The Nowist

The Nowist

– Nowist, a person who believes in living in the moment. A nowist sheds negative things in the past and gains energy from positive things in the present, thereby improving the possible future –

 

Somewhere in Pembrokshire there is a rocky hilltop called The Dragons Back. A series of small tors stretch out along the ridge. From below these rugged rocks give the hills the appearance of the back of a dormant Dragon. Rumour has it that King Arthur is buried here abouts. The rock is Preseli spotted Dolerite and is rumoured to have been transported to stonehenge in 2300 BC to create the outer ring. There is definitely magic in these hills, not least if you are into bouldering.

 

The Bouldering in the Preseli Hills has only recently been discovered and developed. I visited the area several years ago and had a quick explore but never went up there with my climbing shoes. Since then a dedicated group of climbers from South Wales have been developing the area and have put up some truly brilliant problems. The rock is some of the best I have climbed on in the UK, bullet hard Dolerite with amazing friction. “A better texture than Gritstone and with more holds”.

The Nowist climbs an amazing feature which is impossible to miss. A soaring arete with minimal holds. The hight is appealing, the landing is not.

This beautiful problem took me two sessions to climb. On the first session I warmed up on Simon Rawlinson’s amazing problem Purgatory which climbs a thin prow with compression moves and bizarre trickery. This problem is well worth searching out.

I then moved on to the main project. At first I thought the problem looked impossible, but after some work and imagination the moves came together and it was climbed in two halves. The meat of the difficulty is only four moves long and revolves around holding a very condition dependent pinch.

For the following week this problem was the only thing on my mind. Last Saturday, the 2nd of September, I returned. After a quick warm up I did the hard pinch move first go and assumed, wrongly, that it was in the bag. For the next two hours I failed to repeat that move, let alone link the moves together. The sun was coming and the conditions were slipping away. I thought I had blown it, I gave up for the day feeling frustrated and upset.

We spent several hours sitting in the hills admiring the magical place that we were in, watching the world and enjoying the moment. My frustration and thoughts about the problem drifted away, I was resigned to having to return at some point in the future, this didn’t seem too bad as it is a wonderful place to visit.

The time came for us to pack up and leave for the day, It was getting late and we had been on the hill for over nine hours. My pads were still down under the problem so I decided to have a go, more to confirm to myself that today wasn’t the day than anything else. I chalked my hands, sat under the boulder and placed my hands on the starting holds. Something was different, the rock felt cold and crisp, my hands felt like velcro I pulled on and before I knew it the hard moves were done, I was standing on the top of the boulder. The Nowist was climbed.

It seems that so often this is the way that I get up climbs. Once I have resined myself to “failure” and removed all pressure and expectation form the equation the climbing seems to take care of itself.  Perhaps this has something to do with being in the right place at the right time or more precisely just being in the Now!

I had spent every other attempt building up pressure on myself, setting up the drone for video footage, psyching myself up and telling myself this was the go, all that was needed was to let go of these external and internal pressures and just be present.

This did mean I had to repeat the problem to get some footage with the drone, unfortunately dabbing the pad ever so slightly, I did not feel this at the time and only noticed when watching the footage back. For anyone interested here is some rushed phone footage of the actual ascent:

With regards to the difficulty of this boulder problem, I really don’t know. The climbing suits me but the conditions on the day were far from perfect. It possible sits somewhere in the 7C+ to 8A range although it may feel easier in the cold. Repetitions will tell. Whatever the grade this problem is pure class and is up there with the proudest moments in my climbing.

The rest of the climbing on the Preseli hills is well worth visiting with a brilliant selection of easier problems, information for which you can find here

As alway I would really like to take this moment to thank my Sponsors Mammut, La Sportiva and Lyon Equipment

Road back to 8a (Rehab part 2)

As many of you will know I suffered a full rupture of my A2 pulley whilst on a bouldering trip in South Africa last July. When the injury happened I was in the best form of my life and I was absolutely devastated with the set back. On returning home I set myself a goal which was to be climbing at a reasonable level within 6 months. With this in mind I booked a trip to El Chorro for January.

