Sunday 27 May 2012

9 de cada 10 escaladores cometen los mismos errores

We arrived home from Switzerland to find our stock of our latest publication; the Spanish edition of 9 out of 10 climbers make the same mistakes! 9 de cada 10 escaladores cometen los mismos errores is now available in the shop right here. It’s €18 and worldwide shipping is €3.
We are massively grateful to Alicia Hudelson and Elena Suarez for a huge amount of hard work to make the translation of the book. 9 out of 10 has been out for 2 years now and read by many thousands of climbers all over the English speaking parts of the planet. We are continually amazed not only by it’s popularity but the nice messages from so many of you letting us know that it helped you break real barriers in your climbing. It’s a pleasure to open it up to a Spanish speaking audience.
Stay tuned for news of some other translations of the book...

Fluid Plans

Sometimes I sense that I’m a bit too keen just to take climbing as it comes. I must admit that when not tied to any particular objective which is forming my focus, I tend to lose my focus a bit. Not in an apathetic way - quite the opposite. I headless chicken. My mind fills with so many possibilities that it does become rather paralysing. Not a bad problem to have.
I’ve just come out of a long period in my climbing where I was quite restricted. 2 years of no proper training due to injury, and a lot of time training my legs and seabird fighting skills on Orkney. With those behind me, I’m keen to step up a gear. To move to another level takes a fair bit of time. I’ve put in a good base over winter with an increasing amount of bouldering indoors and then a good trip bouldering in Switzerland. But it’s really just a foundation block. I’ve still been very careful not to build up too fast. I think now I’m feeling safe to step up another notch to more intense strength and fitness work. 
It’s an odd feeling to have that sense of resistance to training after so long feeling fragile. So what to train for? Hard multipitch new routes on big mountain cliffs in Scotland and abroad. Some more repeats of others hard trad routes and my super hard project at Steall. All of the above. The bouldering is always there, building a foundation of strength to take to the big routes.
I do know about a few boulder projects around Scotland that will demand another level than I’m climbing right now. Some local and some further afield. I must take a look at the line left of Seven of Nine in Glen Nevis. Sky Pilot is after all one of the nicest places to hang out I can think of. As for my sport project, progress on that depends a little on the summer weather, but there is always enough good days to get at least some time on it. I’m quite into the idea of training away from it too. I think a routine of trad climbing 2 or 3 days a week over summer and evening board sessions of anaerobic circuits will work well. I do miss the feeling of being stamina fit. It’s been a while!
Bizarrely enough, one of the main issues with using a board to clock up large amounts of daily circuit time comes down to skin rather than motivation. My hands just get so trashed I do struggle to keep going despite telling myself to ‘man up’ constantly. I need to experiment a bit to build up and take care of my fingers better, or get better at ‘detachment’.

In in Wales right now, en route to my lecture in Chester on Monday night. Last night I had a good session at Dinas Rock. I did the second ascent of Liam Fyfe’s monster roof link ‘Wife of Fyfe’ 8A/ F8b+ which I headed for since it was tagged as the hardest line in South Wales (hasty video above). It’s 25 metres long and not having climbed anything longer than about 5 moves in 2 months, I expected to just work on it to get my endurance off the starting rung. But it was interesting to note that the individual moves felt easy enough to get through despite forearms like balloons. So maybe I do have a good base to start from. So now for the next stage of hard work to start. It was nice to run into Liam himself at the crag while I was repeating his line. I'd witnessed his strength on the rock before and despite several months of recent layoff was still looking like a machine on the rock. Thanks for the inspiration Liam!

PS After my lecture in Chester Cotswolds tomorrow night (7.30pm), I'm speaking at the Plymouth store on Tues, Bournemouth on Weds and Islington on Thurs. See you there.. details here.

Friday 25 May 2012

Home Soon

Another clip from the Polished Project film 'Dave' which is on the way. This clip shows off what a nice climb New Base Line is!

