2019 Wrap-Up: Failure, Fun and Onto the Next

In the Fall of 2016, I went on one of my first trips to the Red River Gorge. I packed some clothes, some food, a hammock, and an intense fear of heights. My vertical neuroses paired interestingly with a fierce determination to become a good climber. This combination of fears and desires eventually left me hanging in terror on the seventh bolt of A Brief History of Climbing. I sat with my head against the wall crying because I was so uncomfortable with the heights. If you would have told that girl that in three years she would send 5.12, she would have laughed. If you told her she’d do it while deep water soloing in Spain, she might have slapped you. But here we are. I’ve done all of those things. It’s been a hell of a year.  

For those who may have missed it, at the beginning of 2019, I set the goal of red-pointing twelve 5.12s in at least four different climbing areas. Though I didn’t meet my objective, I was certainly made better for trying.

So with lots of training, focus, cursing, joy, and many aggressive weekend road trips, here is what I did piece together in my attempt at twelve 5.12s in 2019.

  • Groovin’ 5.11d in Birdsboro, PA
  • Starry 5.12a in The New River Gorge, WV
  • Butch Pocket and the Sundance Pump 5.12a in Wild Iris, WY
  • Beattyville Pipeline, 5.12a in The Red River Gorge, KY
  • Orangahang 5.12a/b in Rumney, NH
  • Flesh For Lulu 5.12 a/b in Rumney, NH
  • Bisexual 7a/5.11d (Deep Water Solo) in Mallorca, Spain
  • Metrosexual 7a+/5.12a (Deep Water Solo) in Mallorca, Spain
Lauren Abernathy mallorca
Falling off the top of Bisexual in Mallorca.
Lauren abernathy Beattyville pipeline red river gorge
Me on Beattyville Pipeline.

Additionally, though I went bouldering only two or three times this year, I flashed my first V4 and sent my first V5 outside, which was a neat little bonus on top of my sport climbing objectives. With that, here is the little bit of wisdom, that I have personally collected over the past year.

Lauren - powerlinez bouldering
After the send of my first V5 outdoors.

Persistence or Bust

I love climbing, but getting better at it is not easy. Usually, if you are proud to accomplish something, it means you had work hard and make sacrifices to get it.

There were many times where I felt tired, or my day job was really stressful, or I wanted to press snooze on the alarm clock and skip my morning training session. Sometimes I did. But most of the time, I showed up with a plan and got shit done. Not every session felt great – most felt either lackluster or completely terrible. But I showed up.

Personally, I have seen that being consistent and finding excitement in incremental improvements is critical to continuous improvement in as a climber.

The Blog

Consistency is something that has been a key to pushing through with this blog as well. When I first started writing, I didn’t really know where it would take me, or have any idea what I was doing. Then after four or five months of having no more than twenty people readers, I thought that maybe I ought to quit. It felt a like I was performing a monologue for an auditorium of deaf kittens. Lots of work with no one listening.

I want to sincerely thank those of you who emailed me, messaged me and told me that something I had written had helped you or inspired you in the year since I started this blog. Knowing that someone had benefitted from something I had written kept me from quitting. It helped me to stay excited to write even when it seemed like this blog served no purpose besides sucking time from my loved ones, my climbing, and my apartment that needs to be tidied every now and again. So thank you, sincerely. I love writing and climbing and I do not have plans to stop doing either any time soon.

 Here’s to a New Year

With that, I wish you all the happiness, health, and sends in the coming year. May you set big, hairy, audacious goals. Even if you fail, may you learn a lot in the process.  

With that, I will leave you with the words of the late Warren Miller.

“If you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do.”

You are never too old to crush at something. Have a happy New Year.

Like this content? You can stay up to date on the latest by following me on Instagram, or Facebook.

And make sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter to receive training tips, tricks and tidbits to help you become a better climber.

Systems over Goals: Set Yourself Up for Success

“A goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot.”

Joe Vitale

In 2019, I said my goals loud and proud for all of the internet to read – some of you all did too. In 2020, I am making some tweaks to and trying to re-frame the goal making process. Here are some actionable tips to help you examine the way you have (or have not) been making goals, your resolutions, and the overall quality of your follow through on the commitments you make to yourself.

With that, here are some new perspectives you can apply to your climbing goals in the coming year.

What Kind of Person are You?

Perhaps you have failed at sticking to your commitments in the past and you want to do better this time. In the past, you may have said “this is the year I will actually follow a training program”. And then life got in the way. Then you gave up. Now you are still climbing the same grades that you were two years ago and you are frustrated that you can’t follow through with commitments you make to yourself.

Maybe you have plenty of the motivation, but you don’t seem to understand how you can get yourself follow through. Might I suggest an eight question quiz to help determine your own tendencies around behavior modification? It will help you learn a bit about what makes you tick and help you to set yourself up for success. Perhaps it is not that you don’t have the motivation or the ability to achieve what you want to, maybe you simply have not designed your systems to your own unique habit-changing specifications. So take the quiz, find out how you work, and proceed from there.

