before worrying about 20 pitches of 5.12, get good at 20 pitches of 5.10

theres plenty of suffering to be had in summer: long days on baking rock, drenched in sweat, fingers raw, soaked by the approach, dehydrated and sunburned. all winter you fantasize about things being lighter once all the gear is gone, but in the end it just becomes water instead. still, some things are easier in a t-shirt and daylight, so summer is the time to reduce complex systems to robotic reflex and develop the body that can withstand mile upon mile of vertical gain. neither comes fast nor by accident.

after endless winters of long alpine routes its easy to devolve by dedicating too much effort to short but hard rock routes in the belief that harder makes you better. and whilst theres no doubt that some upper threshold training is important, letting it take over and losing your hard-earned endurance edge is a serious training mistake – as seen in the many climbers who complain at the start of each winter how theyve lost their capacity for long hard days.

you get better at what you do by doing it and what you dont do atrophies. analyse any alpine objective and you see that above all other factors its the time on-route that is the baseline. pulling a single pitch of m11 or 5.13 is irrelevant if you cant stay up there and cover the other dozens of 5.9 pitches to get to it. in real time this means sucking it up and hammering out infinite pitches efficiently and well within your zone – something that comes no other way. by pitch 20 – climbed consistently and well – 5.10 will start to feel more and more like 5.12, and that 5.12 pitch it was all about starts to look much harder than the 5.12 you just squeezed out at the wall. the weak link is failed endurance.

so summers need not feel like a diversion from cold alpine – all those hours on rock pay off in many more ways than just endurance – but if youre going to keep the edge sharp between winters it needs consistent and intentional effort and that in turns means suffering, just in a different way. at the height of summer you will long for the simple agonies of winter.