Tuesday, 29 January 2008

A sort of progress (by Peter)

In a Les Amants Réguliers vs The Dreamers sort of style...

There are footholds there if you look really closely.

Inspired by the photo of me puntering my way up Green Wall Essential at The Buttermilks in Bishop, California; I thought that I’d contribute a post about just how long it took me to get this problem. With apologies to Wills Young and Mick Ryan, here is the description of the problem from their excellent Bishop Bouldering Guide (page 236): -

Green Wall Essential v2 ***
A super-technical line on perfect rock: The aim is to get your hands on the first horizontal fracture in the patina at about ten feet up, and then make a couple of moves to the summit. Begin either at the left-facing sidepulls, or better, from the thin crack on the right.
There is also a photo of Tony Lamiche climbing it on page 225, so I guess that I am in good company!

First of all, let’s get some things straight. I am not a good boulderer. I am not even a semi-decent boulderer. I am however a much better boulderer than I was in March 2007. A much better boulderer than before I went to Bishop for the first time.

The now defunct (?) Gravity Magazine was kind enough to publish an article of mine about that March / April trip; it appeared in the July 2007 edition. I closed this with the following thoughts: -

I suppose what sticks most in my mind are two things. First the climbs I almost sent, top of this list is Green Wall Essential (V2) at the Buttermilks, described as an old-school technical test-piece. I had the final jugs in my grasp twice only to rather lose it both times and fall rather a long way.
I don’t know how many times I tried the problem on that first visit. We went to the Buttermilks three times and I got on it each time. Maybe I had 50 attempts in total. As the above excerpt suggests, I managed to fail it twice when it was surely easier to make the final moves. However, my glib comments in the article hide how long it took me to work out the initial sequence, and then the next one until you get a hand on the patina fracture that the guide refers to (it was long after this that I fell both times). It hides how much the quartz-monzonite shreds your skin when you repeatedly fall out of the same finger-lock. It hides the pain of thinking you have overcome all the difficulties only to feel your fingers unpeeling and the downward rush to Earth.

What attracted me to this climb was that it seemed so straightforward, but clearly wasn’t. That it was yelling out “climb me” at the top of its voice, but then turned shy when you actually attempted the climbing. I liked the fact that it seemed accessible, but clearly was a bit beyond me for reasons that I couldn’t quite fathom. It was about perfecting body and foot position on holds like polished glass. For me at that time, despite the lowly grade, it ticked the boxes mentioned elsewhere on this blog of being possible, but only just.

I think it was Green Wall Essential that finally confirmed my journey to the dark side and becoming an apprentice boulderer. I began to understand people trying the same problem for years. I began to understand the thoughts that plague people at night; that if they just shifted their body weight to the right and then reached through all would be well (only for this latest scheme to lead to ignominious failure yet again). I began to understand throwing yourself at something until your fingers bled and you couldn’t pull any more. I left Bishop in April 2007 frustrated, but hooked and with a patina-broken wall on my mind.

Luck had it that a work trip to the US in October offered a cheap way to fit in a return to Bishop. It was a bit too early in the autumn season and it is was a bit to warm even for the time of year, but it is always great to be in Bishop and we weren’t complaining at this unexpected bonus. Anyway Green Wall Essential is in the shade most of the day right?

The first Bishop trip had acted as a real spring-board for our climbing season. We had spent time on mountain multi-pitch (Adam Rib comes to mind, but then so does our first climb on Cloggy), Peak and North Wales single pitch and a ton of bouldering all over the place. My thesis is that the Bishop trip was the catalyst for a chain of events that led to me claiming my first E1 onsight. Returning to Bishop, I felt that I had unfinished business, that I had grown as a climber and that a certain V2 was now mine for the taking.

Until I repeatedly fell off the first couple of moves…

But I eventually managed to piece the sequence back together, got up to the first patina-fracture and failed and failed and failed again! My mood plunged from confidence to abject despair – had I not improved at all in six months? Was I fooling myself that I could actually climb on occasion? I sometimes still dream about going into a University exam and realising that I had revised the wrong subject. It felt like that again; a recurring nightmare from which I could not escape. A terrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Until I moved my right foot two inches to the left and six inches up that is. I got the patina fracture, but much less extended and much more in balance than before. I was set for stepping onto the non-existent, glassy edges that you convince yourself are there and pulling up and lunging right to a goodish hand-hold (which felt much juggier than earlier in the year). But I had been this far before and still not tasted success. I think that it was at this point that the maturity gained in all the intervening climbing came to the fore.

