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.

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.