By Mike Anderson
This has been a crazy spring/summer for most of us in the Intermountain West. It was winter, then it got a little warmer, then BAM! Blizzard after Blizzard struck, and in between blizzards would be ludicrous heat waves. It has not been a spring for sending at most crags. Even now, many crags are running with water from runoff.
That being the case, it turned out to be good timing for me when I severely sprained my ankle while training:
Let me back up a bit….
This is a common scenario, and we get a lot of questions like this:
“I was part-way through my training cycle, and I got injured. What do I do now?”
This scenario can also apply to other situations besides injuries such as fitting in a trip midway through a season, or otherwise being pulled away from training for unexpected reasons.
I began my training cycle with my first hangboard workout on March 9th, gunning to be entering peak fitness in mid-May — in time for the best conditions at Rifle, the Monastery and Wolf Point (in Lander, Wyoming). I also had to fit in a spring break trip from March 19th -27th. So this was the plan:
- 4 HB workouts from March 9th – March 18th (with typical 72 hour rest period)
- 1 climbing day on spring break, March 21st (at The Pit, near Flagstaff, AZ)
- 1 HB workout on March 23rd
- 1 climbing day on spring break March 26th
- 4 HB workouts from March 29th – April 9th
I did the first 4 HB workouts, and had a great day climbing at the Pit, even On-Sighting a couple 5.13s, including Total Recall, the crag’s premier sport route:
Then all hell broke loose 🙂 Half-way through spring break, I flew home for a day of work (and to do my 5th HB workout). Then the first of many freak storms hit us. I wasn’t able to fly back to complete spring break, so I did another 5 HB workouts from March 26th – Apr 9th (fitting in an outdoor day at Shelf Road to compensate for the lost day over spring break).
Aside: If it makes sense, I don’t mind fitting in a couple outdoor days amidst hangboard training. Mark and I tend to differ on this, where he is more consistent about only hangboard training during this phase. If I’m going to do it, I try not to go more than 5-6 days without a hangboard workout. On your outdoor days, try to do hard, fingery climbing.
Things were going well at this point, and I entered my power phase with a few sessions of bouldering at the gym. I was feeling really strong, and really enjoying the chance to boulder at the gym, which I usually don’t like because the setting isn’t fingery enough (too may huge/unrealistic dynos, slopers and pinches). I did a campus/limit bouldering workout on April 17th, then on the 19th, everything changed in a blink of an eye!
I was limit bouldering at the gym, came flying off an awkward topout move that put me in a position such that I couldn’t brace for the fall and I landed directly on my right ankle, rolling it to the inside and tearing my Anterior Telo-Fibular tendon (along with other damage, I’m sure). Now what…10 days into my power phase, hoping to peak in the next couple weeks? The prognosis from the doctor (and based on previous experience) was about 6 weeks. I hoped to be back to climbing even sooner than that.
I had limited options. Obviously bouldering would be out for several weeks, if not the entire season, so hangboarding made sense. I wouldn’t be able to get into “send mode” when I wanted, so I re-adjusted my expectations for my peak, and the crags I would climb at. I went back to the hangboard in the hopes of extending my season long enough for my ankle to recover for sport climbing. Sport climbing would be far less risky than bouldering on a bum ankle. We also had a 3 week trip to Europe in the works, starting on June 21st, so I would set my goals towards that trip, rather than the spring climbing at the aforementioned crags.
I also immediately called my friend & colleague, Dr. Jared Vagy (aka “The Climbing Doctor”), a doctor of physical therapy, and he gave me a personalized plan to follow for rehab that has worked miraculously!
That same night of the injury, I finished off my workout by running through my 8 grips on the hangboard stations at CityROCK climbing gym, then I settled back into hangboard training. From April 24th – May 4th, I did 4 more hangboard workouts, for a total of 15 in the season (way more than I normally do ~8-10). I also did three HB maintenance workouts, one before the injury, on April 17th, and two after, May 11th and May 26th – more on this topic in the second edition of the RCTM!