Take the Quiz here.

Further Reading: Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Photo By Teagan Maddux

On Keeping Your Goals to Yourself

In addition to understanding how you work in the context of achieving goals and altering your habits, another interesting idea that I am pondering is the usefulness of sharing my goals with other people.

Though I have given a select few a glimpse into what I want to tackle next year, I plan to keep the spray about what I want to achieve in 2020 to a minimum. Though I will still be sharing in the process, I am keeping the end goal to myself this year? Here is why.

Though some people need added external pressure, I find that with my sometimes overwhelming fear of failure, letting the world know about what I plan to achieve does not really help me at all.

However, if you are the sort of person that lacks intrinsic motivation and has found that external accountability helps you to succeed, then godspeed. But make sure that you don’t phrase the discussion of your goals in a way that makes you feel less accountable for putting in the work to achieve them.

The next topic I want to address is the idea of focusing on our systems and habits more than the goals themselves.

Related: How to Set Quality Goals

Habits, not Goals

Though having big objectives is important, having a framework for what habits or systems you want to build is critical to achieving them.

If successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers.

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Practically everyone has the goal of climbing harder in their next climbing season. Whether or not you succeed has little to do with the goal you set and a lot more to do with the plan you have in place to do so.

You may not have any big goals, but setting up habits like “I will do fifteen minutes of footwork drills at the beginning of my climbing sessions” will lead to improvements without being attached with some grand, long-term objective.

Personally, I like having big goals. However, making a goal is the easy part. Formulating a plan to execute is what takes effort.

Related Reading: Atomic Habits by James Clear

Simplifying for Success

Plans to reach our goals can vary in terms of complexity. If you are not participating in a training program right now, the odds that you are going to handle your training complexity going from zero to one hundred are statistically extremely low.

For those that have never followed a training plan before, you can likely get something out of making simple tweaks to your time in the gym. Here are a few ideas to get you started. Note that whether or not these suit you specifically, is up to you to determine.

  • Add movement drills to your climbing warm-up
  • Do the same hangboard session once a week for 8 weeks
  • Go to the climbing gym three times per week
  • Try any boulder that you do not flash at least five times
Measuring progress during a hangboard session. Photo by Teagan Maddux.

The list could go on forever. The point is, getting better at climbing doesn’t have to be complicated. If you know that you have failed at sticking to training plans before, then resolve to make small adjustments to your training, stick to them, and make changes once you stop seeing results.

This is not to say that getting better at climbing is easy. And eventually, your goals will necessitate increases in training complexity beyond the small tweaks to your sessions that are discussed above. That being said, if you don’t feel comfortable going big with a full-fledged training program. Start with small, manageable bites.

Please Start Measuring Something

Making small tweaks to your climbing session is a great way to get yourself headed in the right direction. However, if you don’t measure your progress, you really will not know if what you are doing is helping and when your progress is leveling off.

The first step in knowing that you want something in your climbing to change is to have a grasp on what your climbing consists of now. But if you have no idea how strong you are, what you consistently send, or how much climbing you have actually been doing, it is really difficult to do that.

Perhaps you are very new to climbing and all you need to do is go to the gym more to get better. However, you might be a veteran that truly needs to take a hard look at some serious finger training to break into the next grade.

Whatever your situation, some measurement will go a long way.

senderella story - track your training
Taking notes during a climbing session. Photo by Teagan Maddux

Depending on your current habits, maybe it is unrealistic to expect that you will become a detailed note taker that logs their training sessions like I do. If that’s you, fine. Meet yourself where you’re at, but please track something. Here are a few ideas for baby steps you can take to become a better tracker of your climbing and training sessions.

  • Record every time you go climbing or train for climbing. Keep a tally. Bonus points if you separate days inside vs. days outside.
  • Write one sentence about what you did, how it went, for how long, and the date for every time you train or climb in a notebook or excel sheet.
  • Give every session a rating of perceived exertion (how tough the session was) on a scale of 1 to 10.

Once you get in the habit of recording something for each of your training sessions, get more detailed. If you really care about getting better at climbing, you need to keep track of what you are doing.

Related: Comprehensive Guide to Tracking your Climbing and Training

Shut Up and Crush It

So now, please go forward. Spray about it or don’t, but use the above to shift your mindset and crush next year. I am really excited for you and all the dreams you have. So please go make them a reality. See you at the gym.

Do you enjoy making goals? Is training something you are trying to be more disciplined about next year – leave a comment below and let’s discuss!

Like this content? You can stay up to date on the latest by following me on Instagram, or Facebook.

And make sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter to receive training tips, tricks and tidbits to help you become a better climber.

