A Year of Training: The climbing-specific period on the road and lessons learned

Last week in this post I talked about the training I did during my ‘base period’ while following Scott Johnston and Steve’s house advice in Training for the New Alpinism. This week, I am going to finish off the discussion with a review of what I did during my climbing-specific period, to taper, how I felt when actually climbing the objectives I had been training for in Patagonia.  Hopefully some more anecdotal information gets you motivated to pursue your own training goals.  I know that I am already back on the horse.

Climbing-specific period – What is it?

The climbing-specific period is all about preparing for your objective.  Now that you have built up muscular strength and an aerobic engine to aid in recovery in the base period, you can now push your body harder while training and realize the benefits of a long term structured training plan.  Its all about converting general strength to specific strength.  In TFTNA, the chapter dedicated to this part of the regiment is called “Climb, Climb, Climb” – and so that is what we did. 

Discussion of how we trained on the road

At this time, Jimmy and I were living out of my car on the road.  As we travel the Bugaboos (early August) to Squamish (August/September) to Yosemite (October), and then to Bozeman and Idaho (November, early December).  Our goal later in the year was to visit Argentine Patagonia.  There we planned to do long rock and mixed/ice routes.  Thus, during the next four months leading up to the time at which we began tapering, we did most of our training on the road.  It comprised predominantly of cragging, a long route/day/link-up once or twice a week and some strength training on a periodic basis. We used the approach on longer days to maintain our aerobic base and went on easy runs or spent days with parents and friends for recovery.

During the entire trip, I tracked all the climbing we did and how I personally felt (see list at bottom of page).  I was interested in using the data to better understand (or rather confirm) where I needed to place more effort training/honing skills.  Not surprising to myself, all the techy stuff was fun, and I got scared whenever it got steep.  Through this table, it is easy to see how we gradually increased the training load and size of the objective over-time, rather than overnight.  Also, look how there are lap gaps between big objectives – the body needs time to recover.

Climbing the Nose in a Day was a great test of muscular endurance. Its only 1500′ of jugging if you lead half!

8/9 – Becky-Chinouard in a day

8/20 – Angel’s Crest -> High Plane’s Drifter

9/3 – Aiding and hauling UWall, then the next day, freeing and hauling to Truck stop on Freeway

9/9 – Full Freeway + first two pitches on UWall

9/16 – FA in North Cascades w/ day long approach wrestling 60 degree slide alder either end

9/24 – Borderlines (11c variation) -> Angel’s Crest -> High Plains Drifter

10/3,10/4 – Rostrum followed by Washington Column the next day

10/7 – The Nose in 3.5 days

10/9 – The Rostrum

10/10 – Moratorium -> East Buttress of El Cap

10/22 – The Nose in a Day

11/9 – Myopia including walk from Redfish lodge (8 hours in boots

11/20 – Cherry Crack -> Dire Wolf -> Fails of Power -> Smashmouth -> Astafar Command -> The Headache, Zion National Park

After Zion, we headed to Hyalite to refresh our ice skills on the little ice existed anywhere in the states (trust me, we looked around pretty hard!).  We really wanted to ramp up in this domain before heading to Patagonia. We did about 8 days in Hyalite over two weeks.  Each of these included about an hour approach and descent, and then 4 or 5 pitches. 

The one thing that we tended to sacrifice in the name of fun climbing was leg work.  About every 2 weeks one of our climbs involved a very long hike or approach with a heavy pack, but, other than that, we didn’t do a lot to maintain max strength or muscular endurance in our legs.  I periodically did single leg movements and squats with weight when we had access to a gym near the end of our time on the road. We were definitely well-trained enough for the short approaches and very technical climbing in Patagonia but if we went to a range with greater requirements for endurance slogging uphill, I think we would have been at a disadvantage.

Overall during my climbing-specific period, I did a lot of pitches: ~400 on rock or on tools. Here is what I learned:

Lessons from training during this period

I saw how important the base period was. I was amazed each day about how much climbing we could do without getting tired.  I could climb many pitches near my limit without slowing down.  Having spoken to Scott Johnston recently about some anecdotal evidence here, I now understand this is because of my body’s trained ability to recover.  I could recover while at the belay on a multi-pitch, or holding my rope for a friend while on the ground. Because of my strength reserve, I wasn’t digging deep into max strength muscle fibers very often.

