Monday, January 02, 2012

My prospects of having a good holiday in Spain

Though it’s been over a year since I last documented it, life has been no less painful. Perhaps people don’t want to read this on a blog, but for a fair wee while I just wasn’t much psyched on climbing. Worse still for blogging, I’ve been rushed off my feet, attempting the transition from thinker about thinking about thinking to thinker about thinking. This requires a lot of thought in itself. Because we often think in words, and the only medium by which I can typically access the thinking about thinking done by others is written, and because my thinking about thinking about thinking typically needs to be written down (so that a bona fide thinker about thinking can have a think about my thinking about thinking about thinking) the idea of writing my blog (in words) just didn’t seem that appealing. But all this, admittedly on-going, thinking, thinking about thinking, and thinking about thinking about thinking (not to mention my occasional thinking about my supervisor’s thinking about my thinking about thinking about thinking) has left me with some thoughts too dark for an academic essay. And so, I thought I’d start writing them down here again.
Now it’s funny the amount of stick you get for losing motivation for climbing. Not least because, while (post Big-Up productions) it often seems that ‘psyche’ is everywhere, PSYCHE—the dispositional mental state—is nowhere to be found. PSYCHE drove Jonny, Jerry and Ben onto the dole and into some pretty grubby living conditions, whereas ‘psyche’ just seems like an excuse to be lazy in all other aspects of life without even committing oneself to any real commitment to climbing. Some ‘psyched’ people even claim they don’t train! I view this as a contradiction in terms.
I got ‘psyched’ again—if that is the right word—(reason no.2 for restarting my blog) after booking tickets to Spain with some friends/arch nemeses and thinking to myself ‘wouldn’t it be great to utterly and completely burn them off?’:

Perhaps I could burn off Eddie? That would mean a lot to me as I live with him and I’d be able to gloat regularly. Perhaps this is even feasible; I’ve seen that boy train and, although he does do a lot of it, he does it like a complete punter—endless bicycle rides and squats at the gym?!?! Better still he’s been on a losing streak recently—he lost the TCA comp, the Irish Lead thingy, even the Edinburgh University bouldering comp…— his footwork is pretty sketchy and I think he’s getting fat. All this being said, however, Eddie has always been a bit better than me—definitely not unbeatably so, but definitely a bit. He was better than me before I took two months off and now things have probably only gotten worse.

