Monday, October 26, 2015

Coming back from a break.

A split second before breaking my leg.
On April 9th I fell from the top of Futebol (a boulder problem in Fontainebleau) and broke my leg.  It was an unfortunate accident and left me in pain, immobile and very bored for the following few months.  Whilst it wasn't a major injury, I was very shaken up by the incident and wondered how it would change my future desire for climbing.  Maybe it was a sign... Maybe it was time for climbing to take a back seat and time to focus on something new.  I wondered whether I'd ever regain any composure and whether I'd now be petrified when climbing.

A few months of inactivity gave me lots of time to think and consider whether climbing and I would still have a future together.  After all, I'd reached a lot of personal milestones and had had some incredible times with amazing people. Perhaps it was time to move on...

After 3 months I began to tentatively climb again - albeit mostly sideways and close to floor!  My leg was still a little painful and certainly prevented me from falling too far.  Little by little, things improved and I could fall slightly further without much discomfort.  I was very fearful of re-injury and this inhibited my climbing, and limited my enjoyment.  I started to train again and was initially very demoralised by how much weaker I'd become. 

My leg continued to improve over the next months - I could fall from a little higher and was starting to get some strength back.  However, I felt like I was just going through the motions and no longer loved what I was doing.  I was still very fearful and this greatly inhibited my enjoyment and desire for the sport.  I used to love climbing for so many reasons and the intense fear of injury was overshadowing all the positive emotions that I'd usually draw from climbing.  I had to do something to tackle the fear... I needed to get back on the metaphorical 'horse'.  Not just any boulder, but I really needed to tackle the fear by revisiting the site of my accident and climbing the boulder problem Futebol... 

I booked a trip to Fontainebleau for October and started to contemplate how I'd get myself to the top of the boulder.  The main problem would be mental and emotional, but I certainly couldn't underestimate the physical challenge.  When fully fit it should be a reasonably straightforward challenge to climb, however, I was unfit and nowhere near strong enough to climb it.  I continued to train at the wall and worked on getting my fitness back. 

I went to Font two weeks ago and set about remembering how to climb in the forest.  It was a shaky start - I was very nervous on even the lower top outs.  However, things improved and I rediscovered my movement, composure and desire to climb again.  All things considered, I was actually feeling quite strong.  I climbed a lot in the first week and climbed many boulders that I found quite difficult, but not at my limit.  

We were in the second week of the trip and I knew I needed to contemplate when to revisit Futebol.  We visited Gorge de Houx one day and parked in the same place as for Futebol.  The parking was 1km from Futebol, however, I found it very emotional to be back there.  It really surprised my how much it upset me - it brought back the memories of struggling across the road with sticks and the painful 'collapse' into the car.  I certainly couldn't imagine visiting the boulder, let alone climbing it again.  We only had 5 days left and my goal of 'getting back on the horse' was feeling far out of reach.

I spent some time thinking about why I climbed and why I wanted to keep climbing.  I decided that I loved climbing too much to let it go yet.  Some element of fear and risk gave me a buzz and (sorry, this sounds very cliché) actually made me feel alive!  I really wanted to re-discover my desire and needed to face up to my fears and climb Futebol.  I needed closure...

We were leaving on the Saturday at 3pm, and in true last minute fashion (add lashings of jeopardy!) I decided to visit Futebol on the Saturday morning.  It would’ve been a day or two earlier, but the weather had conspired against us and soaked the forest.  We pulled up at the parking and I felt apprehensive, but positive.  I didn’t feel overcome by inhibiting emotions and instead felt ready to conquer my fears…

Ben and Beccie had come for moral support and to help carry in the all-important crash pads.  It was a beautiful day and not too hot, the sun was veiled by thin clouds and a gentle breeze eased the yellowing leaves from the trees.  The forest was ablaze with colour and looked incredibly beautiful.  We walked briskly to the boulder and I partially relived the painful one hour hobble from my accident.  I spotted the boulders on which I rested and gathered myself to continue the 1km stagger to the car.  Boulders began to appear on the right and I spotted Futebol rising up through the fiery bracken.  It still looked like an amazing and beautiful line and, although apprehensive, I still wanted to climb it.

