Logistics and Equipment
(Side note, DO NOT do this competition with your significant other/spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend.)
The first thing you have to do is sign up. This is accomplished in two ways: pre-registration or the lottery. Years ago, the event had empty spots and anyone could join. There was a maximum, but it would take hours to fill. My first year I don’t know if it ever filled. My second year the online signup filled in 9 hours, then 15 minutes, then 4 minutes. After that, the wise decision was made to create a lottery where people were pulled randomly from a list of entrants and let fate decide.
Around the same time, I suggested to Andy Chasteen that the 24-hour wasn’t long enough and we needed a 36- or 48- hour continuation of the competition. Alas, he’s smarter than I and created the 12-hour competition before the main event which is optional but can be used to gain entry for the following year’s events. This means that someone who fails to get into the lottery for the 24-hour event can do the lottery (which isn’t nearly as difficult to get into) and earn pre-registration for next year. You ARE DEFINITELY ALLOWED TO SIGN UP FOR BOTH, and THAT’s CALLED “The 36.” I don’t suggest doing it, even though I will never not do it again.
To be pre-registered means that you competed the previous year and successfully completed the minimum required for your bracket. If you’re in the 12-hour event, you need to climb a minimum of 60 routes, (of ANY difficulty) to gain reentry. If you’re in the 24-hour event, you must complete a minimum of 100 routes (of ANY difficulty) to gain reentry. If you want to do the All 5.8 and less in the North 40, more power to you. If you want to do every 5.10 you can possibly find, it’s going to suck, but good luck!
When I say any difficulty, I mean it. Even if you sign up for Elite, and your “bracket” says you climb 5.12b and up, you can still climb easier routes. People sometimes think that just because they’re in Advanced, which is 5.11a to 5.12a, that they have to climb in that range. You don’t; you can climb 5.9 to your hearts content even in the Elite bracket.
Every year you must re-qualify for pre-entry the following year. Early on in the competition the minimum for pre-qualification was only one route per hour for each hour. The scores were correspondingly lower. To allow for more entrants, the re-qualifications have been retargeted as the techniques and crowd gets better. Scores, route-counts, etc. have all increased over the years for many different reasons, and comparing scores year-to-year is effectively meaningless. Yes, during many years, new records are set, but this 11th year was brutal and everything was depressed significantly.
Now that you’ve signed up, it’s time to set your goals. People who set a goal of completion fail. People who set a goal of 150 routes typically succeed. It sounds counter-intuitive, but the biggest deciding factor of success in this competition is ambition. If you ever stop moving, you’ll stop moving permanently. If you ever take a rest, regardless of your discipline, it’ll kill your motivation and drive. I’ve gone through it. I’ve witnessed others going through it. I’ve seen people who swore left and right that their goal of 48 routes each was super ambitious and that they trained for it and were super confident…. Only to find them asleep at 4 AM on the ground because they were going TOO slowly.
Whatever goal you set, the requalification of 60/100 routes should be your minimum. Give me any single human being who has been climbing for 6-12 months and loves it, and I can get them requalified. You will surprise yourself and you can do amazing things. You will have climbers alongside you during the competition cheering you on and trying to motivate you. Ask for beta on a route and thou-shalt-receive. The stoke and psyche are high, embrace it and go for broke.
Don’t be someone who goes for bare minimum. You’ll get in others ways and you’ll let yourself down. Don’t be afraid of the idea of doing 4-5 routes per hour each. It sounds like that’s a significant quantity of routes, and my first year I only did 80 and was super proud, but now that I’ve seen many, many, many people break into the 200+ club, regardless of their fitness level, it’s completely doable with sheer determination.
YOU CAN FUCKING DO IT, SO DO IT, AND DON’T BITCH THAT IT MIGHT BE HARD. Surprise yourself, I swear I have more confidence in your anonymous self I may never meet than you have in yourself, so go crush it. Win your division, first try, I’ve seen it done.
Great, you’re signed up. You’ve got a goal. You’re a moron. Now give up all autonomy and follow these simple steps to get your 60/100 routes. If you don’t desire to get your requalification, why are you even reading this?! But on a serious note, every single person who has ever started the competition, either one of them, has the capacity to get their 60/100 goal. Every. Single. Fucking. One. So when I turn around at the 24-hour competition and someone says their goal is only “surviving it” or “24-48 routes total” I tell them quite frankly they will fail. Good luck!
Now you need to train. Like a crazy person. My friends and I, every year, turn the 4-6 months before the competition into a mad rush of endurance cardio training. You might not be able to do what we do, but the closer you are to it the better.
What you’re going to need is: cardio, strength, endurance, callus, hair, pain tolerance, and a destruction of your ego. Tick whatever boxes you can, and blissfully ignore any you cannot.
This year, and I feel it worked out really well for me, I rode my bicycle, rock climbed, and swam a little. (I’m a former competitive swimmer, so that helps I guess; but it was in the Mediterranean, so that doesn’t, I guess.)