Maybe then it would be best to have a backup, so even if I don’t get the better of Eddie at least I won’t have to feel too bad about myself. What about Alex Barrows? I don’t know him so well but what I do know I have been told on good authority (from Eddie) and he sounds like a complete ponce, who is shit at climbing to boot. Although it is slightly disturbing that he has climbed 8c and flashed 8a+ I figure that if you can’t trust your mates, who can you trust? Just to be safe, however, I’ll put him down as a ‘maybe’.
Hopefully it won’t come to this, but as a last resort I suppose I’ll have to settle for burning Mark ‘the pig’ Tomlinson off. Mark is definitely the worst (and most right wing) climber on the trip and so I ought, on grounds of skill and karma, to be able to burn him off. While on the one hand it’ll therefore mean the least to beat him—he is very weak—I’m not very good when the pressure’s on, he’s probably quite good at my weaknesses (last year to combat this I just took a 40meter rope) and he told me that when he flashes 8a this trip it I’m so fat that it won’t even be worth kicking me in the nuts to celebrate. Thus I hereby call on the entire free world, or at least the entire Guardian readership, to back me in at least crushing Mark into the ground.
We’ll have to see how it goes I suppose.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Just like everyone else I haven’t blogged for a while, probably because I’m swayed by the same fashion trends as everyone else. Blogging was never cool and now it’s not popular. This is a pity because I like it; it’s a lot like talking but without interruption and it provides endless distraction from more important things.
I’m back at Uni now after a fairly climbing heavy summer. It was good. I climbed a real 8b. I was reminded about this, and that I’d like to blog about it, by my course. I’ve not quite put my finger on what it is but I think the appeal Climbing and Philosophy hold are very similar deep down. I don’t mean all that waffle about one finding their self whilst on the sharp end of a scary lead, more something to do with the fascination they both hold with children. From a younger cousin asking me what the opposite of a parrot is to tree climbing. I think both climbing and philosophy are perceived as adult pursuits but really it’s probably children who could make the most of them. Maybe this is some form of overpriced alternative schooling in the making...
Similarly I have some parallels I’ve drawn between the greats in either field, for instance Wittgenstein and Jerry. Wittgenstein was arguably the greatest analytic philosopher of the 20th C (parallel 1). After training as an aeronautical engineer he saw firsthand the conceptual difficulties at the root of mathematics and realised his calling, travelling to work with Bertrand Russell in Cambridge. Getting straight to work on the fundamental problem of post-Cartesian philosophy; seeking to link mind and world. From this his mechanical background was evident in his method of philosophy (parallel 2), Wittgenstein saw the need for a logically perfect language free from ambiguity to unravel the ‘knot’ philosophers had tied themselves in. This was the main thesis of his Tractatus, written whilst held captive as a prisoner of war at the end of WW1. Most critically, after publishing the Tractatus Logico Philosophicus Wittgenstein retired from philosophy, to become a teacher (though his temperament was not suited to this), a gardener and an Architects assistant, having considered himself to have solved all the major philosophical problems (what a Jerry attitude to have- parallel 3) although he did come out of retirement on realising the stir his masterwork had caused. Returning to Cambridge he openly doubted that Russell, his professor, would ever understand his work. What a guy!
Reading about this today made me think of Jerry, and then Buoux 8c, and then the Buoux of the north- Birnam! New rule that’ll never catch on, you have to chant ‘Tabou-zizi’ three times at the rest on Hurly Burly. In fact the day I did it I had ‘HurlyBurly HurlyBurly HurlyBurly HurlyBurly -8bee8bee8bee8bee’ stuck in my head to the tune of the ‘Tabou-zizi’ music in Buoux 8c. Anyway it’s not 8c- new goal to aim for. But which one? Agincourt looks a tweaky logistical nightmare. Wall street looks like filth. I’m not driving to the tor. I guess ‘Powerplay’ it is, though I have no idea how realistic this is.... Another few years of blogging accounted for then. I’m building a campus board in my room right now.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Lime Bites Back...

Last Wednesday I was meant to go to Orkney for some extreme ledge shuffling but instead I made the mistake of getting emotionally attached to some tiny rocks with tiny holds covered in shiny bolts; much safer, right? Wrong! In the space of 4days I’ve decked out not once but twice whilst out sport climbing.
I always thought it was mere climbing folklore when people blabbed on about micro-fractures and death clips, etc. Indeed I’d been told by people in the know that the first rule of sport climbing is that death clipping doesn’t exist on hard (read overhanging) routes. I’ve never tested this ‘rule’ as it’s become second nature to clip properly but I was quite willing to believe it. As for the micro-fracture myth, well that was totally ridiculous; how could a snap-gate, designed to be able to hold lardy climbers exponential acceleration groundwards through the pinpoint where clip meets bolt get micro fractures being dropped under its own weight, especially from a fairly small height? I’m no physicist but that just seems silly.
Now I don’t know if it was actually a phantom micro crack or just that tape on the draw had slipped round but last Wednesday I snapped a quickdraw! Those of you who are sitting smug in the knowledge that I’m a porker might be more disturbed to find out it snapped just slumping onto it. I’m actually pretty sure anyone’s fall would have snapped that draw, scarier still I was planning on missing the next clip and pushing on to the 5th. That would have been sore if I’d blown it!
Well I’ve been told one ought to ride the horses that buck so on Saturday I returned to Kilnsey to finish of ‘Lapin’. Being a geek, I love lists. My Monday at work was spent on UK Climbing tallying up all the 7’s at Kilnsey that I’d not done (of which there are 21) and all the 8a’s (of which there are 7). Seeing as how I have hard projects to try closer to home I’d decided not to get sucked into another siege down south rather just getting mileage in whenever I go to Yorkshire and work my way through this list. Starting from the right ‘Lapin’ is the first 8a you get to so it seemed an obvious place to start making headway. Also I’d already tried it and I couldn’t give up on the first route of the tick-list! Besides it’s not very hard and other than the slightly dubious nature of some of the holds it climbs really well.
So there I was, back at Kilnsey. A quick dog up and a link from the second bolt to the top and I was ready for a burn. The tricky thing for me on this route wasn’t the climbing but rather the clipping. Karen Magog was there and told me a sneaky way to get the 4 clip in from a crimp. The thing is I clipped the 3rd off that same crimp and the second rule of hard sport climbing is ‘don’t clip all the bolts if you don’t have to’, so now no excuses; one less clip to clip, I’d gotten through the crux last go, the redpoint was on.
I got through the first 2bolts of Myra Hyndley comfortably to the rest, 2 shake outs each arm and a long lock to the crimp, caught it perfectly with my fingers biting right into the back of it (it felt so good I swear I could rip this crimp off the wall!) got my feet up, rope in the mouth, long stretch to clip the 4th and, well you can guess what happened.
2 ground falls in 4 days. Who says sport climbing’s safe?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Climbing for the Enlightened?