In March I had the Wile E. Coyote experience of suddenly realising that I was in mid-air and that, unlike Road Runners, I couldn’t fly. Maybe I didn’t fully believe that I should be there. Panic followed, accompanied by heavy breathing and heavier falling. This time I was composed enough (and my fingers strong enough) to take a pause, have a think and relatively calmly send the easyish moves to the top.

Latching the final hueco jug felt very special, probably up there with my best climbing experiences. It is so much more rewarding when it has been such a struggle – maybe something that I miss in my onsight approach to trad.

But, in common with those other experiences, it was soon replaced by the next challenge. Do you want to know how many times I fell off of Birthday Problem at the Buttermilks, and after I had my hand on the juggy nubbin as well…

Finally, no way is Green Wall Essential V2!

Progress… of sorts

Peter Sending His Buttermilks ProjectPeter Sending His Buttermilks Project, Green Wall Essential

Climbing – ever since I started I always wanted to get better. I never stuck with a sport before, but for the first time I really wanted to put in the extra effort and see just how far I could go. Perhaps it was because I enjoyed the remote and beautiful places that climbing took me and the friends I met along the way. There is sense of adventure and discovery that draws me in and I love the focus that climbing affords, but ultimately I think that I found something that seemed to suit me and consequently I believed that I could get better.

Over the years, I’ve learned that there is something inherent to climbing that makes most people want more. Whether the goal is the next impressive line or achieving one grade harder, climbers want to progress.

I’m no exception and I’ve never been able to settle when I decide that I want something. As my ambitions grew, climbing pretty much took over my life. I knew that simply wanting something wasn’t enough. I had to put the effort into it and I did. However I felt that if I was putting that much hard work into climbing it would only be justified if I got something out of it.

I had to also reconcile the fact that wanting something leaves you vulnerable. It’s hard to put yourself out there – to say this is me trying my absolute best. You put everything into it and leave yourself open – what if your best still is far from what you anticipated. What if you fail.

But ultimately you believe and that is what drives you. That is why you push yourself that bit harder.

I often say that what I like most about climbing and bouldering in particular is that it allows me to work at my physical limit. I am interested in finding out what is the hardest possible move that I can do. I am only starting to realise that self belief plays a huge role in climbing. It is part of the basis for motivation and the reason why you push yourself that bit extra – because you believe that you can do it.

It’s not easy. There is no ‘trick’ involved. As I’ve found with most difficult but worthwhile things in life it is just hard work, a lot of sacrifices and belief.

Monday, 28 January 2008

(Remember) Two Things

I just got a project at the wall tonight that I’ve been trying for a while and I had two thoughts about it.

First, in thorny situations I often faff around trying to best position myself, make better use of the holds, etc. when I should just accept that it’s tough and that the next move will be taxing. The second thought is that I have to believe I can do the next move. So much of climbing for me is mental, especially when I am pushing myself; however sometimes believing in yourself is the hardest part.
While you lie around
With hands up and down
So resigned you will fall down...

Sunday, 27 January 2008

5.2 Miles

Regent's Canal near Little VeniceAfter more than two months I finally put on my running shoes. It was a perfectly crisp winter’s day and I had no real excuses. I was amazed that I managed a 3 mile run around Regent’s Park and still felt up for the 2 mile run home along the canal. My pace was very slow however this included having to stop for multiple traffic lights and various pedestrian hazards. Also, my aim was not to improve speed, rather it was to attempt to recreate a longish day out in order to shock my system. I’m currently trying to focus on cardio a bit more while I sort out my dodgy shoulder. Let’s just hope I can keep it up.

As much as I say I hate it, I do get something out of running. Sometimes I find it to be almost meditative. Other times I find it to be very focussing – you can’t think about anything other than the pain.

I'm starting to come to the conclusion that it’s hard work and you just have to deal with it.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

It’s Possible… But Only Just

I often feel that half the difficulty of bouldering is finding problems that fall into the category of ‘it’s possible… but only just’. Those are my favourite type of problem, until I get discouraged by failing them time and time again. Rather frustratingly I haven’t been able to say that about a problem for ages now. Illness and the weather have conspired against me. I still have a few ideas on the back burner, but problems like Simple Simon have to wait until my shoulder is better and I can get back into campusing regularly.

The main thing like about bouldering is the struggle to operate at your very limit, pushing yourself that extra bit further to achieve better and better things. Even if you fail, it is all the more sweet to come back later and realise that your limit is not your limit any more.

Room to Swing a Katz, V6Now if only it would stop raining…

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Two Trick Pony

I’ve been thinking about engrams lately and I’ve come to the conclusion that I rely on two basic engrams when the going gets tough. Sadly, they are both born from a climbing life spent mainly indoors due to living a. far away from real rock and b. in the rainiest place this side of Patagonia.

