Rodellar

Les Chacals

Les Chacals

Rodellar is regarded as one of THE sport climbing meccas. Whenever I told people I had never been they were shocked and insisted it was a venue I must visit. They were not wrong! Walking down the gorge on the evening of our arrival it felt like paradise. There is a beautiful three clad river running through the valley with amazing overhanging walls of orange limestone above, I could not wait to get stuck in.

 

 

Rodellar Gorge

Rodellar Gorge

El Delfin Rodellar

El Delfin Rodellar

A Cravita 8a was the first route of note. The route follows an impressive steep blunt prow with ever increasing difficulty to the crux move just before the chains. I went for the onsite but read the sequence wrong at the top and blew it. It was a formality 2nd go although my body didn’t feel all that well prepared for the long mega routes here in Rodellar, perhaps several month of boulder setting wasn’t ideal preparation. I was going to have to get fit quick.

 

A Cravat 8a

A Cravat 8a

 

The next day we climbed Pince sans Rire 7b+ and Gracias Fina 8a. Pince sans Rire is an incredible route, which climbs a huge tufa system with no particularly hard moves. It is a must for anyone climbing at this grade and is up there with the best 7b+’s I have done anywhere. Gracias Fina felt desperate, I had to give it a proper fight, perhaps the slightly wet holds and the fact I was on my 8th day of climbing didn’t help. I was in need of a rest day.

Unfortunately the rain started after our rest day. There were torrential downpours, strong winds, thunder and lightening. Rodellar doesn’t cope well with sustained rainfall and after a few day of this weather the tufa systems began to seep, making them unclimbable. We needed to search for a route that had stayed dry.

Essential belay equipment at a rainy Rodellar

Essential belay equipment at a rainy Rodellar

After several hundred meters of wading up the gorge through the swollen river we arrived at Les Chacals 8b, which, miraculously, looked bone dry. Les Chacals is different to most of the other route in Rodellar. It climbs a slightly overhanging wall on small edges, small tufas and “the ice cream cone”. The crux is low down and if you get through this you are faced with hard section separated my ok rests. On first acquaintances the route felt nails. I thought there was no way I would be able to climb it this trip. My 2nd go wasn’t much better and I was feeling pretty negative about the route, I almost stripped it but as it was the only thing dry we figured be should give it another go. This is when things changed, Ben West put in a good attempt climbing it in two overlapping halves, the psych began to build, and perhaps it was possible after all. On my 3rd go I climbed through the crux, fought my way through several hard sections before fumbling a big deadpoint move 30 meters up and just a few moves from the chains. My attempt spurred Ben on and he climbed it on his next go. Having fallen so high on the route the go before I wasn’t sure if I would have the beans for another good go. I got on it none the less and found myself easily through the crux, resting until I had recovered what strength I had, the dead point move when smoothly, just a few more moves to go. My strength was suddenly gone, tank was empty, just a few more moves to the top. The fight of my life ensued, I should have been “off” every move but somehow I wasn’t. I clipped the chains with the biggest smile on my face. This route had been an emotional rollercoaster, from feeling really negative about how hard the route was to feeling elated clipping the chains in just four goes was a great feeling. Les Chacals is one of the best routes I have climbed at any grade anywhere.

 

 

 

Les Chacals

Les Chacals

Les Chacals

Les Chacals

The crags were still seeping but La Kanabica 8b looked climbable despite a wet start. The route climbs a great twin tufa feature before a hard boulder on small edges at the top. Climbing this route was all about being efficient through the bottom section so as to have the strength for the top. It took me a few goes to get the bottom wired but once this happened the route was soon done.

 

Twin tufas on La Kanabica 8b

Twin tufas on La Kanabica 8b

 

I finished my Rodellar experience with probably the most well know route there, Coliseum 8a. This 40-meter monster climbs a steep groove in the centre of the Gran Boveda. I really wanted to onsite this route and because of this self induced added pressure I climbed really badly, got very pumped and slumped off just above half height and lowered to the ground. Disappointed but with no pressure I climbed the route second go. I felt like a different person. I climbed fluidly and decisively and clipped the chains with only a mild pump. There is a lesson in there somewhere.

