Monday, 7 August 2017

The best thing for climbing you'll ever buy

I'm getting the hang of this clickbait title thing. Stay tuned for 'You won't believe what Sharma puts on his breakfast cereal.'

But seriously, let me tell you about the best  piece of climbing gear you'll ever buy. It's expensive but it'll up your game considerably. No, I'm not talking about buying a massive crashpad, overpriced chalk or magic shoes. A car. Get a car you idiot.

Vintage Galicia
The best piece of climbing equipment I ever bought was a 1991 Seat Ibiza. Wow, was that car in bad condition. Dents all over, an interior from the 1940's and the bonnet flapped ominously at speed.  I should have never even given her a second look. But she was in my price range: a cool 700 euros. Fortunately, her beauty was functional rather than aesthetic. In the end, that Ibiza took me all over: Galicia, Portugal, Tarifa, Santa Gadea and Albarracín: my first big trip. I drove there alone in eight hours and slept in the back at -5 degrees. The poor thing could barely cough itself back to life each morning.

I can't overstate how reliable this car was for almost exactly two years, right up until it died. Flew back from weekend in Font, hopped in the car and while heading back to my pueblo, it uttered its final death rattle. Temperature needle in the red, beeping like an alarm clock. And that was it. Car was cheaper to scrap than fix: must have cost fifty euros when I scrapped it. RIP The Prestige. (named after the oil tanker that sunk of the Galician coast in 2002 and caused a massive ecological disaster, not the Nolan movie)

As soon as you know your old car is irrevocably dead, the panic starts. You can't go back to relying on other people. Other people suck. (#notall)  You've got boulders to do, trips to go on. You start scheming, looking around for anything with four wheels. Every day you're not on rock, your ability to rationalize a shit purchase increases. You imagine the endless trove of good condition second hand cars; 'previous owner was an old lady who only used it to go to church on Sunday.' They don't exist, but you convince yourself. You spend altogether too much time on second hand car websites. Something in your face marks you out as someone begging to be ripped off.

My second car was a massive error on my part:
a massive four door Peugeot from a shady dealer in Extremadura. It's air conditioning was broken and the fuel indicator stopped working after the first week. It handled like a boat, but what can you do? You're in the middle of the Spanish desert having accumulated a carful of shit. So you go to the grimy local car dealer and empty your account to buy a car that'll last you less than a year.  

At least this one had the good grace to die in the city. Got it towed, got the metro back home.  Please let it be something fixable. Nope. RIP Blue Ruin.

Blue ruin in the car park at Albarracín

Brings me nicely to my current ride. a super modern Ibiza four door from 2002. I've had it for about a year and I've already replaced basically all of it. Catalytic converter last year and gear box and distribution (whatever that is) this year. That's not bloody cheap. Still, it's something at least. Despite the fact that it's comparatively new and modern, I live in perpetual fear of a breakdown that'd leave me stuck in the city again.

AWWWW! Only a two seater when fully loaded with crashpads

Driving also stresses me out. The M30 in Madrid is particularly ridiculous. Four lanes in rush hour, traffic merging from both sides, motorbikes and scooters weaving through it. Nobody indicates in this country. Not to mention the pollution. I tried to get into running last year, but you come back coughing your lungs up. It's impossible. It never rains in the summer and there's a toxic cloud that hangs over the city, You can see it as you drive back from the boulders, a constant reminder that we're all fucking the planet. Roll on teleportation. I'm not the type to drive for the sake of it, but it is what it is. Hybrids aren't cheap enough to be affordable and I'd rather go climbing, the unborn future generations can suck it.

So what's the lesson here? Cars suck. They eat money and shit pollution. They stress me out and have probably taken years off my life. We'll all have respiratory conditions in our sixties. Despite all this, it gets me to the damn boulders. I attribute 100% of my sends in the last four years to being able to fall off the requisite 500 times to actually get something done. So yeah, if you want to send, get a car. It's shit for the planet, your bank account and your blood pressure but you'll climb more and harder. A price worth paying?

Monday, 12 June 2017


I bought a helmet. It's shiny and it's blue and it's the cheapest one from Decathlon. Despite not really wanting one, peer pressure finally pushed me over the edge. Climbing culture has been subtly and not so subtly pushing helmets on us for a while now, but in the end it was my friends that forced my hand.

