How do I break into 5.11?

“I just want to rope climb and up my game a grade.”



How do I break into 5.11? I climb 5.10 now and boulder a lot with my buddies, but they are stuck on training power. I just want to rope climb, and up my game a grade.

—Ray Moharer


Photo: Vincenzo di Giorgi.


The easiest way to advance from 5.10 to 5.11 is to go someplace where 5.11s are really 5.10s. Definitely stay away from Eldo! Point is, ratings are subjective—some 5.10s are harder than some 5.11s. I’ll bet you have already climbed the grade and don’t even know it. Case in point, Beth Rodden, who has trad climbed 5.14c and who has free climbed the Nose, has struggled to get up Ahab, a measly 5.10b in Yosemite.

Assuming the ratings are accurate, the difference between 5.10d and 5.11a is slight, same as going from 5.10b to 5.10c, or 5.10c to 5.10d. Using my Logic of Incremental Difficulty (LID), you can work your way up to 5.15 yet barely feel as if you are really climbing any harder.

If you are reasonably fit, training isn’t going to help. The dirty secret about 5.11 is that it is not hard enough to require an awesome level of power and endurance. 5.11 is about confidence and technique. You can boulder all year with your bros, but those puny rocks won’t prepare you for a ropelength of vert climbing on actual holds. Only climbing can train you up for that. If those loser friends insist on bouldering or working out in the gym, traverse the easier problems, aiming to stay on the rock for 20 minutes (good luck with that!), which is about the maximum you’ll have to climb in between rests on a 5.11. My best advice, though, is to get on 5.11 and don’t ever let go. Toprope if necessary. Gear Guy has spoken!


This article was published in Rock and Ice issue 207 (January 2013).


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