One Woman Psyche Part 2: Nerves

I stepped out of the car and despite my apprehension, a seemingly normal looking man stood before me. He rushed over and gave me a hug, his voice dripping with a southern drawl. I wasn’t just in America, now I was in Kentucky.

All seemed well and with no other option, I followed him and his buoyant, chubby black lab into the massive house behind. Bright yellow walls and an exposed wood kitchen welcomed us. The house was more than big enough for a family of six. He led me down the stairs into a basement. I hadn’t seen a house this big in years. ‘And this is my freezer, where I keep all my meat, ’ he said with a smile, red packages glinting as he snapped the door shut. But tiredness blurred any worry and I sleepily said goodnight, watching the many bottles of Jack Daniels lining the shelf near the ceiling slowly shrink.

I lay down in extremely soft bed, my eyes jumping to the lock on the door, thinking of the stranger just a few steps away in his bedroom. And in that moment, I felt the complete emptiness of being alone, thinking how different things would have been if my partner had been here. If I didn’t have to trust this stranger, when all the signs pointed to ‘Run-away!’ But despite the nagging reminder of the deep freeze in the basement, I felt I had no choice. And in a bold moment of trust in the moment, I even left the door unlocked, finding sleep as the morning promised a first day climbing.


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The next day as I sat in the front of the black truck and made small talk, I did my best to remember the gravel-covered roads and church signs marking the way to one of the main areas in the Red, the PMRP, PendergrassMurray Recreational Preserve.

It was 25 degrees Celsius and sweat poured down my back ans mosquitoes bit my legs as I tried to stay positive. But it really wasn’t hard taking in the sweeping sandstone pockets and massive overhangs, the signature of the Red. I offered to belay first, quickly deciding that I would scope out my unknown partner and host. But then he was quickly down and it was my turn. No more excuses to be had.

My heart started to beat faster and I tied in, careful to show that I knew what I was doing. I stripped off my top; it was too hot to climb with proper clothes. My armpits dripped and palms were soaked. This wasn’t climbing, this was survival. It was only a 6b but my biceps and forearms burst with the pump, but I couldn’t fall off. I didn’t know this guy, but not only that; I had a reputation to live up to.

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Before I arrived, I had been included in a group message telling all these Kentucky locals that I was a 7c+/13 climber and above. A message obviously shared to let them know I wasn’t going to sketch them out with a dodgy belay. But in turn I felt under pressure to live up to these claims. They’d made assumptions and heard rumours and then I’d arrived, not knowing how my body would feels but I felt I to perform. And here I was on the other end, not knowing the climber holding the grigri, but where was the pressure on him? I felt I had to perform but did he?

I had never been in this position before – under the pressure, again to perform, but in a different way. This time it was to ensure the other’s safety and to live up to the words said about me before. I had to onsight this 6b otherwise they might think me a hypocrite, a poser, a liar.

But the nervousness made me even more pumped, and as my forearms exploded from the holds, the rippled open-handed jugs, burning into the bottom of my forearms, I quickly learned why the Red was famous for shutting people down.

My heart fluttered the whole way to the top but I sent it. I had to. Then I battled through a 6c and a 7a+ to follow, but the adrenaline left me exhausted, skin shredded, and callouses torn from my palms in the heat and humidity. I’d gone climbing, but I couldn’t be sure I was having fun yet.

I stayed another night, but the next day I thanked my host and packed an on-lend rope & draws that he’d graciously offered. I decided it was time, time to head off into the unknown, and I finally headed to the infamous camp-site at Miguel’s Pizza, what some call the Camp Four of the East…

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Photo: Karsten Delap

One Woman Psyche: Part 1

In light of today’s election results, I thought what better thing to do than distract myself  and others with something other than political woes. Entertainment is our favourite form of escapism, so here is the first of my blogs about my recent trip to the Red River Gorge… Thanks for reading!


This past year has been a true test of my relationship with climbing. Just about exactly one year ago, I ended up in Colorado bouldering alone for the first time and came to the quick realisation that I had absolutely no idea how to do things on my own. I couldn’t figure out how to put my tent up (in my defense it was a complicated one), I ran over my groceries, I almost got a speeding ticket, and I drove over an hour to a mountain crag that is covered in snow that time of year. Things were not going well.

