9 Tips to Send Your One-Day Boulder Project

Looking through my log of climbing journals, I found this little throwback and I was surprised to find some good advice…I found my own Tips to Send a Project, which I hadn’t read in so long, I found pretty useful myself and will use them my upcoming trip to Magic Wood.

If you’ve ever had that feeling after a day out bouldering like you just could’ve done better or could’ve climbed harder, then you’ll relate to my account of a trip I had to Fontainbleau a few years back. It was my fifth trip to Fontainebleau – an amazing crag where most of us struggle to climb hard while expanding our bellies with croissants, pain aux petites (my favourite) or chocolat viennoise. I wanted to send my first Font 7a/v6 and it felt like the right time. I was feeling positive. I felt it was definitely going to happen this trip. But despite the sun and the pastries, I got the bleau blues.

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Falling off L’Helicoptere 7a, which I still haven’t done. Photo: Steph Choy

I’d been climbing for three years, off and on – given two separate foot surgeries and a few injuries – but it had felt like long enough to be able to climb my first 7a. My first visit to Font had been a few months before and I tackled a 6c+ with a fractured thumb. It had been my unfortunate luck to shut my thumb in the car trunk (trunk fully closed, thumb in). Okay, Okay, there was alcohol involved. Learn from my mistakes! Do not go anywhere near car doors while drinking unless very experienced with doors.

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Thumb bandage apparent on my first outdoor v5, Le Nez 6c+ at Canche Aux Merciers

I reasoned with myself, if I could tackle a 6c+ with a useless and painful thumb, what was holding me back from my 7a now?

At first learning the F system was my excuse. Fontainbleau uses the same letters and numbers at the European Sport grades but it’s graded based on the climber doing it the easiest possibly way, knowing the beta, and having practised. A little harsh, I felt. Knowing that flashing isn’t even an option, the hope is to figure this beta out in the day with enough time for your body to also perform by the time you’ve exhausted yourself.

In retrospect, this isn’t harsh at all, but completely normal. Projecting in a day is extremely hard, especially if it’s at the top of your grade. But at the time, I wasn’t sure it was down to strength and I feel it’s probably the same for most people.

I thought that perhaps the problem had more to do with strategy and the fact that I didn’t really have one.

Needless to say I didn’t send a 7a on that trip, but I did learn a few things to help send day projects. These tips are mostly my own opinions and hopefully they help you too, but consider we are all different so read with a grain of salt, but maybe can help you work out your own strategy as well, which I do feel is the key to sending those day projects.

9 Tips for Sending a Day Project:

    • CHOOSE WISELY

      Choose your project carefully, make sure it plays to your strengths (and favourite moves) if it’s at the top of your grade. If you don’t know what your strengths are (which I hear a lot) next time you go to the bouldering gym, try and be aware of what moves you find easy and do without thinking and that might be the key to what your ‘style’ is.

 

    • WARM UP

      Warming up is one of the most important parts of climbing well and preventing injury. By definition this is an actual heat rise in the body of 2-3 degrees. Read more about what warming up really is and all the physical benefits on Physio Room.

 

    • FIRST THING

      Get on your project right away after warming up. A trainer that I worked with last year, Rich Hudson of New Heights Fitness, advised that you should go to the hardest boulder problems you want to try in the day immediately after warming up thoroughly. This decreases injury as you are fresh and full of energy and, hopefully, increases chances for success.

 

    • WATCH & LEARN

      Try to watch others climbing your project rather than wasting all your energy on it. All of people moan about others ‘greasing up holds’ but I think it’s good to have a crew on your problem because it can save you energy remembering your sequence or finding new beta, particularly someone whom you know climbs similarly to yourself.

 

    • PAY ATTENTION

      Use every failure as an opportunity to try and figure out why. You’ll improve your technique and body awareness and hopefully see failure as something useful for your future climbing rather than a negative experience. Sometimes the difference between getting the move and not can be as subtle as starting a problem sitting two inches to the left to pull on.

 

    • REST LONGER

      Before you know all your beta work in sections and rest for 3-8 minutes after each attempt. Don’t wear yourself if you know that you can’t do all the moves, by trying from ground up (unless you have to, in which case rest longer). During rests, it’s best to stay moving rather than sit down as the body will be clued in that activity is coming again. This is a good time to do physiotherapy exercises. Once you know your beta and you’re going for a redpoint attempt, for each failed attempt, rest for 10 minutes minimum, up to 30 minutes between goes.

