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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.






Hole Lotta Love

Last week we headed down to Spion Kop. There is a line there that I have been thinking about since I first visited the crag a few months back.

The routes on the central tower of Spion Kop are great routes and well worth a visit for anyone operating at E5ish but there was one gaping hole which cried out to be climbed. It is the direct start to The Love Story E5.

I roped down the line an gave it a clean a few  months ago as it was a little sandy, and saw that all the moves would go, although they would be pretty hard and bold. The crux was pretty blank and didnt look to have any gear except one small hole. I didnt have any gear that would fit in this hole. I wanted to avoid bashing in a peg if there was any other way. After much deliberation I brought a bolt, wrapped it in finger tape and worked out a way to hand place it on the lead.

The Bolt protection on Hole Lotta Love E8 6c

On saturday 9th of June Giles and I headed out to try the route.

I fell off it twice on top rope and worked out the rest of the gear. I managed to do the crux sequence a few times so decided to go for it on the lead.

Before I knew it I was placing the bolt, cruising past the crux and towards the top. On reaching the top I was filled with mixed emotions, I was pleased to have climbed the line but also slightly sad about how calmly and smoothley it had gone. The route hadnt put up much of a fight. I think maybe this is what Headpointing is like, but I dont really know as I have not Headpointed a hard route before.

I have called the route Hole Lotta Love.

With regards to the grade and style of the ascent I climbed it after top rope practice and used one boulder pad at the bottom and a hand placed bolt on the lead (see video). I am offering a grade of bottom end E8 6c. The reasons for the grade are you are climbing fairly unprotected 6c moves about 8 meters from a boulder strewn bottom and you would not spot the protection easily onsight. The moves may not be to physically challenging, but I found them technically complex and precise. This route is significantly harder than any trad route I have done before. As I have already stated the route felt quite uneventful to headpoint. Never the less this is a great new route with a nice direct line at a crag already graced with some wonderfull challenges.

If anyone fancied a bash on the route give me a shout and I will lend you the bolt for protection.

(As a side note, the day I had a Nesscliffe last week where I spent the day falling off routes on the onsight attemps was in many ways more fun than this experience and it just shows that you do not have to be actually ticking routes to have a great time!)

I hope to see people on it! It needs a 2nd ascent!


We had a day at Nesscliffe last week. Here are some snaps.

All photos taken by Giles Cranston

Sex and Casual Ties solo

Showing confidence in the wrong size cam before the run out

Thanks Mr RT

Going for it on the jump

Going for it off the jump

Mikey getting tired legs

Mono tastic

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.

Masters Edge

Last weekend we headed to the peak in hopes of dry weather.

On arrival our hopes were dashed everything except one line was totally soaked. The one dry line was Masters Edge.

Masters Edge

Masters Edge is probably the  greatest line I have ever seen. I just had to try it!

On Saturday afternoon I dragged Nick G, Jem and Han to a damp and windy Millstone. Nick and I bouldered out the start a few times for a warm up. We were using pads for this one. After a quick warm up I was ready to have a burn so I tied on. I made it to the shot-holes without much fuss, placed the specially brought tricam, chalked up, shook out and eyed the huge run out! With my feet a couple of meters above the gear I decided I needed to take the lob to calm the nerves. I jumped, stopping barely above the ground but crucially I was not on the ground. It was on!

Next go I passed my previous high point and soldiered on. ( I say soldiered, I mean more carefully tiptoed!). The wind was howling, Not good for those delicate barn doory moves! Eyeing up the final lunge to the jug my foot slipped and I was off. You look down and see your ropes snaking towards the ground, you have a moment to contemplate your fate and then you make a soft landing next to your belayer “and Breath”.

The Fall

I was super psyched to have made it to the move, and even more psyched to have survived the fall. Next go I was sure “it” was on.

Again I was above the gear. “This time” I though, “this time”. Well, this time my legs were shaking, the wind was howling, my hand were freezing and I was scared, “I’m off!!” I shouted as I plunged ground-wards once more! Time to go home.

The next morning we were up nice and early, not to catch the good conditions but because we had a date with the Roaches later that day. It was freezing.

I had one go to warm up and take the fall, this helped calm the nerves. Next go it was done!

This is by far the most satisfying piece of climbing I have ever been on!

A few goes later Nick topped out too. Good Day!

An Accidental Trad Bender

My last year has been abit void of Trad with just the odd route here and there being done. I had an awesome day last Spring, where Giles Cranston and I climbed three 4 pitch E5’s at Wintours Leap in a day which was pretty epic but other than that there has been very little.

