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Becoming a better climber II. Trad climbing: the good, the ugly and the grade.

There are big stereotypes in our sport regarding what it is to be a good climber and especially how to become one. I feel sorry every time I see young climbers in the gym tearing their tendons apart day after day on dynamic bouldery moves on crimps while talking about how sick it would be to one day do a multipitch route.

Today we will follow last week’s discussion about becoming a better climber, trad climbing and training. This time we will talk about what you will love, what you will hate and what you will find brutal.

Training routines help building progress, no doubt. However they are not imperative and in my opinion they can even be counterproductive until we have a solid high level. Years ago, I used to commit most afternoons in the boulder wall, I was stronger than vinegar, could crush severe boulders both on rock and plastic, but I had a hard time climbing on flow as soon as I  tied a rope to my harness, even on parabolts.

Three year ago I decided to change my lifestyle and adopt a completely different strategy. I commited to spend my time to the things that makes my heart beat, especially performing technical big activities on the outdoors. Enough time spent on little rocks or plastic. I do my fair share of climbing over the year, however in winter I metamorphose into a skier/project of alpinist and in between seasons I chase atlantic storms on a surfboard, hence my climbing ends un piling dust in a drawer for several months a year. Still, I’m managing to climb better than ever. In my opinion, when you start doing things for real, instead of over preparing yourself for one day, if so, dare to do something, then it’s wen progress starts to appear.

Several of my climbing mates, move big times better than I do in sport climbing; i’m not only talking about grades, it’s more about their ability of fighting for real and go with everything. On the contrary, I’m quite a lazy sport climber. I can’t always commit and find the focus to give “a real go”; instead, it’s rather easy when I start to suffer, to just lose the focus, take a little leap to the crashpad, or let myself hang on the quickdraw for then trying the sequence on “dry”, and if so, give a real go later.

On the other hand, when it comes to self protected pitches, I tend to flip the situation over and I can tackle technical committed leads, not necessarily well protected and not necessarily over pretty terrain, while some of my reference climbing mates rather stay aside from those climbs.

When I get into a pitch or wall that I know it should happen in the first push, but that at the same time I know it will be a fight, most likely a struggle, a focus challenge and where I know I can’t bail midway as soon as I first freak out a little, then it’s when I truly feel my body and my brain working together at a level and precision that rarely happens in life. The flow of sharpness, agility, solidity, terrain reading and ability to solve problems becomes intense at its highest level. Nowadays, that’s the feeling that most thrills me in climbing.

There is a more simple and less dramatic reason why trad climbing is my favorite kind of climbing. Cracks, dihedrals, fingerlocks, slabs, chimneys and jamming are no doubt my fetiche move sequences. Such beauty, subtlety, power and superior body control. It really motivates me to challenge myself to solve those problems onsight. Such sequences are rarely found in sport climbing, bouldering or in the gym, so I did not discovered that it was my favorite kind of climbing till after quite a few years of climbing. In fact, there is a large number of climbers that have never ever tried this kind of sequences.

It’s quite common when you’re about to do your first mountain pitches, to feel like you have a big rack after you’ve done some flirting on the seventh grade on parabolts, especially if you are very used to a “hardcore sport climbing style”, like Tonsay or Rodellar, with jugy power moves on big overhangs, for then very soon finding yourself sobbing and fearing for your physical integrity on a V+ dihedral. Somehow you can’t achieve to frame how that V+ can be overhanging, without real footholds and neither handholds. You’re freaking out while realizing that it’s going to have to go through stepings against the friction on the walls while mantling the opposite smooth wall or jamming that ugly crack while having a five star view of the void in between your legs.

It may be a V+, but here there are no obvious moves neither colourful holds. You have to get in the mud and you better do it solid while seeking where your next piece of gear it’s going to go, because you still have some meters until that shinny python. Well, that would be the case if you get lucky with the route, and mostly on limestone; the common menu on granite walls is to have a full clean empty wall, no fix gear, not even on the belays.

This style of climbing sounds hard, because it’s hard. The required techniques, strengths but most importantly mental control required, is almost impossible to replicate and master in your gym. It doesn’t matter that we just landed that 6b+ dynamic boulder or a crimpy overhanging 7a on plastic, that won’t guarantee at all that we will be able to feel confident on a dihedral, chimney or crack system on gear. It won’t be there either where you will learn to remain calm while building a hanging belay under a roof on the 9th pitch of a 13 pitches climb. Even though we may have spent the whole winter hanging on the campus board, you will most likely still feel how your biceps cramp uncontrollably while trying to hold on the lay-back while trying to place a micro friend at the base of that move that it’s making your legs shake big times.

The previous generation of climbers that invented and developed sport climbing had gone through their fair amount of rad leads before they made all the savage sport climbing of the 90’s on imposible overhangs, crimpfests and mono finger pockets. Many people still believe that last style of climbing is the epicenter of the climbing universe. It can make sense; It is not doubt the most notorious, the most eye-catchy, what brings the clicks on youtube and what we end up seen on our Insta feed most of the times. However, sport climbing, despite reducing the risks and focusing on the athletic part of the sport, it is not  an easy discipline and it can be very frustrating for getting into mountain sports and see progress, especially at the beginning. In fact it is true that they are awesome places with incredible nature around for practising sport climbing on five star routes; but it is also true that there is a huge amount of sport walls with uninteresting routes, around twelve meters high, just by the road or in quite sad places. It obviously doesn’t take much to imagine that the mountains can be way wider than that. There are a million activities infinitely wilder and at the same time accesibles waiting for you on the vertical terrain.

I always found funny all the stereotypes around the “progress hierarchy”. Some folks believe that until you are not accomplishing red tagged boulders in the gym, you don’t belong to the mountains; meanwhile you can climb some of the most representatives mountains of Europe without going harder than the V grade. Actually it’s quite usual to see in those routes alpinists on their sixties, some even with quite a belly. On the other hand, it is also giggly how some young lads believe they are higher on the food chain for having topped a few 7a in colourful holds than some of the alpinists that set up and even freed some of the classics routes thirty years ago with difficulties up to 6a and even over.

There are no fix rules in climbing. If you get inspired by big mountains or crack systems, at some point you’ll have to dive in the pool. Obviously you will have to start extremely humble and on a framed way, but still take the dive and then move forward one step at a time. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to spend a certain amount of hours in the gym, or fill a certain chin up quota before you can do mountains. I thought that way for several years and I couldn’t be more wrong. The little, (or the much), that it takes to climb big mountains is attitude and commitment. Sometimes in life you have to stop over preparing yourself, over training, over accumulating titles and medals for actually and simply do stuff. I haven’t even sent a 7b+ yet in sport climbing, but at the same time I’ve done a route over 1000m long on an ocean of granite, done the first ascent to an unclimbed wall through a 300m route with difficulties up to 6b and I’ve done several classic routes to peaks that can make your heart shrink at first sight.

Once you’ve taken the leap, you already belong to the fight club. Once a member, specific training can actually make sense shortening your weaknesses and reinforcing your strengths. It can even take you to the highway for becoming a member of the rad club. But framed training without taking the leap, would never get you in there. I know that we would rather learn those skills from a comfortable and unexposed position, but in trad climbing as in life, we simply cannot control all the variations and at some point we have to take the leap, that’s why it’s actually considered a rad activity. You must learn to feel comfortable in the challenge and the discomfort. You’ll have to get the mud on your face.

Well, we’ll write more about the rad club some day, perhaps when i’ll be there; in the meantime, take your time to enjoy the IV graded mountain pitches, it is amongst the most beautiful that climbing can offer.

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