Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Climbers with tops off at indoors wall...

...and how you can cope with it.

To start, this is not an indoor wall, but it is NED:

Ned is climbing outside, at night, in December (this is likely to be a lot cooler than a typical indoor wall in summer)....with his shirt off. Why is Ned doing this?? To provoke a bunch of punters on UKC into a debate about the fiction of friction?? To bait a jobsworth Fontainbleausard into banning him from La Foret if he persists with such indecent attire??

No, Ned is doing it for the same reason many of us climb with minimal attire: Because he wants to minimise any possible sweating and maximise any possible friction (and maybe reduce a tiny bit of weight and inhibition from a t-shirt) - yes, even at night, in December - and thus climb more effectively right at his limit.

Because Ned knows exactly what the fuck he is doing. If you DON'T know exactly what the fuck you are doing, fair enough, but don't spout your opinions or make knee-jerk rules based on ignorance.

Instead, try the following to deal with the so-called "issue"...

For wall managers / staff:

If people are climbing at your wall with their shirt off, it's for the same reason that they would be climbing in vest tops or sports bras or shorts - because the wall is warm, they are sweaty, and then are trying to reduce that to train more effectively. It is an athletic training environment with a high emphasis on grip and contact strength, and minimal clothing reflects that.

Those people are paying customers who are wanting to train. Obviously you can't provide perfect conditions with immaculate air con in summer and infallible heaters in winter, but you CAN accept that people might need a bit of leeway with climbing attire to make the most out of conditions.

If other customers complain that they feel "uncomfortable" with someone else climbing with their top off, ask them WHY they feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable in itself isn't a reason, there must be something behind it. Eroticism? Jealousy? Disgust at sweaty torsos? General prudishness? Most of these are fairly shallow reasons, not as weighty as a genuine physical reason of sweating off holds, and thus not worth impinging on a climber's use of your facility. If there's an actual genuine reason, it's likely due to behaviour, thus...

If you have a problem with macho and boisterous behaviour from people with their shirts off, then you have a problem with macho and boisterous behaviour - tackle THAT. People can act like dicks in just a pair of shorts or in a full £800 Arcteryx outer shell. Don't pin the blame on clothing, tackle people's attitudes instead - ask people to reduce shouting and swearing, to be courteous to other people climbing and hanging out, to avoid getting in peoples' ways etc, and you'll find that people can be polite and respectful irrespective of what they're wearing.

In short, COMMUNICATE with customers on both sides. And remember that a rule without reasons is an unreasonable rule.

If parents complain that it offends the perceived delicate and fragile sensibilities of their children, refer them to the advice in the section below (feel free to print it out).

For critics on internet forums:

If you don't understand why people are climbing with their shirts off at a wall, ASK. People will often give good explanations of conditions-related questions (e.g. climbing grit in winter, shoe friction, reduced sweating etc) and they are likely to give the correct explanation as above.

If you want to try any of the following non-arguments, think a bit more about them:

"But you don't really need to, it's not that warm"
Hey here's some fucking news for you: People sweat when they exert themselves, and some people sweat a lot more than others. Sweating reduces friction and grip on holds and makes training less effective (and less enjoyable). If you don't sweat that much and can climb through summer in a downie, good for you. Medal is in the post / bin. But try to use your fucking brain and realise that other people might sweat a lot more than you, and might need to reduce that sweating a lot more than you do. If you're too ignorant to understand that, turn your computer off and throw your keyboard away.

"But you wouldn't have your shirt off at a gym" 
No shit, that's because firstly at a gym you are sitting / lying on lots of equipment and thus would get sweat all over it, and secondly almost no exercises at the gym rely on hand friction (even deadlifts or lat pull downs are on rungs) so there is no need to go shirtless.

"But girls aren't allowed to climb with their tops off"
No shit, that's just the way the current status quo on general public decency is. Boobs are still regarded as somewhat private / taboo / sexual / whatever, and first world social norms are that they are generally covered in public, along with genitalia and buttocks. Sobeit. If you have any socio-philosophical issues that boobs should be entirely public or male torsos should be equally private, sort it out elsewhere, change the whole society's views, then get back to the climbing community only when that's done. Also note that girls can wear sports bras as minimal decent upper torso attire, going along with the minimal sweating purpose.