I was home from Switzerland for all of one night before driving south to speak at various Cotswold stores around England and Wales. After the first talks I have a couple of days off now and then to Chester, Bouremouth, Islington - details here).
I spent a long time looking forward to the Swiss bouldering trip and enjoyed it a lot. Now I’m going to be heading home soon I’m pretty sure it’s time for some routes again. I’ll need to start from scratch with endurance for tries on my Steall project. I also need to put some time into planning more trips this year. 
On my last day I finally managed to get a session on Practice of the Wild (8C) before I left Magic Wood. It was dry for the first time since I’ve been here. It’s definitely the most inspiring line I’ve seen in the woods and I’d be keen to return sometime to work on it more. It has definitely reminded me not to be afraid to try the harder stuff in bouldering even though I struggle a lot with indoor climbing. For sure this is partly down to my training diet of mostly climbing outdoors - I can usually get more weight on my feet than most on real rock. But a big part of it is my sweaty fingertips and general inability to perform well even in  moderately warm conditions. I’ve resisted this conclusion for a long time, but it’s probably better if I just accept it and start working with rather than against it.
My body also feels in good shape to start some basic finger strength training again this year. I’ll have to be careful to build up slowly. That, together with some other changes in my training will hopefully reap some good rewards down the line. In the short term, I’ll see where the mood takes me when I get home and probably go exploring some of the great places I’ve still never been to.

Friday 18 May 2012

Using the natural method

At the end of March, a week before I left for Switzerland, I completed a long term boulder project in Glen Nevis, the roof on the Skeleton boulder. I was ecstatic to finally finish such a fantastic line, and one which I’d had a good struggle with. I didn’t mention I'd actually completed it until now (here at least) as I thought it would be good to first see how it compared to some boulder testpieces in the famous Swiss venues.
John Watson showed me the boulder not long after I moved to Lochaber in 2007. I first worked on it for a handful of sessions in 2008. One of those sessions you might remember from the movie ‘Committed 2’. All in all, it’s pretty much a perfect boulder climb - it’s a great roof feature with a straightforward but high headwall finish. It’s in one of the most scenic spots in Scotland, but I’ve never once seen another soul there apart from folk I’ve gone up there with. It has obvious holds the whole way, so you can be sure it’s possible. Yet the method that worked for me didn’t show itself until two weeks before I did it, with a eureka moment while lying in bed daydreaming.
After those early sessions in 2008 I had injured elbows for nearly two years and couldn’t really train strength with any sort of commitment. So I knew there was no point going on it. In the meantime, I trained my technique. When my elbows were at their worst, I would probably struggle to do F7a at the climbing wall without pain. At that time, I went and climbed a lot of slabs - The Walk of Life, Indian Face etc. After a while I got back up to about F8c+ standard, but only if I just went climbing. I still couldn’t train. I missed bouldering a lot during this period, hence I’m having my fill now I’m healthy again! I still went bouldering as much as elbows allowed, and I became a little obsessed with finding super technical ways to do hard boulder problems. It was a fun experiment to see how hard you could boulder on fingers that hadn’t seen a fingerboard in two years. Eternity’s Gate was probably my best effort during that time, although it probably doesn’t count as it’s 25 metres long!
Of course it had limitations, but I definitely feel a much better climber for it. I’ve noticed that I can more consistently find sequences that provide that killer advantage on the hard moves. In winter this year, my ‘100%’ twinge free sessions were getting more and more consistent, at the same time as doing more and more hard 45 board sessions. I even managed the odd fingerboard session, although deep lock offs still awake sleeping demons in my elbows.
So I went back to the Skeleton boulder. For a few weeks I wrestled with so many potential sequences, eventually having a bit of brain-crash and losing my focus a little. Then, the right sequence popped into my head while daydreaming. It took a couple of sessions to morph what I had imagined into what actually worked. But one attempt I suddenly found myself holding the swing on the lip after climbing through the crux. I walked down to the car 6 feet off the ground after that session.
The final hurdle to sharpen up the fingers were some foot-off bouldering sessions at the Ice Factor. It turned out that entering the crux was actually slightly easier if you’d done the starting moves rather than pulling on at half way to work the moves. The day I did it, I’d had a really crap morning and was feeling fed up and not fully concentrated. So I had no tension of anticipation of success. I just found myself standing in the warm sunshine on the top and had to double check with myself that I’d actually climbed it from the start! 
Like every hard project, It felt really easy when I actually did it. In fact I did it again a few days later when getting a few pictures with Cubby. Because I don’t boulder that much and when I do it’s always first ascents, I have no solid idea about bouldering grades. Before I went to Switzerland I thought I should give it 8B. But now I think maybe 8B+ is fairer. That is on the British-Font scale which I sense is a little (!) different from what I read and the odd Gaskins problem I’ve tried on visits to the south. In Switzerland it would be a harder grade! There are quite a few problems around Scotland now which are a lot harder than both New Base Line and Mystic Stylez which I climbed in Magic Wood recently. The disparity in grading scales isn’t something I’d like to get too involved in, except to acknowledge it’s there.
It’s called ‘Natural Method’ as a nod to George Hebert who was one of the earliest proponents of Parkour as a method to gain specific fitness that was useful for real life tasks, as opposed to relying too much on basic strength work like weights. My experience of bouldering while injured showed me that although my technique wasn’t bad from my Dumbarton apprenticeship, I still was seriously undervaluing it even as a much more experienced climber. That said, although the natural method of trying to climb harder and harder without training was invaluable, the basic strength work was still essential to make it work at the limits of my ability. Like so many things, it wasn’t one or the other, but both in spades.
Feels like it might be time to tie onto a rope again...

