Posts Tagged ‘climbing’

In the middle of all the cycling trips, we are still continuing our training at Casa de Pedra, working in the gym there and the climbing wall, which we are doing on a daily basis during the week. Though climbing is going to feature less than we originally thought when we started out on this project, it is still important for the physical aspect – developing our upper body and abdominal strength as well as the psychological aspect.

Working with Fabio is going well, with a mixture of endurance and strength training, along with occasional jogs for a few kilometres out by the road. On the climbing wall, we are doing training such as three consecutive walls which are within my comfort zone, and then a break for a couple of minutes, then three more… continuing like this for an hour so until am pretty much exhausted. Once that is done, a few different types of situps for the abs,  training with elastic stretch bands for the shoulder muscles, and some general leg stretches.

And with Luciana at the gym… just switching between legs, abs, biceps/triceps, shoulders… just to get a good all round level of fitness. This is followed by an hour run on the treadmill, where I normally run about 11km or so and am also able to speed up towards the end rather than breathlessly collapsing as I might have done had I done this a few months ago. Training here is definitely not my favorite part of the week – am really not a big fan of weights but it is all needed to get in as good a condition as possible. With the running, I just keep working out the maths in my head to help time pass… what percentage of the run have I completed? If I have run x km after 2 and a half minutes, how many kilometres will I run after 6 minutes… straight forward math, but when am running it just takes a bit longer than it normally would to work out, and before I know it a good few minutes have passed and before I know it have run five or six kilometres. And, at the end of it all, a protein drink with a mixture of glutamine, creatine, whey protein, coco, honey and sugar cane, to help ensure I don’t burn muscle when exercising and to help muscle growth.

The Pão de Açucar São Paulo marathon was held a week or so ago. I definitely wasn’t in condition to run it this year, but I think that going like I am at the moment, it should be fun to do next year, and it would be a good intermediate goal – just hope it won’t be ridiculously hot.

<— Marathon to high camp

Negative thoughts did include hearing avalanches and ice falls in the background after dark, and the thoughts of falling off the side of one of the knife-edge ridges that we were bound to encounter. Also, as I mentioned, it would have been nice being able to speak with Natalia. It was good being in the same tent as Caleb though as we were able to chat about everything, though he he had spoken with other climbers who were going down who had said they had completed the summit after leaving at 4am as opposed to the normal midnight. Caleb decided that would be okay to do the same due to the cold that can be experienced on the mountain, though we had said we would meet the porters to go down to base camp at 1pm.

Fine by me, and when I woke up, all of the negative thoughts had gone and I was ready to go. It took a little time getting everything together and getting the gaiters on, though everything was in order. It would have been pitch black outside were it not for the stars which were brilliant. The moon was hidden by the mountain and it was only a very thin crescent moon as well. We could also see the lights of La Paz glimmering in the distance behind us. Headlamps on, and off we went.

Immediately there was a slope which went up to a knife-edge ridge. Fortunately with the dark I was not able to see the consequences of any fall and I was able to get by without too many problems. Up and beyond that and the slopes just did not let up. In comparison to Huayna Potosi where there were relatively gentle slopes coupled with frequent platforms where one could catch one’s breath, this was just un-remitting slopes. Not gentle ones either.

My body didn’t feel great at the start and the slopes soon started to have affect on me. Not sure if it was because I was still tired from the trek up to High Camp – Caleb, in a frank discussion about fitness, said that he thought I was above average fitness in comparison to others he had worked with. Problem is that at the altitude of High Camp, the body doesn’t recover quite so well from physical exertion quite so quickly, and it needs much more water to be able to function properly – more than I had been drinking, though from my urine I did not appear to be dehydrated at all. Caleb thought that the altitude at around 5,800 seems to hit me a bit like a wall and perhaps my body is still not completely adapted… I guess this will only come with practice though.

We kept going, though pausing frequently. At around 6.30am the sunlight appeared in the sky, though the sun was coming directly from the other side of Illimani, so we remained in the shade for a good while longer before the rays did eventually reach us. The wind was pretty strong and for the first time during the three weeks, I had all my layers on while walking, including my think down parker jacket and down mittens. My pace became slower though and though I was using breathing/walking techniques Caleb had taught us, I still had to stop every five or six steps or so to recover some more air. We could see the summit and it was slowly getting closer.

Passing crevasses to both sides of us, we weaved our way up and over the main glacier along the route, and up so we could see the trail in the side of the mountain leading its way to the summit. Caleb estimated that we were about 200-300 metres below the summit, though we would still need a couple of hours at my slow pace to reach it, and the time was already 10.30am… then we would need to get back down again. So it was I who took the decision: we would admit defeat and turn back.