You can train technical skills quickly , but you cannot train fitness. I am not a great ice climber.  When comparing myself to Jimmy (easy to do, I spent nearly everyday with him), I was well aware of the number of days he has on ice.  Probably a magnitude of ten difference.  BUT, given my fitness level and strength, I was able to quickly step into that arena and ramp up to leading some of my first water ice 5 pitches and mix routes.  This occurred over the course of just a few days.  I had the capacity to climb several pitches in one day and return the next without even feeling fatigued.  Jimmy made a similar progress on rock.  He had not done a lot of rock climbing while guiding during the last year, but was able to make quick advancements back to his previous skill level due to his strength and aerobic capacity for the same reasons.

The impact of a large strength reserve and high muscular endurance was really visible on long hard routes or days out.  For example, I know that Jimmy was climbing about a letter grade below me (working easy 5.11 versus working easy 12s – Squamish grades!).  The difference in strength reserve became really clear when we climbed the Nose.  I was working at an aerobic, all-day pace and still felt like I had gas in the tank 3/4 of the way up.  Only as an anecdotal example on training, I’ll note that Jimmy was lagging at this point.  The weight room (max strength) and repetitive, targeted movement (muscular endurance via auto-belay laps with weight, steep uphill with weight, etc) during the base period had paid off.  This worked because the moves on the Nose (french-freeing everything) were well below my strength reserve.

A strong aerobic base and muscular endurance allowed Jimmy and I to approach the Supercanaleta in the afternoon, get there at 10pm, sit on our packs for two hours, and then start climbing.

Taking it to Patagonia

Upon arriving to Patagonia, we had a bunch of routes in mind that required LONG days on mostly moderate terrain, each fronted by a big approach the day (or night) before, and then by another few hours to get to the base of a climb the morning of. We both felt very confident coming into this knowing how fit we were – we could feel it.  We were both also very sure to taper for a good week or too while spending time packing and preparing to jet off.

I would say about a two to three weeks passed between big outings in Patagonia climbing or some of our last “training” days.  This taper period left me feeling great, even after 8 months on the road, climbing as much as possible.  With a huge pack on walking into Niponino over talus that seemed to be sitting on ball-bearings, I felt springy.  Conversely, a few funks stumbled in to base camp like they had just been hit by a train. If at that point I still hadn’t bought into Scott and Steve’s training advice, I certainly would have finally been made a believer. 

While in Chalten, we didn’t need to acclimatize due to the low elevation, but warming up the body a little bit did help.  We took advantage of days of bad weather to scout approaches and stash gear.  These little missions helped us to get into shape for the longer ones.

Finally some of the climbs we had been training for were in condition and we went for it.  If you have read any of the other posts on my site about those days out, you’ll know how they finished – bad weather, rockfall, too many parties, poor conditions, etc. On the other hand, we were never turned back or limited by fitness.  That was an awesome feeling!

Looking back on the entire year of training

After seeing the power of building the base before diving into hard training, I don’t know if I will ever go back. I am already a month into a new training plan that will endure through the summer and into the fall.  There are a few things I have found really enjoyable about the training process and benefits present by Scott and Steve in their book:

  1. Having a strong aerobic base, that is noticeable even after just a year of training following the advice in TFTNA, makes it really easy to just go be active at a moderate intensity level.  I can join friends for hikes, go on bike rides, walk the extra distance, whatever it is, without feeling like I need a cliff bar afterwards.
  2. Creating a well-defined training plan for myself, and planning in advance, actually helped me to eliminate boring days at the gym, repetitive workouts, and aimlessly wandering around the weight room at the boulder project, feeling like I should be slamming barbells down like everyone else.  Because I have a plan that I know works, I am comfortable sticking to it.  I don’t feel guilty resting on a rest day, walking the past moon-board to do general strength, and I know exactly what I need to fit into my schedule when I’ve got a big training week ahead.