Starting on May 7th, I was able to do some sport climbing (my ankle was strong enough), and I aimed for fingery/bouldery routes because this was replacing what would normally be campusing and limit bouldering. We went to Shelf Road, and I climbed well…making repeats of the Example, among others.
By May 11th, I felt confident enough in my ankle to do some “easy” campusing (moves that I knew I could control so that I wouldn’t take unexpected falls). I coupled this with a hangboard maintenance workout. For the next couple weeks, I mixed in roped bouldering (climbing on hard routes at the gym or crag) with these campus/hangboard workouts.
By the middle of May, I was itching to try something hard. Janelle and I went up to the Monastery, outside of Estes Park, CO on May 14th…and one of those freak storms hit. This time it was heavy rain, and the crag was socked in with wet, humid clouds. For this reason, the ankle injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise. For most of April and early May, the state was getting clobbered with non-sendable weather, and I was content to toil away on my hangboard…I did feel bad for everyone else, though.
The next weekend, May 20th, I returned, gunning to try Grand ‘Ol Opry, Tommy Caldwell’s testpiece route, and a climb I had been dreaming of doing for at least ten years. It has been referred to by several people as the best sport route in America, and recently made Climbing Magazine’s top 100 list.
I would have liked to start this project back in April to ensure ample days of good, cold, crisp conditions. At this point, I was happy to have any dry rock to climb on and two reasonably strong ankles to do the climbing. That said, this late in the season, the pressure was on to get the send done as fast as possible. I was halfway expecting that this spring effort would mostly serve as a recon for a later campaign next fall.
I took inspiration from my discussions with Mark that led to this post about not putting your project on a pedestal. I had done one other 5.14c (Mission Impossible), and I wanted to treat this route as if 5.14c is “no big deal” (despite it being quite a big deal in my mind…when I started climbing, the grade hadn’t been invented yet!!!) What that means is this: It’s OK if I don’t have perfect conditions, ideal “sending temps”, and it’s OK if I don’t have unlimited time to work and send the proj. Because, if it’s “no big deal”, I EXPECT that the route will not be at my limit and I will be able to climb the route pretty rapidly, in less than perfect conditions. Well that was my desired mindset…time would tell if I could pull it off.
On May 20th, I got on the route, and was able to work out reasonable beta. I vowed to figure this route out for myself — no watching online videos, or bribing Mark with chocolate chip cookies to get his videos. Part of the process is learning the beta, and part of treating this as NBD (no big deal) was resolving to be self-sufficient. The next couple weeks were fairly stable weather, and I struck while the rock was cool. We would stay the night at my lovely in-laws’ house in Longmont, wake around 5:30am and get to the crag around 7:30am. Temps up there would be in the upper 40s and lower 50s until about 11am, giving me time for 2 long burns per day.
I got in three good days of working burns climbing every other day, then went back to train on the 26th. This workout was a mix of bouldering and hangboard maintenance…trying to keep my power and finger strength up to snuff. It’s important during the peak phase to keep up occasional training. The sweet siren song of the project will try to lure you out of shape. We all know that climbing or projecting is not the same as training (it’s necessary, but different), so it’s very helpful to sprinkle in a training day every week to ten days.
I went out again to the route the next weekend, and was making steady progress, but started to feel a plateau. Saturday, May 28th was my 4th day on the route, but it had been my 6th climbing day out of the past 9 days (if you include our romp up the Flatirons – a fairly tiring day), which is unheard of, if you know the Anderson’s — we love our rest days! I was feeling powered down, but didn’t want to pass up good weather. That Saturday was a bit of a backslide, but I stayed positive, and on Memorial day, Monday, the 30th, I had a great day! I made new highpoints; redpointing deep into the redpoint crux. My last burn, I made it to the final dyno to the top of the “Africa Plate” that marks the end of the redpoint crux. I felt that the send was imminent…
I studied the weather forecast, lined up partners, and negotiated for time off from work. The following Wednesday looked promising, with cool temps, but the possibility of rain. It had been raining like crazy up and down the Front Range. The route is steep enough that the climb doesn’t get wet directly, but the rain makes the air humid, and the glacier-polished granite that makes up Grand ‘Ol Opry are unusable when it’s humid.
