Week One Of Climbing Training

As a try-hard local, I figured I’d post some training weeks in prep for my El Cap race with Hans Florine in June.

Week One Of Training:

Sun – 20 boulder routes at the gym (up to V3), then sent one V8 for power

Mon – Climbing rest: Light weights, jumping jacks, push-ups

Tues – Speed climbing outside at The Columns. 7 fast laps (5.8+ to 5.10c)

Wed – Easy climbing outside, bouldering at Sisters, 10 routes up to V3

Thurs – Active rest: 4-mile hike + 4 easy boulder routes (VBs and V0s)

Fri – 2-mile run, 1.5-mile hike, + outdoor bouldering at Sisters (13 routes up to V6)

Sat – 10 outdoor boulder routes up to V6


I’m Racing Hans Florine In June!


Hans Florine lead-climbing on El Cap, Yosemite Valley

“Super Local vs. Super Pro – An El Cap Day At A Crap Cliff”

Recently, I was being interviewed by an adventure journalist name Jayme Moye, and she decided to help set up a strange event.
The short version of the story is this: Hans Florine is flying up to Eugene, Oregon to race me on an El Cap Day (3000 feet of climbing in one day) at my local cliff where I’ve done many El Caps. He’s a world class speed climber, but he doesn’t know the routes. I’m just an average local dirtbag – not world-class by any standards – but I do know the routes.
Hans Florine has won a world speed-climbing championship, three X-Game gold medals, and holds many world records.
I really sorta kinda like to climb a lot, pretty often, and anywhere I can.
The race is high-stakes: We’re betting a beer, a burrito, and a monster cookie.
The journalist (Jayme Moye) has written for National Geographic, Outside, and Men’s Journal, and she’ll be writing about the event for multiple magazines. Climbing Magazine has asked me to write a feature for Climbing.com.
Running laps at The Columns

Me running laps at the Columns, Eugene, Oregon, on an ascender (with my surgically repaired thumb in a cast)

Specifics On The Race:
– Our local cliff is only 47 feet tall, so each time I do an El Cap Day, it’s 64 route-laps. I last did an El Cap Day there two weeks ago. The last time I climbed there was Tuesday.

– I usually fix a few lines and run 64 laps with an ascender on a drag, then rappel each lap and start over. This is the system we’ll use for our race.

– Although I never race my El Cap Days, it usually takes me 3.5+ hours to rock climb 3000 feet (while eating and talking to people a little bit), but I’ll train and get that time down before the race (Note: The time includes 64 rappels).
– Hans has climbed the real El Cap in under 2.5 hours – and formerly held the world speed record on that cliff with Alex Honnold – but again, this is a new cliff to Hans, and he doesn’t have to rappel 3000 feet when he speed climbs in Yosemite.
– But – honestly – that might not matter. He might just crush me anyway. So I’ll just do my best. I do know the cliff well and have first-ascent trad routes at The Columns of up to 5.12cR.
– The dates we’ve set out (three in case of weather, specifically rain) are June 10-12. Tentatively, the race is set for June 10th, at 9:00 AM.
Character details:
– I’m more than 10 years younger than Hans. So that might help me?
– Just kidding: Look at his picture and notice that he’s kind of fit.
– Also, just two years ago, Alex Honnold said in an interview that Hans is still the greatest in the world. Since Alex Honnold is considered the best in the world by most people, this is a huge compliment.
– Injury notes: I have a brain injury from getting hit by a car on my bike three years ago (and a torn right meniscus + surgically repaired right thumb), yet I keep climbing every week at the crag. Hans probably has a few things that hurt on his body…doesn’t everybody?
I’m ready to get crushed compete!

How To Climb Like A Beginner

All injury stories are the same. I was feeling pretty good, starting to climb well when I…



(Choose a noun: KNEE, SHOULDER, HAND, ACL, WRIST, ANKLE, LEG, MCL, pinkie…)


I wasn’t feeling very good, hadn’t been working out hard enough at that time, when I pushed it more than I should and I…


The injury’s not where the story gets interesting. Yeah, I’ve had injuries before (broken ribs, dislocated thumb, fractured wrist, etc.) and yes, you’ve had injuries as well. You tore your rotator cuff. You snapped a tendon in your ring finger. You injured the whatever-its-called in your elbow when you fell off your nephew’s trampoline. Really, our individual injuries are not that interesting.

