Tuesday, 23 December 2008

It Should Be Easy… Shouldn’t It?

A V4 that really ought to be easier than it is!
© Sarah Clough

I have this odd notion fixed in my head that if you are good at something, you don’t have to work very hard for it. In practice, I know the complete opposite.

I think that ability or whatever only gets you so far, the rest is just plain hard work.

But how much should one have to work? I spent the past week non-stop studying. It wasn’t a pretty sight and it caused me to question, if I have to work this hard – I must be rubbish and I should give up now. Can it really be worth it?

But this can’t be right. People work for years on developing theories, solving problems, understanding things and by definition – they were good enough.

It’s difficult to know how much to expect or how far to push it.

I guess it’s about perspective. On one end you end up never being satisfied, always looking for the unobtainable. On the other, you set your sights too low and never push yourself.

Hmm… I guess another way of looking at it is, if something really is that easy, is it worth doing?

I suspect the things that drive you and comprise you are long fought, hard won and never easy.

Sunday, 7 December 2008


A lot of this blog is taken up with posts about not climbing on account of injury, bad weather or most recently due to a hectic schedule. Generally this has quite a negative impact on my climbing.

Oddly enough, after my most recent break, I don’t seem to be a million miles away from where I left off. I’ve been away from regular training for well over two months now, but I might even go so far as to say that the break was slightly beneficial.

Here is a (somewhat boring) video of me at The Arch this weekend.

The V5 took one session to do and the V6 two; not too bad. I also ticked another V5 that took two sessions, but popped a pad on my finger, so no video for that one.

I like the initial heel hook move on the V6 and it seems to suit me. The wild dyno at the top and subsequent awkward hand matching isn’t the regular flowing sequence. It just works for me.

I haven’t been outside in ages though and that it really depressing.

I did however manage to get some mountain biking in at Swinley forest on Sunday. Cool crisp air and frosted earth. It’s not bouldering, but it’s not a million miles away either.

Monday, 1 December 2008


In a desperate attempt to regain lost strength, not to mention dignity, I ventured to my wall tonight, expecting nothing more than a few V4’s.

I got a V5 that I failed last time on the first go and did a lap on it just to make sure, but even more surprising was the V6 that I did every move save the last and to make it even sweeter, I found out that I was adding moves to the start that weren’t necessary (though I feel it’s a much better problems with the gratuitous sideways campus move ;-)).

Seeing as I haven’t been climbing in ages and I was actually feeling very, very tired tonight, what was different?

First, it was quiet.

It seems as though the word is out and my favourite wall is no longer a secret. Good for business, bad for concentration.

Sometimes even utterly inconsequential V5s at the wall require a huge effort for me. I often have to put so much of myself into it; probably too much. I find it extremely difficult to do so if I’m being distracted. I have to dig deep and focus, silly as it sounds.

It is actually part of what I enjoy most about bouldering, the ability to commit and focus yourself 100% on something that seems impossible and ultimately (err… hopefully) seeing it through. It just doesn’t work for me in crowded room.

The other big difference is simply wanting it. After a layoff I always forget just how much you need to want something and the more difficult it is, the more you have to want it.

I still have a way to go, but maybe I’ve not lost quite as much as I thought I had.

Yo estaba bien por un tiempo,
volviendo a sonreír.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Long, Long Time Ago…

Well it’s been ages since I’ve been climbing, even indoors. I think that this is the second longest period of time off that I’ve had since I began; the longest of course being the shoulder injury saga.

Looking through my training diary, I’ve managed about 9 sessions in two months. Ugh. I’m hoping that once life settles down, I can return to at least three sessions a week. Last time I went to the wall I was still flashing V4 and struggling with V5s. It’s not exactly the end of the world, but I have a lot of work to do. Sad to say but there really is something missing in my life.

I’ve been keeping up with a bit of cardio from my daily cycle commute. It’s only about 8km round trip, but it’s better than nothing. I try to fit some running in when I can, but the weather and darkness is very much against me.

My shoulder has been causing me a ton of pain lately. I always envisaged taking autumn off, but I thought it would be good for my shoulder. I never realised how badly it would be affected by being cramped in a desk writing all day. I’ve been trying to keep up with my exercises, but I haven’t had much success. I think a return trip to the physio is in order, if I can find the time, not to mention money.

This autumn / winter was always going to be a major challenge. I suppose there was comfort when things were ambiguous. Now, looking at the challenges in black and white, I wonder if it was worth it. But I always come back to the conclusion – what other option was there.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Familiar from a Distance

For as long as I can remember, I have experienced a neurological hiccup called Synesthesia. Often, when I think of a number, it appears in my head associated with a consistent colour (one is white, two is red, three is light green, etc.). I have a similar experience with letters and sometimes short combinations of letters and numbers (eg. 4a, V5, ErbB-1, 4-OHT, days of the week, months, etc.) produce a similar effect.

Apparently, it has little meaning outside the notion that it is one possible way to wire a brain. I don’t see it as an advantage or disadvantage; it just is. But equally, I would miss it if I woke up one day to find it gone.

So why bother mentioning it? Well, it’s a good example of something that despite its consistency isn’t really there. When I hold it up to close scrutiny, it immediately disappears; yet, I still know that it does exist. I suppose it’s something of a cognitive sandcastle.

For me, belief in ability follows a very similar pattern. “Of course I can…” / “what the heck was I thinking??”. Neither is real, yet they do influence a host of things as far reaching as motivation to the mundane, like crag selection.

I feel at times that I can achieve what I set out to do and align up my life in way which makes failure very difficult. It is who I am. Despite the obvious drawbacks, other modes don’t suit me. Yet, what is this all based on – something that I can’t even put my finger on – and therein lies the flaw and my current pursuit; to make these things more material, to have something to point to. However given the set up, I know that if I was ever to find such a thing, I would have already moved on to the next.

No, it doesn’t always make me happy, but not trying doesn’t either.

You did however chose it for a reason.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Autumn Redemption

Whilst perusing my filing cabinet for paper to cannibalise as scrap, I came across a letter that I had long since forgotten about.

It listed how I was more than academically qualified to continue my studies, however despite even having a UK visa, it wasn’t the right kind. This took years to rectify and I did lose hope for quite a while, not to mention a bit of my sanity.

As I mentioned a while back, I tend to forget stuff like this. It gets lumped into ‘think that I don’t want to think about’ category and is packaged away to some dark chasm in my mind, but what it leaves behind is emptiness. I feel like I lost out on years of my life – as if I was doing nothing, but this is far from true.

I fought a ridiculously drawn out battle and yes, I did lose a bit of myself in the process.

I recently joined the ranks of London cycle commuters and it is well… a challenge. Earlier in the week however my trip in went great and the morning sun was a perfect autumn gold. I think that I stumbled upon a bit of peace in the shadow of the A40 flyover.

DNA repair made easy by Jenn

I have a sense of purpose that bouldering was never able to give me. It always left me feeling empty and wanting more. Saying this, however, it did give me the ability to believe in myself when that time had long past, which is why ultimately I don’t want to distance myself from it too much.

I’ve taken a few weeks off from training. I kinda always planned on doing such and besides, the weather is absolute rubbish this time of year, but I’ll be back. I don’t give up that easily.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Going Missing

I started my course a few weeks ago and nothing has been quite the same.

I like what I’m doing for once, but of course it’s not without difficulty. Adjusting to a new schedule, having tons of work to do, worrying about what next; it’s been a big change. I sometimes feel like I’m no longer cut out for it and wonder if I ever was.

A few weekends ago while out bouldering I came to the realisation that I have dedicated more time to bouldering than I have to any single project, except for school. It was both an interesting and worrying thought in equal measure. At times I put my entire life into it and it’s not as though I feel that I have been successful. Yet still, I persist. In fact it was all that kept me going at a few points.