How You Can Listen to Your Body: Climbing Injuries

Let’s face it, climbing is a tough sport. If you are trying to push yourself as a climber, you will very likely hurt yourself in the process. It may be minor tweaks or it may be a big season-ending injury, but even the strongest climbers get hurt. In 2018, Adam Ondra took an 8 meter ground fall and injured his knees. World cup boulderer, Alex Puccio has had a string of ACL injuries, and even Alex Megos had a season-ending finger injury in 2017 that majorly disrupted his competitive climbing season.

The fact is, you are probably going to come across some sort of injury — acute or otherwise in your climbing career. So brace yourself and learn to listen to your body – you will prevent yourself from turning a small tweak into something bigger.

This skill is hard to learn – and even harder to manage when you are close to sending something and you want to give it one last go. But it is critical if you want to have a sustainable climbing career. I am not perfect at this. No one is, but holding back when you need to is a skill we all should learn.

Even though we’ve all lived in our bodies our whole lives, listening to your body can be tough. Here are four questions that I ask myself when I get the feeling that something is amiss.

What are you feeling?

For me, it usually starts with a tingle. Maybe I wake up with an achy shoulder and it feels better by the time I go climbing. Maybe its a weird feeling in an elbow immediately after executing a non-ergonomic move. Perhaps I felt a sharp pain in my finger.

It is important to notice these things and not ignore them. They might feel small now, and perhaps they aren’t super painful, but keep stock of these little signs. Your body is trying to tell you something. What you do with it is up to you, but ignoring it usually doesn’t work out.

What have you been doing leading up to this point?

Usually when you get injured, unless its something catastrophic like a piece of gear popping or a rock falling, you can typically see it coming. Hindsight is 2020, but you know what I mean. What was the last thing that kept you out of climbing for a few days or weeks? What were you doing leading up to it? Did you climb five days on? Did you hit it hard with a new training regime that was maybe too much? Did you change something or increase the intensity of something in your climbing or training?

Cranking down on small holds was just what my painful shoulder needed.

Here’s an example of a pretty stupid way that I hurt myself in the Fall of 2019:
I was in Rumney, NH and my boyfriend and I were rushing to hop on a classic 5.10a before the crowds got there. But as we kept hiking, a big group behind us was fast-approaching. In the rush to hop on this classic, mantle-filled 5.10 on a cold autumn morning, I did nothing to warm up my shoulders.

And to be clear, 99% of the time before I climb or workout, I warm up my shoulders. The theraband is with me at all times when I go climbing outside.

But I didn’t this time. And you know what, I tweaked my shoulder. Proceeded to climb on my project, sent it through the pain, and then I needed a week off of climbing. My shoulder bugged me a little for the rest of my Rumney season.

What could happen if you don’t listen to your body?

So giving yourself a rest, walking away from a project, or avoiding climbing for a week or two might not sound sexy, especially if it doesn’t hurt “that bad”. But there have been a few times over the past year where I had to put myself in time out. So far, I have tweaked my knee twice in 2019 and have had to rest it for a week or so at a time. I have also tweaked a finger, and taken a week off after feeling an acute, popping sensation. I have also taken a week off after the above shoulder incident.

And what motivates me to have the self-control to not waltz over to the climbing gym when I can literally see it from my house (it is an actual 30 second walk away)? Well, I avoid the temptress by getting a little imaginative. I think things like “well if you don’t rest, you might go into the gym and completely tear your ACL and then you’ll be out for way longer than a week.” That thought usually gets me to take a step back and stay off whatever limb I injured.

Anytime you feel that sudden onset of injury… you immediately rest, stop climbing, stop moving, give it a week or two to see how bad it is.

Physical Therapist and Climber, Esther Smith on the
TrainingBeta Podcast Episode 94

So imagine a few horror stories to motivate yourself to have some restraint. If you feel like something is wrong, pay attention to it and don’t pretend that you’re OK if you’re not.

Lauren - powerlinez bouldering
My first V5 outdoors – would have been a great moment, except that I should not have kept climbing after I blew up my knee in a heel hook on a nearby warm-up….

Is there anything else going on that might effect your likelihood of getting injured right now?

Is there something that happens leading up to when you get injured? Are there any patterns that you notice? Were you really stressed by a situation at work or school? Had you not been sleeping well? Is there anything in life that might make you more injury-prone at certain times? I hurt my knee on a bouldering trip in the Fall of 2019. I started the day with a really tight hip left hip, I had gone on a run that week (which I NEVER do which still had me sore), I was exhausted from a bad work week, and unsurprisingly, my knee blew up in a heel hook on a warm-up route. I had to sit myself out of climbing for a week to let it rest.

That Time of the Month

For all the ladies out there (or men that want to learn something about your female climbing counterparts), did you know that a significant portion of ACL ruptures in women occur around the end of the second week of the menstrual cycle? According to the literature, increases in estrogen levels lead to decreased tendon and ligament stiffness. In women, this spike in estrogen leads to increased risk of injury. Practically speaking, I can confirm that all three times I have tweaked my knee, it has been around the middle of my cycle while simultaneously pushing myself, whether it be skiing, a climbing competition or outdoor bouldering. I joke that I “should avoid going hard for 25% of the year”, but perhaps I need to take this into greater consideration. The chart below is taken from the Effect of Estrogen on Musculoskeletal Performance and Injury Risk.

