Wednesday 30 August 2017

Separated Shoulder

5 weeks ago, I had an accident playing with my daughter and separated my shoulder. I did it properly as well; a grade 3 separation tearing all three ligaments which join my right collar bone to my scapula. It was a classic shoulder separation scenario - diving into a roll but instead landing on the point of my shoulder. Seeing my reflection in the car window was all I needed to know what had happened (it was obvious!), but nonetheless I headed off to get an x-ray and exam to confirm. My clavicle was elevated with a marked deformity across the top of my shoulder.

I’ve always counted myself lucky not to have had any traumatic shoulder injuries. There is a first time for everything. On the first two days it was so painful it took me 30 minutes to get sat up in bed. Taping it had me yelping like a kid! Obviously at this point I was not too happy about the situation.

But even by the third day I was able to make some tiny movements. By the beginning of the second week, the immobilisation of my arm in the sling had devastated my arm and shoulder muscles, which looked (to my eye at least) tiny. It is always shocking how fast immobilised limbs waste away, especially when it is your own limb.

Step deformity at the AC joint (the end of my collar bone)

With my daily exercises, I did everything I could to progress the return of range of motion, strength and muscle mass. At first, I could only really do 1-2 hours per day, but by the third week that was more like three in total. Early on I was just doing a ton of grip and pinch exercises, biceps curls with my arm supported, internal/external rotations with tubing or my other hand for resistance, isometrics at different angles and many more.

It got noticeably better every day, although there were of course still some mornings when I felt rotten, and some evenings when I sloped off to bed exhausted and sore at 7pm. Speaking of bed, the exercises were as always only half the picture. These days I am rather more careful to enforce a minimum amount of sleep, go after a far higher maximum and I’m much more careful with my diet now I have better knowledge on what I’m optimising for. While its not possible to know just how much all of these things make a difference, here is the output so far.

At five weeks I have fairly decent range of motion, but still a bit to go to achieve the last few degrees of pre-injury flexion and especially crossing my arm across my chest. I can manage about 12 pull-ups pain free and can now tolerate short climbing sessions on a 45 degree board doing moves which are fairly easy for me.

I can’t yet tolerate long training sessions, any really hard moves at 45 degrees, forceful ‘gaston’ press moves, very dynamic jumps on steep ground, or other heavy loading of the AC joint with my arm overhead. To me that feels like excellent progress, and I’m still seeing daily improvement. I’m sure I’m not the first climber with this injury so I’ll report back as a few more weeks pass and see what I can manage or cant manage.

Although it’s obviously a massive pain in the ass to have an unexpected traumatic injury I could have done without. But once it has happened, it’s happened. You have to deal with it head on. Its a good opportunity for me on three fronts. First, it allows me to test out the principles I detailed in Make or Break and continue to build on them. Second, it’s allowed me to work on some other projects that needed done. Thankfully the weather has also been rotten for the past month anyway, so there is no FOMO for the mountain crags going on. Finally, as always it allows me to go back to square one and assess my weaknesses to work on in training, and put some proper time into addressing these without the constant drive to just go out climbing all the time.

So let’s see what the next month brings. It would be doing well to be worse than the previous one.

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Summer of Shuas

The first crux of Dun Briste E8 6c during the first ascent. Thanks to Cubby Images for these pics. Cubby, when are you doing your book?!!

 This summer I’ve tried to make up for last summer’s wet weather and broken legs and have picked up where I left off, trying to do some of the superb new routes just waiting to be climbed on Binnien Shuas. In this effort, I’ve been following the lead of the amazing Iain Small, who has made a great effort in developing the crag over the past year. Let me take a moment to underline just what he’s done here. Although I can barely keep count, Iain has added one E8 and five E7s to Binnien Shuas in the past year. And, having repeated a few of them, I can say that they are brilliant routes. Not only that, but Iain has done a very thorough job of cleaning them, turning three star routes into four.
Having broken my leg trying to make the FA of Stronghold, E8 6c last autumn, I was playing catch up with Iain this year. I kicked off by repeating Siege Engine E7 6c which takes a soaring diagonal ramp on the left side of the crag. It’s ridiculously steep and a long winding pitch but well protected and about 7c in difficulty. This for me was a pre-requisite before trying the obvious project cutting through the roof above the ramp.

