How Much Fluids Per Day For 14 Year Old Boy Rock Climbing History – The Story of Climbing Improvement

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Rock Climbing History – The Story of Climbing Improvement

Maybe you’re not interested in a climbing history lesson; you might simply think, “I just want to get better!” But the great thing about history is this: every mistake has been made before, not just once, but over and over again. So it makes sense to learn from what didn’t work and what has worked for other climbers.

Climbers have always wanted to improve. In the late 1950s/early 1960s, John Gill was light years ahead of his contemporaries. However, Gill was a solitary visionary. This is not meant to imply any disrespect; far. But his methods did not reach a wider audience. He felt that gymnastic prowess could translate into dramatically improved rock climbing performance. In 1967, in Ireland, a 14-year-old boy (me!) pondered the same argument. Of course, I had never heard of Gill. People thought he was crazy; people thought he was crazy. (Maybe we both were!) He trained himself in specific problems and travails. I trained in specific problems and it crosses, of all places, the walls of a disused rural house. It was out of bounds but within sight of my boarding school. If they had seen me, they would have kicked me out. Added spices!

By the late 1960s/early 1970s the rock climbing standard had risen to 5.11 in the US and the then HXS (roughly E3) in the UK. Although the climbers did some bouldering, they weren’t really training in the modern sense. But then came a breakthrough. In the UK, the charismatic John Syrett went from beginner status to terrifyingly good in about a year, climbing almost exclusively on a 4m high wall at Leeds University, prime by modern standards. Brick borders, polished dams, no mats and an unforgiving landing. At the Leeds wall, there was always the unsettling feeling of being able to crack your head open. People were rumored to have some.

But it worked. John made the second ascent of the infamous ‘Wall of Horrors’ at Almscliffe. E3/5.11 sounds pretty tame doesn’t it? Well, John did it with a protection that would seem laughable to us now, and believe me, that wall was surrounded by reputation. He had waited 10 years to repeat himself, and not for lack of suitors.

John was a climbing genius, sporadic but a genius at best. His incredible breakthrough was noticed by a guy named Pete Livesey, who wasn’t a climbing genius, but was probably a genius at picking up anything that worked. Pete had been a national level athlete, running a mile in 4 minutes 1 second, tantalizingly just outside the magic barrier. He had been an elite whitewater canoeist and a top caver. But he had always been prevented from being the best by a lack of natural ability. With rock climbing, he realized that the athletic curve wasn’t that high; training (even without natural ability) could push it much higher.

Pete pushed hard – from E3 to E5 ie 5.11 to 5.12. Doesn’t that sound impressive? Well, consider this: Pete could climb British 6b with or without protection. To him, 5.12, 5.12 R and 5.12X were pretty much the same. Goof!

After Pete came his protégé, Ron Fawcett, and, after him, Jerry Moffatt and Ben Moon. Jerry started training hard and got seriously injured from over training/improper training (a lesson for us all). So did his partner, Andy Pollitt, who did Australia’s hardest climb, ‘Punks in the Gym’, 5.14a. , after many (20?) days.

Probably the next big breakthrough was made by the underrated Mark Leach, with his 46 day siege on ‘Cry Freedom’, one of the first F8b+/5.14a routes in the UK. (It is now believed to be F8c/5.14b.) Leach trained for his projects on them, as Chris Sharma seems to be doing today. Interestingly, towards the end of his career, Leach came to the conclusion that it might be better (and more time efficient) to train for projects far away from the projects, usually on climbing walls / basements / boards. People started creating specific route/cross simulations and found it motivating to run routes knowing they had done much harder (but similar) moves in training. This “climb hard, train even harder” approach was taken to its logical extension by the late Wulfgang Gullich in the campus board movements he developed specifically for the first ascent of “Action Direte”, the first F9a , 5.14d of the world.

This is a short (however short!) story of climbing improvement. You may not want to upgrade to 5.14 – or 5.13 – or even 5.12. But the lessons are clear for all of us. Climbing training has increased the limits from 5.10 to 5.15. Climbing training can be on or off projects, or, probably best, a combination. And, perhaps most importantly, it is essential not to injure yourself through improper training or overtraining. As Gullich said, “Anyone can get strong. The trick is to get strong and not get injured!”

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