By Steve Bechtel
It happens every year at a hundred different climbing areas. There is a glimmer of talent, a hint of drive, and a motivated climber is born. He cruises up through the grades, doing several 5.10 and 5.11 routes with his friends, he makes progress, and then he starts to pull ahead. Finally, one weekend, he sends the 5.12a classic at the crag, and HE HAS ARRIVED! He is now a 5.12 climber.
And this is when he blows it. Like Milo with his bull, the man keeps going, setting his sights at the next higher grade – in this case a 12b. Unlike Milo, he is not a legend, and he is doomed to fail. Day after day, week after week, he struggles to send, and let’s just say he does the route eventually. Either way, he’s in trouble, because if he does this route he’ll just go on and get busted on the 12c next door.
The problem is one of motivation and ability. Instead of trying to become a better climber, he seeks to succeed on routes of higher grades. Instead of honing his skills to perfection, he thrashes his way up an arbitrarily graded route, and his performance as a climber has not necessarily improved at all. He was motivated by the achieving the grade, not mastering the sport.
It reminds me of the time a traveling hardman arrived at our local crag and asked, “Which is the easiest 13a?” Why, the one covered in chalk, fixed draws, and other climbers, of course!
Don’t misunderstand. There is a time for the project. There is a time to get in way over your head to see what you’re up against. But it is not the way to quick progress. Time and again we see climbers who do one hard route per season. If you stick with climbing for a long time, that gets you 15-20 hard sends per life. So how would you feel if you could get that many sends each and every year? Would it be worth swallowing some pride and trying a little something different?
The redpoint pyramid is nothing new, it’s just something most climbers don’t use. The basics are simple. Start out at a grade that you can do in 1-2 tries (say 5.11a) and climb. There are several different set-ups for this, but my favorite is to build a 4-tier pyramid with six boxes at the bottom, four at level 2, two at level three, and one box on top.
At the bottom level, you write 5.11a, 11b on the next, and on up to 11d on top. Then all you have to do is go out and REDPOINT a route for each box in the pyramid. As easy as it sounds, this is where most climbers just can’t execute. It’s easier to be “working” a hard route than to go out and send.
It should take 2-4 climbing days to fill in the first pyramid. Try to start at the bottom and work your way up, but the only real rule is to fill the whole thing out before moving on. Once it’s filled, start another, but bump the grades up by one level (in our example they would now be 11b, 11c, 11d, and 12a.)
You should progress pretty quickly through the second pyramid, too. See, as you get used to doing all these redpoints, you GET GOOD at redpointing. Almost everything you try will fall in one or two goes. Often, climbers go climbing with no goal in mind. With the pyramid you’ll be laser-focused on what has to happen next climbing day, and the one after that.
Within a couple of months, your former project levels will be showing up at the top of your new pyramid, but his time, instead of multi-week projects, they will succumb in just a few tries.
There are many ways to advance as a climber, but for God’s sake, advance! Maintaining an “eternal project” mentality is comfortable, but it will not get you too far. Try something new, and you might just see something good happen.