Friday, 18 August 2017

Finger injury - some thoughts on rehab

Over the Easter weekend, a couple of days after finally completing Broken Trigger, 8A, I returned to Parisella's cave and starting trying Halfway House, 7C+.

After a few goes, I felt like I might have half a chance of completing the problem, so took a longer rest before pulling back on: Hanging the second hold, a front-2 pocket, I felt a wrenching sensation in my middle finger as my A2 & A3 tendon pulleys bit the dust...

After a few days complete rest, I thought the injury might not be too bad, and ventured out to do some easy trad; turns out E3 5c wasn't easy enough, especially as it was cold enough that I couldn't feel my hands for much of the route and by the end of the day, my finger felt worse than ever.

Feeling somewhat glum about this, I turned to the internet, and found a very helpful Podcast on the trainingbeta website with details of a tried and tested rehab sequence from Ester Smith (video below). 

In short, the protocol suggests a progressive overload of the injured finger, rather than complete rest.

Hence, over the next 4 months I completed roughly weekly fingerboard sessions, using an open handed grip on a 20mm edge (Beastmaker 2000 pockets back-filled with an AA battery)
- first using assistance (bodyweight minus 20kg)
- then bodyweight for a few weeks
- before working back up through progressive resistance levels
- finally reaching bodyweight + 50kg resistance a few weeks ago, which is fairly close to my winter best of bodyweight + 55kg.

Alongside this progressive finger-boarding, I also returned to soloing with a vengeance; visiting new venues and often soloing 50+ easy grit routes in a series of very pleasurable evenings - many venues and routes I wouldn't have otherwise done.

One such evening was interrupted by a film crew turning up to capture the sunset for a Warburton's Bread commercial with a Pride & Prejudice theme - though I've yet to see the finished advert on TV/online.

A fair maiden with bread basket approaches the cliff edge - Warburton's advert being filmed at Windgather Rocks

After doing some slightly harder grit micro-routes/boulder problems at Newstones, I decided to start bouldering again properly, though deliberately avoiding any crimps with the lefthand. Conies Dale seemed like the perfect venue with a plethora of 6C-7B boulder problems; I even managed to add a couple of my own new problems:

Conies Dale bouldering - some oldies & some newbies from Ally Smith on Vimeo.

6 weeks ago, I felt like my finger was strong enough to go back to Kilnsey and get stuck in to the roof project I bolted last year. The project links an easier/more direct version of  True South (a Zippy 7b+) with a 30ft long horizontal break-line of new climbing and on then continues along the same break to finish as for Mandela. This last bit is in common with Freakshow - Neil Gresham's 8c from 2015.

The new section of climbing feels like a 5-bolt long f8a in isolation, with a couple of strenuous clips and another couple that I've elected to skip altogether! A pair of annoyingly damp pockets at the end of this section have thus far thwarted my redpoint attempts, but when I get through this, there's a mere 8a+/b's worth of climbing left before clipping the chains of Mandela, another 40 horizontal foot away...

All I need now is for the stars to align; my arms to be well rested, a few dry days and an easterly wind to de-smeg the pockets and I'll be back up in the big roof, A muerte!

Gresham's route map of Freakshow, 8c - pilfered from facebook; my project joins Freakshow at the point marked "bat hang rest"

Friday, 7 July 2017

Getting stronger; getting injured - 2017, the first 6 months

I've given up with consistently updating this blog, but will occasionally bore the dwindling blogosphere with posts if new routes are involved:

Part 1: Getting stronger

This winter, I hoped to replicate the experience from when I first started visiting North Wales' finest poo filled bouldering venue in the winter of 2009: Pushing my bouldering grade in the cave, and reaping the benefits on sport routes the following year, at home and abroad.

Sadly, my elbows had other ideas, and tendonitis prevented me climbing as often as I might have liked. However, the reduced frequency of climbing/training and longer rest periods might have been just what I needed to nudge over the 8A threshold...

1) "In Life (lite)" 8A or f8b+?

I managed to work out the cunning beta that avoids the very hardest moves on the original In Life (8A+) by walking my feet along the back wall of the cave. This 8A or "lite" version of the problem is still a pumpy little number at f8b+, and was a great indicator of form before going to Spain in February.

In Life (lite) from Ally Smith on Vimeo.

Unfortunately, the trip to Chulilla was a virtual wash-out with the majority of tufa routes dripping wet after heavy rain in late January. The 40m long El Remanso de las Mulas (f8a+) was highly memorable for: A) falling off at 39.5m on my first redpoint, and B) on the successful next go, sitting in a pant wettingly exposed kneebar, taking in the view down the gorge, with the drip-drip-drip of a soggy tufa exiting my shorts at bum level...

