Projecting a rock climb is an emotional experience. Until you go through the process a few times, it can put a palpable strain on the ego. And the ego, as you know, loves to scream in primal fury, desperately throw rocks in fits of rage, and cry. It loves to cry most of all.
So, what do we mean by “projecting a rock climb?” It’s as basic as it sounds. Projecting (PRAH-jecting) is pouring your time and energy into the process of climbing something that is at or above your physical limit.
It might take you days, weeks, months, or even years to complete. It can bring your patience to its absolute limit and beyond; it can fill your heart with black, woeful despair; it will likely make you want to quit rock climbing.
But it might also be just the challenge you need. The challenge that will force you to progress past your ego, into new realms of mental and physical strength.
Want to learn how to do it?
Not every climb is a worthy project. Truthfully, you’ll find a lot of hard climbs at your limit—but many of them might not be worth your time.
Seek a project that inspires every fiber of your soul. When you first see it, does it deeply move you? Is the rock beautiful, unbreakable, a testament to the glory of nature’s mastery of the aesthetic? Can you feel the coils of inspiration and intimidation roiling within your gut? Do you love the movement, the holds, the look of the line itself?
Do you feel like you have to climb this rock, no matter what? Hell yes or no.
If so, congratulations, you’ve found your next project.
Most of us struggle with internal conflict. Aside from the professionals—those seemingly born to overcome the hardest rock climbs—almost every climber comes in close contact with inner demons during the projecting process. Fear. Lack of motivation. Lack of belief. A voice in your head telling itself this is impossible.
Juliet Hammer, a recent Colorado transplant, FrictionLabs Athlete, and crimp crusher, notes that it’s easy to feel discouraged by the difficulty of the moves. To combat this feeling, she says, “It's important to accept the failures, but also celebrate the small successes, and appreciate the projecting process as a whole.”
The most difficult aspect of projecting is not the physical challenge—it’s finding a way to overcome the shortcomings you’ve already set in your mind. It’s not letting the self-fulfilling prophecy come true.
This is where the actual work comes in. Time to go to war.
If you start trying your newfound project and the movement is the only thing giving you trouble, you’re in luck. Pinpoint what kinds of moves are challenging you and which holds are too difficult to grab, and simply practice similar movements in a gym. If your problem is endurance, train it (check out TrainingBeta’s power endurance training program). Building up your physical strength simply takes time. Exercise your patience, train, and eventually you’ll find your project feeling much easier.
But that’s assuming you possess the confidence to know you’ll complete the climb at some point. Usually, a project feels too hard and the climber quickly becomes discouraged. It’s so much easier to walk away than to convince yourself to put in more time. I’m just not strong enough, so how could I ever do it? That’s a valid question, but one which throws you into a failure loop. If you’re mentally unable to commit to working the project, then you won’t train your weaknesses. And if you don’t train your weaknesses, you won’t complete the climb.
Therefore, it’s easy to see how the projecting process must begin with a mental focus. A belief. A total knowledge that you can and you will climb this thing. If you have that, all the training and time you put into it will flow naturally.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a pro or a beginner—every climber must face the reality of projecting at some point. Check out this video of Alex Johnson projecting The Swarm, a V13 in Bishop, CA, to see what I mean.
Like we mentioned earlier, sometimes it will take you weeks or months to climb a route or boulder problem. Some people never give up, spending years on their projects. You must prepare yourself to sacrifice the one commodity that you can never get back: time.
Jon Glassberg, FrictionLabs Athlete and owner of the adventure media production company Louder Than Eleven, talks about his experience with Dark Waters, a V13 outside of Golden, Colorado, that he projected for 12 days: “I worked on it forever and trained specifically to do it in the gym. Over time I built up more power endurance from circuiting in the gym and eventually smashed it. Felt easy, even.”
Even so, Jon points out that such dedication to a project is not his ideal type of climbing. He notes that he is “obsessed with efficiency,” and would rather send many boulders just below his limit than spend so much time on one. But he also realizes that “it’s nearly impossible to climb at your limit without taking extra time to do so.” This is a crucial point to understand if you truly want to dedicate yourself to projecting at your limit.
Based on all of the factors laid before you—your level of physical fitness, the climb itself, your commitment to rock climbing as part of your future—decide for yourself if the process is worth your time. If you’re truly passionate about climbing, the answer to this question is easy to come by.
In most cases, you’ll be working already-established lines in already-established climbing areas on public land. Other climbers are trying to use the land just like you. We highly recommend you observe some basic ethical principles that typically apply to outdoor climbing. This especially applies to projecting, which, as we know, can cause some...emotive outbursts.
Projecting is hard. When you’re in the thick of it, just noticing that it has you down is half the battle. When you manage to though, remind yourself of the quote at the top of the page.
Connor Griffith has been climbing for 13 years in areas across the world, from California to Colorado to Switzerland. A V11 boulderer with multiple first ascents around the globe, Connor is also a professional route setter, a student of climbing movement, and a coach.