Oh fuck off.

For parents complaining that shirtless climbers are intimidating their offspring:

Get a fucking grip. If you've failed so dismally in raising your little shits that they somehow view a male torso as indecent, then you never should have spawned in the first place. Unfortunately it's too late now, but at least you can shut the fuck up and not whine to wall staff about it. Instead, take a long hard look at yourself and your parenting skills - and try to work out how the hell you're going to cope when your grubs go to a swimming pool.


Finally, some anecdotes.

I train with my shirt off regularly indoors (apart from in winter, I wear a skimpy vest then), because I sweat a lot, I find that sweating reduces my training effectiveness and enjoyment a lot, and I need to minimiseit (yes I keep repeating this, but despite being so bloody obvious people still are determined not to get it). I use liquid chalk and normal chalk and brush holds regularly and let my skin recover in between attempts and ask the staff to turn fans on if there are any. I also grunt and strain and occasionally shout with exertion.

I also don't show off and pose and flex and do any macho bullshit - I'm slightly overweight and wearing compression stockings FFS. And I talk politely and affably to people in general. When I've been at TCA climbing shirtless....

I've been chatting to one of the youth girls trying to get beta for a comp wall problem (youth girls is about the level I can manage usually!) and asking politely if I can try the same problem as it had inspired me - NO PROBLEM.

I've been refilling my chalkbag at the end of the wall, and ended up sitting, sweaty and shirtless, chatting to a very elderly lady who was accompanying her grandchildren and was wondering what the chalk was for and didn't seem to care less what I was wearing - NO PROBLEM.

I've been jumping down off a problem when a tiny girl ran around the corner and almost hit me, we both stared a bit shocked, and I smiled down at her and said "Oooops sorry" out of courtesy before she trotted off wide-eyed - NO PROBLEM.

Add in a few hundred casual chats to other climbers and occasional non-climbers - NO PROBLEM.

The moral being: If a provocative arse like myself can both an efficient shirtless climber and a civil human being, then maybe that's another small indication - along with common fucking sense - to not have any draconian restrictions or moronic criticisms of climbing with shirts off indoors.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Saturday, 21 May 2016

A bit like this.

Summer 2015:

Summer 2016:

Both E2 5c, the 2nd one is quite a bit better tho.

Monday, 9 May 2016

A tale of two Thursdays.

Thursday evening.

I'm sitting comfortably in the car, keeping warm with the heater on, relaxing on the way back from Ratho. It's 1'c and snowing gently over the Harthill summit.

Thursday evening.

I'm lying comfortably on the ropebag, keeping cool in the shade, recovering from the dizzying heat at Helsby. It's 20'c and too hot to climb in the afternoon sun.

What a difference a week can make eh. I don't even need to moan about the weather for this one. Except it got too hot, yes too hot. I thought Helsby was a shady crag from my previous visit nearly a decade ago, well I've learnt something useful. I also thought it looked greener than ever, but that fooled me too, close-up it was almost all fine. In fact one of the greenest "good" routes there - Wafer Wall, just above the site of my emergency power-nap - was absolutely fine without any prior cleaning. This was a small, humourous ghost laid to rest as I'd trying to solo it on that prior visit and had to be rescued once standing above the "this break has some fiddly gear in but I won't bother to reverse and get a rope and rack, I'll just press on" section. All fairly silly and it went nicely as a lead. I must confess the previous evening I had a bit of a wobbler on the top of Angel's Face....I think I prefer a rack and rope at Helsby ;)

All of this was inspired by two things. Firstly, a proper new guidebook that I've been long overdue getting - as always with new BMC guides the combination of exhaustive information, rich character and an accessible design provide immediate inspiration to an area that had gone off my radar. Just how proper this is was highlighted to me by going on to UKC to check the databases out of very idle curiosity, to find that the annoyingly uneditable Rockfax grades / descriptions were all-too-commonly wrong. Sigh.

