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.