Friday, October 5, 2007

How to Read a Climbing Route or Boulder Problem

Many times I watch a climber get on the wall, be it a boulder problem or a route, and storm up a few moves only to stop and begin poking forward with their nose, straining in one position trying to figure out where the hell to go next. Often this results in a sequence-botching, a wasted use of energy, and a defeated plummet to terra firma. Then they get right back on and do it again.

The best way to avoid this unnecessary expenditure of energy and to achieve success faster is to read the route from the ground. Here are some tips that you can use to make this happen:

1. Use your hands to pantomime a route sequence*. Literally climb the route from the ground imagining exactly how your hands will move, and to what holds they will go from move to move. Also determine where your feet will go. This is a form of visualization or imprinting, and even if you don't have a photographic memory, your body will recall the sequence a lot better than if you didn't try this method. *This is often called ghosting and will potentially subject you to much pointing, smirking, and oral abuse from your 'friends,' but it does work for many people.

2. Isolate the crux(s) of the climb. After you have pantomimed the route you should have a pretty good idea where the hard part will be. Knowing this will allow you to figure out when/if/where you need to rest for a moment prior to the sequence before launching yourself into it. In a restful position you should have your arms straight, and the weight on your feet as much as possible. Also, you should be able to release one arm at a time and shake out any built-up lactic acid (that 'pumped' feeling).

3. Many times on a route there will be rests that allow you to reset and regroup. As a result, it's not necessary to memorize every sequence from the bottom to the top. Instead, break the route into sections separated by rests. In lieu or a rest, any hold that is big enough to match hands will give you the opportunity to reset. It's much easier for your brain to compartmentalize a route into small chunks and recall them one at a time.

4. Many times a sequence is determined simply by which hand you lead with going into that sequence. To further simplify the process, you may only need to remember which hand to move off of a rest to begin the next sequence. This will free your mind to focus on climbing, and being present in the moment, rather than worrying about which hand goes next for every single move on the route.

5. Watch other climbers do the route first. For the non-purists that don't mind getting beta, this can be a great way to conserve energy. Simply sit back, let everyone else botch the sequence before it is solved, or even figure out the correct sequence, and the "what not to do's" by witnessing your buddies destroy themselves on a problem. You then casually step up and flash, pre-armed with knowledge of exactly how the problem goes. This will cause your pals to shake their heads at you, but it works.

Essentially reading and climbing a route is like reciting a poem in a foreign language. It is both an expression of your body, and a demonstration of your understanding and mastery of the techniques of climbing. As you progress, and different moves are programmed into your body, sequences come to you more naturally and climbing becomes an expression of the individual. Reading a route is the thinking part of climbing. The execution of it is the act.

There is never a right or a wrong way to climb rock. One brilliant aspect of rock climbing is the creative, inventiveness it allows. I remember a first trip to Smith Rock where the locals had memorized the beta to every single route. When visiting climbers roped up they would be subjected to a spray-down of epic proportions while the local climbers spewed every nuance of every move from the ground to the chains. It may have made sending quickly easier for some, but ultimately it took away from the experience of discovery and self-discover that comes from interacting with a new rock climb or boulder problem. The most important thing to remember when you begin climbing? This moment will only happen once. Enjoy it, be present, relax, and have fun. If you lose the love on the pursuit to the goal, then you really haven't achieved at all.

Now get out there and send!



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