Time and exhaustion were the main elements in the decision. It would have been nice to have had longer to complete the ascent, but there was nothing much that could be done now in this regard. The climb had turned into a continual struggle to place one foot ahead of the other and push mself up the mountainside, so I think it was the right choice. A shame, but the mountain will be there for a long time to come (hopefully with glaciers in tact, as they have been shrinking with global warming), and I don’t want to kill myself reaching any goal. I had done my best to get as far as we did (Caleb was pretty impressed that I had pushed myself as far as I got considering the struggle it proved to be for me). Am pretty confident that with a little more training, and a bit more time, I will be able to reach the summit of Illimani and higher peaks. Same with Natalia. Maybe we didn’t make it this time, though next time it will be a different story.

Thanks to Caleb for letting us use a few of your photos!

The views from the summit of Huayna Potosi were spectacular. We could see the Condoriri mountains with Pequeño Alpamayo; Illimani  was clear behind La Paz… lake Titicaca; Mount Sajama in the distance. It truly felt like we were on the roof of the world. There was a group of five other climbers who shared the summit with us for ten minutes or so, but when the left, it was just myself, Kirk and Caleb. There was not even any wind so there was a blissful silence as we looked over Bolivia. Incredible.

We had a couple of chocolate bars each (these had become our staple energy diets when going up the mountains. Apparently we were easily spending about 5,000 calories each in the course of the ascents); took a few photographs, and packed up to leave. Descending didn’t take too long with the exception of the knife-edge ridge from the summit. Going down was even harder for me than going up, though maybe I was not quite so breathless with each step. I guess in going down, as with Pequeño Alpamayo, we are forced to look at the consequences of any fall… down, and a long way down at that. The wall of ice to our left was a great help as I was able to plunge my ice axe into that every couple of steps and it was nice to have that extra security, but the fully exposed part towards the end, with no ice walls for protection, was again terrifying, but Kirk and Caleb coaxed me along and I was able to maintain my balance. As you can imagine, I was extremely pleased to get to the end of that part.

And yes, straightforward after that – the trail through the ice and snow was quite clear; all the main crevasses were clear either side of this path and no new crevasses opened up beneath our feet, so it was all good. Back to high camp and it was nice to see Natalia and José again, though they were leaving earlier to go down to base camp. We had chance to have a quick nap and some noodle soup before we had to pack our things up to go down. It was heavy work. Going down the perilously slippery rock-ice path with full back packs was tough (no porters); we needed crampons for parts because the snow was quite deep and going down in inflexible plastic mountain boots made it even harder. Then after that, the path just seemed to go on forever until we saw the buildings of the refuge. We saw a group of people on the glacier leading up to the mountain and they were coming down – they soon passed us and apparently this was training that they were doing in preparation for an ascent. José commented to Natalia that in general in Bolivia, inexperienced groups would do this type of training – and it would have been nice if we could have spent time doing it… but ah well, we had managed it anyway.

So back to the refuge; Kirk got us all a beer which was great, then the two hour drive to La Paz, a day’s rest and then, if things went according to plan, to Illimani.

Reaching the summit and descending the mountain —–>

After final preparations with more skills training on the afternoon after coming down from Austria, we went to bed in order to wake up at 1.30am to go up Pequeño Alpamayo. The reason we get up so early to go to the mountains rather than getting up during daylight hours is that it is much safer to complete the majority of the ascent when it is dark – once the sun is out, ice starts melting and things become a little less stable. Also, in these parts of the Andes, the weather has a habit of starting perfectly, and then turning bad in the afternoon as air from the rainforest rises… and the forecast for this day was for poor weather to come in after midday.

So it was; we woke up at 1am to get our stuff ready. Natalia was feeling better so we decided that she would give it a shot, and the weather was still, dry and completely clear – perfect conditions. Caleb called out for hot drinks and we had our cereal… headlamps on… and off we went. It was an hour or so hike along steadily higher terrain to the start of the glacier which we would ascend to begin the main assault on the peak. Unfortunately as we got closer to the glacier, Natalia’s stomach pains returned with aggression and she felt nauseous, so we thought that it would be best for her to go back. José went back with her, and carried her rucksack, which was a good job as later Natalia later commented that even with the headlamp it was very easy to lose the trail. We went on to the glacier, where we put on our crampons and linked into our rope team. I was with Kirk and Caleb, and when José got back (really, he has masses of energy and didn’t take long to catch up with us in spite of having been back to base camp!) he linked up with Augusto, who admitted that he felt pretty slow.