Now that I am the equivalent of a V0- climber in science, I find myself questioning my motivations. Why am I putting myself through this? At times it is difficult to accept that you can do better, but it is even worse to think that you can’t.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Slow Week

This was rather a bad week for training as I have mostly been occupied with the start of my course. I did however manage to make it down to The Arch a couple of times.

Here's a (rather poor) video if you’re that bored.

I like this V5. It suits my style (whatever that is – indoor slightly crimpy overhanging stuff?). I now try to do it a few times a session for power endurance training as its rather pumpy.

Hopefully once the schedule settles down I can begin anew. Actually, I need to start working on a proper training plan again as despite my best effort to abuse it, the shoulder remains relatively intact.

It’s actually quite daunting to consider that things might be going OK for a change.

I’m starting my course, my shoulder is mostly OK, finger is completely fine, they actually brought real boulders to London – surely I’m about to be hit by a bus?

Sunday, 28 September 2008


Given the recent sunny spell and impending monsoon season, we decided that it would be wrong not to go climbing. I was still feeling unwell from my miserable cold and hadn't been training for ages so I had very little hope of achieving anything of meaning. On the drive up to North Wales I was distinctly feeling down, even for me; 'last chance syndrome' I suppose.

My negative feelings were confirmed after visiting the various Satellite boulders in the Pass and not getting up anything. Ugh, so it was going to be one of those trips… however things started to change when I basically gave up on trying hard stuff and decided to revisit a V4 that I couldn't send last time I was there since it was wet and I was being attacked by a horde of midges. It's called In the Attic. The first move is interesting then it fizzles out to random slapping and hoping. I was just glad to be able to tick a project.

In the Attic

With my new found optimism, I decided to take advantage of the deserted Cromlech Boulders, a venue with which I have something of a love / hate relationship. I dislike their roadside location. If I wanted to be regaled by randoms blasting their stereos whilst breathing in diesel fumes and standing in a queue to boulder, I would stay in London. However, they seem to be the only place where I can climb. I guess their fingery nature suits me. I always thought I was more of a power person, but looking at it, maybe I'm not?

I decided to hop on The Edge Problem because I felt like I could do it, which is odd given how I was feeling in general. I tried it last autumn and did all of the moves, baring the top one, as I was knackered after a full day's bouldering and couldn't really be bothered. I came back after my injury-induced lay-off last spring and, much to my anger, realised that I couldn't do the hard moves anymore. Given the location, it wasn't at the top of my ticklist, but I was upset by my loss of strength.

The Edge Problem

I sent it on the second go. In fact I found it so easy that I decided to try the sit start and got that on the fourth go. I should have flashed it, but I was too tired and too excited to take a break. Even that wasn't hard. I know that it isn't the hardest V6 around, but it measurably demonstrates that I got stronger.

The next day I felt pretty broken and just did a few odds and ends. Rather optimistically I tried Johnny's Wall at the end of the day and flashed all but the top move, which was a bit of a stopper for me. It will go next time.

On the last day I ventured out to just about the only remaining bouldering area in North Wales that I haven't been to, the Gallt yr Ogof boulder in Ogwen where I flashed two V4's but didn't do the V5 that was on my list, mostly as I was worried about the landing. Oh well.

The overhanging North Arête - somewhat easier for the short :-)

I was rather in awe of Sway On; the ultimate project perhaps? I was confused as to which holds are in but I tried to hang a few of them and was bizarrely successful. I fully know that being able to move between them is a world away, but I have time…

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Night Session

Thanks to now having a boulder on my doorstep I can go climbing whenever I want. It's as if someone was reading my mind...

I popped down to Shoreditch just as the sun was setting. Ugh, granite crimps are impossible to see in the twilight. Next time I'll bring a headtorch! It was good fun for novelty value, if nothing else.

The right hand arête of the North face V2ish (V3ish in the dark :-))

3,000 Hits and a Video

At some point today my counter went over 3,000 hits - cool beans.

I just came across this video of the boulders' creation and other info... it's worth a watch.

I still can't completely believe it's real.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Shoreditch Bouldering

Boulder: a dual-site permanent public realm project for two Hackney parks by John Frankland

Having been ravaged by disease (or alternatively suffering from a miserable cold) for most of week, I wasn’t in any fit state to go climbing in far flung reaches of the UK this weekend. Instead, I decided to take advantage of the only sunshine that I’ve seen in an eternity and visit the new boulders in Hackney.

Boulder creation

Recently, two granite boulders were transported to darkest Shoreditch Park and Mabley Green from Cornwall as part of the art project Boulder.

Knowing that the boulder is part of an instillation artwork somewhat coloured my perceptions as to what it might be. Would it have lots of chipped holds to make it ‘accessible’ or would it be decked out with lots of ‘warning: danger’ signs culminating in having to sign a waiver form just to touch the rock? Indeed, when faced with the approached over a completely inadequate, trampled down fence I started to wonder if I was part of a demonstration of modern man’s inclination towards disregarding laws that he deems preposterous.

Boulder installation

As has been demonstrated time and time again, I was wrong. It’s a proper boulder. In Hackney. You can climb on it. It has holds. You find lines, you crimp, lunge and ultimately top out, just like you normally would.

The Shoreditch Park Boulder is a proper granite boulder about 4-5 meters high and weighing 85 tonnes. I can only imagine the engineering feat not to mention the vast sum of money involved (Deutsche Bank has greatly risen in my estimation) in moving the monolith, but in my opinion, it was well worth it.

Seeing the soaring prow of the boulder upon entering the park is a surreal experience and once you are completely absorbed in the intricacies of climbing you can almost forget that you are in London. In fact the granite texture is slightly reminiscent of the Buttermilks in Bishop, California minus the crimpy patina.

After the awe wore away, we got down to business. There is a line of bore holes left from the boulder’s quarrying which serve as a good descent route. A quick survey revealed what we thought were the easiest lines. The right hand arête of the north face goes at around V2 and the slabby front face at a crimpy V3ish. These problems fit the bill for an introductory session to quarried granite bouldering. We then spent the remainder of the time trying out various other lines. There is a great looking line on the South East face at a proposed V2/3 details here.

Jenn after having climbed the V2ish North face, using the righthand arête

Plenty of lines remain, but little info is available as to what has actually been climbed. There was a contest last weekend where I suspect all of the reasonable projects were bagged.

Bouldering in a situation that is one removed from the usual experience did have me thinking about the nature of climbing and what is exactly required.

Peter sending a crimpy V3ish problem

I’ll spare you my philosophical musings, but I can say that it's all there in Shoreditch and I will be spending many happy days sussing out all of the possible lines and enjoying climbing a mere 20 minutes from my flat.

UKC crag database here.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Monday, 15 September 2008

Two Uses for Chalk

I never thought of myself as ‘athletic’ at least not until I started climbing.

I used to say this at quite regular intervals, but after a discussion about the recent Olympics with a friend, I realised this is far from the truth. As I’ve said before, I have a habit of forgetting things.

Ages and ages ago, when I was about 7 or 10, I started gymnastics. My grandfather thought it would suit my flexibility and strength well and indeed, I naturally took to it. I found the un-even (err… asymmetric) bars to be quite dauntingly high, but after falling off them a few times, my worries started to subside.

I rapidly progressed and was doing routines that were quite advanced for my age group. My instructor called me a ‘tough cookie’ and I certainly tried to live up to the name.

I really enjoyed the sport and I was doing well, a bit too well. As soon as I showed signs of progressing, my required practice sessions increased. It was few days a week after school and all day on Saturday and it was likely to get more intensive. It was a huge commitment and I had little support from people other than grandfather.

