On a recent skiing and cragging trip to the eastern Sierra my good friend Paola Accusani who was John Bachar’s girlfriend at the time of his death, lent me some of his old training journals. Of the three meticulously written journals it was the one from 1987 that really peaked my interest. The others journals were from 1991 and ’92, and Bachar was injured quite a bit during those years. But the mid eighties were such a crucial time for both Bachar and American free climbing. The European style of sport climbing (rap bolting and hang dogging) were beginning to take hold and were in direct conflict with the current American style of ground-up ethics which were so important to Bachar. In 1986 the American Alpine Club held it’s Great Debate inviting sport climbers such as Alan Watts and the late Todd Skinner to debate with Lynn Hill, Ron Kauk and John Bachar on the virtues of each style. A few years later when the dust settled Bachar was the last man standing on the traditional side. While there is no arguing that sport climbing is fun, extremely popular (read: crowded) and is responsible for a sharp rise in free climbing standards, it would be narrow minded to say that Bachar was wrong. Surprisingly, his journals give more details about the maintenance of his truck than these conflicts in climbing styles. More importantly, they reveal an extremely dedicated climber whose training was focused on scientific detail and a phenomenal amount of climbing.
It’s not uncommon to hear climbers snicker at the very idea of training, believing that all they need to do to improve is climb harder, more often. Chris Sharma would be a shining example of this theory. John Bachar trained and climbed extremely hard-sometimes on the same day-and the results are why Bachar, who died climbing in the summer of 2009, is considered one of the best climbers the sport has ever known.
I’ve chosen the entry from Saturday April 18, 1987 as an example of a typical Bachar training session. This type of workout, with some variations, was performed year round whether he was in Spain, L.A, Vegas or as on this spring day, Yosemite Valley. It would seem that he used dumbbells, barbells and some homemade machines for general and antagonist strength development. He would supplement this with sport-specific exercises such as fingerboard hangs, Bachar ladder, Goliath (systems climbing wall) and pull-ups-lots of pull ups. I copied this workout in as much detail as possible using Bachar’s ratings, abbreviations and punctuation so some interpretation is required.
1) Knob job 5.10a solo 150 ft.
2) Crack a-go-go 5.11a solo 150ft
3) Orangutan Arch 5.11a lead 150 ft
4) Bouldering- Bx2, Ax12 150 ft
WORKOUT one arm: jump 1x1 ¾: 1x1, 2 ½ lb x1x2
Two arm: 18” reg: 75lb x4, 85lb x2x3 i = l/v=810/10=81lb
24” wide: 60lb x3x2 i=l/v=360/6=60lb
36” ultra: 4x2
Ladder: 15lb x1x2 Hang: small: 75lb x 10sec x 6 =60sec
Fingertip pull ups: small: ½ x2 Pulley Butterfly: 70lb x 8
Lever: 70lb x10
Bench: 160lb x7x2 i=l/v 2240/14=160
Military: 50lb x 20 Erect row: 50lb x 18
Erect row: 50lb x 18 Dumbell fly: up: 10lb x 10 bent: 10lb x10
Goliath: 6:15/4x1 (252L) , 6:15/5x1 (352L) , 3x1 total time: 16:15
Heavy bag: 3-5min power attacks-full body and boxing
Toe nail feeling better, not normal however can’t wear boots only ninjas. Power is coming back.
NEW WORKOUT IDEAS: 1) Concentrate on power 2) Higher intensity, less reps, more variance between exercises 3) Lightness, speed, power.
The next days Bachar took a rest day soloing the first pitches of After Seven and Jump for Joy, both 5.8. The following day,Monday April 20, was a “light workout” which seems only a little easier than the training done on April 18. However, he did solo New Dimensions 5.11a, Anticipation 5.11a, and did some bouldering beforehand, then wrote, Light workout-still feel “powered-out” from Saturdays workout.
Bachar also, by necessity, had a strong working knowledge of physical therapy. His journals describe rehabilitation routines for shoulder, elbow and finger injuries as well as icing times and the amount of ibuprofen he was taking. On Friday July 10, 1987, while attempting a new route, Bachar wrote “ slight stretching of L. shoulder joint in iron cross position-no pain at moment of trauma, nor later but stiffening & swelling at Trifle Tower & later that night. R.S. & L.S. ice. Initial lay off. The next day He soloed Cucamonga 5.9 and wrote “L.S. stiff & painful no workout/climb. Ice. It would appear that Bachar’s shoulder injury nagged him until winter that year. His climbing was reduced to soloing 5.8-5.10 routes so he rode his bike, played sax and did his rehabilitation exercises.
Bachar’s big solo days are a legendary. There are many impressive days of soloing chronicled in his journals, but when I took a closer look at them I began to notice a pattern. He seemed to build up to a big day, soloing more and more routes, while tapering his workout and increasing rest. Then, like on March 23, 1991 he would go big, soloing 34 routes in Joshua Tree in a day. That journal page is titled “Josh solo day” and he soloed ten pitches of 5.10, ten of 5.10+, twelve of 5.11, one of 5.11+ and one 5.12. There were other similar days in Red Rocks, Tuolumne Meadows, and the Owens River Gorge, and often they were followed by a workout. It seems to me that it wasn’t all a meticulously planned training program and that sometimes Bachar would go out and solo for the pure of joy of it. That on a good day, he would just keep going, soloing pitch after pitch of his favorite routes until dark. Bachar’s training journals left me with more questions than answers. I found myself wanting more personal details. Who was he with? What was he listening to on his walkman while soloing 5.12+? What were his motivations, inspirations and goals? An interview in Climbing magazine in 1986 concludes with a statement that give some insight into Bachar’s climbing and training. He said, “Every day I go out and climb, like a dancer works on his dance. He probably has some goals, some pieces he would like to perform, but his main goal is his dance. This is how he expresses himself. Both he and I are interested in the same thing. It’s the dance that counts.” (photo Paola Accusani collection)