Secondly a somewhat more sombre scenario - I was down in the Helsby area for the funeral of my recently-deceased Uncle Fred, a very decent and honourable man and a near-legendary model-maker, whom along with his son Steve (of Steve Webb Model And Hobbies) inspired me into model-making in my youth and was thus responsible for me getting into painting toy soldiers, which has possibly taken a grade off my climbing but kept me sane during some miserable winters. Funerals are like buses, you (don't) wait a few decades for one and then two come along this year. Hopefully this will be the last for a while. I read a speech in tribute to his model-making hobby and my immediate family seemed to be a positive presence to his immediate family. After this I stuck around for a life-affirming evening at Helsby, got scared:

And witnessed a nice view over Liverpool:

Then there was Thursday of heatstroke and not doing the massive amount of E3 mileage I had planned from browsing the guide, that will have to wait for another time. Then it was a dash over to Meirionydd for the first Rhinnogau session of the year with The Pylon King, and the first new route too:

And finally a sweaty stop-off en-route at Harmer's Wood:

Just waiting for it to cool down a bit and hopefully I can put some of my psyche and mileage into action, preferably as far away from Glasgow as possible.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Beginner's Mind.

Long time no blog. A relief I'm sure. I could pretend that after punting spectacularly in Spain I'd made a sensible tactical decision to let my mind, body, and now-recurring golfer's elbow to heal, ready for a steady and fresh progression up to full fitness and psyche. Well it was half that and half demoralisation and depression which is never the ideal mindstate for a dedicated climber. I don't need to write any more about that and you don't need to read it. Suffice to say I dipped down enough to realise that progression back would be slow and tentative not steady and fresh, but this did come with the realisation to actually take it slow.....some wisdom has been gained from years battling this shit.

Thus, hopefully, beginner's mind. Accepting I will be initially shit but assuming that all the winter's training and last year's mileage will be lurking and give some latent potential. So I went down to TCA and bumbled around on the circuit wall (how come I did the yellow within a couple of sessions, but now can't get past 33-35 no matter how good I feel? Pffft), and then more importantly went down to Yorkshire lime and bumbled around on trad and sport. Amongst other things I cruised Prime Cut which I'd somehow backed off last year in a fit of sore feet and fiddly gear. So apparently I'm better at Giggleswick E2 than I was this time last year - SICK DUDE.

Anyway...5 days mileage at various crags, I felt a bit weak and a bit awkward having to place protection from bad positions, but other than that I felt reassuringly natural, despite it being the first time on UK rock since Oc-fucking-tober. I think I still have a certain "go for it" vibe in my mind following last year's trad, which shows promise as long as the body catches up. I also really enjoyed what I was doing despite UK inland limestone being my least favourite rock. Actually having fun - yup that's a good idea.

Of course this cruisey start to the trad season has skidded to an icy halt - I went down to TCA in a snowstorm yesterday, and I'll be going to Ratho in a snowstorm today. Still, I need to train and if I didn't lose my trad nouse after 5 months I shouldn't lose it after 5....days....weeks?? Let's hope it's not that fucking long.

Also being out and about on UK rock does have some additional benefits:

Monday, 21 March 2016

Summing up the trip... one particular event.

La Riba - new crag, new excitement. A fresh change from Margalef pocket-pulling and loads of choice. This was it, this was the time, the place, to overturn the previous day's debacles, get on and crush. I hit the ground running (well, hobbling, it's a bit uphill and rocky) and got on Directa Reus to start. 15m 6b+ into 15m 6b+, gets 6c for the combo but it's got a comfy rest in the middle. No problemo! I boulder out the start, the pockets are sparser but bigger than Margalef. Good rest on the ledge then up steep jugs that run out so I swerve left via a mono into the crux layback, a bit committing but good stuff. Swing feet over, up to a good spike jug in a pocket by the next bolt, and....





