Tag Archives: rock climbing

BLOG: Finding Your Limits – Finding Yourself

There’s something intensely personal about pushing yourself in sport. At an elite ‘amateur’ level in rock climbing there’s no big pressure to try hard, there’s no technical support, no physiotherapy team, no nothing, you’re out there on your own, making your own decisions and mistakes.

National climbing teams may have some more support of course, and the very best or most famous and successful climbers in the world (you can count them on your fingers!) can afford to pay for sports physios, and just by the fact that they are that good and famous, a lot of doors to knowledge are opened for them, be that from other experienced peers and other climbers, or team coaches etc.

However, for the majority of us, the most we can expect is our mate to buy us a beer if we climb our hardest route, and to be honest even that is a rarity (are you reading this Steve… where’s my pint?!).

Steve climbing a fantastic 7c+ at Balme de Yenne, less than 2 hours from Chamonix. A steep and fantastic tufa crag with stiff grades and endless hard routes. Steve is a brilliant climber who tries his hardest, but never seems to stress about his performance. Maybe this is because he's so old?!
Steve climbing a fantastic 7c+ at Balme de Yenne, less than 2 hours from Chamonix. A steep and fantastic tufa crag with stiff grades and endless hard routes. Steve is a brilliant climber who tries his hardest, but never seems to stress about his performance. Maybe this is because he’s so old?!

Yet, despite all of this I have countless friends who are fantastic climbers, pushing themselves really hard, and sometimes having a lot of fun doing so, but sometimes they are not having fun.

A father and son team attempt a desperate 8c+ at Anthon, near Chamonix earlier this summer. The conditions were terribly hot, not suited to this slippery, bouldery route. The father was relaxed, and happy to belay, but his young son (who was clearly a fantastic climber) was extremely stressed at not being able to climb the crux moves of this hard route. 6a+ climbers lounge in the springtime heat in the background.
A father and son team attempt a desperate 8c+ at Anthon, near Chamonix earlier this summer. The conditions were terribly hot, not suited to this slippery, bouldery route. The father was relaxed, and happy to belay, but his young son (who was clearly a fantastic climber) was extremely stressed at not being able to climb the crux moves of this hard route. 6a+ climbers lounge in the springtime heat in the background.

Stress, disappointment, fear, and anger are all common emotions to find out on the crag. (I’m talking sport climbing here).

This past week sport climbing in Turkey I have seen people scared to fall in safe situations (very common, it happens to everyone) but then getting very stressed or disappointed with themselves for being like that. Also I’ve seen people afraid to commit to climbs due to being intimidated. I’ve seen people screaming swear words and actually punching themselves on the head for not being able to do the moves on their personal project.

Surely the guy (who almost gave himself brain damage by punching his own head!) on the 7c+ realises that no one else in the world cares if he can climb this route? That it isn’t a big deal? But for him it is a big deal. His frustration and anger are all his own creation, but for him they are 100% real, and despite doing no good for his climbing, he easily slips in to that stressed state. If nothing else, maybe he should get a helmet!

Seriously though, much more rare is the ‘happy faller’. Up they go, trying as hard as they can (Jonny Baker) and then with a hoot and a laugh, they peel from the rock when the moves get too hard, laughing all the way until the rope comes tight.

I must confess that I am in-between the two, I don’t punch my own head, and most of the time I am having a lot of fun climbing, but I do occasionally get a little stressed, but it gets less and less the older I get.

Myself finding my own limit of what I feel happy climbing in trainers without chalk - Chamonix trad 6a slabs are pretty tough! Always fun to be in the mountains with Emily though. Photo by Emily Andrew.
Myself finding my own limit of what I feel happy climbing in trainers without chalk – Chamonix trad 6a slabs are pretty tough! Always fun to be in the mountains with Emily though. Photo by Emily Andrew.

Recently I have been reading a few books based around this 10,000 hours rule of elite ability – the concept that anyone can be an elite performer at anything if they put in 10,000 hours of focussed practice. (I was started on this subject by fellow climber James McHaffie, who recommended the book Bounce).

One of these books – which I think is the best I have read so far (James, you should read it) – is The Sports Gene by David Epstein. David talks (as do many other authors on this subject) about Conscious Bandwidth. The phenomenon whereby an experienced athlete has basically more spare brain power to notice things going on. In the middle of a hectic football game, a seasoned professional sees everything that is happening on the field. It’s the same in rock climbing. Climbers with more experience read moves faster and more accurately, they get less phased by blank looking sections of rock, and basically they are just way more relaxed and in tune with what is going on around them.

