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The Hard Way, Easier: How to Cope with Redpoint Nerves

Redpointing is one of the most stressful head games in climbing, imbuing in each of us the demoralizing and spirit-crushing notion that we may never send our project. Who would have thought there would be so many demons lurking below the surface of this common and seemingly innocuous procedure?

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This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 230 (November 2015).


Redpointing is one of the most stressful head games in climbing, imbuing
in each of us the demoralizing and spirit-crushing notion that we may never send our project. Many climbers are shocked the first time they take the
deep dive and attempt to send sport routes that are hard for them. Who would have thought there would be so many demons lurking below the surface of
this common and seemingly innocuous procedure?

1. You’re in it because it’s hard

The route is supposed to feel difficult. That is the whole point. But with this difficulty comes an inevitable host of fears and doubts. Remember that the route is teaching you more about climbing and how you respond to stress precisely because it’s so difficult—don’t wish for it to be otherwise.

2. It’s worth the sacrifice

Consider that you’ve done many routes at your current grade: Maybe they don’t mean so much anymore. It’s worth spending as long as it takes to claim a trophy you’ll value for the rest of your life. If you don’t feel this way, it’s the wrong time for a redpoint project.

3. Play the long game

Don’t set a time limit, or if you do, make an initial estimate and double or triple it. It’s always better to be ahead of schedule. Tell yourself that
you don’t care if you’re still trying the same route in a year, even if it may only take another month.

4. It’s better than being indoors.

No matter how much you may begin longing for a change of scene, it’s still better to be outdoors on a crag in the fresh air with your friends than
stuck at the gym pulling on plastic. When the winter comes, you’ll long to be in the situation you’re in now, so don’t spoil it by going on a downer!
Similarly, when you’re back at the office next week you would kick yourself if you had marred a precious day at the crag with pointless self- induced
stress. It’s supposed to be fun, so enjoy it!

5. Process, not results

The tenet has become a cliché now, but for a reason. The redpointing greats such as Chris Sharma are really in it for the journey rather than the
destination. By focusing on the quality of execution and not the outcome, you will feel way less stressed, which ironically means that you are more likely to send.

6. The difference between success and failure is a knife edge

The mind plays tricks in these situations. After you have logged many tries, the negative factors and thoughts may grow while positives shrink. But
remember that previous time when the route felt a million miles away, and you did it the next go? This one will be no different. Just be patient, and keep throwing your hat in the ring.

7. Don’t wish it away

Again, that would be missing the point. In years to come you’ll look back on this as one of the most special and memorable periods of your climbing,
so don’t wish for it to end! The route will teach you something new every day. Reflect upon that after each session, and be thankful for the knowledge.

8. Set achievable linking targets and go top down

Don’t try the route from the bottom each time you’re linking sections or you may learn to fail rather than succeed. Theoretically, you never need to
“fail” if you go from, say, the eighth clip to the top, then from the sixth clip and so on. By setting realistic and attainable linking targets, you will consistently go home feeling like a winner and will learn the nuances of how to climb through the top section in a fatigued state.

9. Delay the redpoint

Sure, you’ll be twitching to go for the send as soon as possible, but if you are susceptible to stress, restrain yourself until you’ve got a decent
chance. Redpoint nerves are most commonly caused by going for the send too early. While it would be a bore to do the route on a toprope first or from
the second bolt to the top, you should at least have gone from fairly low down to the top before going for the send. Put simply, the more days spent working the route and the less days spent trying to do it, the better!

10. Take the pressure out of each go

Your first redpoint attempt is just a warm-up or a recon to see how you feel. Your second redpoint try isn’t necessarily “do or die” because, hey,
you’ve sent routes on your third redpoint before. Your third redpoint burn is just a “training go” because you’re tired now. Say whatever it takes
to trick yourself into believing that it’s not all about this particular attempt. Tell yourself to have fun. Smile.


Neil Gresham has been training and coaching for two decades. In 2001, he made the second ascent of Equilibrium (E10 7a/5.14X) on Peak District gritstone, and last year established Freakshow (8c/5.14b) at Kilnsey, also in the U.K. On October 13, 2016 he made the first ascent of Sabotage—an 8c+ (5.14c) extension to Predator (8b/5.13d) at Malham Cave, North Yorkshire, England. Sabotage is Gresham’s first climb of the grade.