Look to the Past to Tell your Future

In any case, it may be interesting to reflect on past injuries and tweaks to see if you notice a pattern. Think about all of the things in your life that might wear you down a little. Perhaps you are blocking out the fact that after you do yard work for a weekend and then you try to hit it hard in the gym, your back starts hurting. Maybe you do electrical work and your injuries happen a few days after you work a double shift. Perhaps sitting at your desk all day with poor posture really hurts your shoulders. Maybe your injuries occur the first day out on a climbing trip when you hardly slept because you were traveling the night before. Who knows? Take stock of what happens leading up to your injuries whether they be major or minor – acute or chronic. You just might learn how to keep it from happening again.

The next time you feel something coming on or you get a feeling in your body that something is not quite right, pay attention to it. It might prevent you from being out of commission for a few weeks – or worse.

What are some patterns you notice before you get hurt? Are you good at taking time off when something does not feel right? What hindsight do you have about your injuries? Leave a comment below or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com – I would love to discuss!

Like this content? You can stay up to date on the latest by following me on Instagram, or Facebook.

And make sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter to receive training tips, tricks and tidbits to help you become a better climber.

The Mental Side of Climbing: Brain Beta

Lauren Abernathy Wild Iris Climbing

Sometimes you hear people’s dogs barking at the crags. Other times you hear a nervous boyfriend asking if his girlfriend knows where the next clip is. On rare occasion you hear words of wisdom:

“I bet all of our bodies could climb 5.14, but our minds just won’t let us.”

Though 5.14 may be an exaggeration, the fact is that on top of being a skill sport, climbing is dependent on your mindset. There are many ways that our minds can hold us back from climbing our best. Whether it be a fear of falling, a fear of failure, or panic-forgetting well-rehearsed beta on a redpoint go, peak performance is only achievable if your mind allows it.

My Mind Holds Me Back

I know that my mind holds me back when I am trying to climb my hardest. This manifests itself during the redpoint process, making it take longer than it needs to. I notice that I one-hang routes many times before actually sending. I one-hanged Butch Pocket in Wild Iris 6 times before finally sending it. It took five one-hangs before sending Beattyville Pipeline in the Red River Gorge. Then, in Fall of 2019, I one hanged Flesh for Lulu three times before the final redpoint go. Physically I can do these routes, but something in my mind is holding me back.

Lauren abernathy Beattyville pipeline red river gorge
Me on one of my many attempts on Beattyville Pipeline. Photo by Sam Laslie.

My baubles, misplaced feet, lapses in muscle memory, etc. are typically not a result of “pumping” out. Usually, it is some silly misplacement of a hand, or out-of-sequence move that sends me flying down the wall in the midst of a good redpoint attempt.

I made some progress in decoding my brain while working Flesh for Lulu, a technical, beta-heavy, and crimpy route in Rumney NH.

A couple months before my crusade on Flesh, I began reading about flow states. Essentially, your mind goes blank and you black out and your just execute. And you execute perfectly. I’ve been in flow states before. Like when I did my first back flip in powder.

Photo by Tim Spanagel

But back flips are fast. A one hundred foot route with 2 distinct cruxes and a major rest in the middle not. Up until my campaign on Flesh for Lulu, I had only really done routes with a single crux, not two.

I worked on Flesh for two weekends in a row. The first weekend was extremely warm and involved me spending a lot of skin on crux #1. In two days of working on it, I was able to do crux #1 only once.

In the second weekend, temps were down about 20 degrees Fahrenheit. I executed crux #1 flawlessly on my first attempt. And the rest of the burn went really well. I felt like I could send that day – next go even.

4 attempts later and I had been playing the “almost there, but…”, getting higher and better each time. It was getting really frustrating.

On day two, I gave it a redpoint go, fell misplacing a foot in somewhere I had never fallen before. However, I proceeded in successfully redpointing on the subsequent attempt.

Throughout the process, spectators were commented that “my beta was dialed”. Frustratingly, the micro-errors were rampant past crux #1 and I was not sending. It was clearly not a physical limitation, it was all in my head.

With that, let’s breakdown how I changed my mindset between Day 1 and Day 2 on my second weekend on the route.

Day 1

  • Lots of visualization of the crux on route, before and during the rest.
  • Rehearsing the route visually in my head at the rests.
  • Focused breathing (square breathing at the rests)
  • Noticing my heart rate at the rests

To clarify, crux #1 Is physically more difficult than crux #2, for me anyways. Both of these cruxes are certainly more difficult than the transition moves I was inexplicably messing up. I felt my focus melting and that’s when I forgot my beta.

Thanks to Michael Cheng for the video!

