For the last few years Kalymnos has been a regular dot on our calendar, thanks to The North Face and their Kalymnos Climbing Festival. This year was to be no different – with the small exception that we would be getting married!
I would never be so bold as to say Caroline is a little strange, so perhaps I can say I am strange enough for the both of us. Either way, I knew neither her nor I wanted a marriage in the typical sense, and so the only logical solution was to organize a surprise wedding, complete with closest friends and family, on a beautiful Mediterranean island. Simple. Sea on one side, Sun-Rock on the other, and not a single suspicion…
The details of the day and all that lead up to it are not important, only that we had one of the best days of our life, a day to remember and tell stories about until we are old and grey, and isn’t that how a wedding day is supposed to be.
On to the festival…
For those that have not been to the Festival, either this year or the last, I’ll quickly explain the simple format. There are two competitions, well actually three, but two of them are the same. The PROject competition is an invite only event for the worlds top climbers to battle out on hard routes at a specially developed cliff, and the Marathons (Big and Open) are endurance/quantity based events open to the public, where climbers score points by doing as many routes as possible.
Last year I sat out the comp as I had helped out a little with the opening of the new routes. This year I was all set, until my little injury reared its head, ruling me out for a second year in a row. Not to worry, competitions are far from my favorite thing in climbing and there were plenty of other things to keep me busy during the festival. In fact, if I include the wedding in the schedule I didn’t stop moving for almost 10 days straight.
Caroline, on good form as always won the PROject competition, making all from the North Face very happy, but none more so than me. Since finishing her competition career we have been travelling more, and training less every day. It’s amazing to see her develop as an “outdoor” climber, but at the same time I’m often concerened that her “level” might be suffering in the process. As much as I love climbing outdoors, you just can’t argue with the efficiency and intensity of indoor training, and with some of the other competitor’s schedules being mainly gym based, it was a case of crossing our finger and seeing how it went.
The competition went down to the wire, and the title was there for the taking right up to the final try, of the final route, on the final day. Caro had climbed her best on the first day, flashing both routes A and B with a great show of technique and tenacity. Day 2 didn’t get off to such a good start, and by midday she was lagging behind several other climbers who had each completed route D, a route that Caroline couldn’t even make the moves! The sun hit the cliff turning the place into a sauna and all hope was lost. After some time pondering what to do now, she decided to make a try in route D just for the sake of climbing! By some sort of miracle or magic, she passed the crux boulder, stayed cool and cruised to the top, never looking too taxed! Incredible!
The final route, C, remained unclimbed, despite several good attempts by each person. Caroline remained in 1st place and won the competition based on total number of trys. Its interesting to look back over the 2 days and realize that the results were directly dependent of the first attempts in the easiest routes. Having said that, any other unsuccessful attempts would have counted just as much if they had come to be. Competitions have the possibility to change in an instant, but they are also dependent on the performance of each and every moment. The more I learn about the complexities of this world, the more I understand how it can be so absorbing, almost all consuming for those that take part…
… but I still think I would take a real adventure any day, and as luck would have it, we will soon be on our way to Turkey to discover and develop a huge new area!
Everything was so well prepared… and then I had what I can only describe as normal cognitive shutdown (Caro would just call it “Idiot”)! Having discovered directions, camping info and route recommendations for Meteora before we even began the trip, we were all set to go! Unfortunately the night before boarding the ferry from Italy to Greece, I realized all the information was stored online on my Facebook account. Not to worry, a quick stop at a well known fast food chain on the way to the ferry allowed me 30min of precious internet, and I worked as fast as I could to answer my recent backlog of emails, before running back to the van and driving to the ferry. It was only once safely aboard the ferry I realized not only had I forgotten to get the necessary info from Facebook, I had also forgotten my laptop case, including my charger, and 2 hard drives containing all my worldly data!
With the ferry doors bolted shut and the boat about to set sail for Greece, understandably I was in a bit of a panic! Wild ideas of sliding down the guard ropes and somehow finding my way back to the restaurant flashed through my eyes, before Caroline took charge, told me to relax, and found the receipt for our coffee’s which conveniently included the address and phone number. A much trusted Italian was called, and the burden of calling, finding, and securing my life was dropped on him just like that (Cheers Riky, I owe you!). Thankfully the restaurant had found my bag and kept it safe, where it will soon be collected by a courier, and delivered to… well that part of the plan I don’t yet know, but I’m sure it will all work out fine!