A roadtrip was on the cards: multipitch, trad and barely any boudering. The people I was going with told me to get one, so I did. Always pays not to be that guy. I still remember the halcyon days of trad in the peak and n'er a helmet in sight. Were we just idiots? Were we lucky? So now I wear a helmet on trad and multipitch. Except when I forget of course. Anyway, the new gear led long train of thought about risk, and events in the ol' climbing world weren't exactly helping.

Firstly, Ueli Steck died. A guy who always seemed completely solid and in control. According to the accident report he just slipped. Snow or ice seems way more sketchy than rock in this regard. At least rock is solid. Then again, there's that little video of Chulilla that's been doing the rounds on social media, reminding us that most sport crags are also just a good kick away from falling on our heads. Lovely.

Then there was that harrowing article on UKC. Jeeeesus, did they have to include gory photos and everything? It was really great to have those images stuck in my mind as I set off for that weekend's adventure. The only reason that many of us get out there at all is the irrational belief that it won't happen to you. But is that irrational? Only an infinitesimal proportion of climbers actually have a serious accident, and most of them are mountaineering rather than on rock. Even so, we were climbing loose dirty wet cracks on trad gear, so I double checked everything all weekend like a lunatic.

The following weekend it rained and I went to the wall to do some routes. After having led a few, we were told by the receptionist that if we were leading we'd have to wear helmets! In Spain! A country that normally couldn't give less fucks about health and safety. (Is this a thing now in real countries like England?) We'd seen others leading with helmets and quietly chuckled at their punterishness, assuming they were new to the sport or something. After that, we weren't exactly psyched on the whole thing and went back to bouldering. In 2030 when they force you to wear a helmet for indoor bouldering, I'll kill myself.

Honnold soloing Freerider is another thing that even the normies are aware of. An impressive feat, but when ever Honnold so much as moves one of his fat fingers, people start churning out the think-pieces about soloing, coverage of soloing, sponsorship and on and on. You'd think they'd get tired of writing the same article about the same dude every year or so.

Anyway, all this risk related stuff got me writing. (so really I'm not so different than those think-piece authors that I was just rude about) Personally I'd argue the most hands-off argument, which may not necessarily the most popular one these days. Ultimately, every climber is responsible for ensuring their own safety. Well that was a meaningless cliche, so let's try to throw some grey into the picture.

Conglomerate: fortunately not as loose as it looks 
What about when you're in the mountains with friends? If you take a risk and fuck up, you could be jeopardizing their safety. Valid point, but don't the friends in this situation also have moral agency? After all, they freely decided to take you with them on their trip. This leaves two options. Either they were aware of your well known capacity to fuck up and took you anyway, or they hadn't vetted you for this kind of behavior beforehand. So while the idiot-protagonist takes most of the blame, there's still plenty for the supporting cast.

Obviously this blame game is only played when the error is directly attributable to an obvious and dangerous mistake. The spectrum of accident causes runs from pure human error all the way to completely random events, with most somewhere in between. There are so many variables that it's impossible for us to be aware of all of them, so the pragmatic answer has to be personal choice. We're back to the cliche again.

So, climbing is an individual sport and as such, tended to attract people with an individualist mindset. Unfortunately this mindset seems increasingly at odds with modern culture.

That's why they'll ban climbing one day. The same way they'll ban driving as soon as self-driving cars perform better than their fleshy counterparts. The arguments will be exactly the same: that the risks and dangers of 'insert enjoyable activity here' simply outweigh the benefits. Ban smoking, drugs, alcohol, anything with a bit of edge. And climbing has that. No formal rules, the potential for death, and absolutely no barriers to entry. Protection from harm and freedom to harm oneself are often mutually exclusive concepts. Being protected may seem like a universally good thing, but it's smothering in the long run. Agency is like a muscle, it atrophies if you don't use it. If we never face choices, we'll fail the moment a real one is presented to us. And yeah, maybe some people will make the wrong choice and suffer the consequences, maybe some idiot will be 'inspired' and bite off more than he can chew soloing. But the alternative of a sanitized world sounds worse than that.

