Nov 30, 2011

A Better Appoarch to Grading Climbs

Grading climbs appears to be a fundamentally contentious issue. However it doesn't have to be, science already has an elegant solution to this problem. Measurement Theory is a branch of science that has developed specific strategies to assign labels to real-world attributes. An introduction can be found here.

"The map is not the territory" is the most fundamental assumption. Measurements are not the same as the attribute being measured; the grade (measurement) of a climb is not the same as the difficulty (attribute) of a climb.

Given that assumption, there are 2 steps to establish a functional grading system:

1. Use comparative scaling to rank-order the difficulty of climbs.

2. Construct and assign scale values (i.e., grades) based on those rank-orderings.

The first step requires a fundamental shift in the way climbers record difficulty. Instead of arbitrarily assigning a grade to a climb, a climber would compare the difficulty of the current climb to the difficulty of other climbs the climber has completed. For example, I feel "Dragon Fly" is more difficult than "The Madien" but less difficult than "Baby Face." More subtle distinctions can be made - "Dragon Fly" feels more difficult than "Lobsterclaw" but less difficult than "Hobbit in a Bender." A climb could also be rated as the most relatively difficult. An internet database (e.g., Mountain Project,,, 27 crags ...) would be the logical place to aggregate these comparisons.

The second step uses these comparative rankings to construct scale values and assign value (i.e, grades) to the climbs. This is a technical but straight-forward process, it could be handled by anyone who has taken a basic Measurement Theory course. I'll leave the in-depth discussion of that process to a future post.

The current debate on difficulty and grades is pointless until a better connection to the ground truth is established. Above are straightfoward steps in that direction.

Nov 26, 2011

Saturday Syke

This week it is The Climbing Lab's own.

Recently, I relocated to the Mid-Atlantic region. Everyone offered their condolences,
"Sorry, there ain't much climbing around here. It ain't no __________."

So far I have been climbing great problems in great settings, as much as my fingers and other interests will allow. The problem above is just one example. It is a fun romp, 15+ moves on immaculate rock.

It reminds me of what a wise sage said once.

Nov 25, 2011

Review: "Bouldering" Book

Peter Beal's Bouldering: Movement, Tactics, and Problem Solving is an attempt to cover entire discipline of bouldering. Overall, it is a pale and bloated imitation of 9 out of 10 climbers make the same mistakes by Dave McLeod. Throughout the book Peter Beal comes off like an armchair philosopher. The book is rife with broscience, word-of-mouth knowledge passed off as fact. There is little or no supporting evidence for any statements made in the book.

Even though the book is over 200 pages long, there needs to be a more complete treatment of all the topics. Almost every line of text begs more questions than it answers. He suggests using a "trucker's hitch" to tie two pads together, thus making the approach easier. He never elaborates how to tie a trucker's hitch. A nice tutorial can be found here. The "Staying there:" sections lack practical information (i.e., facts) for a traveling climber. Here is the Bishop section: "Overnight accommodations range from The Pit, a cheap campground in an old gravel quarry on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public land, to motels in town. Will Young's guide has the specifics." It doesn't list the name of the guide, Bishop Bouldering, and Mick Ryan is also an author. Better Bishop camping information can be found here.

There are interesting guest appearances from bouldering elites, including Dave Graham. However, some of the sidebars are odd choices. There is advice from Daniel Woods about training for World Cup bouldering success. He wouldn't be my first choice because Woods has so far only limited World Cup success. Wouldn't 5-time overall champion Kilian Fischhuber have a better perspective on training for World Cup bouldering? Choosing Daniel Woods is one example of the entire book's Colorado and Boulder bias.

The book is hard to read in many places. There are lengthy written descriptions which could be better handled by short video tutorials. There are no sequence pictures which would illustrate the written points. In fact, most of the pictures are not correlated with the content of the text. They appear to serve an atheistic function, compared to a pragmatic function; however, they are not in color.

It might be an acceptable gift for a newly minted boulder who just feel in the love with climbing and is hungry for any information. Otherwise, it can be skipped.

Nov 22, 2011

Getting what you need, even if it is nonlinear

My inner geek wants my training to be linear. For example, I want a step-by-step training program that I flawless execute with predictable sends as a result. My linear seeking behavior extends to my training facilities. I want a constant slab wall adjacent to a constant vertical wall followed by a constant off vertical, ... etc. The training area would stop short of a constant roof because that is just stupid. There would be none of those tricky transitions. I could perfectly train my movements and tactics in isolation. Later, I would bring those separate elements together.

I haven't (yet) built the full scale "Climbing Lab." I'm forced to train in the current real-world which includes transitions. Those nonlinear elements are either a crux or a rest, despite the best routesetting. My inner geek recoils at the "non-optimality" of the situation. My inner realist realizes there is an opportunity to train the real-world climbing elements of pacing, recovery, and jessery (Yes, jessery is a real-world climbing skill that should be trained). In the end, those elements will contribute more to sending than the perfect training facility.

