3 December 2010
Ross asked me recently about making the transition to routes from an apprenticeship in bouldering. With ‘bouldering only’ climbing walls becoming ever more popular, there is an increasing body of young climbers who have an entire apprenticeship on them and make a difficult transition to route climbing after a year or two.
These climbers get pumped really easily on F6s even though they can boulder Font 7s. Their initial feeling is to blame lack of endurance fitness, which is of course a part of the problem. But a few weeks of racking up the route laps will see a lot of progress in fitness.
The bigger, but less understood problem is hidden in their technique. These guys have spend 100% of their climbing time trying to learn to pull as hard as possible, on 3-10 move boulder problems. The technique of route climbing - to pull as gently as possible - is a totally different technique. You can’t learn it overnight.
Often, they want to find a training solution to climbing routes that still involves using the local bouldering wall - i.e. Circuits. That’s fine in theory, but it’s definitely the hard way. The reason is that to learn to climb efficiently for routes, saving energy as opposed to climbing explosively, is best done on long pitches that take 2 minutes to several hours (as in winter climbing). So the best thing to do is get out and climb some big routes, tons of them.
Fiddling with a wire placement for five minutes will always teach you how to relax and find the most efficient position much more effectively than doing circuits or lots of easy problems. Even a week of sport climbing will get you further than months of trying to learn route climbing technique on a boulder wall. Get out and climb at a standard that allows you to do 12 x 30m routes a day or more. That’s 2500 metres climbed in a week minimum - hard to achieve in the boulder wall. By the end of a week your movement and style will be so different.