I am writing this blog sitting outside our Finca in El Chorro having just climbed my first 8a, Mar de Ortigas, since the injury.

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It has taken me 188 days to get back to this level. In my previous blog here I documented the first part of my rehab. Below I will try to explain what I have been doing between then and now.

The next step after completing my finger curls was to build finger strength progressively on the fingerboard. I started with partial body weight hangs on big holds in an open handed grip. The way I did this was to stand on a set of bathroom scales whilst doing my hangs. At first I only took 30% of my body weight, then 40%, then 50% and so on until I could comfortably do my sets of hangs without standing on the scales at all.  I did repeaters i.e 7 seconds of hanging 3 seconds of rest, repeat for 6 reps. This was one set. My sessions consisted of 3 sets with 5 minutes rest between sets.

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When I felt strong and comfortable open handed I worked through the same routine but in a half crimp position. It was really motivating to see progression through these sessions and my finger had less pain and stiffness as well as feeling stronger after each session. I must add that I had my finger taped using the H taping method for my fingerboard sessions.

Now this all sounds very scientific and structure but I must admit that I was really missing climbing movement so I added one session a week on the circuits into my rehab. I started off by doing the easiest circuit at the wall using only massive holds. Each week I increased the number of moves I did until I was doing over 1000 moves in a 2 hour session still on the very biggest holds. I climbed very carefully and precisely making sure to place my feet perfectly so they didn’t slip. The last thing I wanted to do was shock load my finger. I actually really enjoyed these easy climbing sessions. They gave me time to concentrate on perfect climbing movement and to iron out some flaws in my technique. After a month of this my climbing felt really fluid and efficient and, dare I say it, better technically than it had ever been before.

I supplemented the fingerboard sessions and circuit sessions with general conditioning and core work often on the TRX.

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As my finger strength increased I started to increase the difficulty of the circuits. I made sure I was well warmed up by doing a few hundred moves on the easy circuits before moving onto something harder. At first this meant making my own 40ish move circuits up to avoid any small crimps. Eventually I could climb the set climbs but I had to open hand the small edges, getting my “pinkie” finger on wherever possible. I was still trying to do about 1000 moves per session.

The thing I would say about this and any stage of the rehab would be to really “listen” to the injury. If there is pain or anything more than mild discomfort reduce the intensity or stop altogether and go and do something else for a while, like surfing.

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6 weeks before my planned trip to El Chorro I started to really up the intensity of my rehab, in fact you could almost call it training. Having done so many moves on the circuits I had given myself a really good endurance base. I also Route Set for a living, part of this job involves testing the routes or boulder problems I have set (to make sure they work at the given grade and are nice to climb) and this testing was all the strength/power training that I needed so all I had left to work on was my power endurance and recovery.

The style of climbing in El Chorro is generally long, steep and pumpy. You often have to move efficiently through hard sections, getting pumped, before finding a nice rest, perhaps a knee bar, where you have to recover as best you can.

My favourite way to train for this is again on the circuit boards. I do a kind of interval training which involves warming up thoroughly before alternating between a hard circuit where you get pumped and an easy circuit where you can recover fully. Alternatively you can do a hard pumpy circuit then try and recover on a good hold or rest position before repeating the hard circuit.

I soon began to see improvements in my climbing and  after several weeks I could comfortably do laps on the 8a circuit at Bloc

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Admittedly I had set this circuit to suit me. It has no crimps and mainly  consists of big wide moves on pinches and slopers, just like El Chorro.

So here we are, in El Chorro. The rehab and training seems to have paid off and I am really happy with the level of climbing I have been able to return to. I am confident that I will be able to return to my previous form and maybe even surpass it. The thing I have learnt through this process is that many people who push themselves in sport encounter injury along the way. It is the how you deal with your injury that dictates the outcome. Be positive, use your time and energy constructively to work through your rehab and perhaps you will be able to reach new heights in your chosen activity.

I will let you all know how my week in El Chorro pans out.

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I must also thank my sponsors, Mammut UK and La Sportiva for their continued support.