My good friend Shaun went out with me on Wednesday. It had rained a ton the night before and conditions were iffy. We made the arduous 40-minute hike to the crag and I did two warmup burns on Psychatomic, a nice 12d that Janelle recently sent (nice work babe!) My Hygrometer was measuring 48 degrees and 70% humidity. The rock felt like soggy fettuccini pasta…it was awful. I had a partner, a day off work, and I was at the route, ready to send, but I made the disappointing decision to bail. If I tried to stubbornly persevere in these conditions I risked thrashing my skin and destroying my confidence. We decided to reset and try again the next day.
That night it didn’t rain, the dawn was dry and crisp. It was a little warmer, but much dryer. The meter registered about 56 degrees and 30% humidity…much more like sending temps. My first burn was awesome, I stuck the dyno at the end of the redpoint crux…then my left foot popped off a terrible glacier polished smear. Still, it was a new highpoint, and I felt great. I called it a “warm-up burn”, and would try again shortly. In the mean time, I belayed Shaun as he got his first send of Psychatomic as well.
The second go was a disaster. I flummoxed beta on the extremely tenous, insecure opening moves, and I could tell I was stressed. I bobbled my way up to the rest before the redpoint crux and shook for over 5 minutes. I was able to get it back, and I felt pretty good. I was able to overcome my previous bumbling and climbed really well through the redpoint crux. So well, that when I got to the final dyno, I felt I could do it a little more statically than normal. Big mistake! I narrowly missed latching the hold, and took another 30-foot fall. This was demoralizing. I had been certain I would send on this day, and now it wouldn’t happen. By now it was getting warm, nearing 60 degrees, but the humidity was lower.
I did resolve to do one more go, just so I could work the top in preparation for next weekend, but I knew I wouldn’t send. I never send 3rd go. I was very fatigued at this point in the day, but I climbed the opening four bolts flawlessly, such that I arrived at the rest feeling not-too-taxed. I was able to recover really well at the rest. This is typical for me…as I work a hard, pumpy route, I’m initially unable to recover well at rests, but as I work the route, usually a week or two into it, I start to gain the ability to recover. This is a consequence of both the endurance training, and familiarity with the route. The lesson is, early on in your project, you need to “believe” that you will get recovery by the time you’re ready to send.
At the rest, I focused really hard on my breathing, and remembering the key points of beta for the crux. “hips in for the pinch…undercling…breath…twist hips for the match…drive your toes into the crappy smears“. I launched into the crux and could hear Shaun coaching me:
“Breathe Mike…you gotta want it…try hard!” It was the perfect advice.
I sailed through the first technical moves…a gaston, a slippery pinch, another gaston, undercling, gaston. A long right hand cross through to an edge, then match and grab a pair of underclings — hugging “Africa”. Powerfully pop my feet up…get a little shake for the left hand, then set up with two underclings for the final throw. Go for it big…don’t half-@$$ it. Stuck! REMAIN CALM…work the beta, move your feet…believe in the beta. I was perched over the Africa plate, but too pumped to let go and clip. I had rehearsed this many times, but you can never rehearse the pump or excitement from nearing the send. I shook for awhile on three OK holds at the top of Africa, but with terrible feet and I stared down the draw, mentally rehearsing how I would clip…took two short breaths, and clipped as fast as I could…snap…stuck it! Back to the holds, then moved up to a good shake. The last two bolts are still hard…probably 5.12, but with the beta wired, I flowed up it with an ARC’ing mindset: breath, relax, shake, you can climb this all day long.
Moments later, I clipped the chains! My second 5.14c in the bag.
I had climbed it fast, just like I told myself I could. A total of 6 days working on it in a span of 14. I didn’t have perfect conditions, I wasn’t in perfect shape, I didn’t have two good ankles, and I didn’t send it first or second go…it was NBD! The accomplishment is special, and I’m proud of it, but the route is not special…not in that sense. It’s not too hard, too daunting, or too famous for me to climb. I can do it, and I did it.
Get ready Austria…here I come!