But our attitudes? What we do after our injuries? That – to me – is much more interesting.

Unfortunately – for a while at least – after surgery or getting the cast off or the knee brace, or doing physical therapy, we have to climb easy. We can’t go hard. We can’t run up The Rostrum. We can’t send that Bishop highball we’ve always to finish. We can’t project that 5.12+ trad route at the Gunks. For a while, we have to keep from getting injured again. We have to maintain good attitudes and sound training fundamentals while still climbing easy. And that’s difficult. Most of us – naturally – want to go hard, want to push our abilities, want to send something that we’ve never sent before. But the road back to climbing hard starts with climbing easy. There’s an art to climbing easy, and in my experience, a lot to learn from that time period of easier exertion.


With Beginner Routes, There’s No Competition

I’m a competitive person. If three of my friends and I are attempting a difficult route, I want to send it first. I don’t mind if someone else is successful on the route as long as I’ve already been successful on the route. See, I like to win the game. I want to win the game even if no one else knows that we’re playing the game. If everyone thinks we’re just having fun, I might be competing in my head. That makes me seem like a jerk, but truthfully, I sometimes am a jerk. I’ve competed for who can be the best at throwing rocks at a metal sign, for who can open the well-sealed jar of jam, for who can find the prettiest piece of petrified wood.

I’m way too competitive.

The problem with being a way-to-competitive-climber and having a significant injury is that there’s no competition on beginner routes. Everyone can climb VB or 5.6.

That bodybuilding guy with zero footwork who wears a leather vest to the gym, wears no shirt underneath, and climbs with bent arms all the way up the wall? Yep, he can climb 5.6.

That college girl who yells “SPOT ME! SPOT ME! SPOT ME!!!!!” in a hysterical voice the second she leaves the ground on the easiest VB taped-route? Well, she sends that level too.

So if I’m climbing beginner routes – and only beginner routes – I’m on everyone’s level. Actually, I’m below most people’s level. There’s no one to beat at climbing, no one to be better than. So I have to let go of my competitive mindset, and that’s probably good for me. Thinking about it a little more, I realized that letting go of a competitive mindset – at least once in a while – is probably good for most climbers. Maybe if we all spent a little more time climbing easy routes, we’d find joy in the process and we’d let go of ridiculous competitiveness. For example, we might stop selfishly hoping for our own friends to fail on tougher routes until we send them ourselves.

About to send her project

Roo climbing into the overhang – about to send her project.


Because Beginner Climbing Is Climbing Just For Fun

Climbing is supposed to be fun. When Alex Lowe was told in an interview that he was one of the best all-around climbers in the world, he shook his head and said, “The best climber in the world is the one who’s having the most fun.”

And it’s not like I don’t have fun climbing. I have a lot of fun. I sometimes laugh and smile all day long. But I’m pushing myself, pushing hard. I have a lot of goals, and if I don’t meet my own high expectations, I get disappointed. I feel like I haven’t “performed.” And how weird is that?


It’s as if a day of climbing with my friends is actually a violin recital and there’s some classical music critic in my head asking if I played Tchaikovski’s symphony well enough.

I tend to get caught up in my “what’s next?” mentality as well. If I can trad lead these five middle-grade routes in one day at my local crag, then I should be able to do “Astroman” the week after next.

But what’s after 5.7 if you’re only a 5.7 climber right now and you don’t push it? Oh wait, I know the answer to that: More 5.7. Always. And maybe a few VBs and a sprinkling of 5.6s as well.

To be honest, isn’t Royal Arches one of the best routes in the Valley? And what does that go at?

Never mind that you’ve always avoided Royal Arches because you don’t want it on your 8a.nu scorecard…

unintentional cool guy face

Beware of making unintentional “Cool-Guy” face. Trust me, neither of us are very cool.


Make Up Endurance Challenges

Since you’re not at the gym or crag to “perform,” you can climb without worrying about sending hard routes. But just because you’re climbing without a high-end goal, doesn’t mean you can’t make up challenges for yourself. Easy endurance challenges are great.