Ok, on to Meteora!
With the loss of my hard drives, I no longer had access to the GPS maps of Greece that I had forgotten to install on the actual GPS. We were forced to buy an actual map, made of paper, and by some miracle only got lost twice! Finding Meteora is actually really easy, probably even a monkey could do it, but since Caroline and I both suffer from a hideous sense of direction, we were both quite proud to find it at all.
Once in Meteora, the topo was purchased for the fine price of 30€ (actually it is only half the topo, the other 30€ buys you the history and some classic scrambles) and we were on our way. After opening the topo however, our poor map reading skills combined with a poor map, meant things were only a little clearer than mud! Lady luck however was smiling down on us, and a few moments later a little scooter skidded into our parking area, off jumped a man who smiling asked me, “Are you lucky to know me?”
The man was Vangelis Batsios, one of the best local climbers and equipper of many of the areas harder routes. He had glanced our van passing his restaurant, recognized us through the window, and chased up the windy road after us to offer his help and advice. Vangelis’ advice would prove to be worth its wait in gold, and not only did he save us many hours of searching for the correct path, but also pointed us at the truly superb routes that Meteora has to offer
That last sentence is important, because even though there are A LOT of cliffs here, due to often-poor rock there are not so many routes. Even then, the established routes vary wildly from run-out disintegrating horror shows, to well bolted lines of perfect pebbles! The routes you choose can really make or break your impression of this place!
On the first day there was one route on list I just had to climb, an amazing looking pinnacle that I had seen on the front cover of an ancient “Vertical”, bolted by a team of Germans including Heinz Zack in the early 90’s. The cover image showed a guy, turned around to face away from the wall, standing with just his heels on a truly gigantic cobble, with the tower itself silhouetted against a royal blue sky – Amazing!
We found the tower with surprisingly little trouble, but finding the route would turn out to be something else. After circumnavigating the base a few times, I could see the aforementioned cobble and have a rough idea of the line, but for the life of me I could not see any bolts. Caro was motivated to take the first lead, and set of up easy angled terrain, climbing slowly and stopping at perhaps 10m. She looked left and right for a few minutes, before descending back to the floor with extreme caution. I didn’t really know what was going on as the climbing looked so easy, but Caro explained it was very scary, and the first bolt she could see was a further 5m higher, past a tough looking overhang. I took over the lead and soon understood what the fuss was about. Despite being easy angled, you couldn’t trust any of your points of contact, as from time to time a seemingly solid pebble would “pop” out. I managed to wiggle in some poor trad gear, and spotted a slightly lower bolt, but even like that it was an intimidating proposition. After arriving at the giant cobble and making the pose, I brought Caro to the belay, from where the top was just a short and technical slab pitch away.
I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the route (I have quite esoteric tastes), but it was not quite what I was expecting for an introductory VII+. The bolts were far, the rock was not great, and I began to wonder what we might be letting ourselves in for if we were to attempt any harder routes in this place! Still, even after that, you couldn’t help but smile at the magnificence of the surroundings, with towers and walls capped with picture perfect monasteries, as far as the eye could see!
For the next half-week we followed the advice of Vangelis by day, eating with himself and his family by night. Local advice made all the difference, and the routes he pointed us at were all of exceptional quality. “Action Direct” was the best of the bunch, and in my opinion is probably the best “line” in Meteora. “Orchid” is also a great route, and a good line to head for if you feel like searching out the harder lines Meteora has to offer.
On our last day we decided to “nip-up” one of the classic routes leading to an abandoned monastery. At V- it should have been an easy scramble in my sneakers, but after experiencing some of Meteors other “easy” lines, I at-least had the good sense to take my climbing shoes. 30m up pitch 2, sweating and breathing heavily, standing on small smears with 1 lonely bolt between myself and the belay, I was very happy with my choice. Climbing here is something that should never be underestimated or taken lightly. You must set out for every route with the utmost respect, but if you follow the rules (and the helpful advice of Vangelis from the Taverna Paradiso), climbing in Meteora will be an amazing experience you will never forget!
It’s been a very busy few days here in Kalymnos, but finally I have the chance to sit back, relax, and watch the action at this years The North Face Kalymnos Klimbing Festival PROject Competition.