2) "Broken-Trigger" 8A

Damp holds, numb hands, knee-pads slipping, etc: I can offer a multitude of reasons why I didn't get up it sooner, but the real answer was that all the stamina training for Chulilla had made me weak! This problem helped me get stronger; it felt more like a "proper" 8A to me, i.e. it wasn't a 30+ move traverse like all my previous "8A's".

Broken Trigger, 8A from Ally Smith on Vimeo.

3) "High Wall Left" 7C (or f8a/+?) - Possible First Ascent?

Whilst repeatedly falling off Broken-Trigger this winter, I started faffing around with reversing Left Wall High as a warm-down project.

At the end of March, I had a very frustrating lantern session falling off Broken-Trigger 3 times at the very end, and then compounded it by falling off this right at the end too!

Friday night fails - Broken Trigger (8A) & Left Wall High Reverse (7C) from Ally Smith on Vimeo.

Next session I managed to fall off Broken-Trigger again, but at least that time I made it across (and slightly down) this neo-classic traverse ;-) which might even be a first ascent?

However, the video of the "FA" just shows lots of people milling around with me hidden in the background, so you'll have to make do with the foot-pop video above if you're feeling in need of beta?

4) "Dickens' Cider" f8a+, First Ascent

This one is definitely a first ascent! Dickens' Cider is a fun little route, linking the boulder problem of Clever Cleaver (7A/+) into the finish of Almost Familiar (f7c) via some funky heel and toe hooks along the very lip of Parisella's Cave. It felt meaty to me - time will tell if it's worth my proposed f8a+?

New f8a+ route at Parisella's Cave from Ally Smith on Vimeo.

Part 2: Getting injured

Over the long Easter weekend I hurt my index finger in the pocket of Halfway House (7C+) - a fairly significant tear of the A2 & A3 pulleys which put me completely out of action for a couple of weeks, followed by a long & slow rehab program. The last thing I did in Parisella's was to use the new bolt on Dickens' Cider to climb the highball Upper Cut (7B+) with a rope on; Hence, this is probably my last cave video for a while ­čśó

Upper Cut, 7B+ from Ally Smith on Vimeo.

After a slow start, and a couple of hitches along the way, I'm happy to say the rehab is going well (drafting another blog shortly), and I've started working one of my projects at Kilnsey - a new extended start to Neil Gresham's Freakshow; more on this soon...

Thursday, 1 September 2016

A blog a week until I'm up to date: Post 3 - New Year in Cornudella

Next up in my roughly weekly fortnightly catch-up are some highlights from my trip to Siurana, Margalef and Montsant with Ted Kingsnorth over new year 2015/16 (Ted's account can be found here).

The trip didn't start well, with me sat in Manchester airport departure lounge receiving ever more urgent texts from Ted until the inevitable message admitting he wouldn't be making the flight came through. However, I got very lucky as sitting in the departure hall was another climber I knew in passing - Ross from Bristol, en route to meeting friends in the Costa Blanca, and willing to divert to Siurana for the day as he'd never climbed there before. A plan was hatched, hire cars collected and we drove to our excellent AirBnB accommodation "Siurana Climbing House" in Cornudella (highly recommended) which we shared with the convivial Duncan and Heather.

Before the trip, with my shoulder reverting to grumpy state of semi-instability I didn't have any specific goals, beyond tidying up Hidrophobia at Montsant - a long and pumpy 8a that I'd tried to flash, and then failed to redpoint a few years previously. Highlights of the first few days before going up to Montsant were:
  • Witnessing Ross's extraordinary lack of stamina; pumping out on a long 6b+ despite recently redpointing his first (short & bouldery) f8a
  • The excellent long arete of Lua, 7c
  • A surprise on-sight of a tough 7c+, Puceta de llan├žol.

An old photo of me trying to flash Hidrophobia back in 2012

Whilst talking with another visiting climber on New Years Eve, I was advised to swap between different 2 and 3 finger combinations to rest and fatigue different fingers alternately on Montsant pockets.  After a relatively quiet evening, New years day dawned and despite his ankle injury, Ted agreed to walk up to Raco de Missa and belay me on his rest day so I could try out this pump minimising theory.

Ted's grapefruit sized ankle, complete with brace and my borrowed rockboot (a full size bigger than his own)

After a warm-up and dog of Hidrophobia to reacquaint myself, it became apparent that the useful advice wouldn't work on my left hand, as my perennially dodgy ring-finger meant I took all the small pockets with a front-2 grip.