For example:

  • Climb 20 VBs in one session. Then another day, climb 30. Then 50. Inside, at the gym, this challenge is sort of a fun one or two-hour workout. But outside, it takes a lot of exploring to find twenty or more VB rock routes, and it’ll be fun finding that many easy boulders even in your home area. The first time I did this challenge at my favorite bouldering area, I realized how much I loved the location, how cool it was to climb easy volcanic rocks in a beautiful ponderosa and juniper forest.
  • Do pyramids on a VB. Climb up one move, down one move, then up two moves and down two moves, up three and down three, slowly building to climbing the whole route in one vomit-pumping, VB-obsessing manner. This is an excellent drill inside or outside, and your forearms get tired.
  • Research the height of a famous, long, easy rock route, then go to your local crag and climb that height in one day. If you want to be obsessive compulsive, count the total pitches of 5.5, 5.6, 5.7, and 5.8 on the famous route and climb the route in full-imitation-mode, pitch by pitch, at your home crag.
warm up route

Roo on one of our favorite easy routes


Don’t Care What Other People Think And Don’t Get Caught Up

This is difficult for competitive people. Trust me, I know. Although I’m not the strongest climber in the world…or North America…or my own region…or even at my small, local gym (please don’t tell anyone how weak I am), I like to be thought of as a strong climber. I hope people think, “Look how strong he was on that cave route. He made that look easy.” But the truth is, “strong” is a vague and relative term for most of us. Stack me up against a beginning climber and I look pretty strong. But when I hear that Chris Sharma warmed up on two V7s at Bishop, I don’t feel so strong anymore. So why do we worry about comparisons? Why do we hold so tightly to our faulty illusions of greatness?

To climb easy well, that is, to enjoy easy climbing, I have to stop caring about what other people think and how I compare to them. And to do this, I have to turn down local “hard-man” offers. I have to avoid getting caught up.

The scene:

A local hard-man takes a long drag on his cigarette. Crushes the tip with his calloused fingers. Says, “Pete, I bet you could send this route pretty quick? Wanna jump on it?”

I shake my head and am grateful for what I get to climb this day. I say, “No, I’m doing an easy day on these 5.8s over here.”

Local hard-man, shirtless and tan, stretches his neck one way, then the other. “But don’t you wanna burn down this 5.11+ real quick? I’m sure you could.”

It’s a trap. I have to watch out. I just saw him fail on that route and he doubts I can do it. He wants a failure comparison. He hopes that maybe I won’t make it to his highpoint, so maybe he can say, “Yeah, but Pete looked like crap on it too. It’s pretty sandbagged for 5.11+.”

But I can’t fall for this trap even if I think I can do the route, even if I’ve done the route many, many times before. I can’t get re-injured on something meaningless. So I have to say, “No thanks. But lemme give you a belay if you wanna try it again.”

It’s a dangerous world out there at the crag. Stick to your easy game plan. Stay easy. Stay healthy. Get stronger slowly.

Try-Hard Face

Avoid “Try-Hard” face as well.


Focus On Form

Quiet feet. Straight arms. Steady pace. Decisive hand-placement. Use every part of your body. Don’t waste your time trying to find the best part of every hold. Push off your feet much more than you pull with your arms. Rotate your hips. Roll your body through each move and keep a steady progression.

In Fall Of The Phantom Lord, Dan Osman talks about putting three-quarters of his body weight on his feet. Think about that as you climb 5.6, 5.7, 5.8. It’s pretty cool to focus on that sort of efficiency and recognize when you’re climbing smoothly, effortlessly, like a trout swimming through an eddy.


Climb With Kids

Some of this essay makes climbing easy sound like a mental challenge or somehow less fun, but that’s not true. Some of the most fun climbing days of my life have been on easy routes. Many, many, short, easy routes. Or long easy routes. So many fun days when the grades didn’t matter at all.

Climbing easy is especially fun with kids because kids climb for pure joy. They swing on overhanging holds. They sing as they climb. They chase lizards to the other side of the boulder. And sometimes they only want to climb barefoot.