I hope these two articles have made it a little more clear how to take the technical information in TFTNA and turn it into action.  If I can help clarify what I did, just reach out, otherwise, go build your base!

This is what you get to do when you have a strong base – go climb the North Ridge of Stuart in a day with your friends and not bonk.  Priti Wright in the foreground, and Dylan Price in the back.

Table of all the climbing I did over the year, tracked to better understand progression. 

Climb Pitches Max grade Location Date Partners Send quality Style Notes
The Passenger 8 5.11D WA Pass 7/31/2016 Chris, Ben B Bouldery, steep, fingery Onsighted 5.11d crux, trouble at lower 5.11c boulder move
El Capitan 4 5.10+ WA Pass 8/3/2016 Chris, Jean A Strenuous, hand-crack Kangaroo Wall
Unknown 2 5.10D Mazama, WA 8/4/2016 Chris, Jean A Techy, fingery
Unknown 1 5.10C Mazama, WA 8/4/2016 Chris, Jean A Bouldery, steep
Unknown 1 5.11- Mazama, WA 8/4/2016 Chris, Jean A Bouldery, steep Onsighted, before taking massive whipper due to snake
Southern Man 6 5.11+ WA Pass 8/5/2016 Chris, Jean B Strenuous, steep Hung on gear at crux of steep 5.11 pitch
Liberty Crack 9 5.11+ WA Pass 8/7/2016 Chris, Jimmy, Mikey C Strenuous, techy Pulled on lots of gear through strenuous upper 5.11 pitch
NE Ridge, Bugaoo Spire 4 5.8 The Bugaboos 8/8/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Would solo in future
Becky-Chouinard 12 5.10+ The Bugaboos 8/9/2016 Chris, Jimmy B Strenuous, fingers Felt ran-out, pulled on gear during crux pitch (variation)
Paddle Flake Direct 4 5.10c The Bugaboos 8/10/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Strenuous, hand-crack Linked 5.10 pitches through crux
Flaming-Hack Arrete 3 5.11+ The Bugaboos 8/11/2016 Chris A Finger-crack Linked top 2 pitches
Liberty Bell Traverse 22 5.10+ WA Pass 8/20/2016 Chris, Jean B Fingery, steep Very tired and mentally fatigued during West Face pitches
Angels Crest 10 5.10- Squamish, BC 8/20/2016 Chris, Jimmy, Meg A Bouldery Onsight
High Plains Drifter 2 5.11C Squamish, BC 8/20/2016 Chris, Jimmy, Meg A Techny, bouldery Onsight
Rock On 4 5.10A Squamish, BC 8/21/2016 Chris, Jimmy, Meg A
Werewolves of London 1 5.11A Squamish, BC 8/21/2016 Chris, Jean A Finger-crack Onsight
Crime of the Century 1 5.11C Squamish, BC 8/21/2016 Chris, Jean A Finger-crack Cruised
Clandestine Affair 1 5.10D Squamish, BC 8/21/2016 Chris, Jean B Steep, roof, strenuous Took a second to figure out steep crux
Power Windows 1 5.11B Squamish, BC 8/21/2016 Chris, Jean A Techy, slab Onsight
Unknown 1 5.10A Squamish, BC 8/24/2016 Chris, Jimmy Bogwall
Horrors of Ivan 1 5.11C Squamish, BC 8/24/2016 Chris, Jimmy C Strenuous, steep Scared
Millenium Falcon 10 5.11A Squamish, BC 8/24/2016 Chris, Eric A Crack, techy, sport Onsight
Claim Jumper 1 5.12A Squamish, BC 8/25/2016 Chris B Bouldery, finger-crack RP after
Perspective 1 5.11A Squamish, BC 8/25/2016 Chris, Jimmy B On-sight
Unknown 1 5.8 Squamish, BC 8/25/2016 Chris, Jimmy Bogwall
Penny Lane 1 5.9 Squamish, BC 8/26/2016 Chris, Jimmy
Sunny Days in December 1 5.12c Squamish, BC 8/26/2016 Chris C Technical, bouldery Stumped at first crux, took a bit to commit to seond
Kangaroo Crack 1 5.11a Squamish, BC 8/26/2016 Chris, Jimmy B Bouldery, strenuous Too tired