“At 9 o’clock the next morning I sat in Omar (Bakri’s) living room while Omar played with his baby daughter.
‘What’s your daughter’s name?’ I asked him.
‘It is a difficult name for you to understand,’ said Omar.
‘Does it have an English translation?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ said Omar, ‘it translates into English as “The Black Flag of Islam”.’
‘Really?’ I said. ‘Your daughter’s name is the Black Flag of Islam?’
‘Yes,’ said Omar.
‘Really?’ I said.
There was a small pause.
‘You see,’ said Omar, ‘why our cultures can never integrate?’
(pp4-5, from ‘A Semi-Detached Ayatollah’ in Them, by Jon Ronson)

Climbers are a funny bunch, the way we split into different clans and slag the others off. I wonder if road cyclists slag downhill bikers off in the way that boulderers and traddies go at one another. I don’t know, maybe they do. I think that climbers behave this way because each sub movement is still struggling to form its own identity. Bouldering and alpinism are essentially completely different sports but they share a common heritage and it wasn’t so long ago that all climbers were all rounders; Jerry did the hardest cracks in Yosemite, won world cups, put up cutting edge sport climbs and boulder problems, soloed, headpointed, onsighted....
This is fine and perhaps a natural progression of the sport but it leads to some confusion over what a ‘good’ climber is. They gym rat is a training monster and is unlikely to be impressed but rather be jaded by his much weaker counterpart ripping it up on the boulders. Meanwhile the weak traddy thinks it’s sad that the training fiend has sacrificed so much to get where he is, and if the said training fiend happens to have the said traddy on a route the common response is ‘well I could’ve done that if I trained as hard as them’. Climber’s become stuck in Kuhnian Paradigms of what ‘good’ is. They’re reluctant to change their method and the moment the traddy starts serious training his excuse for failure looks weak.
Climbing is often seen as a selfish pursuit for personal gain but I think this is a misconception. Getting stronger (either mentally or physically) can be an egotistical wank-fest but genuine improvement comes only through tackling weakness, weaknesses often overlooked by X who surrounds himself with a pier group working from the same paradigm, and I think this embrace of weakness can be linked closely to one’s growth as a person. It’s hypocritical I know that I’m writing about personal growth and the abandonment of ego in a blog of all things, but did you really fail because you lacked strength in an obscure stabiliser muscle or just because you didn’t grit your teeth hard enough?
Last week I went to Pabbay and Mingulay and didn’t climb my hardest grades but really pushed myself. Before I left I really wanted to on-sight the Bonxie and some other E6’s but the truth is that while I’ve done about a dozen or so E5’s I’m not really an E5 climber. Put me on choss, a multi-pitch, or something with complicated ropework and route finding and my grade plummets. Instead the 10 days I spent in the Barra Isles ended up being about intimidating myself everyday on big E3’s and 4’s and I felt a noticeable improvement on big stuff by the end of the trip. I will onsight E6, perhaps even this summer but equally I really want to push it on the stuff that doesn’t suit me; Cougar, Voyage of the Beagle, Titan’s Wall, The Prozac Link, Big John...
It’s funny that on-sighting E6 should be such a big deal for me; I have friends who onsight E5 who only onsight about f6c, on a recent trip to Spain I onsighted 7c, maybe even 7c+ so am I just being a pussy? Well undoubtedly I am a pussy but I think it’s more than that. When you onsight your first 6c it tends to be around about vertical and technical, much like the majority of E4’s and 5’s. The 7c’s in Spain were all massively steep bucket hauls, really fun but with little bearing on your average trad pitch. Secondly the climber who exclusively trad climbs would obviously up his sport grade if he focussed on that for a bit just like how I’d improve my trad grade if I focussed on that, so the 6c-7c climber comparison that I regularly hear regurgitated is kind of a skewed one but watch this space, scaring yourself is good for the soul.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why I try so hard and am still so shit.

