The sun beat down in the campground, it was so hot. We lazied about, our energy being zapped by the dry heat of the desert southwest. We hid in the shade of the cottonwood trees and waited for the towering red walls of Zion to pass into the shade. Hot or not, we were going climbing soon, for now, we hung out and hydrated.
A few hours later we found ourselves shivering despite the hot sun as we forded the Virgin River in our boxer shorts. The water was pumping, threatening to push us off balance as we carefully waded through the ice cold river, an incredible juxtaposition of hot sun and ice water. Finally across the chocolate colored waters, we continued on to our route. We were starting late in the day and planning to move fast, aiming to climb the route in less than half the time of most parties. Doing so required techniques and fitness that we had diligently prepared for.
Climbing can be a finicky sport to train for with several disciplines that each require a unique strength. Bouldering requires explosive power, strong fingers and incredible core to execute short but intense moves. Sport climbing needs the power of bouldering with the addition of endurance to dispatch difficult crux moves while already depleted from hard climbing.
Then there are long routes, adventure climbing, alpine climbing and big walls, the climbing I love most. These types of routes are particularly challenging to prepare for. You often spend hours approaching a route, then have thousands of feet of climbing still ahead followed by long, arduous descents. When confronted with a dozen or more pitches of climbing, you could find anything, hard and powerful boulder problems, long sustained pitches akin to sport climbing, and mentally taxing, dangerous climbing that pushes the mind and body. All the challenges of climbing can be rolled into one climb.
I am far from an expert when it comes to training. I constantly seek more information, adapting and adjusting my routine. One constant is that you must always push yourself. When I was a wrestler, my coach used to always tell us that gains only come from the final set, unfortunately, you have to do the first sets to get to the last one.
To prepare for these big days you must drive yourself to the breaking point, challenging yourself day after day. Recovering from one day to the next during a heavy training cycle is difficult, rest days are a luxury that don’t come often. Gnarly BCAA’s and Pump help me recover and still make gains while pushing myself day in and day out during a high volume training period. Combining and cycling workouts during the week has been my tactic, focusing on power (bouldering and sport climbing), while peppering in endurance days, long approaches to long hard climbs. This strategy has helped me improve my strength and power in rock climbing, while also helping me prepare for big days in the mountains that require the ability to go for hours on end, while also climbing at my limit.
That week in Zion I was glad for the training I had put in. Our long hard endurance days were done, our legs were pounded. It was time change up our routine. It was time to sport climb, to pull on small holds and test our power and hard climbing skills. We put Zion in the rear view mirror and headed for the steep, challenging limestone caves of southern Utah.