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.