Treat every climb, summit or not, as a learning experience to analyze what you did and to improve your performance next time you’re out. A great way to do this: a post climb “debrief” talk with your team (even if that’s just you and one partner). On the car ride home, the hike out, or at dinner heading home, when details are fresh in your mind, is a great time to discuss things like:
Time - How long did the climb take? Was this faster or slower than what you planned for? Look at the segments of your climb (approach, climb, descent, hike out); Were your estimated times close for each of those? What factors contributed to the overall pace/speed of the team? (If you hit your planned time within plus or minus one hour for each day, you can pat yourself on the back for good planning.)
Technical aspects - What was the technical crux of the route? Was the entire team prepared for it? Were there any aspects that could be improved to be faster or safer next time? (Think simul climbing, downclimbing rather than rapping, rope management, order of team members.)
Routefinding - Was your pre trip route planning adequate? Were you ever “lost?” Did you camp in the best spot, or did you notice a better place (and mark it with GPS or on the map for next time?) Did you take the best line, for ascent and descent? Did you take adequate photos or notes so you remember the details? Did you record a GPS track? Can you draw your route and save it in CalTopo, for future reference or to share with someone else?
Gear and food - Was the gear you brought suitable? Did you have too much or not enough or anything? (rock pro, snow pro, ropes . . . ) What pro did you bring that you did not use? Was your food sufficient and tasty?
The main question: What would I do differently next time?
Now, when you get home, if you write these details in your ongoing climb journal, you’ll really have a good record of the trip that you can learn from yourself, or pass onto someone else when they try the route. (The benefits of keeping a climb journal are covered in another Tip coming soon.)
Make a regular habit out of reviewing your climb journal, and look for repeating patterns. Are you consistently making similar “mistakes”? (For me, this is typically forgetting the lip balm and bringing a bit too much food.)
Hey, don’t just take my word for it. Expert alpinist Steve House made a video on the topic, as part of his excellent five part “Alpine Principles video series on YouTube, highly recommended. Check it out below.