So do what they do. Take on their mentality. Sing with them. Run around and explore. Take off your shoes and catch that lizard. Climb with a child’s sense of wonder.


Roo on a log

Maybe do this instead of stressing about sending that hard route?


Finally, Renew The Mind

So what’s wrong with VB? What’s wrong with infinite 5.7 pitches? Do I always need a challenge, or have I always been worried about what other people think?

VB is like a beach in Costa Rica, like body surfing warm moderate waves. Don’t worry about how it looks. Don’t be too competitive. Relax. Enjoy the process. Go back to the beginning of your climbing life but with better technique and more gratitude. As Bob Dylan once sang when he was apparently talking about rock climbing, “There’s no one to beat you, no one to defeat you, except the thoughts of yourself feeling bad.”



Peter Brown Hoffmeister is currently climbing easy in the sun, recovering from a car accident.

Update From Joshua Tree National Park

View from the front porch of my cabin.

View from the front porch of my cabin. The Lost Horse Wall is half a mile away.

As the writer-in-residence the past three days in Joshua Tree National Park, I’ve revised 72 pages on my novel, written parts of three poems, worked on a new story, and read for hours and hours.

Off-the-grid cabins, in the back-country, up a service road, past a gate, are sort kinda a little bit quiet. Who would’ve thought?

What else have I done?

Bouldered 10 routes.

Rock Climbed 5 pitches.

Stared at the stars.

Watched the sunrise over the Lost Horse Wall.

Researched flora and fauna.

Explored to the summits of three domes near my cabin.

Hiked and ran 9 miles.

Watched a black lizard sun himself on a rock on my back patio.

Followed a coyote as he yipped and jogged up an arroyo.

Stood still as two jackrabbits chased each other through the underbrush.

Nudged a yellow and brown centipede as it crossed the road.

Back By Popular Demand: End-Of-Year Dirtbag Report

Because you asked for a dirtbag update:

Usually, I celebrate dirtbag Christmas at work. This is how it goes: Bri-Bri, My-Only-Friend-In-The-Entire-World-Jeff-Hess, and I scour the multiple “lost and found” boxes for a week. We find the most useful items, in sizes that fit the others, wrap them in school-issued newspaper, then have a gift exchange on the Friday before break. I’ve gotten a good travel coffee mug out of the exchange, a nice sweatshirt, and an excellent shell that I use all the time, plus a few other items that I use on a semi-regular basis.

But we didn’t celebrate this year. We let ourselves get too busy to have fun.

Very undirtbag.

And although I didn’t celebrate dirtbag Christmas at work this year, Jennie and I made each other gifts at home – instead of buying them – and I still felt sort of like a dirtbag.

Sort of.

See, I’ve had some very undirtbag moments this year. The weirdest?

In October, a public speaking gig got me put up in the fanciest hotel I’ve ever stayed at. They flew me first class to the event and rented a late-model, bright red Mustang for me to drive. At the rental counter I said, “Oh, no thanks. I don’t need a Mustang.” But the rental agency woman just smiled at me and said, “You’ll love it. It’s such a great car.”

In classy style – as if I was fighting against the new me – I did accidentally flip the car into reverse as I drove forward into valet parking, grinding the gears so loudly that all of the valet parking boys doubled over laughing.

That felt dirty. But still, there was valet parking at this hotel. Only valet parking. No other option but valet parking.

Yet a dirtbag is a dirtbag is a dirtbag…

A dirtbag spends less money, believes in time over money, believes that working is only worth it if it means that he is buying more time. A dirtbag would rather lay his sleeping bag in the dirt, the free dirt, than pay for a campsite, a motel, a tent, or anything else. More time outside. More time climbing. Swimming rather than showers. Sharing food rather than networking. Sleeping on someone’s floor to save money. Surfing more. Biking more. Skateboarding in the street. Laying in the sun and reading. Climbing a tree and staring at the clouds.

Another thing: I’ve been injured this year. I tore four ribs off of my sternum joint in an accident in February and spent all year doing physical therapy. I’m mostly healed now, but the doctors told me that the dent in my chest wall will never go away and I may never climb like I did before the accident. Being injured is funny for a physical person because it’s hard to feel rugged when you’re in pain all of the time. How rugged is a man laying in the fetal position on the floor, high on Percocet?

