Climbing 5.14 is a lot easier than you think—unless you already climb 5.14, in which case you know that that statement is complete, utter bullshit. But that doesn’t mean that the average climber who is desperate to tick the benchmark grade won’t do something as stupid as click on a blog post titled “How To Climb 5.14” and actually believe that therein lies revelatory information that will actually, magically, fast-forward him toward what was once the pinnacle of climbing difficulty in 1985.
Today, there are more 5.14’s than there are whack emcees. And every day, more of them are put up. Statistically, your odds of climbing 5.14 actually increase every day even if you do nothing at all.
But this isn’t what we want to hear. We want to be proactive. We’re Americans, dammit! You think Manifest Destiny was some kind of abstract Zen Koan? Hell no. Roll up your sleeves, cock your glock and carve yourself a slice of that sweet American Pie, baby. We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock; we grid-bolted the fuck out of it!
I would imagine the type of person (you) who would click on an article titled “How To Climb 5.14” would expect to see some detailed training map, complete with micro cycles within macro cycles within super-macro cycles; questionnaires about personal weaknesses and solutions about how to address them; detailed nutritional plans that transform simple items of food into confusing numerical units, such as glycemic indices and calories, ultimately leaving you confounded about the most basic human function: eating food.
Do we really need to be told how to do this?
Apparently, from the number of fat-asses out there, we do.
I am beginning to think of many of the climbing training plans out there as being overly complex in a parallel way. Some of the training-for-climbing books out there make my head spin. Do we really need to be told how to climb? Or how to run? Or how to train for either? Climbing—like running, like walking, like eating, like breathing—is one of our most basic, primal functions. I wonder if, by focusing too intently on achieving so-called peak periods of fitness with overly complicated micro/macro cycles and periodization, we are actually distancing ourselves from the act of climbing itself.
Climbing 5.14 is really just a matter of getting on a 5.14 and climbing on it until you do it. In some ways, the rest will figure itself out. Still, there are some basic, elemental things that we can all “do” to become 5.14 climbers. Here are my tips:
Climb with 5.14 climbers. If you only climb with people who climb 5.9, you’ll be climbing 5.9 forever. If you want to climb 5.14, climb with people who climb 5.14. This is probably the single most important thing you can do for yourself if you want to improve your redpoint grade.
Eat healthy. Climbing is a strength-to-weight sport, and to improve from your current level you need to either increase your strength or decrease your weight. Of course, there are problems with only focusing on doing one of those things, and especially with taking either one to the extreme. Only increasing strength will add muscle bulk and ultimately be counterproductive. Only decreasing your weight will lead to a whole host of health problems, even death in extreme cases. Neither one is the solution; rather, both must be focused on in conjunction with each other. You probably know what you need to work on. If you can’t hang onto a full-pad crimper, you need to get some finger strength. Solution: keep climbing! If you have some extra rolls of fat hanging off your belly, you could probably stand to lose a few pounds. Solution: keep climbing (and eat healthy)! Getting exercise (climbing) and eating well is really all it comes down to.
Pyramid up through the grades. The only way to become a better free climber is to focus on project-style redpoint climbing. Some call this “grade chasing.” Some call it “boring.” Whatever you want to call it, picking a route that’s hard for you and sticking with it until you redpoint it is the tried and true process that every 5.14 climber has had to go through in order to achieve their success. An entire book could be written on this process but, like with everything else, it’s really pretty simple. You have to build up to it. I recommend redpointing at least four routes of one grade before bumping yourself up to the next grade. So, four 5.12a’s before going to your first 5.12b. And so on and so on until you get to 5.14. For all but the most naturally talented climbers, this will take between five and ten years of effort to begin to climb in the upper 5.13s and lower 5.14s.
Sample something way too hard for you. Every now and then, go and get on something WAY above your head. If you are currently climbing 5.13a, spend one weekend getting on a 5.13d or 5.14a. Maybe only do one or two working burns on it. Obviously you’re not trying to do all the moves, or link them all or redpoint the route any time soon. But I have found that doing something as audacious as getting on a ridiculously hard route will help you begin to wrap your head around the idea of one day climbing that hard. You might see that the holds aren’t that bad, or most of the moves aren’t that hard. The best way to defeat fears is to first face them.
Pick routes that are hard for you. Yeah, you could get by just picking routes that suit your strengths, redpointing those and avoiding anything that doesn’t suit your strength or style. There’s certainly something to be said for that. But I think it’s better to pick routes that are your anti-style. If you are strong, but lack endurance, pick power-endurance routes. If you are weak but can hang on for a long time, pick bouldery/powerful routes. Trust me, it’ll take you further in the long run.
Don’t shortcut the process. There are no shortcuts. There is no real simple way. Climbing is a lifelong process of slowly improving and trying to make progress. You have to enjoy that process in order to not burn out or get too discouraged. But if you stick through it, slowly, amazingly, some pretty extraordinary things will be achieved. Climbing 5.14, after all, is easier than you think.