Thursday 25 August 2016

An Inconvenient Tooth

Mid crux on The Inconvenient Tooth E8 6c. Thanks to Cubby Images for these great pics.

During the good spell back in June, Dan McManus and Ross McKerchar climbed a great looking new E8 8c new routes the arete of the Bhasteir Tooth on Skye. I had never been up there but obviously knew the arete had not been climbed. I always wondered if the roofs would either have any holds on them, or be escapable onto the side walls, so I never went up to look. As it turned out, the side wall gave an E8 - all good!

So I was obviously keen to go up and repeat it. After going up with Calum last weekend and diverting to Algol in the drizzle, I had to return home for a couple of days work. Calum was working on Skye and managed to squeeze in a repeat of the route on the Thursday. I walked in with Iain Small and Cubby on Friday (my first opportunity) on a forecast of rain arriving around mid afternoon.

However, as we dropped our sacks at the foot of the route, it started to spit with rain. We both quickly went up the scramble route to the top of the tooth and abseiled down to check the gear and I hurriedly tied in with the rain still spitting, but only slightly. I expected it to get wet quickly, but moved as fast as I could to arrange the gear in case I could do it just in time. 

The crux was fine - easier than I expected and in no time I was on the easier upper arete which I took my time on since I would certainly not have another chance! I abseiled and stripped it as fast as I could and Iain tied in. The spits were gradually becoming just rain and it wasn’t clear that Iain would have time to do it.

Iain just after the crux.

With a shout he powered through the crux and as the rock started to get a little wet he moved round out of sight and up the final arete. The clouds got thicker and the rain got heavier and drips started to run off the faces that were catching the strengthening wind. Iain moved quickly and then stopped. But impressively, after a couple of minutes contemplation, he continued upward on the final metres of E3 terrain with was by now fairly wet. Winter climbing experience no doubt paid off!

We packed up soaking wet ropes and trudged back down feeling lucky to have made the best of every second of available dryness that day. I reflected that we could easily have not climbed it, all it would have taken would have been a pulse of slightly heavier drizzle before we started climbing. If we’d trudged down soaking wet without the tick, I’d no doubt have felt rather differently about the day, and perhaps about the merit of taking our chances on a poor forecast.

The rapidly worsening weather situation as Iain was climbing the upper arete.

As always with living in Scotland, the wet spells like we’ve had this summer seem to go on and on while you’re in them, but they are quickly forgotten when the conditions turn good and you can have your pick of routes to do. Despite the recent rain, I am gradually working through my list of routes to climb for the summer, although my Ben Nevis projects are looking a bit remote now. Unless we have a September like last year!

Sunnier times back in June - Rich Mayfield just sent me this pic of me repeating The Keswickian E8 7a in the Lakes. Oh for some more sunny days like that!

Sunday 14 August 2016

Rapid Learning Curve

Calum Muskett entering the crux of Rapid Learning Curve E6 6b, Elgol, Isle of Skye.

In my last post I mentioned that I’d spent a fair bit of time on my board in the past few (wet) weeks and had prepared myself a detailed training program to prepare for the autumn’s sport climbing challenges. With a break in the weather forecast, I met up with Calum and Gabby and we headed for Skye to try and climb something in the Cuillin.

As is the theme for this summer we were met with drizzle and mist on the drive over Glen Shiel and onto the island. What a surprise. After tea and regroup in Broadford we diverted to Elgol and saw off the two E6s there, Rapid Learning Curve and Hovis. After doing these the midge defeated us. It was good to climb some actual rock but after driving home to Roy Bridge I couldn’t wait to try out my new campus rungs I’d spent the previous day making.

I had needed to take a couple of rest days from training as my Brachioradialis was complaining from rather relentless dead hanging routines. So as well as the usual ton of work to be done I took a bit of time to make a proper system/campus setup on my 45 and 15 degree boards. Foot-on campus style anaerobic intervals is never something I’ve really tried, probably because I’ve never properly trained endurance before! That might sound silly but it’s actually true. I’ve nearly always spent 60-80% of my time just going climbing outside year round, and in the periods where I’ve done more sustained stints of climbing indoors, it’s normally just basic strength and bouldering, with a bit of normal board endurance circuits of 30 moves upward.

Even the start I’ve made in the past couple of weeks of doing more regular endurance work has made a bit of an impact. It’s a nice feeling and its definitely spurred me on to enjoy the program I’ve set through to the end of October. I’ll keep the blog updated with progress and lessons learned along the way.