But in the months that followed, with my minimal but newly found independence, I ended up tagging along solo on a climbing trip with some top climbers I didn’t know well, journeying to China all alone to climb with a crew I barely knew (but were awesome!), and then my most recent affair – getting stuck in the Red River Gorge all by myself…with no climbing gear except shoes and a harness.

It’s almost as if this year something in the universe has been pushing me to be that Strong Independent Woman I’ve always thought I was (but apparently wasn’t). And to answer for myself – How much do you love climbing? What does climbing mean to you?

Moving away from the increasingly shrinking airport check in and my would-be-partner, I waved a panicked goodbye and ran to catch the plane. A hallow filled my stomach, regretting the missing rope and draws, but moreso because I still didn’t feel confident enough to do this alone, but I certainly didn’t have a choice.

It might seem like a simple thing to go climbing alone to some people, but for me climbing is often a two-way relationship. The trickles of climbing horror stories that we’ve all heard always left me apprehensive. I knew people went sport-climbing solo, but I rejected the idea long ago, knowing I could never put my life into a stranger’s hands. Unless forced!

My belayer is my partner – friend, encourager, and support. Perhaps I’m too dependant, but when you have to trust them to keep you safe, I don’t feel I can climb with just anyone.

‘So’ Jerome asked over the phone, ‘Are you just going to stay in Florida then?’ But somehow my mouth said the words before I could think, ‘No, I’m sticking to the schedule. I’m going to go alone.’ Something inside made me want to be that person. The kind that could go places and do things alone.

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With only 24 hours from landing on USA soil, I packed in a hurry, eager to start the 12-15 hour drive. On the couch sat two sleeping bags and two roll mats innocently waiting for me. I packed them both, just in case.

It was past 10pm when I finally arrived to the Red. Slade, Kentucky, the land of Daniel Boone, rattle snakes, and more than 100 sandstone arches. I followed directions the old fashioned way, turn by turn, sent via text from a friend of a friend of a friend, as there’s no service in most of Lee County, Kentucky.

‘Just meet me at Koops gas station,’ this friend of a friend of a friend said. ‘I’ll be in the black truck.’ I waited at the eccentric gas station, with four small upright rectangular pumps, each dolling out only one kind of gas each at different prices.

The impending big black truck arrived and quietly pulled in. I shut off my engine to get out, but as I did, the truck started driving away –  I was meant to follow this person in this car, somewhere, before even hearing their voice or seeing their face. So I did…

A Taste of ‘Professional’ Climbing

In the past 6 months, a huge amount of change has occurred in my climbing career (not to mention the fact that I feel like I have one now). I climbed a few 8a sport climbs, was offered my first sponsorship from Monkey Fist – a skincare brand I really love, and I was an athlete (imagine that!) in two climbing films, one with Bloc Features and the other with Volo Digital for the Reach Film.

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Blokfest finals at Boulder Brighton. Photo: Karolis Pipiras

I’ve been competition climbing for years and won here and there  but nothing really came of it. This past year I was 2016 Senior Female Blokfest Champion, but nothing really happened, they didn’t even mention it on UKC. I’ve learned a few things along the way and it’s mostly that if you don’t tell people about what you are doing, they don’t really notice, which then encourages the unashamed self-marketing, but the real truth is it’s pretty much the only way to succeed in this industry. In all my recent travels I’ve met a lot of people climbing really hard, something that happened when I moved into the slightly more ‘advanced’ bracket of climbing and relocating to the climbing hub of Sheffield.

But I found as soon as you climb a little bit harder, you then move to the bottom of the fish pond again. I’ve had the opportunity to meet women who are bouldering 8a and 8b as well as sport climbing on the same level or harder. This progression has definitely given me a lesson in humility.

Back in London I didn’t know many women who were climbing at a similar level (or were super psyched) so I felt like a little bit of an anomaly. But now being  one of less strong women climbing, it’s brought me to question how much I love climbing – do I love it more than being on top or winning? I went through a phase of struggling to see my own ability as worthwhile, as most people are topping out boulders faster than me or climbing grades way harder. I constantly felt under pressure to ‘prove’ myself, as I didn’t know them well or haven’t climbed much with them.

