Deconstruction: The Redpoint Process

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Charlie hanging draws on my project at the Infirmary in Miller Fork, the Red River Gorge, Kentucky. 📸 Pablo Durana (pablodurana.com)

I make fun of Charlie for being a “planner”, but the truth is that we both are (albeit two very different types of planners). Our “Fueling Your Redpoint” clinic at the Rocktoberfest event in the Red River Gorge back in October morphed into “Learn to Lead/Beginner Climbing/Fueling Your Redpoint”, and we ended up playing it by ear to try to provide each participant with information relative to their climbing experience. Retentive freak that I am, I created an outline for the original clinic that details pretty much every aspect of our approach to redpoint climbing. The idea that the physical, mental and emotional states of a climber all zing on high frequency to make a hard redpoint happen came from Dale Goddard ages ago and it’s stuck with Charlie all these years. It’s that whole “stars aligning” thing put into more intelligent and intelligible terms. If any part of the whole person isn’t functioning well, performance is hindered.

So, when does a route become a project? As soon as you don’t onsight it. Some projects go quickly and others can take years. Either way, the process is the same, just shorter or longer. I’m guessing that the wunderkind of the climbing world are not quite so methodical, but I do know plenty of 5.14 climbers who apply this process, even if it’s an unconscious application. It can be difficult to recognize in a strong climber with the ability to process, integrate, and execute the information quickly. They may be able to skip many of the steps, but their success is still dependent upon bringing those three planes of being into harmony.

I don’t know if anyone will find it useful or interesting, but since it exists, here it is!

The Physical, Mental, and Emotional Components of Redpoint Climbing

The Physical: It is rock climbing, after all!

  • Do the work.
    • Warm up properly.
      • Climb at least two pitches that are easy enough to stay relaxed on, but can get you a little pumped.
      • Once you’re on redpoint, stick with familiar warm-up routes.
      • Make sure at least one of your warm-ups is of a similar nature as your project, i.e. a more crimpy warm-up for a crimpy project.
    • Bolt-to-bolt.
      • Use aid techniques to save energy.
        • Clipping in direct (or straight)
        • Clipping up from direct in bolt
        • Stick-clipping on-route (backed up, or climbing with stick)
        • “French clipping” (grab the dogbone, NOT the carabiner
        • Boinking
        • Walking (or climbing) the rope
      • Locate and brush holds, including feet.
        • Feel holds, experimenting with different ways to use them.
        • Consider them in the context of a possible sequence.
        • Look for sweet spots, thumb catches, finger locks, etc.
      • Take your time to find the most efficient movement, even through easier sections.
        • Look back at the terrain and visually replay moves that felt easy.
        • Remember your footholds.
        • Rehearse cruxy or tricky sections. Develop a rhythm, pay attention to your breathing. If you hold your breath, try yelling.
      • Remember, it’s ok to aid past moves you haven’t figured out yet, or lower without getting all the way to the chains. It can be a building process.
      • Identify possible rests and practice them.
      • If the terrain allows, lower a few bolts after topping out and top-rope the exit moves to dial your beta. Chances are you’ll be super pumped there on the go.
    • Observe others. Share information.
    • Learn your beta and stick with it. Decide what you’re doing and don’t deviate, but…
    • If you hit a wall after multiple attempts, revisit sticking points to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
    • Cool down on a route that’s equivalent to your warm-ups.
  • Be an athlete.
    • Head to the crag early.
    • Be prepared for weather conditions. Check the forecast and bring appropriate gear to keep yourself comfortable.
    • Eat and hydrate to fuel your body.
      • Eat a breakfast that includes protein and fat.
      • Plan ahead and bring adequate food and drink to the crag. A banana and half a slice of leftover pizza doesn’t cut it.
      • Eat and drink as soon as you lower from a climb.
      • Consume balanced macronutrient foods and drink water, tea, or coffee. Nacho chips, gummy bears, and sugary energy drinks are delicious, but for most people they’ll result in a glucose-induced crash (bonking).
    • Rest between attempts. The length of your rest and number of attempts in a day should correspond to the nature and length of your project.
      • Short, powerful routes usually call for shorter rests (≈30 min-1 hour).
      • Longer, more endurance-oriented routes require longer rests (≈45 min-1.5 hours).
      • Between goes, keep your body warm and dry.
      • When you’re climbing at your limit, less can be more. Leave a little in the tank at the end of the day to help speed up recovery. There’s no prize for more pitches.
    • Sleep for sending. Save the party for after.
    • Establish a schedule. Rest days should equal or exceed climbing days.
    • Incorporate multiple-day rests if you hit a wall and cease to progress.
    • Active rest on days off is ok, but don’t overdo. Yoga, light opposition training, and easy hiking are good options.

The Mental: Clarity of mind clears the way to the chains

  • Choose projects that inspire you.
    • Whether it’s because they exploit your strengths , or address your weaknesses, challenges are always more rewarding than cakewalks.
    • Fall in love with movement, particular holds, or the overall aesthetic appeal of a line.
    • Don’t allow a grade to guide your expectations. Grades can be sand-bagged, inconsistent or just plain irrelevant.
  • Harness your attention.
    • Focus on one or two routes maximum and get them done before moving on to something else.
  • Be realistic about where you are in the process.
    • Decide whether you’re actually on redpoint. If you’re falling in two or more places, you probably still have work to do.
    • Consider overlapping and/or low-pointing to build the confidence to climb through sections where your brain tells you to stop because it’s hard or you’re pumped.
    • Stick with the plan, but if you feel great on a high-point burn, high-point at the chains!
  • Be confident in your methods and abilities.
    • Don’t be squeamish about stick-clipping the first or even second bolt. Holds break, feet slip…things happen. Sport climbing isn’t about fear, it’s about climbing.
    • Do your partner checks so you’re not questioning your knot as you enter the crux.
    • Don’t pass up rests or specific techniques because someone else refuses to use them.
    • Resolve to overcome the intimidation that can surface later in the game. Visualize success.
    • You’ve done the work. You know what to do.
  • Turn your focus inward.
    • Focus on your breathing to shut out distractions (internal and external).
    • Your breath is your tool for managing pump and lowering your heart rate.
  • Let go of the outcome.
    • Break the route down into pitches. Climb from rest to rest.
    • Take each move as it comes. Resist the urge to celebrate before you clip the chains. Stay focused to the finish.
    • Be patient. You’ll send when you’re ready.

The Emotional: The Happiness Factor

  • Separate yourself from negative energy.
    • Climb with partners who raise you up, and try to do the same for them.
    • Stay out of the “spray.” Ignore or avoid people who bring you down.
  • Learn to navigate crowds so the bummer of waiting in line instead becomes a group send effort.
    • Communicate with others who are trying the same route or routes that share anchors, bolts, or holds.
    • Be assertive about establishing your place in the queue. Your effort is worth just as much as anyone else’s.
    • Redpoints should have the right-of-way.
  • Live as stress-free a life as possible.
    • Everyday stress is seditious. It can have more of an affect than we realize.
    • There are fewer things you “need” to do than you think!
    • If climbing is something you love, rank it appropriately in your priorities.
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