The problem is that the safety lovers appear to be dominating the conversation at the moment . They have all the right arguments: after all, why does any reasonable person need to smoke a cigarette or climb a wall. This nannying, hyper-rationalist vision of the world that makes perfect sense if you completely ignore human nature in all of its messy glory. It also has the ability to creep in without people even noticing they're ceding ground. So do something stupid while you still can.

Maybe I'm an alarmist? Exaggerating? The climbing equivalent of Infowars? I'm sure if you told
earliest adopters of our great sport that they'd ever be wearing helmets for indoor climbing, they'd have told you the same thing.

So much fun it should be illegal

Friday, 26 May 2017

Remember when climbing had a sense of humor?

Jesus H Christ, climbing media is a comedic wasteland these days. These days, climbing media seems to come in different shades of preachy or pretentious. It's no longer enough to see a climber crushing something in a beautiful corner of the world, there has to be some heavy handed message about overcoming adversity or (shudders) personal growth tacked on to the narrative. Is that really what climbers want? To me, this projected image of climbers as a whole seems to be at odds with climbers themselves. We are, generally, an irreverent bunch, not taking themselves too seriously and prone to cracking jokes at their own expense. Maybe I'm missing out on the whole deep spiritual quest side of the climbing equation, but there does seem to be a pretentiousness oozing into the edges of climbing culture. Take a stroll through Instagram and imagine explaining these (real!) hashtags to anyone over the age of 35:

#nature, #climbingismypassion, #climbingisbliss, #climbinglife, #livefree, #strongisbeautiful, #tradisrad, #sunsoutgunsout 

I could have gone another 50 but my spine was cringing out of my back. You get the point. We're all taking ourselves super seriously. At risk of coming over all Holden Caulfield, it just comes across as, well, phony.

One also can't help but feel the dead hand of corporatism behind this new trend in videos. Every time I come across a super earnest and serious video tackling a super serious issue, it's not hard to imagine managers and market researchers behind the scenes, murmuring about brand identity and projecting the right image. Undoubtedly the increasing availability of cutting edge tech has narrowed the gap between professional and amateur video content, but you can still tell how much money something has behind it. There's unreal gloss to everything. Too many close ups of shoes being put on, too many timelapses and this deadpan earnestness that I've never encountered in a real person. In some cases, you can see that the climbers themselves are clearly uncomfortable at being asked to pontificate in this faux-candid style.  

#notall I hear you cry! I probably should add some caveats and exceptions to my sweeping generalizations for you nitpickers out there. I was careful above to make the distinction between professional and amateur video. Broadly, amateur video still consists of some guy climbing with some sick beats in the background. Nothing wrong with that and a great way to check out an area before you go. More power to 'em!

But the current lack of humor wasn't always the case. Hop in the time machine, whack on the nostalgia googles and I'll take you on a tour of climbing's long lost sense of humor.
Remember Boogie till you Poop? That was mad popular back in that day. The kind of fecal humor that's universal in its appeal.
Even mainstream stuff like the Reel Rock series used to make jokes back in the day? Top Rope Tough Guys was great, and Roxx. Them's were the days.
Any of the old Dave Graham videos, such as Small Amazing Things or the classic Between The Trees. These two, especially the latter, were funny without even trying, and also managed to tell a story without ever slipping into pretentiousness.

Back in the present, climbing related lols are relatively thin on the ground, but they still exist in some dark corners of the internet. Go. Watch and subscribe. Stimulate the market for this type of stuff.

1. Anything with Honnold in it. The guy is surprisingly funny, talks a lot of shit and is clearly not being told what to say by anyone. The combination of really dangerous climbing with seeming irreverence which is a winning combination. Even in interviews when he's talking about stuff he cares about like the environment, he manages not to be insufferably preachy, which is no mean feat.
2. Rawk Tawk's Instagram account. Their meme game is so tight it's ridiculous. They're not afraid to take aim at anyone: pro-climbers, brands,and other sacred cows of the industry. They're also clearly massive climbing nerds, and produced what is possibly my favorite meme.
3. Shit Climbers Say by LT11. Bit old now, but still funny.
4. Rock Climbing Life. Once again it's old but it was a great example of Poe's law in effect. Go back and read those first few articles and you won't be sure if its a parody or not.
5. Punterwatch on twitter.