Sadly I am injured, which rules me out of the comp! But I’ll still be there to holler and hurl abuse as the others battle between themselves and the beautiful new routes… and guess what… you can too!
To follow the event live, you can go over to The North Face Journal and watch the streaming from 10am (UK time)
One of the existing Trad routes of Interprete – a crazy set of holes to a scary slab!
Well, before we even boarded the Ferry across to Greece, we took the opportunity for a few relaxed days in the little known Sandstone area of Interprete. We had first visited this special place 1 year ago during Our Italian Job, motivated by the beautiful trad route of “Is Not Always Pasqua”, an E9 from Mr E9 himself, Mauro Calibani. On that visit I had tried to repeat the route “ground up”, but backed off from the upper crux after discovering I did not have a big enough friend, crucial for preventing a ground fall! I had vowed to return soon, and had hoped my next visit would bring success, yet sadly with my injury I was not even able to try! It wasn’t all sad news however, as there is a lot of “easier” lines to repeat and open, and we finished with a great, and rather productive few days of Trad climbing.
Caroline cleaning a new route…
In addition to this, Caro also had the chance to finally send one of her boulder projects that had tormented her since the last visit. Caro is pretty new to the whole bouldering game, and it has been fun watching her progress, and also her motivation and understanding for the sport develop. At first she found the idea at best frustrating, at worst pointless, yet over the last few years it has evolved into something… not quite an obsession… but slightly entertaining… from time to time.
…and later climbing it – an amazing steep face on pockets, perhaps E7!
For the boulder in question, we have no idea of the name or the grade, but it was something that inspired and challenged Caro, as well as being a beautiful piece of rock. Here is a little video that perhaps can shed some light (for someone) on a possible sequence.
Next stop on the tour (ok, technically the first real stop) will be the mythical area of Meteora, Greece. It has been one of my dreams to visit this place since before I was even a climber, and personally, I can’t wait!
Our Italian Job…
Summer is on its way out and Winter is coming, its time to head south on our seasonal migration to escape the cold and the rain! This time last year we started Our Italian Job, and over the space of one month, discovered countless amazing cliffs we had never heard of, and lived new escapades day after day. That trip was really an eye-opener for the both of us, and proof that you don’t need to fly to the other side of the world to discover something new. Sometimes adventure is waiting just around the corner!
The concept for Our Italian Job was simple… take the van and drive to Italy, visit a new cliff, meet the locals, and follow their recommendations for the following days. The format was so successful giving us the feeling we were discovering the “real” Italy, we decided to replicate it this year, but on a much bigger scale!
The “final” destination is Turkey, to help with the development of a new, unclimbed area, of what looks like incredible limestone of all styles, from DWS to Big walls. Along the way we will pass through Greece, stopping off first at the mythical area of Meteora – a dreamlike place I have hoped to visit since before I even climbed! After this we will sample a little of Greece’s main land sport climbing, which from the looks of things seems very nice, before boarding a ferry towards Kalymnos and the North Face Kalymnos Climbing festival. My injury is unfortunately going to keep me out of a lot of the big action, but I’m still looking forward to being back on the island, and watching all the other guys and girls have fun on the incredible new cliffs.
More Meteora! I cant Wait!
From Kalymnos, Turkey is just a hop, skip and jump across the Agean??? Sea, but is a truly gigantesque country, with more rock than you can know what to do with. As always with developing new areas, the hardest part is often in the very beginning, negotiating access agreements, finding the way to the cliffs, building the trails, and bolting the first routes. As a climber I am sometimes as guilty as any of enjoying our amazing cliffs without much thought for the hard work of the developers, so I hope in Turkey I have the chance to give something back. If the area has half the potential it looks like it could have, its going to be somewhere very special indeed!
One of the current Turkey Guide Books…
…and the current climbing areas…
Along for the ride are Francisco Taranto Jr and the FotoVertical Team, who are shooting with Caroline and I for a new web TV series for Epic TV. “Turkey and Trimmings – Just Another Climbing Road Trip?” will follow our exploration and adventures during the next few months, and will bring you a varied series of short webisodes, focused on all sorts of crazy rock, places and people. It’s an exciting project, and one I am sure I will have a lot of fun making. Stay tuned to Epic TV over the next few weeks to find out more.
So a month of rest…
Well, that was the next stage of the plan, and I have to admit that it doesn’t seem to be working either.
