Ryan Smith is a member of the First Ascent routesetting crew. Not only does he create moveable art for the FAmily to climb on, but he gets outside regularly to pull hard on natural rock. This is his story about finally breaking through to a new grade. Learn more about Ryan and the FA Setting Crew here.


Image: Kane Lorh

Lucky number thirteen

In mid February I achieved a major goal in my climbing career, sending my first 5.13a, ‘Resistor’ at Red River Gorge. I’ve wanted to send 13a for a while, but the actual push was achieved surprisingly quickly. Just believing that I could climb something that difficult was the biggest secret to my success.


Image: Anne Culbertson

Before the big weekend, I had never attempted a route at that grade. Trying to break into thirteens seemed like a daunting task to me. I stood there looking at the climb, asking myself, “Can I get to the top? Am I holding up the rest of my group? Will I be too tired to climb anything else today if I try it? Will I be able to get all my gear back?” I had a million excuses for not trying hard, but in the end, I remembered to trust my abilities. I knew I could get to the top. I knew I could figure out a way to get my gear back. I knew I’d be happier if I pushed myself to try something harder than anything I had done before, even if I wasn’t ultimately successful.  I had already known for a while that I could pull all the moves on a route at this grade, but I made excuses not to try. No more excuses, I told myself. Let’s do this.

Preparation is key

My preparation for this route wasn’t too different from how I prepare for any other rope climbing trips. Early on, I trained using the campus and hang boards to improve power and finger strength for more success on boulder or crux sequences. The week before my trip, I dialed the angle of the scatter board (left side of the system wall) at First Ascent Avondale to seventeen degrees and tried to climb a bit below my limit.

Ryan Smith TrainingPosted by First Ascent Avondale on Friday, March 10, 2017

I climbed on smaller and more sloping holds to a point close to failure, and then shook out on a jug to recover. I did three five-minute sets, resting five minutes between each set. This was pretty much all the endurance training I did – except forerunning routes at the gym during our setting cycle. 

My training really paid off on ‘Resistor’. The climb starts out with a pretty difficult V5/6 sequence on two shallow sloped pockets. From the pockets, I stabbed out to another sloping hold and then reached for a sloping rail with a good jug. That’s where I fell the first time: from the second clip and past the first clip. I knew I had to put that fall behind me, so I took my shoes off, refocused, and reevaluated my beta moving out to the ledge. I got back onto the route, climbed to the same move as the previous attempt, found a better foot hold and hit the sweet spot on the rail. I continued up the rail to a no-hands resting ledge.

And, the send

The route plays to my strengths, since I’m more of a boulderer and was able to get a full recovery at the ledge. Once I was back at 100%, I pulled through some more decent pockets up to a good edge, where I got a decent shake and could evaluate the upcoming moves. On the final sequence, I had to pull through a two-finger pocket and lock-off to secure the final clipping hold. When I got that final clip, a brief moment of euphoria came over me. Before I knew it, I was back on the ground and ready to begin the process all over again.


Ryan on Resistor, working on the send! Image: Billy Simek

This upcoming year, I hope to achieve a few more goals. I’m hoping to send a V10 boulder problem, and now that I’ve climbed a 5.13a, my eye is on another RRG classic: ‘Paradise Lost’ 13a/b at Purgatory. My best advice for pushing through to achieving your goals is just to get outside and be willing to try hard. No excuses.

By: Ryan Smith

Want to learn how to use the scatter board, campus board, and hang boards at First Ascent? Check out Redpoint Training, a coached climbing training program that provides you with a personalized training plan to reach your climbing goals.