Case Study: Climber X

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I received an email recently from a Canadian who wanted a hands-on assessment and assistance creating an improvement plan. We arranged a visit to my humble facility in central Virginia, and he arrived yesterday. I thought it might be instructive for many of us if I blogged about this real world example of how you might go about assessing your abilities, conjuring a goal, and then putting an improvement plan together. Climber X is here for the week so follow along as I dig into his abilities and desires and then help him plot a course for success.

I asked X to prepare a self assessment and route pyramid prior to his arrival. When we sat down yesterday for the first time, his route pyramid revealed that most of his recent ascents have been on limestone, and his preference seemed to lean in the direction of overhanging routes on larger holds. This past season his pyramid consisted of 1 X 11d, 3 X 11c, 3 X 11b, & 7 X 11a.  As we spoke it became evident that X much prefers overhanging routes on good holds as opposed to vertical, technical climbs where precise footwork is key.

We then discussed specific physical abilities such as maximum strength (as measured by maximum bouldering grade – he claimed V3), anaerobic endurance (max grade 4X4 – X claimed V1/V2), stamina (max grade CIR – X claimed V2), and aerobic endurance (max grade 20 minutes continuous climbing – X claimed 10a). From what X told me these measures seemed in line with his current pyramid and a good foundation for pushing his pyramid up.

We then moved to our bouldering wall so I could observe first hand X’s climbing. I had X warm up and then try to send problems in the V2 to V3 range so that I could observe 1. his movement skills when working near his limit, 2. his ability to think through sequences and come up with alternatives, 3. his process in linking sections together, and 4. his maximum strength. In the plus column X’s ability to turn a hip into the wall was well developed as you might expect from someone that climbs overhanging limestone.  In addition, he was able to work at a high level of intensity for an extended period of time (two hours). His areas for improvement are precise footwork as X had difficulty with small footholds, divining alternative sequences for difficult moves, and the process by which he links sequences and thereby sends a project. He should also spend some time experimenting with balance. His maximum bouldering grade is V2.

We discussed his goals at some length. X is now an 11c or d climber, and he wants to send a 13a in four to five years, advancing roughly a single letter grade each year.  Given that X has ample free time , a local bouldering gym in his home town, an abundance of quality climbs virtually at his doorstep, and the emotional commitment to stay on track, X would appear to be a prime candidate for success. Beyond simply stating his goal as 13a I suggested he choose a high quality 13a that inspires him, and it will be that specific climb that will guide his improvement plan over the next few years.

X’s homework last night was to confer with climbing friends in his home town and come up with that 13a as well as a list of good quality upper end 11s and lower end 12s to create a target pyramid for next year. Today we will continue our assessment this time of his roped climbing abilities and begin to piece together the initial portions of his training schedule and targeted route pyramids.

4 Responses to “Case Study: Climber X”

  1. Geoff BrennanNo Gravatar says:

    Totally curious, is that pyramid of routes redpoints? How much outdoor climbing did he/she take to accomplish that at his/her local crags? Also, what is climber x’s best onsight? Also, doesn’t it seem overly ambitious to be going after 12′s , 13s with only 2 days a week training? Does the climber have other attributes that lend to excelling at climbing… Light weight? Ideal height (5ft 11in, I’d guess)?
    I’d throw out the idea that he/she should travel to the Red River Gorge to go after the best, most classic overhung routes with good feet on the continent, once he/she is ready for peak performance. And I say that as an Portland, Oregon and former NYC climber…

  2. Dan HagueNo Gravatar says:


    Yes, the pyramid is redpoints. The average number of attempts per send is something like two or three, best on-sight is 11a or b.

    The two sessions per week schedule is for the winter when X will be spending most of his time teaching skiing. Once spring arrives he’ll spend four days a week climbing. I’ll pass on your suggestion of travelling to the Red, but he has an ample supply of big, overhanging limestone in his backyard.

  3. Geoff BrennanNo Gravatar says:

    Wow, that’s better than I was expecting. He’s really concentrated on routes outside up until this point? Cause I feel like its rare to hear of a route climber who is that dialed in the 11s and yet not bouldering v3/v4.
    Thanks for the information. Its fascinating to learn about someone else training, and to try to understand your training through their progression. Can’t wait to hear how he progresses through his training. I love your book, the self coached climber and am looking to pick up a copy of Redpoint shortly.
    Great stuff.

  4. Dan HagueNo Gravatar says:

    It’s true, one of X’s areas for improvement is maximum strength. He knows it, and he’ll be spending more time bouldering as a result.

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