Contrarily trying to publish my achievements as seems necessary to be a an aspiring professional, I started to feel a little bit like a poser – as if what’s the point of posting about myself if I’m not nearly as good as these other women? Georgie Abel, one of my favourite womens/climbing/etc bloggers posted a nice explanation of this odd phenomenon — feeling like an online imposter, which I really relate to. Since posting about my climbing, I have had those feelings of questioning whether it’s worthwhile, but especially with the lack of women climbing in the media, I hope that it would have the same effect that my friend’s posts always have for me – that I’m inspired to try as hard as they do.

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Frustrated at not sending at St Bees. Photo: Lee James Thompson

Recently in the making of these two climbing films, I was put under the pressure of the camera – a totally new experience for me. We drove 3.5 hours and went to St. Bees where I was told to climb a certain boulder and then I had to make everyone wait while I tried to get it, over and over and over.

It took maybe 3-4 hours. I’d never really been in the position where I had to climb something and people were dependant on me. The pressure was immense, and it again made me question how much I really loved the sport. If being a professional or a sponsored athlete meant finding it within yourself to be able to perform any time, but not only that, having fun any time, I wasn’t sure I was capable of that! I started to question whether being a professional is really something I want, as it was seeming more work than stardom.

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Trying to send my project under camera pressure. Photo: Volo Digital

In the filming of the Reach, we travelled to Magic Wood. There were a lot of us being filmed and on the one day I had the camera crew I felt really bad and wasn’t climbing well. And then there was always the problem of someone trying something harder that maybe should be filmed instead. Maybe the camera crew should have gone with them instead of me; I had to make it worthwhile. All logistics and pressures I had never really considered before.

This taste of professionalism I have to say has definitely brought on a reality check. We all talk about wanting to be pros, but these pros, the people I’ve been climbing with, deal with these pressures all the time, and it’s something you really have to work through. I think perhaps I was under the guise of this disbelief that there was a lot of free gear, free press and loads of fun to be had as a sponsored athlete. A lot of people want to be pro climbers but they (me included) don’t realise how difficult it really is – when people are waiting on you, when your brands are emailing you asking you what you are climbing, or worse, when your sponsors are dropping you if you don’t win or get injured, it’s not so fun.

In Magic Wood, I didn’t send my project under the pressure and took a little break to re-vamp. At the moment, I’m focusing on climbing outside and trying to have fun instead of focusing on ‘sponsorship.’  I’m trying to find the space in my mind where I’m back to achieving and climbing for myself, no matter whom is asking, as it proves a totally different ball game. In a recent conversation with Zofia Reych, my climbing partner before she off and moved to Bulgaria (why?!), we talked about how sharing your life and achievements with others should become more of a conversation than an advertisement, and that’s what I want to have (with the occasional gear mention…)

Becoming a professional is still something I’m aiming for, whether silly or not, as more than anything I really want to see more of my friends getting really psyched and trying hard. As well as encouraging women to feel confident, get huge muscles and climb really really hard. But for now it seems difficult. Hopefully I can move back into climbing just for myself, something I think is worthwhile to find in anyone’s climbing life!

Bleau Blues: 9 Tips to Send Your Day-Project

Looking through my log of climbing journals, I found this little throwback and I was surprised to find some good advice…I found my own Tips to Send a Project, which I hadn’t read in so long, I found pretty useful myself and will use them my upcoming trip to Magic Wood.

If you’ve ever had that feeling after a day out bouldering like you just could’ve done better or could’ve climbed harder, then you’ll relate to my account of a trip I had to Fontainbleau a few years back. It was my fifth trip to Fontainebleau – an amazing crag where most of us struggle to climb hard while expanding our bellies with croissants, pain aux petites (my favourite) or chocolat viennoise. I wanted to send my first Font 7a/v6 and it felt like the right time. I was feeling positive. I felt it was definitely going to happen this trip. But despite the sun and the pastries, I got the bleau blues.

