Monday, 11 April 2011


Oh boy oh boy, the last few days have been a real rollercoaster; usually my favorite theme park ride, but these emotionally based ones don't give quite the same kind of thrill do they!
Part of the reason I'm writing this post is a personal process to externalize some stuff and wallow in some misery, but I imagine it might also be an interesting read for others.

So there I was, Thursday the 7th of April, feeling fitter and stronger and on the whole just better than I ever have been, confidence booming, my ego verging on obesity, and with 'The Trip', which has made living on the breadline for the last 5 months bearable, approaching so immanently I could smell the wine and sangria! 12 days in Fontainebleau with the Peckmeister and my old crushing partner Kieran, who I haven't had the pleasure of climbing with for too long now, followed by a further 12 in El Chorro with font-power and the fabled 'flow' (see Mason's recent post) and with the all-day fitness that I've been developing over the last few months. Can you sense the anticipation? It was tangible!

I'm at my dads to earn some spending money for The Trip (which I was quite looking forward to btw) and after a few days without climbing my muscles have acquired the hunger; you know when they just feel like they need to squeeeeze something! I'm at Gloucester climbing wall with a couple of Stroudy climbing friends and I'm feeling elastic, electric, flowing and free! I flambe my way (no not a sugary glazing, in this context I can and will use it for the act of being flamboyant) up a few warm up routes, on one of these finding no less than 6 no hands rests up 12 meters of vertical (not because I needed to, just because I could). As I bounce my way up a 7a+ that was set to flow true by none other than Steve McClure I hear my belayer and my friend below commenting on my languid style and the nature and quality of my movement and technique, and I have yet another injection of ego and a burst of excitement about how successful The Trip is setting up to be.

I don't remember why or how I fell off. I assume a foot slip or something; I was hanging on a jug in the 10 meter high roof and was mid-clip when the unexpected plummet began, and it didn't end until I was flat on the floor. Hurtling through the air I had time for thoughts to clarify; they were something along the lines of "goodness, there shouldn't be THIS much slack out" and then a flash of "this is serious!". Cat-like as I may be, physics be physics, and gravity gravity. I crumpled well on landing, but leaning slightly so my left leg took most of the impact, smashing through an inch of mdf which also helped to absorb the shock, thankfully leaving my spine in tact. It's a strange panic when you hurt yourself; first instinct is to get up and walk around, perhaps to establish to yourself that you're ok. I try to get up immediately, heavily winded, and feel my left ankle is stiff and painful, but otherwise I'm unscathed. I gasp that I'm ok to my belayer, who I realize is in shock; frozen and stammering. Over the next few minutes while we wait for the ambulance I reassure her that I'm fine and that it doesn't feel serious, but she's distraught with guilt and just repeating that she has never dropped anyone before in her life. First time for everything eh. We chat idly with the chubby male paramedic until the 2 smokin hot female paramedics arrive with the wheelchair, and after witnessing some cringeworthy flirting from my friend Remmy I smoothly charm my way downstairs and off to the hospital. Yes that's definitely how it was!

Laughing gas is a brilliant drug! There I was hyperventilating away and hysterical over my devastation while the rest of the waiting room sat there miserably with what appeared to be nothing wrong; the irony of which only added to the hysterics of my rushy altered state, until mean old nursey McPhee said I wasn't in enough pain to warrant laughing gas. Bravado gets you nowhere! The X-ray showed a couple of suspected fractures in my ankle so I was popped in a cast and sent on my way, prospects of walking, let alone climbing out the window for the near future, and my much-anticipated Trip well and truly down't shitter.

Needless to say I have had a lot of frustration to vent, and have spent a lot of time staring pensively into space recently. But I'm well on my way to coming to terms with it. Everyone has been very sympathetic. I don't mind this, although I don't like people making a fuss. I know people mean well, but I find little solace in some of the cliches that they offer, as applicable as they may be to my situation, they just seem hard to stomach sometimes. No, not everything happens for a reason. This did not happen for a reason. I'll endeavor to maintain my optimistic outlook and make the most of a shitty situation, but no divine power influenced this for the greater good. It is unfortunate chance that 2 minor and common events; a lapse in concentration and a foot-slip, both coincided to produce a disproportionately serious result.

I will do what I can to prevent this experience having too much of a negative effect on my future climbing. I'm going to train hard for my physical maintenance over the recovery period, and I feel I am mentally robust enough and have processed the experience well enough to cope with the psychological implications. I'm no more likely to be dropped in future than I was before this incident. I will certainly be a devout and attentive belayer in future. I will probably be more verbal and open about the trust between climber and belayer for my personal reassurance, but that can only be a good thing. I don't hold resentment towards the girl who dropped me, even though I had only just met her and it would be easy to pass blame and judgement, it's not in my nature, and it is unfortunate for her as well as me that the outcome of her distraction was as it was. Approaching these issues with mindfulness and detachment feels important to me, so they don't play over in my mind and become mental blocks in future.