Seam near Kangaroo 1 5.12b Squamish, BC 8/26/2016 Chris D Bouldery Couldn’t even get up, lots of hanging
Green Drag-on 5 5.9 Index, WA 8/31/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Aid
Unversity Wall 8 5.9 Squamish, BC 9/3/2016 Ben, Lindsey, Chris Aid
Freeway -> Truck stop 4 5.11C Squamish, BC 9/4/2016 Chris, Ben, Lindsey B Technical, steep
Thriller off the void 1 5.11B Squamish, BC 9/5/2016 Chris, Lindsey A Technical, sport Onsight
Orphan 1 5.8 Squamish, BC 9/5/2016 Chris, Lindsey A Onsight
Block and Tackle 1 5.11B Squamish, BC 9/5/2016 Ben, Lindsey, Chris C Strenuous, steep, roof
Burning Down the Couch 1 5.11D Squamish, BC 9/8/2016 Chris, Jimmy C Strenuous, steep, fingery, sport Bailed early off climb
Pleasant Pheasnt 1 5.11A Squamish, BC 9/8/2016 Chris, Jimmy B Sport Onsight
Zoe 1 5.10A Squamish, BC 9/8/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Techy, sport Onsight
James and the Giant Reach 1 5.11C Squamish, BC 9/8/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Techny Onsight
Freeway 11 5.11C Squamish, BC 9/9/2016 Chris, Jimmy C Strenuous, steep, roof Fell at roof due to nerves
Sunset strip 10 10D Squamish, BC 9/11/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Crack, chimney, sport Onsight
Octopus’s Garden in the Shade 1 5.8 Squamish, BC 9/11/2016 Chris, Katrina A Crack Onsight
Hairpin 5 5.10A Squamish, BC 9/12/2016 Chris, Katrina A Crack Onsight
Act Like You’re Having Fun 8 5.10+ North Cascades, WA 9/16/2016 Chris, Eric A Strenuous, steep, dirty Onsight after VERY long approac the day before
Neat and Cool 2 5.10A Squamish, BC 9/20/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Slabby finger crack and down-climbed
Flying Circus 1 5.10A Squamish, BC 9/20/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Steep, crack Onsight
Jangling Ball Wall 1 5.11A Squamish, BC 9/20/2016 Chris, Jimmy D Bouldery Couldn’t make up
Health Hazard 1 5.10A Squamish, BC 9/20/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Slab TR Onsight
Quarryman 1 5.8 Squamish, BC 9/20/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Crack Onsight
Yorkshire Gripper 2 5.11B Squamish, BC 9/20/2016 Chris, Jimmy B Bouldery First day back, falls on lead due to fear, then RP
No Name Road 1 5.11B Squamish, BC 9/22/2016 Chris, Katrina C Sustained, sport Mind-fucked
Heavy Petting Action 1 5.10C Squamish, BC 9/22/2016 Chris, Katrina A Sport, easy Onsight
Even Stevens 1 5.10D Squamish, BC 9/24/2016 Chris, Katrina B Steep, crack, face Slow but onsight
Borderline, Angels Crest, HPD 14 5.11C Squamish, BC 9/24/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Techy, strenuous Onsighted 5.11C variation, tired with pack on HPD
Perspective 1 5.11B Squamish, BC 9/27/2016 Chris, Jimmy B Strenuous Still hard!
Nightmare Overhang 1 5.11B Squamish, BC 9/27/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Traverse, strenuous Followed Jimmy
Sentry Box 2 5.12A Squamish, BC 9/27/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Technical fingers Red-point then top-rope
Cerberus 3 5.11D Squamish, BC 9/29/2016 Chris, Katrina A Techy On-sight!
The Rostrum 9 5.11C Yosemite, CA 10/3/2016 Chris, Jimmy B Steep, hands, power Fell of crux, good effort on rest of route