Whilst I am horribly dating myself I think a bit of perspective is required. At the time I was practising gymnastics in the US (where I lived then) the Olympics were seen as much an object of national pride as was the space program. The mentality of “we must do better than the Russians” was all permeating and had a trickledown effect to even semi-serious sporting culture. Either you were a candidate to be the best in the world and spent every minute devoted to your sport, or you never even bothered. It was quite intense.

At that age, I didn’t have what it took to dedicate myself completely to a sport. I wanted to climb trees and play with my dog, not spend hours rehearsing one move on the un-even bars. So I decided to give up.

My instructors were obviously disappointed but my grandfather seemed to be the most hurt. He called me a ‘quitter’. It was harsh, but true and unlike most things was something that I never forgot. I always kept it in the back of my mind.

Outside of stints in ballet and running I never considered doing a sport regularly and on the basis of this I developed the mentality that I was not cut out for sport, forgetting in the process that I chose to be this way.

Annoyingly enough, I now find that I have the drive in place as I spend a lot more time training for bouldering than I ever did for gymnastics, but I worry about the basics such as getting too old, starting too late, acquiring too many injuries, etc. but none of this has stopped me so far from trying my best.

My grandfather died just before I took up climbing, but I like to think that he doesn’t see me as quitter this time ‘round.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

The DAFT Brigade

Maybe it’s the appalling weather and ensuing lack of climbing opportunities, but people seem even more crazy than normal.

I was just recently reminded why I stopped reading the UKC forums on a regular basis. A simple thread on the definition of bouldering grades quickly brought out the Defenders of All that is FonT brigade.

I’ve noticed a tendency among a few climbers in the UK to have an almost religious zeal when it comes to the Forest. This extends not only to the rock itself, but to its grading system.

I seriously question anything that people believe in 100%, whether that is a rock type or religion. The one thing that I’ve found in life is that there are no absolutes and I find the behaviour of the DAFT brigade complete anathema. Life is grey. There is no one true bouldering area or grading system. Different places have positive and negative qualities. Bouldering and life for that matter exists beyond the Forest.

I prefer V grades, but I base this on a few simple things. First, some of my best bouldering experiences happened in places that use the V grade system namely Bishop and North Wales so I tend to equate V grades with good times. Second, both of these areas play to my strength and therefore the grades feel less sand-baggy. I will admit, I am horribly weak with slopers and have no technique, therefore just about everything in Font or the Peak feels a few grades harder for me.

Do these two points lead me to believe that the V grade system is vastly superior and the only true system. Heck no. It’s just the basis for a mild preference which I can appreciate might fully work in opposite ways to someone else.

In fact, regardless of the grading system I find myself constantly converting between the two as a means of thinking about the problem. “Oohh that was a hard V4, maybe it would be a Font 6b or 6b+”. Conversely, “6a, hmm, that seems easy for a V3”.

Much more important is yet another yardstick for measuring problems which is completely specific to one person, namely myself. I love finding moves that are at my complete physical limit. Obviously by definition this won’t readily apply to another person and indeed, I often encounter many of these moves on relatively easier problems simply due to my lack of stature. One of my biggest accomplishments in bouldering was a reachy, high-ish slab in North Wales that had a whopping grade of V3 but I know that I did one of the hardest moves that I ever did on it.

Life is difficult. Life is gre[a]y.

Friday, 5 September 2008


I went back to the wall last night and admittedly after a few attempts managed to work up the courage to re-do the V5 that I had a rather bad spill from. Grrr...

So my past two wall sessions have been as follows for completed problems: -

Monday: 4 * V3, 11 * V4, 1 * V5
Thursday: 4 * V3, 5 *V4, 2 * V5

Thursday wasn't great by any means as I was tired from earlier in the week / not sleeping (still) and knackered from several attempts on the V5 that I was worried about.

I've started to quantify my sessions as a yardstick as I don't seem to be making a lot of progress grade wise indoors. Outside, the weather is probably my biggest issue.

In what was quickly turning from a tragedy into a comedy, I pulled my hamstring while out MTBing. However, most of the injuries have settled down, thankfully.

To recap:

1. Two (still) marginally impinged supraspinatus muscles (argh)
2. One grade 1 or possibly 2, A2 pulley tear on my left hand ring finger – now pretty much healed (ya)
3. One blood filled blister on my left hand – slightly annoying
4. One sprained ankle – doing much better
5. Cuts, scrapes and bruises, passim – goes with the territory, I guess
6. One pulled hamstring – essentially healed and my sprinting career is no longer in shambles :-)
7. Strained back from bad indoor fall – healing and slew the psychological demons last night (see above)

The shoulder is only the real remaining problem as it still occasionally bothers me and on account of this I have been putting off proper training. I now appear to be stuck at V5 and I can't seem to progress beyond this with ‘just climbing’.

Might start to add the campus board in gradually.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008


I find drive to be a bit of a double edged sword which forces me to push myself, but sometimes clouds my judgement.

For one reason or another I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in ages. Last night at the wall I wasn’t up for much, so I decided to go for quantity over quality. My goal was 10 V4’s and two V5’s.

After fighting my way through about 7 V4’s and one V5 (I told you I was tired!) I decided to try a second V5. It was one that completely played to my strengths and indeed I got it initially on my second try. Last night was different. It’s a fairly sustained problem and I managed the bottom and middle sections fairly well, but towards the top I was flagging and to compensate I fashioned a really poor heel-hook rest. This left me in a completely unstable position for the last move.

I was tired, pumped and set up wrong; however I still threw for the last hold. I did this problem a ton of times before and I really, really wanted to do it tonight. I had it – right?

Wrong. I fell in a completely uncontrolled manner, half back slapping and half compressing my spine. Ouch.

I normally am acutely aware of when I am in a potentially hazardous position to fall from and won’t do the move, unless I am about 95% certain that I will make it. Last night, due in part to being tired, but also on account of wanting to reach my goal, this judgement was clouded.

Besides being shook up about the prospects of what could have happened if landed slightly worse (self-inflicted paralysis never appealed to me) and a bit of bruising, I’m OK, thankfully.

It was a good lesson to be reminded about.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Pieces of Reality

I’ve felt rather detached from my life at present.

I’ve been injured and underperforming for as long as I can remember.

This isn’t why I climb. I don’t find joy in climbing just for the sake of it. No, I never thought I had a shot at being the best in the world, I just wanted to see how far I could push it and I always clung to the belief that more was definitely possible. Misguided as it might have been, this one belief lead to a whole course of change and now I am left to pick up the pieces of reality.

Things are changing, hopefully for the best.

On a more positive note, I just got back from the Lakes where I spent a rather wet week. I didn’t accomplish anything, but I treated the whole trip as a reccie. It seems as though there is tons of tucked-away volcanic rock to explore and that really brings a smile to my face, if only it would stop raining long enough…

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Dynamic vs. Static

Being short, I’ve adopted a rather dynamic climbing style as a means to make the holds seem as though they are closer together. It is a decent enough strategy, but is also limiting in its own way.

I spent years going to the same wall in London but I never appreciated how much this wall influenced my climbing style. Recently I went back there after a few months break and I noticed that I automatically fell back into the old habit of just lunging for holds.

There are times when popping for stuff is the only option, but equally, I think that I’ve learned to use a bit more technique, specifically utilising deep lock-offs. It’s been greatly magnified of late for me since I am climbing with a pulley tear and I shudder at the thought of going for a crimp, latching it only for a second to subsequently have my feet peel off and my bad finger along with them. Owch.