At climbing walls, the holds tend to be positive and far apart (for me at least!). These two details have somewhat dictated my style.

First up is the lock off on a first finger joint edge (for variation the example hold is slopey and at an angle), smear and work your feet up as seen in the first move I do here (NB, the videos aren’t art, rather they’re for illustrating a point).

All videos taken at the Castle, London.

Next is power. This isn’t one specific move but rather an approach. I often gratuitously power through moves where a bit of technique would stop me from getting tired mid way through a problem, however sometimes there really is no substitute for power (especially if you are 5’3’’).

Last trick is levitation :-). When all else fails, make the impossible reality. Significantly easier said than done, especially when you need it most! The throw I do here is a bit of a one off for me at the moment, meaning I can only do it a few times a session before getting completely knackered. The problem is made harder for me because I can't reach the logical next hold. Instead I have to dyno a sidepull on a 30 degree overhang.

Well I guess that’s three tricks, but the last one is incredibly unreliable so I’m not counting it. What I need to do is expand my repertoire, preferably with moves that are more relevant to real rock.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Motivation = Self Belief?

The path to climbing glory - copyright TRNovice
I recently came across an interview with celebrity personal trainer Kacy Duke, who works with stars such as Kirsten Dunst, Rachel Weisz and Bruce Willis. I thought that if you can inspire a bunch of non-athletes to change their bodies overnight, you might know a thing or two about motivation.
I CAN = The Motivation. Once you believe in yourself, you can start tapping your true strength and potential. This is HIGHLY motivating for clients. I know I really have them when they’re in the gym beaming from ear to ear because they can’t believe what they’re capable of! The more you see you can do the more you want to do. You, not any outside influences, are your own motivation.

As I understand it, Kacy believes that a large part of motivation comes from the belief that you can succeed. Interesting, but this presents a Catch 22 situation where by if you don’t believe you can achieve it, you aren’t motivated to train, etc. (so maybe that’s where I am going wrong :-)).

I occasionally run, yet I maintain the fact that I am the world’s most abysmal runner. However, I keep at it because it is a challenge and good for general fitness but when things get difficult it is the first thing to be axed and indeed I’ve gone for months without running. Getting back into it is such as struggle that I use it for motivation not to stop. I don’t believe I will ever be a successful runner. I don’t want to – it seems like too much work for too little a reward.

When I was younger I did ballet and gymnastics and while I was able to maintain a reasonable level, I never put that bit extra into it. In the US, where I grew up, a lot of emphasis is put on sports when children show proficiencies as a lucrative college scholarship might lie in the balance. I never wanted to spend all weekend on the uneven bars. I wanted to play with my friends. I definitely didn’t believe I was Olympic athlete material, yet it was expected that I commit to such a training programme.

Climbing is the first sport that I ever participated in where I felt that I had a decent shot at, but I don’t know if I can do it. For every moment that I feel I am climbing reasonably I have about 100 counter examples of when I completely failed to meet my expiations. I don’t know which time is more reflective of my overall ability. Yes, I have always been hard on myself, but am I overly so about my climbing? Maybe I should add a bit more I CAN to my training programme; after all you don’t need to get a boulder problem right 100 times, just once.

The Fear of Falling

Cwm Du taken from WaunfawrAdam Rib HS 4b 120m. Pitch 1, 45m, Scramble easily upwards to reach the foot of the rib proper.

Sounds easy enough and the next pitch involves a ‘wide groove’, hmm, yes, best avoid that one - my lead!

Racking up takes longer than usual since we are climbing with rucksacks – argh, I have gear digging into my waist, painful ankles from trying to ascend a miserable scree slope with a sprained ankle and lump in the back of my throat. Ever since my accident trad climbing has never been fun. Nonetheless, I take a deep breath and begin, after all how hard can ‘easy scrambling’ be and this is what I want to do, right?

A few meters up there is an ‘interesting’ lunge for a hold, oh to be a few inches taller, but still, this doesn’t count as a difficulty, since the average size guy would find it easy. I keep moving, hoping for the best, and maybe – um, wait I don’t have any gear! I go over the route in my mind while clutching a dirty hold. Nope, no gear at the start, or the lunge bit or here! I am now about 20 meters up and all that I see is solid, compact rock with no cracks whatsoever. I throw a sling around a slight protrusion in the rock to assuage my mind. OK, well I’ll keep going, how hard can it be. I then come to a very precarious rock over with a handhold well out of reach. Assessing the situation, I think I’ll be OK, but I don’t know. I look around, am I off route, nope. The dank void to my left makes the ancient Welshman's belief in dragons seem reasonable. OK Jenn, you can do this and I’m sure when you do it, there will be some proper gear. Ugh, but what if… my legs begin to shake. ‘Take’, oh god, there is nothing to take me on! Well it’s now or never and you want to do trad climbing, so best get to it. I make myself do the rockover and there is still no decent gear!!