Washington Column 11 5.11A Yosemite, CA 10/4/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Short-fixing, steep 5.10 gear pulling Flying!
The Nose 27 5.11A Yosemite, CA 10/7/2016 Chris, Jimmy, Lindsey A Short-fixing, steep 5.10 gear pulling Flying!
The Rostrum 9 5.11C Yosemite, CA 10/9/2016 Chris, Ben C Steep, hands, power Fell off crux, lacking power
Moratium + East Buttress 15 5.10B Yosemite, CA 10/10/2016 Chris, Jimmy C Steep, powerful Flying but couldn’t do the wet crux
Central Pillar of Frenzy 3 5.9 Yosemite, CA 10/11/2016 Chris, Jimmy, Meg A Hand-crack, steep Flying!
The Nose in a Day 27 5.11A Yosemite, CA 10/22/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Short-fixing, steep 5.10 gear pulling Flying!
Salathe (p1, p2) 2 5.10A Yosemite, CA 10/24/2016 Chris, Austin Bowlin, Jimmy A Finger-crack Followed on everything
Tatoosh 1 5.10B Index, WA 11/5/2016 Chris, Jimmy A
Thin FIngers 1 5.11A Index, WA 11/5/2016 Chris, Jimmy A
Japanese Gardens 1 5.11C Index, WA 11/6/2016 Chris, Jimmy C Technical, powerful, layback, sustained had to work out cruxes on TR
Godzilla, City Park, Slow Children 3 5.10D Index, WA 11/6/2016 Chris, Jimmy A
Myopia 9 5.11A Elephants Perch, ID 11/9/2016 Chris, Jimmy B Steep, stemming, balancy Felt weaker after no climbing, altitude
Tatooine 15 5.11A Zion National Park 11/15/2016 Chris, Jimmy B Ran out of energy, food, water
Shune’s Buttress 9 5.11C Zion National Park 11/17/2016 Chris, Jimmy C Steep, off-fingers unable to commit to hard moves above gear
Scarlet Begonias 1 5.11A Zion National Park 11/18/2016 Chris, Jimmy C Steep, roof, layback unable to commit to hard moves above gear, tired from Tatoonine the day before
Dire Wolf 1 5.12A Zion National Park 11/20/2016 Chris, Jimmy C unable to commit to hard moves above gear
Cherry Crack 1 5.9 Zion National Park 11/20/2016 Chris, Jimmy A
Fails of Power 1 5.11C Zion National Park 11/20/2016 Chris, Jimmy B TR. steep, off fingers
Smashmouth 4 5.11A Zion National Park 11/20/2016 Chris, Jimmy B Steep, fingers Followed Jimmy on entire route
Ashtar Command 2 5.9 Zion National Park 11/20/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Technical edging, climbing at night Led in one pitch
The Headache 3 5.10A Zion National Park 11/20/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Hands, steep Led in one pitch
Twin Falls 5 WI3 Bozeman, MT 11/28/2016 Chris, Jimmy B Fat, wet
The Matrix 2 M5 Bozeman, MT 11/29/2016 Chris, Jimmy C Run-out, grovely
Mummy II 1 WI4 Bozeman, MT 11/29/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Steep, flow, curtain Led in rush, best of season
The Sceptor 1 WI5 Bozeman, MT 12/1/2016 Chris, Kevin A Steep, hooks, pilar
Mummy II, III 2 WI4 Bozeman, MT 12/1/2016 Chris, Kevin B Rotten Fell on TR lower down
Magically Delicious 1 M3 Bozeman, MT 12/4/2016 Chris, Kevin A Led, 3 pieces, fat ice
The Good Looking One 1 M4 Bozeman, MT 12/4/2016 Chris, Kevin C Grovely Followed Kevin
The Thrill Is Gone 1 M4 Bozeman, MT 12/4/2016 Chris, Kevin A Run-out, chimney Led, minimal gear found due to iced cracks
The Hangover + L/R 3 WI4 Bozeman, MT 12/5/2016 Chris, Jimmy A Wet Solod with Jimmy
Black Magic 1 5.9 WI4 Bozeman, MT 12/6/2016 Chris, Jimmy C Mixed, chimney, thin! Bailed on thin curtain

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