As with most things however, I am starting to think that maybe a hybrid approach would be of the most benefit. Once my finger is healed I would like to be able to static as much as possible while leaving enough in the tank as possible to go all out if need be for a hold that is far away.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Not Forgetting

I have a habit of attempting to completely erase bad memories from my mind. It’s a fairly poor strategy as it doesn’t resolve the associated feeling and they usually tend to manifest themselves in odd ways at a later point in time.

I guess you do need distance from traumatic events but ultimately, I wonder if there is a better approach. Part of my motivation for writing this blog is to remember more stuff and hopefully make some sense of it.

So what am I going on about… well, it’s quite a turning point in my life at the moment for a lot of reasons, but as this blog focuses primarily on climbing I’ll use an example from it, however let’s just say that the principals are a much too common a theme for me.

As I am sure that you are aware I had a bad accident a few months after I took up trad climbing. It was a long time ago now, 3 years (I think – see what I mean). Recently a friend mentioned it in passing and I got upset since I don’t like to be reminded about it, which probably isn’t the best response.

I get angry over climbing. I always feel like I ought to be doing so much more. Yes, this does lead to some positive outcomes as it forces me to push myself, but there is a huge downside of never feeling good enough. Obviously a lot of factors are at play here, not in the least my personality, but I think one issue feeding into this has to do with my accident.

It had a profound effect on me. For the first time I became all too aware of my mortality. It changed my approach to climbing forever. I was never again happy to go trad climbing yet I still feel like I lost out on a lot of opportunities. I tried to acknowledge the fact that I end up shaking and in tears whenever I am in a slightly dodgy situation so I decided not to put myself through it anymore. Perspectives change.

My name is Jenn. I had a bad trad accident. I’m sick of being scared. I’m sick of forgetting.

Thursday, 7 August 2008


It started, as often things do, with a simple question of how far could one go.

In the early days, when all had become well-known, wanderings amongst the hills paid solemn tribute to wild places which were still shrouded by their wonderment.

Soon you realised that it was the rock which held sway and continued to draw you back.
You found an arena to test your strength and will and this act resonated across the empty voids growing inside.
Another weekend away, another evening at the wall, but it was never enough.

Dreams became filled with visions of routes, while your waking thoughts fixated upon practicing the intricacies of the crux holds, examining the possibilities in your mind, shifting each of your weighted fingers in turn so that every one made best use of the tiny holds.

This new labour, brought forth to weaken the emptiness, was sinisterly invoking a demon from the past.
It awakened an old hunger, a desire that could never be satisfied.
Secretly it sized up your limits and would never take less than what it imagined possible.
It became a want. It drove you.

In an effort to satiate these expectations, you pushed yourself as hard as you could.
But as soon as progress was attained, injury tore you back.
The body still weak had not yet caught up with the will.
Anger grew to bitterness over losing hard gained strength.
Even these emotions could not be maintained and you grew philosophical; maybe I was trying too hard, was I ever good, and was I even right to try?

You questioned your motivations. You questioned your goals.
When all seemed nearly lost, that demon showed its face and you realised it was down to self-belief.
Could it be any crueler?

Stoically you looked back.
Of all the things that weren’t, can’t be and should never stop what will be.
So you carried on.
Harder than last time.
Your hands became shaped like claws and you never have more than 7 toenails at any given point.

People ascribe your achievements to your low body weight, small hands, or anything else they can think of to set you apart – there must be an explanation.
But secretly they know and silently back away.

That nagging feeling which tells you that you can do better; the results of years of wanting, yet never having, play havoc with your mind.

You have moments of success, but you’re not satisfied.
It’s never enough.
If you climbed it, how hard can it be?
It doesn’t bring happiness, joy or even sadness.
It just leaves you wanting more… one more problem, one grade higher.
These elusive victories are never certain and therefore not enough.

You choose to fight again finding solace when focused at your limit, putting everything you have into it and often failing.

Blood wells up under your skin tattooing an exact replica of the crux holds on your fingertips.
Do you actually have any business trying this hard?
But still, you persist. Something is driving you.
Something vital is borne from this strife.

There is nothing else, but the soreness in your fingers, a gasp of breath and the will to stay on the rock.
The demons are momentarily silent.
You battle with belief and risk failure or even success.
You are apart. You are obsessed.

You climb, because that’s all that you know anymore, but is this reason enough?

The answer to that question, like most good ones, is never known.

Soloing and helmets (by Peter)

Me soloing at Haytor, Dartmoor (© Sarah Clough)

There was a recent thread on asked the question "Do you wear a helmet for climbing?." On this I was happily pontificating in my customary way for a while about wearing a helmet for everything except bouldering, including sport climbing; and berating others for taking different choices. However, I then received an e-mail from a friend which included some photos from a recent trip to Dartmoor. Included in these were some of me soloing on Haytor and not wearing a helmet!

When leading or seconding trad or sport climbing, my rationale for wearing a helmet is as follows: -

  1. It is not atypical in a crag environment for rock fragments (of varying sizes) to be dislodged, either by the leader, or by people (sheep?) above. I have experienced this on sport climbs and on supposedly solid outcrops.
  2. It is equally not atypical for the leader to occasionally drop gear. I could work out the force generated by a Rockcentric No. 10 when dropped from 20m above if it wasn’t immediately obvious that this would be quite considerable. Again I have experienced this.
  3. I seem to have a fatal attraction for any roof, bulge, or any other head-high protruding piece of rock. A mild abrasion for my helmet, might be a bit more sore if applied to my scalp.
  4. While climbing helmets are designed primarily to guard against the preceding impacts, if I did manage to hit my head when falling, then I would very much prefer to have something between the ground and my head than not.
So far, so logical and with a wide-range of light-weight modern helmets available, then there seems little excuse to not wear one. Personally I never notice that I am wearing my Grivel Salamander once I have put it on.

Grivel Salamander (© Grivel Mont Blanc)

So, why is it that I don’t wear a helmet when soloing? I guess you could argue that a fall would be catastrophic anyway and so it doesn’t matter. But wouldn’t I still be at least marginally better off with a helmet than without? Surely the risks of being hit by something from above are as great when soloing as leading (especially at tourist destinations such as Haytor, above); in fact they are probably greater as there is no back-up system if you get stunned, or even just startled.

I’m not sure that I have an answer for why I am so pro-helmet when ropes are involved and don’t seem to think about putting one on when soloing. The closest I can come is that I don’t solo anything apart from outcrops (Haytor above is probably as high as I go). This maybe makes it feel rather different to me. Perhaps I think of this type of soloing as being closer to highball bouldering (though admittedly without the mat).

Mytoesis (V0), The Dreamers, Bishop, CA

I recall Jenn mentioning me climbing the above Bishop highball in "route mode", i.e. slowly and deliberately, so maybe there is something to thus. Perhaps I wouldn’t normally have a helmet with me when bouldering, so maybe its not surprising that I don’t wear one on high-balls. But again perhaps logic would dictate that I should and that I should on solos as well. I’m not clear what the answer is, but I certainly have some food for thought.


Hesiod, Works and Days 11 ff (translation Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.):

It was never true that there was only one Eris. There have always been two on earth. There is one you could like when you understand her. The other is hateful. The two Erites have separate natures. There is one Eris who builds up evil war, and slaughter. She is harsh; no man loves her, but under compulsion and by will of the immortals, men promote this rough Eris (Strife). But the other one was born the elder daughter of black Nyx. The son of Kronos, who sits on high and dwells in the bright air set her in the roots of the earth and among men; she is far kinder. She pushes the shiftless man to work, for all his laziness. A man looks at his neighbour, who is rich: then he too wants work; for the rich man presses on with his ploughing and planting and ordering of his estate. So the neighbour envies the neighbour who presses on toward wealth. Such Eris (Strife) is a good friend to mortals.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Injury Tally

1. Two marginally impinged supraspinatus muscles
2. One grade 1 or possibly 2, A2 pulley tear on my left hand ring finger
3. One ripped pad on my right hand ring finger
4. One sprained ankle
5. Cuts, scrapes and bruises, passim
6. Three missing toenails

Last week in an attempt to enjoy the fleeting summer weather I went back to Harrisons for a bit of bouldering. I got half way up an arête and decided to down climb it as I realised that I was miles away from my mat and lacking a spotter meant that I had to move it myself.

