Summer Project Time

The last few weeks have a been a bit crazy and all over the place – mainly due to the launch of Sublime Climbing via a Kickstarter project that I started up with a USA partner, Ransom Allison. We wanted to “re-think” the climbing brush and produce something that people thought was a significant step above what’s currently available. Whilst I can’t be sure that we’ve hit that exact target, I feel fairly confident now that the response from our fund raising has been so surprisingly strong that we must have got some parts right!

More than we could have possibly hoped for!

More than we could have possibly hoped for!

It felt pretty scary doing the big launch, but after 15 days of running the Kickstarter we had over 300% of the funding at $15,000. It might not sound like the kind of numbers the big guys play with, but it feels cool to have grown this from very small beginnings to something that has promise. So thanks very much to everyone for the support!!

The mastermind designer, Ransom!

The mastermind designer, Ransom!

On to more normal things…. CLIMBING PROJECTS!!!! Oh yes. I love all types of projects but nothing gets me more fired up than finding something in my home country that I want to plough time and diesel into.

The first couple to get done when I came back from Spain were a Franco Cookson tip off in the N York Moors and the direct finish to Eye of the Tiger at Ilam Rock. Whilst neither are up there in the realms of mind-blowing difficulty (E7 6c’s) they’ve both got me really reinvigorated for UK first ascents again.

Thrill of the Fight, E7 6c

Thrill of the Fight, E7 6c

Which brings me onto the most exciting one. I’ve been looking for something for quite some time that would take my crack climbing on a significant step in terms and strength and power. It’s not that hard to find routes around the world that feature pumpy V7-8-9 sections and are fairly long (and carry big numbers like 8c and 8c+), but identifying anything with sections over V11 kinda leaves you stumped.

I went to Switzerland last year to have a look at a V13 finger crack which was cool (but not that cool) but didn’t have me thinking “my life is on hold until this gets done” and so I ended up revisiting some of the projects I’ve dabbled on in the last 10 years but previously written off as being too hard. One of these lines was the roof crack project at Hartland Quay. I tried it with Pete Whittaker when we were still to do Greenspit and it was basically way too hard. Way, way too hard! Granted we could do some of the sections, but doing everything and linking was so far away from our ability.

The crack is where you want it... in the middle!

The crack is where you want it… in the middle!

So when I went back down this year to see if I’d improved during the course of training for Century, Cobra and El Cap, I was pleasantly surprised (that should read – psyched out of my mind!!) to find it was fully possible. The moves worked, I felt stronger and my mono ability from Cobra paid serious dividends.

To have found something that is way off the spectrum from what I’ve previously done or tried (and completely plays to my own personal strengths / style) is pretty motivating. It’s given me back that deep routed drive that when you wake up every morning you want to tear the walls of the house down in excitement for training and climbing. I’m back in the zone and I’m really enjoying it!

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Time and Rest = Better Grades

I’ve not really got that much reading material down in the crack training cellar. I suppose I like to keep it spartan and without any distractions or excuses from working hard. I have allowed myself one small indiscretion though, and that’s a copy of Climb magazine with a very important training article by Steve McClure in it. Does it prescribe the reps, the rest periods, secret regimes and special exercises for fingers of steel? No it doesn’t – it tells us resting is just as important as training! You can break your body down with a good session, but if you want it to adapt afterwards, you have to let it recover to achieve what’s often referred to in the business as – “Super-compensation.”

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Got Super-Compensation? (c) Paolo Sartori

You’d think being a climbing coach would make me good at dishing out this kind of advice to myself and taking it on board. I think I’m probably ok at telling myself, but very poor at listening! In my last blog about returning from Italy to try Gondo Crack I had to do just this. I was burnt out, tired and lacking mojo. I told myself that it wasn’t the end of the world and all it needed was some rest, which probably for the first time in a (very) long time I took. My God, it felt good. And weird. Six days off pottering around on the beach with my family, going for walks and watching TV was my medicine and I was very curious to see the effects.

