Training Time

Winter is a time that many folks take stock of the past year - mountains they've climbed, rivers they've run - and maybe spend some time going over their outdoors 'to-do' lists for the upcoming season. Whether we're talking geometry, racquetball, or rock-climbing, it's been proven that we're more likely to improve if we set specific, measurable, short-term goals for performance. I was reading SuperFreakonomics and came across a passage that related:

K. Anders Ericsson is the ringleader of a merry band of relative-age scholars scattered across the globe. He is now a professor at Florida State University, where he uses empirical research to learn what share of talent is 'natural' and how the rest of it is acquired. His conclusion: the trait we commonly call 'raw talent' is vastly overrated. 'A lot of people believe there are some inherent limits they were born with,' he says. 'But there is surprisingly little hard evidence that anyone could attain any kind of exceptional performance without spending a lot of time perfecting it.' Or, put another way, expert performers - whether in soccer or piano playing, surgery or computer programming - are nearly always made, not born.

So how do we 'make' ourselves into what we want to be good at? Be a better friend to someone by working at improving your listening or attentiveness. Be a better chef by trying new techniques and focusing on learning something new every time you cook a meal. And make yourself better able to climb mountains, literal or otherwise, by breaking the herculean task into its parts and practicing each one.

With a work schedule that leaves most mornings free, I have no excuses for not getting my daily dose of training in for some upcoming mountain adventures. Apart from regular lifting and cycling, I've been reveling in local rock cragging, which is really accessible even in the heart of winter. For example, my friend Scott Bennet climbed outdoor rock 16 days in January, without leaving the Denver/Boulder area!

In the spirit of month-late New Years Resolutions, and improving my own climbing, I've set some personal goals:

Short Term
  1. Redpoint "Bone Crusher" - 5.12b/c crack route of overhanging ringlocks
  2. Link up Wunsch's Dihedral, Mississippi Half-Step, and The Regular Route in the South Platte with Scott Bennett
  3. Lead "The Astroman of Eldorado Canyon" Suparete->Doub-Griffith-> Mellow Yellow
Jesse and the Coors Brewery

Long Term
  1. Freeclimb the Rainbow Wall in Red Rocks while working at the Red Rock Rendezvous
  2. Link up The Warrior on Cactus Flower Tower with Woman of Mountain Dreams on Mt. Wilson.
  3. Climb the North Ridge of Mt. Ambition as part of an expedition-style trip this summer.
Mt. Ambition

Yesterday morning concluded with a fun ski tour led by friends Pete and Jason (and canine companions Echo & Prusik). I still can't believe how much sun they get around here...

After running up the Flatiron one day, Jesse Huey and I went out to investigate a wall of brilliant crack climbs on the sunny slopes above the Coors brewery in Golden, CO.

For anyone who sees the mountains on a can of Coors Beer, or gets "Tap the Rockies" stuck in their head after watching a TV commercial, Golden might disappoint. It's home to the American Alpine Club office and American Mountaineering Museum, but the town is basically a desolate suburb, smooshed between Denver and the foothills.

NPR told me the air temperature was 20 degrees as I left home, but the cactus-clad slopes of Table Mountain absorb solar radiation regardless of air temperatures. Jesse and I both want to head back to try and get the redpoint lead of "The Bone Crusher" - a solid 5.12 crack climb with an overhanging crux section of particularly insecure jams.

Jesse in a T-shirt, with snow on the ground and air temps in the 20s...

Two of my longer-term goals involve climbs in Red Rock, Nevada. Red Rock is an awesome Fall/Winter/Spring destination because it is located just 15 minutes from Las Vegas (Cheap or Free flights!) and has everything from steep sport crags to 20-pitch ridge climbs. I'll be there for a week in March, teaching a couple basic climbing clinics as part of the Red Rock Rendezvous event.

Outdoor Research, a Seattle company that has been awesome about providing gear on my recent trips, is an event sponsor. Most of the classes are geared toward basics, but this year there are interesting topics like "better camp cooking" and expedition planning. Last year, the author of the mental training book "Rock Warrior's Way" was teaching classes, and I'd love to listen to his class this time around. For anyone who'd like a partner or guide to get up some of Red Rock's long classics, my friends Alasdair Turner and Kurt Hicks will both be working in the area this spring, guiding for Bellingham's own American Alpine Institute and teaching at the event as well.


  1. Though I'm a firm believer (understatement?) of training to be better at one's chosen pursuit I would argue though Professor Ericsson may or may not be correct the concept of somatotypes will always rule out certain body types out of certain sports including climbing.

    A great semi current example would be the Olympics! I dont care how much train/practice/study/meditate if you are over 6' (perhaps even shorter!) you will never win a gold medal in any of the olympic lifts (C+J, snatch) as the 5'2 lifters have a distinct advantage over you.

    In a similar vein: all of us are physically more suited for certain types of climbing and no amount of training will ever alter our somatotypes.

  2. I think that's true John, and obviously the more specialized or singular the task, the more your body shape is likely to determine your natural proclivities. Something like Olympic Clean-and-Jerk would be an extreme end of the spectrum, performing one repeated movement ad naseum. I'd think something like the Decathlon, Basketball, or Hockey would be Olympic sports nearing the other end of the spectrum. Activites requiring a huge variety of movements, and a balance of strength, power, and endurance. I think mountain climbing has more in common with these sports. Dean Potter and Ben Gilkison don't have a lot in common (physically or otherwise) but onsight 5.13 make quick work of a day on El Cap. Likewise, Mark Westman or Chad Kellogg probably weight 2x as much as Kelly Cordes, but all three make quick work of hard ice and mixed alpine climbs.

  3. need a partner for the rainbow wall?

  4. yeah Sol, and allegiant flies to Vegas for cheap!