By Micah Elconin
Climbing culture tends to revere the road warrior life working from the assumption that the most important climbing to do is somewhere else - that our highest goals and dreams should live in a place far from here. However, many of us are not fully savoring the lowest hanging fruit that is our local crags.
Whether you live in a “climbing mecca” or not, it’s still possible (I’d argue it’s important) to fully embrace climbing options that are within a reasonable day trip from your home. Yes, smart training and climbing at well equipped modern gyms can certainly help build strength and skills, but there’s no replacement for focused effort on real rock for those that want to climb hard things on real rock! Sure, you might have a few trips planned throughout the year, but during all that time in between, it’s important to maximize your experience.
Regardless of where or why you might be spending most of your time living and climbing in a specific region, at some point things will inevitably go a bit stale. Maybe you’re tired of the warmup options? Maybe you’re tired of trying to project at your limit and want some other ways to feel challenged or adventurous without taking a trip? Maybe you’re running out of hard routes to climb?
You’ve likely got more options than it seems! I’ve already talked at length about why you should start with trying to climb them all. If you’re in need of some additional variety or can’t quite figure out how to access the next level of routes or problems at your favorite local area, read on for some of the tricks I’ve used for the past few decades.
Take The Tour
Most of us gauge progress by the challenge of individual routes. Goals usually revolve around redpointing a certain grade or climbing a specific route/problem. Yes, for most, these goals will always be the primary ones, but I urge all climbers to explore other metrics for motivating efforts, especially at local crags.
Set goals around completing groups of problems or routes in a given area. Perhaps you’ve climbed all the “hard” projects in your favorite area, but can you do them all in a day? Have you ever climbed 10 different pitches in a single session? How about 20? Setting session goals focused on a group of achievements, helps build a new level of mastery and these days can be incredibly fun. These can end up being some memorable sessions!
- Redpoint every route in a sector (or part of a sector) in a single session. You can also set a grade range with an upper or lower limit to make things more reasonable or interesting. These session goals call upon your capacity and mastery of a given area’s style. Climbing multiple near limit routes in a single session is far more challenging than one might think. Training and sending these sector projects can be especially useful when preparing for trips, where you’ll be trying to get a ton of climbing done in a short period of time.
Ex: Redpoint every 5.12 at a specific sector in a day.
- Complete a bouldering circuit of your own design. Create a list of problems that you’d like to really master/practice. Then go climb them all in a single session. These circuits are incredibly fun and help ensure that boulderers are building a good base of strength/skill to support big number V grade goals in the future. This is essentially the bouldering version of the route climbing idea above. One could also shoot for sending every problem on a given boulder or a given sector.
Ex: Pick your favorite v3-v5 boulder problems and do them all in a single session. Can you do them all first go of the day? Have you ever tried?
- Try Endurance Bouldering. This is something that I’ve done quite a bit of, but am surprised that few others explore. How many boulder problems can you climb in a single session? Doing dozens, if not hundreds, of problems back to back in a single session is an incredible experience. It also might be one of the best ways to perfect movement over stone. The repetitive up and down over boulders of all shapes and sizes will galvanize quality movement patterns as well as any other practice.
Ex: Climb 50 different problems of any grade in a single session. Even if they are all V0, you will be very challenged! Note: At least one person that I’m aware of has climbed 400 boulder problems in a single session. I’m sure there are others who have climbed even more.
Create Your Own Adventure
Some of the best routes in the world are technically linkups. Linkups are routes that use parts of previously established lines to create novelty. They are sometimes more obvious on roped climbs, but are just as useful on the boulders.
Creating and climbing linkups may sound a bit contrived, but the practice can actually be highly effective beyond a bit of novelty. Oftentimes, high quality linkups combine sections of routes in such a way that creates a harder or easier version of a specific line. Both options are very helpful. If one is able to train on a 12c version of the 13a they want to send, it can be a vital stepping stone. Alternatively, for the climber that has already redpointed the classic 13a, linking harder moves to or from the meat of the route may result in a 13c that they can sink their teeth into.
Flipping through your local guidebook, you may already see some linkups that already exist. but chances are there are other options that have either not been published, or no one has been creative enough to try yet. Whatever the case, there’s a very good chance your local crag has some enticing options just waiting to be climbed.
Here are some things to keep in mind when seeking out links:
Be Strategic. Certainly, there’s numerous options for stitching together new lines at a crag. However, the ones that tend to be the most rewarding and useful, are the ones that significantly change the difficulty or character of the route. The other thing to consider is if the new combination of routes creates new moves/sequences that are enjoyable.
Clean new terrain. Oftentimes the “link”, or section of climbing that connects two independent lines is not nearly as clean as the well established routes. Make sure you check things out before embarking on an attempt. You’ll be bummed out if/when you encounter loose stone, dirt, or other unexpected things.
Consider Safety. Linking together different sections of routes or problems may create new risks that weren’t in play on either of the original routes. Check to make sure you are comfortable with possible falls through new terrain or bolt clipping sequences.
Make it Longer
The only thing better than a good thing, is more of a good thing. Well, most of the time anyways…. Routes and problems can be extended to create a more challenging experience. The extension can be on either end of the original line. However, it’s usually less laborious to extend the beginning of a climb, as extending the end can require some substantial logistics. Either way, this can be a fantastic option, especially for those looking to build endurance or create a more substantial excuse to spend time on a favorite climb that is starting to go stale.
