Outdoor climbing: 5 Mistakes to Avoid at the Start of the Season

Lauren Abernathy Wild Iris

Outdoor climbing: 5 Mistakes to Avoid at the Start of the Season

The first time I completed an indoor training cycle, my first day back outside was magic. Routes that I could not finish the spring before became routes I did in one try that Fall. I could hardly believe my forearms. You might remember this mystical time yourself.

Unfortunately, as the years go on, making massive leaps becomes less and less common, if it happens at all. It is critical to have the right attitude when transitioning from indoor training to outdoor climbing. Here are a few mistakes to avoid at the start of your outdoor climbing season.

Mistake #1: Forgetting the unique demands of outdoor climbing

No matter how specific your gym or home wall, the likelihood is that your indoor practice does not perfectly replicate what you will be doing outdoors. The bolts are farther apart, the topouts are higher consequence, the feet are probably worse, and the route is not spelled out by big, bright holds.

This does not mean make a bunch of excuses. Give yourself the space to fail and don’t expect that you will be right back in the saddle on day one. He’s a tangible example from coach Nate Drolet about a smart way that one of his clients transitions into the start of a climbing season.

He doesn’t have a ton of time to climb outside. He recognized a pattern recently…. it takes him roughly twenty pitches to really start feeling in the groove… His goal now is, his first weekend, he’s going to knock out twenty pitches. He is fully committed to biting the bullet and going through that learning curve.

Nate Drolet, Power Company Podcast: Why Bouldering May not Help Your Sport Climbing

It takes time to get back in the groove, so plan for it. Be aware that as you get re-acquainted with outdoor climbing, you might have some rough days.

Mistake #2: Letting one bad day derail your confidence

The first day ever climbing in Rumney New Hampshire, I literally could not get past a move on a 5.10b. That same day, I fell off of a 5.10a. My confidence was crushed. I felt really stupid. “All that training and I can’t even climb 5.10.” But later that season I sent my first 5.11c and 5.11d. The training worked, but I had a bad day.

Perhaps on the first day out, you climb like shit. The narrative begins “I trained so hard and I still suck. I made it nowhere.” Stop it. Yes you did. If your training metrics improved throughout the cycle, you got better. Do not psyche yourself out – there are a million reasons why your first few days back outside do not feel like you hoped they would.**

Did you eat enough? Did you sleep poorly because you drove six hours and did not get to the crag until 2 a.m? Are you climbing in a new area? Did you intentionally dehydrate yourself because your other half won’t stop for bathroom breaks on the drive to the crag? Ok, maybe that one’s just me. Either way, between the fundamentals of getting outside again and a thousand other factors might cause you to have an off day. Don’t read into it too much.

**if you have not been training and you just got off a six month couch break, do not be surprised if you performance is lacking.

Mistake #3: Forgetting to communicate with your partners

Fortunately, I live with my climbing partner, but I know this is not the case for many. Practical things like not planning where you want to go, or not asserting yourself when you want to go work on something can really blow up your trip or a whole season.

Have a conversation with your partners or group about what you want to do in advance. Prioritize objectives so that if all else fails, at least you got to do “insert whatever route” here. Make plans. If you don’t, you may not even get to the route you have trained so hard for.

climber girls
Me and my buddy Sam. We live in different states but we’re always texting about routes and goals and plans for our next trips. It keeps me really psyched.

Mistake #4: Not planning a transition tick list

Something I have failed to do in the past is start the season with lower-tier projects. Usually, I feel that I have so little time to get outside, that I too quickly into the season objectives. I am better about this, however when I go on trips to new areas. I typically give myself some time to adjust to the style. This tactic is fun because it involves climbing a bunch of new routes before digging into anything major. For example in during my week in Wild Iris last year, on day one I did a bunch of 5.10 and 5.11 routes to adjust to the area. By day three, I was digging into my project for the week.

How long your tick list is depends on how quickly adjust to the outdoors as well as how much time you have for adjusting. If your trip is two weeks long, maybe more time to adjust is warranted. If your season is five or six weekends long, then maybe one or two weekends of busting out climbs is all you have. This is something you should figure out for yourself.

Lauren Abernathy Wild Iris
Working through some fun 5.11s in Wild iris on my first day there.
Photo by Tyler Palmer.

Mistake #5: Too Much Training

When it is time to perform, you have to turn down the training so you can prioritize your time outside. Your training priority will have to shift from making gains to maintaining and performing. You cannot expect to do your best outdoors if you are still thrashing yourself at the gym. When I anticipate a day outside I give myself two rest days before heading out. During the season, my training volume gets cut way down because I know that the outdoor climbing is what’s important.

Wrapping Up

Overall, thinking you are going to hit the ground sprinting is a good way to set yourself up for disappointment. Though you might be ready to crush on day one, odds are, you won’t be.  Make sure you put your energy towards good planning, not towards beating yourself up if you fall climbing something “easy” on the first day out.

How do you like to start the season? Does anything work really well for you? Leave a comment below – I would love to hear from you!

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