Just used a non-microwavable bowl in the microwave. Pretty devil-may-care. Will @fivetenuk sponsor me now? #brandofthebrave 

Whats's my conclusion to all this? Well, climbing is getting bigger, the number of climbing walls in Madrid has doubled since I've been here, you've got Shauna Coxey being interviewed by the BBC and the Olympics guarantees a fuckton of exposure. Hell I've even got normies sharing climbing content on my newsfeed. It's a truism but mo' money tends to indicate mo' problems. You can definitely feel the urge by companies to broaden the appeal of our little niche sport. to make it nice and safe and friendly and positive and socially conscious and on and on and on... I guess my worry is that bland commercialism is going to edge out the unique personality of climbing culture. I guess Rawk Tawk's lampooning of things like Ashima's recent sponsorship deal with Coca Cola is the closest thing I've seen to a kickback so far.

Or maybe I'm just misanthropic, overly nostalgic and worried for no reason.Who knows?

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Gaining Weight

Dirty feet
It's pre-season here in Madrid so I'm trying to drag my body into some semblance of form for when the conditions really arrive. This year I've had to adapt to changing circumstances.

The free climbing wall in Cuidad Universitaria that I raved about in a previous blog post is now closed indefinitely. From what I hear, a child climbed on top of the wall and somebody raised concerns about health and safety. It's terrible that this type of culture is now arriving in Spain. I always enjoyed seeing a cheerful disregard for risk here that would never be allowed in England. 

Flippancy aside, this was a blow to my normal training in September. That wall had the Ty Landman training holy trinity:

"My tip for getting stronger is to climb steep, straight angles, 30-45 degrees; big moves between bad holds, where you must keep your feet on. This develops footwork and body tension. No heel hooks, toe hooks or anything like that, just basic straightforward pulling".

Couldn't have put it better myself. Overhanging, fingery holds and bad feet in combination with a great community of setters. It shall definitely be missed. There's a Facebook campaign to reopen the wall here. I'm sure they'd appreciate the numbers even if you've never climbed there before.  

So this has led to my only training being on the fingerboard this month. Which is fine, when I was in Extremadura I trained on the fingerboard for months on end with not a lot of actual climbing. This led  to being mad strong but with no sense feeling for the rock. Here in Madrid this is less of a problem. I can build a base early on and start venturing outside later as the temperatures begin to drop. 

The problem I'm facing is the inevitable finger strength plateau that comes with doing the same fingerboard routine for many years. The way I tried to get gains last season was by dropping fingers from my crimp lineup. Although this was certainly effective, it does tend to lead to injury in my case. I always thought my little finger was: "a stubby cocktail sausage", but it turned out that loosing it blows out my ring finger.

So how to increase the load in a way that doesn't lead to tweaks? Weight vest! At the beginning of the month I bought a 20kg weight vest from that wonderful supplier of elite climbing gear: Decathlon. I've been training with it for the whole month, and it's definitely increased the intensity! I've been doing from two to four hours a day (one of the privileges of unemployment) When I wake up in the morning my finger joints are so stiff that I have to warm them up for ten minutes before i can do anything that requires hands.

Early in the month, I noticed minor tweaks in the knuckle of my right hand, but nothing that I couldn't train through. Now it seems my body can handle the weight, as long as i take a long time to warm up. 

So has it worked? I'm gonna have to wait until I get on rock before I'll be able to say if it's given me the bump that I hope it has. Having said this, initial signs are looking good: when you take it off you feel weightless and all the hangs feel easy. I'm hoping that outside every hold will feel a little better and a little more secure but who knows? Time will tell. 

