“Climbing outside doesn’t necessarily have to be completely separate to training. But if your goal is steep Spanish sport routes and you spend all your time on trad slabs there is unlikely to be much crossover.”
In August of this year I climbed Bat Route (8c/14b) at Malham Cove, having climbed indoors just a single time in the preceding nine months. I know, I know, hardly a pity case! But a nomadic life—like the one I led for much of the past year—climbing outside and moving around all the time does not necessarily lend itself to climbing harder routes and personal progression up the grade scale.
Yet, since so many climbers do lead a geographically-fluid existence at some point or another, while still harboring that burning desire to get stronger, it’s worth considering how the former can be used to achieve the latter. So let’s consider a couple of the hallmarks of the full-time, outdoor climbing lifestyle and how—when combined with intention and purpose—they can help you end your year with a Bat Route of your own.
Capitalize on the Freedom of Travel
In moving around, you can complete a huge variety of different movement types on loads of different crags. You have the opportunity to stand on thousands of footholds, balance and slip into many different sequences and sample a wide variety of rock types. Take advantage! Don’t just find you’re favorite crag and climb a thousand and ones routes that all cater to your same strengths.
For technical development, there is nothing quite as beneficial as the freedom of movement a nomadic lifestyle allows. I’ve met many climbers who have come back from extended trips technically much more adept than when they departed.
Not only are you exposed to different technical stressors, but you’ll be psychologically stretched, too. Fighting up a technical limestone face in Ceuse, France is quite different from slugging up a fierce sandstone splitter crack in Indian Creek, Utah. Small differences in the muscle groups used and the energy systems contributing to performance mean that competency on both will make you a more versatile climber.
Consider Your Pre-Trip History
Before you had the option to hit the road, what were you doing? Along with goals for your extended trip it’s important to think about your current form, as this will affect what you do on your trip. What are you lacking, if anything? Should the climbing at the start of your trip be a bit more considered, with an end goal in mind? Or should you jump straight in at the deep end?
The approach will be different depending on your personal situation and goals, but the basics are the same. For example, let’s consider the scenario where you’re heading out on a big-wall trip, but you’ve been unable to climb much at all—outside or inside—before shipping out. Clearly, you’ll be rested—always good before starting up a wall! —but you won’t be in top-top physical shape.
I asked Tom Randall, what he might do in this scenario. Randall suggested logging some mileage before hopping straight on the wall. “You may want to start your trip with some bouldering,” he says, “and then do some sport climbing where you aim to both redpoint and onsight. Then converting your sport fitness to trad-specific fitness would be good. Finally, the big wall awaits!”
Similarly, if you’re gearing up for a big sport climbing trip to Spain, but have been climbing slabs in the gym for the past few months, it’s probably time to focus on building some power!
All systems go…
Now let’s consider the scenario whereby not only are you heading out on a trip of a life time, but you were are also fortunate enough to complete a solid base of training in the run up.
Ella Russell feels she performs way better on trips if a consistent and detailed training plan has been followed beforehand, complimented by time on the rock to maintain familiarity.
Russell explained, “In my experience it’s worthwhile getting on any redpoint/boulder projects you’re keen for relatively early on in the trip whilst you’re fresh from a taper and still strong from your training. If I’m sport climbing on long routes during a trip I tend to find that my strength gains from training will gradually decline, so it makes sense to capitalize on the training adaptations by getting to work on hard redpoints and boulder projects at the beginning of the trip.”
So what might this look like in practice? Let’s look at my nomadic year, mentioned earlier.
I began the year with time spent bouldering indoors (before the nine months I told you about!). I’ve never been naturally strong and this was therefore a good time to work at addressing my base strength. I knew that if done correctly this would stay with me for a long time during my travels.
I started my trip in the Grampians and Tasmania, with sport and trad ambitions and laughable endurance. I completed lots of mileage and was quickly able to transfer the strength I’d cultivated to longer routes.
I then headed to China, feeling very fit. I capitalized on this by climbing long flowy limestone faces and battling up sandstone cracks. I felt like I was only getting fitter.
When I returned to the UK I struggled to hold my own against the “ratty” crimps UK limestone is famous for. Bat Route felt hard. But I was confident in my ability and went about re-recruiting finger strength. I again concentrated on bouldering and working back up through the grades.
When it came to trying Bat Route again it felt totally normal to be on the rock trying hard. None of the movement or physical stress felt unusual thanks to nine months of well-considered time on the rock.
Oli Grounsell is a relatively recent addition to the Lattice Team but is rapidly becoming an extremely proficient coach. He’s been known to dabble on the rock with ascents up to E9 , 8c+ and V13.