Sunday 13 May 2012

Mystic Stylez

Holding the swing on the last hard move of Mystic Stylez Font 8C, Magic Wood (video still) The footage will be in the Polished Project film which is on the way.
Today I climbed Mystic Stylez 8C in Magic Wood. As far as I know the second ascent of this Daniel Woods climb from last year. It really has been a big restorer of my confidence after a couple of weeks of questioning my ability to get things done.
Having just succeeded and with the benefit of hindsight, I think it’s probably fair to say I tend to be a bit hard on myself at times. So much so that I know people sometimes mistake me for not taking satisfaction from my climbing. While being hard on yourself makes you hard edged and a bit ‘difficult’, it does have its uses, in moderation. This is how it went:
After I did New Base Line nearly two weeks ago I wandered down to Muttertag (8a) to try that and look at Daniel Woods 8C sit start, Mystic Stylez. With only three moves into the stand start, itself a one hard move 8A, It must have some pretty bad holds? The holds did seem better than you would expect, but it’s not until you try it you realise that they are at such unhelpful angles that moving between them is desperate. It’s a running theme with the steeper problems on Swiss Gneiss. The holds are deceptively good, but the climbing very powerful. The only way to make powerful moves less powerful is to get more weight on your feet.
So after getting the stand start in a few tries, I set about finding all manner of knee ligament shredding contortions to get opposition with my feet for the crux. I found a method to reach the right hand hold of the stand start, but was completely unable to move from that position (except towards the ground). But it was enough of a sequence to warrant some more serious sessions.

