Chronic Climber Fatigue

img_3091One of the most difficult things for me to rationalize, even as an older and purportedly wiser full time climbing athlete, is the ability to recognize the fine line of separation that exists between whether I’ve climbed too much or too little. You would think with age and experience this would become easier to identify, but the truth is quite the opposite. Perhaps I’m uniquely stubborn, or just easily susceptible to prolonged denial? Perhaps…

I’m referring to my current lack of well-being after a fairly solid year and three months of consistent hard climbing. Maggie and I have been sticking closely to our Monday-Wednesday-Friday climbing schedule for most of our retirement road trip. On rest days we do some light yoga or occasional short and easy opposition workouts. I thought that I could maintain this this three climbing day per week schedule without having to take any long blocks of time off, but I couldn’t have been more delusional. I was easily seduced, having experienced success with this formula for over a year.

I’ll refer to my rundown condition as Chronic Climbing Fatigue (CCF). Okay, I just made that up, including the fancy acronym, but it seems like an adequate way to describe my present lack of climbing performance. The only real break I’ve taken over the past 15 months was a five day period in early June, when I traveled back to my home state of Michigan to attend to the passing of my father. This was actually a bit stressful, and in retrospect not a completely restful experience. Before the trip, I was feeling strong, one-hanging my old nemesis and getting good linkage on my “5.14 at age 60” goal. When I returned to Maple, it was a very different story. The heat had moved in. Moves that had felt easy were suddenly impossible.  I was overgripping, tensing up where I needed to relax, sagging where I needed to stay tight, and holding my breath. Frustration and negative conditioning blotted out my power of focus. And I couldn’t shake it.

By the time I realized my performance curve was in crash and burn mode, it was too late. To add to my confusion, I experienced random successes, despite the fact that I was chronically fatigued. This arbitrary reinforcement helped fuel my delusional state despite frequent warning signs that my physical, mental and emotional health had already been heavily compromised.

Occasionally, denial can be a powerful tool. There are also instances where repudiation can kick you in the jimmy. The past couple of months I’ve ignored the obvious symptoms of my newly proclaimed CCF infirmity and refused to rest longer than two days in a row. My poor aging body has paid the price, and the timing couldn’t be worse. The conditions in Maple Canyon are stellar and I honestly feel like someone who’s all dressed up… with no place to go.

With the power of hindsight I hope I’ll have the ability to more readily assess the signs of fatigue and make the necessary corrections as our journey continues. And maybe, by sharing what I’m going through, I can help others avoid similar mistakes. Here are a few of the common CCF symptoms I’ve experienced over the past couple of months. If you exhibit one or more of these symptoms you may be experiencing CCF as well.

  • Three or more consecutive low performance climbing days in a row
  • Constant aching or swelling in muscles, joints, connective tissues, etc.
  • Inability to close the hand into a fist even after a couple of rest days
  • Overall physical fatigue that continues for more than a couple of days, even when resting
  • Mental fatigue, accompanied by frequent irritability and loss of conceptual focus
  • Declining motivation
  • Frequent hints from partners that you might be fatigued and overdoing it
  • Blaming weather conditions, slippery shoe rubber, sliding knee pads, etc., for chronic lower performance over an extended period of time

Here’s my strategy moving forward, to help avoid CCF:

  • Schedule prolonged rest periods of 1-2 weeks, 2-3 times a year
  • Schedule rest days with as much, if not more, frequency than your climbing days
  • Actually rest on your “rest” days
  • Listen to your body when it tells you that it’s fatigued
  • Listen to your partners when they tell you that you seem fatigued
  • Reserve some energy for the end of your climbing day, i.e., leave a little gas in the tank!
  • Stay hydrated even in cooler temps and on rest days… water has always been and will continue to be the best “sports drink” for athletes
  • Fuel properly every day and at every meal by maintaining a balanced nutritional intake

If you don’t schedule extended rest periods from rock climbing and/or training throughout the year, they may be forced upon you via physical injury, loss of motivation, and possibly the dreaded CCF!

While I resign myself to rest for the time being, I’ll continue to support Maggie’s quest to finish off the route Pipedream (14a). She’s climbing strong and conditions are good for her potential success.

My hope is to get back on T-Rex (14b) as soon as my body will allow it. Realizing that our time here is short, I may be pushing it a little by taking a longer rest at this late stage in the game. I’m okay with the possibility that I may have to return next year to finish my goal of doing a 5.14 at age 60. Doing a 5.14 at age 61 actually sounds better, anyway.

We head north for Ogden on October 1st where we plan to spend a “restful” couple of days with our grand-kiddos, Kendra and Lexi. Then we’ll make our way across middle America to the Red River Gorge, arriving just in time to attend Rocktoberfest ( We’re teaching a clinic on Sunday, October 9th, sharing our tried and true strategies for redpointing routes and pushing personal limits. The Red will be our home sweet home until a) we drive back to SLC in February to fly to Kalymnos, or b) the weather tells us to move on. The sandstone is calling!



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