Fontainebleau Video

Here is a video of a quick trip Ben West and I had to Fontainebleau last spring. It was a very wet week but in-between showers me got some great problems done.

The problems featured are:
Pancras assis 7C
La Gaule 7C+
La Direct du Surplomb de la Mee 8A
Big Boss 7C
Tristesse 7C
Fourmis Rouge 7c
Imothep 8A

Imothep is still one of my all time favourite problems.

Enjoy

A2 Pulley Rupture (Rehab part 1)

This summer I had a 5 week bouldering trip to the Rocklands in South Africa booked. It promised to be the trip of a life time.

I had prepared well with my training. I was feeling fit, strong and healthy. For the first 6 days of climbing I was on great form, ticking off hard classics quickly. I had high hopes for the trip, until this happened:

In the video you can hear several different loud cracks and pops. On the first hold I move to you can hear a faint crack and then whilst swapping hands on the fiddly match there are two loud popping sounds. I now believe that the first crack was a partial tear of my A2 pulley and then whilst bumping around on the match with with poor feet the pulley ruptured fully.

Initially I had no pain in the finger and there wasn’t much swelling. There was just a strange fuzzy tingling feeling and the finger had absolutely no strength.

It was a 40 minute walk back to the car, during this time I kept my hand raised above my head, the cold wind helped to keep the swelling down. Arriving back at the house I iced the finger to keep the swelling away.

The icing technique I use is the one suggested by Dave Mcleod. I put 5 to 10 ice cubes in a bowl of cold water and leave my hand in the bowl for 10 to 15 minutes. At first my hand goes white but after about 10 minutes it it starts to flush with blood. You can tell when this happens because you will feel a nice warm throb in your hand. It will also be a nice pink colour. I believe this a trained response and you get quicker at flushing the blood to your hand the more you do it.

At first we thought I may have just dislocated my joint. I theorised that the two pops could be the joint dislocation and relocating and I hoped it would heal up fast.

I went to the local hospital in Clanwilliam to see a doctor. He sent me for an X-ray.

Xray

Xray

The Xray showed that there was no damage to the bones in my finger but couldn’t give me any information about the pulleys. He just vaguely told me to rest and not climb for “a while”.

Finger pulley system

Finger pulley system

Pulleys are ligaments that hold the finger flexor tendons (FDP and FDS) onto our finger bones. There are 5 pulleys, A1-A5.

The pulleys experience extremely high loads during rock climbing, especially when crimping. and I suspected I had done damage to one of these.

From previous pulley strains I have suffered I know that when pressure is applied to the palm side of the suspected injured pulley there is localised pain/discomfort.

Testing for pulley strain

Testing for pulley strain

With this injury I had no pain just a dull sensation where the A2 pulley should be.

Not satisfied with the local doctors vague advice I decided I was in need of an MRI scan to give me a proper diagnosis for the injury. Fortunately I had travel insurance for the trip which was provided by Sports Cover Direct. They organised and paid for my scan without any hassle at Durbanville Mediclinic in Cape Town.

The results of the MRI scan were conclusive:

MRI scan showing bowstring of the tendon

MRI scan showing bowstring of the tendon

MRI scan showing cross section of the fingers. Note bowstring of tendon and remains of A2 pulley

MRI scan showing cross section of the fingers. Note bowstring of tendon and remains of A2 pulley

This scan shows the palm side of the hand. The tendon in the ring finger is more visible because if is bowstringing away from the bone

This scan shows the palm side of the hand. The tendon in the ring finger is more visible because if is bowstringing away from the bone

I had suffered a full rupture of the A2 pulley in my right ring finger.

Whilst I knew a full rupture meant having a substantial amount of time off climbing my head was still full of questions:

“How long will I need off climbing?”

“Will my fingers ever recover back to full strength?”

“Will I need surgery on the injury?”

“What rehab should I do to maximise my recovery?”

When I returned home I booked an appointment with a hand surgeon. I wanted to know if surgery was needed or if a conservative approach to rehab could be taken.

The surgeons recommendation was that surgery was not needed for a single pulley rupture and that conservative rehab would be the best option. He referred me to Dr Schoffls paper on finger injuries which gives a nice timeline of the rehab process.

