Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Sport or Trad, its Rock

Pebble pulling on "Moy Bueno"
As an ageing "climber" it's really hard to improve. The only way is to look at your weaknesses and work hard on them and even then maybe you only hold off the decay not improve. Among these weaknesses are a reluctance to get injured - again.  My major injuries are mostly work related, overuse or similar.  Achilles tendon injury with a chainsaw, crushed lumbar vertebrae and pelvic injury from falling back and getting knocked out turning a huge log from the "cant-hook" breaking during the lumberjack years before using my brain to study and get out of the woods. Broken ankle on a rescue, collar bones from motor cycle and bike race crashing, concussion and neck injury from mountain biking, and a slipped disc (most painful of them all) from a shite core. None of these makes you want to take a ground fall and why I take a clip stick for some routes 

I had many good trad years ticking off many classics, almost all the hard rock routes, and a few of the extreme rock climbs. Many of the most memorable days were not on hard routes but good days with good people on classic routes. It's not good to be too hung up on grades although the old graded lists in SMC guidebooks and some routes reputations gave goals to train for, and an impetus to get better at it. Mostly trad was about a head game not always how physically strong you were. Many routes had an aura about them but very few deserved it.
Dunira "Georges Bush"

I came late to sport climbing. After years of being among other things, a paramedic, climbing instructor, ski instructor, ski patrol. I then took at job at Joint Services Mountain Training. A great place to work among enthusiastic mountaineers. Only I was burnt out, and for a long time climbing had a smaller place in my life. Eventually the lads at work got me back into it and with the opening of the ice factor I took an interest in training and getting back into climbing more seriously. Then came bike racing (again) and a bit of a swansong until 3 years ago when training on the local roads just became stupid. What to replace it with? I migrated into sport climbing and competitions. Mainly because Duncan my son was climbing very well and training hard and it rubbed off on me. I realised that with a modern approach and the "knowing how to train" from bike racing I could get right into it from an analytical point of view and see how an ageing and slightly worn body could adapt to training loads for climbing. Very quickly I realised that running and cycling took away from hard sport climbing if you wanted to improve.

Sanna Bay Bouldering
From just going to the wall to lead or top rope to get the endurance, I then found the single biggest  benefit was bouldering, and lots of it. Not the floppy bouldering of arsing around. Focused problem solving and identifying my physical weaknesses and working problems. Very quickly it was apparent that cycling had done me no favours and my hips were tight and my core weak. Sure, I could rock out 30 sit ups and plank a couple of minutes, but that's not the only core you need. Stretching, yoga. weights and a big variety of stuff was needed. And I continue to work on it. Also finger strength. I had always been told I had strong fingers. For trad maybe, for harder bouldering or sport not so. So a finger board and weights has sorted that out to some extent (and given a few chronic injuries!) "Lattice" testing and training gives the numbers to see how its going. Outside sport requires indoor training discipline. I often have "me" days where I go up to a wall specifically to do repeaters of easier routes with a weight belt for endurance, or nights where I target a few newly set hard routes and try and onsight them. I prefer onsighting 6c/7a to working 7b, but if a harder route inspires me, I am happy to work it. 
Lower Lednock "Black Magic"

Bouldering helps with the harder routes as it helps with seeing sequences and patterns and working out body positions. This helps when on the harder lead routes (IMHO). The wall in general also gives a carry over. We get such shite weather that the wall cushions the days or weeks between outdoor days as you are kept strong. I personally don't find it too bad going for a month with only indoors then going hard out. As long as you are pushing it hard leading indoors you retain the clipping technique, endurance, and can read the rock. Perhaps the only weakness is footwork but with conscious thought and quiet feet this can also be worked indoors.

So, sport climbing, bouldering and indoor climbing have been great for me. It provides a training purpose, goals, and a social with both young and old like minded folks. Many of us older climbers  struggle with illness as well. Mine relatively minor, but for others serious, and  the local wall or easily accessible sport crag keeps them climbing and involved with the tribe that is climbing. That's important for both physical and mental health and an additional benefit of sport crags. Black Rock, Dallens and Clach a Phrionnsa as three good local examples.

It could also be said that given the availability of local rock very few folks are putting the work into development and these venues mentioned would not be there without the graft of two or three locals. Black Rocks harder routes are still needing re bolted but I guess folks do not have the time or money to do this. Rannochan as well. Young Tom Ballard was ahead of the game. It would be good memorial to him to have all his local sport routes re equipped IMHO and I would happily put money into a bolt fund.
"Uncertain Emotions" Tunnel Wall Glencoe

Tom was ahead of his time in Lochaber, as was "Cubby" before him on the Tunnel Wall. Sport climbing was long shunned by the more traditional Scottish mountaineers. Bolt chopping and slagging was rife until relatively recently. I always found that both bizarre and hypocritical given climbing history. Many harder trad classics are only climbable at their grade and safe because pegs were banged in after technical ability wasn't up to it and only hammering the route into submission remained. Also, past legends were not averse to the odd rest, point of aid, or pre placed runner. Sport climbing is at least honest about being fun and about technical challenge. 

It's also a safer fun way to utilise areas where climbing most likely would not happen. It's also the entry point for many transitioning from inside to out. Many good sport climbers later go on to enjoy the adventure of trad routes, although most drop many grades until they get a feel for how to climb them safely. Sport climbing can't be ignored and is mainstream, and the old guard should embrace it and guide it in the right direction. There are acres of rock unsuitable for trad climbing in the honeypot areas such as Glencoe that could be developed, but folk are too scared to touch it in case the grey haired ghosts of climbing past come and revile them. The old masters need to embrace Sport and encourage appropriate development. Sporting a Kalymnos suntan and yet not supporting the same type of climbing in Scotland is just hypocrisy. Sport climbing is not apostasy, it's just another aspect of enjoying climbing rock. If folk need convincing, just look at how many youths and younger folk are having fun doing it. Scottish climbing is not all about the past, it's also about the future and Sport is part of it.
Yes we do still "trad" Ardnamurchan "Uisge"