Yes, bees. They start swarming out of the pocket. My mind doesn't think "quick, jump off to the last bolt", it thinks "quick, clip the next bolt and lower off", which of course allows the bees enough time to assume attack formation. I'm shrieking at PJ "LOWER, LOWER, FUCKING QUICKLY!" as I ride to the ground, trailing bees from my vest, swirling arms, goatee, and face... A furious battering dance (thank fuck gabber clubs are good training for this) and several stings later and I'm sat on the ground shaking. I get PJ to pull several stings out and lounge around with a dull ache throbbing around me, before I relax enough to fail on other routes for entirely bee-irrelevant reasons. I still have bruised scabs on my head and shoulders, and now I have an edited guidebook too...

I presume this will be features "as is" in any reprint...

On that subject, more photos:

Other wildlife was more amenable, especially if I was prepared to throw random stones for it. This persistent pooch cheered me up at Oliana after I had a massive strop failing on another F7a there. Furious doesn't even come close. I felt an extra dick afterwards because Sharma, Graham and Woods were further down repeating 9a+s and working on futuristic projects (i.e. the thing just right of La Dura Dura....incidentally it's surprising just how low the crux is on LDD, it's about 1/6th the way up the whole route). These are guys I respect not just for their world class ability but also their seemingly ever-positive and psyched vibes, something I try to have at 15 grades lower - and definitely didn't that day.

Huevo Roca! There were many more huevos going on every morning in the caravan. PJ lives off them and I can see the logic in that. I'm not so used to eggs every single day and did wonder if a slightly different diet affected my performance. Probably not.

Rochas without the huevos. Directly below the left edge of the right hand boulder is an epic 30m 7a I fell off, boxed, after trying my best. Cunts.

Good view from the caravan although the view of the woodburning stove with an entirely unsupported flue pipe soaring about 6m across the campsite bar was also good at this time of night.

The send train. Note that I am not part of it. 

View from Montsant. I'll be back. I've got at least a summer to work out how the fuck to climb.

 Micro-conglomerate at Vilanova De Prades. These pebbles would make rubbish holds as they are just a couple of mm wide...."I had to sprag on a quark" and all that ;)

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Discomfort zonas

Margalef and surrounds - it was 50% great (climbing quality, weather, caravanning situation, and all else), and 50% rubbish (my actual climbing). I started off quite okay and consistently deteriorated through the trip to make it the worst trip away for my climbing I can recall - by the end my performance was even worse than during the mediocre rain + climbing with a couple & young kid double belay bitch duty + obnoxious overcrowding Eastern Europeans semi-climbing trip to Turkey a few winters back. Sure performance is not the be all and end all of a trip, but then again it is a climbing trip and I like the climbing challenge, and ending up so detached from that for no obvious reason felt inherently wrong. Especially since with the best intentions...

Following on from my previous trip and related post, as well as sampling the climbing i.e. pockets, I wanted to try a bit harder and maybe sport climb a bit harder. In that context it must be said that Margalef: 1. Has some of the worst grading of any sport climbing venue I've visited - I can scarcely recall two routes of the same grade that were actually the same standard, apart from a few that were wrong on the same direction. And: 2. Is utterly rubbish for pushing your onsighting, with most routes involving being lost at sea of pockets, the easier routes I was on having more pockets and thus more confusion, and being less steep thus less chalky hints to avoid the shoal of grey and orange herrings.

On the plus side the climbing is really cool. I scraped up a few soft F7as, a few almost accurate F6c+s, and various piss/nails F6cs before even that started feeling less likely... So you don't get a ticklist, but the following list would have been a great one if I'd actually done it. Or most. Or any...

List of fucking shite:

1. Action Man F6c - entirely morpho (7a) crux that I tried repeatedly before falling off an off-balance slap to a duo that tall climbers could reach on a ledge.
2. Coraje Al Forao F7a+ - tried really fucking hard on a thin slab start, fell off just before a ledge with fingers so numb I had a few minutes of full hot-aches before I could start threading a ring bolt.
3. Ingravitus F7a - muffed a hand swap on a bucket at the first bolt partly because I was so shakey and unfocused after the above debacle.
4. Baby Siter F7a - tried really fucking hard on a pumpy head-wall with a sea of blind pockets. Slightly warm and slapping for nothing and fell off.
5. Talo Dret F7a (Montsant) - committed well into a very steep groove and ran out of reachable holds and strength.
6. La Estampa F7a+ - tried pretty hard and completely powered out trying to reach holds.
7. Garotina F7a - tried really fucking hard on various cruxes and came off 3 holds from the chain on a pumpy bulge, partly sweaty due to no breeze.
8. ??? F7a (Oliana) - committed well and ended up with too thin holds and no strength to pull on them.
9. ??? F7a (Oliana) - very morpho crux that I found too hard slapping to an out-of-reach duo rather than being able to reach it from footholds.
10. Massagran F6c+ (La Riba) - tried really fucking hard on the crux and ended up following unspeakably bad beta in the guidebook photo and wrong handed too far from next holds.
11. Uf Va Dir Ell F6b+ (Montsant) - tried to warm-up on this after cruising the walk-in and feeling fresh and perky, got to a bulge on less positive pockets and just powered out.
12. En Penitence F6c (Vilanova De Prades) - missed a completely hidden one pad mono.
13. Leidi Laura F7a (Vilanova De Prades) - mis-read the start, foolishly committed to the wrong sequence and fell off rubbish slopers.

Yup, that's a lot. And it gets pretty fucking boring trying hard and trying hard again and failing relentlessly and not getting any positive reinforcements for the effort.

So what the fucking hell went wrong??

  • I had trained well in almost all areas: I'd been bouldering well (e.g. some good benchmarking on the TCA comp wall), leading indoors well (e.g. good sessions at Ratho on both full routes and half "hard" routes (intended to be relevant to Margalef-style power-endurance)), gymming and running okay.
  • I was well rested before I went out and had tapered off training suitably.
  • I felt on general physically good form, and actually didn't feel tired, drained (well, apart from emotionally....) or de-energised on any day I was out.
  • I slept well and ate well and relaxed well in the evenings.
  • I felt inspired and positive before every day and almost every route (even after several days of climbing rubbish).
  • I felt happy with the pockets and felt I got used to them quickly.

Yes there were some issues with grades and blind pocket climbing but that wasn't the only things I was struggling with. Extrapolate for a further month and I'd be struggling to climb the stairs and there ain't no fucking duos on them. *I* was the problem and I don't even know how?? I've had enough times being hampered by injury and illness and conditions and tiredness and whatever, but sitting at the bottom of Montsant feeling fresh and perky in fresh and perky conditions beneath a wall of dream routes at my usual standard and not being able to get on them for no reason was a real WTF moment.

So. Answers on a postcard, and if any of them are the right answers I'll refund the postage.


Thought of a couple of things:

  • Although conditions were often excellent, some of the crux pocket-pulling was less positive than ideal and relying a bit on finger friction, which is always an issue for me, exacerbated by tape around several pocket-shredded joints (particularly 4, 7, 10, 11)
  • Although in training and in general I'd felt comfortable committing and fighting for holds, these were usually visible and obvious and required more effort than accuracy....unlike the pockets which sometimes involved theoretically lunging for duos with «5mm margin for error for me to hold them (particularly 1, 7, 9)
  • Although I felt I was climbing well and had enough strength and stamina, this was from bouldering (constant movement) and normal routes (constant movement with tactical pauses only at good rests). My "hanging around" strength / stamina was probably a lot weaker and that was a problem hanging around trying to find holds (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11)



Okay that is a lot of moaning. Sorry / not sorry at all, I need to get it out of my system and writing through it can bring up useful ideas.

BUT, on the other hand, the routes I actually did were all really good. A lot of beautiful, characterful rock, a lot of fun and fascinating pocket-pulling, a lot of decently challenging routes at lower grades. Funnily enough my first sport trip away was to Sierra De Prades (camping in February would you believe it, ice on the tents in the morning, WTF were we thinking??), and I haven't revisited it since apart from a singular Siurana sojourn a few years back (partly due to the inferior Rockfax guide although at least they had the right fucking sequence photoed for Massagran). With Catalunya Climbs: Tarragona and exploration of some new areas, I still remained psyched with the area despite being unpsyched with my punterdom and am actually rather keen to go back. So that is some sort of positive result...