Almost another month of easy climbing has now passed and if anything my injury is feeling worse. On certain holds, in certain positions, it is absolutely fine, but turn things just a few degrees, or loose concentration for a split second, and the stabbing comes right back. I’ve been experimenting with various tape solutions, all the way from no tape at all, to a tight, splint like wrap around the 2 fingers, and finaly a weird wrap around my 4th and 2nd finger, passing around the back of my 3rd. The tight tape seems to be the best for the original pain, but almost causes some problems of its own due to the strange positions it can force on my pinky!
Squeezing my little finger closed gives no pain…
It’s really hard to say which, if any specific holds cause the pain; certain small crimps might be ok, whereas a big undercling jug can blow off the roof! For these reasons its hard to avoid painful moments during training, especially if I’m on-sighting routes, and so I either have to invest a lot of time creating specific problems that don’t stress that joint, or take the intensity way, way down. At first I was trying hard to maintan as close to a normal routine as possible, and later coming to terms with the fact it might be better not to climb at all. I guess the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Its hard to find the balance, but I’m trying.
But if I close the finger myself, it hurts a lot!
So far I have seen several physiotherapists, and Osteopaths who have all offered advice and Ideas, but no magic solution. I recently visited an ultrasound and hand specialist in Innsbruck, Austria, who was able to pinpoint the problem to a tiny tear at the insertion of my Lumbricals IV with my Tendon… exactly what we thought, but still nice to know that it is the official cause. Despite being able to see the damage while I flexed my finger, she could offer no more solution than all the others. Active rest, Hot/Cold, Massage, Ultrasound… basically anything you can do to increase the blood flow.
Stretching the fingers like this causes no pain…
At one moment I even heard there could be a link between tendon and dental problems. It sounded strange to me, but low and behold, after a visit for a checkup, a big abscess was discovered under my front lower tooth! I’m really lucky that the dentist in question is family, and she was able to find time over the next few days to perform a root canal, effectively drilling out the nerve and filling the hole with a disinfectant, which should clear the abscess below. Whilst this wont have any immediate affects on my current injury, if there is the slightest link it might make me a little less prone in the future, and even if not, no abscess is better than abscess!
My wonderful Dentist, with tooth x-rays, before and after, in the background!
Whilst staying in Innsbruck I was able to visit the physio almost daily for a quick blast of Ultrasound. After reading several reports online about the “real” benefits of ultrasound, the jury still seems to be out. I cant say I have noticed any staggering physical change after almost 10 sessions, but at mentally it was comfortable to feel like I was doing something and perhaps that is reason enough.
“Dragging” a 3 finger hold in the normal way (little finger bent) causes too much pain to continue the move!
We left Innsbruck yesterday and will be on the road for the next few months, so regular access to Ultrasound equipment is going to be much harder to come by. I’ll do my best to visit someone whenever I have the chance, but for most days hot and cold will have to do.
but f I climb like this all is ok… except Its almost impossible to generate power like this!
It’s frustrating, yes, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (yes, I know this is not really true, but it’s a simple mantra to ease my mind). It might take a while, but it will get better, and I am certain I’ll learn a lot along the way.
If anyone out there has any advice/ideas about other remedies I could try, please let me know. You can contact me through this site, or via Facebook.
… it all goes wrong!
Ok, that might sound a little over-dramatic, and it probably is. After all I only have a tiny injury in my finger. I can still walk, I can still “climb”, I can still do almost everything… But, my fingers are my connection to my world, both my pleasure and my work, and as things stand, this tiny sharp pain is forcing me to step away from all but the easiest of challenges.
So lets rewind a little. For the last few years I have suffered from minor tweaks in both my ring fingers. It was nothing more serious than a little ache and discomfort, but always present in one finger, if not both. The distinction I make between then and now, is that recently this discomfort, this feeling like something was not quite right, has turned into an acute pain. Rather than thinking I should stop, the pain now forces me to stop. In the past, a little care and attention for a few weeks was enough to make the symptoms all but disappear, whereas now, after a month of complete rest and another month of easy climbing, the pain is almost worse than ever.
I found it very strange at first, to be regularly suffering from finger problems when I was doing less fingery climbing than ever before. My finger strength was always one of my greatest assets, and for the first 7 years of my climbing life, I succeeded on more than just a few crimpy boulder problems, all without injury. Then, when I started to train for sport climbing, effectively climbing every day on jugs, I started to develop problems.
