How to tick your dream sport project

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 09/10/2019
Neil Gresham making the first ascent of his unrepeated route, Sabotage 8c+ Malham Cove in 2016. Photo: Ian Parnell

How should you go about choosing a sport project and successfully repointing it? Pro climbers, mountain instructors and performance coaches offer their advice. Top tips from Steve McClure, Emma Twyford, Katy Whittaker, Neil Gresham, Matt Woodfield, Be Fuller and Sam Farnsworth.

Why project a sport route?

“A sport project is not just a tick in a guidebook, along the way you become a better climber,” says BMC Ambassador Steve Mclure. “It’s all about the journey. Enjoy the process; don’t let the final target take over. Become intimate with the route, learn what it demands of you and how you must raise your game. Together you will become stronger, more cunning and wise with precise footwork; more tenacious and driven; lighter, leaner and fitter.”

How do you pick a dream sport route?

Swansea-based mountain instructor, Matt Woodfield, says: “Pick a line that inspires you, not just a grade, think about the angle, style and rock type.” Steve McClure agrees, and says a dream route is hard to find, but that they are worth seeking out. You’ll know when you’ve found the right project because it will tease you in: “You’ll keep coming back and never tire of it!”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by steve mcclure (@ste_mcclure) on

Steve McClure sport climbing at Kilnsey

Some practical tips to get ahead

“Big dog-bone-style sport draws are slightly easier to clip and much easier to grab when working a route,” says Matt. “And I love my new Pongoose stick — it puts draws in and takes them back out again! Rest your rope after a couple of good falls: lower off and tie into the other end so the rope section that's been fallen on can relax to prevent damage.”

Some mental tips to prevent bruising your ego

Emma Twyford says: “I think the best tips I can give are, firstly, when you start out, break the project down into sections. If it is at your limit don't be surprised if you can't do all the moves first time! Secondly, it's OK to get frustrated on a route but it's so important once you are in the projecting stage to take away a positive as much as you possibly can. Even if you have a backwards session pick out something you are proud of from the process of trying to climb the route.”

WATCH Emma Twyford getting a little frustrated while working Big Bang 

Shortly afterwards she ticked the route, thereby becoming the first British female to climb 9a (see BMC interview here).

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Emma Twyford (@emmatwyford) on

Do ‘top-down links’

“Long sieges can be stressful,” says climbing wad and coach, Neil Gresham, "Which is why many climbers choose to avoid them. However, ‘project blues’ are invariably caused by going for the redpoint too soon. If you try the route from the bottom before you’re properly ready you will inadvertently teach yourself to fail on it rather than succeed and will ratchet up the stress levels.”

“Instead do links going from, say two-thirds height to the top, then half-height to the top, then one-third height to the top and so on until you feel ready to go from the base. This takes a fair amount of self-restraint but the rewards are bountiful – you will learn the nuances of how to climb successfully through the top section in a fatigued state and generally leave the crag feeling like you’ve achieved something. Not only does this make the process more enjoyable but it means you’re so much more likely to stick with it and make it to the finishing line.”

Get personal

"The main thing that I found on my latest project," says performance coach, Be Fuller, "Was the importance of building relevant fitness and tactics. For this route, for example, I needed to learn how to breathe, relax and fully recover on a fairly steep angle on a sloping jug. Because I couldn’t get on the route very often I made up a training drill that taught me how to rest and recover physically and psychologically. You’ve got to be pretty motivated to work your specific weaknesses for a route indoors but it really pays off and means you can get the most out of your time on the rock."

Save energy 

“Clips!” says Katy Whittaker, who is just getting back into climbing after her little one, Pip was born, and is already cruising 7a+s. “A small thing you don’t necessarily think about when, actuallly, clipping is a huge drain on energy, energy that could be used to make the all important send! Think carefully about the best place to clip from - it could be above the clip. Does your draw need extending or shortening? Is the 'biner facing the way that makes it easier for you to clip? If it’s awkward to clip and it’s safe to do so could you miss it out?"

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Katy Whittaker (@katy_whittaker) on

Katy climbing at Leonides, Greece

Face your fears

“And if fear is a factor,” adds Katy, “Practice taking some falls when you are warming up or going bolt to bolt.”

Stay in your own lane

Snowdonia-based mountain instructor, Sam Farnsworth, adds: "Stay in your own lane. Don’t compare your personal performance on any route to someone else. That will either be an unhealthy ego boost or lead to unconstructive frustration. Own your own motivation and experience. And don’t let go of the grips."

Film it

"Video feedback is great for seeing the moves and working out the solution," adds Matt. "It also means you have something cool to post on social media!"

 

More about the contributors

Neil Gresham has been climbing hard for over two decades and is one of the original pioneers in coaching the spor. More about his infamous personalised training program service here: neilgresham.com

Matt Woodflied provides quality rock climbing, mountain walking and adventure days on the Gower and across South Wales. He holds the Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor Award: outdoor-matters.co.uk

Steve McClure is one of the best rock-climbers in the world, having climbed the hardest sport route in the UK at 9b, numerous new routes at the grade of 9a and onsighted many at 8b+. More on his website: steve-mcclure.com

Katy Whittaker is one of Britain's best female climbers. She lives in Snowdonia: katywhittaker.com

Sam Farnsworth has been climbing and instructing for sixteen years and holds the Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor Award. He has climbed all over, from big walls in Yosemite to Venezuela, and throughout the UK and Europe: gaiaadventures.co.uk

Emma Twyford is pushing the limits of British sport and trad. She recently became the first British woman to climb 9a and has also climbed several E9s. Emma works as a coach and routesetter: emmatwyford.wordpress.com

Be Fuller is a performance coach. She coaches the GB paraclimbing team and is head performance coach at White Spider Climbing. She has sport climbed 8a and bouldered v9: beclimbing.co.uk


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