 

    • EAT MORE

      Don’t forget to eat every hour. You may even find it helpful to eat a small bite every time you have a strenuous go. I find that coffee or sugar in small doses can help give a bit of an energy spike, but only in small amounts.

 

    • TRY HARD

      Trying hard isn’t as simple as we might hope. Recently I had a discussion with a friend about the inability to ‘summon the power’ when we are trying a hard move bouldering. Often this is due to brain conditioning. We aren’t able to tell our body to pull hard and so we don’t. Seth Lytton has a hilarious blog about how to ‘try really freakin hard‘ that suggests conditioning yourself with a ritual.

 

  • LAUGH IT OFF

    One of the best pieces of advice about climbing I ever heard was to remember to have fun. The more you love and have fun climbing, the more you can achieve. For me, this is one of the most helpful aspects of projecting. I can always perform better when I’m having fun. Even in failure, you are still learning about your body’s movement and improving your technique. Bottom line – stop taking it so seriously!

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    Another project in Magic Wood, Blindfisch 7b that escaped my send.

Just remember this is my own advice and may not work for you, but I think my suggestions are pretty general and may help most climbers overall. If you have any other tips on how you send your day projects, I’d love to hear them as I’m sure I’ve missed some. We’re all different, so different things can work for different people.

After that frustrating Font trip, I went to Font two more times before getting my first 7a, but then on the third succeeding trip I got 3 in one day, using a lot of the techniques described above.

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Learning to climb 5a

This past summer when I decided to restart my blog, I spent the majority of the sweltering months back in the USA concentrating on not climbing. So when I decided to go with some friends to Fontainebleau for my birthday this September, I was a little more than skeptical about how the trip would go. But first, I’ll be honest, I’m generally a grade chaser. I spent most of 2013 trying the same problem over and over so I could claim by first 7a+ (v7), Early Doors in the Peak District in the UK, but I didn’t have much confidence with my long-lasting injuries and wasn’t successful (but hey, now you know you can almost climb 7a even with injuries). But in the USA after my orthopaedic physician, physical therapist, natural healing masseuse and acupuncturist all said I probably just needed to quit climbing, I decided I would take the summer off and see what happened.

Font 2014
What happened was a dish of humility served onto my plate. Not really expecting anything anyway, I knew I would barely be able to climb not having used the muscles in weeks. I did a taster session at Mile End Climbing Wall in London my first week back in the UK, but there wasn’t much to show. I did a v2, but was actually impressed that I could do it and was proud of myself. But my reaction surprised me more than my weakness. I remember my competition climbing days when if I had hurt myself, I would be eternally frustrated that I couldn’t produce the same results (v5, v6) immediately or repetitively.

When we arrived at La Musardiere campsite near Milly-La-Foret in France, instead of driving straight to the rocks, we settled in for chicken korma, French wine, and an early bedtime. The next morning, we packed ourselves into our little car, with the boulder mats strapped on top, and drove to Rochers aux Sabots. Ironically, Rochers aux Sabots was the first place I had done a 7a outdoors in Europe. I had previously done one v6 in America, but the climbing style is very different (other than maybe Horse Pens 40 in Alabama) and it was a whole new level to gain a 7a at Font. There it was, Jeux de Toit, Roof Games, my first 7a sitting, looking polished and so very hard? I was surprised I had ever managed that before and was impressed with my past self.

But that day was about the blue circuit. Font is famous for its circuits which are labeled with coloured paint, fours crossed straight into the rock, so you don’t actually need a guidebook to climb there, just a map. The blue circuit ranges from 3a-5c (vb-v2) and doesn’t follow any order so you get what you get. This time I was struggling on 3a-5c, which used to upset me. I’d stop for the day, outdoors, or decide I was bored and leave the climbing wall, indoors. But I was okay. I had finally graduated to a climbing adult: I realised climbing should be about having fun more than a competition. And while climbing 7a can be great, sometimes is equally as nice to learn how to climb 5a all over again and spare a few moments for some cheese and wine.
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