But I did get out this year anyway. And here’s a Dirtbag-6 list for those who like lists:

1. Nights camping this year: 29

2. Months wearing the same pair of shorts: 2 straight

3. Best outdoor endurance climbing day: July 17th, 36 routes, The Columns, Eugene, 1692 vertical feet, 5.8 to 5.10a

4. Backpacking trips: 3 (The best: Alder Springs, Squaw Creek Canyon, Central Oregon)

5. Days swimming in a river this year: 37 (most recently, December 18th, Polar Bear Swim, Willamette River, Oregon)

6. Nights slept on a floor this year: 13

I’ve also eaten a lot of free food, taken donations from my friends’ deep freezers, gone two full days just on food-scores from a single staff meeting, waited until people left a pizza place then finished all of their leftovers, and scored a box of Twinkies from a trashcan.

But let’s see…Proudest dirtbag moment of the year?

One night, a few weeks ago, Jennie returned home from a walk and said, “I found us a Christmas tree, and it’s perfect. I just need help getting it because it’s at a dumpster.” Nine feet tall, with the top broken off, I cut and reshaped it into one of the prettiest 7-foot Christmas trees anyone has ever seen. Forty dollars saved.

And finally, two nights ago, I was given my brother-in-law’s “too tight new jeans.” They’re Ralph Lauren jeans with the sales tags still on. My daughter turned to me and said, “Take ‘em back, dirtbag. What could you do with all that money?”


Dirtbagging, Climbing, And A Good Books Weekend

Lifting books weights with Willie Vlautin, PNBA Feast of Authors event

Lifting book weights with Willie Vlautin, PNBA Feast of Authors event

Grateful for five days at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show, Castle Rock State Park, and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association “Feast Of Authors.” I learned once again that most people are wonderful. The authors were sharp and funny, humble and grateful. Booksellers were looking to promote authors and titles, and doing their work out of love for stories. And climbers are always excellent to be around.

We started the weekend in San Francisco, at the NCIBA author event, a speed-dating experience where an author pitches his book to bookseller after bookseller in fifteen-second conversations, an excellent way to get an elevator pitch down. If she likes me, I sign a book and give it to her. If I’m not what she’s looking for, she walks away. Simple and clean.

Ben Leroy, my publisher, and I went from San Francisco into Castle Rock State Park where we got to climb with locals, including the superhero John Ford, who took hours out of his climbing day to show us around and point out classic after classic.

After hiking west into the sunlight, we camped tentless in a grove of Madrones that night, sharing food and campsite with a guy we met, living the dirtbag ethic.

Then on to Portland on Monday and Tuesday. It was fun hanging out with Willie Vlautin, Tom Barbash, C.B. Bernard, Benjamin Parzybok, and Brian Juenemann from the PNBA.

A few pics:

Backpacking into Castle Rock State Park with Ben

Backpacking into Castle Rock State Park with Ben

First ascent, "Independent Witnesses", Castle Rock, CA

First ascent, “Independent Witnesses” variation, Castle Rock, CA

Camping with a good guy named Joe

Camping with Ben and a good guy named Joe

Shown around by a local, John Ford

Shown around by the local climber, John Ford

Hey Dirtbags – Climbing Is Dumb?

I love it when one of my climbing friends sends me an article he found online and it turns out that the piece is written by one of my other climber friends.  My bouldering and accident-prone friend Nick Birdseye (who can solidly climb V8 and has also stabbed himself so badly that he needed surgery because he was trying to make jean shorts out of a pair of jeans he was currently wearing) sent this to me, and I didn’t even notice it was written by another hilarious friend of mine, Brendan Leonard, until I finished reading.

This was published in Adventure Journal.  Excerpt:

“Try to tell someone that you spent your weekend trying to send your project, which in layperson’s terms is, “Well, I tie a rope to my harness, take my shirt off, cover my hands in chalk and try to climb up 65 feet of overhanging rock, where there’s a set of chains…” — and they start to glaze over. I mean, come on, it’s easily no more ridiculous than, say, golf, or cricket, right?”

Click to read the whole article.  It’s worth it.