Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Route climbing seems to becoming more and more out of focus, which is a shame as it was originally the main reason I came to Austria. The main reason is its getting too cold, and even if you can find people as crazy as you who want to do routes in this weather, when you get on the rock your fingers become almost instantly numb. After warming up, things improve a little but there comes a point in difficulty that just seems impossible to overcome. When the holds become just a little too small, and the moves become just a little to hard, and you step just a little outside your comfort zone then BOOM – suddenly you have frozen candles where fingers once were.

Perhaps I should have considered this time of year a little more carefully when making my original decision about moving. The trouble is, when things are way off in the future, you either don’t think of that time as important, or simply cant accurately imagine what it will be like. Until you are living in that specific moment, how you will feel, and what you will do are relative mysteries; well they are to me anyway. You just have to do the best you can when the time comes.

Whilst racking my brain to think of ways to keep my endurance without climbing routes every day, I remembered reading something a few years ago that some old school hero (possibly Jibe) wad said about pull-ups and their equivalent route grades. Now I don’t remember much, and there is a chance that what little I do remember is wildly incorrect, but I think the statement was “30 pull-ups on a small campus rung is equivalent to F8b+”. The thought process that followed was something like; I have a small campus edge under my fingerboard, and surely climbing an 8b+ whenever the mood takes me will be good endurance training, why not give it a shot?

The man who started it all!

So the first time I tried, it felt like the living end. The first 3 pull-ups felt good, only 10 sets of these and it’s in the bag. At about 10 pullups I hit the wall, and it wasn’t many more before all I could do was hang limply from straight arms. Before pulling on I had thought “it will be ok, whenever i get tired ill just shake out one arm and then continue” and for some bizarre reason it didn’t hit me that dead-hanging one arm is tough at the best of times ( I certainly can’t hang there comfortably) so why on earth would I be able to do it when my arms are too tired to do pull-ups!

It was over, at a number so low no one needs to know what it was. I was genuinely shocked at how hard it was, how such a simple, relatively easy movement, could become so impossibly difficult after doing a few of them back to back. But if there is one good thing about trying something new, and failing hard, its that the only way is (hopefully) up. The next day I tried again, and was marginally better, and a few days later I tried once more. Every time I tried, it felt a little easier, until I was getting close to the magic number. Finally 30 came, and the next time I did one more, then a few more , and before I knew it, I was heading towards the next mile stone.

In probably 6 or 7 sessions, I have seen almost a 200% improvement in my max reps which I find quite shocking, I wonder how long it will be before this progression begins to slow and eventually plateau, and also what the maximum amount will finally be (depending on if I can stay motivated and my elbows don’t explode). Most importantly, I wonder what (if any) impact this will have on my climbing.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Over the last week or so I have got to see a selection of Austria’s hardest and finest boulder problems and been lucky enough to climb a few of them, even getting in a first ascent for an added little bonus.

Sundance Sit is quite simply stunning. By far the best boulder I have seen in Austria and definitely up there with the best I have climbed – anywhere!
I first tried the problem at the end of a busy day in Ginzling. I fell at the crux on my flash go, and after working the moves for a few minutes I still could not get past this point on the link. The problem felt really hard, and I didn’t think I had a chance at doing it, especially since the easier top section felt desperate in its own right.

Sundance Sit - Photo from

Three days later I returned, ready for a battle. After warming up elsewhere, I sat down and fired off the problem first try, well at least to the no hands knee bar which you can reach the finishing jug from. Then for some reason I tried adjusting my knee, off popped my foot and down went I! What an idiot. Another message sent by climbing to remind me to always focus, respect the rock and don’t think it’s in the bag until you are stood on top. Fortunately my next try found me back in the kneebar, this time with my full attention which happily resulted in topping out for real. Its always nice to come back to a problem that felt desperate, only to find it not too bad; much better that way than the other way round, wouldn’t you agree?

Emi slapping The Faginator

On the same day I tried Ground Zero and Sundance Sit for the first time, I alsp put up a new problem on the Incubator boulder. Starting just to the left of the Incubator, the Faginator starts from undercuts on the back wall and climbs out and left (with a real faggy sequence) to reach the left arĂȘte. Its a nice little problem, not much to look at but fun to climb and certainly puts up a bit of a fight. You climb most of the problem from a series of baggy toe locks and requires a good amount of core tension to stay on the rock, and also control your laughter when watching someone fall off and backwards roll down the pads. Being on the Incubator boulder, a lot of the holds were mysteriously soggy so its hard to know how difficult it is to climb the problem, rather than how difficult it is not to slip off the holds (which was quite a high level of difficulty).

