With the days getting colder, the weather deteriorating, and 2024 looming, it's hard not to ponder what adventures the next year will hold. Still, with 52 weeks available and few of them - at this stage - booked up, it can be easy to be complacent and assume that you'll get a chance to climb everything you're hoping to, but don't be fooled - right now is the time to get trips booked, training done, and plans made! Here are five top tips to maximize your climbing year.
1. Get Training!
Whatever you want to climb will be much easier to achieve if you're fit. You may already be fit enough to do the routes you aspire to, but being 5% stronger will make it 5% easier and - because you'll be able to move quicker and have the option to go further and faster - at least 5% safer, too. There's no such thing as being too strong, so work on your weaknesses and arrive into 2024 a fitter climber than you were this year.
The exact nature of how to train will come down to what you're trying to climb. If your focus is rock climbing, then hitting the climbing gym and the fingerboard is the way to go. Legendary British climber Stevie Haston once said that to get better at climbing, you needed to do three things: climb more, climb with people who are better than you, and do pullups on a 1cm edge. Even with all the modern climbing gyms, training plans, and gear available today, it's still a good recipe.
Pullups still have their place if your focus is more towards the mountains, but your training will need to be much more all-body. Compound lifts like deadlifts, front squats, and cleans are superb for strength, and long endurance runs/hikes/bikes are the key to improving endurance. There is no limit to how technical you can get with this stuff, but famous strength coach Dan John's training program of "lift weights twice a week and get sweaty twice a week" is an excellent place to start. In addition to mountain days - lift weights, do long endurance sessions, and you will be close to the mark.
2. Make Plans
The combination of time, partner, weather, and conditions is rare, and if you're trying to make it work at the last minute, it's even rarer! You might not know which exact route you'll end up doing, but booking some firm dates with a trusted partner ensures that you'll do something. Even if the weather is awful and you can do nothing but train and plan for sunnier times, hanging out with a good friend and working on the personal element of your climbing partnership is still time well spent in the long run.
Assuming that you don't get completely destroyed by weather, you will almost certainly get up to something over a week, and being forced to adapt to the conditions on a set date will help to develop your planning skills, too. Getting a trip booked well in advance maximizes your chance of achieving your objective and gives you a goal for which to train and prepare.
3. Find A Mentor
It might be a mountain guide whose services you pay for, or maybe you're lucky enough that a more experienced climber will climb with you, but either way, going out with someone better than you is a fast-track way to improve. Try to learn from everything they do - what routes they suggest, how they plan, and how they behave once you're in the mountains.
As your competence level grows, it can be hard to recognise just how much expertise you have and how much of that competence manifests itself subconsciously. As such, an experienced climber might be unable to sit you down and tell you what you need to know. Just observe them, listen to how and why they make decisions, and absorb their knowledge like a sponge rather than like a student taking notes.
4. Do More
As outlined above, much of your competence is derived subconsciously as you develop experience and gain knowledge. As such, there's no substitute for simply doing more climbing if you're trying to get better at it!
It can be easy during the winter months to think that training and planning are your only options, but you'll be amazed at how much you can learn just by doing something outside. They might not be much fun, but winter camping, night navigation, and hiking in the rain will all teach you something. Maybe you'll figure out which socks to wear, how to keep your map dry in bad weather, or learn a little trick to keep your tent dry - the key thing is that you'll definitely learn something. The lesson you learn might actually be that you REALLY don't like winter camping, but even that might be new knowledge!
Seek any opportunity to learn, and watch your subconscious competence soar.
With all this talk of goal-setting and preparation, it's easy to get a little uptight about climbing. Remember that it's supposed to be fun and that amazing things often occur when you relax and allow experiences to happen. If you're on a climb and focused on the end goal, your mind can be crushed by the sheer magnitude of the task - try instead to relax and deal with each mini-task before moving on to the next. When you're at a ledge, think about getting a drink and a bite to eat, then think about how to neatly stack the rope, then think about where the next bit of the route goes, then think about your tactics for climbing it, then....then....then. Focus on the process, not the goal, and try to relax your mind into only pondering your next task.
You can also apply this to your training - walking into a gym with a workout planned and then thinking of that workout in its entirety is pretty tough psychologically. If your workout calls for ten sets of pullups, and the first set feels hard, it can be easy to dwell on how tough the last set will feel. Instead, focus on the moment - keep your form solid, and then focus on how to best recover for the next set. Take a sip of water, and really think about recovering instead of thinking about the next set. When the next set's done, go back to thinking about recovery.
Relax and deal with the next task, whether in the gym or the mountains.
And here's a bit of inspiration for those training sessions ahead!