Nearing the top of my own route Stronghold E8 6c, which was very satisfying after breaking my leg on an earlier attempt past September. Pic by Cubby Images

My first abseil down the project was an exhilarating and nervous experience. The headwall above the roof has this amazing flake in it. It’s hard to describe, but sort of like a ‘slice’ out of the granite resembling the cut you would make in the top of a mound of bread dough about to go in the oven (not that I bake any bread these days ; )). It’s such an amazing feature, I was really nervous that the stretch across the roof to the flake from the undercut flakes below would be too far and the line would be impossible. As it happens, it’s perfect - 8a+ with good gear and excellent, athletic climbing. You start by doing most of Siege Engine to the perfect cam slots in the roof. What follows is a huge powerful reach to the lip from here, some toe-hook trickery and another piece of gear before the culmination - a powerful slap to a perfectly placed side pull right below the top. 

I’d just had a week off climbing for my birthday fast (blog on this will follow) so on my first day up there with Iain I opted to top-rope it in its entirety to see if I could actually get through that top crux. This is something I don’t often do these days on headpointed trad routes. I usually tend to mess about on the moves on a shunt and then just go for it as I’ve got a lot of experience at knowing when I’m likely to succeed or fail. I was glad I did on this occasion though. Although I did manage to link it, I really needed the extra training burns before adding the effort of placing the gear on lead. I also seconded Iain on yet another great new E7 just left of my route Stronghold.

A couple of days later I was back with Iain and Cubby and after a bit of faffing decided to get on it. I felt really good all the way but was still full of apprehension for whether I could power through the crux with a bit of a pump on. I could feel that pump starting to kick in just a wee bit on the first crux, so got pretty fired up and let out a battle cry on the final slap to the side pull. It was an exhilarating surprise to stick it and a few moments later find myself standing on the ledge above with another classic new route in the bag. 

Setting up for the final crux on Dun Briste E8 6c, during the first ascent. Pic by Cubby Images.

Between Iain and myself, we eyed up a possible direct entry to the line from below. The following day I returned by myself and spent a long afternoon cleaning it. I think this could go but it’s at least another grade harder and will need a bit of work yet. With the sun staying out I was back again the following day with Murdo and Cubby. After the hardcore cleaning session the day before, I was pretty exhausted and at first wasn’t sure if I could climb anything. But after checking out Iain’s Braes of Balquither E7/8 6c on the right side of the crag, it was too good not to lead and both myself and Murdo dispatched our repeats with great enjoyment. To really finish myself off, I started up Isinglass E7 6c on the proviso that if I could manage the wobbly initial slab, I’d just try my best to keep going. I’m sure you’ll understand that after decking out and breaking my leg on the next route to the left, I’m a little nervous of Binnien Shuas starts now. I was a bit tense, but the start went fine and I pressed on. It was kind of cold and windy and I was really too tired to be on a big E7, so I didn’t hesitate and blasted on. Isinglass is another climb with the crux right at the top and I’ll admit I had to do a pretty committing slap on the key move onto the top slab.

Nearing the end of an intense and bold crux section on Iain Small's Braes of Balquither E7/8 6c, Binnien Shuas. Pic by Cubby Images

Enjoying Iain Small's excellent route Isinglass E7 6c, Binnien Shuas. Pic by Cubby Images

This really is an excellent crag for accessible mountain trad that dries quickly and is often in condition even in fairly mixed weather. The two E8s I’ve added myself are both brilliant, but I really do want to see an E9 on this crag. So I’ll be back as soon as I have the opportunity to get on the direct entry to Dun Briste. Although the E7s and E8s in this post will not be targets for most readers of this blog, it’s worth pointing out that the classics at the other end of the grade scale are highly recommended too. Ardverikie Wall probably gets twenty ascents for every one of any of the other routes. But there are plenty of other great ones too. The place is really other keeping in mind as a Lochaber mountain crag to visit. It’s in condition earlier and later in the season than many of the other mountain crags in the area and you can easily get in there and climb many pitches even with a half day and often when the higher mountains are catching the showers. See you up there.

Training with Freida after getting back from holiday last week. She insists on doing her rings workout to Katy Perry. I now know all the words to 'Roar'.