The glacier was straightforward. A gradual ascent, with no crevasses and no nasty falls. When we got to the top, it was sunrise and we could see the red light falling across the valley behind us as well as glowing on the snow on the peaks above us. The summit of Pequeño Alpamayo was not immediately visible. We still had to go up a number of other slopes until we got to see it. When the peak did reveal itself, however, both Kirk and I looked at it and just thought “wow”… it simply towered above us with steep 45-50 degree slopes leading up to it. The glacier itself had been nothing in comparison to what was to come and it was clear that we still had a lot of work to do.

As the sun rose and we moved onwards, we eventually got to a point where there was a snow platform from which we would have to traverse a narrow pass to climb a rock formation. It must have been about ten metres long with a steadily decreasing width to the thinnest part which was about couple of feet wide. On either side of these two feet were almost vertical falls going down for… I don’t know.. I guess a few hundred metres or so. Enough. Remembering how altitude has the effect of making things go much slower, this was not good, and with my not having the greatest head in the world for heights, this was not something that looked particularly enjoyable to me. Rock climbing is different – you are generally protected against the falls. With this, I was in a rope team with two other people and if I fell, I would have to depend on their reflexes to secure themselves with ice-axes to stop the whole team from falling. With these thoughts in my mind, the pass was simply terrifying for me. Augusto later commented that he had his heart in his mouth when he saw me going over it, with there being a bit too much slack on the rope and it getting tangled in my crampons. By the time I did get across and join Kirk and Caleb on the other side on the rocks, I was almost hyperventilating… but I managed it.

Reaching the summit and descending the mountain —–>

Sunday was our final opportunity to go rock climbing out in the open before our coming trip to Bolivia, and we used it by going with the guys from Casa de Pedra to Pedra Bela, a couple of hours away from the city, near a place called Bragança. We had been there once before on our first time rock climbing and it had been an interesting experience, with us struggling on climbs which are described as “easy” with class 5 routes proving a problem (to convert to the US scale, ignore the 5 and subcontract 4).

We have been regularly completing grade 6 six climbs at the Casa de Pedra gym, – including climbs with only very tiny holds for your fingers, so we were quite eager to see how we had improved. We also wanted to work in training ourselves with a belay device we would be using on the mountain – at the gym we have to use the Grigri because of Brazilian laws: they are more secure for catching falls due to a self-lock mechanism. The traditional tube style belay device is much lighter and is generally seen as more effective for lead climbers due to there being no auto-lacking mechanism. We got ourselves a Petzl Reverso, which has the same basics as a standard belay device though is also good for climbing with two ropes (over difficult terrain where you aren’t necessarily going in straight lines), and also for belaying two climbers at once. Since we will be using this type of belay device in climbing the mountains in Bolivia, and since mis-use of the device can easily lead to falls… we thought it would be good to train with people who knew how to use it properly…

And so we went, and improved we have!

Arriving at the rock at about 9am, we were presented with easy grade three climbs to start off with. These grades we did find very easy and were effectively strolling up them. Getting used to the belay device wasn’t too hard either. You just always need to remember to keep the rope tightly secured beneath the device, quickly giving slack to allow a climber to keep going up, and bringing your hands back down again, below the device. With Fabio, Mineiro and Adebas from the gym keeping a close eye on us, we soon built our confident. After lunch, some harder climbs were mounted including the grade five I had struggled with for a long time before finishing the other time, and another which was new… different. It looked pretty vertical to me, that’s for sure. Adebas didn’t tell us what grade it was at first… just for us to give it a try. I went first.

After struggling a little at the beginning and falling a couple of times, I managed to find some rock crystals to put my toes on and grab hold of with my finger tips. Slowly but surely, I was able to make my way up. It was not until I passed the hardest part of the climb that Adebas called up to say that it was a grade 7A – something I just learned now is the first of climbs which are considered “Sporting” grades. And I managed it! The view from the top felt pretty special – better than the views from just a few metres away along the rock where we climbed the grade 3s…! At the same time though, something left me slightly unsatisfied. Not sure exactly what it was… maybe because I know we still have loads of work to do and this is still just the beginning. Natalia managed to do it as well, which was great (though she was mad with herself for using one of the metal bolts in the cliff to help support her weight as she climbed… but she used them much less than others there, so it was still great!).

And then, just before sunset, back to the grade five… both Natalia and I managed to climb it first time in just about five minutes or so… at least it seemed really quick, anyway! I think I almost felt better in managing this than I did with the 7A! But all the same, with the way we managed with the belay device and the different climbs, we were both extremely happy with the day. It was a fitting end to see one of the more impressive sunsets we have seen for a very long time just as we packed up all the gear.

