Becoming a Better Climber in 2018

It’s that time of year when we consider our goals and resolutions for 2018. Actually, due to my own self-defeating, procrastinatory tendencies as a blogger, it’s a couple of weeks past that time of year, which means that if you are like 90 percent of New Year’s Resolution-makers, you’ve already forgotten, abandoned, or failed at your 2018 goals. Or if you haven’t yet, the statistics say that you likely will.

When it comes to making climbing resolutions, I’ve noticed that we climbers aren’t immune to the usual pitfalls and traps that befall even the most well-intentioned self-helpers. As much as we chalk-lickers like to think of ourselves as superior to the ground dwellers of normal society, we’re still a bunch of vain hippies who conflate living simply with the pursuit of our own celebrity on Instagram via the duplicitous hashtag #vanlife. We vow to take on objectives that are over our heads or utterly unrealistic. We spray about routes we’ll never climb. And we focus all our attention on the latest training and diet fads while remaining in denial about the things that are actually holding our performances back: technique, mentality, beta recall, time on real rock, etc.

Photo:  Keith Ladzinski
Photo: Keith Ladzinski

Indeed, the most common errors committed by the most ambitious resolution-setting climbers include focusing on next-level grades to be reached and/or number of routes of that grade to be vanquished. In general, our eyes are larger than our stomachs when it comes to the buffet of rock at hand. Or, rather, our ambitions outweigh the lactate threshold in our forearms.

And there are all the other factors that we fail to account for, from the reality of our time constraints to just how difficult it is to reach a new level, especially if you’ve been climbing for a stint.

In the past, I’ve made the error of saying that I want to climb X grade in the subsequent year. Sometimes I’ve achieved that goal, though sometimes it’s taken me four years to achieve that grade. The problem with this approach—and the reason for this post—is that focusing on reaching new grades strikes me as such a common, short-sighted, and unimaginative way to consider your progression as a climber.

I’ve assembled a list of questions to ask yourself, which I think might be helpful in terms of reframing how you go about setting 2018 goals/resolutions. These questions may even assist in redefining what it might mean to you to become a “better” climber. This sport is a lot bigger than climbing rungs on the grade ladder, so perhaps our climbing ambitions might be better served to reflect that as well.

Where do I want to go?

Obviously traveling is one of the great perks of being a climber as there is literally a rock of some nature to be climbed in every country and continent on earth. Where do you want to go this year? It could be someplace that you’ve already been, or it could be someplace new. I’d suggest going somewhere new myself. Do some research on a venue you’ve never been to before. Ask a more experienced friend where he or she would recommend you go. It doesn’t even have to be a faraway location, or an expensive trip either. I can guarantee you there are places you’ve never been that are close to home.

Photo:  Keith Ladzinski
Photo: Keith Ladzinski

One place I’ve never been to, for example, and want to see this year is the City of Rocks, which is only about a five-hour drive from my house. I’m going to put that on the calendar for this summer so I can plan for and get excited about a trip.

It’s worth mentioning that I know that I’ll inevitably end up going to a bunch of other new climbing destinations this year, too. But in terms of making a resolution/goal, I know it’s a mistake to overbook yourself by making a list of 20 unrealistic places I want to visit. That approach might work for some folks, but for me, I know it’s best to focus on one realistic thing. Perhaps this is something to consider for you as well.

What do I want to experience as a climber?

This question is meant to help you consider what types of climbing experiences you hope to have this year. It could be something very concrete, such as a first-ever multi-pitch trad climb. Or it could be something a little more ethereal, such as feeling confident on lead or feeling “light,” meaning that you move fluidly, confidently, quickly and decisively. Often, these moments can be more enjoyable than a redpoint. By thinking about what you want to experience, that might help you reframe how you approach and plan your climbing trips and goals this year.

Photo:  Keith Ladzinski
Photo: Keith Ladzinski

What’s one strength I can exploit?

Instead of focusing on weaknesses to improve about yourself, consider how you can take something that you’re naturally good at and exploit it in the best way possible in 2018.

It’s a myth that top performers are only focused on beating every weakness out of their being. In fact, most top performers are the best at one thing and they focus on that one thing to exclusion of everything else.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t focus on improving your weaknesses … it’s just to say that you don’t necessarily need me to remind you to do that.

How can you exploit your strengths this year in a new or better way? How can you take those strengths, embrace them, and push them to do something really cool this year?

Who is one new partner I can climb with?

Think about who your usual climbing partners are, and consider ways to mix it up. We gain so much from the people we climbing with—more than we may realize. Often times, people tend to climb with the same partners over and over. I’ve also observed that sometimes our best redpoints or greatest sends come when we randomly find ourselves in a new/unfamiliar partner’s company. Social energy is sorely under-utilized resource that can be exploited. Consider someone new, or even someone random, who you can try to climb with more consistently over the next year. I guarantee you that this person will help you learn something important.

By the same token, it goes both ways. Make yourself available as a person whom others might want to reach out to and climb with.

Photo:  Keith Ladzinski
Photo: Keith Ladzinski

How can I give back to the climbing community?

Climbing is an inherently self-absorbed activity. Just you and the rock. We climbers like it that way. Our egos are wrapped up in our identities as climbers, and it takes a lot of effort to pull yourself out of that self-absorbed default setting.

Committing to being a contributing member of the climbing community—however you may define that—ought to be an important resolution for every climber this year. You could become someone’s mentor. You could help with crag clean-ups or anchor-replacement initiatives. You could organize a social event to raise money for the Access Fund. Or you could simply sacrifice a rest day to belay a friend who needs a partner.

Hope these ideas help, and that 2018 is your best climbing year yet.