Flashing the Ganymede Takeover – A crimpy little number!
It took 2 years for someone to offer an answer that made sense. Pablo Scorza, a Brazilian Physio/Osteo/Magician explained that since beginning my sport climbing regime, I had been doing a lot of work on my large muscle groups and almost nothing on my fingers. After significantly increasing my body power, my tendons and ligaments were left out of balance – I could put more force through my fingers than my tendons could now cope with. He explained I needed to slowly build up my finger strength again, but more importantly, train my antagonists all the way from my fingers to shoulders, to help balance everything out.
Pablo putting it all into practice…
I took his advice, and whilst my problems did not disappear, I started to feel relatively solid and during the first half of this year I was able to complete a few interesting projects. The Reunion Expedition came and went, offering each member of the team an amazing adventure but leaving us all quite exhausted. In hindsight I should have take a few weeks at least of full rest on returning home, but with another project in Pembrokeshire just around the corner, resting seemed like a waste of time, and we actually found ourselves settling right into to the most intensive training we had done all year.
The discomfort in my finger was definitely increasing, but in the moment it’s hard to take an objective view and decide that you really need to cut back. Looking back I distinctly remember feeling a lot of discomfort on 2 finger pockets, especially underclings, but at the time, I pushed on, convincing myself it was nothing serious. The last few days before we left for the UK were spent at a small limestone sport cliff, whose holds were more often than not irregular, square edged pockets. On a couple of occasions, my now almost ever present discomfort became a Twinge of pain, and it was finally time to admit there might be something wrong.
I had hoped the 3 days of driving would be enough time to recover, but sadly on arriving in Pembroke, even holding reasonable sized edges brought on a sharp stabbing pain at the base of my ring finger. My first thought was a partially torn pully – terrible news, forcing at least a month of rest, and a long and finicky rehab. However, I soon discovered that the pain was only there if my little finger were curled into my palm, and that I felt nothing if it was stuck up in the air!
Pretty much what I look like climbing at the moment!
Better news than a broken pully, but still not great. Sure I could climb, but have you ever tried to crimp or drag with your little finger in the air… yeah, its not great! I decided to sacrifice all ideas of climbing anything hard in Pembroke, in the hope my finger would be better by the time we were back in France. That was almost 1 full month away, leaving a further month before The North Face Kalymnos Climbing Festival, in which I was due to compete. Not loads of time, but enough to be in reasonable shape. I saw as many physios, and took as much advice as I could. They all seemed agreed that it was likely a strain or small tear in my IV Lumbricals but unfortunately no one could offer me any “magic” solution beyond, ice, massage and rest.
Lumbricals IV seems to be where the problem is…
My rest month did nothing apart from make me feel weak and heavy, which was a unfortunate addition to the still present pain. One of the reason hand injuries can take so long to heal is that there is (relatively) very little blood passing to our extremities. Perhaps full rest is not especially good for this reason, and I would have been better climbing a little, keeping under the point of pain, to stimulate the blood to do its thing?
So why am I telling you all this… Well despite being a bit of a geek, I struggled to find a lot of relevant information out there directly related to the Lumbricals, the symptoms, and possible courses of treatment. There is quite lot of info in French, but since few self respecting english speakers would debase themselvs by reading anything other than the Queen’s, I’m going to write down what I have found out…
However, were already at 1000 words in this post and I imagine most of you nodded off a while ago. I’ll save the technical details for the next time… and for now make do with wallowing in my own self pity! Booo hooo hoooooooo!
After almost 1 month of rest/very easy climbing, my finger is showing no signs of improving. Its a strange pain, in almost the same place as as the A1 pulley, but a little off to the side, sort of inside and between the fingers. The pain depends completely on the position of my little finger – imagine dragging a 3 finger pocket, your little finger normally folds down towards your palm, sort of stretching the web of skin between your 3rd and 4th fingers. That causes a sharp, intense pain, to painful to continue pulling. However as soon as I straighten out my little finger, standing it up next to the other fingers (but not touching the hold), the pain goes away, and I can pull as hard as I can (not very in that position) without pain.