1. Winter climbing is a funny thing and something I’ve really dismissed in the past. I got Dave Macleod’s new book (which I’d really recommend) for Christmas and since reading it I think it’s put some things into perspective. It got me actively thinking why I like the climbs I do and why there are some classics I don’t. Winter climbs represented everything classic about Scottish climbing and yet were so unpleasant. Basically winter climbing is so popular that I just had to be missing the point somewhere to think it was so rubbish. So when an opportunity presented itself to go mincing for a few days in Wales at the start of the year I decided to go for it.
Staying with a friend at Plas y Brenin certainly made the experience a lot easier to enjoy. I could get up at 8 and it was only a 15 minute drive to Cwm Idwal. To be honest though, the early starts were never really why I hated it. I hated winter climbing because it was so precarious and intimidating. Your sense of what you were holding on to dampened by your axe, the movements grovely and mechanical, and the line of where you were going hidden by snow causing me to irrationally forget that if things weren’t so slippy you could probably send a goat up it.
This is all still true but I think that they highlight the aspects of rock climbing I’m really shit at. And so on realising that winter climbing can be quite fun I’ve decided it would be a good way to work on my weaknesses (paradoxically by embracing weakness itself on III’s and IV’s). I’m now actually really psyched for the white stuff and I think it’s given me a fresh outlook on my climbing. I really do think that all aspects of climbing are amazing and if you don’t enjoy them all you’ve probably not gone at them with the right attitude or are suffering from the pandemic condition ‘fear of failure’. A couple of weeks ago fate dealt me and Charlie the triple lemon (dodgy avalanche risk/ forgotten gear/ an essay to write) and so we ended up going to Birnam for some dry tooling. I never expected to say this but it was actually really fun and ‘the Fast and the Furious’ is now something I’d love to do. That day also made me realise I could be doing much harder winter routes. It’s only really my first winter season but I’d like to get on some V’s now and maybe even something a little harder if the avalanche warning doesn’t stay at danger level 5 forever.
2. I, like most, focus too much on strength in my climbing and not enough on actual movement technique. I really think Dave Mac’s book provides an essential explanation of why Dan can slap his way up surprisingly hard boulder problems despite being the weakest grown man Britain. I’ve been going out winter climbing so much that I’ve not actually touched rock yet this decade which is bad on this front but I have amended my board sessions. I’ve began splitting them in two- first half I just make up boulder problems, making them progressively harder and trying to use the holds and movements I find disproportionately hard. Instead of thinking of this as training with all the connotations this brings with it, I think of it as learning to climb and accordingly (wait for it...) I listen to Baroque music! It’s been widely reported that listening to the pre-classical music of Bach and Vivaldi can improve your focus and ability to learn for exams- why not for climbing too? The second half of the session I hit the fingerboard. There’s no need to think so I ditch the Baroque and hit the techno to get psyched and mainly just because I like it. Perhaps I’ve gone crazy but I think my movements have become more refined and my footwork more precise since doing this. Of course it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation- am I thinking more about the way I move because of the music or am I playing the music because I’m thinking more about how to improve my movement. I guess we’ll never know.
3. Body mass. I feel quite lean these days but I’m still quite heavy. I think we all know I could improve massively by hitting the broccoli. Look what happened to Ross Hunt when he stopped eating. Normally I just go running for this but I think this is the wrong way to go- it leaves me too tired for climbing. I think I just need to eat less.
4. Over the past few years injury has certainly been the most limiting factor for me. I think being in a long distance relationship has really helped this. I train really hard for a couple of weeks then have a few days off. I had a niggle before I went to see Claire last week but then I had a forced week off. On Thursday I started climbing again, felt a bit weak and tweaky, climbed again yesterday and things felt a bit better. Today I felt really strong at the wall and I didn’t even notice my niggle. For me I think a few days off before tweaks get really bad is the way to go for injury prevention, but maximum volume of climbing that doesn’t make an injury worse is the way to go for rehab. In my opinion time off really is time wasted with injuries. I’ve not had to stop for injury in 8months now which is really good for me in recent years.