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Falling off L’Helicoptere 7a, which I still haven’t done. Photo: Steph Choy

I’d been climbing for three years, off and on – given two separate foot surgeries and a few injuries – but it had felt like long enough to be able to climb my first 7a. My first visit to Font had been a few months before and I tackled a 6c+ with a fractured thumb. It had been my unfortunate luck to shut my thumb in the car trunk (trunk fully closed, thumb in). Okay, Okay, there was alcohol involved. Learn from my mistakes! Do not go anywhere near car doors while drinking unless very experienced with doors.

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Thumb bandage apparent on my first outdoor v5, Le Nez 6c+ at Canche Aux Merciers

I reasoned with myself, if I could tackle a 6c+ with a useless and painful thumb, what was holding me back from my 7a now?

At first learning the F system was my excuse. Fontainbleau uses the same letters and numbers at the European Sport grades but it’s graded based on the climber doing it the easiest possibly way, knowing the beta, and having practised. A little harsh, I felt. Knowing that flashing isn’t even an option, the hope is to figure this beta out in the day with enough time for your body to also perform by the time you’ve exhausted yourself.

In retrospect, this isn’t harsh at all, but completely normal. Projecting in a day is extremely hard, especially if it’s at the top of your grade. But at the time, I wasn’t sure it was down to strength and I feel it’s probably the same for most people.

I thought that perhaps the problem had more to do with strategy and the fact that I didn’t really have one.

Needless to say I didn’t send a 7a on that trip, but I did learn a few things to help send day projects. These tips are mostly my own opinions and hopefully they help you too, but consider we are all different so read with a grain of salt, but maybe can help you work out your own strategy as well, which I do feel is the key to sending those day projects.

9 Tips for Sending a Day Project:

    • CHOOSE WISELY

      Choose your project carefully, make sure it plays to your strengths (and favourite moves) if it’s at the top of your grade. If you don’t know what your strengths are (which I hear a lot) next time you go to the bouldering gym, try and be aware of what moves you find easy and do without thinking and that might be the key to what your ‘style’ is.

 

    • WARM UP

      Warming up is one of the most important parts of climbing well and preventing injury. By definition this is an actual heat rise in the body of 2-3 degrees. Read more about what warming up really is and all the physical benefits on Physio Room.

 

    • FIRST THING

      Get on your project right away after warming up. A trainer that I worked with last year, Rich Hudson of New Heights Fitness, advised that you should go to the hardest boulder problems you want to try in the day immediately after warming up thoroughly. This decreases injury as you are fresh and full of energy and, hopefully, increases chances for success.

 

    • WATCH & LEARN

      Try to watch others climbing your project rather than wasting all your energy on it. All of people moan about others ‘greasing up holds’ but I think it’s good to have a crew on your problem because it can save you energy remembering your sequence or finding new beta, particularly someone whom you know climbs similarly to yourself.

 

    • PAY ATTENTION

      Use every failure as an opportunity to try and figure out why. You’ll improve your technique and body awareness and hopefully see failure as something useful for your future climbing rather than a negative experience. Sometimes the difference between getting the move and not can be as subtle as starting a problem sitting two inches to the left to pull on.

 

    • REST LONGER

      Before you know all your beta work in sections and rest for 3-8 minutes after each attempt. Don’t wear yourself if you know that you can’t do all the moves, by trying from ground up (unless you have to, in which case rest longer). During rests, it’s best to stay moving rather than sit down as the body will be clued in that activity is coming again. This is a good time to do physiotherapy exercises. Once you know your beta and you’re going for a redpoint attempt, for each failed attempt, rest for 10 minutes minimum, up to 30 minutes between goes.

 

    • EAT MORE

      Don’t forget to eat every hour. You may even find it helpful to eat a small bite every time you have a strenuous go. I find that coffee or sugar in small doses can help give a bit of an energy spike, but only in small amounts.

 

    • TRY HARD

      Trying hard isn’t as simple as we might hope. Recently I had a discussion with a friend about the inability to ‘summon the power’ when we are trying a hard move bouldering. Often this is due to brain conditioning. We aren’t able to tell our body to pull hard and so we don’t. Seth Lytton has a hilarious blog about how to ‘try really freakin hard‘ that suggests conditioning yourself with a ritual.