So next week, we will be on the plane to Bolivia, and greater… and much higher challenges.

After discussing the 360 Extremes Expedition with Ale Silva, the owner of Casa de Pedra ( and a well-known mountaineer and rock climber here in Brazil, and Janaina who works with him at the company, we are delighted to announce that Casa de Pedra here in Brazil has agreed to sponsor the Expedition!

Casa de Pedra has a climbing wall and weights gym here in the Barra Funda area of São Paulo – where we go every week day to train our climbing skills and develop our physical fitness. They also sell mountaineering, climbing, cycling and sports equipment at the gym and at their store at Shopping Vila Olimpia. Soon they will launch their flagship store, which will be the first of its kind in São Paulo, with a massive selection of different equipment for general sports enthusiasts through to the professional sports people, and where there will be features such as climbing and sports-related lectures held throughout the year.

To have Casa de Pedra’s support for the Expedition means a lot to us considering we took our initial climbing steps with them and the amount of training we do with them, so this is great news all round, and thank you Ale, Janaina and Casa de Pedra for your support.

Picture of the hamstrings

From – very good site about injury types and medical issues

It is not the worst injury I have had in my life – this time it is what could be described as a grade I hamstring injury – a minor tear in the muscle, though possibly bordering grade II; a partial tear in the muscle. I suffered a grade III tear (a complete rupture) in a calf muscle once playing football and I have never felt quite so much pain for a prolonged period as I did at that time: after pretty much collapsing onto the ground the moment it happened, unable to put any weight whatsoever on that leg, I was on crutches for a couple of weeks following the event and it took a two months or so to get fully better. So my immediate thought upon feeling my hamstring strain was thankfulness that it wasn’t more serious, as I really don’t want to feel anything like that kind of pain again.

The strain happened as I was on the climbing wall at an overhang: I was putting my heel high up to gain support on one of the protruding “rocks” on the wall above the overhang, and putting a lot of pressure on it to be able to push myself up so my hand could get a grip. I felt a little tear in my leg and though it didn’t hurt immediately it felt like something was wrong so I had to come down – quite annoying as I felt I was about to clear one of the walls I that I had been working on completing for some time. The wall could wait, however, so down on the ground, we put an ice pack on my hamstring.

I say grade I injury as there was no real pain at the time, though the discomfort turned into pain on the day after, and I was limping for the first three days or so after it happened. I probably didn’t treat the injury as well as I could have – I probably should have spent more time with the “RICE” method (Rest, Ice packs, Compression, and Elevation of the leg) but it did mean I spent the last week with no visits to the gym, and over the week, the pain gradually diminished. So much so, I felt confident enough to go back to the gym last night but only for light exercise. When doing a few stretches, and putting pressure on my knee, I could feel the pain in my leg, so I limited my time there to just doing a couple of traverses along the wall on stretches that didn’t require too much leg-work. I was able to fully complete one of the traverses which I had not quite managed before, so I was happy with that.

But more rest today and it will probably be a couple more weeks or so before am 100%, which will be just in time to be fully fit for our Bolivia expedition. Definitely want to be better for that and I don’t want to turn a minor set back into something more serious.

Never like being my own “doctor”, but found a number of sites about hamstring and other sporting injuries – this site seemed to be the one that provided the most information about the matter and is pretty interesting –

… In the wet…

It wasn’t raining very hard: it was what Brazilians call “garoa” – a soft drizzle which got a little harder every now and then, but also occasionally had a few breaks in for a bit of soft sunlight to come through the clouds. Difficult conditions, especially for newbie climbers like Natalia and myself: we have been going to the climbing wall on plenty of occasions but on the rock itself is something else.

Ben, on the way up...!
Photo - Tatiana Pedra - Thanks!!!!

Up nice and early at 6am, we got to the cliff face at about 9am where we met with the Fabio, our trainer, and the guys from the gym who were organizing it. They had arranged six climbs along the cliff of varying difficulties along the face: with a few “grade 3” climbs and then a 4, 5 and a 6. Climbing grades differ depending on where you are – Wikipedia (as always!) has a good guide to the grades, but to be quick, in Brazil, grades 1 to 3 are very easy, 4-6 are “easy”, and then the hardest is 12 (for US-Brazil conversation ignore “5.” and subtract 4. (5.10=6)) At the gym, after four months or so, Natalia and I are at grade six and slowly but surely moving our way up! But yes, on the rock, things are different. On the rock, your fingers hurt more when you are holding on; you don’t get the big protruding rocks to grab hold on; and you will get cut and grazed a bit more than in the artificial environment! Even the grade 3 on this particular rock was technically quite challenging – they were grade three because they were positive angle making life easier, though if it wasn’t for this, they would have 5s or 6s – basically because of the lack of good holds for your feet and hands.

