Monday, 24 November 2008

Winter Weekend...

Prior to the weekend.

Duncan Disorderly, whom some of you may recognise from hanging off the 5th bolt of Body Machine, has come with the cunning plan of a boys own climbing weekend in North Yorkshire, involving Brimham on the Saturday, beer and camping at Masham Saturday night, and Slipstones on the Sunday.

The only slight spanner in the works being it's forecast to be -2'c on Saturday night and then sleet and snow on Sunday (oh and a bit of wind too). And out of the posse going I don't know of any of them whom regular camp out in summer let alone in winter.

None of which would be much of a problem except he's invited me...

Well at the last minute the forecast changed to sleet over Saturday night and dry with sun and cloud on Sunday. Thus there were no excuses, well apart from the accomadation issue, but that was solved as you'll see.

Saturday at Brimham - possibly the worst bouldering venue available at the moment for my injured elbow, given that everything seems to be a steep rounded prow. So I stayed in full on loafing mode for most of the day, the only thing I climbed was a tree to get some photos. Right at the end I put some effort in and did a couple of problems to earn my half of ale.

This was a fun little problem.

Saturday evening had a pretty interesting revelation. The posse (henceforth known as the Shackleton Posse, so named because Dunc has been reading too much of Shackleton's biography recently) was not lacking in strong climbers. In fact those who regularly tick Font 7b-c and/or F7b-c at points outnumbered those who don't. These boys aren't weak, particularly not Tom aka KnitwearMassive (woolly vests and cardigans also being in fully effect). Anyway Tom had a grip strength meter to do some research for something or other, so naturally we all had to test it out:

First go, most of the posse got around 90-120, with Tom on 130-ish. I came in at 145. We all did two more goes to get a consistent reading, again most people stayed around 90-120, Tom on 141....I got 151 and 158. This is on dominant arms i.e. uninjured ones in my case. Most of us tried the other arm and got comparable scores to the dominant one, I was wary at first due to my elbow, but it didn't seem to produce any pain at all, so gave it a decent go. Started around 130s, and on my third go got 142 - higher than anyone on either arm :S. There was speculation that this was all due to me climbing very little during the day. So the next day when I'd well beasted myself just before dusk, I had a brief go again, and got 155 straight off on my right...

The obvious conclusion - given these boys are "not weak" - being that pure pinching grip strength plays a very small role in climbing strength compared to the many other forms of hand/arm strength, and an even smaller role in overall ability...!!

Saturday night and the predicted big freeze had come along, but also SLOPAAAARRRRRRR had come along and despite being well insulated with years of port and foie gras consumption, he had no patience for this Boys' Own Arctic Survival Camping nonsense. Thus armed with a cunning plan, Sloper, Butters, and myself ended up in a B&B room above the evening pub we retired to. Not cheap but also not freezing cold and snowing either. The only slight drawback being a worrying risk of bummage from those two disreputable chaps - I took the bed next to the wall and slept with one eye on the nearest escape route, and I'm pretty sure my own "escape route" remained unsullied...

Sunday dawned to snow, sure enough, but also to rapidly improving clear skies. Stuffed with hot meat (errr....full English from the pub I mean), Shackleton Posse braved the Slipstones. As is always the case with the Slippys on a winter's day, it was baltic in the wind and balmy in the shelter - I alternated between 'skins' and 4 layers including downie. There's much more choice for me there so I pottered along nicely until realising that for once Sulky Little Boys might be in (suitably Arctic) condition. Sure enough it was and despite it involving a fair amount of hanging on hard with both arms, I had an instinct that it wouldn't pull too much on my elbow. Bizarrely enough I think I was right as it only got a bit tender and feels okay today. It's a nemesis of mine, mostly because I never find it in condition (too sheltered), and because I have to do a desperate series of very frictional moves that other climbers lank past. This time....soooooooooooooooooooooooooooo close. I finally got the upper gaston, and was unexpectedly faced with the quick left foot up before getting the pocket. I dithered "heel...toe...heel...toe??", dropped off, and never managed to get the sodding gaston again. Gave up when I could hardly pull on and two tips were bleeding.

