TRIPLE TRAINING CHALLENGE
by Pete Whittaker
10 minute read
Recovery Drink (5.14c) in Jøssingfjord, NO
This is considered to be one of the hardest crack climbs in the world. To climb this route, you actually need a mixture of both basic crack climbing skills along with sport climbing fitness. I first heard about the route back in 2014 and looked at it in 2015 on a passing trip for two days. The weather was awful on that trip, but I achieved a general feel for the route and was interested in coming back to project. It wasn't until 2018, though, that I decided to go back and properly give it ago. That year I came close to doing it, but I still had to go away and do a bit more specific training. The following summer, I'd built up the strength, fitness, and memory of the moves; this enabled me to climb it.
My achievement wouldn’t come through a grade, though; for a long time, I have realized grades are all relative. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it is a 9c or 7c; no one cares! It’s only climbing. It can only be for MY pleasure that I decide to put myself through fear, tiredness, and then, hope, and belief, which all turn into a passion. Of course, over the two days that I worked the route, I had quite a few moments where I despaired in figuring out a method. I also went to bed those nights, asking myself why I was doing this. But then, waking up at 5 am to beat the afternoon sun, I itched to put my hands on the rock, savored the idea that I could only rely on myself to get the rope up; this project reawakened the climber that I am.
I came home with precise sequences in my head and the knowledge that if I trained, visualized, and prepared, I had a chance to link it all. I knew training would be challenging, especially motivating for another endurance lap through the summer heat. But I was finding myself again, finding my space to be a climber and a good mum.
I returned to the route with James a month later while the grandparents took care of Arthur. Part of me wondered why we were leaving our baby, and we both felt a bit empty without him jumping around the van. But then in the early morning, I put my game face on, James transformed into Mr. Perfect Belayer, and the fun began. In the (8b), I had no idea if I had the necessary endurance, but in a month’s training, I had noticed that it was all coming back quickly. I climbed precisely without a single mistake. I have no idea how it happened–maybe being a parent and having little time forced me to improve my efficiency. The (7b), the first (8a), the (5c) it all went smoothly. Then, in the last (8a), I made a few mistakes. I forgot a few methods, and there was a moment at the very end, where I realized I had to make the right decision very fast, or I would be off, and maybe not have the energy to try the pitch again.
It is here that I faced my old friend, the fear of failing; every climber has to find a way of dealing with this. When I was a competition climber, I used to tell myself to focus closer on the pleasure of the movements. This time, with my forearms about to explode, and while I was struggling to slow my breathing on a relatively restful tuffa, I could see in my mind Arthur dancing to his favorite music. With that, I realized that falling would be ok; failing was indeed not that sad. Accepting the possibility of not doing it gave me the energy to finish the pitch and scrape my way to the belay. One more (6b), and I had done it, I was again the climber I wanted to be! I had proven to myself that there was a balance between being a mum and a climber. That even the joy of my little one could give me strength for climbing that I hadn’t had before.
I'd love to tell you James and I drove back home playing Une Jolie, but that would be too whimsically poetic. After all, ticking the climb for its name or notoriety is not the experience I was after. Plus, James hates the song, but James's story of understanding French poetry, and as I say, “truly” becoming French, is another story altogether.
Written by Pete Whittaker
Photo 1,2,5 by Tristan Hobson
Photo 3 by Øyvind Salvesen
Photo 4 by Tom Randall
Stage 6- Buoux
We stayed four days at the "Auberge des Seguins," which is a perfect location to go to the crags on foot. They even let us take our dinners outside by the bedroom while the baby was already in Bed. Buoux doesn't need any publicity. It is a unique, incredible crag, and there is a reason for its Fame. Buoux is a Must visit". No matter what your level is, you will find a gem to climb!
Stage 7- Mouries
Mouries is a long way from Buoux, and we had initially planned some extra stops. But the heatwave had begun, and the other planned spots were not as exciting. So, instead of climbing stops, we biked for two days, visited an abandoned troglodyte village (les grottes de cales), and loved it!