But in the wet, things were even harder. Rock climbing is normally done when there is good weather for a good reason – you don’t slip so much. In the wet, and on the positive aspects of the cliff, the water clings on and cleans your hands of any magnesium chalk pretty quickly. On granite surface your hands can slip much more easily, making the climb much more challenging. Even Fabio, when he was dismounting the grade 5 climb, had difficulties going up in the conditions.

In spite, and even because, of the conditions, however, I felt it was a pretty good day. For me at least, I found myself depending even more than ever on my feet in order to get myself into good positions – my hands were only useful to provide a bit of support – and I was pleased with this. Learning to trust in your feet is part and parcel of climbing. The grade 3 climbs all went well in spite of the conditions, and after a few minutes or so working out how to get past the grade 4 route, I managed it all right – slowly but steadily. Also I could feel my body being able to reach further than the last time we went outdoor climbing: my feet reaching up to just about where my hands were in order to get into a nice balance; looking for closer points to put the feet with more calm rather than panicking to get up and away… And we have to remember that the weather isn’t always going to be our favour when we finally leave São Paulo on this expedition.

I wasn’t able to do the grade 5 climb: it had stopped drizzling when I attempted it, although it was still a bit slippery; I must have tried about half an hour or so at one of the sections, though eventually after a fair few falls, scratches, cuts, and burning finger tips, I admitted defeat. It would have been nice to have been able to rest for half an hour or so and tried again, as I felt that I had just about worked out how to do it and I was almost reaching the key points, but the weather closed in and we were forced to pack up. But ah well! Am pretty confident that I will be able to manage it next time, and having that climb there waiting for me is a great reason to go back!

For the first eight years of my life, my family lived on the Orkney Islands, on a small island called Stronsay and then on the “mainland” in the fishing village of Stromness. It could probably be considered a pretty idyllic place for kids to grow up as we could wander around everywhere and always be able to get back home, and there were plenty of things to keep curious and adventurous children quite active. One day, my sister Lesley and I went to the beach with one of our elder brothers, Mark. When we got there, somehow we got separated from Mark near a grave-yard – Lesley and I thought that ghosts or something got him and made our worried way back home to tell mum what had happened. Mark came back hours later even more worried about how he would tell mum about how he had lost us!

Being the youngest of seven children, I would often wander off and get myself into bits of bother here and there (though I wasn’t the only one). I think it was Mark (I can’t remember, this is only what I was told) who had to wade into the sea after me when I had gone in and got a bit out of my depth with the sea dragging me away from the land. At another time, my parents had taken their eyes off of me and before they knew it, I was half way up a six foot wall (which had a ten foot drop on the other side). Apparently when my dad saw me, he almost panicked, but my mum stopped him from shouting at me for fear that startling me would make me lose my confidence and fall. So he rushed to get a camera and take a couple of photographs instead… Not sure as to exactly how I got down, but I survived to tell the tale.

These formative years of my life were when I started to be told tales of Scott of the Antarctic (watching the 1948 film on our old black and white TV), and the ascent of Everest by Hillary and Tenzing, and though we can be quick to dismiss childhood dreams of wanting to be explorers and the like (afterall, I imagine that so many children have these dreams), I remember distinctly saying I that I wanted to reach the South Pole and I wanted to climb Mount Everest. These dreams faded as we went away from the islands to England and the larger towns and cities, though I guess always lingered, and for me it’s great to have finally re-discovered them and to be in a position to work to make them happen. Hopefully it will all work out!

Have you any forgotten dreams that would love to make happen? Just curious to know…!!

Ode to the seconds

Posted: April 24, 2012 by None Smith in Climbing, English
Tags: , , , , ,

In almost any outdoor excursion, whether it be a big expedition, a day hike, or a climb, the overall outing is divided into sections. Each section has it’s set of leaders and followers. This can happen in a day hike where the front person is switched out every x number of miles. In climbing, each climb is divided into “pitches”, and each pitch has it’s follower and leader. Being that I spend most of my time climbing, and climbing has one of the clearest depictions of leaders and followers, I will relate mostly to that outdoor sport. This is, my ode to the second. In honor of the followers.

Quick trad climbing lesson! A climbing route is divided into pitches. At the Gunks, the most pitches I’ve encountered is 3-4, but to give you perspective, El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California has routes with over 30 pitches! A pitch can be determined by either: running out of rope, a convenient belay ledge, an convenient place to create an anchor or pre-existing bolted anchors.

