Big Wall Training Kudos 2014-06-11

Happy Spring Gents!

I hope this note finds you both enjoying this insanely gorgeous weather. I wanted to follow up with a shower of gratitude for the big wall training this winter/spring.  I really appreciated your expertise and training with the crew. Here is my yosemite report and some feedback:

Our objectives were
Gold Wall,, Silent Line (IV, C2, 5.10-)- climb in 2 days as a warm up for
Mt Watkins, South Face (V, C2, 5.9-5.10+)- climb in 3 days

The Gold Wall is a comparatively low- commitment gem (you can rap the route, short approach, beautiful bivies at the base with water nearby). It would provide us a Yosemite free climbing warm-up and an intro into C2 climbing- a first for both of us (C2 is defined as moderate aid: 1-2 body weight placements over bomber gear, 5-30 foot fall potential, most C2 pitches take from 2-3 hours to complete).

Watkins is a challenging wall in the backcountry. It has a significant approach, and it traverses- so retreat is complex. We set the bar that we needed to do the Gold Wall efficiently to get the green light to do Watkins.

After a blitzing  from Jackson- Yos (leaving crazy work, snow the whole way, key passes closed, etc.), we set our for Gold Wall the day we arrived (with 4 hours of sleep).  To sum it up: we climbed 2 pitches in two days. Kate got sick, and my knee swelled to the size of a watermelon. (I’m not totally sure why my knee ballooned, but I think perhaps the increased weight was too big a shock to the system- see below).

This snafu was largely a result of not creating a buffer in our logistics: lesson learned. However, there is some Mountain Athlete feedback twisted in there:

I had some significant challenges in the mental game on the first pitch of Gold Wall. The first 30 ft were 5.10- followed by 5.7-ish and then C1 to the anchor.  I had never carried a rack this heavy (over 30 lbs of gear + two ropes, etc.- a typical free climbing rack is in the 10-15 lbs range).  The rack for this route was big, as the aid pitches were wide and the free pitches were splitter. We used the suggested rack, knowing that we were doing C2 for the first time. I was the heaviest I’ve ever been trying to climb, and it scared the shit out of me- on a visceral level. The weight of the rack actually made it hard to breathe, which amplified everything (first aid climbing, no sleep, feeling sick…).  I did breathing exercises and jumped off the wall to practice falling, but it was difficult to shake the red flags that were going off at a primal level.

We changed our objective based on our pace on the Gold Wall. Our modified goals were to complete something and sleep on a wall. Our spirits were high, though the unknowns seemed a bit grim: could we actually finish a wall here?

We chose The Prow on Washington Column: V, C2+F, 5.6. This is a gorgeous, super steep line on perfect granite. The Prow has less of an approach than Watkins (happier knee), hard moderate aid, easy free climbing, and you can retreat by rapping the route if necessary. We decided to stop our rushing and do the route with 2 bivies on the wall to enjoy the experience and take the time to learn some stuff. We were stoked to focus our efforts on dialing out the aid process. We had the added benefit of being able to rent a portaledge and slept free hanging for the first time (awesome).  We were both challenged in great ways on this route, and we stayed on pace, learned a ton, and completed it with style- super stoked.

The Prow has no water at the base, so we packed in about 7 gallons. While the approach was somewhat insignificant by Teton standards (2-3 miles, 800ft of gain), Kate and I each had between 70-90 pounds on our backs. We were fit for the approach, but again adjusting to the major increase in weight (from usual) was serious. Additionally, while bags were lighter for the descent, it is long 4th/easy 5th class descent. This was challenging with the pig. As my knee was still huge, Kate was a hero and carried a fat pig. The last of my pictures is Kate crawling under a tree branch with the pig and a couple hundred feet of exposure off the skinny descent trail.

In big wall climbing the trend is definitely to go fast and light. However, like with everything, you need to have your systems and skills dialed to trend towards that. I think many of us will spend a little time at slow and heavy on our way to fast and light, and I think these are the people that will dig into your program- competent climbers who know that breaking into walls is a serious undertaking, that they are going to get their asses kicked up high. These people want to have the physical covered while they dial out the systems/skills acquisition.

I am positive that the MA training helped me to start from a MUCH BETTER place then I would’ve been if I’d free styled training. The mental toughness required to complete hard workouts as well as to stay disciplined over a cycle is huge. In retrospect, the spring program seems to be directed towards long, stout multi-pitch climbs. In my experience big walls differ in key ways: aid is implied as is hauling (awesome and brutal work), and the weight is SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASED (over doubled from free climbing).
A side note: there are definitely some ladies CRUSHING it on speed ascents and all free ascents, but you do not see many all female beginner/intermediate teams- I think because of the weight. Our rack is ultra light, but you can’t really get around the amount of gear needed when doing long aid pitches…

I have caught the big wall bug and am planning a trip back to Yosemite for late summer/early fall. These are the things I will add to my physical training to be prepared for the next round:

I will build up to train with comparable weight (both indoors and outside).
I will practice pull-ups on ascender grips and assisted pull ups on carabiners.
I will practice touching my feet and touching as high as i can on a wall from the top step of my aiders.  When climbing routes with fixed gear, people my size spend ALOT of time in the top step of our aiders (weird core, balancy stuff). Also the lockoff for aiding seemed to be located in a different place then for free climbing (a little lower and more towards center line).

Again, thanks for all that you do. Yours is important work.

J