Well, it’s one week later and I cannot believe the difference. It’s like someone injected a 25yr old me into my body and gave me the most psyched mind for quite some time. After that week off, I came back and had training sessions that went through all previous highs and did a few link-ups that I wasn’t sure were possible. It’s all very well me going on about this to you, but I’m not sure you really care if I suddenly did a 9b+ crack on wood – it’s just fake stuff. What really counts is what you’re going to do now, with this information.

If you look at the last month, did you train/climb more days than not? Did you do a number of back-to-back climbing days? Are you psyched out of your mind to complete your outside project, but suffering from training gains that no longer come or even worse, slightly dip? Well, take a look in the mirror, slap yourself with a empty chalk bag and GO AND HAVE A WEEK OFF! I’d be great if just one person out there tried this and had a positive experience. Let me know…. 🙂

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Entering the crux on Gondo Crack (c) Paolo Sartori

 

 

Wideboyz 2 Download

Well, that was an exciting weekend! Just a few days ago was the premiere of Wideboyz II at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival. Unlike the viewing of the first film of Century Crack, I got to have a sneak peak of the unfinished product and I have to say it made the night feel quite a bit calmer.

Cobra Crack (c) Paul Diffley, Hotaches

Cobra Crack (c) Paul Diffley, Hotaches

I remember sitting in a Kendal cinema 2 years ago for Wideboyz I and absolutely crapping my pants. I’d never been in a climbing film before, let alone one that had my face plastered all over it. This time, knowing that Chris Prescott and Paul Diffley from Hotaches had made an amazing job was reassuring to say the least. I know it seems a foregone conclusion, but when your year’s climbing efforts are in the spotlight it’s not quite so easy to be casual about. Maybe I shouldn’t care so much, but then again, I’m only human!

So far the production has won Best Climbing Film already at ShAFF which is ace and John Coefield has written a very complimentary review on UKC here. As ever Pete and I will be doing a Europe-wide lecture tour to support the film, so please do give us a shout if you’re keen to see and hear about Pete’s sausage fingers, my nude top rope of Cobra or how you train for 8c on a 8ft wooden crack….

Download Wideboyz 2

Much like Wideboyz I, the film is available to download directly here and all you need to do is click on this link. It’ll take you straight to the download page where you can access it direct to your computer. Simple eh?!

DVD Hard Copies

You can also order DVD hard copies of Wideboyz I or II through my blog (simply comment on this post and I will email you) for £20 incl P&P.

Finally……………….

As an extra something in case you’re not into all the crack climbing – I mean, who is…? – then here’s a short video made by Guy Van Greuning about the recent first ascent of Pure Now E9 6c. Hope you enjoy it.

You Can’t Win Them All

One of the big aims for 2013 was to improve my finger crack abilities – the usual methods of systematic analysis of what was needed were applied. I needed better Front-2 strength, more strength in my pinkie in the “drag position” and really good shoulder power endurance amongst other things. Once I (and Pete) had this worked out, we set about training really hard. That’s the easy bit, right?!

You can train undercut monos, right?

Who said monos aren’t fun?

What we realised was that it’s all very well to do the training to increase performance, but how do you know you’re actually improving? Does a Front-2 deadhang set on an 18mm edge lay down on rock? Would a pinkie mono on a beastmaker really make every crack move a rest?

Question 1: Yes!

Question 2: Not really and ended up injuring me.

So what I did, was make a list of finger crack routes in Europe that I wanted to do during 2013 as a way of measuring my gains. I could try a number of real routes on real rock to see how it was going. I booked some trips to Italy and I reminded myself of some UK crack projects. Whilst the Italian cracks went well (8a-8b felt ok), it was the UK lines that were probably the hardest, move for move. It’s all very well pulling off 8a+’s on cracks, but it’s not exactly pushing the envelop is it?

