Spring Cleaning for Climbers: Out with the Bad Habits, in with the Good
For most climbers, spring is the time of year when your stoke begins to bud. You’ve been climbing indoors through the cold, dark months—or doing other desperate things like trying to not tear your ACL on the ski slopes while you wait for the snow to melt—and now you’re ready to crank on some rock.
Over time, I noticed that I was falling into some of the same patterns and make some of the same mistakes year after year. Sometimes I wonder if I’m actually improving as a climber, or if it’s all just a big lie that I tell myself to be happy. Once I began to recognize some of my patterns and habits, both the good ones and the bad ones, that awareness allowed me to reevaluate and tweak my approach to climbing and give me the tools I needed to become better, smarter and more efficient with my time.
Here are some ideas to help you evaluate your own climbing, make improvements and, more than anything, get stoked to crush and make this the best season, and year, of your climbing life.
Review Last Year’s Successes and Failures
The only time I really spend training indoors is during the winter. The rest of the year, I climb outside on real rock. Over time, I’ve noticed that I feel really strong and fit in the spring, then start to lag in the summer, then maybe I manage to pull it together and achieve a hard redpoint or two in the fall.
Ideally, I would like to have a great fall season, and climb as well and as strong as I do in the spring. Because I began to recognize this recurring pattern in my climbing, I used that awareness to make changes. Instead of following the same old routine in the summer, losing power by climbing the same endurance routes over and over again, I decided to mix it up and incorporate more bouldering into my climbing schedule. I made plans to visit high-alpine bouldering areas in the summer to try to gain that power I was otherwise losing. I marked it on my calendar: “June, July, August: Bouldering, Campusing, Hangboarding.” That fall, I felt stronger than ever and finished the season strong.
Everyone will be different, and everyone will have different goals. But the point is to analyze the times you were feeling fit, the times you weren’t, and think about why. Match your training, preparation, and goal-setting with the objective you want to accomplish most.
Goals can be broken down into three types: short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. In the first few years of my climbing, I needed two pages to write down all my long-term goals, which ranged from free-climbing El Cap to redpointing a 5.14 (even though I could barely climb 5.12a) to doing the Cassin Ridge on Denali! That would be quite a year for anyone, let alone a gumby like myself with three whole years of climbing under my belt.
I think it’s great to dream big, but if you want to use goal-setting effectively and efficiently, I now know that all goal-setting should be contained to a period of a single year. You should have only one big goal per year, and that should be your long-term goal: the one thing that you want to accomplish this year. If you achieve it early, set a new long-term goal. But either way, it’s only effective to chase one dream at a time.
So sit down and think about that one major thing you’d like to do. Write it down. This is your long-term goal.
Mid-term goals are the major steps/points/milestones you need to reach to get to that one goal. For example, if you want to climb 30 pitches on El Cap in a day, a good mid-term goal would be “climb 30 pitches at my home crag in a day.”
If your long-term goal is “do a trad lead climb,” then a couple good mid-term goals would be “read a how-to book about placing gear” and “mock-lead a trad climb on top rope.”
Short-term goals are all the daily/weekly things you do that will help you reach that first mid-term milestone. They could be as simple as drinking less, reading the first chapter of that how-to book, or spending five minutes a day thinking about that big long-term goal and renewing your psyche to reach it.
Write all of these steps down, then edit and refine them so that they aren’t overly ambitious, they all clearly describe the actions to take at each juncture, and they’re all extremely specific. For example, “get stronger” isn’t a goal, but “hangboard 20 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday” is a clear, specific, descriptive, useful action attached to a goal.
Do Something Different
As you plan out your season and climbing year, think outside of the box and make at least one or two specific plans to do or try something you’ve never done before. Try ice climbing. Visit a new crag. Climb with a new partner.
Climbing is a big, wide world. It’d be a shame if you didn’t get out and experience it all.
Check Your Gear
My garage is filled with bin upon bin of old carabiners, ropes, harnesses, cams, nuts, pitons, ice screws, shoes, chalk bags, and helmets. Some of this gear is still good. Some of it is utterly unsafe garbage.
Though inspecting your gear is a great idea at any point in time, I like to make one big “spring-cleaning” sweep of my gear garage. I go through everything, organize it, inspect it, toss the mank, and save the goods. I have an idea of what kind of climbing I’ll be doing over the next few months, and I’ll spend a few hours arranging all my stuff in a few “ready-to-go” plastic bins that I can easily access on Friday afternoon before I head out for a weekend of cragging.
For example, I might have an “Indian Creek” bin that has cams, crack shoes, a trad harness with four gear loops, an ATC, and slings. Another bin might be my sport-climbing bin, which would have a rack of 16 quickdraws, a Grigri, a lightweight sport-climbing harness, kneepads, and a couple pairs of downturned shoes.
As I’m doing this, I check all my gear to make sure it’s still in good shape. I check to make sure the carabiners on my quickdraws aren’t sharp and worn. I inspect cams and their slings for wear, and if the cams are dirty, I might rinse the cam heads in a bucket of water and scrub out the sand with a toothbrush. I check slings for frayed spots. I check my harnesses for wear at the tie-in points and along the swami belt.
I throw away anything that looks suspicious. The last thing you need to be thinking about as you’re climbing is the safety of your gear. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be safe.
The best part of this whole process? Spending all this time with your gear allows you to start thinking, dreaming, and getting stoked for the upcoming season.