 

On our last climbing day in Spain we drove over to Riglos to climb the spectacular and justifiably famous Fiesta de los Biceps 7a. This route sums up the word ridiculous! It is almost 300 meters high and overhanging most of the way. When you get into the steep upper pitches you are pulling on microwave oven sized boulders, which look like they are only attached with a bit of mud. Climbing this route allows you to revel in the marvelously exposed position. I literally laughed my way up it. The route is supposed to be 9 pitches long. We did it in 4 and were down in time for an early lunch. What a brilliant way to end such a good trip. Everyone should have this route on their lifetime ticklist. It is a must!

Fiesta de los Biceps 7a

Fiesta de los Biceps 7a

Riglos towers

Riglos towers

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Poppy, Anstey’s Cove

Anyone who has climbed on Ferocity wall at Ansteys cove will know that this crag  lives up to its name incredibly well. The routes consistently feel very hard for the given grades and are characterised by hard and powerful climbing with very few rests. Respect has to go to Ken Palmer for his foresight in climbing the majority of the routes on the wall. He must have been an absolute beast.

I had been trying Tuppence 8b for too long . My first session on Tuppence went really well, I did all of the moves first try, fell off the top jump move first redpoint and this is where every go has ended since. I must have had 10 sessions or more on the route and every session I would fall on the top move. It was becoming a real mental barrier for me. I would climb easily to the last move, fall, pull straight back on and do the route to the top, every time. I think there were a few elements to my failure on this route, firstly every time I reached the last move  I expected to fall secondly I had this feeling in the back of my mind that I should have already climbed the route. This thought added extra unwanted pressure. Finally, I just did not visit the wall regularly enough to really find my flow through the lower section. I decided I did not like the experience I was having on this route, climbing is supposed to be fun after all.

Tuppence

Tuppence

 

The infamous Tuppence drop knee

The infamous Tuppence drop knee

I moved my attention right to Poppy, the hardest “up” route on the wall. I had belayed Gav Symonds on it a few years back on his successful redpoint and he had made it look like a path. I wanted a new challenge and decided to give it a try. On my first session I put the clips in, did all of the moves, just, then gave it one redpoint burn. There is a move where you match your heel above your hand on the same hold. Whilst doing this my heel slipped trapping my finger between the rubber of my boot and the rock as I fell, the result of this was a “circumcision” of my index finger and the end of a very short session.

Sore Finger

Six months later and I was back. Poppy 8b+ breaks down into three boulder problems which link together with no real rests, to me it feels like V4 into V9 into V7. I chalk twice on the route, right hand once mid crux and left hand once before the top move, it hardly felt worth carrying a chalk bag. Basically this route is hard and continuous. I felt like I had a good chance of getting through the hard crux from the ground but the final moves involving an uncomfortable front two pocket were feeling difficult.

There are several other easier routes which climb through the last crux sequence of Poppy so I decided to do some of these first to get the top crux wired. First up was Postman Pat 8a+. Postman Pat starts on the left hand side of the wall and follows an obvious break line rightwards across many of the other routes on the wall before finishing up the top crux of Poppy. I have some phone footage of my ascent thanks to Lisa

After Postman Pat I climbed Cyberdog 8b. This route climbs the cruxy start of Tuppence, through an amazing sequence involving a super thin tufa before joining the top of Poppy.

Cyberdog

Cyberdog

After doing these routes I felt confident that if I got through the hard crux on Poppy I could be able to fight my way to the top.

I had one session on a Monday to reacquaint myself with the moves. They went surprisingly smoothly which got me psyched. I drove back on Wednesday With Mr Pickford to dispatch but it was not to be. I just couldn’t quite stick the last move in the hard middle sequence, my core was just too “saggy” from not enough rest days. I drove home empty handed but really confident that I had what it took to climb the route.

After two rest days I returned,placed the clips and dispatched the route first go of the day. I was overjoyed and so psyched that I swung the clips into Fishermans Tale 8b, tried the moves and climbed it first go from the ground.

We celebrated with the South Wests best fish and chips on the cliff top overlooking a lovely sunset. A great way to end my best weeks climbing ever. In seven days I climbed:

Postman Pat 8a+,Cyberdog 8b, Poppy 8b+ and Fishermans Tale 8b.

 

 

Infinite Gravity and Palace of the Brine

When you mention the words Sport Climbing most people think of a casual day cragging, climb a few routes and clip a few bolts. I’m not saying you expect it to be easy, most people go sport climbing because they want to try HARD, in relative safety.

Well the sport climbing in Swanage is all together different! Long and complicated (for sport climbers) approaches, loose rock, rough seas and massive routes.