Mouries again is an old lady, and if you can get away from requiring extremely tough grades and enjoy the technical climbing, you will love it. Mouries is a climbing lesson in itself.
Route 1 - Fingerboard
Usually, you think of fingerboarding to be using smaller holds, but it's beneficial to mirror the type of hold to the edge you are using on the fingerboard; this gives your training a bit more specificity. For Recovery Drink, you need strong fingers, as well as solid jamming strength, but the edges are actually quite big, just flat and square-cut, so there is no point in training on micro-edges as the lower crux revolves more around face climbing and finger strength than it does jamming.
To train for this, I could do 1-arm weighted hangs off larger holds. For example, I could hang on 3 - 4cm deep edges, with added weight in the other hand. I would then do four reps of 5-10 second hangs with a 1-minute rest between sets and repeat this with each arm four times, making 16 hangs on each arm.
Route 1 - Resistance Band
Recovery Drink is all about Power Endurance with sections of sustained climbing around 10 to 30 moves long between rests. So focusing on continual movement is important.
For this next exercise, you would need both a fingerboard and a resistance band to get the desired intensity. Hang the resistance band below the fingerboard, placing one or both feet in it to take some weight off your hands. Then move your hands around the fingerboard to give the desired power endurance pump. Trying to do this without the resistance band would be too intense as it would be a campus exercise (strength-based), but using a resistance band is a perfect way to assist.
Route 1 - Visualization
Visualization is a key aspect to climbing something at your limit and something I use a lot on projects. My routine for a route like Recovery Drink would be to memorize every single hand/foot movement, every chalk-up spot, and gear placement. When I can remember every single movement, I will start putting sequences together until I can get to the point where I can piece the whole route together in my mind. Once I can do this, I will then try and memorize every move to a ticking clock's cadence. If I miss or hesitate a movement on the given beat, I have to start over from the bottom of the route. For a proper visualization of a particular route, you should be able to perform this visualization exercise on-demand with no mistakes.
Route 2 - Fingerboard
You need minimal strength for this route, but what is important is the ability to keep moving at a steady and consistent pace throughout the whole climb without getting tired. A great way to use the fingerboard to train for this is called 'floor campusing.' Hold the fingerboard with your feet on the floor. Now move around the board with your hands, putting around 30% of your body weight onto your arms. You shouldn't be aiming to get pumped; you should just be aiming to get the blood flowing through your arms and get the same sort of feeling as if you were climbing a route that was an easy grade for you.
The route that I did was around 20-25 pitches long, so if you were to get very specific, you could do 2-3 minutes of work time x 20 and have a couple of minutes rest between each set to replicate stances.
Route 2 - Resistance Band
During the second half of this route, there are quite a few wider cracks that are slabby. On wide slab climbing, a useful technique is the downward arm bar, where you place your arm into the crack in an arm bar position, but facing downwards, and use this to help aid upward movement. You can replicate this movement well with a resistance band.
Have the resistance band at your side and grab it with the palm facing forward about waist height. Now pull the resistance band down so your arm becomes straight and slowly releases the tension back to a bent arm. Because the exercise is easy, a high volume of reps is needed to start building a pump.
Route 2 - Visualization
For any big solos, visualization before setting off is key. Below, in no particular order, are critical elements of visualization I focus on:
- Imagining how I will feel on individual sections of the route
- Imaging myself climbing the hard sections of the route and feeling both in control and not in control
- Creating unexpected scenarios, including– falling rock, breaking holds, wet rock, foot slipping, running out of water, weather, etc.– I then imagine how I will deal with all these, first unsuccessfully and then finally successfully
- I cover all situations in my mind, from the most awful ones imaginable to the best ones you can think of, so nothing comes as a surprise. Even moments of joy and climbing well could actually put you off if you haven't first learned how to deal with it. It's important not to be put off by anything. You need full focus until you are standing on top!
