The Zen of Climbing


Climbing at The Grotto.

In talking with Grotto owners Matt and Brian, I’ve been trying to determine the right ways to map out a route. Matt’s style is to jump on it and power it out. I’ve literally watched him fly over a couple of holds that others would stretch and reach for by their fingertips. Brian, if you’ve ever watched him, has a slow and methodical approach. How should we approach it for ourselves.

It depends on our style, the route, our energy at that moment and who’s around. But the more complex the mind and intention of the setter, the more mindful we need to be to solve the problem. The recent set by Nate, Tony and others are proving to be the most sensitive routes to date at The Grotto. These guys are there every day and really have a feel for the sport, as well as the needs of the community.

I approach bouldering like yoga. The more I climb, whether its from Child’s Pose to Mountain or a *V3-, the more mindful I have to be. It’s easy to think you can just power up and go crazy on a route, but those of us who’ve been at The Grotto since it’s opened know that the routes here are significant. They require study to send, ascend. Sometimes we can onsight, send a route on the first try with no beta, help or info from other climbers. We might get the start just fine, but fail to make that one trick move that gets us to the top. Or we could wind up sitting on the floor trying to figure out how to make the first couple of moves. I tend to watch my wife try a route before I attempt it. For one, she’s easy to look at, but she also has outstanding technique and unmatched ferocity.

We can observe other climbers, feel it out one hold at a time or map the route mentally. Mapping means we look at each hold, from bottom to top, and mentally place our hands and feet where it looks like the setter intended, as well as where the climbers leave chalk and black rubber. At The Grotto, routes usually start where the tag is, but not always. You can tell where the hand holds are and the direction where your body mechanics should be by examining the chalk left on each hold. If there’s a shiny hold with black all over it, you can be sure that most climbers have used it as a foot hold. You can go your own way, and it may or may not work. But for learning purposes, the advice I’ve received is to climb the route the way the setter intended it. If the setter had it wrong or the idea was more intuitive than complete, climbers will make it work how it needs to work for them. We try to take all of this into consideration. Keep in mind that the plan may fall apart once you’re up there. But the practice of thinking about the routes, by whatever method, burns climbing ideas into our minds and will add to our library of techniques.

Whether we power through part of it and Zen out on the rest is all relative to the moment. One thing that I work on consistently is being in the moment. This helps when the plan fails or when I just need to get centered on (or off) a climb. An excellent way to get grounded when our feet are off the ground is to work on a pranayama, yogic breath practice. Here’s one of my favorites. It’ll help you stay present and give you a moment to collect yourself between holds.  Practice this in a seated position first, so when you’re on the wall you don’t have to think about it. As a yoga teacher, I recommend that you take a lot of yoga with teachers who use breath work as well.

To prepare, breathe in fully. Exhale with a HA sound, open mouthed. Repeat that once or twice to clear the energy. Then on the next breath in, slightly constrict the back of your throat. Breathe in completely, hold at the top of the inhale. Exhale slowly with that constricted throat. Pause empty. Repeat as often as you like. See you in the gym!

*Note the new grading system at The Grotto includes + and -. which really enhance the training capacity at the gym.