I have a project at a crag that has only hard (for me) routes. All the routes have low cruxes, right off the ground, as well as hard, tweaky climbing throughout. How do I warm up at a place with no warm-ups? —Jeff Jackson, Basalt, CO
This is a great question as it’s just the sort of thing they forget to tell you in the how-to books. Properly warming up is the biggest determinant of how well you will climb that day. When you simply can’t do the good old pyramid-style build-up of three routes in ascending grade order, do a pulse raiser such as a jog-on-the-spot or jump rope for five minutes. Next do some mobility exercises such as shoulder circles and finger clenches. Then, if the crag lends itself, some pull-ups with feet for assistance on a few jugs at the base and some hangs on the least tweaky holds. Next up, and again if the crag lends itself, some low-level traversing, but it sounds like in this case the crag is pretty tough. In which case keep your pump on and simply walk along the base while you traverse with your hands on the holds. If the cliff is overhanging you will be able to recruit the relevant muscles and tendons in a controlled way without tweaking them. (This is also a useful tip for warming up on a steep and difficult woody.) If traversing of any kind simply isn’t possible, then get on the least tweaky route. At Rodellar I was once forced to abandon a 5.10 with a mono move and switch to a neighboring 5.11a that had kinder holds. Grab draws, and if the route is way beyond the level of your usual first route, then ask your belayer to take. This way the sequence becomes more like a bouldering warm-up than a traditional-routes warm-up, and hence can work almost as well. You should also stretch your forearms while hanging on the rope. If the terrain is really fierce, simply pull on the draws instead of the worst holds. Forget how this might look to others. You’ll be the one smiling when you send your project. The next step is to incorporate some sort of warm-up pump, but you can probably do this on your project by doing links. It’s always the first part that will be trickiest at a tough crag. The thing that we love and hate about climbing is that you can’t always simulate the gym environment at the crag, but with a little shrewdness you will be able to get yourself in gear without anything going twang.