I cleaned the top of the boulder, warmed up and we placed the pads under the problem.  It was slightly worrying as we had slightly less pads than when I’d broken my leg, however, on this occasion I had one extra spotter and it would be possible to field a fall from either side of the boulder.  I ensured that the offending rock was well covered, although I was still a little concerned about the stepped landing – it would be down to the spotters to ensure I landed on the flat areas of the pads.   

I began to try the moves and was already feeling the correct movement.  I quickly recalled the correct footholds and felt strong and in control on the lower moves.  I had a quick push through the start and tried the final moves to the top sloper.  I held the top sloper and tried placing my right heel on the arête.  It was this heel placement that had slipped and caused me to spin off and break my leg.  I planned exactly where to put my heel, jumped off and began my preparations for finally climbing the problem.

Placing the toe-hook
I checked the position of the pads, brushed the holds and prepared for an attempt.  I chalked up, took some deep breaths and pulled on.  I stuck the first move, moved my feet and placed the toe-hook – the climbing was feeling OK, but I was understandably nervous and overpowering the moves.  My movement was tense and I stuck the top sloper, but it wasn’t right…  I was holding the sloper incorrectly - I nervously brought my heel onto the arête and felt extremely insecure.  I had flashbacks of the accident and felt very scared - I removed my heel and jumped off.  It wasn’t good to be in that position again – could I make myself commit and risk falling again?  ‘Yes!’, I thought to myself, but only on one condition.  I would only be able to commit to the insecure heel move if I could get the holds perfectly and place my heel perfectly.  I would only commit if I could execute the setup moves and the heel rock-over flawlessly.

Placing the perfect heel
I rested and mentally prepared to go again - I visualised the moves in detail and replayed them in my mind over and over.  I visualised every detail and imagined watching myself in the third person.  I visualised every aspect of each move – the foot placement, tensing my core and feeling the texture of each sloper through my fingertips.  I visualised the move to the top sloper and how it would feel to hold it – the hold would feel perfect and I would be able to hold it securely and with confidence, there would be no doubt.  Then I visualised placing the heel perfectly and consciously checking it is in exactly the right place.  I would check the heel and trust it completely – I would weight it with 100% confidence, rock over and climb to the top.

I pulled on and executed each move exactly, my breathing was deliberate and controlled, the top sloper felt exactly right and I carefully placed the heel.  It felt right, I was cautious, but had no doubts in my mind – I felt completely in control and wasn’t going to fall.  I knelt on top of the boulder and put my head in my hands.  Happiness, relief and calm swept over me – I wasn’t really bothered about the ‘send’, but facing my fears meant so much to me.  I’d fallen from this boulder and broken my leg – now, 6 months later, I’d climbed to the top and ‘closed the circle’.

An emotional finish to Futebol
Last, but not least, I like to say thank you to everybody who helped me.  Thankyou Claire for being so wonderful and looking after me in my time of need.  Thank you to all the friends and family who helped.  And, thank you to Beccie and Ben who supported me on the day I finally climbed Futebol.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Bleau 2014 Video

Sorry its taken a while.. Our Fontainebleau 2014 video is here - fun times with friends in the forest!

(We are back in the UK now and will post an update of what we're up to very soon!)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Dans la Foret...

De Fil en Aiguille
We're actually nearing the end of our epic road trip... Yes, honestly, we are coming back soon!  We'll be back in early May, and we're spending our last weeks in the the beautiful forest of Fontainebleau. We've already spent some months of our trip here, but love it so much that we had to finish the trip here.  Most importantly it's a popular time to visit the forest and many of friends are visiting too.  We're having a great time climbing and catching up with lots of people whom we've missed lots on our travels.

