Thursday, November 5, 2015

Coming back to climbing as a 40+ climber

(Photo courtesy of Dustin Moore)

When I was younger I climbed and trained extensively.  However, during my 30's I retired from active climbing, focused on school, work, and raising a young family.  Sporadically we visited old climbing haunts, and I found it estranging to feel more like a tourist than a climber at places like Hueco Tanks or the New River Gorge.  Moving back to Ohio reestablished the possibility of spending weekends at the Red River Gorge, but it was not until our kids got a bit older that we went to climb.

I clearly remember our first visit to Muir Valley in the Spring of 2012 and the bittersweet experience of being back at the Red while not "being back to fitness" as a climber.   At the practice wall, and then at the Great Wall I led the easiest routes to set up top ropes for my kids.  Even on the 5.7's I felt challenged, and I tired quickly on easier 5.10 routes.  After lowering off of Dynabolt Gold (5.10a) I looked wistfully across the valley to the tall overhanging 11s and 12s of the Solarium.  Those were the sorts of routes I used to love to climb, but they seemed impossibly far away.

After that trip I added to my spreadsheet record of my recent recent flash or onsight lead climb successes, with an average grade of 5.8.

25 years ago an old friend and climbing mentor had suggested that a good way to assess your current climbing level is to take the average grade of your 10 best recent routes.  So, in Spring of 2012 these  were the 10 routes that I had flashed on lead, with an average grade of 5.8.   So, as of Spring of 2012 I was a reasonably consistent 5.8 sport climber.  In three and half years I have progressed to an average grade of 5.11c for first-try routes.

So far I have learned a couple of lessons during the process of coming back to climbing.

  1. Be honest about where you are in the moment.  Measuring your current climbing in terms of your best 10 recent routes reveals more than any single route.  3.5 years ago I had to recognize that I was a 5.8 climber.  Now I am climbing consistently at the 11c level, and I have a way to go in order to climb 5.12 with the same confidence.
  2. Progress is incremental and easiest to witness through record keeping.  If it were not for my climbing journal I would not know what level I was at 3.5 years ago.
  3. Training brings slow, predictable progress.   Since spring of 2014 I have trained systematically according to the periodized schedule advocated in the RCTM.  The results are that I am slowly getting better every climbing season.  This is perfect, and allows me to enjoy the routes at my current level knowing that the next level of new climbs is waiting in the wings.   

(Photo courtesy of Dustin Moore)

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