That’s all well and good for actually performing well on the rock, and if you get your 10,000 hours in whilst you are still young, you can be an elite climber before you leave school… but… being less stressed with your climbing seems to come with age, not necessarily climbing experience, so I wonder if the same mental bandwidth broadening is happening with age but in a much wider sense? A wider sense of self?

At the age of 33 I have more life experience than when I was 23, and that experience gives me the wider perspective that means I hardly ever punch myself in the head when I can’t climb 7c+ 😉

Me again! This time climbing steep sport at Balme de Yenne - enjoying the moves, not breaking any personal best barriers, and all without punching myself in the head. Photo by Heather Florence.
Me again! This time climbing steep sport at Balme de Yenne – enjoying the moves, not breaking any personal best barriers, and all without punching myself in the head. Photo by Heather Florence.

At the age of 73 will my general life experience give me a much wider sense of what is going on around me? Will I see ‘pointless’ sport climbing projects as just that or will I see a deeper meaning in the things I have achieved as a younger man? A meaning that right now I don’t have the capacity to notice? Or will I simply remember back about how I could move fluidly over the rock, and enjoy that feeling of movement, with nothing deeper attached.

I don’t know, but I do know that I enjoy seeing and talking to climbers of different ages and experience, and I really enjoy speaking to those climbers who have been at it much longer than I. We’ve all got a lot to learn, and perhaps one day I can say something to a younger climber that will stop him punching himself in the head! Who knows.

And I hope that when I am older I can look back on my climbing experiences fondly, and enjoy the memory of movement and fun, and not the memory of punching myself in the head!

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BLOG: Rock Climbing: From 6b to 8a in 4 weeks, still rising.

The first steps on rock every spring are tough for me. A winter of wearing gloves and ski boots with little rock climbing means I have baby skin and weak arms.

Last year I never really got in to the swing of things on the rock, a general tiredness after a Himalaya expedition coupled with a huge amount of work and DIY last summer meant that whilst I floundered my way up a couple of 7cs, I never really hit my stride, and I didn’t care – climbing any grade is FUN!

However this year is a little different. I’m thirty three.

My all time favourite climbing film is The Real Thing with Jerry Moffat and Ben Moon and I watched a highlights video online the other day to help with motivation. I used to watch this when I was a teenager, my mum and I together in the lounge with the video player on after school. It was brilliant.

In The Real Thing Jerry has his 33rd birthday and also knocks out a personal best on the campus board. This is about 1 year after he made the first ascents of his 8cs Progress and Evolution on the British limestone. So no excuses for me this year, I’m back on the rock, and loving it.

After a couple of long 6th grade multipitch rock routes in France to get going (the gorgeous Presles and the local Arve Valley) I kick started my climbing with a trip to Chulilla, Spain to be a journalist on a Boreal climbing team event.

Jack Geldard hanging out on a belay at Presles, France. Perfect warm limestone to kick start the rock climbing season. Phot by Adam George.
Jack Geldard hanging out on a belay at Presles, France. Perfect warm limestone to kick start the rock climbing season. Photo by Adam George.
Following another perfect pitch at Presles. Overhanging rock, large rucksack, small arms. Tough work! Photo by Adam George.
Following another perfect pitch at Presles. Overhanging rock, large rucksack, small arms. Tough work! Photo by Adam George.

Luckily for me my good friend James McHaffie is now on the Boreal team, so I got to spend a few days with James, as well as meeting Nathan Lee for the first time, and spending some time with fellow northerner Jordan Buys. Talk about motivation!

James McHaffie (centre) onsighting a 7c+ in Chulilla, Spain. What a cliff!
James McHaffie (centre) onsighting a 7c+ in Chulilla, Spain. What a cliff!

My two favourite climbers Maddy Cope and Hazel Findlay were also in the area, and it was brilliant to see them too, and as everyone was climbing really well, I had to pull my finger out and get on the rock. I went from climbing about 7a at the start of the week to onsighting 3 7b+s at the end.

Hazel (8)c Findlay, James (9a) McHaffie, Maddy (pull your finger out) Cope. A motley trio, but certainly helpful in the psyche department!
Hazel (8c) Findlay, James (9a) McHaffie, Maddy (8a+?) Cope. A motley trio, but certainly helpful in the psyche department!

The key for me at this stage of the season is to gradually increase my climbing volume, without trying to run before I can walk, otherwise injury will occur.