Extend the Ending. On routes, this almost always requires additional cleaning, bolting and anchor creation. In some cases, routes can be extended through linkups that connect the end of one route to the middle of another that climbs higher on the wall. The other way to extend a pitch without having to do much development, is linking multiple pitches of climbing. Some multi pitch routes facilitate linking a few pitches into one longer pitch. It might require the use of a longer rope and some extended slings etc, but these “mega pitches” can be very fun and sometimes quite a bit more challenging than the individual pitches.
On the boulders, there are usually less options for extending the ending because boulders usually top out as a rule. However, some boulder problems can be made longer by moving the point of topping out. This might mean that the climber ends up traversing a bit towards the top of the problem or links into another problem’s topout. On the rare occasion that an established boulder has an arbitrary ending that one drops down from, you can obviously extend the problem by choosing to climb higher. The famous Evilution at the Buttermilks is an example of this. The original problem ended at the lip. Then Jason Kehl decided to take it all the way to the top. Not for the faint of heart, but certainly more engaging than the original line….
Extend the Beginning. The simplest way to extend beginnings is to sit-start. This is a fairly common practice on boulder problems, but route climbers can use the same technique. You might be surprised how much harder (and fun) some routes are when you start with your butt on the ground. Usually this works best on steep lines, but it's feasible on just about any route. The other option is traversing into the start of the route or problem. While this might seem a bit contrived, it can create monster lines that are incredibly difficult. Keep in mind that you can often traverse into the line from either direction and there may be more than one place to begin from. On the other hand, a quality traverse might also be useful for starting a few different routes. With a bit of creativity your options might expand dramatically!
Not sure where to begin?
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Make it Shorter
This is the easiest strategy to apply and you might already be doing it fairly often. However, it’s much more fun when done intentionally. We all know that sport climbing and bouldering are relatively contrived activities. It’s rare that we simply “climb to the top” of a rock. Most climbs are intentionally harder ways to climb things by following a specific line and/or ending at an arbitrary point. So even though the “established” way to climb route “x” is to start at point “a” and climb to point “b”, there’s nothing to stop anyone from creating their own route or problem that starts/ends at different points.
Moves and Links. Try to climb specific sequences, or even just each move on a route. Smart climbers already do this when projecting routes, but you can also get on something far above your current projecting level and simply try to do the moves. Why not? You might need a stick clip and a bit of patience, but there’s no reason why a 5.11 climber can’t try the moves on a 5.12 or even a 5.13! These days, most climbers boulder quite a bit harder than they climb on a rope. Take the example above. The crux on a mid 5.12a is rarely harder than v4, most of the other moves will not be nearly that hard (nothing harder than v7 on 13a). I know MANY climbers that climb v4 regularly in the gym, but are intimidated by 5.12a. Sure, you might have to manage getting the rope clipped, but even if you stick clip up the entire route, you can still work the moves! This can be an incredibly satisfying day, especially for an athlete that feels like they are running out of routes to try at their current project level. You might even find that the “impossible” route suddenly feels within reach.
Finish in the Middle. This is incredibly useful both on boulders and routes. Rather than climbing to the established anchors or topping out the boulder problem, finish at a different point earlier on the route and call it good. As long as you’re intentional and decide on this point ahead of time, the experience will be almost exactly the same as trying to send any “normal” route/problem. This is a great trick for creating moderate options when all of the options at hand are too hard for your needs. On a wall stacked with 5.13s, a creative climber can very quickly create a number of 5.11 or 5.12 routes by climbing just the first half of each route. The same idea applies to boulders. The only logistical concern is making sure you have a safe way back to the ground. On boulders, make sure that you can safely drop from the arbitrary ending. On routes, either take advantage of permadraws for lowering, or invest in some inexpensive quick links that can be left behind if it’s not possible to creatively recover your gear.
An Appeal to the Home Life
I've spent the past 20+ years focused almost exclusively on developing and climbing in small and relatively unknown climbing communities. While I certainly could find abundant stone in other well known towns, my choice of home base has actually supported an arguably richer climbing experience while simultaneously supporting my other passions in family, career etc.
Sure, there are still plenty of days that I dream about the freedom of dropping all my responsibilities and just embarking on a perpetual climbing adventure. I’ve actually done that a few times in my life. It was super fun. Yet, every time I step away, I also inevitably return home looking to grow deeper roots in my community, career, and family. There's just something special about having a place-based experience. If you’re longing to get away, I wholeheartedly encourage you to make it happen! Just don’t be surprised if you end up missing your old life and those chossy classics at the local crag.
ABOUT MICAH ELCONIN
Micah has cultivated his climbing practice for more than twenty years. Based in Eugene, Oregon he coaches local athletes through his business Good Stone, and offers remote coaching as a part of the team at Climb Strong. Micah has climbed all over the world including dozens of first ascents on the Central Coast of California and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Despite entering his fourth decade in 2021, he continues to slowly, yet steadily, improve.
As a coach, Micah draws on a variety of experiences to support his athletes. He is well versed in climbing specific training modalities and holds multiple Performance Climbing Coach Certificates. He spent the first half of his twenties deeply committed to Ashtanga yoga practicing under the guidance of Steve Dwelley and Michele Nichols. He also spent 3 months at Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India. As a former professional chef, Micah has extensive culinary experience and holds Nutrition Educator and Natural Chef’s certificates from Bauman College. He’s also earned an MBA in Entrepreneurship from University of Oregon and a BA in Philosophy from University of California at Santa Barbara.
Tags: climbing, Local, Micah Elconin, Tactics
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