Last weekend Ben West and I travelled down to Swanage with two routes in mind. Infinite Gravity 8a+ and Palace of the Brine also 8a+. The weather forecast for Saturday was for a big band of rain to sweep across the UK in the morning, followed by an afternoon of sunny spells. Infinite Gravity starts in the back of a massive cave called Blackers Hole so we thought this might be a good place to be in the rain. After the approach which involved a 40 minute walk in, a scramble down a cliff and a via ferrata above the sea we arrived in the cave. The conditions in the cave were almost perfect with only the last few moves of this huge route being affected by the torrential rain outside.

Infinite Gravity climbs a massive steep arete feature for its entire 40 meter length and overhangs at 45 degrees.

On our first go up the route we equipped it with numerous extended quickdraws, got warmed up and worked out the moves. There was one move that concerned me, a big throw to a flat edge off a finger lock and an undercut.

First to climb was Ben. He climbed steadily for most of the route, regularly shaking out on the many big holds available, he climbed through what I perceived to be the crux with relative easy. “He is going to walk up this.” I thought to my self. How wrong I was. 5 meters from the end his elbows were up, he’d missed two clips and he was desperately digging around in a sandy break trying to find a big enough hold for is leaden arms to grasp. Somehow he made the last few moves to the belay and clipped the chains amid whooping crys of joy and fatigue. I couldn’t help but chuckle, seeing such a strong climber having to fight so hard on what I had assumed would be easy moves.

The thing with this route is that you have to make every go really count. If you fall high on the route it is questionable if you will have enough juice in the tank for another burn. Its not like short routes where you can fall, pull the ropes and have another go. This is definitely an endurance exercise which fatigues you with every go. I knew I had to do it this go. I climbed steadily through the first third, this climbs a steep groove split by a crack to the good rest. I felt good. Next up a steep section through a roof before pulling onto a hanging fang, undercuts and bad feet here really make the pump kick in. A few more moves lead to the crux, I was already feeling worked. “Ben had looked steady here and still had to fight at the top” I though to myself, “How am I going to have the beans at the top?” Banish the negative thoughts. Psych up for the crux. A little power scream and I have somehow latched the hold,my left arm was going to jelly,move on to the jug. “Ahhhhh” glory jug, shake out here. The foothold rips off I lurch onto my already fatigued arms but somehow hold on, flick my feet back onto the wall and move on. What was supposed to be a good rest and turned into an extremely unrest-full experience. Nearing the top my forearms have gone away from me. Its not really a pump but a tired empty feeling. There is no energy left in them. Five moves to the belay. I flop them onto holds blindly hoping they will grip, some how they do. I clip the chains. During my time on the climb (about 45 minutes) the sun has come out, I bask in is glory and whoop for joy.

 

Celebrating after clipping the chains on Infinite Gravity
Photo Ben West

We finished the day with a quick flash of “Rise of the Robots” 7c on the promenade before heading to the put to sink a few pints of celebratory cider.

The next morning we woke to bright sunshine. Today’s route of choice was Palace of the Brine. We had tried this route earlier in the summer but greasy conditions and hard and bizzar roof moves had shut me down. Ben had come close but not cigar. Today was a different story. Conditions were perfect, not a wet hold or damp crack anywhere. The only things that weren’t in condition were our bodies. I felt ruined from the climbing (and the ciders) the day before. “Oh well” my turn to put the clips in. The moves and the conditions felt great. The route climbs a vertical wall with funky moves on bad feet to a no hands rest at about 15 meters before questing through a groove feature in the massive horizontal roof. I climbed past my previous high point and on through the roof. Flarred hand jams and knee bars are de rigour. There is a hard section in the middle where you have to spin 180 degrees in the roof, I climbed through this section relatively easily and on to the the crux move out on the lip. This move involves a huge cross through off a bad hold into a slopey jug. I couldn’t reach the hold, my beta was whack, my feet were in the wrong place and I was off. I pulled back on, worked out some different beta then lowered off into the sea.

Ben’s go went smoothly. He had achieved what we had come to do, the big Swanage 8a+ double. I wanted it.

Ben West on Palace of the Brine
Photo Cailean Harker

I had one more go in me. I was achey and and shaking from fatigue. As I set off up the route a sea kayaker paddled past “Your mad!” He said.

“Yes we are” I thought “and I love it”.

Somehow I managed to finish the route. Knee bars saved the day!

Overall it was an epic weekend with some of the most enjoyable climbs and climbing experiences I have had for some time.

The holds are chalked and the conditions are good. Get down there people.

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.