It was a beautiful summer’s day, but a bit on the hot side and I ended up sliding out of one of the holds and landed awkwardly on the eroded, uneven ground and sprained my left ankle. This of course brings the serious injury tally up to three now. The rest are just minor annoyances.

It does cause me to question – am I just trying too hard. Could be, but equally would I be happy doing anything else – nope. We strive for things that are bigger than us rarely reaching our goals and failing often, but it is what keeps us going, it’s what makes who we are. I’m not about to let a sore shoulder and a sprained ankle get in my way.

At any rate, the ankle isn’t that bad and I expect it to be back to normal function by the end of the week. My shoulders are OK as long as I avoid rocky singletrack and even the finger injury is healing nicely.

Friday, 1 August 2008

A Tale of Two E1s (by Peter)

Me rather happy at the top of Seams the Same, Dinorwig Slate Quarries, North Wales

Work has been a bit of a nightmare recently and so it has been a while since I contributed to this blog. have just posted an article that I originally wrote some time ago and (for the same work-related reasons) took quite some time to distill down to a more palatable length.

Thanks to Jack and Mick for publishing this.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Not Climbing

Somewhere on the South Downs Way

No, I never thought I would say it, but I found another sport that I really enjoy, mountain biking. I’m extremely rubbish at it since I’m too unfit for the uphill bits and too scared for downhill, but that’s all part of the attraction.

I was on the M4 coming home after a fun, but ultimately fruitless climbing weekend and I was thinking about how much I didn’t enjoy bouldering at the moment. I feel pressurised (by who, me I guess?) to always climb my hardest despite the fact that I’m still injured and haven’t yet made up for lost time. I was trying a project that is well within my ability, but I just don’t seem to be able to do it. I feel that I ought to have done it, but clearly I didn’t. This doesn’t exactly sit well with me.

I can’t train properly as campusing seems a bridge too far for the shoulder at the moment, not to mention the finger injury. I’m punching below my weight. Given this, what can I still hope to achieve? Well, I’ve been trying to answer that question with each new project. It mostly just led to a lot of disappointment, but I did get Fagin, which was nice, especially given the above.

I’ve never been motivated to do easier stuff. I feel as though I’ve had to take my properly hard projects off the agenda for the moment and devise some easier tasks. The seeking out of low grade classics has been rewarding, but still, it’s not why I climb. Last week however, I went to my nearest crag and did a few cool problems. I was just so happy to be able to go climbing in relative ease on a beautiful day, the grades were almost irrelevant.

Which brings me back to mountain biking… I think it’s safe to assume that I have more fast-twitch muscle fibers than slow and it often feels as though I have a nearly negative maximal oxygen uptake rate. I like running, but I really, really struggle with it. Same goes for cycling; it is just a bit easier. Of course I can improve at both but I don’t think that I’ll ever be that good at them, which is actually quite a nice feeling for a change.

I’m happy to just be able to complete a route without having to walk my bike too often. I don’t feel the need to push it at all, which is a completely new concept for me. It’s fine to just get out and enjoy the scenery and gain some more general fitness. I find it scary though, sometimes even more so than climbing as sometimes you're in less control. I like learning about new things as well and the zillions of parts that comprise a bike are certainly new to me. Riding on XC trails is much more complicated than just riding on roads, weight back, arms bent, etc. The roots, rocks, and occasional grazing animals presents lots of unique puzzles... um, kinda like bouldering.

I’m hoping that soon it will be time to dust off that dream problem list, but for now – I’m happy just bimbling with mountain biking.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Southern Sandstone Bouldering

Using a bit of technique

Despite having Harrisons as my closest crag, reachable in about two hours by train, I had never been. I was filled with ‘top-roping only’ prejudices and horror stories of sandy friable holds. In over four years of climbing I never managed to make it to my local crag until last night…

It was a beautiful summer day, the likes of which we don’t often get to enjoy. I wanted to go climbing, but the thought of spending what might amount to our only taste of warm weather at a dank climbing wall just didn’t appeal. A quick consultation with the train timetable made the trek out to East Sussex seem reasonable. After all, it couldn’t possibly be that bad!

With my expatiations set as low as possible and a back-up plan of a pub retreat in place, I was ready. It was quite an experience taking my enormous DMM Highball mat on the Tube during rush hour. I got quite a few looks and when asked about the purpose of my ‘portable mattress’ I felt like replying that I was forced to carry it in case my narcolepsy flared up.

Fun warm up

A quick walk from the train station down a country road completely with an ultra dodgy manual level crossing (eek!) deposited us at the base of the sandstone mecca, Harrisons. There were a few top ropers out as promised, but we headed down to the North Boulder. Armed only with a print out of the UKC Database and a few bits gleaned from here, we started to decipher what were indeed real lines. Keen to try out the new rock, I quickly squeezed on my shoes and headed up the easiest problem there, OK Coral a Font 3 (no, I never knew they existed either). Intrigued I moved on to the Font 5’s and 5+’s. They were technical and involved slopers – ugh, I normally loathe this type of stuff, but alas I was so happy to have found a boulder near to my home turf I didn’t care!

The slopey, sandy holds forced me to do flagging, Egyptians and even a semi-figure of four. I was so excited to be climbing outside in the lovely weather that I didn’t complain about having to use technique one bit, although the rounded, Font-style top outs gave pause for thought.

That's a bit more like it... Torque Wrench, Font 6b

The best problem that I did all night was Torque Wrench a Font 6b. Yes, it did involve cutting loose (a leopard doesn’t change its spots overnight) but also lots of flagging, pinchers and the mental crux was the mantelshelf top out, which isn’t normally my cup of tea.

Scarily enough I feel that I am starting to become something more of an all-rounder. After dragging myself up several low-grade classics (a currently on-going process) and now after a fairly successful trip to a new and very technical rock type, I think that this hypothesis is gaining some weight. No, I’ll never be as happy doing this type of stuff, but maybe more problems will become possibilities.

As for sandstone itself, what the heck took me so long! I’m still not fond of the idea of top roping, but there are more than a few boulder problems that I didn’t have time for last night and who knows, maybe I’ll start to use more technique on all rock types as a result.

Southern sandstone – nowhere near as bad as you might think :-)

UKC Gear Review Part II

My next gear review for UKC was about the DMM Highball and Bit bouldering mats.

I never knew that I could write over 2,800 words on a bouldering mat! I was quite sceptical going into the process as I was a huge fan of the Franklin Dropzone (RIP), but my tried and tested friend has seen the last of its useful days and a replacement was in order.

I felt that the Highball was a good alternative and even absorbed more shock than the Dropzone. I’m still a bit concerned about the hinge area after using tacos for nearly all of my bouldering life, but I have yet to have any problems with it.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Classical Elusions

Since I had an injury induced 4 month layoff from any serious form of climbing, I decided that going after all of my hard projects as soon as I felt better probably wasn’t the best strategy. Instead I decided to have a look at some of the easier classic problems that I initially wrote off because they were a. too reachy b. too high c. too slabby d. an arête e. on grit or f. all of the above. Also as I mentioned in an earlier post, when I go bouldering I normally like to find areas that indulge my sociopathic side since most of my life is spent in the company of 7 million others.

