In this week’s climber spotlight, the ever-psyched Bill Ramsey tells us about his intense training regimen, sending 5.14 at age 54, and his love of the climbing life.
When did you start climbing and how would you describe the climbing scene at the time?
I started climbing with my Dad in the mid-70s (he was one of the original pioneers at Smith Rock). Then I climbed there a ton with Alan Watts while we were in high school and college. It was very different then—no sport climbing, no crowds, no camming devices, but we had a lot of fun. I remember being obsessed about it, something that hasn’t really changed in 40 years.
You are known in the climbing community as a training machine! What does a training session look like for you? Tell us about why you love (or maybe hate?) training.
I think I’m kind of an outlier in terms of just doing my own thing. For example, a current popular trend endorses the view that “training to failure is failing to train” or “less is more.” My approach is all about training to failure and I tend to believe “more is more.”
Occasionally I’ll do a mega-session that would go something like this … After about an hour warming up and stretching, I’ll do heavily weighted dead hangs with various grips on a fingerboard (7 seconds on, rest a minute, repeat 7 times). Then I’ll train with a weight vest on a system wall, working on lock-off strength. Then I’ll go to the gym and try to do a variety of boulder problems for a few hours and maybe some campusing. Then I’ll go to the treadwall and do endurance training and intervals for a few more hours—sort of simulating a day at the cliff, but with less rest between climbing routes. Then I’ll do a bunch of core exercises and some weight lifting … then I’ll have a beer and pass out.
After that I’ll take 2 or 3 days off. I do love training and for me, figuring out a program and then implementing it and seeing it lead to gains is one of the most fulfilling aspects of the sport.
To see Bill in action, watch him climb Reverse Polarity 5.14b:
Tell us about one of your proudest moments in your climbing career.
Actually, I felt pretty proud right now to have finally gotten up Golden (5.14b). It may not be the hardest climb I’ve ever done, but it is the hardest I’ve had to work to get up something, and I’m proud that I stuck with it with for many seasons.
I’m also proud of some of the contributions I’ve made to the sport, like some of the FAs I did at the Red or work I do with our local access group. Any time I help someone else get up something through beta, training advice, or just encouragement, I feel like that’s an accomplishment for myself as well.
Have you ever spoken or thought the words, “I’m too old to climb that”?
Ha! Yes, damn near every time I get on a new project for the very first time!
How does your teaching job impact your climbing?
I’m lucky in that I have a career that is somewhat demanding but that gives me lots of flexibility, time-wise, as I can work in the evenings and weekends. I don’t think I could just go climbing, nor could I just do philosophy—so the balance is really good for me. Intellectually, working a hard climbing project is not so different from working a hard philosophy project.
If you could give one piece of advice to a beginner climber, what would it be?
If you learned to climb in the gym, try to seek out a mentor who is experienced in outdoor climbing and climb a lot with that person.
If you could give one piece of advice to a 5.15/V15 experienced climber, what would it be?
Warm-up a whole lot and stretch really, really well. And when something doesn’t feel right, be prepared to let go. Sometimes it is better to do a harder move that is safer than an easier move that is risky (in terms of tendons and shoulders). And appreciate the time spent between attempts with friends and partners and the outdoors. In the long-run, that time is what you will really cherish.
Anything else we should know about you?
Only that I consider myself incredibly lucky to have had this long relationship with rock climbing. It is an activity that introduces you to incredible venues and incredible people, yet it is also something that can introduce you to various aspects of yourself—that helps provide a deeper type of self-understanding.