On Day 2 I resolved to let my mind go blank and executed. Flow state was the goal. I speculated that perhaps my brain can only handle being focused for so much time. So I decided to tell my brain it could do whatever for the first half of the route (which is about 5.10) as long as it could keep its shit together for the second half.

Day 2

Here’s what I was doing on Day 2. Similar to day 1, but a few changes.

  • Feeling my chalk.
  • Letting my mind wander and do whatever it wanted for the first half of the route.
  • Noticing my heart rate.
  • Focusing on pushing down on my feet during rests
  • Square breathing at rests

The results: I sent the route. Additionally, my decision to let my brain go slack for the first half of the route had noticeable implications. My belayer (and boyfriend) told my that I “looked like I had no idea what I was doing” for the first half of the route. Which is obviously not ideal, but I knew that I could climb 5.10 a little poorly and resolve any inefficiencies with the no hands rest before crux #1. Overall, it worked! My brain had the energy and focus to keep me from messing up and I sent the thing!

Training your Mind to Climb

Now, am I telling you to climb like shit except for the crux on your project? No. However, I am telling you that it is important to get in touch with what your mind is doing when you are trying to perform. And I am telling you that being able to self-coach your brain, or even control it at all, can be impactful to your climbing performance.

Lauren Abernathy Flesh for lulu
Me getting ready for the first crux on Flesh for Lulu with some deep breathing.

Figuring out what your brain is doing is objectively difficult. You can take videos of yourself climbing, but you can’t record your train of thought the last time you fell on a route.

Getting in Touch with Your Thoughts

Training your mind for climbing is a lot like training your body, you have to take stock of strengths and weaknesses, try different techniques to make adaptations, and you have to do these things consistently.

Maybe you are really in touch with your thought patterns. Personally, I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder and my thoughts get absolutely out of hand sometimes. I practice meditation regularly (5-10 mins per day a few times a week) which helps me objectively observe what my mind is doing. This may sounds really esoteric and weird, but I recommend Headspace if you are interested in getting help with this.

However, my ability to objectively observe my mind was really helpful on Flesh for Lulu. That is why I was able to observe that my brain was getting fatigued when I needed to stay in the zone and remember my beta through the crux.

Additionally, I really liked using square breathing to get my heartrate down on route. It also helped me get mentally focused before executing the crux sequence.

Strengthening my mind for climbing is an ongoing process. From being afraid of heights on a top rope to taking lead falls to optimizing my mental patterns to send my hardest, my brain and I have been on interesting journey.

What is something interesting that you’ve noticed about your mind when you climb? Is there anything you do to help get “in the zone”? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com – I would love to hear from you!

Like this content? You can stay up to date on the latest by following me on Instagram, or Facebook.

And make sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter to receive training tips, tricks and tidbits to help you become a better climber.

Further Reading and Listening

Power Company Climbing – Flow State and Mental Mastery with Hazel Findlay

How I Trained for Fat Camp by Dan Mirsky

The Rock Warrior’s Way by Arno Ilgner

Please note that this post contains Amazon Affiliate links to products I have used and enjoyed. These links help keep senderellastory.com in existence and free to access.

Nine Tips for Weekend Warriors: How to Climb Outside More

Mondays after a weekend of climbing are uniquely exhausting and blissful. Because when you go back to your job on Monday, you carry the residual joy of spending two full days outside doing what you love the most. But you are also exhausted and your job requirements are probably indifferent to how badly you need a nap.

Since moving to New Jersey in 2018, my boyfriend, Mike, and I have adjusted to many things: living together, East coast traffic, and the haul of a drive to get to the nearest sport climbing crag: Rumney, New Hampshire. Despite the long commute for a short weekend, we make it work. In both 2018 and 2019 we have gotten to Rumney many weekends in a row. It’s tiring, but it’s totally worth it.

Lauren and Mike Rumney, NH
Michael and I in New Hampshire on a chilly weekend in Fall of 2019.

It might be that you don’t have any aspirations of climbing harder or better, but perhaps you might set the goal of climbing outside more and doing a better job of getting more pitches in when you do.

With that here are some tips I have for you to help you with your own weekend warrior adventures. I hope these help you get more days of climbing outside this season and many to come.

Tip 1: Have Your Gear Ready to Go All the Time

This seems simple, but packing all your shit up on Thursday or Friday night when you are tired from work sucks even more if your gear, camping supplies, etc. are all over the place. A strategy that has worked well for Mike and I is to keep a camp box in our car during climbing season. Anything we need for outdoor climbing weekends lives in a box in my car in the Fall. When we need to get ready to head out for the weekend, we pack a cooler, some clothes, shoes, harnesses, chalk bags. Packing is quick, painless, and our stuff is where it needs to be when we are ready to hit the road.

Streamline the process of climbing outdoors. Eliminate hurdles and excuses. Spend one weekend organizing your camp box and be done with it forever.

This is the camp box that Mike and I use: It fits everything pretty well.