Of all the cliches however, I have definitely benefited from some. The silver linings; my self-development in ways that I would otherwise neglect due to my obsession for climbing; woodwork, reading, music, cooking etc as well as continuing to train hard on the fingerboard I'm carving (I would never prioritize training over climbing even though I know it can give greater improvements in strength, but now I am forced to do so).
Also looking for the light at the end of the tunnel; I will still be able to go on a wild climbing trip once I'm recovered. The girl who was belaying has offered to pay for my flights to be transferred so I will now be going for a month or more to visit Majorca for DWS, Albaraccin and Font for bouldering and apparently there's some good sport climbing in France and Spain worth checking out...
Thirdly, I have taken refuge in remembering that it is always darkest before dawn. I'd say this has been one of the most distressing events of my life. My feathers aren't easily ruffled and I rarely get stressed about things, so I'm sadistically enjoying a bit of wallowing and strong emotion, safe in the knowledge that it will pass soon enough with a bit of adjusting.
Then I look at the lessons to learn. There is not much I can take from the event itself; just the importance of attentive belaying. But from the experience of being injured I can learn empathy. I have never really been injured before. It sucks. And for someone who is so used to being agile and mobile it is a real eye opener to appreciate those who have difficulty moving or dependancy on others. It really sucks.
And finally... Life Goes On.

Good splurge. Good effort if you got all the way through that!

Friday, 1 April 2011

There's always more toothpaste in the tube!

Over the last few weeks I have been living a slightly more conventional life; having to fit my climbing in around work and weather (although I've still been sleeping in a cupboard under the stairs). But I've enjoyed the sense of urgency you get from this, nipping out after work to make the most of our recently extended evenings, and have managed to get some absolutely cracking routes done!

With the ambient warmth of last week George and I ventured to the south side of the pass to Clogwyn y Gafr, a compact little crag with line after line of superb quality. This is where I did my first E3, Satsuma Special a couple of years ago, which I later discovered gets E4 with the demise of a peg that once protected the bold headwall. A brilliant bit of climbing regardless of it's bold nature! But this visit we were not looking to push our boundaries into grades beyond ourselves, the trad season still being so young. So we each bagged a slightly damp crag-classic; the eye-catching crack line of Pulsar E3, ranging from finger locks to arm bars and some powerful slopey laybacking to evade the saturated algae on the lead by George, and then I udged, palmed and slithered my way up the equally attractive corner of Sacred Idol E3, made even better with the holds in the corner being elimiated by seepage and slime, making for magnificent multi-dimensional climbing in all planes of movement between the side-walls.

A few solid days of menial work does wonders for the psyche! So later that week I headed out with Matt Burdekin for what turned out to be a bit more of an intense session than the above! We got up to the Grochan, one of my favourite crags, for convenience as well as for the quality routes. The only drawback was that I had done almost all the routes there. Just the exciting cracked headwall of Quantum Jump E5 still awaited my presence on it. This is the route I witnessed George deck on a while back due to a mean little notch cutting his rope on the lob, so it has been a bit of an elephant in the room for a few of us ever since. Whether I was to be successful or not, the elephant had outstayed his welcome, and Burdy's relaxed 'have a bash' attitude really helped relieve some of the pressure surrounding the idea of getting on it.

Leo Houlding's attitude towards saving routes until they're within your ability comes to mind. It's those hard-fought onsight attempts at your limit that are really the most rewarding, whether you're successful or not. Recently I belayed Alex on Great Wall E4 at Craig-y-Forwyn; a revered and historical route that I know he really wanted to onsight; the Alex vs. flash-pump battle that ensued was a pleasure to witness, and his hard-fought success on reaching the top was enjoyed by all (except the miserable git of a land-owner). So I approached Quantum Jump with the acknowledgment that I might fall, but with the determination not to! A few times I was close to coming off, a foot pop here, a barndoor there, and a desperately deep pump on the last few moves, but I just kept on pulling; there's always more toothpaste in the tube! How close I was to coming off only added to the exhilaration of success! Up at the belay an old climber called across his sincere congratulations, saying that he had seen many attempts and few successes from young ambitious lads on that route. I would definitely class myself as a young ambitious lad, and thankfully that day I was also a successful one!

I now have a weekend in Pembroke to get some beasty trad onsighting done, before I head off on my fright-free European adventure of bouldering and sport climbing. I'm super psyched to get out there and get crushing, but I will also be looking ahead in anticipation of getting back on the trad that this brilliant rocky little island offers.

Video of Leo Houlding just missing out on the onsight of Balance it is, E7 6c at Burbage South. Can't wait to have a crack at this, I just need to be a bit fitter and in a bit better shape!
(the audio and video are way off sync for some reason, but you get the idea)