Table for scoring pulley injuries

Dr Schoffls table for scoring pulley injuries

Table showing recommended rehab schedule

Dr Schoffls table showing recommended rehab schedule

I had a grade III injury so a non surgical rehab was recommended. I was overjoyed with his news and I booked in to see Nina Leonfelner. Nina is a physiotherapist who has worked with climbers that have suffered  from pulley ruptures in the past.

She built me a rehab program taking Dr Schoffls tables into consideration.

So for the first three weeks after my injury I had rested and iced the injury twice a day. I used tape as protection whenever I had to do anything physical with my hand. I also did some very gentle mobilisation of my fingers.The idea of this was to stop scar tissue building up and attaching to the tendons which could lead to a poor range of movement in future.  These mobility exercises included:

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For the following month I did some very light resistance exercises to promote healing of the damaged tissue. These included using the rice bucket, squeezy balls, putty.

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I also did a lot of antagonistic forearm work these included wrist curls and lots of work with the powerfingers.

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I had a  30 minute routine using these that I would do three to five times a week.

After this stage of the rehab my finger was feeling much stronger and my finger had almost  returned to full range of movement. It was time to move onto the next stage.

The mid stage rehab that I was given was a bit more intensive. It revolved around doing weighted finger curls. The idea is to start with multiple fingers with a low weight. I then increased the weight until I reached about 5kg’s without any discomfort. I then reduced the number of fingers being used and started back at a low weight until finally, after about a month, I could finger curl 4-5kg’s on one finger without any pain.

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This is the rehab stage that I am currently working on. I am really happy to be seeing real gains in my finger strenght and feel confident that I am well on the way to making a full recovery. Nina tells me there is one more rehab stage to complete before I can get back to the climbing properly.

You can find the next stage of my rehab here.

In the mean time check out this great article written by Robin O’Leary and Nina Leonfelner on ukclimbing.

 

 

 

 

 

The Joker

After headlining as one of the hardest boulder problems in the iconic film Hard Grit The Joker has always been a climb that has inspired me. One move, pure difficulty, absolutely not my style. I am more suited to grovelling, thrutching and cheating my way up rocks using sneaky heels and toes. The Joker doesn’t allow for any of this trickery; or so it would first appear.

The Joker
Photo Hannah Brading

On closer inspection, when you start to really break down the move you realise just how technical one “pure power” move can be.

Ben Moon famously stated that “technique is no substitute for power”, but I beg to differ. Obviously you need power to drag yourself up pieces of rock, especially rocks as short as this, but the amount of power you need is directly proportional to the amount of technique you possess.

When/if you watch the video below notice the body swing as I step off the boulder. Get your timing right on the back swing and surprisingly little power is needed to reach for the top:

Technique in “full swing”?

Once I had mastered the technique of this move I could repeat it almost every time.

Admittedly just holding the holds is fairly difficult so some finger strength is required.

Anyway as I was saying this climb inspired me, in fact it still does although now I am trying it from one hold lower. It sits in such a majestic position overlooking all of the problems below. The Joker also signifies great improvements for my climbing, to do something which you would never have thought possible for you really is a great feeling. I walked down from the plantation that day with a massive grin on my face, and I wore it all the way home.

A weekend away

Last weekend beckoned the arrival of the much anticipated and famed CWIF (climbing works international festival). I have be specifically training my bouldering since the return of our trip. The CWIF was to be a platform for me to test my improvements. Unfortunately one week before the competition Ben West and I travelled down to Ansteys cove for the first route session in a while, (to cut a short story even shorter), we arrived, it was cold, couldn’t warm up and placing the first clip on the first route I tweaked my ring finger A2 pulley. 45 minutes later we were in the car on the way home after a very short and very unsuccessful session.

The CWIF qualifying sessions had an amazing set of problems with many vertical or slabby blocs. This suited my injured finger well and I came away not feeling to bad about my performance. Next year I will be fit for it.