Renshaw and Foulkes Route, Solo, (6-) Kjerag Mountain, NO
This route is an 800-meter multi-pitch on the 900-meter cliff of Kjerag in the South of Norway. The objective here was to solo the route and make the first free solo of the cliff. It gets a grade of 6- (or E3 5c), but the difficulty is not particularly in the climbing, but getting good enough conditions to do it. It is covered in snow and frozen up in the winter, and in the spring and summer, the snow melts, which creates massive waterfalls. When you climb this cliff a lot of the year, you have to climb around or on wet rock, past waterfalls, and generally navigate your way through untravelled terrain. In August 2020, I managed to do all this and free solo it in 2 hours and 25 minutes.
Black Mamba (5.14b) Canyonlands, USA
This is a first ascent in Canyonlands desert that Tom and I put up in 2019. It was a really long continuation of a 'short version we did back in 2011 on our offwidthing trip. It is a combination of all crack climbing skills blended into one single piece of climbing. You have pumpy hand jamming to warm you into it, which is never hard but gets the blood flowing. The middle part of the route consists of a defined sequence of paddles, fingers, and more challenging moves. The final section of the route is a burly upside-down offwidth, which is just the thing you don't want after already climbing 30-40m of roof crack. The whole thing weighs in at around 5.14b.
Route 3 - Fingerboard
To increase my finger strength resistance, I did lots of "repeater" sets on my fingerboard. These try to imitate the intense rhythm you find on boulder problems and challenging sport routes and are straightforward exercises that always give me good results.
One set is made up of 5 hangs, on the same size hold, with the same hand position. You hang for 6 seconds, and then give yourself a micro rest/shake for 1 second before hanging again. This imitates climbing rhythm, where you are often hanging in a static position on two hands (while looking for the next move) and then quickly moving into the next position (micro-rest). You can do the same exercise on every type and size of hold, and I generally do a session with 5 or 6 different holds or hand positions and repeat the 5 or 6 sets, 2 or 3 times. I only do this on relatively large holds because you are often heading towards your max capacity, thus, it can be dangerous to use very small or non-tendon-friendly grip positions.
Route 3 - Resistance Band
When offwidth climbing, it is important to be able to have good core control and tension while also engaging your legs. An excellent exercise for this would be to do regular crunches (lying on your back, legs off the ground, bent at 90º), but have a small and tight resistance band around both ankles. As you do the normal crunch movement, pull the resistance band apart with your legs, focussing on engaging multiple body parts at once (legs and core) but still keeping it all in control.
Route 3 - Visualization
For long, pumpy, horizontal roof crack routes, or really any route with a tiring and challenging offwidth at the finish, it's essential to prepare for a bit of suffering. This isn't so much a visualization technique, but more mental preparation and knowing that it could be a battle at some point.
I try to start with a relaxed approach for these types of routes but have mentally prepared myself, knowing that suffering could occur. I make sure I realize that suffering is ok, and that is what is needed to complete the route.
Techniques for a relaxed approach includes:
- Setting off with the mindset of just seeing how it goes. I know the sequences, so I'll climb how I've learned it, and that will get me through no problem.
Mental preparation includes:
- Knowing this is going to get hard and painful and being ok with that
- I actually quite like it when it gets painful, so really I'm looking forward to it.
- Knowing I've taped up and wrapped up well, so whatever pain I experience… well, that's just how it is! Everyone will have to experience that if they want to climb the route.
Over the past year with our limited access to climbing gyms and training facilities it has become increasingly difficult to prepare for the climbs that fuel our motivation and imagination. Before the pandemic many of us spent countless hours in the gym climbing and training. As well as, getting tips and tricks on training for specific styles of climbs in person from our communities. In search of a simpler way to train at home, we have proposed a challenge to the Wild Country athletes to help all of the Pure Climbing community refocus your training for when sunnier days allows you to get back to your project.
Welcome to the Triple Training Challenge. With only a fingerboard, resistance band, and the use of mental training we have challenged our athletes to devise a plan to prepare for three routes they have projected in the past. They will showcase the significant challenge each route presented to them and how they would have applied this information to prepare physically and mentally for their ascent. You can use these tips to breakdown your own routes and apply the specific techniques to your own training.