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From first-timers to elite climbers, we can all always find new ways to push our limits and improve. After climbing for 15 years, veterinarian turned pro climber Heather Weidner, the instructor for Climbing Magazine’s Intro to Sport Climbing course, constantly strives to push her boundaries.
I couldn’t tear myself away from my Stockboy. Everyone was telling me that our relationship, in July in Rifle, was (literally) too heated. But I was obsessed. And just when he’d rejected me again for the umpteenth time, he was mine. I stripped off my kneepads below Stockboy’s Revenge in disbelief at having sent. As I learned after doing my first 5.14b, redpointing is all about the process.
Redpoint Building Blocks
Before you start putting in burns, lay some groundwork.
Pick Your Battles
To begin, choose your project wisely. You may want to go “project shopping,” dogging up a few routes of the same grade to see which one suits you best or is most appealing. If you’re a wizard on your feet, pick a technical granite slab. If kneebars are your bag, choose a steep, blocky limestone cave route. A good rule of thumb is to project a full number grade above your hardest onsight.
Figuring out the moves takes patience from both climber and belayer. Don’t rush the process, and be honest with your belayer about how long it might take—checking out the holds, trying individual moves, and sussing sequences can take an hour or longer.
On your first few goes, it can be tempting to focus on just the crux—with the idea that if you can do these moves, you can do the route—but maintain a view of the whole climb. It could take multiple attempts or days to unlock a crux sequence, so there’s no point in stalling. On the flip side, you may surprise yourself by unlocking a crux on the go, and you don’t want to be onsighting above there—what if you miss that hidden hold?
When lowering, repeat sequences on toprope. I’ll also make sure the draws are hung optimally, extending them for reachy clips, using alpine draws to mitigate rope drag, facing the rope-side-biner gates away from the direction of travel, and so on. Toproping puts less stress on the belayer and helps you learn the route. As another courtesy, when resting, clip in direct to the bolt so your belayer can unweight his harness.
Efficiency defines redpointing—now is the time to refine, refine, and refine some more. Despite what some ethics police say, there is no shame in “dumbing” a route down. Getting efficient and building muscle memory are key parts of the process.
Popular climbs often have “standard beta,” but this might not work for you. On Simply Read, a 5.13d in Rifle, the standard crux beta involved a high right dropknee and huge reach. I tried this beta many times but failed. Instead, I used an unchalked, closer-in crimp and a right knee scum, and it worked. Be patient and experiment with different movement. Like my friend, the philosopher and projecting sensei Bill Ramsey, says, “Rock climbs have many secrets.”
Keep things fresh with mini-projects: “Mini”-projects will help you keep the psyche up when you’re reaching “epic battle” status on the main project. Typically, with mini-projects, I’ll choose routes I can redpoint in two to five tries. It’s nice to have an attainable climbing goal on which you can simply enjoy moving over stone as well as boost morale.
Gunning for the Send
Research completed, it’s time to put in burns—and to deal with the emotional highs and lows.
Do the Work
With a mega project, I stay psyched by making and then achieving mini-goals. Thinking about linking all the moves can be overwhelming, so break the climb down into sections. Maybe you want to three-hang the route or just focus on getting through the crux off the hang. So try linkage.
- Overlapping Linkage: If you’re making big links but falling at the same move, lower a few moves below this sticking point, then climb from there to the top. This builds confidence and fitness.
- Lowpointing: Lowpointing means starting at your lowest possible point and climbing to the chains without falling. It’s an invaluable technique for routes with an upper crux or that are power-endurancey—it lets you learn what certain moves will feel like when you are pumped. As you grow stronger, your low point should get lower and lower—until eventually it’s the ground!
- Beta Maps: To help memorize your beta, write it down on paper. Use abbreviations like “RH” for right hand to make this process less cumbersome and/or use schematic drawings. Bring the beta map on the climb with you and bust it out when you’re hanging for a quick refresher.
- Visualization: Visualize the moves to remember exactly what to do. Before I shoe up, I step back, look at each hold, and pantomime the beta—this is a great way to “get in the zone.” On rest days and just before falling asleep, I’ll close my eyes and focus on the moves, including foot beta. Your mind will want to wander, but keep bringing your attention back to your intention, as in meditation.
- Accept Failure: If you’re falling repeatedly in the same spot, it might not just be that you’re weak—the body is often more willing than the brain. So, are you willing to face failure? Instead of focusing on the send—or end goal—focus on the task at hand. When your mind starts chattering about how you’re not strong enough or you’re a loser, etc., redirect to constructive curiosity like, “Why did I fall? Can I do anything different? Was I breathing properly? Can I rest more efficiently?” Let your motivation come from the process of learning.
- Take a Step Back: If you’ve exhausted these tips but are still failing, it’s time for a break. Take what you’ve learned from the crag and re-create the crux in the gym. Train specifically for the movement, strengthen the body, and return to the project once your head has cleared.
The Love Triangle
Relationships are complicated—it’s not just about you and the rock. Remember that conditions, a new belayer, that tough clip with the flipped carabiner, or other seemingly minor factors all affect your performance. Stack the odds in your favor by trying the route at the optimal time of day for cool, dry conditions, priming your belayer to be ready for tough clips and cruxes, and using the lightest gear possible. For example, on Whammo Extension (5.13b) at Mt. Potosi, Nevada, after the last rest I’d drop my chalkbag to cut weight—I couldn’t chalk up during the final power-endurance punch anyway.
Finally, keep a single pair of high-performance, lightly broken-in shoes for the project only—no gym climbing, no warm-ups. Keeping your pair consistent for redpoint burns will eliminate subtle variances in foot placements. You want your thoughts off your feet so you can think on them.
Redpointing Trad Climbs
There are nuances to redpointing trad—vs. sport—climbs.
- Make gear placements part of your beta. I make small chalk dots where my cams go, and use little lines on the left or right side of a crack for my hands.
- Experiment with gear. Use the best gear available, though realize that sometimes your hands will be in the way of ideal placements, or vice versa. In this case, place a couple pieces: You want to be confident in your gear so you can focus on the movement.
- Rehearse placing the gear. I toprope-rehearsed placements on China Doll, a 5.14a R in Dream Canyon, Colorado. I also wrote down the gear beta along with the hand and foot moves, and noted which side of the harness each piece went on for easiest placement. Again, less effort placing gear means more energy for climbing.
- Test your gear: On China Doll, during toprope rehearsal, I never did weight the first few small offset cams. But on my first lead attempt, I slipped off the opening 5.13 crux and ripped two of them, taking an upside-down fall. The lesson: There’s no shame in bounce-testing gear on toprope. With a snug TR, attach a sling or aider to the piece in question and step into the loop with one foot, bouncing on it.
Want to test your limits on a rope? Learn to sport climb with pro climber Heather Weidner in Climbing Magazine’s Intro to Sport Climbing online course.