My bicycle riding consisted of riding the 5 km (3-miles) each way to the rock climbing gym 3-4 times per week. I would push hard and try my damnedest to go faster each and every time than I had the previous, even after workouts at the climbing gym. Traffic and weather pose problems, but they will during 24HHH too, so suck it up, learn to negotiate traffic mentally and physically, and learn to enjoy the fact that you’re outside regardless of the weather. It can snow at 24HHH, it can rain (it has!), it can cook you (it has!) or if can be perfect 75 degrees with a light breeze for the complete 24-hours (it has!). After a few months of riding my bicycle with my climbing gear on my back, my cardio was good enough. If you don’t ride, run. If you don’t run, swim. If you don’t swim, have vigorous sex. If you don’t enjoy sex, well then you’re an idiot (oh, we’re back to the prerequisite for signing up, welcome to the club!)!
For my climbing, I go to the gym and run laps. On anything. And everything. And more. My favorite is to find a nice string of routes a little harder than my warmup and climb them until failure. For me that’s roughly 5.10+. Then do it again. Then do it again. At the end I could do roughly 1000 feet without stopping where the minimum was difficulty was at my warmup level and I would finish without being pumped. Learn to breathe large breaths while climbing. Learn to flow. Learn to ignore your forearms. Learn to look like a tool with 10 quickdraws and some PAS’s hanging from your harness indoor. About once per week, go to the gym and climb for four to six hours without taking breaks longer than 1-2 minutes. About once every other week, make it a six- to eight- hour day. You’re thinking I’m crazy, but if you can’t make 6-8 hours of air conditioned indoor rock climbing, how-the-fuck do you expect to survive 12 or 24 outside?! And lastly, before your first time at hell, I suggest desperately trying for a 12- to 16-hour day of relaxed climbing just to test yourself out. Trust me, you don’t truly know yourself until hour 16.
You’re thinking by now, this guy must truly be insane. No one does what he’s suggesting! But trust me, they actually do. And if you can get to this point, in your climbing workouts, then the actual climbing part will cease to be an issue, and no matter what you actually try to do during the competition, you’ll crush the climbing part. If you do this, trust me and every other veteran, the climbing will be the easy part and then just getting the minimum becomes a test in patience and determination.
Even if you want more than the minimum, go for this pseudo-training regimen and you’ll get a leg up. Some of the veterans do it differently, but this guide isn’t for the dudes (or ladies! [Watch out for Natalie Neal Dower]) who actually know what they’re doing, it’s for the first or second timers who want a leg-up.
For any other training, It’s just fun multi-pitch days if possible, single-pitch cragging for fun, and the occasional swim session which is partly about just mixing it up. As the competition gets closer, be careful about going for hard red-point attempts because an injury just before the competition can royally fuck you. (Speaking from experience.)
Also, when is the last time you were awake for 24 full hours? My advice: stay up one Friday night for 30 hours (because of the 3 hours before the competition and the 3 hours after the competition before you get to sleep) and see how your body does. Do it with your partner, if possible? Get to see what each other is like at 4 AM. Time the wakefulness to correspond with what you’ll experience during hell. Get up at 7:30 for the 9 AM meeting, eat your breakfast and poop, then play mind games and go to the gym together etc. But don’t let each other sleep. In the wee-hours of the night, put on your headlamps and practice wearing them for 12 hours. Don’t waste batteries, just get used to them. Play games that are mind-intensive late at night and see if either of you get loopy or lose your minds. At 10 PM and then again at 4 AM do a stroke-check on each other, like in the comp. Cheer and eat breakfast around 10 AM. Then around 1 PM get some sleep again. Yes, that’s hell. And you weren’t even climbing for 24 hours! Treat it like a game, but if you are worried about any advice in this guide, YOU CAN TEST IT BEFORE THE COMPETITION STARTS.
I’ll admit that one year, my anonymous Danny partner, was stuck in the middle of a 5.7 on the North Forty, Mr. Dixon, and spent 20 minutes trying to figure out the beta while in a no-hands rest all confused asking me what to do. *Cough Danny Cough* Basically, at 4 AM his mind shut off and it took him 20 minutes to do his lap, 30 seconds for mine (it’s a 3-bolt route with jugs), then another 20 minutes for his because he forgot his beta from literally one minute beforehand and was confused again. Yes, I let this man belay me. Yes, I still love you Danny. (He went on in later years to crush harder, and even in this particular year he did more than 100 routes when the minimum for re-entry was still 24 and 100 was uncommon.) (He did win best haircut because of the handprint on his head! And Thomas Caldwell, gentleman extraordinaire, offered to let us wipe our feet on his bare thighs, but that’s an entirely different but true story.)
Moral of the story, know yourself and your partner and what you will be like 16-20 hours into the comp. If you can’t survive 16-20 hours fooling around outside climbing, while only eating and drinking what you’re going to during the competition, how do you expect to survive together during the actual hell?