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Avoiding the herd

Idea for a game: Spanish bouldering bingo. To be played whenever and wherever you go bouldering. Each characteristic you observe is worth one point. The player with the most points at the end wins. Points are awarded for:
  • Dreads, rat-tails or any other atrocious hairstyles. (mullets are worth two points)
  • Incredibly badly-behaved dogs. (extra point if there are two, and they're constantly fighting/barking/fucking)
  • Marijuana (one point if you only smell it, extra point if you're offered some) 
  • Loudness (you'll definitely hear them before you see them)
  • ENCOURAGEMENT. (more than you will ever, ever need)
  • Littering (especially bits of finger-tape and cigarette ends, they aren't really litter right?) 
  • Uncomfortably close spotting (you'll feel violated)
  • If they all easily flash your project you get the BASQUE BONUS (three points)

Now, as I read that list I feel like a bit of a misanthrope. Who am I to criticise their eclectic hairstyles? It's a different culture and how dare I apply my repressive aesthetic standards to them. I've also left out another stereotype: Niceness. Spanish climbers are by and large, always nice people. I've been given food, I've been given beta, and yes, I've been offered a smoke. However, as an elitist who enjoys the delusion that climbing attracts a superior type of person, I find it harder to ignore the things that go beyond just mullets.   

Caligula stand 7C 
So firstly, the noise. There is nothing like the peace and tranquillity of an untarnished wilderness, and there is also nothing like having it broken by twenty or so shouting boulderers, dogs in tow, moving through a cloud of weed smoke and leaving a trail of litter. The equivalent noise at a crag in England would be silenced immediately by a combination of tutting and icy glares. 

I should throw out the #notall disclaimer now. Obviously there are some lovely Spaniards who sneak to and from the boulders, leaving no trace but meticulously edited Instagram photos. But as with all of these 'not all (insert group here)' conversations, it doesn't have to be all of them to have a negative impact. I'm sure not everybody who likes swimming in the river Manzanares during the summer months treats the area with disrespect, but it doesn't matter, it's banned now. 

I'm sure it's not just a Spanish thing either, but I definitely see a cultural divide in the amount of litter in Spain compared to England. And I don't even climb in the popular sport climbing areas where anecdotally, it's even worse. So I avoid the crowds, the dogs and the noise; although it has as much to do with my personality as theirs.
Topping out Caligula- ALONE, with nobody to constantly scream 'VENGA'  at me while I'm doing it
I always climb alone. Social interaction, particularly in a foreign language, can be draining, especially if it's with people you don't know that well. Not that I mind it at the climbing wall, where I'm a chatty little bastard. But the second I get in my car and head north, that mindset flips. It's also nice to be completely selfish with your objectives. I want to go to the boulder, warm up, try it for two hours and go home. That's not something you can do when everyone in your group has different objectives. Ultimately climbing is an individual sport, and bouldering is the ultimate expression of that.

Safety is another reason why many chose to boulder in groups, but for me, individual acceptance of risk is part of the experience. Climbing in Galicia was a big contribution to that. A small community and no really big sectors. You boulder in a different way when you're alone.You rehearse everything a lot more and learn exactly what you can do with the crashpads you have. I often walk away from stuff I can't try safely.     

Another thing: I'm self conscious about filming in front of people. Even saying it seems ridiculous in a time when everyone and their mum is constantly go-pro-ing and instagramming their entire lives. I'm not even one of those guys who film everything: I have a broken tripod and a camera from best buy. But it doesn't matter, I'm still worried that someone might mistake me for someone who is like that.

These are my justifications for solitude. Reading it back, some reasons are valid, but others read like stereotypical British neurosis. It's definitely not for everyone. To tie it up in a nice little bow: clean up your shit, control your dogs/hair and if I see you at the crag, you've probably just ruined my session.

P.S. If you're reading this and you have dreads, I'm obviously not talking about your hair.
sketching up The Prawn 7B

Friday, 29 January 2016

How to lose friends and alienate people (My training tips)

OK, It's high time I shared some of my completely non-scientific, home-grown training wisdom. It's pretty good if you want to create a tall thin climber who can do crimps and literally nothing else. Needless to say, the author should not be held liable for any accident, injury or death(!) caused by performing these incredibly basic and self-evident training techniques. Also, go easy on the crimps, build up slowly and back off right away if you get even a tiny tweak. It's not worth the hassle of developing a real finger injury. Also, my training is not the kind where you train on plastic for months to slay the dragon. I don't think I'd have the patience to stay away from rock for that long. This will maintain your strength while leaving you rested enough to project outdoors.
ciudad universitaria wall- more basic than a pumpkin spiced latte

1. The buttery biscuit base. It's important to lay down a base of general fitness after a long summer being poor and unemployed (just me?) so head to your nearest overhang, and climb on it. For me this is September, I'm in Madrid but work doesn't start for another month. So I climb, two days on, one day off for the entire month. My sessions are two and a half hours, depending on skin (a lot of my stuff is geared toward having the worst skin in Spain) but you might be able to do more. I mix it up by doing a more bouldery session the first day, and a more endurance related one on the second. You can also switch between Woodsing (pulling on tiny crimps all the time) and Webbing (compression, pinches and slopers). On the rest day stretch, or go for a run if you're feeling ambitious. By the end of the month, you should be feeling like eighties Jerry.

