Tuesday 26 November 2013

Two new films for winter

I’ve just added two new climbing films to the shop. First up is Distilled, Hot Aches Productions new film about Scottish winter climbing with Andy Cave. There are still only a handful of films out there about Scottish winter, and of these, one one or two really good ones. So it’s great to see another. Andy explores what is so special about this ‘distilled’ form of alpinism by going climbing on all types of routes from the classic mountaineering routes like Tower Ridge to proper hard mixed in proper wild conditions. Inspiring and timely stuff. You’ll find Distilled in the shop for HD download and the DVDs will be with us in a few days.

Next is The Last Great Climb DVD, Alastair Lee’s latest film with Leo Houlding. Leo increasingly these days is going on some pretty badass expeditions to far flung places. Ulvetanna in Antarctica is just about as far flung as you can get. It’s a jaw dropping mountain to look at and the line they managed to climb on it just looks sensational. As you might expect with Alastair, although it’s heavy on the cheese factor at times it is very well filmed and a great adventure. One to make you think twice about just going down the local wall and booking a ticket to the other side of the world instead.

Monday 25 November 2013

Fresh eyes

I came back to my big traverse project, which unfortunately was quite wet. However, good progress can still be made even though I can’t try all of it. With fresh eyes, I spotted quite a few changes to my sequence that seem so obvious now, but didn’t before. It always makes me smile when that happens. Why don’t you see an obviously easier way to do a move before, but having had a wee bit of time away, it’s obvious? Who knows, but it’s nice anyway. I felt like I almost did the project just before I went in for surgery. So I'm gunning for a dry day where I can get a chance to see where I'm at on it now.

My ankle continues to have up and down progress. I can now do some rather shaky one-leg calf raises, which were completely impossible 1 week ago. I can also bat hang again. However, although I can hang upside down from holds by my toes, walking up mountains is still challenging.

I tried a longish walk over classic tussocky Scottish bog, in search of some new crags. I found a great deep water soloing venue 5 miles from my house! However, after 45 minutes, it hurt.

So at least another week of bouldering, training, physio, book editing etc. Maybe I’ll see some of you on Thursday night in London for my talk at the Royal Geographical Society.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Post surgery: 4.5 weeks

In my last two days in Margalef, I managed to keep up the progress with my surgery rehab. I had a quick try on another 8c and although I got it in two halves, I still wasn’t able to get much power through my left foot or move with any confidence. However, even the next day I could feel it getting better and actually got fairly close to doing the route. My body movements are still feeling pretty foreign. That might sound a bit silly, but it’s a difficult sensation to explain. Because I climb a lot and have climbed for years, my brain has such a strong expectation of how my body ought to move. So when it doesn’t function that way, it feels like it’s someone else climbing.

On my last day, after a couple of quick tries on the 8c, I got a bouldery 8a+ redpointed in half an hour or so, and a 7c+ onsight. On both of those, although I’m still far off fitness, I felt a bit more myself during the climbing. I can’t tell you what a satisfying feeling that is.

So now I’ve had a handful of climbing days to get me started, I’m heading back to Scotland and can try and build a base of fitness and confidence again. The next stage is to be able to walk up a hill again. After this trip I’ve consolidated walking for 10 minutes or so on uneven paths. So if my upward progress continues I’ll hopefully manage to walk a mile or so, and then I’ll shoot for walking up a Munro and climbing 8c again. My goal (if it’s not to cold now) will be to complete my 8c project at Ruthven as soon as I can. The rest before the crux has a left foot toe hook though, so I might have to try powering on through instead!

[Update] Since writing the post above I managed to miss the last tube train back from a gig in Glasgow and walked at least a mile through Govan in the wee small hours to find some transport home. It might not count since it was under the influence of a few analgesics. I'll take it as further progress anyway.

Sunday 10 November 2013

Post surgery: 4 weeks

Tomorrow is 4 weeks since my ankle surgery. I’ve had just as many ups and downs as I expected. At first, I was going great guns, ditching my crutches quite early on and starting to walk quite freely around the house. In the second week, I even had a 15 minute climbing session on easy problems at the Ice Factor. 

Then the ankle became infected, I got antibiotics, they made me get really sick, then it got super swollen and exquisitely painful. All of this coincided with a family trip to Fontainbleau, the first day of which I spent lying as still as possible in bed with a fever. After that, I was of course desperate to climb. The next day I did one 7B+, and paid for it for the rest of the week, limping around generally feeling pretty rough. Back home and I managed to get through a couple of days coaching and lectures in Scotland before getting on another plane to Margalef which I’d arranged long before I’d even had the ankle problem.

When I woke up on the first morning, I wished I’d just cancelled the trip. I’d been hopeful I could begin climbing by now, but the ankle was still really swollen and angry. A 200 metre walk to the crag nearly had me in tears. More antibiotics, rest days and lying down with my foot in the air seems to have brought a breakthrough at last.

Yesterday, I made another tentative start. A 7a+, a 7b and a laughable attempt at an 8c. I know that my confidence won’t take too long to get back, but yesterday felt like I was 16 and weak again. I’ve lost a lot of confidence to be aggressive with my feet and get body tension. To be expected of course.

Today felt slightly better again, with 7b+ onsight and an 8a redpoint, and the crag was about 10 minutes walk from the car (the crux of the day!). Tomorrow I will rest and then we’ll see if I can make another little step in an upward direction.

New titles in the shop

I’ve just added a couple of new books in the shop. Both are must reads for anyone keen for inspiration and information on climbing, but both are very different. The last book is a long awaited guide to some of the finest lumps of rock in the UK.

First up is Julian Lines autobiography ‘Tears of the Dawn’. I imagine most of you will not need introduced to Jules, who has been the ‘dark horse’ of the bold trad and free soloing scene in the UK for the past 15 years or so. I’ve done a couple of his routes myself such as Firestone E7 6c in Hell’s Lum which is archetypal of his climbs - no gear, not really any holds either. Just a deep breath and a lot of trust in the frictional properties of thin granite smears. Many of the nailbiting adventures he’s had over the years involve free soloing, by himself on the quiet mountain crags of the highlands. But he’s also well known for his deep water soloing exploits, not to mention jumping off cliffs and paragliding. He’s hit the ground from a long way up too many times to mention, but is either a very lucky man or has bendy bones. It’s a great window into the mind of an solo adventurer, but very much the opposite of an Alex Honhold type of character.

Next is The Art of Ice Climbing, a lovely book which is part coffee table inspiration book, part technical manual. It’s a great production with interesting historical and new photography throughout. It has excellent advice sections on sharpening ice tools, screws, ropework and techniques for ice climbing. I think just about any ice climber would learn something new here. In the past there have been some great books on ice climbing that every climber should have on their shelf. I reckon this is the latest in that line.

Lastly, I’ve added the new Torridon bouldering guide which is finally out by local activists Ian Taylor and Richie Betts. It’s great to see this guide finally out. The rock at Torridon is the best I’ve climbed on in the UK. It’s truly amazing stuff, and many of the problems are amazing natural lines too. The guys have done a great job producing this guide which contains around 250 problems to go at, and of course many first ascents still waiting to be explored.

You’ll find all of these, along with the rest of the best climbing books, films and gear out there in the shop.