Eggs In Baskets: the Importance of a Variety of Projects

I’ve just had this message: “#I’mpsychedsoitsallgood”

The culprit: an immeasurably enthusiastic young friend of mine, on his way to my village to attempt a classic E3 5c. The reason for his message: i was offering live conditions updates and he had declined and was heading here regardless.

In this instance, his call was a reasonable one and the forecast turned out to be adequate but this isn’t the first time we’ve had similar conversations like this. A few weeks back, after a particularly wet morning, he tried to drag me miles up the hillside in the Llanberis Pass to try Willy Two Goes; a 7b boulder project of his.

I declined, saying i was loathed to trudge that far up a steep approach only to find our project too damp for success. Instead, we opted for something lower down, with a shorter walk, that did indeed dry almost perfectly.

These incidents turned out to be fine and the conditions were not a problem but there are many times when sheer enthusiasm was nowhere near enough to allow decent climbing conditions. The simple fact is that if the conditions are poor, or in many cases slightly sub-optimal, your chances of success or enjoyment fall off the proverbial cliff. Youthful exuberance can be really useful in counter-acting lethargy but only to a point.

Take November 2012 as an example. For reasons that remain, quite frankly, stupid, myself and a friend set off on a trip to Magic Wood; a crag in a narrow, sheltered valley, high up in the mountains. Before we left, we said if it was too cold, we’d head south in search of warmer climes but once there, belligerence took over and we spent every day bar one heading into the frozen woods and achieving next to nothing.

I could give countless examples of this. The trip to Froggat where we encountered a snow storm; the wet day at the Roaches where the only dry rock was a beer-mat sized piece of grit in the middle of a single bouler problem; many more times where we’d headed out with the “it’ll be fine” attitude, only to waste our day travelling and walking in to a crag that was never going to be even remotely suitable.

And this begs the question: what should we have done instead? Was there an alternative that would’ve worked?

Picking projects: a question of options

Having projects all comes down to options. There are so many downsides to having a single project: a lack of antagonist training, potential boredom and of course, the potential for it to be in poor condition.

Let’s say, for example, that your solitary project line is a boulder problem nestled in your favourite forest. Chances are it would then require at least a couple of days of dry weather after rain. That means you lose three times the number of days due to bad weather.

On the other hand, let’s say your project is the opposite: high on a hillside, catching the wind. Fine, it’ll dry quick, that issue is solved, but on a cold, windy day, it’ll be a brutal place to try again and again.

So which one is best? The answer is neither; or better still, it’s both. By having both problems on your radar, a windy day after a dry spell may find you hiding in the forest or likewise on a day when you’re after a bit of shade and shelter. But if it’s been raining the day before, you’ve got something else to head to.

The answer is to have plenty of options, importantly with a variety of aspects to match any day you might encounter. However, too many options can spread you too thin.

You could possibly think of any unclimbed line in your local guidebook as a project but this gives you too many to think of. It can make decisions overwhelming and defeats the object of having projects altogether.

The compromise

Ideally you’re looking for around 12-15 projects with a variety of grades and a wide array of aspects. This matches the conditions but also your own feelings on any given day that you get the chance to get out.

Ideally you should also have a host of different styles of climbing too, although personally i leave this “train your weaknesses” to the gym. When i’m out on projects, i want to be performing to my best and this just doesn’t happen if i’m trying climbs that don’t suit me.

So there you have it. I wish i could recapture some of that youthful exuberance of my formative years again but i certainly know that if i did, i could use it much wiser now!