Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Running it out...

This time of year always makes me feel like I'm climbing, and can see the top of the pitch, and decide just to keep going for it and hope I don't fall off. In climbing, this doesn't always work out that well, as has been demonstrated this year - in life, at least it just usually means I end up with a stinking cold by the week before Christmas.

I'm looking forward to a break at Christmas so much! Nearly 2 weeks off work - hurrah!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009


Following on from my woeful weekend climbing performance, bad (ok, atrocious) weather forced us to the wall again last night. Although we got there late, and half the wall was flooded, I was looking forward to climbing. However, once again, by the second route I led (a F5) I was a gibbering wreck, and volunteered just to belay George for the rest of the night.

Fortunately, he was having none of it, and persuaded me to try falling off instead. I unwillingly made my way to the bottom of the easiest route in the middle of the main wall and, after some inevitable prevarication, set off. I got to just below the fourth clip - and managed to let go. Result! Up to the next, level with the bolt this time (though I was still clipping from quite low down).

Pause. Pause Pause.

Let go!

That was ok! I felt steadily more confident even though I was getting higher up the wall, and although the intent was to keep falling off, I was able to focus more on the moves and waste less energy feeling generally sick.

I tried a couple more routes, and although I didn't have a 100% success rate by any means, but things were much better. By the end of the night, I even tried a very overhanging F6b - and got over half way! Well, as they say, you can't get hurt if you're in the air (can you?).

(Not) Turning the Tide

Well, when I last posted, I thought things were getting better with my climbing and I was starting to get my head back together. However, a trip to Northumberland this weekend set me straight on that!

It was a great weekend with much better weather than was on offer in the Lakes - we headed to Kyloe-in-the-Woods on Saturday, and Bowden Doors on Sunday, both of which turned out to be great venues. Northumberland has always had somewhat mythical status in my mind as the hardest climbing in Britain, a whole County full of sandy sandbags. I was pleasantly surprised, though - the grades in the newest Rockfax guide felt reasonable and the rock was lovely - grit-esque friction but with flutings, lacy sandstone edges, pockets and much more solid than I had expected.

However, when it came to leading, despite finding an easy, well protected, very pleasant VDiff (Russett Groove), once again, I sucked. Big time. I did the ever so slightly trickier start, and then realised that I didn't have enough small-medium sized wires. And set off into full panic mode. I downclimbed and lowered off, and then sat at the bottom mentally and literally beating myself up. How could I possibly be so useless? It didn't help that at the back of my mind I knew I could almost certainly easily and safely solo the route, if I could just not panic needlessly.

I finally did pull myself together, the ropes back through, retie and then lead the route with less flapping, but once again felt I had let myself down.

Monday was spent joining the Bank Holiday masses at Lindisfarne - also something of a disappointment, though that should not have come as a surprise, given it was probably one of the busiest days of the year on the island. The romantic notion I had of a castle on a tiny island in the middle of sand and sea was shattered when I realised that the castle was on the headland of a substantial island, complete with village with tea rooms and souvenirs and crab stick vans. We elected to leave quickly before we got cut off by the tide and had to stay there for another four hours...

We headed home on a circuitous route through Alston, stopping at the excellent Hartshead Cafe, then an impromptu gear shopping trip to Keswick, and finally a waterslide of a ride back over Dunmail Raise. Back in Kendal, everything was starting to flood and once again we thought we might be cut off by the tide that was starting to run around the car park.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

In the shadows

It has been a strange year for me climbing-wise so far.

We did quite a lot of climbing over the winter and spring, and at the start of April I led my first HVS, Lakeland Cragsman at Sergeant Crag Slabs, Borrowdale. It may be something about the name of the route, because although I've probably done trickier VSs, I started to feel like I was getting somewhere.

A month later, however, we headed to Pembroke for May Day Bank holiday weekend. I'd been to Pembroke a couple of times before at Easter, and although I'd certainly been intimidated by the place, I had fond memories. However, this time, for some reason, I wasn't in a great frame of mind for climbing.

And it was busy - every climber in Britain, and a few from elsewhere seemed to be packed into this picturesque little corner of Wales. Add to this a sea state that meant the lower ledges were getting very wave-washed and it still being bird banned season, and the easily accessible, non-soggy crags were heaving.

On the Sunday, we headed to Crystal Slabs to meet up with friends there as G had manflu and, unusually, didn't want to climb much. It was, inevitably, somewhat crowded. No VSs were free, so I headed up Crystal Edge feeling somewhat resigned. After romping up the easily angled slab, I had words with myself, placed a good cam and then pulled over the overlap. I realised I only had a couple of moves to make and life was about to get a lot easier. I reached for a small hold, and then another on the arête, and then went to work my feet up and rock over onto a tiny ledge on the arête. I pulled up, moved my feet.... and then suddenly I was pitching over sideways, off the edge of the slab, with my gear some 8 feet below me.

I tumbled down the corner, knocking various bits of me against the perpendicular walls, letting out the occasional clichéd 'oof'. And then I stopped. It was time for that horrible few moments post-incident where one has to take stock of the damage. Only my left arm seemed to hurt, though nothing was sticking out at funny angles. I steadied my voice, already embarrassed at making a spectacle of myself in front of the hordes, and called for G to lower me down.

Once I'd been through the tiresome business of going into shock and sitting for 20 minutes or so with my legs pointing back up the slab, I dared have a look at my elbow. I'd ripped my windshirt. And those blood stains were going to be a pain to get out.

We packed everything up, and G carried everything back to the top of the crag whilst I staggered after him, and dripped blood back to the car. The rest of the day involved a scenic trip to Haverford West A&E for an x ray and stitches, then a potter round Pembroke (after I'd changed my no-longer-beige climbing trousers for something less scary for the general public).

We made it back up to the Lakes the day after. It was a couple of weeks until I could bend my arm again (which made life more difficult than I would have imagined), and another four or so weeks until it felt nearly normal again and fit for climbing.

However, my head has taken longest to mend by far. After an initially good start at getting back on and leading, I felt I was becoming more and more scared every time I tried to lead something. As soon as I stepped off the ground or the belay, my head would cloud with dark thoughts, and I would become convinced I would somehow sabotage myself, and throw myself off the crag. Even though my gear had clearly held well when I fell, I became convinced I couldn't place it, that I didn't know what to do with this assortment of shiny, jangly stuff weighing me down. Moreover, would it stop me from getting hurt again? I very much doubted it.

I rather wondered whether I would manage to enjoy climbing again. I had enjoyed following the occasional route, and spent a lot of time bouldering, with some (relative) success, but as soon as I found myself on the top end of the rope, the chattering demons massed again, I would get a few feet up, gibber, retreat, cry. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

However, as summer passes, I'm starting to feel this change. I led an easy (but run out) sports route at Foredale Quarry (never the most reassuring of places), and it actually did feel easy. For the first time in ages, the fog of panic didn't descend when more than a few feet up. I felt relaxed. I didn't even mind so much when I stepped things up and tried to lead the next route at my usual lowly sports grade - an rested and flailed on the crux. A week or so later, I also managed to do my first V3, at Fairy Steps, Lancashire, and felt that I was starting to enjoy pushing myself again, that maybe I'm able to climb after all.

Of course, it shouldn't matter to me. But it does.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Things I have learnt this weekend

  1. Don't count your chickens 'til they've hatched. Or returned to the coop. Or something.
  2. Some times it's probably better to go the long way round.
  3. Cycling in slushy snow is rather hard work.
  4. One shouldn't forget to wear one's cycling shorts when going on a rather long bike ride... ow...