With a visit from Nick G on the cards the only option was to climb Trad so we headed to Spion Kop. Spion Kop is a great little crag in the forest of Dean which I had not visited before. The best routes are on the amazing central tower but we started on the brillient but dirty “The arch of time” E3. Lovely route with plenty of crack. The hightlight of the day was an onsight of Labour of Love E6 and the discovery of a very exciting new project! I will be back. I highly recommend Spion Kop to anyone who fancies some great trad routes.

Labour of Love E6

We then spent a day on the amazing ramp at Avon gorge, climbing many of the classic routes from E3 to E6, there were plenty of E points racked up that day.

Huntshams has always been a crag which I have visitied a few times but not with much enthusiasm, until now. Ben Norman and I headed up to Huntshams with a big pile of pads and enjoyed the highball ethic. The best bits were an onsight of Appointment with Beer and a quick send of Claim 2 Fame. This route was first climbed by Rich Simpson and graded E7 6c,I climbed it above a pile of pads and would grade it very highball Font 7a, this could well have been the second ascent. Video to follow. We continued the highball extravaganza with a visit to Coppet Hill where we bashed out many routes ground up, the main excitment of the day came when Mike Goldthorp took the 6 meter fall from the top of Under the rainbow.

On what seemed like the coldest day of the year I dragged everyone to Symonds Yat. I had a specific route in mind, On The Lip of Insanity E7 6b. After trying to warm up but realisticly cooling down I gave it a slightly un optimistic go. This resulted in copious amounts of flash pump so I down climbed. I repeated this three times. On the third go I clipped the first gear and fell off! oops. After cooling down some more I gave it another go but I felt so cold I was not too hopefull. Several minutes later I found myself battling with with the horendously easy topout with no feeling from the shoulders down. I really had to fight! I believe the temperatures that day did not rise above minus 6 all day! Sorry Guys, Thanks for enduring the cold for me!

A Stunning day at the Roaches

What better way to open a blog than with an account of a stunning day at the beautiful Roaches.

Yesterday was an early start, alarm was set for 5.40 am. That can only mean one thing, climbing mission on. A rushed bit of packing saw Giles’ car rammed with everything needed for the day, including boulder mats, trad racks galore, a pile of climbing shoes and Bruce’s box of recycling!

On arriving at the roaches we were met with the greatest climbing day, weather wise I have seen this year! Amazing clear sky, cloud inversion, cold crisp temps and absolutely no wind.

Cloud inversion over Leek Photo Giles Cranston

The climbing started with a few easy solos of some classics routes and a team ascent of Via Delorosa. Giles and Bruce climbed The Sloth and I soloed next to them with the camera to snap a few shots.

Giles displaying composure on The Sloth

After The Sloth I was tempted with an onsight attempt of Paralogism E7 6c a notoriously hard roof in a pretty committing position. After guessing at a sequence I tied on feeling that the rope was more of a hindrance than a help as there is no gear of much use where the climbing is hard. I pulled on, the moves were tough straight off the deck, blocky pinches and small edges led to the crux, a blind slap for what looked like nothing of a hold, I looked down, bad mistake. The landing is a jumble of spiky ledges and boulders, I am psyched out, down climb to preserve the ethics of the onsight.

Holding the swing on Paralogism E7 6c photo Giles Cranston

I try again… and again… and again, the sun is too hot now, the holds are greasy, the landing is horrible and I don’t want to go home in an ambulance tonight. 1-0 to Paralogism. Don’t rest on your laurels Paralogism, I will be back!

Paralogism Photo Giles Cranston

Bruce climbed his first grit E1. The route ended with a huge reach and mantle in a lovely exposed position. Nice one Bruce!

I wanted to try Against the grain E6 7a.The route starts with an easy crack, maybe HVS, climb this, stuff the top of the crack with gear then get your microscope and your fingernails out. If there are any holds on this wall I couldn’t find them so took the whipper.

Holds please? Against the grain E6 7a photo Giles Cranston

Up next… Thing on a spring, also E6 7a. Climb the same easy crack as Against the grain balance out across a foot “ledge” then jump for the slopey break. Fall off, thank your belayer. Repeat!

Off Thing on a spring E6 7a photo Giles Cranston

I never did trust the little red one photo Giles Cranston

Giles finished the day off with a romp up Comander energy as the sun set.

Two cans of Old English in the car on the way home finished my day of nicely. All in all I climbed  to the top of very little but I left thinking does that really matter? I had a great day and have many projects to look forward too!