Wot a gaylord!!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Elbow #2359

I had some vaguely thought-provoking experiences with my elbow recently. In general it's been feeling okay and progressing slowly but steadily. It's definitely held up to regular usage and a gradual increase in standards.

Last Tuesday: routes indoors at MCC, massaged elbow well beforehand, warmed up reasonably well but got flash pumped. Thus found the routes quite hard so floundered a bit. But my elbow felt at the end of the session like it usually does halfway through such a session, despite having to do some left arm pulls. Elbow felt okay the next day, better than usual after a wall session. Celebrated by having two good rest days.

Last Friday: bouldering indoors at The Works, ran down thus well warmed up, didn't warm up much climbing, got on some orange problems and probably had the hardest (but not the longest) indoor bouldering session since spring. Elbow felt a mild and "usual" level of tenderness afterwards, but the next morning felt the best it has after a wall session since spring.

Last Saturday: bouldering at Almscliff, massaged elbow well beforehand, didn't warm at all well, did a couple of warm-up problems but not enough to warm into things. Did a few easy problems but was pulling pretty casually at the end of the session. Elbow as tender as normal afterwards and similarly the next morning.

Here's a couple of Almscliff pics (by Will):

Easy little rib thing that I'd never managed to work out before Sat.

Easy other side of Flying Arete, a nice warm up/down.

Last Sunday: bouldering indoors at The Works, didn't warm up, another relatively hard session on purples & pinks, elbow felt a tiny bit sore during it and more sore than normal afterwards and at night. Definitely worse than recent sessions (although not worse than a couple of months ago).

So basically I screwed up a bit in the last session. Not badly - I didn't need to take painkillers, it wasn't sore at rest, and only a bit more tender to touch, and felt okay by the next afternoon. But after some promising sessions beforehand, it was a small step back. Basically due to the main cause of re-injury: Not being diligent.

What I did wrong:
1. 3rd climbing session in a row - I should have recognised the increase strain on my elbow due to overuse.
2. Not warming up on the 2nd and particularly 3rd session. What a knobber!! I should have warmed up well like in previous sessions, absolutely crucial.
3. Not massaging my elbow beforehand - this definitely helps with warming up and readying it for action.
4. Pushing myself a bit too hard. I was getting carried away on Sunday, almost climbing with the, errr, gay abandon I usually would indoors, which is still too much at the moment. This would have been okay if I'd been properly rested and warmed up - but I should have been more careful.

So a lesson re-learnt and a timely reminder before I get too carried away. I sentence myself to the easy green circuit, the very easy salmon circuit, and more swimming!

Monday, 10 November 2008


Warning: shameless arrogance ahead :).

Edit: make that monstrous arrogance, even worse because I'm probably right ;).

So. I speculate, ponder, discuss, muse, and debate on many things within climbing. Possibly due to liking climbing a lot and being heavily involved with it, probably due to having a restless mind. Some of which pondering and indeed discussing involves strong views on the state of climbing, issues of the day, and a status quo that may or may not change. It seems to me quite often that I argue issues (or merely think on them in private), and later see those issues be recognised, or changed so that my way of thinking matches them, or come to pass in a way I could have predicted. Obviously coincidence but it makes me wonder if I'm actually quite often "on the mark" when it comes to climbing issues...

< pauses and neatly side-steps the torrent of bilious contempt and eye-rolling disbelief as it flows through the virtual ether >

...thus I've decided to write down a few issues that I seem to have predicted, and a few predictions of trends that may come to pass in the future. Just for the record, just in case.