 

  • LAUGH IT OFF

    One of the best pieces of advice about climbing I ever heard was to remember to have fun. The more you love and have fun climbing, the more you can achieve. For me, this is one of the most helpful aspects of projecting. I can always perform better when I’m having fun. Even in failure, you are still learning about your body’s movement and improving your technique. Bottom line – stop taking it so seriously!

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    Another project in Magic Wood, Blindfisch 7b that escaped my send.

Just remember this is my own advice and may not work for you, but I think my suggestions are pretty general and may help most climbers overall. If you have any other tips on how you send your day projects, I’d love to hear them as I’m sure I’ve missed some. We’re all different, so different things can work for different people.

After that frustrating Font trip, I went to Font two more times before getting my first 7a, but then on the third succeeding trip I got 3 in one day, using a lot of the techniques described above.

Confessions of a climbing sexist

Today rummaging on the internet, I stumbled upon a shared post by Light Shed Pictures, reposting a ‘high-five’ to a letter from Georgie Abel in response to Evening Sends author Andrew Bisharat. Not typically one to get too involved in the climbing-sexism topic (I usually leave that to my friend Zofia Reych who does a great job on her blog), I really had to speak out on this one.

Andrew Bisharat has been heavily criticised for his opinions on his website about feminism and women in the climbing community. Upon reading most of his stuff, I couldn’t help sense the twinge of male-privilege and condescension that his tone often carries, but I have to give him credit, he did his best to remain as neutral as possible…Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Andrew, I know 10s of thousands of guys like him, and I generally just ignore them and try to change the world towards female-male equality in my own climbing life.

However, this letter to Andrew from Georgie remarkably conveys how I truly feel about the climbing industry. It was such a great response to his perspective. I had to endorse it. Georgie says that instead of highlighting women for their achievements separate of men (this was discussed in Andrew’s original article on FFAs) she wishes for a world where we can just climb and get on with whatever the fuck we want without anyone really caring or thinking about us being females. This is the world that I want too. But upon reading Georgie’s cry out for this equality, I suddenly realised that maybe my perspective is also contributing to this sexism.

As a woman who ‘climbs hard’ and is relatively above the average of many women, I sometimes consider myself ‘above’ this sexism in the sport. The men I often climb with respect me, consider me one of their own. I recently got told to try a route that was ‘one that girls like’ and I was shocked by this phrase as I am normally surrounded by guys who really don’t care if I’m a girl or not (sometimes I regret that with never-ending talks of  bowel movements).

But in my personal climbing life, Georgie’s article made me realise that perhaps I am climbing sexist myself.

 

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Going for the dyno on Piranja 7c+ Magic Wood (I didn’t get it yet)


I often try to be braver, train harder and be stronger than men…just because I want to redefine how women are seen in climbing and in life. But even that perspective is just fuelling the differences between the sexes. I should be brave, strong, train hard because it’s fun and I love it — not because I need to demonstrate to men that all those stereotypes are not true. Sometimes I find myself looking down on women who are scared at the top of a climb  and come down, or ask a man to put their draws. I feel frustrated that they are giving into these female stereotypes – why can’t they just man up! Wait…’man up’? What are we even talking about here? I’ve realised that even my own thinking sometimes follows this sexist pattern. I should, instead of judging these women, or trying hard to never be one, I should be saying, you can do that climb! Or, you know what, it doesn’t matter if you don’t want to or if you are afraid — you can do what you want. Climbing is person, you should be the climber you want to be. Sometimes that means not topping out a high-ball or finishing a route. If it’s not fun to conquer your fear, you don’t have to! If you don’t like doing pull-ups, then forget them. If you don’t want to train on a finger board, then don’t do it!

No more am I going to be brave, strong, train hard because I have something to prove. I’m going to do it for myself because I love climbing, being strong and training hard. Oh, and I’m also a woman.