At first i thought this would not be too bad, certainly nothing compared to a typically injured pulley, but in reality, its a pain in the ass. For a start, Its really hard to control the position of my little finger whilst my other fingers are under load. With my finger up in the air, I feel really weak through my 3rd finger, which either forces me to let go (the smart move), transfer the weight to my first 2 fingers (perhaps a recipe for injuries here), or curl my little finger and feel the pain (obviously a very bad option). I can climb certain routes/boulders, on certain types of holds without problem, but the type size and shape of hold that cause a problem are numerous and complicated, meaning I can never know for certain if I will run into troubles. At the minute I am climbing with a lot of caution, never pushing things too much for fear of a sudden twinge, and even then I often feel a little something. Even after a relatively pain free session, my hand feels swollen and tired – which seems to be telling me something is not at all right.
So finally, after wallowing for a few paragraphs in self pity, I can move onto the point of this blog…
Since I’m not really climbing very much at the moment, and certainly not ticking off anything hard, I decided to write a few informative posts on “the little things” in life that are important to climbing but often forgotten. Most of you out there will already know them, but some of you perhaps not. They are things I learnt from good friends, random encounters, an more often than not trial and error, but if you do them from time to time, it will make your climbing life that little bit easier.
1st up… Cleaning gear!
Yes, I know, nobody likes cleaning (and if you do, its probably best to pretend you dont or people might think you weird), but a few minutes of elbow grease every few months will go a long way, and never again will you have to deal with being 4oft run out from your last crappy piece of gear, and realising the friend 1.5 that you desperately need is all seized up with salt! I just came back to france after 3 weeks in the UK, trad climbing in Pembrokeshire, and as beautiful as the place is, the Sea air doesn’t half play havoc with your gear and ropes.
After any trip to a Sea Cliff environment, its really important to thoroughly clean your gear and oil any moving parts, especially if the gear is due to go back into storage for any period of time afterwards. The salt will begin to eat away at the metal, weakening it structurally (ok this part takes a long time), and more annoyingly, making all the moving parts feel at best sticky, at worst stuck. The same applies to ropes, especially any that have taken an dip in the ocean!
Box full of grubby gear, ready for its bath…
Start by filling some big containers with warm soapy water. I know some of you out there might be a little freaked out by the idea of chemicals and textiles, but in my experience, if its ok to wash your skin, its ok to wash a sling/rope. Swirl the gear around in the water, leave it to soak for a while, swirl it around some more. You might need to give the more stubborn dirt/grease a scrub with a tooth brush or similar, leave it to soak, and repeat the process again until you are happy everything is clean.
Pour away the old (now very dirty) water, and replace with new clean (no soap this time) water. Swirl around the gear until all the soap etc has come out, pour away, and repeat one last time. By now you should be pouring away practically clean water, which means you are ready for the next part.
Spread out to dry…
Separate all the gear, flake out all the ropes, and leave them to dry, naturally. Once this is done, you will start to apply oil/grease to all the moving parts, paying particular attention to anything that feels sticky. When everything is finished, your gear should feel buttery smooth. This is also a good time to give our gear a general once over – for damaged trigger wires on friends, bent, misshapen nuts, small tears in slings, and anything else that really shouldn’t be there.
Oiling the axle and springs…
At this point I usually lay my gear on some newspaper and leave it for one further night (or leave it outside if its not going to rain!). This allows any excess oil to drain off and onto the paper (nobody likes an oily back pack!). The following day, I re organise my rack into size order, wiping each piece with a wrag to get rid of any stubborn traces of oil (the last thing you want is slippery nuts!) and stick it all back into storage, ready for the next time…
I’m sure you will agree this has been a thrilling read, stay tuned for more tips and tricks… (I bet you cant wait!)
Trad climbing is where I come from, and even though I am probably climbing in this style less than ever before, it is still where my heart lies and so I look forward to any trip back home with great anticipation.
After our action packed trip to Reunion Island, and a hectic schedule of presentations and trade shows in the few weeks that followed, we were feeling a little tired and out of shape, not exactly a great state for trying hard projects in Pembrokeshire. Not to worry, we were passing by Innsbruck, probably the best place for indoor scenes in Europe and so embarked on a crash course of Tivoli endurance training to knock us back into shape. The training worked as planned and we left the gym in a much better state than we had arrived, but I also left with something a little less desirable – a sharp pain in my left ring finger!
hmmmmmmm, what could it be?