Tip 2: Set Expectations on Your Schedule with Family and Friends Ahead of Time

I love my family. I love my friends. I also love rock climbing. So I make sure to find ways to spend time loving and enjoying all three. My recommendation is to communicate to your loved ones way ahead of time that you are “booked” to go climbing for certain weekends. Mike and I have a google calendar that we share with our family/friends and we have reserved the weekends that we will be climbing on the calendar. If you don’t make the time for it, you’ll never get to do it.

Tip 3: Meet New People and Make Outdoor Climbing Opportunities

I know I am fortunate to have a car, a live-in climbing partner, and a job with guaranteed weekends off. With that, when Mike and I decide it’s a climbing weekend, we are set to go. However, if you are car-less or partner-less, or you still don’t really feel confident in climbing outdoors without friends to “show you the ropes”, the phrase “beggars can’t be choosers” comes to mind.

If you are new to climbing and someone offers to show you around, take the opportunity. Meet new people. Introduce yourself at the gym. Someone is going climbing outside at your gym. Network your way into an outdoor climbing opportunity if you have to. In college, I had all fall break off from school and none of my friends were going climbing outside. I chatted around the gym until I found some people who were willing to let me tag along. Which was awesome because me and my friend Becca have been buddies ever since!

Me and my pal Becca enjoying a brewery on a climbing/drinking road trip in college.

Tip 4: Good Weather is Hard to Come By

Maybe you live somewhere that has awesome weather all the time. But even if you do, when you are limited to Saturday and Sunday as your days to climb and the weather is good, you had better get your ass outside. And if the weather is just OK, but still manageable, you should go anyway. If you don’t, it will probably snow next weekend.

New River Gorge Hiking
A sunny weekend at the New River Gorge where the forecast said it would rain the whole time. In actuality, it rained for 20 minutes over the course of 4 days. I’m glad I went climbing.

Tip 5: Pay for Convenience Where you Can

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that you make some money because you work during the week which is why you are a weekend warrior in the first place. Now let’s talk about paying for convenience.

I love camping. I love cooking while camping. I love both of those things even more when I have plenty of time for them. However, when you have 48 hours to climb and drive, time is of the essence. Here are some of my favorite ways I like to spend an extra buck for significantly increase convenience in my short, outdoor climbing trips:

  • Paying $25 for a night in a hostel instead of setting up camp when I got to Rumney very late one Friday Night. I slept in a bed instead of setting up camp at midnight in the dark. Additional cost of convenience: $13
  • Not packing dinner to make at camp and grabbing dinner it at local restaurant: $25. Again, I love the outdoors, but cooking camp meals when it’s 30 degrees outside sucks. Not to mention that grocery shopping and prepping a decent camp meal can be a bit of a pain if you are pressed for time when packing.
Hop Fork Tacos
Some delicious and affordable fish tacos I had the pleaseure of consuming on a trip to the Red River Gorge.

I am not promoting that anyone waste money on convenience if they don’t want to. However, if dropping an extra $20 or $30 in a weekend can help make the whole trip a little less exhausting, then why not? What is important is that you’re going climbing outside, the rest is details.

Tip 6: Lower Your Climbing Area Standards

I used to live a two hours from the Red River Gorge, a world-renowned climbing area. People travel from Europe to climb there. Currently I do not live so close. However, there are a few scrappy places within 2-3 hours. When I can make a day trip and it makes sense, I go climbing there. If you want to get better at outdoor climbing, you need to climb outside. And if your best opportunity for outdoor climbing in a reasonable distance is a bit of a choss pile, it might behoove you to go enjoy it anyway.

Lauren Birdsboro, PA climbing
Me climbing in the manufactured, but still enjoyable Birdsboro, PA.

Tip 7: Do a Little Planning

Have you ever had a day of climbing where you get out too late, you go to a crag, the thing you want to get on is taken, then you go to another crag and the same thing happens? Then all of a sudden it’s 2:00 and you’ve climbed one route? Yeah. That sucks. It is possible that a little planning would help you avoid that situation.

Though the logistics are a bit different in every place you go, it’s important to have some kind of a plan and some idea of what you want to get on. Even more important is to communicate with your group mates about this. I’ve spent mornings hemming and hawing over where to go in a parking lot, watching other people hiking in. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. Make a game plan in the car, have a back-up plan if you think you need it, then execute. No discussion needed once you’re in the lot ready to hike.

rumney NH hiking
This is group of climbers ranging in skill level from 5.8 to 5.12! We planned well and had a good weekend climbing together even with the variety of skill levels.

Tip 8: Find a Food Routine

Deciding what to eat and make on a camping trip is nearly as exhausting as the prepping of food itself. If you are trying to get outside a lot (and you are going on back to back weekends), having a simple grocery list/food routine can really help. When you don’t have to google 6 recipes and make a grocery list, the process of packing food for weekend camping becomes much easier.

