How I Trained for Wild Iris

wild iris climbing

How I Trained for Wild Iris

Murphy’s Law states that if something can go wrong, it will. A carefully laid out climbing season is no exception. So of course when I made a six month training outline last January – I certainly did not picture that from March until June, I would have no access to any sort of climbing – inside or out. If you are reading this, I am sure that COVID-19 threw a massive wrench in your plans as well.

When I did regain access to climbing, I had five weeks to go from Hangboard Hero to Outdoor Sport Climber. Though this situation was not ideal, I made due with the time I had and ended up putting down a good performance on my trip to Wild Iris this July. I redpointed my first 5.12b in four tries. For the first time ever, I was able to send 5.12a in two tries, and I upped my flash grade to 5.11c. In my previous post, I discussed the tactics and mental strategies I used on the trip. Here in this post, I discuss my training leading up to my Wyoming adventures.

When I regained access to climbing, my training was distributed into these seventeen sessions spread out over five weeks.

  • 6 bouldering sessions
  • 2 strength/hangboard sessions
  • 6 power endurance sessions
  • 3 outdoor climbing days

But before we get into discussing my training, let’s learn about the unique demands of climbing in Wild Iris.

Wild iris Style

Many of the routes are relatively short, ranging from 40-70 feet. There are some longer ones, but generally you would not come here seeking endurance test pieces. It’s limestone pocket climbing. There are some steep routes, a good bit of slab, as well as vertical face climbing. Some of the feet can get pretty smeary and small, but the bulletproof pockets more than make up for it. It is a lovely and interesting place to climb. Now, let’s get into the specifics of my preparation.


Strong fingers are important everywhere you go, but when the faces of Wild Iris don’t give you too many options for holds, having beefy digits comes in handy. Though in the last five weeks leading up to the trip, I did not get on the hangboard too much, I do mention it because I made significant gains in my finger strength during lockdown. Therefore, my strength training leading up to the trip was purely for maintenance. When you work hard to gain strength, you have to put in a few sessions here and there to keep it.

Two Finger Pockets

During lockdown I performed 7s on 3s off intermittent with two finger pockets twice a week. I did the same with three finger open hand. I do not have data on how much my max weighted hang for these hold types changed, but there was a significant increase in my half crimp strength, demonstrating that my fingers became stronger across the board. This increase likely indicates that my two finger and three finger pocket strength increased as well. Anecdotally, I know there were holds that I could not use in the previous year that unlocked certain routes for me on my return trip. My fingers were better prepared this time around.

Pocket training on the home wall. Photo by Tim Spanagel.

Movement drills: Pocket edition

Using two finger pockets on the hangboard was great, but I knew that to be good at climbing on two fingers, I needed to climb on two fingers. So I incorporated this into each climbing session.

As a part of my climbing warm-up, I did a drill that I like to call the one-touch drill: pocket edition. It is the same as the one-touch drill popularized by the Power Company that I have written about before; however, instead of climbing with all of my fingers, I chose routes with decent enough holds and climbed with only two or three fingers. Typically, I would climb a boulder twice – the first time I would climb it with three fingers open-handed, the second time I climbed it with two fingers. I did this warm-up before both power endurance and bouldering sessions.

Hard Bouldering

I did not have access to a gym with ropes so I trained on boulders. I knew that many of the routes in Wild Iris are short and powerful, so I worked on on limit-level moves. Additionally, as I have discussed before, pulling power is a major weakness of mine, so working on difficult boulders with big moves and small holds was critical in my prep for the trip.

Power Endurance

Obviously, my endurance coming into the gym after lockdown was total crap. My forearms were OK with little boulders in the gym, but I could tell from my trips outside that there was endurance work to be done.

I started out by trying to do linked boulder circuits; however, I quickly realized that these take up a good bit of space on the wall and can be hard to do when the gym has more than a few patrons hanging around. After my one linked boulder circuit session, I opted for campus punks instead.

Um. Wtf are campus punks?