Entering the low crux on Dinas Project (c) Simon Rawlinson

Entering the low crux on Dinas Project (c) Simon Rawlinson

There’s two obvious finger crack projects that I know of in the UK. One is at Dinas Rock in Wales and the other is the infamous finger crack right of Ramshaw Crack. With a couple of sessions over the years on the latter, I have always found the moves totally out of my league. It’s not really route climbing. It’s crack campussing! Three simple, very hard, very painful moves. I guess it’s the epitome of crack power. Climb that and you’ve got the power reserves to climb 9a on crack.

Anyway, back to the other project. Dinas Rock. It’s been a line that I’ve actually dabbled on for over 2 years now (or is it 3?!) and it’s somewhere in the same league and style as Anna Kournikova. Short, very steep, in your face all the way, and even less rests than its Italian sister. It climbs a 3 bolt old sport route to some chains and then continues through an 80 degree finger roof crack on small nuts. The sequence of climbing is absolutely awesome and I was so psyched when I worked out how to put everything together. Every move seems to “wrong hand” you, so half of the difficulty is puzzling out the way to move upwards.

Feet first rules at the lip (c) Simon Rawlinson

Feet first rules at the lip (c) Simon Rawlinson

This year I put some serious effort in trying to climb this line. I was sure that it would be great preparation for Cobra Crack and would also allow me to measure if my strength and power was increasing. Over 4 weekends this summer I relearnt the sequence and started to have redpoints. Each time though, I got shut down on one move. I could do it in isolation, but it was just too close to my strength limit to do when I’d got very slightly pumped. I resigned myself to only trying the route when the conditions were perfect (condensation can be terrible at Dinas) and started making isolated trips to Dinas, trying not to think about the 4hr drive each way. As I got closer to the route, I got more and more motivated and sleeping in the carpark after arriving at 1am the previous night seemed worth the chance of climbing route. In one desperate moment, I even went to try the route on the way to the airport to go to Canada! All was to no avail though, and I ended up going to try Cobra without having completed my “training goal”

Hard floor, happy times

Hard floor, happy times sleeping under the route

Returning from Canada having done Cobra, I knew I was on seriously limited time. I guessed at around 4 weeks of possibly friendly conditions before the rain arrived. I found a couple of days free after returning from the E.O.F.T in Germany and went back for what I thought would be the formality of finishing off the route (I mean, it can’t be harder than Cobra can it?!). On day two I climbed through the crux and found myself at the last hard move. It was so strange… I’d not really worked out how it would feel to get there. How hard would I have to try? Did I need to go static when pumped? Did I really have to shake my foot out, or could I ignore the numbness?

FUUUUUUUUCK…… I fumbled the hold. I was off.

Strangely back at the ground I felt an unexpected feeling. I was psyched out of my mind. Despite the fact that ultimately I’d failed, I found the enjoyment of the climbing so satisfying. I chuckled to myself that I could find such a great piece of climbing on a small limestone roof hidden away in the Welsh valleys. For once, I wasn’t disappointed with a lack of result. I was inspired by the process.

As I sit here writing this, I know that realistically the season is over. Dinas Crack won’t be mine this season, but I gave it everything I could. I slept at the base, I spent nights in the car park in my cold van and I gave up days at work just for the slim chance the conditions might be good. This whole process has reminded me how much I love climbing and why I’m prepared to sacrafice so much for it.

 

Anna Kournikova – Orco Valley Crack Mission

It’s funny when you sometimes reflect on where you were years ago. In the late 2000s, whilst developing new routes in Orco Valley with Pete Whittaker, I came across this mega steep roof next to a waterfall in a small side valley called Val Piantonetto. From the road I could see there was a crack in it, but until I walked up to the base I couldn’t see the size of the amazing splitter right through the centre. Oh my God, it was like my own European “Cobra Crack.” A route that I maybe, just maybe wanted to do one day had it’s own little sister in Orco Valley. What it lacked in length, it seemed to make up for in steepness. What a find!