Each pitch then has a leader and a follower. A leader is on the “sharp end” of the rope. As they climb they place gear (protection for themselves if they were to fall) and then clip the rope into that gear. The leader has a bit more precarious of a job, which can be stressful! If the leader falls they can fall quite a bit. Depending how far they are above their last protection, how much slack is in the rope and other factors, they could be halfway up the pitch and still hit the deck! (This is rare and probably evidence of not the strongest leader.) The leader also has the stress of setting quality gear. These SLCDs and nuts must hold if the leader were to fall on them. Falling only to have your protection pop out of the wall is never a situation you want to be in.

Once the leader reaches the belay ledge, they tie into an anchor, get taken off belay, and pull all the rope up until the second’s (who is still on the ground) side of the rope becomes taught. The leader then belays from the top of the pitch and the second climbs up and takes all the gear out of the wall. When all is said and done, it’s as if the climbing team weren’t even on the wall (a beautiful thing for conservation and the environment!).

The second’s job is relatively safe. They are essentially on top rope (for those who’ve climbed top rope at the gym you know how safe this is as opposed to lead climbing), and they must take the gear out of the wall and put it on their harness. Pretty simple right? Without a doubt the stress is reduced as is the responsibility. But is it? It’s a big misconception that the follower is “without responsibility” as the safety of the team is on the shoulders of both climbers.

An efficient and well versed second (hopefully with some knowledge about leading) can make the biggest contribution to the overall climb.

So, to all those seconds who re-rack alpine draws mid climb, thank you! To those who are busy flaking out the rope while the leader is busy racking up, thank you! Those seconds who keep all the nuts together when giving them back to the leader and who place cams strategically on their harness, thank you! To all the followers who bring extra cordelettes, nut tools, locking carabiners, thank you! To the seconds that know what a clove hitch is, use it to tie themselves into the anchor and carry their own leashes, thank you! And to all those seconds who know what gear they should have on their harness before the leader sets up the pitch… thank you!

The list could go on, but the point is there… efficient followers are an integral part to any expedition. And with enough knowledge, both climbers will probably be swapping leads – creating an extremely efficient climbing team.

It’s been so long since I last wrote a blog post. I’ve been going from busy with work to busy with personal

Busy Climbing! Leading Horseman's at the Gunks.

matters and back and forth again. All while trying to keep up with this project, which, as Ben has mentioned, is a full time job in and of itself. Regardless, what have I been up to?

With Easter and Passover last week, local schools had a week of vacation. So where did parents bring their children to keep them entertained? To the rock gym of course for a week full of “Spring Break Rock Camp” and more. Needless to say it was wild. 12 hour days dealing with some of the best and worst of kids trying to pull all sorts of shenanigans on the instructors.

On Friday, we had a line out the door, three belay classes and two kids parties of at least 15 kids in each all going on at the same time. Chaos doesn’t even begin to describe the scene. I was instructing one of the belay classes while this was all going down. As I was giving my students the final test and watch them tie in and belay, I literally had kids running in and out, weaving between me and my students. I had to yell instructions to the belay class while they were still on the ground.

For anyone that’s worked with kids – they can be exhausted. I would get home at night and just want to sleep. But sleep only goes so far. People need a buffer, an activity to break up thoughts from work. Since spring has fully unloaded itself on the north east (70+ degrees F days!), everyone at the gym has been planning trips to the famous Gunks. The topic I write about all the time.

A friend topping out on Easy Overhang - her first Gunks climb!

We went on Sunday. I went today. We’re going tomorrow. Going back to the gym just doesn’t seem worth it…

Following up on Ben’s post about the importance of knots, I always like to think about the importance of mental clarity while climbing and how it will play an important role in our long expedition. I’ll give you an example. While climbing Easy Overhang this morning with a friend of mine, I passed through a section on pitch 2 in which I couldn’t find any suitable cracks or openings for placing protection. In trad (short for traditional) climbing, as you climb you place protection (camming devices, nuts) into the rock to protect

A spring loaded camming device in a rock - that's protection!

you if you fall. I could find no spots for suitable protection. I look down and notice my last protection is around 15 feet below me. On pitch 2 we’re now 140 feet off the ground. At the American rating of 5.2 I don’t think I’ll fall, but a fall would be a long drop with a potential for hitting other rocks.

Keeping a cool head is key. Focusing on the next solid hand hold and foot hold is important. Keeping an eye on where to place your next protection is your goal. As we bike for hundreds of miles or slog across frozen tundra and ice, keeping that calm and focused attention will be vital to our success. The large goal is attained by focusing on doing the next step successfully.

