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Jorg Verhoeven: Does projecting come with age?


La Sportiva ambassador Jorg Verhoeven talks about the art of projecting and how the approach to new challenges evolve with age.

Goal oriented project planning is not only a theme in modern economy, but also a key feature in high end rock climbing. Pushing the limits in sport climbing and bouldering, but also pushing your own limits, regardless of the level you climb on, is closely linked not only to spending a lot of time on training and preparation, but most of all to a proper planning and execution.

I’ve started climbing roughly twenty years ago, quickly realising that this is it; something I was willing to devote a large part of my life to. I’m a competitive person, so I constantly try to push my limits and see how far I can go and what I can achieve. For many years I hopped from one goal to the other, switching between bouldering, sport climbing and multi-pitch climbing, without clearly thinking of how to approach these goals. Visiting a climbing area the first time, I was more motivated to climb as much as possible, rather than spending time on one single route or boulder problem that would challenge me for more than a few tries.

Then came Yosemite. I had decided to free climb ‘The Nose’, regardless of how long it would take. About two weeks into working my bud off, I suddenly realised to my surprise how much patience I had, working on a few meters of blank rock for days and days, refining the moves into perfection, happy with the slightest progress, even though I was still so far from completion. What I learned from climbing ‘The Nose’, is that the process counts, not the achievement.

Today I’m working on a totally different project: I want to climb 9b. I’m not the youngest anymore, I’ve had more than a fair share of injuries, some of them still bugging me, and the hardest I’ve climbed so far is 9a. All of this is saying ‘no, it’s not going to happen’. The rest of me is saying, ‘Try me!’ Never more than before have I set my sights on a goal, and approached it in a more strategic way. The last months of my life have been all about this project, I’m basically living it.

What feels so natural today felt unthinkable ten years ago. I remember seeing climbers devote weeks, months, even years to a five-move boulder problem, and I just asked myself why I couldn’t do so.

My answer is: Age. The switch towards patience happened to me at around the age of 30. It wasn’t something I deliberately chose for. I guess studying (Mineralogy and Material sciences) helped a fair bit as well, giving me a scientific approach to problem solving. All I know is: there’s no way back.

Looking at the world’s best climbers I recognised the same pattern and heard a similar story from other climbers. Take Fred Nicole or Chris Sharma as an example, or the modern bouldering scene, where Nalle Hukkataival was working on four moves for four years (!) to complete the world’s hardest boulder problem: ‘Burden of Dreams’, 9A. Projecting is the way to get things done. Although some of the world’s strongest sport climbers are rather young (Alex Megos, 24 yo; Jakob Schubert, 28 yo), most of their routes were done within less than a week of effort. That just shows what they’re capable of, should they focus their strength on a project for a longer period.

There’s one counter-example: Adam Ondra (aka the Wizard). With an age of 25 years it seems like he has refined the art of projecting to perfection. After years of effort and specific training he recently climbed the world’s hardest sport route: ‘Silence’, 9c. I guess the exception proves the rule…

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