Since that year, I have on and off tried this route with Pete on various trips. Even during the year that we’d both successfully redpointed Greenspit we couldn’t do the crux moves and I think both of us wrote it off in our minds as just two powerful for the weak trad climber punters that we were. As a consolation prize Pete did a brilliant line that came in from the right to join the final roof of the project called “Fat Tony” which was pumpy, steep and well protected 7b+/7c climbing with an offwidth-box finish. Proper good fun!

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Pete on the “Fat Tony” finish. Hanging out in the box.

After getting really psyched for finger cracks this year, myself and Pete have devised a new training programme of the usual ridiculous methods. As we emerged from the cellar and into the Spring it was time to see if the “pinkies” and “index monos” were on target and we booked some trips. Pete went to Sweden and crushed. I went to Italy and it mostly rained. I mustn’t complain too much, as I did get some stuff done, but ultimately I was really disappointed to not do the project that we’d found all those years before.

This last week, after a trip to Poland and Czech Republic to get scared on the sandstone towers, I headed out to Orco Valley for one last push on the project. My diary had practically no time left in it, and squeezing in 5 days of redpointing seemed a little optimistic, but when there’s no other choice…. what do you do? I partnered up with an Argentinian (but Italy-based) crack climber called Lucas Iribarren who I’d met on a previous trip. If you think you’ve met the most psyched climber ever, well this guy is more psyched! An exceptionally kind, motivated and driven partner is always brilliant and I got bags of it from him in those five days.

We split our time evenly between the FA finger crack and the “Pura Pura” project I’ve also been trying. Good progress was made on the first couple of days and both of us were making good links and Lucas was using his Thai Boxing skills (that boy can fight!) to totally school me in fist-jamming. By day three though, I was red-lining and I could barely face another jam. A rest day was in order.

Day four, I felt a lot fresher and decided to start having redpoint goes on the finger crack.

GO 1: Waaaaaaay too shaky. Nervous as hell and pumped.

GO 2: Much better, but made a silly mistake and slipped mid crux.

I now had to make a decision. I had just one day left (the next day), but only 4 hours of climbing as I had to leave the crag at 2pm to catch a plane. Despite my inner rage at having fluffed the sequence on my previous go, I held back and decided to go all out on the final day. Just two redpoints, all eggs in the basket. Go big, AND go home.

The next morning, I ate just a small breakfast hoping to keep light and went for a run to warm up my body and mind. Walking up to the crag, I felt the usual nerves that you face when picking up exam results. I played through every scenario in my head. The potential success (and various permutations) and also the feeling of disappointment if it all went wrong. Whatever happened though, I knew I’d give absolutely everything. To give myself even more advantage I decide to climb on just one side of a Sterling 8mm half rope and cut the gear down on the crux to a single small nut protecting the deck. Why not, I thought. I’ve got my BMC insurance booked, right?

Mid crux. Two horrible finger locks and a big throw to follow.

GO 1: Good start and feel fresh after the first third. I enter the crux, slight twist of the hips on the hardest move, then I’m at the last move. Shit, the last hard move! Throw long…. throw long….. aahhh! NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Fingers slap the break but I’ve not given it enough.

Anna Kournikova, short & sweet.

FINAL GO: Ok, I’ve got just two hours before leaving to the airport and we still need to get “set-up” shots with film maker Adrian Samarra. As I pull off the ground I tell myself that this is it. No more messing. As I approach the hard move to gain the rest at one third I look down. Bollocks, I’ve forgotten the Friend 4. It’s on the ground. Bollocks, bollocks. I run it out, praying that I don’t fall on this section. Entering the crux, I snatch my way through the moves to arrive at the final throw from a terrible 2-finger lock. YESSSSSSSSS……! I latch the hold in the break. Oh God……………… for some reason I can’t contract my forearm muscles and I can’t hold the break. What? WHAT?! Screaming out in anger I swear at every person and think I can think of and realise that I’ve blown it. No redpoint, no glory, and at least a month of despair until I can return.