Have happened:

Bouldering mats & grades.
When bouldering mats started to become common and people started to use them to vastly reduce the danger and grade of solo routes, I argued continually and vocally (in the face of plentiful disagreement) that grades should be re-assessed to take into account this new protection type...
...and in recent years BMC guidebooks have now got a dual grade system for such routes, and many more solos are being re-evaluated as highball boulder problems.

Onsighting being revalued.
From the time I started debating on the internet, I've always argued in favour of onsighting and against wide-spread headpointing being de-rigeur, again in the face of plentiful disagreement...
...and in recent years, there seems to be a movement across highlighting stylistic progressions, and favouring onsighting and against wide-spread headpointing.

Hard Grit sequel: Hard Onsighting.
Following the excitement of Hard Grit, mates and I would commonly chat about what would be next and would there be a sequel etc etc. I said that there should definitely be a Hard Onsighting film, with the same drama and glamour, but showing the onsighting side of climbing...
...and this year OnSight has been released.

Slate revival.
When I started climbing regularly on slate, it was a well regarded rock type, but still seemed like a bit of a covert rainy day option sort of rock. However I loved the stuff and would actively go to climb on slate alone (i.e. in the Lakes, I had pure slate weekends)...
...and recently it seems to have become increasingly popular, with people valuing it in the same way, in it's own right.

Lancs quarries revival.
A few years ago, similar to slate, I took to the Lancashire Quarries like a duck to (slightly green) water. Again they were used in a "local" sort of way, but online at least I seemed to be one of the few people promoting them to the whole "day-trippable" area, and started getting involved with the clean-ups...
...and now it seems they have more general acceptance and respect.

Rock Warrior's Way acclaim.
A while ago I was recommended this book by a couple of people. It was hard to find and going out of print at the time. I got a copy, was hugely impressed by the issues it tackled and the attitudes it highlighted and started, well, preaching about it to many people...
...and since then more people seem to have noticed it, it's been reprinted, and seems more popular.

Slate re-bolting concerns.
When the recent slate re-bolting / retro-bolting become prominent, I started a thread on UKClimbing asking what sort of consensus process was going on and what the reasoning and planning was for the retro-bolting. This turned into a pretty bitter debate between other people, in particularly the slate activists, not least Mark Reeves decrying it as a "puerile thread"...
...and about a year later, Mark Reeves starts his own thread expressing clear worries about the amount of retro-bolting and new sport routing that has gone on, exactly proving my initial concerns about the way the process was going.

Are happening:

Concerns over gear and safety.
A while ago I was involved in a couple of scary and traumatic accidents that should never have happened in the normal climbing procedure. Following this, and following looking on the Mountain Rescue websites to see just how many unreasonable accidents were occurring, especially due to gear ripping on safe routes, I personally took a stance of getting people to get it right rather than keeping quiet for the sake of tact. And I could see that this would likely become and increasing issue in the future...
...and it seems to becoming so. Many such accidents are still being reported, and people seem to be waking up to the issue and questioning why this is all happening and what can be done about it.

Brushing holds at The Works.
When The Climbing Works first opened, I was impressed with, and praised, the quality of the wall, but pretty soon pointed out that it had a big problem with how dirty the holds were getting. When I posted this online I was pretty much shouted down by people who didn't think I should be criticising an otherwise excellent facility...
...and these days there are signs up to encourage people to brush, brushes lying around everywhere, many people I know see it as a problem (albeit minor), and whenever Graeme catches me scrubbing away he expresses his approval.

May (will?) happen in future:

Culm Coast / Greywacke.
This stuff is the business. I predict it will become increasingly popular, both along mighty Culm Coast and also the South West Scotland sea-cliffs. Why?? Ever-popular crimpy slabs, people already love Carreg-Y-Barcud which is the same stuff, delightful locations, top quality climbing once people realise it's there.

Quarried Limestone.
Lots of limestone around but to be honest a lot of inland stuff is bollox. But surprisingly amongst the lime quarries there are some really good bits of rock and really fine climbing. I predict this will start to become recognised more. Why?? More retro-bolting of it, more information, and a trend towards pure technical climbing rather than the full mountain experience. I think people will catch on.

