Tactics for the Old and Weak

posted by dpm on 12/01/2010


This week we’re going to give some examples of how properly applied knowledge and tactics can have you clipping the chains much faster than just showing up with big muscles. The over thirty crowd knows that it takes more than big guns to send hard routes. But where can you gain this intelligence? When sifting through the piles of information found in the gym or on rockclimbing.com neophyte climbers might have trouble separating the wheat from the chaff. It seems that every time you go looking for an answer you just find more questions like: 
Why do I always drop my partner when I use a Grigri? Why is trad climbing so much more bitchin’? How many hexes do I need before I should lead climb? Why is there a locking carabiner on my chalkbag and more importantly…why is this daisy chain so cumbersome?
Oftentimes it’s the answers to these questions that get young climbers into a pickle. Did you know that unnecessary ethical hang-ups are the number one cause of failure among noobs? If you’re over thirty you learned from GI Joe at a very young age that: “Knowing is half the battle.”  These are real life examples so listen up, learn, apply, and send.
Case Study One: The Man Show   
Setting: Summersville Lake, West Virginia. Mid July: 90% humidity. 90 degrees. 
Scenario: ‘Ronnie’ and his crew from the Jersey Shore University Outing Club approach the Orange Oswald wall ready to do battle with the stone. They all remove their shirts to display their tribal frattoos and bulging biceps. For them, sport climbing is a way to display their manliness, skills, and cunning bravery. Each lead attempt is an effort to outdo their fraternity brothers and move one rung up in the pecking order of the climbing hierarchy. 
Ronnie grabs a rack of quicks, ties in, and charges headlong into battle. He reaches the second bolt of the 5.9 ‘warm-up’ and finds himself at an insecure stance. His fingers are sweaty and slipping on the holds but all he can think about is how tan and ripped he must look from the ground. He is able to desperately hang the draw before retreating to his stance. His jacked up biceps ache with pump and every time he pulls up rope to clip his hand starts to open on the hold. For the first time in his life Ronnie stops thinking about how he looks and goes into self-preservation mode. He reaches up to grab the draw but his friends mock him from the ground. “Don’t grab the draw you dandy!” they shout. “Man up bro!” yells another. “Dude, go for it!” Ronnie knows he must risk life and limb to impress his brothers or live a life as the black sheep of the frat house. In a final desperate attempt he pulls up rope to clip, slips off, and decks, shattering his ankle into tiny pieces. Ronnie is evac’d by boat and spends the next eight weeks playing beer pong from crutches. 
Lessons: Avoid injury at all cost. You cannot send routes or get better at climbing from a hospital bed. Don’t fall prey to the ‘ethics’ of climbing. Grab draws whenever possible. Don’t climb in the summer sun.  Tattoos don't make you climb harder.
Case Study Two: Tip of the Weak  
Setting: The Dihedrals, Potrero Chico, Mexico
Scenario: High above the valley floor of El Potrero Chico is an overhanging swell of tufa’d limestone hosting a variety of 5.13’s known as the Surf Bowl. The area’s antithesis lies just a few feet to the left in the Dihedrals. An open project known as Black Slabbath is marked only by a line of bolts up a featureless, chalkboard-like, swath of blank gray stone. A climber that we’ll call ‘Mikey’ seems interested in the line. He steps up to it in his tennis shoes with stick-clip in hand. Mikey proceeds to stick-clip his way up the entire route. He can hear snickers and general mockery coming from the Surf Bowl. Pinheaded muscle bound jocks whisper amongst themselves just loud enough to be heard. “Look at that guy.” “Yeah, that’s rock climbing all right. Ha ha.” 
Mikey shrugs off the unfriendly banter and now, with a handy top-rope set up, proceeds to work out the moves. He methodically figures out each crux trying the moves a couple of times but never straining too hard on the razor sharp crimps. Now, with the holds chalked and draws hung, one of the pinheads from the Surf Bowl seems interested in the route as well. Young ‘Bruno’ speaks in a thick Austrian accent, “J’you mind if I try with you?” Mikey offers the top-rope but Bruno decides to go for an onsight. He pulls the rope and exclaims, “I am ferry gud at wall climbs.” 
Bruno starts up with machismo confidence and encounters the first crux. He tic-tacs up the razor crimps time and again, always down-climbing back to his stance. Finally he decides to go for it despite the fact that he knows little about what to go for. He dynos for a chalky spot and comes up short, hitting the end of the rope with a scream of despair. Bruno, in frustration, tries the move over and over, each time taking a sizeable whipper and each time having to reclimb the razor crimps only to whip again.   After one particularly frustrated attempt Bruno lowers to the ground with blood oozing from a split finger tip. He walks away in disgust. 
The next day Mikey returns with fresh skin and good energy and claims the first ascent of the route. Bruno can be found back at the campground with his finger soaked in Vaseline and wrapped in gauze. While our hero Mikey continues to spend the next few days climbing more routes and having fun, Bruno is left to lick his wounds as the end of his trip draws near. 
Lessons: Avoid injury at all cost. Sometimes climbing less will allow you more in the long run. Top-roping is not just for sissies, it is for educated rock-tacticians as well. Attitude gets you nowhere in climbing. Do not fall prey to ridiculous made up ‘ethics’ such as ‘ground-up philosophy’ or doing what is ‘pure’.  
Michael Williams is thirty-two years old. His beta is ironclad and his tactics are impeccable. He is the weakest human to ever climb 5.14.