November is a hard time. As we transition from our summer activities to our winter sports we face the curse of memory. It doesn't matter we haven't skied in seven months, we remember charging through steep terrain in perfect conditions and we set our expectations accordingly. No matter how long it has been we always mentally picture ourselves at our strongest and on our best days. And, the start of the winter season is usually barely even good, let alone anywhere near best. As an avid ice climber I decided to approach this season differently than I had in the past. Join me as I discuss a different approach to November.
#1 Total Immersion
This one happened almost by accident. But the Thanksgiving holiday and family in Montana coincided nicely with excellent climbing conditions and let me totally immerse myself in the sport for five days. Usually, you plan winter sports adventures for March when conditions are ripe and you're at your fittest. This year I did the opposite. I spent an entire week climbing on a daily basis. On the first day, I was nervous. On the second day I was tired and scared. On the third day I was strong. On the fourth day I was stronger. On the fifth I felt awesome. Etc...
Few sports are like riding a bicycle, they take time and practice for your summer time muscles and mindset to readjust to winter conditions. Whether you're going from running to snowshoeing or biking to skiing, being able to put in multiple days at once will not only get you back in the right mindset but also get your confidence back considerably faster than weekend warrioring for a month.
#2 No Expectations
When Kevin asked me what I wanted to do over the week I said, "Climb." I knew that this was probably the only chance I would have to climb in Montana this year but I also knew that starting the season frustrated wouldn't help anything. Instead of creating a laundry list of climbs that I would be proud to accomplish at my best, I simply set out with the goal of getting as much climbing time as possible regardless of the difficulty. This worked amazingly well as I chose not to lead anything on the first two days out, but felt comfortable enough on the third day to casually solo a few moderate routes.
#3 Go Hard
By luck I ended up being able to climb with some partners who were much better than I was . This meant that though my expectations were low I still was able to get on very challenging climbs. The difference? I had no expectations. I didn't feel bad not completing routes. Admitting I wasn't strong enough to climb inverted stone, but I could hook my tools and stretch my muscles trying. And not feeling bad about taking frequent rests and breaks let me get my head back into the sport without risking a muscle tear or tendonitis. Two days of back to back steep top-roping gave me the confidence to lead later on.
#3 Part II Hire a Guide
If I had gone to Montana alone I wouldn't have had the luxury of top-roping everything. Luckily, I know many people in the area and was able to tag along with some strong climbers. But if I had been somewhere new? Being able to safely climb well above my lead ability greatly increased my confidence. I was able to get two days of serious workouts in at a high level before I took it down two notches for my first leads. Hiring a guide isn't a sign of weakness, but a recognition that you want to get strong and the only way to do that is to get the practice in that you need.
#4 Quit. Often. (Don't Get Hurt)
The only way you can ruin your season faster than trying to play above your current level, is to hurt yourself. Listen to your body. In college we used to joke about the November Crutch Monday. This was the Monday after the first snowfall when suddenly campus would be full of crutched and casted skiers who had gone all out on their first day and would now miss half the season due to injury. Try hard things. Get your guide to throw you on the most challenging line they can find. But don't push through the pain. Don't risk your safety now. If your arms hurt let them rest. If you don't feel 100% safe don't do it. The goal is to get out tomorrow, and the next day, not spend all week nursing your sore back.
#5 Bonus Time
Any winter sport you do before December is bonus time. If you get five days in before the start of winter you've got days in the bank and are going to START your season in good shape. This is a great way to keep things mellow and just work on strength and technique. You're not in the season yet, you're in training time. For me, I was able to visualize the season and my goals for the season as everything I would do on the East Coast. The quality of this winter will be determined by what I accomplish there. Nothing that happened in Montana counts towards that. But after a solid week of climbing, I feel strong both mentally and physically and am already plotting what the "first" climbs of the winter "season" will be. By taking a total immersion week with low expectations and a lot of challenges I'm predicting the best winter of my life, and the best part is that Winter Hasn't Even Begun!
-This post was written by Keese Lane, a climber, skier and outdoor enthusiast. He is also a freelance writer and blogger.