Right, time to down climb… your lead!Old-school tradder Jenn

This situation was to play itself out time and time again. It’s not the falling that worries me. I actually enjoy lobbing off overhangs at the wall. It feels like and amusement park ride. It is the impact with the ground caused by the lack of gear that does.

Thursday, 17 January 2008


Jenn beneath her Buttermilks project

I first saw the boulder problem Soulslinger years ago on Dosage Volume I. It stuck in my mind since it was overhanging, but with positive holds, my favourite type of problem. However, this line wasn’t in some grotty cave like most of the things that I end up climbing. It was on a soaring arête deep in Buttermilk Country and just called out to be climbed.

The first time I stood beneath it in March 2007, I thought ‘wow that looks hard… but maybe just possible’. I didn’t try it on that trip. I’ve generally found that they give problems a grade of V9 for a reason, however something made me think that I could climb it.

I went back to Bishop in October 2007. At the end of a long day, Soulslinger was free so I decided to give it a rather feeble go. This was it. This was my chance at the problem whose line I would trace in my mind over and over again. I gave it about four goes before I declared defeat and retired back to the hotel room for the day.

I just didn’t have it in me mentally. Standing below the arête, I glanced at the top jug tantalising me, but so far out of reach. I had this horrible feeling that I could do it, but at the same time, I wasn’t ready.

Later on during the trip my boyfriend would suggest going to try Soulslinger again, but I would reply, ‘um, there is a lovely looking V1 that’s free, let’s just try that’. Yes, it was a rather poor diversionary tactic, but how could I explain that I wasn’t mentally capable of taking on such a challenge.

The reason that I enjoy bouldering is that it allows me to really push myself and work at my very physical limit. However, in order to be able to do such things, I have to really, really want to do it. Two days before I left for Bishop, I found out that a close relative had cancer. Although the situation turned out as best as it could in the end, this weighed heavily on my mind. Life hasn’t exactly been going the greatest for me lately and I guess I just let it win.

I climbed rather poorly during most of the trip, but I wasn’t exactly surprised by this. When you leave a lot of projects you assume that if you come back stronger, they will all fall. The thought of never giving them a proper go isn’t really an option. However, that’s how I felt.

Oddly enough I think part of me was also afraid of success. Last July, just before my 30th birthday, I climbed my first V5. I don’t really know why, but I passed some great barrier in my mind. It was for me the day that climbing stopped being solely about having a good time and turned into ‘achieving things’. It was the first time that I did something at my very limit and a part of my brain that I though long dead just clicked on and said ‘right, this is what we are going to do now’.

I also started to become accustomed to the process of trying hard stuff, putting everything you have into it and often failing. I simply didn’t have the capacity during my last trip to Bishop to be able to go through all of those emotions. I wasn’t able to put myself out there and risk failure or even success.

Now, safely back in the UK, I find myself going over every hold in my mind. I shift each of my weighted fingers in turn so that everyone makes best use of the tiny holds. I pull back and feel my shoulder muscle stretch as I pop for the good rail at the beginning sequence. There is nothing else, but the soreness in my fingers, a gasp of breath and the will to stay on the rock, the one thing that I couldn’t manage to summon up, and then I fall.

I think that motivation plays a huge role in climbing. It is also one of the most difficult things to train. One of the reasons for this blog is to enable me to examine and hopefully better train this mental aspect of climbing.

It wasn’t all a lost cause though, on my last day in Bishop, I managed to push myself up my first Bishop V5, which anyone who has ever climbed there will agree it was no pushover!

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Joining the bandwagon

Jenn emerging from the cave on Sunburst Seahorse at the Happy BouldersHi there,

Seeing as blogging is more socially acceptable than talking to yourself, despite the former bearing much resemblance to the latter, I decided that I would join the bandwagon given my predilection for 'thinking out loud' ;-)

Currently, I spend most of my time climbing, training for climbing, thinking about climbing, getting upset when I can't go climbing and so on, therefore you can expect to hear a lot about that. I plan to keep this blog as an addendum to my main training logs, but instead of repeating how many 6 second hangs I completed, I want to examine my motivations and other stuff, which I feel plays a huge part in my overall performance.

I also wanted some space to act as a sounding board for more general stuff, but who knows where this will go. I used to write quite often both for University and just for myself. Hopefully this will prove to be a way back into writing and remembering. I have a habit of forgetting everything. Maybe by blogging I can get a few more things to stick.

Now, where was I...