Eyeing up the crimp on Le Petit Toit

Beautiful days...
We've mostly focussed on climbing with friends and having lots of fun, although we have tried to project some harder lines too.  Claire has been crushing and already sent Festin de Piere 7A, Action Direct 7A, La Coquille 6C and Duel dans la Lune 6C.  She has been eyeing up some 7A+ lines, but it still trying to find one with non-reachy moves - very difficult in Font!

Falling from the top
Finding the balance
I've been a little less productive, but do seem to have a long list of problems I'm close to!  However, I was very psyched to send La Directe du Surplombe de la Mee - possibly my first 8A in the forest, although opinions seem to differ on the grade. Very tall people seem to think its 7C+, however they are tall enough to reach past the hardest move on the problem. I'm generally good at being tall and reaching through, but just couldn't manage it on this problem.  I climbed all the moves except one in the first session, but spent another 2 sessions trying to accomplish one foot move.  With some help from Ross I adapted my beta and found a solution to link the two halves of the problem.  I got very close in the next session, and fell right off the top. This was quite scary as I fell from 5 metres with my right heel above my head, fortunately I managed to land on my feet!

Sticking the lip
I'm trying various other lines from 7C-8A, but good conditions seem to be very elusive.  We've been here for 6 weeks and its hardly rained at all (almost unheard of in Font).  This is great for climbing lots, but it has been unseasonably warm - we had 23C at the beginning of March! We've found some better conditions in the mornings and evenings, but generally only get good 'sending temps' once or twice a week.  We're not complaining though, since its much better than rain!

That's enough rambling for now, so we'll finish with more photos....

Trying to turn the arete...

Dave sticking the dyno on La Superbe

Squeezing hard on Le Proueptologue


Le Kraken Droite

Action girl

Dan being beautiful

Ben throwing shapes...

Squeezing (again) on Papillion

Simon on La Quille
Golden Grass

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The bold and the beautiful...

At last the final volume of the La Pedriza is finished!

After a month in Albarracin we returned to Pedriza and discovered many more spectacular lines.  The local crew had been busy and discovered more awesome boulder problems.

On the crux of Martina Dry
Claire returned to Los Guerreros and quickly dispatched her project - I think the steeper climbing of Albarracin had improved our fitness a little.  I was still plagued by my elbow/shoulder injury so unfortunately my projects were off the agenda. However, I still climbed some beautiful lines and had a great time climbing with the local crew again.

Claire on Los Guerreros
Rob and Sam (the English guys we'd met in Albarracin) joined us too. They really liked Pedriza too, but needed a week for their skin to toughen up...  Al and Jen (the Scottish couple we'd met in Albarracin) joined us also.  They were a great crowd to climb with and we tried to show them the sights of the area.

It was great to catch up with all of the local guys again.  They showed us a new area near El Boalo and we climbed a stunning arete called El Pajillero (shown on video thumbnail above).  I won't tell you what the name means since its not such a beautiful name...!  It was very sad to leave Pedriza and we will really miss the local crew.  It was great to meet such warm, friendly, kind and generous people - THANK YOU GUYS, WE WILL MISS YOU....!

Marieti on the first ascent of X-men
Moon rise over the distinctive rocks
Looking for Balance

Monday, February 3, 2014

Red rock, elbows and shoulders...

Claire working A Ciegas
Its been a while since our last post, so we thought we'd let you all know we're alive and well. It seems that even Spain can't escape the bad winter weather hitting Europe. I don't think its as bad as the UK, but the weather fronts seems to be rolling in with a relentless monotony. We fled Pedriza and found slightly better weather in Albarracin...