I will admit that I have an ultra-narrow focus in my climbing, that being overhanging problems with positive holds. I am complete rubbish at anything requiring technique, balance, head for heights, etc. I can pull hard on small holds; that’s about it. I’ve exploited this to my advantage when choosing problems that were at my limit, however this approach left me feeling as though I missed out on something along the way; like I was a bit of phoney.

Given my lack of strength and limited ability to send interesting, erm… hard stuff, I decided to spend my energies tackling a few of these problems as a form of therapy (or maybe self-inflicted punishment?).

First to be crossed off the list was Banana Finger. As I’ve said time and time again, I just don’t get grit. I’ve only ever been to the Peak once or twice when the conditions were good, which might of course be a large factor. I find the rock to require very subtle technique and I’m not subtle. It always happens that when I am there for a while I start to learn a bit of technique, but I immediately forget it when the next grit trip comes ‘round. Anyway, Banana Finger is to quote the guidebook “listed by English Heritage as a national monument”. I tried it ages ago, but after doing the reachy traverse gave up due to the complete un-inspiring nature and lack of bouldering mats. This time, I wasn’t going to slunk off and take no for an answer; after all it’s just one rockover and not even a bad one at that. The problem is that typical for grit, there were no footholds whatsoever to speak of, not to mention the slight issue of being unable to reach the upper break until the very last minute. I decided that I can climb something that is barely V3 no matter what and with that attitude in mind it went. I was happy to reach the break, but if it was just a few inches further away, well it wouldn’t have been pretty.

Boysen's Groove

Boysen’s Groove, the low-grade classic of North Wales which was first climbed by Paul Pritchard way back in the Dark Ages of bouldering, 1997. Although I am a huge fan of the gas-pocket ridden rhyolite found on the Cromlech boulders, I hadn’t enjoyed the dolerite problems found further up the pass anywhere near as much. After a few chilled-out sessions on the rock however, I was soon to change my mind and with this new found interest, I sought out the area classic. It packs quite a lot of climbing into a few meters, a crimpy face, an arête and finally jug hauling. It went, but not without a fight. I didn’t trust the friction on the arête, but once I committed to it, all was fine and I was left agreeing with the guidebook’s three star designation. It was nice to be able to tick off this classic.

The Ramp

Further adventures on dolerite included a somewhat-high-for-me problem, The Ramp on the Braichmelyn Boulder just outside of Bethesda. It is given V2 in the guidebook, but was upgraded to V3 in some climbing magazine. Regardless of the grade, it’s a good problem, a crimpy traverse and up. The top out was um… 'a little unnerving on first acquaintance', but it was all there. You just had to trust in your ability, which isn’t something that I am familiar with.

The Ramp served as an enjoyable warm-up for a problem that I did later on I the day. I wrote off the entire area of the Pont y Gromlech slabs as being too high and rife with polished, marginal holds born from years of groups practising abseiling down its face. After perusing the internet and much to my dismay, I found that this crag contained a must do V3 classic, The Seam. Ugh, it was reachy, slabby, polished, and high – not exactly my type of problem. I wasn’t giving up though as I was able to tick of all of the others on my list. It took a few attempts to get a reachy move up to the initial flake down pat. Then it was a matter of keeping it together at the top. I fell off the middle section a couple of times, but on about my third try I was able to make further progress and the top was insight. The only downside being of course that I had gained significant height and I was now facing a worse fall. I tried for the top only to sink the world’s most glassy, non-existent sloper. I couldn’t reach anything better from where I was. Exposing my former sorority-girl self in an ‘oh-my-god’ shriek, I panicked, then out of nowhere I heard a calm voice in my head which said to stand on the initial flake and it worked. The top was mine.

So did all off this working my weaknesses make me want to be kinder to furry animals and children – no. Have I seen the light and am I going to become a slab expert – definitely not. Was it fun and do I feel more rounded as a climber – maybe. Was it worth it given that I couldn’t do much else – definitely yes.

What’s next on the easy classics list? Well I had a fight with Joe’s Arête at the Roaches on a wet January day and it won. That’s on the top of my list. I am starting to find myself drawn to Not To Be Taken Away, but I don’t suspect it’s that easy. Mid-grade classics anyone ;-)

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Injured - again!

Just as I am getting over my shoulder injury, I seem to have acquired a grade 1 or possibly 2, A2 pulley tear on my left hand ring finger, argh….

I’ve had minor pain for about a month now and ignoring it isn’t working. In fact I just made it a bit worse last night while climbing indoors - time to rest it and consult the literature.

There are lots of good websites out there on finger injuries, such as:
finger injury treatment videocast

The good news is that it should heal enough to allow climbing in about 1-2 weeks. I was planning on resting it while is it still inflamed and using ice to keep the swelling down. Then I’ll be moving on to Dave MacLeod’s cold treatment as seen in his videocast.

Well, I guess I need to work on my sloper technique anyway….

Tuesday, 8 July 2008


I've been debating on whether to do a blog about this or not, as I feel I am giving it way too much importance, but what the heck, it's obviously on my mind...

Anyway, so I was at the wall tonight, feeling rather tired for some reason, but I managed to re-do a V4 that I did earlier in the week. On getting to the top I immediately dropped off and on the way down I heard someone comment that 'it doesn't count; you didn't hold the top for 3 seconds'. Um, I didn't realise it was a contest; but still I laughed it off. Possibly sensing my annoyance, he rather grudgingly added 'oh just joking, you did well'. Erm, thanks...

Later on in the evening I bump into the same guy again, only to see him flailing on another V4 that I flashed, shouting to his mates that he has to do this problem because he saw some girl do it. His friends all in turn look over to me. He did eventually manage to do the problem with the addition of a few holds that weren't part of it, drops down and announces that 'now he can go home'.

Yep, I am a girl, but I'm still strong, even more so than some guys, but there is a whole world of people who are stronger than me. Let's just hope that our friend runs into some more strong girls. Maybe then he'll change his attitude. Well, one can hope...

On a more positive note, I remember ages ago, a girl came up to me in the changing rooms and said that she really liked watching me climb because I gave her a few ideas and she even copied the sequence that I did on one particular problem and then she was then able to do it.

I think that was one of the best compliments that I ever received. One of the primary reasons being that I never thought I could. I never saw myself as 'strong' or 'athletic' before I started climbing. Challenging people by making them feel that they can do something that they didn't think possible – well, that is inspiring.

Burning off stupid guys – that’s just a bit of fun ;-)

Thursday, 3 July 2008


I’ve noticed that it is much easier for me to write about depressing things rather than successes. As luck would have it, I’m never too short of the former.

Since I’ve gotten back to London, I’ve been in horrible mood, even for me. I feel as though I’ve been allocated my own personal hole that I have to carry around at all times. It sits neatly enough under the bottom of my stomach, but presents a problem since I can’t seem to fill it with anything.

I should be happy, but of course I’m not. I’m weak, tired and achy. I attempted to go for a cycle, but had to stop. I fell off endless V2 and 3’s at the wall. Injuries that I never knew I had are beginning to appear and of course the shoulder is acting up a bit. I haven’t been able to sleep (though that’s not exactly new). Argh. I just feel so unhappy.

Why. I don’t know. I thrive on negativity and a success has distorted my world view? Flintoff is out of the Test squad? One more British ‘summer’ to put up with? Who knows.

When I got injured I was on an upward curve and since I've been injured, I've been able to maintain 'well I would be climbing harder but I'm injured'. I don't quite have that excuse anymore and I think part of the reason for being down is acknowledging the fact that I was deluding myself. I never had any grand plans; I just thought that I could do better. Maybe I can’t. Or maybe I can.

Sometimes I don’t know which one weighs heavier.

