By Matt Raue
Ever wonder what those monkey-children on TeamRock are doing when they climb from side to side on the walls before practice? Don’t we climb up in this weird activity, sport, meditation, effort we call climbing?
Those gifted youngsters are Traversing. Put simply, traversing is the act of climbing across. Whether scratching on dime-width crimps a thousand feet off the deck or stepping across on big blue blobs in the gym, you’re traversing. The rest is a matter of difficulty, height, risk and definitely intention. Many climbs in the “real world” require sections or whole pitches of traversing. Executing these sometimes difficult, sometimes easy portions is all part and parcel of climbing those climbs. In the gym, traversing is largely about warming up, building endurance and developing technique. (Though we setters may force you to wander around up there from time to time!)
In terms of endurance, the equation is straight forward: Traversing allows you to remain on the wall for as long as you want while staying low to the ground. Pushing to exhaustion or failure is more secure because the floor is so close (never more than 5 feet away). Traverse the top rope walls and jugs and big footholds will abound, along with plenty of inside-corners to stem across for a rest. Traverse the bouldering wall and you’re looking for a big pump. Modify accordingly.
As a warmup, traversing allows your hands and body to get back into the flow of climbing. Start on large, comfortable holds and use simple movements to get back into the vertical world. Take the time in this low-stress context to feel your body and mind. Think about it, did you really check in on yourself that day? Did you do a head to toe warmup, mind and body, and get re-acquainted on that particular day and since your last session? That’s what advancing in climbing will take. Traversing gets us on the wall slowly and gives us the mental space to check in on ourselves. This extra attention will help you stay present and focused on the wall when you want to perform. Believe me; climbing well is not about your strength and fire in that moment. On occasion you might scrape by, but climbing well is a symphony of presence of mind, balance, body tension, timing and coordination. Strength and grit come close to being on that list, but without those others you’re going to get stuck somewhere around 5.10, no matter your pullup record.
Remember, it’s always a very good idea to do a ten minute general, aerobic, non-climbing warmup such as jumping jacks or jogging before the actual climbing. Don’t worry, approaches definitely count.
Endurance and warming up alone miss the point, though. In short, traversing builds technique. Notice, I said builds technique: doing these moves across the wall will begin to inform your general methods of existing and moving around in the vertical world. Try to generate movement from your feet and hips, try to lead your movement with your feet and pre-empt the best position in the move you’re still going to. Set your feet and hips so that next movement and posture makes sense. Build your tool kit, get comfortable and find a flow. Go sideways.