All the articles I mentioned are below:

Andrew Bisharat’s original article:http://eveningsends.com/the-curse-of-the-first-female-ascent/

Amanda Robinson Schwartz’s article on Moja Gear where he responds: http://mojagear.com/journal/2015/12/08/being-strong-and-fragile-a-discussion-on-sexism-racism-exclusivity-and-privilege-in-climbing/

Georgie Abel’s letter:https://medium.com/@georgieabel/an-open-letter-to-andrew-bisharat-2f14c76a0ec4#.hsttu05aq

Sidni West’s endorement shared by Light Shed Pictures: https://medium.com/@sidniwest/an-open-letter-to-the-men-running-the-climbing-industry-baf78f6df443#.zbe0ql20w

View story at Medium.com

All By Yourself: Climbing Alone

For the past six or so years of my climbing career the majority has been dependant on climbing with others. I started out in a gym where I would text my friends to come climbing before I went and sometimes not go if no one else was. Although climbing is one of the few sports that you can actually do alone, the sense of community is the essence of climbing. I can’t stress that the community in climbing is what makes it such a great sport, the type of people you meet and the trust that you build with each other’s lives in your hands. It creates bonds that an afternoon of badminton never could.

But off my little philosophical stool, I’m here to talk about Climbing Alone.

This past week, I spent some time in Colorado trying to learn about where to climb in the massive state. Not only did I end up lost pretty much every day, but unlike in Europe, the crags were relatively empty except on the weekends and most days I found myself all alone trying to climb.

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Crossing the Selfie Threshold

My motivation in my head was extremely high, but when I walked up to the first boulders at Horsetooth near Fort Collins, Colorado, I suddenly realized that a 10m v0 even wasn’t going to happen by myself. I tried to think positive, but then a low rattling sound made my heart drop – a rattlesnake lay across the path, just a few feet from my legs. The dry jingle of it’s tail made me realize even moreso that if I was bitten I would still be all alone. I backed up and moved to a high line of boulders, hoping that the snake would stay where it was. I decided to make up some problems, tossing the guidebook aside and taking what low climbs I could handle, something this guidebook guzzling girl never would dream of before. The sound of my shoes on the ground and the shuffling of the mat left a hallow feeling like I would hear the snake again instead, so I put on some music just like I was at the indoor gym.

After an hour or so of some attempts to spot myself, trying to fall exactly where the mats where (and of course missing), I concluded I was probably going to be fine.

When we are on our own, whether we mean to or not we start to err on the side of caution.

I decided to walk down to a v5 traverse I knew was low and long, promising hours worth of relatively safe entertainment. I brought my bank of supplies with me, my two measly mats, my phone playing music and body ready to get some ‘real’ climbing in.

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Punk Rock Traverse v5

The hours crept by. I tried the problem a few times, but struggled at the end, worried that I actually had to do 80% of the problem without a mat at all. But it was fine.

I was worried that my motivation would straggle and I would sit around like I sometimes do with my friends and stare off into space or just watch others climb. But when it’s only you, it’s almost easier. No one is watching and you really find out how much you actually like climbing. I tried the v5 over and over and I found I was getting exhausted in just a few hours. With no one else to show me how it was done or to make me rest, I was tired pretty quickly and found just a few hours enough for a full day.

I continued to another boulder called the Meditation Boulder, where my two mats were definitely not enough, and decided to do some easy face climbs. I got to the flat and wide top of the boulder and had a seat, suddenly lost in the expansive view afforded me. It was quiet except for the wind and the faint twinkle of my cell phone playing some song I could barely make out and in that moment, I was glad I was alone.

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The view from the path in Horsetooth Resevoir.

In the stillness of the Meditation Boulder I suddenly heard a sound and snapped my head towards it. I saw a few boulder mats poking from the dry bush near the water. The voice carried and I could see the approaching climber – another soul to save me! I quickly down-climbed and gathered my things. I’m not usually the type of person who runs to speak to others unless they are my friends, but I couldn’t resist having a conversation, a climbing partner and some more mats.

That’s the thing about being alone, you really start seeing other people as opportunities rather than someone to be judged or not good enough to climb with you. Everyone can bring something special to your day.