Great question! I learned about these at the Power Company, Empowered event last December. Essentially, you choose a boulder that is hard for you, right around flash level or a little above. Then, before getting on the boulder, you ladder up and down a campus board with feet on for a certain amount of time – I do about a minute, trying to get “70% percent pumped” and maintain it. When you finish campusing, you run over to the climb your boulder in a state of fatigue. Then you rest for a small amount of time and repeat.

Progression of Campus Punks

Since I used the same boulder for all of my campus punks , progressing this session was pretty straightforward. I did two things: increased the volume and decreased the rest. I started out by doing four sets, and by the end of the cycle I was able to do six.

As far as decreasing the rest, that was fairly simple too. During the session, I used an interval timer. I had 60s to campus, then 90s to do the boulder and rest. As the cycle progressed, I reduced the boulder/rest interval to increase the difficulty of the session. By the end, I reduced the boulder/rest period to 75s instead of 90.

In summary, I started out doing four sets at a 1:1.5 campus:boulder ratio and ended the cycle by doing 6 sets with a 1:1.25 campus to boulder ratio. Definitely going to keep campus punks in mind for future training cycles. I appreciate their simplicity when it comes to progression and how easy it is to measure progress.

I appreciated the campus punks because they taught me a) what in my technique falls apart when I am tired and b) how to fix these “energy leaks” even when I am fatigued. It’s a very useful protocol and I highly recommend you give it a try when it comes time to train up your power endurance.

I didn’t do any “low-end” endurance

I have written about low end endurance before and I have trained endurance quite a bit via ARC-style training. However, with the time I had to get to the gym and knowing that my likely hundreds of hours of moving over moderate terrain has given me a decent base of endurance over the years, I did not feel that incorporating low end endurance training was a good use of time for me. The campus laddering likely took care of this to some degree.

Additionally, my goal routes were fairly short for Wild Iris, so working low-end endurance did not make much sense for this trip. When I did Wind and Rattlesnakes, 5.12a, I was probably only on the wall for three minutes. It maybe took me five minutes to do Tomahawk Slam. These intervals of time were simulated well enough by the campus punks, so this method of training was sufficient from an endurance perspective.

On the redpoint of The Guns I’ll Never Own, 5.11c. A wonderfully short, bouldery route near the famouse Zorro.

Shifting Focus: from bouldering to Power Endurance

For the first three weeks of training, a majority of it was simply hard bouldering. On June 10th I did a linked boulder circuit session, but I did not revisit power endurance training again until 6/22. At which point I was able to get four sessions of campus punks before heading out for the trip. You heard me right, folks. Five endurance-focused sessions total before heading out on a sport climbing trip. That’s it.

A Caveat

I do, however, want to highlight that I was in Lander for two weeks which helped me gain more fitness. Take note that all of my big sends happened in the second week of the trip. Additionally, I climbed three days outdoors in the the Red River Gorge in June, which helped me to get my endurance back to some degree. So even though I only had five power endurance sessions before the trip, you should not take my experience and assume you can minimize or quit endurance/power endurance training and still send your hardest routes. It really depends on who you are as a climber and your goals. Mainly, I point this out since I know that many climbers over-emphasize endurance training. I certainly have done this myself over the years and I might not have such a power deficit now if I hadn’t done so.

In summary

The trip went well and I am sincerely pleased that despite the magnitude at which Murphy’s has reared its ugly head this year, I was able to have a good performance. This training cycle has really shown me that a bare bones, specific, and simple plan can get the job done, even if the situation seems too imperfect to overcome.

Have you ever had this happen to you? (I’m sure we can all say yes at this point thanks to Covid, the virus no one was planning for). How’d you get through it? Let me know below!

If you found this post helpful and you are ready to get stronger fingers yourself, then you are going to love my strength & fingers program: Force Over Time.

Force Over Time is a 12 week program combining strength training and hangboarding. This program can be done in addition to your climbing. That way, you can get stronger, without giving up your time to climb.

Comments ( 2 )

  • Ashley Barnett

    Headed to Lander to climb in June! Will definitely use your finger pocket training tips!

    • Senderella

      Thanks Ashley!! Hope it worked out!!!

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