In summary I need to: -Learn to like being scared/ going for it
- Listen to Baroque music and learn to climb
- Eat less
- Keep seeing Claire and not get injured.

Tick List

Everyone likes a good list and I think telling people what you’re going to do makes it more likely you’ll do it so here goes:
March- Scottish Winter V (conditions dependent)
Purely Belter, v11 (ha) at Shaftoe and my silly dreamt up link up in the Bowden cave (MOT and weather dependent)
April- 3rd-10th week at Malham: MAGNETIC FIELDS , 8b (no excuses)
12th-20th Font: Salle Gosse, Berezina, etc, try some 8’s (girlfriend dependent- she thinks we’re going to Paris)
May- Exams and training for June
June- Euro trip- either Frankenjura to redpoint Vogeln Verboten (7c+/8a) and Boiling Point (8b) or southern France/ Northern Spain to onsight 7c+/flash 8a
12th-20th Pabbay and Mingulay- Onsight the Bonxie (E6) and do the famous classics

Saturday, January 09, 2010


I’ve been meaning to post something self important saying that Sam’s World of Pain has been on hold for a while due to temporary happiness but before I got round to this Christmas arrived, and with it darkness. I’m starting to realise that this link I’ve made in my head between entertainment and pain is not a commonly held connection and that perhaps I’m a bit messed up. It really shocked me when I made the sudden realization that people actually enjoy the X-factor after those initial episodes characterized by delusional fool’s hopes and dreams being obliterated; that look on their faces as, for perhaps the first time in their life, they realize they just don’t have ‘it’ and will amount to nothing. Oh how I envy you Simon Cowell.
*On another note some difficult questions to ponder on the topic of rights: should people without a mind be treated as vegetables? I would say ‘yes, obviously’ but it seems it is not. And do we give the mentally disabled rights but not the same to capable animals simply because the distinction between man and pig is an easier call than between what is and isn’t a useful human?
Aside from all this I just haven’t been climbing much. I have to work for uni pretty much Monday to Friday and I work at least a day on the weekend, but swapping shifts to visit my girlfriend means I normally work both days or go to visit her, so the last term I’ve only had one day off every three weeks and given the unending shit conditions and bad weather it’s not really enough to get anything done. I had three weeks off at the end of the summer (after missing my flight to France) when the weather was ace but I was a bit low on motivation. I did get out once though to send a bugbear in Yorkshire. I guess all the training for France paid off and despite my protracted siege earlier in the season it turned out in the end that Grooved Arete at Kilnsey is a path and definitely 8a+ and not that illusive 8b. At least I did something though as I’d been working two jobs a day for a month but still forcing myself to train twice a day by getting up early to fingerboard and (literally) running from job 1 to the wall to my parents house for a shower and lift to job 2. Being the bitter, jaded man that I am it now really erks me when I hear those, typically lazy 30something year olds, tell me how they don’t have enough time for getting good at climbing; they obviously want to be good at climbing otherwise they wouldn’t be making excuses for it, they just lack discipline or sufficient motivation. This is perpetuated by the ‘psyched for being psyched’ fashion choice of modern climbers. It seems it’s cool to be ‘psyched’ but not cool to be disciplined, but really in my mind they’re the same thing. The times when I’m psyched are the times when I put climbing ahead of drinking/ socialising/ work/ etc.

Despite never actually getting out climbing I think I’ve actually improved. I think this is down to better injury management and working out better what I want to achieve with my limited time for actually sending stuff, mixing stuff up a bit more and trying to think out of the big grades=finger strength + endurance – weight equation’s paradigm of modern wall climbers. That can’t be all there is to it- Dan McManus was one of the fatest, weakest and most unfit climbers I’ve had the shame of being acquainted with but it gives me the boke to admit he burnt me off more than once.
*also of note I got some closure on a problem I broke a while ago called ‘Pockets Traverse’....maybe V10/font 7c+ now???