I rushed over trying to be cool asking if I could try the traverse with him. I was ecstatic on the inside, I knew I would take anyone. But in a few moments of his incessant chatter and complaints at failure because of a hangboard session the night before, I felt all too quickly that being alone wasn’t so bad after all. But then I realized that we need companionship and that he was just a passionate climber, just like me, brave enough to bare the dusty rocks alone too; we we’re one and the same and I was glad for the company at the mats.

Feeling worn out, I walked back up the trail to my car, so tired I hardly noticed where I was going. I suddenly realized that I was on the snake path and quickly shuffled onto a boulder instead of the path. I stopped, breathing a sigh of relief that he wasn’t hiding the bushes or on the rock. I paused and decided to turn back just to see if he was still there, to reassure myself that I had even seen him at all. I dropped my bags and crept along the path and sure enough there he was. In the same position on the side of the path, guarding the way to the boulders, ensuring that no one else could pass. I thought to myself, perhaps he wasn’t out to bite me at all, but maybe he was there to watch over me, to keep all those other people away, so I could climb alone in peace.

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The rattlesnake on the path.

Why bother with Mallorca? That’s just for Sharma

The arch stands about 15 meters from the shore and if the ocean’s pull isn’t just right, you are stuck breathlessly swimming to the start. Arms flailing and feet heavy in my climbing shoes, I am no Michael Phelps. Swimming is probably my least favourite activity, falling a close second to pushups. I’ve been climbing for three years and Mallorca was my dream ever since I saw those tan arms and messy hair tackling the 9a. Having seen the 9a in life, I see that it has more than enough to defeat me, but it is not unachievable by man. One day I will be the first woman to do this, I tell myself. I will train, and I will move here, and I will never give up. Then my video will have twice as many hits as Sharma. Uh huh, my mother would say as I told her my dream. She doesn’t even know who Sharma is and probably not YouTube either.

There’s been enough climbing magazines that say why Mallorca is a number one climbing destination. Mostly they talk about Sharma and his insane strength climbing the 9a Es Pontas sitting underneath the watery arch.

But Why Mallorca?

It’s the ocean, of course. It’s blue. Who knew it was supposed to be blue? Check yourself UK costline and central Florida!  Let’s be serious: It’s the rock. Shoes wet, hands slipping, I can somehow still hold on as I traverse The Might of the Stalactite a 7a with huge pumping Stalactites (clearly) and technique that would blow a muscle puff’s mind. It’s hot. My hands are even sweating but I don’t fall. I finish and smile. A 7a flash!! Unheard of so far in my lifetime.

Each route hanging over the water as you solo presents a series of amazing holds. They are mostly huge jugs—the difficulty is the overhanging. It requires some muscles of course, but I found for the most part the Mallorca routes are about your endurance and technique to keep those muscles from failing and plummeting into the icy water. The limestone is mostly sharp when not a smooth stalactite, and although a piece is known to break off occasionally, the quality is unbelievable. Each route feels like a 5 star. There are some misses of course, but the majority renders only fun. There is hardly an irrtatingly high graded or polished boulder problem like you may find in Fontainebleau or the Peak District.

Who’s ready to buy another plane ticket? I’ll meet you there.

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Jump in or not?

Just get stronger, right?

It’s unavoidable. Once in a while we all take a break from climbing. Life gets in the way, injuries, as in my case, or just business, long jobs, travel. And what happens when we come back? It’s been about a month and since I started climbing again and the progress is slow, and the positivity is quick to fall.

There is nothing more frustrating then knowing you have the ability, but you just cannot muster the strength to climb something.

But you have to fail to improve.

But in my esteem to get back to where I was, or to improve, something about climbing became clear. With little of the strength at my will, it became obvious that body positioning played a huge part in the climbing. Now this is something everyone knows. Climbing is about technique. But it was a discovery more along the line that climbing is more about technique than I was willing to admit before. There seemed to always be a secret to a move that at first seemed too hard.

While people say strength + technique = is the key to climbing, I think I’ve discovered that the secret to climbing well, has little to do with strength, but body position, confidence, and most importantly, body awareness. Can’t say that I would be able to do a series of crimps on a 45 degree wall, but I could easily do challenging slabs, or some of the trickier Font problems that are more about how you approach them than how much you’ve trained.