Here’s a summary of my own food routine. Mike and I make overnight steel cut oats ahead of time. We have protein Clif bars, apples, and PB&J while we climb, and for dinner we either go out or rotate through a couple of standard camp meals that we’re good at making and that we enjoy.

camp stir fry
Camp stir fry! We made sure to chop up everything ahead of time.

Tip 9: Put your stuff away right when you get home.

Going back to tip #1, it really helps to have a place for everything and usually after a weekend trip, clothes need washed, tents need dried, food needs to be put away. My advice is to make sure you are back home with enough time to do these things, then just get it done. Monday is going to be exhausting enough without having to drag your smelly tent out of the car. So when you get back on Sunday, do future you a solid and start getting your stuff ready for next time. I’m not perfect at this and never will be. But even when I do an 80% clean-up job when I get home, it sure is better than procrastinating about it.

What are your biggest weekend climbing hacks? What motivates you to get outside and climb even when life is crazy? Leave a comment or shoot me an email – I’d love to hear your tips and tricks to getting outside more and making the most of it!

Like this content? You can stay up to date on the latest by following me on Instagram, or Facebook.

And make sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter to receive training tips, tricks and tidbits to help you become a better climber.

Please note that this post contains Amazon Affiliate Links to products I use and enjoy. If you purchase the book through my link it helps keep the information and articles on senderellastory.com in existence and free to access.

The Journey to Twelve 5.12s in a Year: An Update

butch pocket and the sundance pump

In the year of 2019, I set out to climb my first 5.12. And I made it a goal to send twelve of them by the end of the year. I wanted them to be in at least four different places to ensure that I wasn’t over-specialized in one rock type or style.

As I write this, it is September of 2019. Over the next few weekends I’ll be spending time in Rumney, NH. After that, I head to Mallorca, Spain for a week long Deep Water Solo Trip, and I’ll be rounding out the fall climbing season with a week in the Red River Gorge for Thanksgiving.

A New Route Pyramid

I am pleased that since fall of 2018, the training I have done over the course of the past year has worked. I am pleased to say that I have not sustained any injuries or really even any significant tweaks. This is something to celebrate in and of itself. As far as the progress to the New Year’s Goal, here are the stats.

Number of 5.12s Redpoints: 4 (all 5.12a)
Locations: New River Gorge, WV; Wild Iris, WY; Rumney, NH; Red River Gorge, KY
Rock Types: Sandstone, schist, and limestone

So I’m 75% through the year and 25% through my goal. Not exactly on-track, but then again I have a majority of my outdoor climbing for the year ahead of me. At minimum I’ve at least tackled four different locations and three types of rock. Here are pictures of the routes, in chronological order.

Starrry New River Gorge 12a
A shot from the bottom of Starry, a 4-star 12a in the New River Gorge.
Lauren Abernathy Wild Iris Climbing
Me getting through the crux on Butch Pocket and the Sundance Pump, 5.12a in Wild Iris, WY.
Photo by Alex McIntyre
lauren abernathy orangahang rumney nh
Me in front of my nemesis route, Orangahang in Rumney, NH. Read more about the epic failure here.
Lauren Abernathy Beattyville Pipeline Red River Gorge
Me in front of Beattyville Pipeline at the Red River Gorge post-send.

What I think Has Helped the Most

If I had to distill my progress into three factors, it would be as follows.

  1. Consistency. If I make a plan for my training, I stick to it for 8-9 weeks at minimum. I don’t get 4 weeks in, decide I hate whatever hangboard protocol I’ve chosen and then switch it out for something else. I stick to what I committed to do and I don’t change it up prematurely.
  2. Practicing Movement. Until I read Movement Drills for Climbers, I really did not know how to practice the skill of climbing. I knew it was important to do, but I didn’t really know how to do it. If you don’t have specific skill practice built into your climbing (especially when you are warming up), you would likely benefit a lot from specific skill practice.
  3. Getting Better at Redpointing. This season I didn’t go full bore into trying to send 5.12 as soon as spring rolled around. I went to Birdsboro, PA and worked on a couple of 5.11cs and 5.11ds. My goal was to build a good base at the beginning of the season. Working on these routes helped me hone my redpointing skills. These were good, manageable projects that didn’t leave me bummed and frustrated. It was a great set-up for my trip to the New River Gorge in May and it set the tone of me improving my ability to learn/rehearse/execute a route for the rest of the year.

A bonus thought: My last two 5.12 ascents occurred when I was wearing a new pair of spearmint-colored leggings. Perhaps colorful, performance spandex is a key component in sending hard routes. It seems to work for that MattClimber guy in South Africa, so perhaps there is something to this.

My Autumn Mantra: “Maintain, Maintain, Maintain”

Going into fall and trying to perform on the weekends means that my focus is shifting. The focus of training is no longer “get better”, it is now “don’t lose what you have”.

My “weekend warrior” training schedule is going to look like this through these next few weeks.