Me on the Arve Valley test-piece 'Docteur, j'ai peur' at Pierre a Laya. This 7c route was first climbed by Patrick Edlinger and Didier Raboutou and is desperate. In this photo I ma trying it last year (not successful) but a quick trip back there this spring saw it dispatched with relative ease. (Believe me, this would be 8a+ in Spain!). Photo by Chris Prescott / Minerva Design.
Me on the Arve Valley test-piece ‘Docteur, j’ai peur’ at Pierre a Laya. This 7c route was first climbed by Patrick Edlinger and Didier Raboutou and is desperate. In this photo I am trying it last year (not successful) but a quick trip back there this spring saw it dispatched with relative ease. (Believe me, this would be 8a+ in Spain!). Photo by Chris Prescott / Minerva Design.

Since the Spain trip I have made a big effort to climb/train 5 days per week, sometimes having double days adding a finger board or bouldering wall workout on to a day of cragging. None of these days have been super hard, but I have slowly increased the grade and now after a couple of tough 7c and 7c+ routes I am back in the 8s, which is very motivating indeed.

It's great to have this little training wall just two minutes walk from my house. Whilst it isn't huge, I find that breaking down barriers to training is the most important thing, and as this wall is so close it means lunchtime sessions are really easy to arrange.
It’s great to have this little training wall just two minutes walk from my house. Whilst it isn’t huge, I find that breaking down barriers to training is the most important thing for me, and as this wall is so close it means lunchtime sessions are really easy to arrange.

I’ve set some goals for the year, and have a rough climbing and training plan to match these goals.

Next on the list is my biggest weakness – bouldering. And as well as organising a trip to Magic Wood in the summer, luckily for me I have just discovered a huge untouched bouldering area just 20 minutes drive from my house (plus an hour walk…). Psyched!

A big smile on 'The Big Smile' (7C+) in North Wales.  Happy times!
Bouldering! A big smile on ‘The Big Smile’ (7C+) in North Wales. Happy times!

Blog: Back from Patagonia and VIDEO: Alex Schweikart – 7b Crack – Couteray

I’ve just got back from a 3 week trip to Patagonia in South America. More pictures, videos and info to come from that trip. Suffice to say we had a great time, but terrible weather!

The last few days back in Chamonix have been excellent, with blue skies and great skiing with Emily.

Emily Andrew in 50cm of fresh powder at Brevent, Chamonix. Not a bad thing to come home to!
Emily Andrew in 50cm of fresh powder at Brevent, Chamonix. Not a bad thing to come home to!

Whilst I was away in Patagonia I had a lot of time to spend on my laptop, but no internet connection. I used my time to work on video filming and editing skills (thanks Matt Pycroft!) and have a couple of short videos to put up on here from old footage and lots of ideas and skills for new videos for this year.

The first of the archive material is German powerhouse Alex Schweikart on a 7b roof crack at Couteray in Vallorcine, France. I shot this in the spring of 2011! If only I knew then what I know now. Anyway, here it is, I hope Alex enjoys it.

Big HELLO! to Alex and Chrissi wherever they may be!

More videos and articles from Patagonia to come soon – ciao.

Jack

PHOTOS: The Alpine Winter Continues: Neb Direct

The run of fantastic blue-sky weather has continued here in Llanberis, with winter routes still being climbed all over the place and rock climbs being ticked in warm sunshine.

Recently I was out on Tremadog ticking a few classics, including the brilliant crack of Neb Direct.

Neb has a bit of a reputation for being a stopper, but as I get older I find things like this easier and easier. That’s not to say I cruised up it, but I certainly felt well in control and I had a few grades in hand.

Pete Robins was there with a camera crew and they were filming for the new DMM dragon cams, which looked very nice indeed.

It was interesting to see 4 climbers all climb or attempt to climb the same route. Pete had to run laps on Neb for the camera, and I think he zipped up it 3 times in a row. With all his sport and bouldering of late, he still hasn’t forgotten how to crack climb, that’s for sure.

This weekend it’s the Llanberis Mountain Film Festival, Pete and I are doing a joint talk for DMM on the Saturday evening. It should be a good show, so if anyone is free – come and join us, there’s bound to be tickets left!

Pete Robins placing a new Dragon Cam on Neb Direct, Tremadog.
Stu McAleese climbing Cream on the Vector headwall, Tremadog.
Pete Robins with a sore hand and a big smile at the top of Neb Direct.
A shiny new set of Dragon cams!