Sunday, December 9, 2012


If you spend any time at all paying attention to climbing media, no doubt you've heard all about the latest projects the pro-bro climbers are working on. Sure this can be inspiring, but for most of us reading about the cruxes of 5.14 routes (or now 5.15!) is so far removed from our climbing it goes right over our heads. But the rest of us should have project routes too, even if our "projs" are 5.10s! There are many benefits of projecting routes, most importantly making you a better overall climber.

What is a project route?

 A project route is simply a route that is too hard for you to currently climb, but that inspires you to work really hard to finally be able to send it. That's it. The route can be in a gym, or at Cuese. It doesn't have to be the best route in the world either. The only two things that matter are that you can't currently climb it, and you want to work hard to be able to climb it.

Adam Ondra working a "lifetime" project.
Some times a project route doesn't take too long to finally send, but some times they can. Pros sometimes talk about multi-year projects, but I think for the average climber that is way too long. In my opinion, for normal climbers it is important to select project routes that are realistic for us. It would be a waste of time for a 5.10 climber to seriously work on a 5.12 route. The point is not to just throw yourself mercilessly on any route that is too hard for you. If I had to put numbers to it, I would say that a realistic project route for normal climbers should take more than 5 attempts, but fewer than 20 to send.

How to work a project route.

After selecting a project, the next step is to work on sending it! What you don't want to do is just try climbing it over and over again, hoping that eventually something magical will happen and it will work out for you. Instead, you want to figure out why you can't send it now, and then work on that deficiency until it is no longer holding you back. Maybe there is one really bad hold for you, or maybe you need more endurance, or maybe there is a really mentally challenging section. Figure it out, and then work it out. This gets to what I think is one of the most fundamental components of how to improve your climbing: taking seriously the difference between practice and performance. In this context, performance is what you do when you attempt to send your project; practice is what you do to be able to perform well enough to send it.

Practicing for a project route may mean rehearsing a tough section of the route until you have it totally wired. Or it may mean doing some hangboard training so you don't get spit off that one bad hold. Throwing yourself time and time again on the route is not practice, and it is not an efficient way to improve.

Performance is when you feel you have practiced enough and are ready to make an attempt at a send. When I said above that a project should take between 5 and 20 attempts, I meant all out, 100% efforts at sending it. This is when you are fully focused, feeling strong and confident, and are ready to put it all together. There should be NO "takes" when you are performing. If you don't send the route on your attempt then you should fall trying.

Here's an example. I worked a project that had two spots that gave me trouble. The first was the whole bottom section that required some careful footwork and body tension. The second was the final clip before the anchor. The clipping hold itself was a sidepull crimp that was hard to get to, required me to really lock my body off in a tenuous position, then mentally commit to pulling rope and clipping. One more tough move after that and the route finished with a fun dynamic move. To have enough strength left to make the crux clip, I had to move efficiently through the bottom section, then calm down mentally so I could focus and commit.

I practiced by breaking the route into two two sections, then worked on climbing through each section at a time. Once I (thought I) figured out my beta and knew I could do each section separately, it was time to put them together and go for the send. Here is an attempt at sending:

It was pretty ugly. I wasn't focusing on my feet during the first section, and I forgot my beta anyway. I also didn't keep my body tight during the tricky heel hook. Because of these errors I didn't have the energy needed at the crux. The good news though is that I kept pushing on until I fell. I also learned that the beta for my feet during the crux wasn't going to work when I was on point from the ground. So I practiced both sections a few times, and my next attempt I sent:

Much better! My climbing was much smoother, my new beta for the crux worked, and I had enough energy to make it all the way. Breaking the route down and deliberately practicing until I was ready to perform really worked!

Benefits of Project Routes

There are many benefits of having a project route, but here are few that I think are really important:

1. It will challenge you
2. It will motivate you
3. It will provide a clear measuring stick of your progress.
4. It will provide a sense of accomplishment (once sent!)
5. It will force you to learn new techniques, get stronger, or both
6. It will make you a better climber

So, next time you're at your favorite climbing spot walk over to that route you've looked at and said "some day." Maybe projecting it will be what takes your climbing to the next level!

Thanks for reading this. Hopefully it will help you become a better climber.

As always, please help spread this around, and leave any thoughts, comments, or questions.


  1. Nice post . . . motivates me to persevere on my current project!

  2. Thanks for the post. Just found your site and it looks like you have some very useful advice for someone like me.


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