Cold weather and beautiful snowscapes...
We spent 7 weeks in Albarracin last year and by the end were ready to head off to new challenges. We returned this year with a new desire (and hopefully more strength) to finish off old projects. Albarracin was a little bit of a shock to our bodies after the techinal style of La pedriza, however, we soon adjusted and things began well - we both felt stronger and sent some great new lines. We returned to old projects and were making good progress... However, two weeks in I picked up an injury... The dreaded font elbow struck on the sloping top out of Fonteneblistico (a little ironic)! I didn't feel it too much at the time, but it felt pretty serious for the following days. Its been plaguing me for over two weeks now and is only now showing signs of recovery. I've been stretching and exercising lots and managed to get out for some very easy days on the rock (perhaps managing 20 moves in a session!). It's been very frustrating as I'm pretty confident I could have sent Pinturas Buldetres (8A), La Fuente (7C) and El orejas de las regletas (7C+). C'est la vie!

Claire sending La La Grima
To add injury to injury Claire hurt her shoulder too. Annoyingly, she did it trying to move a crash pad. She's been out for over a week, but had a pretty successful return to climbing yesterday. Her shoulder isn't perfect yet, but seems to be on the mend. She has various projects from 6C to 7A+ and may still realise some of them before we move on...

Rob on Techo Don Pepo
Sam on Cagamiento en el filamento
Although we've been out of action for a few weeks, we've still had a great time here. We've met lots of great people and still been out climbing vicariously through others! We've spent lots of time with Rob and Sam - a couple of English guys who have just embarked on a year-long road trip.  They are great fun to go climbing with (and mostly watch them climbing!), and we've had some good social evenings...  

Beers to behold!
One night in the town was particularly (un) memorable - when many beers were consumed.  The beers were quite something - served in very tall glasses with copious quantities of head! We also have made good use of the BBQ area and revived the tradition of 'Burger Monday' (first conceived [to our knowledge] by South African Chris!). We collected lots of wood and warmed ourselves around a roaring fire.  The local butchers provided ample fodder for a gluttonous evening. We've had two burger Mondays, and plan to continue the tradition this evening!

Night out on the tiles...!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

La Pedriza Volume II

Volume II of our video is finished...!  It'll be a few weeks until Volume III since the weather here is atrocious. We're off to Albarracin for a week or two...

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

La Pedriza

Lendi on El Arbol del Ahorcado
I'm sure you're all wondering where we've been for the last 6 weeks... Well, we've been in the beautiful National Park of La Pedriza. Situated 30 miles North of Madrid, La Pedriza is one of the lesser known bouldering areas in Spain. We'd seen some awesome photos of the area in the Bouldering Guide and had to check it out for ourselves. We had heard stories of the sharp granite, so were slightly nervous about how our skin would fair...

Read on or go straight to La Pedriza Bouldering Volume I:

On day one we visited Canto Cochino - one of the more classic areas. The area gives a great introduction to the style of climbing in La Pedriza - technical, slopey and requiring good footwork. It feels similar to Fontainebleau, but on a medium grained granite. The boulders range from low to pretty damn high and scary - something for everyone! On our first day we were fortunate enough to bump into the local climbing crew.  A fantastic group of Spanish climbers (their Blog), who gave us an extremely warm welcome. They instantly took us under their wing and pointed me at a load of highball classics.  My skin took a bit of a pounding (nothing too serious though), however, it was a great introduction to area.

We have spent many days with the local crew and been guided to many great new areas not in the guide. Although the guide includes nearly 2000 problems, the local climbers are developing new boulders at an astounding rate, their motivation and commitment to expanding the area is incredible.  The potential is still vast - there are currently many projects and second ascents just waiting to be climbed.  Its not all hard either, first ascents are available at all grades.

Lomo on Garrapata

The local crew have been pointing me at various lines waiting for a first or second ascent.  Some of the lines are breathtaking, and I've been fortunate enough to get second ascents on some beautiful problems.  The details of these will be in Volume III of the videos. I've not managed any first ascents yet, but have been trying a few tough lines in the 7C-8A region...

Los Guerreros
El Jardin de mi Casa