2. Pick some projects. I like to project things in pairs. Generally projecting only one thing is a bit demotivating and a great way to get an overuse injury by doing the same crux a million times a week. I like mine to be in different areas, and also different difficulties. I do two sessions on rock a week, so it's perfect. Fail on one, and by the time you've packed up your crashpad, you're already psyched to battle the next one later in the week. Also, have some consolation boulders nearby. When you fall on that move for the tenth time, you're gonna need to take your anger out on something.

3. Find yourself. I spent a long time trying and failing to be Jan Hojer, when I'm actually Dave Graham. Obviously it'd be preferable to be like Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana and have the best of both worlds, but ultimately you can't cheat body shape. I have an incredibly static body shape, so bulking up like Sharma or Hojer would have been incredibly difficult. Now I only work core, fingers and flexibility, Carlo Traversi talks about finding your own style in this interview. It's right on the money. Now I'm trying to be more Grahamesque(?), strong fingers and core, and lots of tricks to keep my feet on. Obviously vary this depending on your dimensions. The joy of climbing is that you can tick the same boulders using completely different styles. I'm always jealous of short dynamic people.

4. Flexin'  Now Macleod says in 9 out of 10 that it's not worth obsessing about and I generally agree, but he probably hasn't seen a reeeaallly inflexible person trying to get a heel up.(hilarious by the way)  It's a small difference, but sometimes a small difference is all you need. Also, it's so easy to do, why would you not? Focus on legs and actual stuff that you'd do on the wall. It also helps with recovery, injury prevention and all that boring stuff.

5. Abs. Do them whenever you can, destroy them, do them till you feel sick. I usually get them done in between sets on the fingerboard. Most of them are stolen from this Romain Desgranges training video. Also, get the front lever, do the front lever, lots. It's the most sport specific exercise you can do. Hanging leg lifts if you can't or if you're tired, also jumping into a front lever and lowering as slowly as possible. Basically, abs affect every aspect of climbing from holding a swing to how secure you feel on a move, so if in doubt, sit ups. More recently I've noticed that high intensity works better for me than pure quantity. So now I try to condense what would be a fifteen minute routine with rests into a five minute routine, going straight from one set to the next.
Crimps AND core! I keep on breaking footholds to make it harder too...

6. 'Finger strength is everything' said Malcom Smith. It was true then, and it's true now. Get a fingerboard and hang on it a lot. I get on the smallest edges and half crimp them for as long as possible. Rinse and repeat. Also crimp front levers are weirdly easier than jug front levers, maybe because the whole arm is locked. Usually I do basic hangs for about half an hour before I start to tempt injury. One type of variant you can do is start dropping fingers from your line-up. Loosing the pinkie is pretty straightforward for me because mine is a stubby cocktail sausage. After this, try back three, which is really weird if you have a short pinkie. After that, get injured pretty much. I did a pretty beastly two finger half crimp hang a couple of months ago but I tweaked and had to back off. Another way is to add weight, buy a cheap weight belt. I'm pretty into the front three weight belt combination right now. Another sure fire way to get injured is to try and do that thing Daniel Woods does in Reel Rock. You know exactly what I'm talking about. Finally, I'm also a big fan of crimp pull ups, especially on my board, which is a slippery devil, so you have to do it sloooowly. About my board,(sponsor plug alert) I have a wooden SAN Power fingerboard, which is amazing. It doesn't trash your skin like resin, and there's less friction so you're forced to try hard. I also don't have to use as much chalk, it absorbs all my skin grease like a dream.
Warming up in Alange