Hidden local gems.
I've found there have been great hidden gems all over the country, and made it my mission to seek them out. I predict, given the inherently good climbing quality, people will start paying more attention to them and actually travelling to do them. Why?? Improved guidebook information, improved publicity, it's mostly a knowledge thing and once that's out there...

Last minute flexible plans.
It's something I've always done: made plans at the last minute and made them flexible to cope with the rigours of the vengeful British weather. Sure, sometimes I'm left high and dry, but other times I'm able to be climbing high in the dry, rather than sticking with an unsuitable plan. I predict this will start to become more common. Why?? Partly increased information and communication, but partly people waking up and realising that just because you've arranged to go on a weekend in North Wales doesn't mean you should stick to that if it's forecast to piss down there and be bone dry in North Yorkshire.

Seeking esoterica when travelling is hard.
Again, something I do a lot of, and end up finding great climbing that's just off the radar or below the popularity threshold. I predict people will start doing more and more of this and esoterica will become more mainstream. Why?? Because weather, finance, and travelling constraints will make trips away harder and less reliable, and in the meantime people will start to run lower on local options. Once they're force to diversify to get their fix, they'll realise what quality is lurking around, and word will spread...

Hmmmm. There may be more. Be thankful I've forgotten them ;).

Tuesday, 4 November 2008


Hmmmm. While I was musing on this very Novembery update, I had a cool Drum'n'Bass track going around my head, by Norwegian hotshots Future Prophecies - Norway being the home of a couple of top class electronic acts i.e. Teebee and Biosphere, both of which I am a big fan of, in fact maybe it is time for a Norway-themed listening phase which would fit pretty well with the November vibe which was supposed to be the whole point of this rambling intro. Anyway the Future Prophecies track which I thought was called November is actually called September - two months out but have a listen anyway...

Future Prophecies - September

...because it kinda sums up the vibe at the moment, maybe a bit too cheerfully* but there's a hint of melancholy and wistfulness which is certainly relevant.

With curious precision, the exciting wintry end to October has abruptly shifted to a grim, damp start to November. Looking outside, it's very dull, very drizzly, very....devoid of meteorological distraction. Thus it forms a grey mirror of personal reflection, an empty canvas for one's the same way that the neutral grey/brown of gritstone radically changes personality with the weather around it, hostilely bleak on a grey day, warmly welcoming in the autumn evening sun...

My thoughts - the low cloud and mist shows back to me - are fairly turbulent, as often happens: An overactive and underexercised mind reacting to turbulent times. Reacting....fighting....rather than accepting?? I have always said that climbing is a metaphor to life, that climbing reflects and accentuates life - what you have in your life, you bring to your climbing. God knows how I've ever managed to climb at all well!! - but that's not the point. The point is more about the challenge and learning and that the lessons presumably go both ways. The fact is, I have climbed at all well (something I value during these times too, as well as during the pleasurable and thrilling and intriguing experience of when it happened - having done something of personal significance, I still have a certain (surprising) level of relaxation and lack of pressure about what I do now - as long as I keep going and keep experiencing, that is), and although it was a long, drawn-out battle, obviously something worked!! So what will work the other way?? Well, that's for me to work out and deal with...

(* perhaps, continuing the theme of suitable music prefixed with the letters No-, I should put on some of the mighty and utterly dark Nordvargr instead?? Maybe...)

Monday, 3 November 2008

For Dob.

Time for a bit of blog cross-pollination on the state of belay trousers:

I too used to wear a pair of similarly hideous trousers, back in the mid-90s, before urban style Moon trousers were popular, but after lycra was de-rigeur. Thankfully I missed out on the latter era, although I do believe it's long over-due for a comeback especially for UK sport climbing (i.e. not for me).