Ceuse 2012 - route fitness in climbing

Edit 5th August: got my description backwards in third paragraph to describe route. Said it was meant to be 'soft' when should have said 'undergraded'. Fixed.....




If you don’t climb regularly, you get unfit. If you do climb regularly, with the right mindset, focus, dedication (not to mention training for the situation you'll be climbing in), you gain fitness. This is the unfittest I’ve ever been. I used to always tell people that you could gain fitness while on a trip. that is a load of rubbish, I’m so sorry if I ever said it to you! What you should do is prepare just like any other sport, then get out here and only have to adapt (quickly as you have the climbing mileage under you belt in recent weeks/months) to the style of rock, conditions, etc.

In previous years, I used to watch people trying Berlin, Galaxy, Makech, etc (7c-7c+) and here them talking about the pump. I never really thought it, but assumed it was what I experienced. How wrong I was, this is the first year that I actually get pumped and can’t recover! It sucks so much, falling from lack of fitness/power so I’m not going to let it happen again if I can manage it!

This brings me about to a highlight that at the time I barely gave any credit to. About 3 years ago, in Ceuse, one day it all felt right. I was asked if I wanted to warm up, but I knew that this was now a level that I didn’t need to do so for. Putting the quickdraws in, I onsighted the ultra-classic route Blocage Violent. It doesn't matter about the grade (although you can find out easily if you want to) but what I didn't appreciate was that I did it as a warm-up, placing the quickdraws and without even getting a mild pump on. Having said that, it's still a stunning climb and I enjoyed every move on it. At the time, I just thought it was easy, and couldn't understand it's reputation - most people regard it's current 'grade' as sandbagged/incorrect but I thought it was the opposite! As a benchmark, I went up the route again this year, and it was an epic - I mean it felt nails, and there was no way I was repeating even a one-go ascent of it! I couldn't believe it, but it was an eye opener to what I had learned to do in previous years.

This was a huge positive to realize (and while there was other times on this trip that I was massively disappointed in personal performance, all of this was a massive positive), what is fantastic from this year’s experience is that the climbing (call it training if you want - I prefer to call it preparation for rock) that I did for years is right. It works, makes you fit to the point that you can recover on any hold even when pumped stupid. I'll repeat this again, I rarely fell off routes from lack of fitness. The short gist of it is that it occurred through two different methods (there was definitely 2-3 years where I was at this capacity and comfortable).
The other part of this, is that this is applicable to all high-end climbing (I'll let you decide what those three last words mean to you!) - I hope that this is useful in others taking it and pushing through to higher and higher onsights in the future!


(note: this is to do with route climbing - sport or trad, I'm not discussing bouldering):
Option 1 (probably the hardest as it takes serious self motivation): the first time was through climbing at UCD. No, you don't need an amazing wall (but it helps if you do, more on this later). Using figure of eight laps on the bouldering wall (repeated 10 times every three minutes - two sessions per week), and big endurance laps (30 minutes of non-stop traversing back and forth on the overhanging top-roping area, repeated three times - twice per week), and some fingerboarding to keep finger strength topped up.
Option 2 (tricky living in Ireland due to the weather!): regular climbing on routes. This was the year of the Blocage ascent. I climbed in inconsistent blocks this year, as I was traveling. Using a set of Metolius Rock Rings, again to keep strength topped up, and getting on routes when I could, followed by massive rests (of 2-3 weeks) of no climbing somehow worked to keep fitness topped up
Option 3 (easiest): while I lived in Sheffield. Every Tuesday and Thursday at the wall doing routes, with weekend sessions of bouldering or routes or whatever. Weekday sessions were: 2 warm-up routes (4 letter grades below onsight level), one route one-letter-grade below onsight level, two routes (one half a letter grade above onsight, the other two letter grades - you're obviously trying to onsight the former, most likely working the second!), finished off with two routes (one letter grade below onsight). And yes, a certain new wall in Dublin might help here........ How well did it work? I was onsighting in the high 7's comfortably.............


The important part of all the above is that you need to be smart about what you're doing, think about your final outcome/destination and use that as motivation to prepare. Have fun!


If anyone wants notes/advice/info, email me, I’m happy to share the notes. 


Neal McQuaidComment