Planning a rock climbing trip is exciting — and the rigorous fitness training required is always worth the effort. But sometimes even the
more experienced climbers among us have moments where they realise their preparation is a little underdone.
Climbing has given me many wonderful things and I have let it be my compass to guide me all over the world; to the wondrous karst formations piercing the emerald waters of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, to the giddying heights of the cliff faces of the Verdon Gorge in France and to the granite massifs in the wild west of Madagascar. Climbing has given me an alternate 'reason to travel', and when I started this whole climbing trip caper thing, I never could have imagined the places I’d go.
My approach to any climbing trip is that I want to get full value from my time away. Like you would if you were going to trek the Annapurna circuit, in the lead up you’d do some walking with a weighted pack and wear in your hiking shoes, right? As a professional climber, my climbing trips are usually entwined with a very specific climbing goal. I’m super motivated and always training but there’s nothing like having a trip on the horizon and I eagerly use that trip as a big fat carrot dangling on the end of a long stick to my full advantage. In this way, I have a reason to turn up to the gym when I’m feeling tired, it’s the reason I complete my full workout, not 80 per cent of it, it’s the reason why I push harder. Simply, that carrot is the only thing that keeps my motivation high and my excuses nil. I may be working, “in the now”, but I’m dreaming of, “what may be” in the future – the trip.
My physical preparation is quite specific, its methodical and its matched to the area I’m going to visit. For example, my last trip was to Smith Rock in Oregon, it’s the birthplace of modern sport climbing in the USA. A little research shows that the rock is predominately volcanic tuff and the cliff faces are vertical, or slabs, as we climbers call them. This area influences a very technical style of climbing because one wrong move and you’re off. Imagine being a fly, suction cupping its way up a window pane, now imagine the precision and strength a climber needs to be able to scale a vertical rock face having only tiny features to hold on to. Keeping that image in mind I set out to become that fly, part of my training was to do mileage on vertical slabs, to get used to trusting my feet and improving my finger (contact) strength. As much as I wanted to, there was no point me training like a monkey doing laps on the overhanging walls at the gym when realistically I was soon going to become that fly.
My training consisted of two strength and conditioning sessions (per week), one climbing session outdoors on rock (for the fun of it), and two 1km swim sessions for active recovery. My climbing specific training included three gym sessions per week, two of which were boulder sessions (training like a monkey; not idea) but chased down with a “Moon Board” session of 10 problems max, to ensure my finger strength was getting fully worked. I figured any more than that and I’d do a finger injury before I left. I continued this for six weeks and then tapered off a week out.
Finally, to Smith Rock, it’s simply stunning, it’s more beautiful than I imagined, even after having seen all the pictures. To get there, you pass residential blocks only a few rows deep off the highway, then its farmlands, green pastures, white fences and so many horses that even Coco (my daughter) lost count. Beyond that its mainly arid desert stretching to the far horizon until it eventually bumps into snow-capped mountains. Then, out of nowhere Kapow! A series of tortured teeth lancing the earth and making for the sky, glorious! In terms of the climbing its halfway between what I expected and what I didn't. Yes, the cliff faces were vertical and the rock was coarse but the climbing routes stayed in the sun for most of the day, which was a big problem because climbing in the sun quickly wears down finger skin and reduces friction. And, you may ask: how did it pan out? We all had an amazing adventure, Simon (my husband) got his photos, Coco and I got our climbing miles done but also, unfortunately, I was sidelined for far too many days, more than I’d like to count, because of one simple thing – lack of skin on the fingers.
Not every time do I get the preparation spot on, but I try to learn from my mistakes. The long and short of it was that I simply didn’t do the miles 'on rock' beforehand to get my finger skin 'in condition'. Despite all my training it still took about two weeks of climbing on rock before my fingertips felt toughened enough to enable me to really hold onto the sharp tiny handholds and fully utilise my strength. If only the trip had been two weeks longer. I learnt, I had fun, and that big fat carrot is already dangling there for my next grand adventure!
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The full feature appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Outdoor Magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest outdoor adventure, travel news and inspiration.