I did have some resin system blocks on my board already, but I did find them a bit harsh on the skin and didn’t end up using them that much, except for tooling at the start of last winter for a few weeks. It was on my to do list to replace the whole setup with quite positive but still fingery campus rungs that would be super skin friendly for maximum anaerobic burn and minimum skin pain. I’m hoping that if I use them in combination with my cadre of ‘real’ climbing circuits, they will come into their own, both for the intensity and the skin friendliness, since I have only a handful of rest days each month now. I’m still finding looking over my program a little scary at the same time as being exciting.

My campus rungs, about 40cm apart, with pinch blocks below (desperate for my weak grip!) and big holes for tooling in when December comes around. Not bad for an afternoon’s work.

I’m actually still not totally finished the plan either. I’m still trying to pin down the nutrition side of it, which is predictably taking a lot of work. And I don’t always feel like I’m getting closer to settled decisions. I say ‘decisions’ rather than ‘answers’ since there are very few solid answers in sports nutrition. The more solid others claim to have answers on sports nutrition, the less I trust them. So my work in progress nutrition plan contains many calculated gambles. Seeing if they work out will be a fun and fascinating exercise which will include eating a lot of really good food! I’m particularly proud of my workout drink schedule at the moment.

Fresh strawberries and milk, blended up. Not a bad delivery vehicle for my EAAs and circuit carbs.

Tuesday 9 August 2016

Summer monsoon training

During July I was mostly to be found here in my wall, running many a lap.

After a successful couple of days in Early June visiting the lake and climbing Return of the King (E9), I returned for another quick trip of three days. On the first day I made the most of the uninspiring weather and repeated The Keswickian (E8 7a) in a couple of hours work. Unfortunately I was rained off the other two days.

I decided not to go on an alpine big wall trip this summer and instead stay in Scotland to try and climb some of the great mountain trad projects I have here, especially on Ben Nevis, where I have not climbed on in summer since I did Echo Wall way back in 2008!

Unfortunately, I have picked the wrong summer, and my gamble has not paid off. The last part of June and all of July has been very wet and poor and I’ve not been able to get on the projects in the west. Never mind - I’m used to being adaptable and trying to make the best of the situation to get ahead for the next goal.

On my horizon is the sport climbing season in the late autumn. I always like to set myself various all-rounds challenges that are fun to try and focus my energies. After last winter’s successful focus on bouldering, I wondered if I could climb an 8C boulder, 9a sport route and a really hard Scottish mixed route in one year. I’m not at all confident I can do it (no climber ever has, to my knowledge), which is the point - I want to push well out of my comfort zone. With the 8C boulder ticked, next up I would like to climb a long endurance 9a, probably in Spain, if I can turn myself into an endurance climber quickly enough. 

I know I’ll have to train in a very organised way to manage this, so I have written myself a very detailed training program. Although I’ve done this many times for other climbers, I’ve generally trained myself on a flexible basis because I’ve focused on going outside climbing whenever the weather is good as my first priority, and just fitted in training whenever it rains. This can work well up to a certain level and is a good option if you are able to keep a good working record of your training load and priorities. Not many people can/do.

Perhaps the awful weather in July has galvanised me to take a more long term view focused on the trip. Not to mention the success I had with doing my winter goal of climbing an 8C boulder with this approach. During July itself, I trained most days on my board, building a base of endurance and general conditioning, on which to build upon during September and October.

Full stretch on the reach crux of Nuclear Nightmare 8a+ on Creag Nan Cadhag near Gairloch.

I’ve snatched the rare dry days in the west of Scotland to tick off some of the harder sport routes in the north west. First, Remember to Roll (8b) and Stalks 8a+ Creag nan Luch. In the past week I had a couple of days at Creag nan Cadhag and ticked off Game Over (8a+) and Nuclear Nightmare (8a+) as well as flashes of the other 7cs on the wall. All great routes and great to be able to just turn up and climb sport routes in Scotland without having to equip and clean them first! Kudos to the equippers.

I can definitely feel my month of base training has done something and I have made some progress already. Looking at my training program is slightly terrifying though. I’ll just have to see if I have judged the training and recovery correctly. Already I am running into some issues; my right brachioradialis is complaining a little. I do get some aches here on and off, maybe every couple of years, and usually it passes if I take my recovery seriously and make sure I complete my antagonist workouts. Ongoing monitoring and adjustment is essential for any training program, since life never works out as planned.

I’ve planned the training as far as my sport climbing trip in November, and have a first crack at some hard routes then. If I get on well, I’ll switch straight onto tool training for the mixed season. It seems so far away, but it’s not. On with the training!

Climbing Stalks 8a+ on Creag nan Luch. I also climbed Remember to Roll 8b just to the right, back in June. Both fantastic routes which can be climbed in the rain.

Blair Fyffe on Whip and Ride, 7c, on Creag Nan Luch. I managed to get the flash of this great route shortly afterwards.