7. Warm up you idiot. No seriously, stretch, climb some easy boulders and generally get ready. Get yourself a little wooden thingy like mine. I know, I know, I was sceptical at first too. 'I'll never use that!' I said naively, convinced it was all just a clever marketing technique to make climbers buy more stuff. Now I'm definitely in the pro-wooden thingy camp. Especially if you're pressed for time, a few crimp hangs while your setting up crashpads will warm you up without wasting precious skin.
all pros use this

8. Poo tea! My darkest secret. I'm sure I'm not the only person who has turned up to the project feeling a little fuller than normal. It's not just the weight, which is relatively insignificant, it's also horrible to try and do a core move when you're full, you can't tense properly for fear of...well. Have some laxative tea the night before, empty yourself in the morning, and send! You don't get that kind of sound advice from Neil Gresham, do ya?

9. Campus board. I've never really done it regularly, but I think it's the way forward, for me at least. Three of my biggest weaknesses are dynamism, big moves and coordination, all of which can be trained by campusing. It's also on wood which is another plus. I went to a friend's gym: the recently opened BoulderMadrid over Christmas and had a good play on their board for the first time in ages. Now every Friday is campus Friday. I do two hours (or until I bleed) and that's enough really.  Anyway, I filmed a couple of exercises on my phone, feel free to call me weak in the comments!  

Thursday, 31 December 2015

The best climber: the fetishization of 'fun'

How many times have you heard someone say this or something similar? 'The best climber is the one having the most fun.' This quote is thrown around ad nauseam, often to make the rather bland assertion that it's nice to be nice and fun to have fun, regardless of performance, fulfilment and other concepts slightly too complex to be shared on a Facebook meme. This quote has always jarred with me personally, but I've never really tried to articulate why. Obviously it's trite, and casually dismissive of those who actually want to (God forbid) improve at their chosen sport. It takes for granted that a vague concept of 'fun' is a more laudable goal than climbing 9b+ after a lifetime dedicated to training and self sacrifice.
Fun, fun all around.

Another thing is that it's so demonstrably false. If it were even slightly true, climbing media would laden with heart-warming reports of people cruising up easy slabs instead of what it actually is: reports of dedicated people working really hard at difficult or dangerous objectives. In effect, the phrase functions as a get-out clause, a way that smug people can pat themselves on the back for not really achieving anything, and lawd knows we don't need any more of those.

And before you start screaming 'ELITIST!' at me, I'm talking about effort and dedication, not grades. If you vanquish a 6b+ after a protracted siege, I'll be psyched for you. One thing I wouldn't do however, is call you 'the best climber in the world.' Why? Because it would be just as meaningless and patronising as a participation trophy. It is possible to praise somebody's effort without abandoning all semblance of reality. This is why I feel uncomfortable when Spanish people call me 'máquina' or worse, 'titan'. As an Englishman I'm always listening for the inevitable sarcasm. This is a minor cultural quibble, but I find my English friends' endless shit-talking at the crag far more motivating than any comparison to a Greek god.

The fun-fanatics also rarely know the actual context in which this line was said. On his blog (which is pure motivation by the way), Stevie Haston says:

'Sometimes climbers get all aggressive with me, and say its not just about standards, it’s about enjoyment. Then they use the quote ‘the best climber is the one having most fun’, they don’t know where the quote comes from, and they didn't know the man who spoke it. The climber was Alex Lowe, the best all-rounder in the USA at that time, died in an avalanche. He was a 5.13a climber, a mixed M8 climber, and a grade 7 ice man. He had extremely solid standards, and do you know why? He trained like a Spartan, that’s why. He did his pull ups, he did his running, he did the lot, la total. And you know that quote, it was just to make the punters feel happy about themselves.'

This quote is great, and also hits the nail on the head regarding the people who use this line. It's usually either punters, looking for an excuse not to try hard or professionals, who have already made huge achievements and can afford to casually wave away the years of training, dieting and other very un-fun activities that have gotten them to this level.