Back on the ground, both Lucas and Adrian are mega supportive. I can see they’re gutted for me and look as disappointed as I feel. Looking at my phone, I see the time and know that we have to leave in just over an hour. As I look at the clock on my mobile, cogs start to whir in my brain and I begin to rationalise that somehow I can fit in one last go. One final, final desperate fling. I know I’ve not got time to rest properly and I know I’ll be making Adrian sacrifice on his set-up shots, but I can’t bare to accept the failure.

Working out a minute-by-minute timetable, I tie in for the very last time with Adrian already preparing the fixed ropes and cameras for when I fail. I know all hope has gone, but at least now I’m free of the pressure and I can try without the realistic expectation of succeeding.

FINAL FINAL GO: First section goes badly, but importantly, I do remember the Friend. I feel weak on a hard fist jamming move, but my mind feels free as I know I’m climbing crap and I’m tired. At the recovery point though, I feel light and the temperature of the rock is perfect. I pull through the next sequence of hard finger jams with conviction and despite the lactic acid in my arms, I reach the final throw again. This time, there is no doubt though. I hit the hold perfectly and although I still struggle to hold it, I grimace a little harder and success is in my grasp. After a shake out, I fumble my way through the upper E5/7a-ish offwidth section (I’d not climbed it for 3 years so no idea what I was doing!) and top out with a huge smile across my face. What an end to the trip. With so little time left! With no time to bask in the glory, I immediately start rigging ropes and gear ready for Adrian to film further sequences. Just 30 minutes later we are down at the car, playing AC/DC at full volume and laughing our way to Turin Airport. What an end to a trip!

Yes…. I can go home and Lucas can get rid of me!

So the essential details of the routes? I’ve named it “Anna Kournikova” after the lovely tennis player that graced our screens for a few years. I’m going to go with the grade of 8b+ as it’s certainly the hardest bit of crack climbing I’ve done away from Century Crack. Relative to the other two hardest cracks in Italy (Greenspit 8b & A Denti Stretti 8b/+) I thought it was a significant level above as it took me quite a bit of time and never felt easy even when I did it. Compared also to other things like Profundo Rosso 8a+ and The Doors 8a+, it’s in a totally different league. Although it’s quite a short route, it really packs a punch and I always felt like there was an easier way to do the crux, but none of them worked once you actually climbed into the sequence! All in all, it’s a bit like Mecca at Raven Tor, but in a finger crack. Lovely huh?!

Hidden Gritstone Gems

The recent spell on continued cold weather in Sheffield has given me one of the best periods of climbing I could possibly hope for before going away on a trip. Normally as a Brit, you spend the last 4 weeks before leaving to sunnier places cursing the terrible weather and promising that it’s going to be a “one-way-ticket” this time. The whole of March though, has been awesome! Fresh winds, good temps and plenty of time to explore the crags that lie a little off beaten track.

One of those crags that’s a bit out of fashion is Gradoms Edge. It’s often the last to retain the damp and being hidden in the trees, it’s quite hard to get psyched for the lines. They seem so much less impressive when there’s a forest of birch and oak 10m away… Once you get onto the rock though, there are some absolutely cracking lines to do: Moyers Buttress, Spanish Fly, Stormbringer, Eye of Faith. Aside from the old routes, there are also a number of first ascent projects – probably one of the best known being the direct finish to Charlotte Rampling. Having checked this out (yes, I’m too weak) I carried along the edge and thought I’d try the moves on a line I’d heard talked about by a couple of people. The front face of the Crocodile Buttress. Immediately, I realised the climbing was brilliant. Jon Fullwood had already cleaned the holds (thanks!) and so all I had to do was concentrate on learning how to “hug” my way up the leaning prow.

Photo: Tom Randall 1st ascent of his new E8 at Gardoms Edge!! tx as ever Mike Hutton.