Then the temperature rocketed. 25 degrees in Chur, then 26, then 28. By the second week it hit 37 degrees briefly while driving to the shops. I started climbing by headtorch after dusk, then getting up at 4am and warming up by headtorch. It’s always hard to just blame conditions. I was determined that my movement was getting worse; more errors, less confidence. With hindsight, the big greasy fingerprints on the holds after each attempt should have told me that my lack of confidence that I could make more progress was because I could feel my fingers sliding from the warm holds, unable to apply their strength.
I replaced biscuits at the crag with apples, rested, got up earlier, and carefully refined my movement on each session. Time to leave for Scotland was approaching fast, but each session I did learn at least one small thing about how to climb the moves better. And I got a little further. On my last session before departure day, I touched the finishing finger rail on Muttertag 4 times. Although it is the last hold, touching it and holding it are two different things.
It would be expensive, but I could change my travel home and stay another week for the small chance I could keep making progress. It seemed a remote chance of making any difference. Maybe I should just take my medicine and go home to the fingerboard? I joked with a friend that on the other hand, maybe I ought to take my climbing more seriously than that and just stay no matter how remote my chances. He knew what I meant, but still laughed. Although lots of people think I do take climbing unbelievably seriously, a lot of the time I do feel like I’m at constant risk of being a lazy bastard and not fulfilling my potential. 
On one hand, the climb represented a target to focus my efforts. It’s just a bit of rock and it doesn’t matter to anyone whether I climb it or not. But completing it does make a difference in the mind of the climber. If you’ve really set yourself the target, and you’ve done enough work to know it’s possible, then giving in when the ‘extra mile’ to completion is there for the taking makes it difficult to move on with confidence to the next challenge. I’ve completed plenty of super hard projects, and have many more incomplete projects that I’m just not ready for yet. So I have been here before. I knew I might not manage it, but I looked forward and visualised driving home to Scotland without the send. The failure on the climb wouldn’t be worth a second thought (because if you never have failures, you can’t be trying anything that’s actually hard). The only regret I’d have would be failing without first giving everything to the fight.
So I rebooked the travel this morning, and studied the forecast. Rain on a cold front was coming through (at last!). By tomorrow, the front would be through and the temperature lower. So I planned to go for a run in the woods and get up at 4am for the next session. On the way I dropped in to see Thomas at Bodhi Climbing and book a room for the final days. He reckoned the rain was coming tomorrow, and I panicked. I walked outside and the temperature was dropping, clouds lowering and wind increasing. Maybe I should just get on it right NOW?!
So I jogged into the woods, and got my mats out under Mystic Stylez. As I did, raindrops started to patter onto the mats. I laughed at how desperate this was getting and just did the stand start twice for a warm up and to see if the rain would come on properly. It started to get heavier. Inwardly I said ‘well maybe I should just do it first try!’, while thinking back to the last 4 sessions of failures.
And then, I pulled on and did it first try. I was strong enough, confident enough and moving well enough all along. All I needed was a cool wind. All in all I probably tried it for 8 sessions. I’m pretty sure I could have done it in 4 if the conditions had stayed cold.
It seems that it doesn’t matter how many times you learn that conditions matter and it’s ok to be confident when you’ve put in the work, it’s hard not to get downbeat when things don't run smoothly. At least this leaves room for nice surprises.

Saturday 12 May 2012

Lecture tour of southern UK

In the last part of May I’m doing a little tour around England and Wales, speaking at various places I’ve never lectured at before. The tour was organised by Cotswold Outdoor and the talks will be at their stores. While showing you pictures and videos from various climbing adventures from recent years I’ll discuss thoughts about everything from risk in the mountains to why hard projects are important and how I was lucky to make some great decisions to prepare me for doing hard climbs.
The dates are:
Reading - May 22nd
Southampton May 23rd
Cardiff May 24th
Chester May 28th
Plymouth May 29th
Bournemouth May 30th
London Islington May 31st
Since the talks are in the Cotswold stores it might be a plan to ring and get a ticket, although tickets will be available on the door too. You can find out how to get tickets from this page on the Cotswold site.
See you there, looking forward to it.

Hot Hot Hot

Scots don’t do well in the heat. We always used to shake our heads when we waited for the Glasgow flight home from sport climbing trips in Spain, watching reams of fellow Scots returning home lobster coloured and happy. Of course, whether we were the exactly the same colour just depended whether our project for the week was south facing or not.
Although I struggle with the cold in Scottish winter climbing, I certainly don’t in bouldering. Probably because my work rate at the crag never drops low enough to get cold. My sweaty fingers keep me from climbing harder than about 7C+ indoors most of the time. But with a cold Scottish breeze I can actually use my finger strength.

You can probably tell this blog is a bit of a conditions moan. Well, it’s not really. Yesterday at 3pm my car read 37 degrees driving to Chur. But at 5am that morning I was falling off the last move of my project in 10 degrees. Still waaaay to hot for me but at least I could get on OK. In Scotland it would be totally fine since you’d probably be pinning your mats down with rocks to stop them blowing away in the wind. But here in Switzerland, wind seems like a distant memory. I saw a twig move on a slight breath of breeze at 7am and had a really good attempt next try.
But hope is on the way. A cold front ahead of my last couple of sessions in Switzerland might help me climb a little harder problems before I head home. Aside from it being too hot for the really hard stuff now, I'm feeling great in my climbing, strong and enjoying pulling hard without any injury niggles at all. Even the holes in my fingers have healed up well now.

Better get to bed early. Alarm for 4am... drink tea, put on head torch, stumble to the boulders.