Hence, despite the holds turning into sinker pocket jugs at the top, I made an airborne retreat with an astonishing level of pump, and was too beat up to even think of having a second redpoint attempt! The next day, my forearms were still toasted and it was my turn to belay Ted at Margalef, whilst on an enforced rest-day.

Ted climbing at a damp Rac├│ de les Tenebres
A couple of days later, I cashed in on the beat I'd gleaned from belaying/watching Ted and flashed the classic Magic Festival (7c) and then went on to on-sight the other crag classic, La corva de la felicitat (also 7c). We finished the day at the bouldery, roadside El Laboratori sector as Ted had unfinished business with Tsunami. I had a go too, but the first dynamic move of the jug rail made my shoulder crunch and I kept well away whilst Ted and our new South African friend, Brian ticked with ease.

On our final day, I fought up the long and pumpy Hot Knife with an increasingly painful and unstable shoulder. Hence, whilst travelling home on a disgustingly uncomfortable Ryanair flight, I gave significant thought to whether surgery would solve my ongoing problems and get me back to full strength...

Friday, 12 August 2016

Another newbie! "Enter Sandman" 7c+, The Gap, South Wales

Enter Sandman, 7c+, The Gap, South Wales.

Many moons ago, The Pickford had raved about Mad at the Sun, 7c/+ being "the hardest route on South Wales sandstone" but beyond that, I'd never really thought about climbing at The Gap.

However, owing to a dodgy back sustained from falling off the high-break of Traverse of the Gods, avoiding using too much body tension by doing some vertical/fiddling climbing seemed like a good idea. Helen was keen for the terrific Encore! Magnifique! (7b+) so we plugged Pontypridd into the satnav and set off for The Gap.

A momentary lapse of reason, 7b+/c is a very thin and technical route, with a slightly chequered past; the FA climbed the gnarly lower wall, then skirted around the roof on the left to a belay just below the heather. Since being re-geared with staple bolts, recent ascents have finished at the last bolt on the lip of the roof to avoid the the manky original belay (one rusty bolt; another sticking out 2 inches), as shown in the topo and description below.

The Gap topo from SWMC website
After a failed on-sight go at the lower 7b+/c bit, I had a play on the upper roof and worked out a tenuous sequence on micro-edges and sloper to take you up to the old belay direct. Everything was set - all I had to do was get through the start again!

After an aborted attempt, my skin was very thin, but the extra tie-in meant I'd now got a bomber sequence of crimps and high steps, so getting through to the rest below the roof was fairly straight forward.

Shouting down to one of the other climbers at the crag that day, I passed out instructions for taking photos with my phone and then set off up to the roof.

The mid-height rest - chilling out and passing on camera instructions

The internal dialogue went something like this:

Stretching through the roof
Long reach through the roof to the finishing hold of the original, clip the belay, heel up and stretch to the pocket. Turn the heel to a toe, frog stance and take the...

...Shit - which crimp is it?

...all the chalked holds feel dusty and rubbish...

...ah there it is - the chalk free one I brushed clean!

Sort the feet out and bounce to the better crimp - elbows out out - go for it anyway - catch the sloper with the right hand and stand up to the thank god jug.

Chicken wings for dinner anyone?

Enter Sandman is about 7c+; it's certainly short of the speculated 8a - the rest before the roof is just too good (Caveat - being tall helped on the first lock-off, but otherwise it isn't too reachy)

Monday, 1 August 2016

A blog a week until I'm up to date: Post 2 - Some newbies

Here are the details of four three new routes I've climbed over last 6 months, to bring you up to date with that side of my climbing; in no particular order:

1) Baba O'Riley, f8a, Malham

Years ago, when I was still obsessed by head-pointing routes at Sea Walls, Avon, I had my first taste of Yorkshire sport climbing on the easiest route at Malham - the short and grotty "Bergozi and the ledge lizards", f6a+. I remember at the time looking up at a solitary bolt in the bulge above the belay, and thinking - what goes up there?

Twelve years later (yes that does make me feel old!) in late 2015, Ian Dunne bolted a new 6c+ called "Whodunnit" just to the left of the aforementioned 6a+ and upon repeating Ian's route, my interest was piqued to once again look at that un-climbed bulge.

My first attempt at bolting a new line was an abject failure when I left the drill battery at home; the second only marginally more successful, with a belay and runners in the bulge successfully placed, but the battery running out halfway through placing the final bolt midway up the head-wall.

