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Lessons I’ve Learned from Projecting 5.14

Tactics for that next-level super hard route.

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So you’ve put the work into training and building up your pyramid. Now it’s time to try a route that is a grade harder than any route you’ve ever done. How should you approach your mega project? Let these five steps be your starting point.

1. Set Imaginary Chains

Last year, speaking with Joe Kinder about his 5.15 mega-route in Rifle, Kinder Cakes, I had a revelation. He was describing how he thought working and then sending Cupcake (5.14b), the lower half of the line, was hard. He said at the time of sending it, he couldn’t even imagine having to send it over and over again to eventually tick the 5.15. Couldn’t even imagine. That resonated. At the time, I was working another Rifle line, The Crew (5.14c), and I couldn’t even imagine having the stamina to link the upper crux when I kept pumping off the middle crux. The thought of continuing onward started to mess with my head. I was nervous before getting on the wall, shaking while climbing, and then I threw some wobblers (and shoes) when I fell. So I devised to establish my own “Baby Crew,” which would end just above where I was falling, and was my 5.14b “chains.” I stopped working the upper bit and just focused on regaining confidence on the line via the abbreviated version. Something interesting happened: I felt less nervous, more relaxed, and instead of falling off in a rage, I’d fall off and think about how close I was to those imaginary chains. It was just the boost I needed to stay positive and keep at it. 

2. Mix up your strategies

When it comes to projecting, the temptation is always to go for a new highpoint. This can be a solid strategy, particularly if the crux is at the bottom of the route. But what if it’s not? Most climbers start failing at sticking points—they fall over and over at that one move, and then pull back on the wall and immediately make it through the sequence, shouting something like, “Why do I always fall here?” Instead of torturing yourself with this redundancy, go for for lowpoints. Hangdog your way up the draws to the sticking point and then try to climb continuously through it to the chains. On The Crew, for example, I spent several weeks trying to link the climb from the fifth draw to the real chains. And once I did that, I lowered my goal to the fourth draw. This will help you physically, because the sequences will still be hard, and mentally, because you’ll grow accustomed to making it through those moves rather than falling at them. I’d recommend you alternate strategies; personally, I like to go for highpoints when I’m fresh and lowpoints when I’m slightly fatigued, which simulates the pump I’d feel if I’d climbed through the lower sections.

[Want to know more about redpointing? Check out this class by Heather Weidner and Arno Ilgner]

3. Four-by-fours

You think you know a section. But do you really? Remember how much easier multiple-choice tests were compared to the fill-in-the-blank counterparts? That is the difference between recognition and recall. When it comes to projecting, even though the route is in front of you, you should know each move via recall. In other words, you should be able to know what to do when you get to a move rather than have to look around at the options. Four-by-fours are critical for getting your body and mind to remember the sequence, especially in tough spots. In addition to helping your recall, four-by-fours are excellent ways to build confidence that you can do a sequence even when tired. Personally, I try to do one four-by-four per attempt.

4. Set daily intentions

Before getting on the project, decide what your plan is, including how you’d like to execute moves that you feel unsure of. I find this particularly important if there’s a part of the route that scares me. That part where I skip two clips? Terrifying. But I tell myself I will not take; I will not hesitate; I will be confident and calm. These self-affirming statements make a world of difference when I’m stressed and pumped and might otherwise falter. Other intentions might be: I will only climb to that point and then I will lower, because I need to just focus on the bottom today. Being precise about what your needs are and then acting on them—rather than giving into fear or even excitement-based temptations—will keep the process moving along.

5. Clock in

Not every day is going to feel like apple picking in October. Some days just suck, be it because you didn’t sleep well or you trained too hard during the week or your job is hard. Whatever. To do hard hard things, you must put in the time and effort. I recommend that you acknowledge your feelings, but then clock in like you would to do a job you don’t want to do. Be there, do the work, and the rewards will come with time.

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