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.