Nov 18, 2011

Strength Villain

I recently had the honor of hanging out with the Strength Villain crew, sharing a love of training and tattoos. They are "subject matter experts" on powerbuilding. Powerbuilding, a mix of power lifting and body building, is a program to perform and look like you actually train. Through cigar smoke and Lil' Wayne, I learned our underlying similarities vastly outweigh the surface differences. Here are a couple of training and life lessons:

Bring both heart and head to what you do.
Pick the right goals and walk your path towards them.
Help as many people as possible along the way.
Realize the power and limitations of the digital medium.
Value your crew and community.

Nov 15, 2011

Limiter Driven Training

My training philosophy is "limiter driven improvement." I constantly seek out my current climbing limiters and design drills and progressions to improve them. The easiest way to find a limiter is ask, "Why did I fall?" I ask that question not just when I fall off a limit-level climb. If I fall off a warm-up, that is an equally valid data point. Maybe I'm rushing my warm-up and that lack of "being in the moment" is limiting my climbing. This fundamental deposition towards limiter driven improvement makes climbing intrinsically motivating. My primary focus is increasing climbing competence, sending more and harder climbs is a welcomed by-product.

I collect personal climbing limiters and design my next training session or cycle around improving them. Currently, one of my biggest limiters is not pushing enough with my feet when I'm pumped. I don't automatically jump to "I need to be stronger" to improve this limiter. Limiters could be technical, mental, or psychical. I approach this limiter from technical and mental perspectives. I have a deposition towards over-powering moves at my limits. I need to readjust this strategy towards finding technical solutions. Mentally, I like being in control. When I'm pumped I'm start to lose control. I try to regain control through my strength. I'm working on being okay with losing control.

By using this method, my climbing is still improving. My gains are not in leaps and bounds but a little each time I climb. That improvement keeps me engaged with climbing even after 10+ consistent years.

Nov 12, 2011

Saturday Syke

A new vision to push climb forward can be found anywhere.

Nov 10, 2011

The trouble with the thumb

James at CATS Climbing has an interesting take on grip positions. I agree with most of his conjectures. However, there is room for subtly in this statement - "There is no advantage to climbing without the thumb pinching the bottom of the hold (Grip B)"

If you are climbing in a performance-orientated environment, then there is a role for Grip B. On the other hand, if your inside climbing is training targeted towards outside performance, there is less need for Grip B. It is uncommon to pinch the bottom of edge holds outside. I would advocate spending a portion of training time on thumbless climbing. Yes, it is contrived. Yes, you can't climb as hard. But it transfers better to outside climbing than the the ubiquitous pinch grip found in indoor climbing.

Lastly, I simply don't understand the statement - "None of this applies to route climbers."

Nov 8, 2011

Pretty should be the new strong

People say interesting things when someone is post-crux on the send go of their project. There are shouts of French (Allez!) and Spanish (Venga!), when neither person speaks enough of the language to get out of de Gaulle or Barajas. From my experience, the shout of "Strong" is on the rise. Yes, the a post-crux climber is fatigued and needs to keep it together to get to the top. However, the climber needs more than strength at that point. The climber needs to climb well. The best term for this concept is pretty climbing (handsome, if your uncomfortable with pretty). "Pretty" needs to the new "Strong."

The next time you see me post-crux, please remind to me to climb "Pretty."

Nov 3, 2011

Debate Through Movement

I hear climbers at the gym and crag having in-depth theoretical discussions about the path of least resistance up a particular climb. Climber #1 proposes a complex undercling-pogo-drive-by sequence. Climber #2 proposes a simple, but elegant, jump move. Their discussion lacks context since neither climber has touched the problem. There is nothing wrong with generating multiple sequences for a solid flash attempt. However, these conversations frequently last longer than it would take to try every permutation of climb.

Shut-up & Climb!

Humans have the magical gift of language. There are times when that gift doesn't serve us. Much of climbing is implicit and can only be learned through direct experience. Words can inhibit this procedural learning. For example, the moment you try to describe riding a bicycle you fall off.

Settle movement debates through movement.

Nov 1, 2011

Beyond The Mohs Scale

I have stumbled upon another batch of my favorite type of rock - river-polished granite. So perfect but so slick. Boulder after boulder of wavy, bullet-hard goodness. The rock in this particular area has least amount of friction I have ever encountered. It feels slicker than glass. I lack the vocabulary to adequately describe it to other interested parties.

Mohs scale of mineral hardness is convenient shorthand for geologists to talk each other. Climbers need a similar scale for rock friction. I propose additional systems of letters to describe friction (or lack thereof). The rock described above would be type "A." Yosemite granite would be type "C." Southern sandstone would be type "F". Limestone with little spikes (name?) would be type "M."