I just got an invite to go to Dartmoor, which I am excited about – Rippled Wall will be mine! Although it will probably rain, be plagued by midges, holidaying school children, or be declared a SSSI and therefore off limits. If it isn’t, I’ll certainly be too weak to climb it (see – negative thinking just works better).

Oh well, if all of my whinging has got you down, you can laugh at my attempt to make pathetically easy problems in North Wales look difficult. It was all that I could manage to film on account of the rain, midges, earthquakes, school children, etc.


Monday, 30 June 2008


Sending Fagin

That rare and elusive moment finally came to me last Saturday. After three different sessions spread out over two months my V5/6 project finally went.

So what was different this time, well a lot actually. I had been in North Wales for a week fitting in easy classics between rain storms and even more menacing clouds of midges. I felt that I built up a decent base over this period. My climbing was limited much more than I would have liked, but actually it was probably a good thing as I most likely would have worn myself out.

I put off trying my project until it was nearly time to leave. I don’t think that I would have coped with another failure well and I wasn’t convinced in my mind at this point that it would go, yet I still felt that I ought to be able to do it. It became something of a chore, something to be worried about, rather than enjoyed. Also running up to my trip I was in a rather pathetic state. I had the flu or something and it seemed to take weeks to get over; weeks that I could have spent training.

The time gap between my last two sessions really seemed to benefit me. I actually forgot my old sequence and devised a much better one. The first time I tried it on Saturday, I knew that it was going to happen that day. The holds actually felt less painful and I was more in control of the crux section.

The problem consists of a series of pockets up a steep prow / cave thing. The pockets are decent enough, but I was struggling to reach across with my left to get the next pocket that I have in the picture above. Gaining this pocket with my left hand was the crux for me.

I found a less powerful beginning sequence and I was also able to better steady myself through the crux. This combined with the discovery of an intermediate minor sidepull led to my success.

And it felt great. Finally, I had a modicum of strength back and my shoulder injury hardly gave any complaint over the entire week.

Of course me being me, the happiness was quite fleeting and I was soon left with thoughts like ‘why couldn’t I do this last time’ and ‘I’m nowhere near as strong as I need to be’, etc.

Oh well… it has to be a step in the right direction. Even I can’t argue with that one.

Are there that many bored people out there?

While I was away my counter clicked over 2,000 hits - ya!

Thanks for visiting. I hope that I was able to at least provide you with a distraction for a bit. Anyway, if I can improve things or make it more interesting let me know... I'm already picking up the vibe that you want less whinging :-)

Friday, 20 June 2008

The Last Physio

Nearly 4 months to the day, I had what was hopefully my last physio appointment.

Besides being significantly poorer, weaker and less fit where has this left me – with stronger joints, or so I hope.

So the theory on my injury goes as follows… I’m apparently hyper flexible in most of my joints. This means that I have a greater range of movement than the average person (whoever they are). Of course this is an advantage for me in regards to climbing, especially since I am short and have to contort myself into all sorts of shapes. However as with most good things, there is a negative side and that stems from the fact that my shoulder joints are unstable. I am more prone to injury when hyper-extended.

I’m not too sure if my condition is hereditary or not, but my grandfather had similar shoulder problems. I also didn’t help matters by doing a stint in gymnastics when I was younger. According to my physio they select people who are very flexible naturally, but through training they become exaggeratedly so to the point where it can cause problems.

Shoulder Impingement Syndrome normally takes only a few weeks to correct itself. It’s been 4 months for me and I still have a bit of work to do. I’ve had much more pain than normal as well. No one is sure why this has been the case. Because of this I always had a fear lurking in the back of my mind that I might have a rotator cuff or SLAP tear. While I still have pain this of course remains a possibility, however I am continuing to improve with the physio treatment and I am now at the point where even after climbing for some time I have minimal pain.

The Boring Exercises

My goal was to strengthen my shoulder joints and thereby making them more stable through various physio exercises. The exercises themselves also serve as a sort of engram to remind my shoulder how to move in a correct manner. They started as ultra-tedious, boring as reading a British climbing magazine, chore and progressed to where I am using real sized weights and am gaining lower traps strength as well as rotator cuff stability. As long as I climb, I am going to have to keep up with these exercises.

Certain movements still cause pain and I'm not 100% yet, but hopefully I will be soon. I don’t think that I am going to take up campusing any time soon, well I might give it a few weeks at least, but even more scary is the fact that I am running out of excuses for being cr@p – ugh!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Quick Grit

I had a whirlwind tour of the Peak last weekend. I know that June isn’t exactly prime grit bouldering season, but I have a partner with a sprained ankle and short walk-ins were essential, so grit it was.

I spent a couple of hours at Burbage North on Saturday. After falling off all of the obligatory easy warm-ups (I just don’t get grit!) I ventured onto the classic Banana Finger. I thought it was fun, but maybe not as good as the hype might suggest. Regardless, it was on my tick list, so it was nice to be able to cross one off for a change. I would have given the Direct Start a go, but the knee bar sounds horrendous.

Banana Finger was on my list for one reason only; it’s classic status. Often, I seem to be drawn to the most obscure problems. This is mainly due to two factors. First, I don’t like crowded areas. Bouldering with a group of friends is great fun, but being amongst a large group of noisy randoms isn’t. I live in a city and part of the reason that I go climbing is to get away from crowded, stressful environs. Another negative aspect that I have noticed about classic problems is that they tend to be more reachy. Of course this isn’t always the case, but I have noticed it a few times. Obscure problems tend to suit me better. I guess I’m just odd ;-)

Seeking out the path less trodden isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just however leaves me wondering if these lesser know problems are actually the grade they claim to be. By doing a few more established problems, I hope to calibrate my grading ability accordingly.

Sunday was spent wandering around the Plantation mostly sliding off greasy rock. I did however manage to squeeze in this fun V4 arête on the Pebble before the rain and midges arrived.

Monday, 9 June 2008


Bonehill Tor, Dartmoor

Due to a rubbish forecast for most of the Northerly parts of the UK, we decided to escape to sunny Devon last weekend.

My expectations weren't that high. I have been putting of going to Dartmoor for ages for one reason or another. Primary amongst these was the fact that I am not the biggest fan of gritstone and from what I had seen and read the flavour of granite on Dartmoor had more than a passing resemblance to this. What I didn't account for was the lovely feldspar crystal which at times made for the perfect crimping material. The downside was of course the razor sharp nature of the xenoliths which caused our finger tips to ooze plasma in a matter of minutes.

First up was Bonehill. After a strenuous walk-in, consisting of essentially tumbling out of the car (!), and a few warm problems I immediately made a beeline for The Rippled Wall (V4 UK 6b). After seeing pictures of it on UKC I was inspired. From what I read the crux is the first move, but one quick glance and I knew that the hard part for me would be at the top. Although it’s probably a bit short to be considered a highball at about 7 or 8 meters, it is a lot higher than most problems I consider climbing. I have a rule about highballs and I usually only do ones that are well within my capability or have the crux low down.

Sure enough I flashed the bottom moves and made my way to the top but chickened out at the penultimate move. It was a rather long reach for me to a not so great sloping break. I tried the move a bunch of times and kept falling off from higher and higher as I committed more and more to the top crux. In the end I gave up as I was becoming increasingly tired and loosing form (not to mention skin). I lost out on the tick but repeatedly falling off the top of that boulder was an interesting experience and definitely gave me something to think about. I will certainly be back as I have more than a few ideas for the finishing moves.

