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8 Pointers for Slaying Stubborn Projects

Learn how to tip the scales in your favor!

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The fun part of a project is when you first jump on it and bust out all the moves, or, better still, when you link sections and tell yourself it’s going well. But what about when you’re several weeks in and progress slows or grinds to a halt? Or you start losing ground? Let’s not even go there!

It is popular to debate which aspects of climbing performance—strength, technique, endurance, mental game—are the most important for the redpoint, but how exactly do you succeed in the face of adversity? Let’s take a look.

1) Pull out the magnifying glass

Lower down the route, and have a fresh look at everything. Feel every hold, and inspect each one from different angles. Try gripping each hold in a different place or changing your gripping method; for example, dragging (aka: “hanging” or “open-handing”) instead of crimping. In particular, look for thumb catches (sneaky incut depressions near a hold that can be used with the thumb). Re-test all the resting positions. Search out kneebars, or if you have them, try to work them in better. Leave no stone unturned until you’re sure your beta is as efficient as it can be. One micro-tweak may be all it takes.

2) Seek buddy beta

It’s easy to get tunnel vision with sequences, especially if you’ve worked them out yourself without seeing others on the project. A classic game changer is to ask a pal to check out the route. It usually works best if the person is a similar height and climbs at a similar level, but any second opinion may help. Failing this, YouTube has saved the day countless times!

3) Top-down links

If you’ve only been trying the route or problem from the bottom, you may inadvertently have been teaching yourself to fail rather than succeed. Theoretically, you never need to “fail” if you go from, say, two-thirds height to the top, then from half- height and so on. By setting realistic and attainable links targets, you will generally go home feeling like you’ve made progress, and you’ll learn the nuances of how to climb successfully through the top section when you are fatigued.

4) Midweek-specific training hits

If you’re on your project on weekends, a key strategy is specificity in your midweek training sessions. There’s no point in leaping around on volumes and slapping slopers if your project is on crimps, nor should you waste time trying roofs if the project is a gently overhanging wall. Compile a simple hangboard routine that prioritizes the grips you need for the route, especially the crux section. You can also base your endurance sessions on the intensity of the route. If the route is 30 moves, train on about 30-move circuits of a similar style and angle. Alternatively, if you think you’re failing because you find the moves hard, try something slightly more powerful and intense at, say, 20 moves. If you’re failing due to lack of pure endurance, train on slightly longer sequences, more like 40 moves.

5) Change your recovery strategy

Ask yourself if you’re still feeling the effects of your midweek training sessions when you arrive at the crag to try your project. If so, make those sessions slightly shorter and less intense, or possibly increase the number of rest days. For example, instead of training for three hours, train for two, or instead of taking two days’ rest before trying your project, allow three. Experiment with some of the proven strategies for promoting recovery such as foam-roller massage sessions on rest days, or (if you want it badly enough) take cold showers after training, to promote circulation.

6) Mental tricks and cheats

Many strategies lie beneath the surface in the game of redpointing, with most centered around taking the pressure off each go. For example, tell yourself that your first redpoint is just a warm-up or a “recon” to see how you feel. Your second redpoint isn’t necessarily do-or-die because you’ve sent routes on your third or fourth redpoint before. Your final redpoint is a “training go” because you’re tired now. Say whatever it takes to trick yourself into believing it’s not all about this particular attempt.

Of course, at a broader level, the oldest and best trick in the book of redpointing is to remind yourself that the journey is just as fun and important as the destination. By focusing on the quality of execution and not the outcome, not only will you feel way less stressed but, ironically, you’re much more likely to send. Play the long game and avoid setting time limits, or if you do, please overestimate, as it’s always better to be ahead of schedule. Never want a route “out of the way” and tell yourself that it’s fine if you’re still trying the same route in a year. If you’re patient and keep throwing your hat into the ring, without heightened emotion, then the result is much more likely.

7) Try harder

Be honest with yourself. Have you tried it yet? I mean really tried? Can you find another mental gear? Perhaps you haven’t quite wanted to put everything on the line, and maybe now is the time. Margo Hayes didn’t just float up La Rambla, nor Adam Ondra and Chris Sharma La Dura Dura, nor Lynn Hill on the Nose free; they are seriously trying.

8) Try less hard

The contradiction with hard climbing is that we must exert ourselves mentally at the maximum, while trying to expend the minimal amount of physical energy. Maybe you’ve been wheel-spinning until now on your project by being too aggressive. Yes, the crux will always require maximum physical effort, but can you relax more on the easier sections? Sure you can! Be soft, and simply try to climb more gracefully and easily. I’ve saved this point until last, as it was this one that tipped the scales on the hardest new route I’ve ever climbed, Sabotage (8c+/5.14c) at Malham in the U.K. We hear so much talk of crushing but climbing really hard may be about doing the exact opposite.

Above all, remind yourself that we often feel miles away from projects when we are a mere percentage point away. It may take all 10 or only one of these tips to get you to the summit, but you might arrive with energy to spare! Perhaps it wasn’t really that bad after all, and now it’s time to get on something really hard. And so the beautiful cycle continues.

This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 258 (July 2019).