A good question popped up recently:
How do I get from 5.11 to 5.12?
Raise your hand if you’ve ever asked the same question.
I’ve got some ideas, but to be honest, I’m not sure I’m right. So, read on, weigh my words, and decide for yourself.
The answer is entirely different from how to get from 5.10 to 5.11, and how to get from 5.12 to 5.13. (that is, it might be. I’m not a 5.13 climber, so can’t speak from experience about getting to 5.13).
There are two observations about making the jump from 5.11 to 5.12:
You might be closer to being a 5.12 (or 5.11, or 5.whateveryouwant) rock climber than you think.
If you are gunning to be a 5.12 climber, I’m assuming that you are a 5.11 rock climber. What is a 5.11 rock climber? Some people will say you can only call your self a 5.x rock climber if you can consistently onsight 5.x. I disagree, because if you can consistently onsight 5.x, you are able to work a climb four or five grades harder.
If you consistently onsight 5.11a, you can be working (and succeeding) on 5.12a, 5.12b. So you’re already a 5.12 rock climber if you can onsight 11a.
You don’t have to be sending 5.11a really well to become a 5.12 rock climber. You SHOULD be sending 5.11a and b within a few tries, but that’s my only rule of thumb.
You must be able to climb well at your physical limit
It seems obvious that climbing hard requires trying hard, right? Every picture of any talented rock climber shows them yelling and screaming desperately on the wall. They are climbing at their limit.
I struggle much more with climbing at my limit. Here is what I do when I am climbing at my limit:
- I try hard
- I make mistakes in my beta (usually)
- I make mistakes in my micobeta (always)
- I forget to breath
- I rest poorly
These mistakes are great news because I’ve got tons of room for improvement.
How about you? What do you do when at your limit? Here are some options:
- I worry about clipping the next bolt
- I worry about falling
- I worry about slipping off the hold I’m already on
- I forget my beta
- I rest/recover poorly
- I sit in the rope because I might not make it to the next bolt
- I use bad footwork
- I give up
Last week I talked about ways to improve your climbing by mixing up your routes session. Most of these ideas are not going to make you much stronger , they make you better at climbing at your limit.
Growth happens in the margins
It takes skill to keep your head together when your muscles are screaming and the next bolt is far away. If you can climb well even when you are at 97% of your limit (however that is defined) you will be able to climb 5.12.
A little more strength will be useless until you are able to deal with the uncertainty that comes with climbing hard things. For example: “being able to fall at any moment but still trying really hard for every move.”
Only once you can try hard can you start benefitting from strength gains.
Once you are able to climb at your limit, it’s the simple, trivial matter of getting a little stronger, and picking up some technical skills.
These are the easy parts.
PS A bonus of all this pushing your margin talk: Pushing to failure in climbing is a transferrable skill. You will get better at pushing to failure in another area of life. No matter where your limits lie, few things will make you feel more alive than finding out exactly where they are.
PPS I gave you my list of mistakes I make when trying to climb at my limit. What would you add? Leave a comment.