Top out section, where you can relax again…

This week I was persuaded by Pete to go out for an early morning session to get the route done, so that we could fit a big crack training session in, in the afternoon. I’d not really worked the route very well, so was falling off the last move on link, but I trusted that Pete would give me such a good belay that I couldn’t possibly fall off. Good logic huh? End the end, we had so much fun at the crag messing around and talking crap that I completely forgot to get nervous and topped the route! Pete made the second ascent the same morning saying it was one of the best routes I’ve put up. Don’t read too much into that comment though……… I’ve established some right choss in the past! Seriously though, I think it’s a nice piece of climbing for those that like gritstone funk.

Going back to what I started saying at the beginning; it’s only 4 days until I head off to Italy with crack climbing legend Peewee Ouellet to go and repeat some trad cracks. I’m so psyched for this trip – I’m partnering up with someone pretty mad and also because of the shear quality of lines in Cadarese and Orco. I’ve been drooling over this video of the incredible looking “The Doors” at Cadarese. We’ll be doing some work out there with Alex Ekins and Hotaches on a couple of projects, so I’m sure their blogs will have some nice pics at some stage…

Tricks of the Endurance Training Trade

Endurance training is easy right? You just put your earphones in, get on the wall and plod around on jugs for hours and hours and hours…. Or, do you get down the wall and start a beastly regime of 4×4 laps on routes a couple of grades below your regular onsight? Or do you plug into a TENS machine?? One or more of these might be familiar to you, but which is the best? What’s the real secret?

Pumped?

Firstly, you have to think about what you want to achieve by training endurance. What is the effect going to be?

1. Increase in aerobic capacity

2. Increase in capillarity (density of capillary bed in forearms)

3. Increase in mitochondrial density

4. Increase in climbing efficiency.

Increase in Aerobic Capacity

This can also be known as an increase in “endurance capacity” and is simply the maximum amount of oxygen that can be consumed and utilised in a given time period. If you have a low aerobic capacity, you will be using little of your available oxygen for metabolism and vice versa, if it is high. The key to increasing this capacity, lies in the next two sections – mitochondrial density & capillary density.

Capillarity

The muscles in our forearms are extremely dependent on the supply of oxygenated blood and also on the removal of waste products. It has been found in a number of sports that the limit of the performance of an athlete is dictated not by the metabolic processes within the muscle itself, but by the oxygen supply arriving at the muscle. Increasing the capillary bed size in our forearms is one way in which we can fight this battle.

What does the research say?

1. Adaptation occurs at high intensities of training

2. Adaptation does not occur at low intensities of training

What does this mean for you?

Get off that wall and stop wasting hours and hours traversing around on jugs, just for your capillarisation session. There are of course other benefits to traversing around for hours, but there’s evidence to suggest that capillarisation isn’t one of them.

Mitochondrial Density

These are protein structures within your cells that produce aerobic energy, and as such, pretty useful things to have plenty of! If you can increase your mitochondrial density (and hence oxygen consumption) you will increase the rate of aerobic energy supply = better endurance capacity.

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What does the research say?

1. We have mitochondria in both slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibres.

2. Training intensity will relate to the stimulation on certain types of muscle fibre and consequently effect mitochrondial density in those fibres.

What does this mean for you?

You’ll be able to increase the mitochondrial density in fast twitch muscle fibres by doing high intensity, low volume work and in type I (slow twitch) fibres, you work at low to medium intensities at high volumes. You should be aware that the balance of this training is dictated by your fast/slow twitch make up and maximum efficiency will be gained by working with your genetic make up and not against it!

Climbing Efficiency

Finally the effect of doing a huge volume of climbing, is extremely beneficial on the efficiency of your climbing. You will learn to not over-grip, your footwork will improve and you’ll improve your movement skills no end – especially if you vary the angle at which you carry out your endurance training.

All of the above of course, is just a part of the whole equation and there are always more factors to consider. It does however, get very complicated and even the more intricate training programme can never work to perfection. As a final note of caution – don’t forget if something works for you, and you’re happy with it, then there’s probably no need to change. Probably.

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