With just a day of the bolting season remaining I was unable to fix the final bolt as I was stuck in work and hence I was reduced to using an 12ft long sling hanging off the belay as a runner whilst working, and making redpoint attempts on the route.
A big block I had to trundle - however despite being obviously loose it took a good number of blows with my weedy ice-axe to dislodge it.
After a few days of working the route, a sequence of  typically tenuous Malham footholds unlocked the burly undercutting to take you to the lip of the bulge, where a crimp for the left hand and a super high heel allowed a series of four slaps with the right hand. The final slap uncurled by body enough to then swap the heel to a toe and rock over into balance by the extended sling runner.

After making a number of exciting falls from the final slap having skipped the second clip in the bulge, I reworked the sequence and found I could make just 3 of the 4 slaps and rock further on to the heel, snatch a side-pull and thus avoid another plummet. the first time up the route with the new sequence, Baba O'Riley was born, f8a?

The line of Whodunnit 6c+ (blue) and my new extension, Baba O'Riley 8a (red) with the large scar left by the trundled block easily visible.

N.B. The route name comes from classic The Who track used as theme tune to the modern TV Whodunnit classic, CSI: New York.

2) "Almost Familiar" f7c+, Parisella's Cave

A fun juggy extension to Jerry Moffat's classic 7A boulder problem "Parisella's Original" with a "technical knee" (01:46) deployed for the finish into the excavated scoop below the belay (another large block needed trundling whilst cleaning it prior to the FA - a developing theme?!?)

Adam Lincoln flashed the second ascent using an extra hold I hadn't discovered up and left, suggesting f7c.

Variations and projects:
  • Sit start/reverse Right Wall Traverse before joining the original, FA Ally Smith, f7c+/8a (You could do the Clever Beaver Sit Start into it at the same grade? Edit - did this link-up on 20th August - felt slightly easier - 7c+?)
  • Trigger Cut/Almost Familiar, FA Chris Doyle, f8a+ 
  • "Almost Halfway" = Halfway House/Almost Familiar, FA Chris Doyle, f8b/+ (video shows the easier finishing method Adam found - starting 02:44)
  • Broken Heart/Parisella's Original/Almost Familiar, project. A bit more stamina needed than the Trigger Cut link up, hence f8a+/b? (Edit - I completed this link in August 2016 at f8a+)
  • The Wire/Parisella's Original/Almost Familiar, project, baby f8c?
  • Director's Cut/Almost Familiar, project, f8c? The better and more direct line then the previous suggested link-up? (Edit - Doylo completed this link in August 2016; confirming my speculated grade of f8c news item and 1st ascent video here)
  • The big daddy - a direct line from the back of the cave to the lip - i.e. Hatch start/Rockatrocity/Almost Halfway. A slightly easier counter diagonal to Pete Robins' concept f9a+ link-up of Lou Ferrino/Bonnie extension, maybe somewhere in the realm of f9a?

3) Leftwall Reverse 7B (or f7c+?) Parisella's Cave

Does it exactly what it says on the tin - start at the finish of Leftwall and reverse the classic sequence; climbing rightwards and ever so slightly downhill on the final, crux sequence (portrait/smart phone footage in the video compilation) to finish at the Leftwall starting position.

I did shake out and try and continue back up Leftwall on the FA, but fell after 3 moves when I failed to leave enough room to match the horizontal shot-hole - one to go back to next winter?

UKC logbook keeper-of-the-cave Rich Hessian gave it an online slating, but i think it's a worthwhile thing to do when the cave is otherwise condensed out/seeping?

4) Oh yeah, I might have had something to do with the FA of this classy f8a too...

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

A blog a week until I'm up to date: Post 1 - Chulilla, November 2015

So, my exceedingly patch approach to updating this blog continues...

...I offer some pathetic explanation to this lassitude:

11 months ago, I went down to Dorset for a weekend of DWS, Andy's tasty home-brew and some hungover bouldering. The DWS was great, but the sun-burn healed much faster than the rotator cuff injury I picked up bouldering on Portland the next day. The recovery from this injury has been a long and winding road, without much logic as to what causes relapses from near full strength back to grumpily unstable.

Sun kissed Lulworth; just about the last thing I climbed before destroying my rotator cuff

Following the initial injury, I took a full fortnight off from climbing, something I'd not done for many years. After this, I undertook 2 months of weekly physio and made gradual improvement, but insufficient to commit to a planned autumn trip to the Red River Gorge, KY.

By the end of November, my shoulder had progressed well enough to visit Chulilla for a long weekend break.

Beautiful Chulilla, as seen from the upper, dam end of the gorge

My small amount of training for this trip was done very carefully, with the strong emphasis on remaining in complete control; i.e. static finger-boarding and foot-on campus routines, as directed by Coach Randall; hence, my expectations were very limited as I had no idea how well I'd be performing on rock...