The CWIF

The weather was gorgeous so in the afternoon we headed to Robin Hoods Stride for a relaxing session. Robin Hoods Stride is an amazing place, the rock features are spectacular and fairly unique looking and the whole place has a wonderful feel to it. I managed to haul myself up a few high quality boulders. Jerry’s arete 7a is a great problem on  quality rock.

Well happy after a flash of Jerry’s arete

Next up was Big Al Qaeda, a highball arete with some funky toe hook moves.

Big Al Qaeda 7B Flash

I finished off the day with my hardest flash to date on Ben’s wall 7C. This problem is an undercut slab, with a tricky move of an undercut to the top. After watching Phil on a few goes at the start I had a bash and found the who problem pretty steady with just the one move to the top requiring some effort. Either I had a stellar day or this problem is pretty soft. Happy to flash it non the less.

Sunday was a bit of a rest/not achieving very much day but on the Monday it all went down. I have been wanting to climb Western Eyes 7C+ at Burbage West for a while now, after several working goes it went pretty quickly. I used some beta that  I haven’t seen before, it involved using the right heal and right arete and getting my feet high on smears before going to the first break. Getting to the final break was a really challenge, but once sorted it felt pretty steady.

Western Eyes

Western Eyes

The first break on Western Eyes 

The rest of the day went by in a happy haze. We climbed a few classics including The Terrace 7C, Boyager 7A+ and Velvet Crab 7A+. The conditions on The Terrace were pretty shoddy but after getting the first move the rest followed quickly. Boyager is an amazing problem and world class in my opinion. It is a huge hanging fridge like prow which you horizontally hug to glory and is a must for anyone operating in the grade range and who has plenty of pads. I really struggled with Velvet Crab, which made me laugh as it took more goes and effort than The Terrace.

The Terrace

Gav Symonds Flashing Boyager

Velvet Crab

Overall We had a great weekend and I cannot wait for Fontainebleau next week.

Bring it on (weather permitting)!

Ps on Friday 22nd of March myself and some of the others Mammut team members will be setting a competition For High Sports in Plymouth and on Satureday 23rd we will be around for coaching and advice. If you are in the area please pop by.

The Bridge of Khazard Dum

Over the last week or so we have had several great short sessions working the local scene. The main focus has been putting up new problems at Gandalfs. A great little stone close to my house. We have been trying to finish of the development of this little crag and last Tuesday I climbed the hard challenge of the bloc, a right to left traverse.

I have called this problem “The Bridge of Khazard Dum”. It is very sequency, thecnical, balancy and powerful and is one of the best and most complex problem I have done.  As for the grade, when I was trying it I could not do any of the moves in isolation. It was only when piecing it all together that it seemed to work. I think it is the hardest boulder problem I have done and so propose a grade of 7C+ but I am very open to suggestions on the grade from any would be repeaters! (video below)

I also added a one move problem called “Nazgul”. This problem involves a heinous move to pull on then a dyno for the top, which is very difficult to latch. This problem probably weighs in at about 7A+.

Gandalfs now offers a range of great problems from 4 to 7C+ish. For more info head over to http://cotswoldbouldering.wordpress.com/

 

Some climbing here and there

The last few weeks have been busy for me, with lots of climbing and lots of working.

The climbing has been good. Some of the route highlights have been Life and Times a really cool E5 at Uphill Quarry, this route has a wild mid height crux involving a spicy slap which was exciting onsight and an amazing finishing position at the very top of the crag.

We had a trip to North Wales. On the first day we climbed on the A55 sport crags the route of the day for me was The Wirral Whip 7c+ which went down 2nd redpoint after annoyingly fluffing the last move on my first go! On day two we bouldered in the pass my days target was Jerry’s Roof. Jerry’s is a problem I have found difficult in the past but this trip it went down fairly smoothly, I dropped the last move on my first burn then fired it shortly after that. We had a blistering hot day at Tremadog and an icy cold day at Scimitar Ridge to finish off the trip.

Jerry's Roof Photo Joe Davies

 

The Crux on Jerry's Roof Photo Joe Davies

Since then I have had a few days working projects both down on the South coast and in the Forest. I cant wait until these get done. In the mean time I will get back to work.