By: Jake M.
My favorite part of rock climbing by far is working on a project. Projects are climbs that may be out of your normal skill range, or maybe are just not your general style of climbing. They require much more work, thought, and effort than just running up a route on the wall. The feeling of flashing a climb (finishing the route without falling on your first attempt) is a great one, but for me, these climbs are quickly forgotten and usually never climbed again. Climbs that I have projected, however, stay with me. These are the climbs that keep you awake at night and loom over you every time you enter the gym or walk through the crag. They may take weeks or months to climb or make any noticeable progress. It can be a maddening process, but the payoff is better than any flash.
When dedicating something to be my project, there usually has to be something special about it. A special dynamic move, a hard hold style, or maybe a grade that I have yet to feel comfortable with. It can also be a legendary local climb that you have heard all about but never been able to send yourself. Whatever your project is, it is going to take some serious work. When projecting, many climbers will train specific moves and muscle groups just for their one climb. The process can be exhausting physically, as well as mentally.
Having a project can be a stressful experience. It can be tough to have fellow climbers do better on the climb and send it before you do. The stress is only increased when you have a time limit, such as a trip that’s about to end or a gym route that is about to be taken down before you can fully send it. You may have to fall dozens of times in the same spot before you can figure out the correct sequence at the crux of your route. I find that if a climb is getting too in my head, I need to take a break from it rather than breaking it down to every little hold and sequence. If I try to redpoint on every attempt, I will just get too tired and my climbing that day will just get worse from there. It is hard to pull yourself back when you might just be one try away from unlocking the whole thing and finishing many hours of work.
If a project seems like it is within your grasp, but it just won’t go, then it is most likely a mental issue rather than a physical one. I have been so close to send projects before, but I let the excitement and nervousness get to me and I fall in places I never had a problem before. Try looking at your problem areas in the climb from a new angle. The way you approach a sequence can make all the difference. The change of single foot position or the way you use your hand to grip one hold can be the key to the whole route.
This is where beta can come in handy. In rock climbing, beta is just any sort of information about the climb. Other climbers who have been on the route before can give you little hints or even a step by step walk through on the part you are stuck on. Some climbers want to do their projects without any beta or even without watching anyone else climb “their route”. Therefore, it is important to not give beta unless you are asked for it, even if a climber is struggling on the same spot and you know how exactly how to do it.
However, in many cases it is important to put aside our pride in climbing and ask for a little help. Getting beta does not taint a climb for me, and might only help a little, as what worked for another climber might just physically not work for you. I could get the beta on every move in Silence (5.15d) and still lack the lifetime of training it takes to attempt it. Still, a fresh set of eyes on a problem or having a buddy watch you climb your project can help you figure out what is going wrong.
My biggest breakthroughs on projects usually come from running pieces in chunks. I will climb up, or sometimes lower down, to specific stretches of the route. I can take my time and really inspect the holds and feet, and then run the sequence of moves until I feel confident in it, then I move onto the next chunk. This way, I don’t tire myself out getting up to that spot every time and can do it with fresh hands. After doing this on all the sections of the climb, you can then string together the different sections. I find that this makes the route as a whole seem more manageable, rather than a looming mass of rock taunting me from above.
Projects can be frustrating and get in your head in a way that you did not think was possible. It is important to remember in these times that we climb because it is hard. Be grateful for your projects, as they have a lot to teach you and they are making you stronger every step of the way. The satisfaction achieved by finishing a true project will always be better than just running through it with no problem. Now, go try your project a few more times.