A knotty question

Posted: April 17, 2012 by Ben Weber in Climbing, Training
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Not just physical climbing last night but also a good half hour or so learning basics about knots… and why not? Considering that our lives are going to depend on good secure knots, we thought it better to start sooner rather than later, especially with our Bolivia expedition looming in less than a couple of months.

First thing’s first and the basic Figure of Eight knot and double Figure of Eight which you use to tie into your harness so that you are secure when going up.  In summary, you need to measure the rope up to the top of your harness, taking the bite in the rope and looping it round across the front before going down and round the back, and then back up through the front of the loop at the top… sounds complicated but after a couple of tries it all becomes quite simple. Then, you tie it in through your harness and do the same knot again, parallel with your original knot. What’s great is that, inspite of sounding difficult when reading or hearing someone speaking about it, it is quite simple, can take a massive amount of strain and then, when you are finished, is pretty easy to untie.

One of the other knots we looked at was the Prusik knot, which is a really clever… Basically you use an accessory rope to loop around your main climbing rope three times to create a loop that will lock into place when weight is put onto it. You can use double combinations to use for your feet as well as body, so you can “prusik” your way up cliffs. If you slip, it will take your weight as it will lock. And, it hardly damages the rope the knot is attached to.

So yes, these are pretty basic, and there are others to learn, but essential knots to know, and we will be practicing them for sure to make so they are of second nature to us as soon as possible.

Boys vs. Girls

Posted: April 11, 2012 by None Smith in Climbing, English, Training
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For generations and generations, almost everyone has taken part in the argument of what makes men and women different. Outside of the obvious visual differences, who is stronger, smarter, faster, more agile? Who can do math faster? Who has a greater breadth of knowledge? Who has better specific knowledge? And year after year studies come out highlighting differences. And year after year, other studies contradict them. It will be a forever on-going debate.

In school, we’re surrounded my our normal team sports – soccer, American football, field hockey, basketball etc. Unfortunately, the majority (in terms of greater society) are largely male dominated sports. If they aren’t, they are female dominated but you probably won’t see them on TV too often. It’s unfortunate. Let me add some depth before stating my point of view – my last year of college I was pretty involved with feminist points of view and some literature. I was longing to see and experience a hardcore sport or activity that was female dominated.

Fast forward to today. I’ve been rock climbing consistently for about a year now. Call it blind perception, but since I’ve started I’ve always believed that women were the stronger climbers. At least all the women I climbed and climb with far surpass my abilities. When a group of first time climbers come in and I belay them – the women always do better than the men. They are more determined, strategic and more importantly, they use their legs more!

Then came the dyno. The 5.12. A bunch of new routes were just set all over our gym and our one setter decided to try something funky. You’ll have to see the picture to better understand but basically you start two

Look for the black tape. The start is the greenish hold with two piece of black tape. The two footholds are right below that. The next hold is about 5 feet above it - yellow hold with black tape. Have fun!

hands on a nice jug, lock your arms straight down, bring your feet to the footholds and leap up to the next hold. That next hold – a large, flat hold – is around 10-11ft (around 3.3m) from the ground. It’s around a 5 foot leap. If you’re tall enough you can do it statically (without fully leaving the wall) but for most of us, it requires a second of being airborne.

I tried it once, failed. On the second try, nailed it. I brought my brother climbing for the first time last week in a very long time and showed him the dyno. Once, twice and on the third time, he got it. Another guy I was belaying who had never ever been climbing wanted to try, and it only took him two tries to nail it too. All these guys, whether “climbers” or not, seemed to just naturally understand how to dyno 11ft in the air.

Then some girls tried. One our employees, an avid and extremely strong boulderer tried for 3 days straight before she got it. I would be working and she would be sitting there, staring at the problem, trying it and sitting back down. Even one of my climbing partners, someone the whole gym recognizes as an extremely strong climber, took at least 15-20 tries before getting it. And she climbs circles around me! This one time we tried leading every 5.9 in the gym. When I was pumped and couldn’t climb anymore she climbed three more, and three harder 9s too! Absolutely astounding.

Yet when it came to this dyno, the girls seriously fell behind. I was speechless and couldn’t offer any tips. It just came “naturally” to me. The girls complained that the men have more “spring” and were more “powerful”. I didn’t want to believe it! But it was sadly obvious.