...A retro-flash of the excellent Los Franceses (7b+) and on-sight of the bouldery El Muerto Matao (7c) constituted a highly successful re-acquaintance with rock on the first afternoon.

The belayer's perspective: Liz on the start of Miguel Gomez (7a+ now there's less holds on the crux)
The next morning, our team of four we shifted to the shadier sectors accessed from the dam where Liz completed the thin and slightly run-out Miguel Gomez (7a+), and I got back on Magica Montana (8a+); a route I'd attempted whilst tired and cold on the last day of a weekend break to Chulilla in Jan 2015.

This time around, I sketched wildly on the slopey tufa pinches where previously I had a solid sequence, but with the fitness gained from the super-boring foot-on campus sessions, I recovered at the jug rest, sneaked through the crux with improved beta before romping up the exposed crimpy headwall with a growing grin on my face. Clipping the chains, without feeling too pumped, I let my imagination run wild and gazed up at the 8c+ extension; maybe my climbing career wasn't over just yet...?

With no photos of me climbing in Chulilla, you'll have to make do with these couple of videos:

1) some random chap on Montana Magica (best viewed with the sound turned down)

2) The results of me drinking half a bottle of red wine to celebrate the redpoint - somehow I recovered enough to on-sight a soft 8a - El Agent Naranja - the following day!

Magica Montana red wine indulgence from Ally Smith on Vimeo.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Photographic catch-up

I’m currently broken; the left-side of my body seems to have given up the ghost.

Ankle, knee, ring finger, wrist & shoulder are all at some level injured. Most of these were just minor tweaks or reoccurance of tweaks, but the shoulder is the latest and most significant injury after making a horrid tearing/crunching sound last weekend.

Fingers crossed the noise originated from the belly of one of my shoulder muscles and wasn’t a proper rotator cuff or SLAP tear? Only time will tell…

To pass the time I’ve collated some photos from the last 8 months;

Simon half-way up the French Pillar, Jebel Mischt, Oman - scorchio!

New Years Eve 2014/15 - Me and Simon on the summit of Jebel Mischt, Oman, having climbed the 1100m high French Pillar, f6b+/E3 5c.

In the Summit shelter of Ben Nevis having climbed the "most famous ice gully in the world" - a 0430 wake-up call meant we got first dibs on the route :-)  


Oliana – less said the better - Fisheye handed me my arse on a plate for the second year running. John had a stonking trip though, climbing Fisheye, 8c, Humildes Pas Casa, 8b+ and Gorilla’s en la Nuebla, 8b/+ during our 2 week trip. He’s John enjoying his first glass of wine since Christmas to celebrate his ascent of Fisheye (on the right).


Old and new cars: i then proceeded to fill the boot of the new car with bouldering mats for multiple lamplight sessions in Parisellas cave; a highlight of which was getting up Trigger Cut (avec la knee).


I supplemented a work trip to Detroit and Houston with a long weekend in the Red River Gorge. The climbing highlights were doing Angry Birds, 13c 2nd go and getting spanked by the brilliant Paradise Lost, 13a on a warm day (below). The bourbon is pretty good too!

I really want to go back to the RRG this Autumn, but manky shoulder might have different ideas?

Upon returning from the USA I took a nasty tumble off my mountain bike whilst in a jet lagged fugue, and this was the start of a month off any serious climbing; first from the resulting 2 week concussion, and then another fortnight of chest infection and anti-biotics.

I injured my fingerwhilst trying the crux of Mecca when it was a bit damp, so had to resort to other forms of climbing, including limestone roof crack masochism
The dodgy gaffer tape jamming glove I improvised to get up Licking tarmac (AKA Fisting Katy) f8a at Cheddar.

Much of the month was spent hanging off bits of wood with varying weight dangling off my waist whilst rehab’ing my finger; i.e. avoiding all crimping what so ever.

I made some great progress upping my max hang from 27 to 43 kg over a 6 week training cycle and deployed this new finger strength back at the Tor on the only route that doesn’t have a crimp in sight.

However, after succeeding on Mecca Traverse and Mandela at Kilnsey, I set to working Guns in the Sky, 8b+ at Kilnsey and started to experience some knee pain from repeated heel/toe cams with my left foot, so it was a refreshing break to go down to Dorset for some time off from projects.

 Something completely different! (Indoor rifle range in an old road tunnel at Lyme Regis).

Crazy Notion, f7b DWS at a sunkissed Lulworth Cove. 24 hours before my shoulder self-imploded.