I’ve spent the past four months training hard. I had never trained in my entire life before this. I had been a baseball player with a full ride scholarship to a prestigious university before I dropped out of high school, and I had practiced, but never trained. When I started pushing climbing grades I became obsessed with 5.12 fitness. I became so infatuated with my dreams of climbing hard that I stopped climbing so I could train for climbing.
I say that I practiced baseball, not trained for it, because all of my gains were made from playing the sport. During baseball practice we did warm up stretches and some warm up exercises, but we never just spent an entire practice doing wind sprints and push ups. We played the game. If we were pitchers we pitched, if we were fielders we fielded ground balls and rehearsed double plays. We got better from honing technical skills, not from becoming physically brute.
Eventually my hard-headed training in the climbing gym resulted in a finger injury. All those gains that I was making resulted in one huge loss. It wasn’t even the physical injury that was the biggest loss… it was the mental injury and the lack of confidence when it came to relying on my left hand.
At some point my ego started to corrupt my passion for climbing and being in the mountains. It was like climbing at my current ability wasn’t good enough, and I needed to expedite my potential to be adequate. I thought that I could expedite that process by training finger strength and bypass the techniques that would make hard climbing feasible.
I got injured climbing a gym boulder problem, and I had stopped relying on the finesse that I had learned through my years of climbing on stone. With bad footwork, I slipped a foot and shock loaded my left ring finger on pretty heinous crimp. I didn’t even realize that it was injured until the next day.
This occurred at the beginning of my winter, and my Joshua Tree ambitions appeared shattered, but I went ahead and just started spending my time running in the mountains instead of climbing, trying to be as proactive as possible. When I started climbing again, it was on moderate routes; routes that I was comfortable on without a rope. I went back to the crag I began at, Mission Gorge, and I started soloing.
What started out as a major loss, had turned out to be one of the most profound lessons I’ve learned about why I climb. I climb because I love to move over vertical terrain. I love to climb cracks, and aesthetic lines that meander up big granite formations. Climbing hard is not a requirement to do that. What would take days or weeks to climb with a partner and rope, I was able to do in two hours. And the more I climbed the better I got. Not stronger, better. Obviously, free soloing twenty-six routes a day five days a week with a few miles of hiking in between is going to warrant better fitness, but that is not the goal. I just want to climb.
When I really started to get the routes on my circuit dialed, I started to down solo them, doubling the amount of climbing I was able to do, and pushing my technical skill to an all new level. When I down climb, especially without a rope, it really shows me how much harder I make climbs because I focus on every feature available that I might skip when climbing up, and I experience an entirely different type of movement as I reverse each pitch.
Above all the technical and physical bullshit is the most important aspect of all: I am having more fun climbing than I have ever had in my entire life. I am free and I am on fire with psyche.
I have gone back to my roots. I don’t train for climbing. I climb. I don’t train for the mountains, I trail run in the mountains. I do these things because I love to do them, and I never feel like I’m suffocating in a stuffy gym that smells like dirty used climbing shoes. And when I feel like going out an eating a pizza, I’ll go eat a pizza without feeling guilty about it.