My other gripe with the funsters is the insanity of abandoning the whole spectrum of human experience and focussing on the most middle of the road, basic and unremarkable one. Heaven forbid you come across some adversity which actually makes you grow as a person. In my climbing life I've experienced intense pain, frustration and anger. The slow realisation of loss as a project slips away. The sense of impossibility that slowly converts to hope. The confidence in executing a sequence perfectly. My recent send of Flor de Loto was an example, an eleven month investment of time and energy both emotional and physical. Not to mention the years of training before. It wasn't a universally positive experience. (and that's putting it mildly) I got angry, I swore and shouted, I dropped it from the last move, I abandoned it only to come back a week later. When I finally did it, I lay on the crashpad and laughed hysterically for five minutes, I still have a big smile on my face as I write this thinking about it. It seems obvious to say it, but the process of real achievement isn't all going to be sunshine and lollipops, sometimes it sucks. This is why the quote irritates me. If I'd given up when the fun stopped, I wouldn't have learned or achieved anything. What a rubbish message. 'The best climber is the one who fights hardest.' There. It's not even difficult to think of something better, because literally anything is better than fun.

In a similar vein, 'It's only climbing, it's not important' is another one I hear thrown around, as if the subjective opinion of that particular person can be applied to every climber. No. What you actually meant is that for you, climbing isn't important. You decide your own level of involvement. I personally train three days and climb outside two days a week, not to mention the hours I spend thinking about it, watching videos on the internet and reading about it. Clearly climbing is pretty central to my life. For your Ondras of this world, who train every day, travel and make a living off climbing, it's more important still. Also, imaginary guy, if climbing isn't important to you, why do it? Why even bother if it's so pointless in your estimation? Before anyone says it: yes, it's important to have perspective and yes there are other things beside climbing, but it's the hypocrisy that really gets me. It's very modern, very hipster, very nihilistic and above all very stupid, to shrug something off as inconsequential, while simultaneously participating in said activity. But then I like Taylor Swift ironically, so I can't really judge. 

Considering the Swift comparison, it becomes all too obvious that this dismissal is often a rationalisation. The truth is, (how could it not be), that I love a bit of Taylor Swift. Her songs are catchy and really connect with my inner angsty teen. Unfortunately, we live in an intolerant world, where society looks harshly upon twenty-six year-old male Swift fans. It is therefore easier to cloak my genuine enthusiasm in ironic appreciation. 

Similarly, our example climber is either dissatisfied with his own abilities or worried about the way his peers will perceive him. It is psychologically easier to dismiss the importance of climbing entirely that to honestly confront this. How often have you heard someone admit defeat by saying something along the lines of 'ahh, it doesn't matter anyway' It seems rude at this point to say:

'it obviously does matter to you, you just chose to spend an hour in a wood trying the same move over and over again, and this is your third session!'  

We don't say it, but that doesn't make it less true. Rather than tying yourself in knots trying to show that you never really cared anyway, wouldn't it be more liberating to say: 'I cared about this objective and I'm frustrated that I didn't achieve it.' Then you would be free to pour that energy into actually taking steps to accomplish it.  

The same goes for people who say that grades aren't important. Once again, it's important to differentiate between people who express a personal preference and those who make the blanket assertion that: 'grades aren't important.' These people complain about what they see as an obsession with the numbers, and often fail entirely to understand that it is not the numbers but what they represent that matters. The numerical grade is merely a signifier, a representation of the difficulty and effort required to complete a climb. When you hear someone psyched about sending their first 7A, the default response should not be to dismiss that person for chasing grades. Why? Because they're probably not, they're chasing the achievement that the grade represents. Behind the number is a real rock, real holds and a real challenge which should be celebrated rather that belittled. It's the presumption of superiority, of being somehow above it all that is the most irritating. Imagine a footballer saying: 'scoring a goal isn't important.' 

These attitudes come both from climbing's origins as an alternative sport and from the modern 'everybody gets a prize' mentality. The one thing that unifies them is an unwillingness to commit, whether to temporary pain, or to the goal of a specific grade, or even to climbing as a whole. Now, if somebody genuinely wants to live in a climbing 'safe space' that is free of grades, challenge and universally 'fun', that is absolutely fine. But a space that is free of challenge is also free of achievement. A space that rejects anything remotely negative in favour of fun, is also rejecting the personal growth that comes with adversity. If you want to limit yourself to fun, feel free, but most climbers want something a wee bit more complicated than that.

And Taylor Swift is awesome by the way.