I should have known better than to train when exhausted, but with the power of hindsight that is easy to say. Whatever… what is done is done, and I arrived in the UK barely able to pull on jugs without serious pain. I was sad to say the least, as one of my main projects for the year had ended before it had even begun, but Caro managed to get me to see the bright side of things, confirming that if you look hard enough you can usually find a silver lining. Taking some time off from my own climbing allowed me to focus on the development of Caroline. We tackled loads of classic routes, focusing less on the difficulty and more on gear placement, rope management, and general tactics for approaching Trad, and in the space of one week, she had come on leaps and bounds.
Learning and remembering the gear…
(Actually, the more I thought about it, the more I understood there were a lot of things to say on the subject that people out there might find interesting/useful, so, we also shot a small instructional video with Wild Country which should be online soon)
Most days Trad climbing are spent on-sighting, which although mentally exhausting, rarely manages to get you tired. It’s an odd feeling at the end of the day, like you have come back from a long day in the mountains, but knowing you can count the number of pitches you made on one hand! For a start the routes are often slabby, involving a lot of standing on your feet, and in addition you spent the majority of your time searching out and fiddling in gear, rarely actually getting stuck into a hard section of climbing for more than a few meters. Its the nature of trad, to take things slowly, cautiously, and it is certainly the most sensible way to approach this potentially dangerous style. If your climbing at your max, slapping wildly for the next holds, fingers uncurling and elbows by your ears, you have probably pushed things too far.
There are however rare occasions where you can get this fix, steep routes, with just the right amount of good gear, where you can climb hard long sections between the protection, with nothing worse than a (very scary) long fall awaiting you should you fall. Pembroke is probably the best place in the UK for routes of this style, and it is why it has become my favourite place to go climbing on our fair isle. Routes like Hindenburg, From Dusk until Dawn, Point Blank, San Simeon, and Chupacabra are all excellent examples of this, and should be on any aspiring sport/trad climbers “conversion” list.
Having already ticked a few of the easier examples Caro felt it was time to get stuck into something a little harder, and decided to take a look at Chupacabra. Originally considdered E9, Chupacapra would be the hardest trad route Caroline had ever tried, and after failing to even climb some of the moves during her first practice session, its reputation seemed well deserved. It took a lot of time (ok, only 4 days but this is far more than usual routes for Caro) and a lot of soul searching, but eventually Caro was able to make the 5th ascent (1st female) of this exceptional route.
Caro on the lead of Chupacabra, possibly the hardest female ascent in Pembroke? Photo Adrian Samarra
Clearly on good form, and pushed on by my restless enthusiasm after barely climbing for a week, we made the slow drive North to Treardurr bay, the home of Chicama, a confirmed E9 from Tim Emmet from over 10 years ago, and in theory, a step up from Chupacabra. The route has recently come back onto the radar, and seen a few ascents, partly thanks to the addition and replacement of several pegs, making it a little less scary than it had perhaps originally been. I’m not an expert on the ethics of fixed gear and sea cliff climbing, so couldn’t tell you if this is regarded as poor form, but it seems an odd concept considering the difficulty of the route is partly based on how dangerous it is (was) – I personally see pegs as one of the worst (most dangerous) aspects of “trad” climbing, and would prefer to see them removed all together, but this is a discussion for another time.
Examples of corroded pegs taken out of routes…
Either way, the route is what it is – an incredibly steep sea cliff and (for the UK) very impressive climbing territory. I abseiled down the route clipping into the aforementioned pegs, fixing a short static line as I went. Caroline rappelled just above me, clipping into the fixed line and trying the moves. I jumared back out, belayed Caro up, and waited for low tide. Once the time was right, we rappelled back down the route to the usually submerged boulder, cleaning all of the gear and slings to leave it as clean as possible, then Caroline lead the route on her first try, placing everything on lead.
We got back in the Van and started to drive home.
The difference between the two experiences could not have been greater and is just another in a long line of reminders that grades are only a guideline. Clearly, the steep well protected jugs of Chicama suited Caroline more than the vertical, crimpy crux of Chupacabra. It is our own strengths and weakness that will define our experience. There is no universal truth, but many personal scales, and all we can be is honest about how things felt. For Caroline, Chicama felt similar to Point Blank (Better protected but harder) and My Piano (Easier but much bolder). It was easier than The Jackals (Similar difficulty but bolder, 2 days of work), and much easier than Chupacabra (harder and more scary, 4 days of work).