There is a seminal text for all aspiring natural farmers called The One-Straw Revolution. In his book, Masanobu Fukuoka establishes a method of “do-nothing farming”—a way to live in symbiosis with the natural current of the land and seasons. As with all farming, there is really no part of it that is ever completely “do nothing”. There is a large amount of literal groundwork to lay down before, slowly transitioning to the passive farming in One Straw. Why bring up The One-Straw Revolution in an article about climbing and fitness? The reason is twofold. First, the actual act of farming—transitioning from a sedentary desk job to an active, physical practice took my outdoor climbing further then I could in a gym. Second, the specific procedures of “do-nothing farming”“ applies in life as “do anything training. Not absolutely nothing, but the elimination of diets, exercise regiments and the climbing gym.
Building the Base
Building the base is critical to agricultural health. I must admit that I did, as Fukuoka extolls build an extensive base that brought me to an above-average climbing level. Growing up in Boulder, Colorado, I climbed on Team BRC (Boulder Rock Club). Being a competitive climber is like being a gymnast, you train 3-4 hours a day, about four days a week and then you travel to compete. My physical fitness was at its peak. However, when I went to university in Washington DC, I “retired”. Running, yoga and rowing managed to keep my muscles intact but I was eager to come out of retirement. A move to Portland, Oregon inspired this awakening. Paige Claassen as a contemporary and friend served as my primary inspiration to get strong, become a confident outdoor climber and crush at Smith Rock, maybe not “To Bolt” but another proud, vertical, delicate crimpy line. Once again, I trained about three days a week after work, supplemented with yoga and biking. I was feeling pretty good but seasonally went outside on weekends during the Fall and Spring. I was getting on some 12s , onsighting some 11s but it wasn’t the glory competition days nor was it Smith 5.14.
The post-baccalorite Portland desk-job gave way to migration to Hood River in September to work on a farm and vineyard. I went head down into working harvest, the most manual labor I had ever done. It is thrilling, exhausting, and you get a similar adrenaline rush to climbing. Trips to the gym in Portland trickled to once or twice every other week but I found that not only had I maintained my strength, my endurance was far better and found myself onsighting and redpointing steeper, harder grades. When I was home for Thanksgiving break, the BRC was a stop on the tour. “You are farm strong now,” said Kevin Baines, peeking at my biceps, he was right.
During harvest, you typically pick grapes from 6:00 am to 3:30 pm then return to the cellar to process fruit—this includes, tossing full FYBs (fucking yellow bins) into fermenters, digging out fermentors full of grapes for pressing, cleaning T-Bins etc. It is tiring, strengthening and rewarding work. After harvest, I continued on the farm–broad forking garden beds, shoveling compost, and milking cows. Shifting my work, from desk-jocky to laborer, was making me a better climber.
Do Nothing Training
Changing my career almost eliminated the need to train. Now, I milk a cow and goat 4 times a week (grip/crimp strength), do manual labor, and garden 1.5 hours before doing a fair amount of that typical desk sitting as Operations Coordinator for Hiyu Wine Farm. I also eat locally and seasonally, no special diet, trying to use all that we harvest in our gardens. The emphasis of our daily staff lunches is on produce, whole grains and a minimum of three good fats, only using protein as a “garnish”.
I swapped training in a gym three to four times a week and being a seasonal weekend warrior to only climbing outside three days a week at Smith, Viento, OH8, and TLC. I am certainly not the first to say the way to improve your climbing is simply to climb more but it cannot be more true that the only way to see better climbing performance outside is well, to climb outside. You become more confident and trusting when you are pulling on the real deal all the time, versus plastic primarily and rock some of the time. Lots of people told me the Columbia Gorge, with its finicky season, was an unlikely location to find year-round climbing, but I challenged my location and it has provided year-round varied crags.
Without any regular training you can be as strong as you have ever been, or ever thought you could be. I climbed my first Smith 12 (Heinous Cling Start 12a) and some other little proud sends, including the onsight of Blackened 11c/d, second burn redpoint of The Big Ulysses 12b (Viento Wall) and onisght of Corporate Ladder 12b (TLC). As always, there are many ways to monitor progress outside of grades. For me, it has truly been a revolution to be in such a positive mental and physical space when climbing outside. High first bolts and runouts at Smith scare me (less) and technical movement feels secure. I think we’re all meant to be physical and tactile in our everyday lives, climbing, and sport, in general, is one outlet for it but our work lives also have room for a little more exertion.