Monday – Rest
Tuesday – Limit Bouldering
Wednesday – Light Hangboard/Strength Session
Thursday – Rest
Friday – Rest
Saturday & Sunday – Outdoor Sport Climbing

This method is inspired by Episode 13 of Eric Horst’s Training for Climbing Podcast on in-season and out of season training.

The idea behind this is that you use your mid-week training sessions to maintain strength and power since, presumably you are working the energy systems associated with endurance and power endurance on the weekends.

For those who are shocked or confused, that is not a typo on the number of rest days before going outdoors: two full rest days. Some of you might think I’m a maniac, but if you’ve never tried resting for a couple of days before going outdoors, it can be very beneficial.

On Shooting for the Moon

I’m about to hit you with a cheesy quote, but it sums up this personal progress report really well.

Image result for shoot for the moon picture

So is it looking good for me to hit my goal of twelve 12s right now? Maybe. Maybe not.

Right now I’m not really afraid of failure, I’m actually more afraid of my sometimes tyrannical desire for success. This desire to succeed could manifest itself as follows: by taking the easy way out. This “easy way out” could look like this:

  1. I never try anything harder than 5.12a
  2. I prioritize routes that are “my style” and don’t work on anything that is out of my comfort zone.
  3. I don’t leave myself any time for “lower tier” routes (5.11c/d) because I’m too focused on racking up more 5.12. (for more on Route Pyramids, see here)

With that, my goal still stands. I have just over 3 months to crank out eight more 5.12s. To combat the aforementioned potential pitfalls, I have a tick list ranging from 5.11c to 5.12c with a variety of styles represented. It is designed to push my limits and my comfort zone. And if it works out and I crank out eight more 5.12s, great! And if I don’t, I will have climbed a lot, tried really hard, and I will “land among the stars”. Or whatever. You get the picture.

On Becoming a Better Climber

The purpose of setting this goal was to become a better climber. The reason I want to be a better climber is so that there are more routes in the world that I am able to climb. If there are more routes in the world that I can climb, then I can climb more rocks! Which is the whole point, because climbing is fun.

How is your year going? Are you on track to complete the goals you set out for? Did you set any goals for this season? Do you like setting goals? Leave a comment or shoot me an email. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

You can follow me on this wild ride by checking me out on on Instagram, or Facebook.

Make sure to subscribe to my newsletter to receive cool training tips, tricks and tidbits delivered straight to your inbox once a month to help you become a better climber.

Please note that this post contains an affiliate link to the Movement Drills ebook by the Power Company Climbing. I use the techniques in this book to this day and I would highly recommend it! If you purchase the book through my link it helps keep the information and articles on senderellastory.com in existence and free to access.

Never Quitting Climbing: People Might be Lame but You Don’t Have to Be

“You’ll quit climbing. You won’t have time with this job.” These words were spoken to me in the first week of my first job coming out of college.

After about a month there, chances were good that I might become depressed and that being an adult was going to be terrible. I was perplexed that I had worked so hard for the past four years earning my engineering degree to end up having no time to do any of the things I actually gave a shit about.

Fortunately, the original prophecy did not come true. I climbed all over the country in my first year out adulthood. I drove an hour to the climbing gym from work twice a week to train. I got up at 4:30 during the week to get on my hangboard before work.

Maybe the baseline for most adults and their hobbies is that they let them slip away as they get older and fatter and they decide that trying to keep pursuing what they love is too much work. But I can’t see myself doing that.

About a year after that, the company moved me to New York. The job had better hours and I picked the closest apartment to the climbing gym. These were well-designed life improvements.

But even after moving from the Midwest to the East Coast, the same sour attitude prevailed. One of my colleague said to me “Well you can’t just go climbing and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every weekend forever. You’ll have to grow up sometime.”

But why? Why is it childish to do what you love? Why is it childish to eat PB&J? Why is it immature to pursue what makes you happy? And why is it your business anyway?

The truth is that I don’t really know. Sometimes the way people let their lives go by without doing anything that makes them happy is really depressing. When I ask people on Monday what they did over the weekend, half the time they don’t even remember.

Climbing is a way to make sure that I’m stoked about something. That I’m going on adventures. That I’m outside laughing my ass off with my friends. That I’m lying in a tent terrified that I’m going to get eaten by a grizzly bear. That I’m hanging 60 feet up on a wall relying on my fingertips. That I don’t become boring, unhealthy, and submissive to a life that I don’t really like that much.

And yeah – life is never going to be perfect. I know that I am privileged to have my limbs intact and to have a job that pays me well and to have great friends and family who support me skipping holidays to screw around on exotic cliff faces. No matter what, I’m never going to squelch my sense of adventure because of the stupid things people say to me. If you’re out there doing something you think is awesome, then keep on doing it. Sometimes it seems like 98% of people don’t even know what they think is awesome anyway – and they certainly aren’t pursuing it.

If you find something that makes you so psyched you can’t stop thinking about it, then latch on to that and never let go. You don’t ever have to quit climbing if you don’t want to.