rock climbing make. Trying to explain the idea of climbing a vertical rock wall under your own power, using the rope only as a way to not die should you fall is rocket science to your average office worker. Though we have fantastic resources for the layperson out there (think Vertical Limit, Cliffhanger), most folks in the real world have no concept of what we do. A family member once asked me about why I go out to a local ‘crag’ almost every weekend, asking “how many times can you climb the same mountain, don’t you get bored?” I mentioned that there were over 200 routes at that “mountain”, and I haven’t even done half yet. I said: some are too easy so I skip them. Some are too hard, so I’m trying to get strong enough to do them. Some are low quality, zero star routes that aren’t worth doing. Some are “R” rated and I’m working up the courage and beta to get through them. And some, are yet to be discovered.

This is the look I got:

For the love of God, don’t ever, under any circumstances, try to explain what bouldering is. Hell, even I don’t understand it…. Find a rock, sometimes less than 10 feet tall… try to get to the top. No, not the easy way up: find the most difficult way up. No, don’t start trying to climb standing up, get as low as possible with your ass hovering inches off the ground. Good. Now fall 50 times, shred your skin, bleed, curse.. and if the temperature and humidity are just right, you’ll get to the top. Down? Take the easy way down..

So what is rock climbing… How do you explain what working a route is? How do you explain how the human body can stay glued to a rock wall with only a toe and a few fingertips crimped on edges the width of a book cover? How do you explain to your Mom how gnarly your fall was on that 5.11 splitter because you ripped half your pro, flipped upside down, and cracked your helmet, only to try again 30 minutes later?

You don’t.

Don’t tell your Mom anything! In fact, don’t try to explain climbing to anyone who doesn’t climb. There are only two possibilities: Either they’ll think you scramble around on 3rd class terrain with Vibram FiveFingers on your feet. Or worse, they’ll think you’re planning to one day climb Mt. Everest. There is no middle ground, and in both those scenerios, you’re a giant pussy.

The next time you’re at a family dinner, and everyone starts asking about your “rock climbing” hobby, just whip out a few photos like this and say, “it really helps me become ‘one’ with nature”:



How to project a route.

There’s one question that many of my clients keep asking me: How did you climb that route so well? The answer is simple… I’ve climbed it about a hundred times! When we watch videos of Adam Ondra onsighting some ridiculous grade, like 5.14d, we’re not getting the whole story. It makes great video seeing a professional climber float up the wall, but the reality is, it may have taken Adam 20 times to finally learn the moves before he flashed the route. Sometimes this is done on top rope, on rappel, or even studying photographs of the route. This is called “projecting.”

Just last week, I was out at the cliff on one of my “projects.”

DSC_1092As you can see, I am top roping the route. This is because lead climbing can be dangerous. Taking an unexpected fall can result in flipping upside down, or worse, getting the rope twisted around an ankle and snapping it. This is why most climbers will rehearse a route before taking to the sharp end, to minimize the risk of a fall. I have been working on this route for over a month. The first time I tried it, I was able to stick clip my way up to the anchors, and have left my rope on it ever since. This is so that when I get to the crag, my rope will always be on the route to save time. My first few times on the route, I would ascend the rope, working the moves out in my head. I made tick marks to help me remember and visually see where the small, yet crucial holds are. Each time I’m on the route, I try to perfect my movements, try different beta, move around my tick marks, and make mental notes. Practice makes perfect, and climbing is no exception.

I have probably top roped this route 40 times, and have got it down to only 2 falls. I know the areas I need to work on now, so it makes projecting so much easier. This is how I will send the route!

So what kind of climber are you? Do you try a route once, and if you fall, move on to another? Or do you invest the time to project, and one day go for the send? I challenge all of you to head to your local crags, and find a route that is out of your league. Next, throw a top rope on it, and just work out the moves. Take photos, make tick marks, and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! It’s not glamorous, but this is climbing folks! If you want to get better, you have to put in the time.