I was still feeling under the weather from my cold / flu / whatever so Sunday was just a chill out day spent mostly wandering around neighbouring Honeybag Tor ticking a few problems here and there. It was a really nice chilled out place and I felt that I gained a slightly better understanding of how to climb on granite, though not as good as I would have like. Yes, there are slopers, but you can usually sink your hands into some crystals for friction, but this is of course at the cost of several layers of skin. My only real gripe was that the problems felt a bit samey after a while. They mostly consisted of moving from one slopey break to another finished off by mantling onto a rounded top. I found myself thinking, haven’t I done this move ten times before?

So what did I get out of the weekend - mostly a lot of frustration over The Rippled Wall. Argh. I am so sick of being weak and not sending problems. My project list seems to be extending infinitely and I am despondent over continuing to have to add to it. I feel so far off of where I should be. On the positive side, I really enjoyed going to a new venue and monkeying around on a new rock type. I think that I also greatly benefited from working a slightly higher than normal problem. I need to work on sloper strength, but that’s not exactly news. All of this however pales in contrast to the best thing about the weekend – no shoulder pain whatsoever! I normally struggle with driving, sleeping in a tent and spending two days in a row bouldering. Last time I got back from a weekend away I couldn’t lift my arm above my head without wanting to scream in pain. Now that’s progress :-)

UKC Gear Review - Spirit Lady Velcro

I seem to have acquired a new career as a gear tester for UKC :-)

First up is my review of the new Spirit Lady Velcro Impact Zone from Red Chili. These shoes are Red Chili’s first offering specifically for women and are based on the original Lace Up’s last, which were my first pair of climbing shoes way back when!

I was a strict devotee of the cult of 5.10 but these shoes fit so well that they have replaced my every day shoe. Now if only we could have an ultra technical women’s fit shoe…

I had a lot of fun both testing the shoes and writing up the results. Cheers guys.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Arch Bimbling

I had a bimble at The Arch today. It was good fun, but I was feeling rather tired / weak due to having flu / a cold / some sort of illness (?) all week.

First up is one of my current favourite problems. It’s not overhanging, powerful or indeed even festooned with positive holds, so it isn’t exactly my type of problem. I just think it was well set, even if it is easier for people with small hands ;-)

Next up is my (proper) V5 project. It’s a tad bit um, err… more interesting for the short, but I’m not letting that get in my way.

Lots to work on...

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Of Things That Weren’t

Oddly enough time has been rushing by of late and I’ve been meaning to post a few thoughts. I guess this one is an effort to get some of those thoughts across.

Red Queen Hypothesis

In an effort to reacquaint myself with things long lost, I dug out my old intro Bio textbook buried deep in a closet in Pennsylvania. I immediately opened to a page that had an interview with Stephen J. Gould. I used to love reading his science writings as I felt that he had the amazing dual facet of being equally brilliant at research and explaining it (the two seem to be much more commonly mutually exclusive and often inversely proportional). Anyway, in this particular interview he explained how a commonly held conception about evolution was that it was constantly improving things. In reality this is far from observations. I think that people, even I the ever pessimist included, like to think that things are getting better, when in fact they are just standing still. Professor Gould popularised the idea that the bulk of evolution is neutral and only very infrequently advantageous. There is a constant state of flux, but it is merely to keep what you already have – running to stand still.

A quote from the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland:

"It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place."

Although I despise the application of scientific concepts to popular culture, I feel that the parallels between training and evolution merit examination. We like to feel that we are getting stronger, despite going for long periods making little or no progress. It takes an enormous effort to stay where you are. I was going to post with this, but given that my injury brought on such a decrease in performance, there was only one way to go from there. Every session has seen some progress, but I do still remember a time when this was painfully true.

To Dream Again

This leads me to another thought… I’m no longer horribly injured, weak or just trying to survive the monsoon season. Eek – it’s time to climb again. It’s time to set goals and have dreams again. Having survived this long, I can easily say that this is much harder than not dreaming at all.

You have ideas of things in your head that you might accomplish. These goals usually stem from some form of self belief. You might be able to do it or you might not. I sometimes don’t know which is worse. Letting yourself dream again is leaving yourself open again – to disappointment, failure and so forth. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all’, or so I keep telling myself. While the less poetic side of me is saying, ‘here we go again…’

Of all the things that weren’t… most importantly (even more so than bouldering, gasp!) I ought to be off doing a PhD, not another MSc. I actually gone through all of the motions of being upset an angry about this so many times that I actually got sick of myself. Now I think that it’s finally time to say, yes, I ought to be in a different place, but what I have isn’t that bad either.

I wish life was different. I wish I was hiking V7 and getting on better with running. I wish that I automatically woke well rested at 7:30 AM each day. I wish that my hair was shinier and I was more settled and not afraid to cross roadworks covers for fear of fracturing my foot again. I wish that I always sat up straight and chose whole grain bread. I wish that I was I more mature about tomatoes – everyone else seems to get on with them. I wish that I accomplished more, yet still was able to believe deeply in what I already had.

Or alternatively, I could agree that life is hard and doing something with it is even harder (Rock Warrior’s Way again, can’t be bothered to look up the exact quote).

Of all the things that weren’t… can’t be and should never stop what will be.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Projects and Pain

The painful shoulder in action on a V3/4

Another weekend, another trip to North Wales, another session falling off my project.

The good news is that I can do every move of my current V5/6 project, except the last one (grrr). This was a massive improvement over last week. Surely I didn’t get stronger in a week. No, I think it has a lot to do with pain or tolerance thereof.

I feel that a bit of background on my project is in order. I first spotted a picture of Fagin in the North Wales bouldering guidebook a few months ago. It consists of a line of pockets up a steeply overhanging prow. It sounded like it would play to my strengths so it rose to the top of my list. I’m sure you’re painfully aware of my shoulder injury and subsequent lay off by now, but anyway, my point is that through all of this I have lost quite a bit of strength. I know that I am currently way off my best, but I thought targeting a problem that was a decent enough grade and played to my strengths was a way to make up for lost time.

My first session on it was OKish. The damp conditions were completely against me and I was knackered from a full day out previously. I always find it difficult to justify spending a whole day working on one problem. I may not send it and end up going home empty handed. However if I do lots of easy mileage, I am usually quite spent for the next day. Having more often than not travelled a long way, I feel a need to accomplish something. It’s just what strategy do you go for, lots of easy stuff or time on a project. Actually the whole concept of a project is still relatively new to me. Every problem that I sent has had no more than two sessions. I realise this obviously isn’t the way forward with properly hard stuff and sometimes just getting to the next hold is progress enough.

Back to the problem… I always seem to pick particularly painful ones. This one did have pockets but they seemed to all contain razor sharp edges on the outside and I was moving to most of them dynamically. Owch. I would go so far as to say that more than strength or technique, what I really lost that whole ’zone’ or whatever that you have to go into when climbing problems at your limit. It eluded me for the entire first session.

The next time I decided beforehand that I wasn’t going to let pain get in the way. I ended up bloodied and bruised, but I felt like I gave it a much better go this time. All of the strength training indoors will never prepare you for what you are about to tackle mentally.

If the problem is truly that hard for you, pain doesn’t even cover it. It’s not just sharp holds either. It is the ability to clutch at non-existent crimps, to make massive strenuous moves and then hold them. Indoors, I would have given up a long time ago. It’s just not worth it. You really need to want to it in order to put your body under that much pressure. I think at times I’m not merely struggling with a problem, but fighting a very physical battle with the demons in my head. At the very least I can’t hear them for a few moments. Yet new ones seem to creep in, ‘am I good enough’ and then I fall. I like to think a part of my character is born from these struggles.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the days when you just seem to float up anything you choose regardless of the moves being limit ones or not. I’ve even had both experiences on the same problem. Maybe if I get stronger I will have fewer epic battles. Then again, I suspect I will seek out even more difficult problems.

It will go next time.