It came full circle last night when I was speaking with my assistant-manager at the gym. A little history: this woman has won first in almost every competition she has been in in the north east of the US and is preparing to compete in Regionals this coming weekend. If she wins, she goes to nationals. That’s sponsorship status. She is a GOOD climber. Her explanation was thus; women from the beginning are really good at being strategic and figuring out problems in rock climbing. Men on the other hand just power through it and come up short. As men get more serious about climbing, they tone down their power and hone in on technique and then become the stronger climbers. Her follow up to that was that in one of her competitions that she came in first, if she was ranked among men she would have been third. In another where she came in third, if ranked with men she would have come in 16th. Again, I didn’t want to believe it.

Either way, this is just a small example. From what I know and have experienced, women are far superior in climbing. I might be being a bit blind to the situation, but it’s such an inspiration to see a woman sending a really hard climb that I can barely get a few moves into.

I’ll pose the question to you guys – what have you found? How do you weigh in on the ancient argument of men and women? How about with the sports you participate in?

And very nearly did last night.

Not to us on this occasion, but we were quite close to the scene: basically a girl next to us who was belaying (securing the rope for her partner who was climbing up) had not secured the belaying device to her safety harness properly and it slipped out when her partner was close to the top. At the time this happened, fortunately the guy was firmly secured with his hands and legs on the wall, but had he not been, there would have been a nasty ten metre fall awaiting him that would have caused serious injury at the least. The monitors seeing what had happened rushed over to secure the rope and connect it to one of their own harnesses so the climber could come down safely.

Dan Osman - at the limit

A while ago, back in 1998, a massively experienced climber, Dan Osman, fell to his death whilst performing “controlled jumps” which led to the ropes snapping. In spite of all his experience, perhaps his self-confidence got the better of him, and he used equipment that had been exposed to the elements for months.

Accidents can happen. I have had a couple of small things happen to me – one stupid: climbing up one wall, I lifted my hand up quite quickly and caught it on a “rock” on the wall; still hurts now, five days after it happened. The other time was not really my fault: a “rock” was slightly loose and turned suddenly under the weight of my foot which was taking all my weight when I was traversing along at the bottom of the wall – almost got a groin strain but fortunately was okay. Much worse things that are out of our control can happen outside of the safety of the gym. Climbers have been killed in avalanches and in severe weather after conditions changed on their mountain in the blink of an eye.

Climbing, if everything is done properly, is pretty safe. Incidents like what happened to the girl and her partner; what happened to my finger and what happened to Dan Osman can certainly be avoided (otherwise us climbers would (literally) be dropping like flies!): We must always be aware of exactly what is happening to ourselves and with our colleagues. We should be calm and steady in our movements to avoid breaking any of our own bones…! We must be careful with all of our equipment to make sure everything is set up properly before taking steps forward into potentially dangerous situations even a few metres off the ground. We must always take care of and maintain the equipment itself.

Things can always happen that are beyond our control. The weather might close in on us in the worst of places. All we can do is try to be prepared for even the worst and minimise these risks. Waiting for avalanches to happen before attempting an ascent; ALWAYS looking at the weather and being prepared for the harshest of conditions. The risks of “rocks” turning around (rocks come loose on the mountain, that’s for sure) can also be reduced: looking and feeling the lay of everywhere we place our hands our feet. Is it secure and stable?? Does it feel loose? Can we move somewhere better?

Always maintaining a distinct sense of … not fear, but awareness of the possibilities… can be a real life saver. After all, no matter how many mountains we climb, we are far from invincible.

Meu primeiro contato com a Slackline foi numa reportagem e achei bem legal, as pessoas pareciam se divertir bastante com a nova onda carioca. Ao chegar na Casa de Pedra e ver a fita armada não resisti e fui tentar. É, mas o que eu não imaginava era que antes da diversão viria a superação. Pra ser sincera ainda estou tentando me superar. Eu tento, tento, tento, tento e tento e a evolução é zero. O Ben já está começando a se divertir, já atravessou a fita de ponta a ponta algumas vezes mas ainda não arriscou nenhuma manobra, mas do jeito que ele evolui isso não deve demorar. Se eu conseguir andar 3 passos até o meio do ano já fico feliz. 

Pra quem não conhece muito o esporte vou tentar explicar brevemente, a prática consiste em se equilibrar sobre uma fita de nylon estreita e flexível e surgiu na década de 80 no Vale Yosemite porque os escaladores para montar vias tinham que acampar por dias e esticavam as fitas de escaladas para se equilibrar e caminhar.

É um esporte que pode ser praticado por pessoas de qualquer idade e os benefícios são diversos como a melhora do equilíbrio, da concentração, dos reflexos, da consciência corporal, coordenação, entre outros. Hoje é usado nos treinos de muitos escaladores, surfistas e skatistas porque os movimentos e músculos exigidos são muito parecidos.

Você pode ver abaixo que com prática e criatividade muita coisa é possível!