Emi on The Faginator

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Despite the cold and the damp, Keith, Emi and I made the short treck to the Zillartal in the hope of finding dry rock. The higher we climbed, the whiter the ground became and my hopes started to fade. Emi on the other hand was confident that we would find something climbable, and since he was the only local among us, I gave him all my faith.

The initial choice came down to 2 options, the Sundergrund or the Zillergrund. The former was the safer bet in terms of dry rock as the boulders were more in the open, however the walk in was long and probably very soggy from all the snow. The latter is almost roadside, except the boulders are in the forrest so more likely to be damp. Decisions decisions...

We decided to check out some lines in the Zillergrund first, the idea being that if they are dry, we climb, and if not, we move on, having wasted little time with a long wet hike. The first few blocks we checked out were unfortunately a little moist to the touch, but just as hope had almost gone, Emi remembered a different line he had tried a few years ago.

He described Mother Firestarter as one of the best 8a’s in the Zillertal, which imediatley got me psyched and on first contact with the boulder it didn’t disappoint. Big Boulder, tall steep face, one line of friendly holds, cant really ask for more. Emi talked Keith and I through the sequence which was as I imagined it would be with the exception of the starting few moves. These, it turned out, were best solved via a crazy cross around the arĂȘte, then falling into an upside down backhand sloper, before extending out into the face edges. Wild!

Warming up was proving to be tricky. With no other problems around, it took the form of deadhanging and pull-ups on what other individual holds you could find. Keith and Emi moved on to trying the problem and i was just about to join them when Keith said he thought I could flash it. Another 10 minutes dead hanging and watching the show, and I felt ready to give it a burn. The first two holds were fortunately jugs, but led right away into the aforementioned strange sequence. I was pleased to find these few moves ok, but as I continued upwards on reasonable edges and gastons, contact with the rock became ever harder to keep. With two moves to go, I was almost certain I would slip, and as I placed my foot on a terrible smear and looked up at the final hold I did consider stepping off. An interesting character once said “Until you give up, success is always on the cards.”, and it is so true but something I forget too often. But not today. I pushed with my foot, threw out my arm, my fingers found the edge, my foot stayed on, I was at the top. Success!

Its nice to feel like I am getting back in the game. I had begun to worry that my, as yet, unsuccessful attempt to morph into a sport climber had also had major negative impact on the other aspects of my climbing. Whilst I’m definitely not playing my bouldering A game, I can now see a path to follow when before there was none. Incidentally, I am also closer to my sport projects than ever before, so perhaps the year will be a success after all?

Friday, 6 November 2009

The cold weather has arrived making route climbing even more difficult than I was finding it before. Whilst single moves on the harder routes are now feeling a little easier because of the better friction, I have been really struggling with numb fingers when trying to string more than a few of these moves together.

I have been getting out quite a bit with Gerhard and Emi to places like Schwarze Wand and Dolby Surround, and whilst managing to get a lot of individual moves and bolt-to-bolt sections done, I have failed to clip the chains on a single successful redpoint of anything notable.

One man’s fear is another man’s fantasy, and so whilst the cold may not be beneficial for routes, it does mean that the bouldering season is on its way back. Over the last few weeks I have taken a few short trips to Switzerland and Italy in order to dust the cobwebs off and find out just how much of a punt a year of ropes had made me.

Amber - A lovely photo of a lovely little bloc in Ticino - courtesy of Emi Moosburger

The answer was quite surprising. In terms of single move power, I don’t feel much worse than at my past peaks, however, when it comes to power endurance I am way off the pace. With all the stamina work I have been doing over the last year I would have put money on it being the other way around, but once again climbing continues to confuse me.

As soon as the moves drop below about 50% of maximum then I feel ok and can link a good few of them together, yet once I am actually pulling or squeezing my tank feels almost immediately empty. I really noticed this on a problem called Frogger in Ticino which is a steep 10 move problem I had first climbed about 2 years ago. I originally climbed Frogger on my second try (after my foot slipped on the 1st move on my flash go) and at the time felt that it was pretty soft for the grade. This time however, it took many tries and much grunting to get to the top, feeling instead that it was rather stiff – yet another indicator of the subjectivity of grades.

Yesterday I went to try one of my route projects up in the Zillertal. On the drive up the valley, the temperature gage in the car was losing a digit every minute or so, finally settling at a nice round zero as we arrived at the crag. To shorten what could be a lengthy and boring story, I fell a couple of times about 3 moves from the top due to fingers closely resembling icicles. After the main section of hard climbing you arrive at a mediocre rest where it is possible to recover a little before the last technical boulder problem. The problem was as each shake brought new life to my forearms, my fingers died a little – a frustrating little catch 22 that seemed destined to always end in the same way.

Perhaps hand warmers in my chalk bag might help?