For more specific tips on technique, see future posts.

Learning to climb 5a

This past summer when I decided to restart my blog, I spent the majority of the sweltering months back in the USA concentrating on not climbing. So when I decided to go with some friends to Fontainebleau for my birthday this September, I was a little more than skeptical about how the trip would go. But first, I’ll be honest, I’m generally a grade chaser. I spent most of 2013 trying the same problem over and over so I could claim by first 7a+ (v7), Early Doors in the Peak District in the UK, but I didn’t have much confidence with my long-lasting injuries and wasn’t successful (but hey, now you know you can almost climb 7a even with injuries). But in the USA after my orthopaedic physician, physical therapist, natural healing masseuse and acupuncturist all said I probably just needed to quit climbing, I decided I would take the summer off and see what happened.

Font 2014
What happened was a dish of humility served onto my plate. Not really expecting anything anyway, I knew I would barely be able to climb not having used the muscles in weeks. I did a taster session at Mile End Climbing Wall in London my first week back in the UK, but there wasn’t much to show. I did a v2, but was actually impressed that I could do it and was proud of myself. But my reaction surprised me more than my weakness. I remember my competition climbing days when if I had hurt myself, I would be eternally frustrated that I couldn’t produce the same results (v5, v6) immediately or repetitively.

When we arrived at La Musardiere campsite near Milly-La-Foret in France, instead of driving straight to the rocks, we settled in for chicken korma, French wine, and an early bedtime. The next morning, we packed ourselves into our little car, with the boulder mats strapped on top, and drove to Rochers aux Sabots. Ironically, Rochers aux Sabots was the first place I had done a 7a outdoors in Europe. I had previously done one v6 in America, but the climbing style is very different (other than maybe Horse Pens 40 in Alabama) and it was a whole new level to gain a 7a at Font. There it was, Jeux de Toit, Roof Games, my first 7a sitting, looking polished and so very hard? I was surprised I had ever managed that before and was impressed with my past self.

But that day was about the blue circuit. Font is famous for its circuits which are labeled with coloured paint, fours crossed straight into the rock, so you don’t actually need a guidebook to climb there, just a map. The blue circuit ranges from 3a-5c (vb-v2) and doesn’t follow any order so you get what you get. This time I was struggling on 3a-5c, which used to upset me. I’d stop for the day, outdoors, or decide I was bored and leave the climbing wall, indoors. But I was okay. I had finally graduated to a climbing adult: I realised climbing should be about having fun more than a competition. And while climbing 7a can be great, sometimes is equally as nice to learn how to climb 5a all over again and spare a few moments for some cheese and wine.
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Why

climbing comp february 13I’ve been writing since I was small. I’ve always been that annoying kid in class who actually read all the books assigned. But in my third year of college, I opted for a serious English degree thinking of my high school teacher, Mrs. Brenner, who showed me that books were more exciting than I assumed, and that good writing takes more work than you think  (as she crossed through the fifteen extra words I added in my essays from the thesaurus to sound smarter). I chose to specialize in Creative Writing instead of English Lit (since I probably read more than I probably talked to people at that point).

I would say that was probably the most influential decision of my life up to this point, but another decision, perhaps, impacted my life even more deeply– my decision to start climbing.

Always an athlete, I was obsessed with one sport to another. I tried tennis, ballet, tap dancing, swimming, softball, baseball, and the long-lasting volleyball for about eight years, but nothing stuck with my like climbing. When I started to climb at the Tallahassee Rock Gym, it wasn’t really love at first sight. I was terrible. My arms hurt like hell and all of my skin started to peel off, like the outside of a mushy banana. My fingertips were bloody and blistered. And thanks to the advice of my friends, I bought Evolv Elecktras that were three sizes too small (which now I have decided is a very stupid idea spurred on by strange, masochistic climbers).

For if no reason other than I hate being bad at something, I kept climbing. And somehow, I began to improve, and fast. Within six months I could do V3s easily and by the time I had been climbing for a year, I was actually pretty good. I entered a competition at TRG for kicks, just to see where I stood with the other girls who had been climbing far longer than I had, and I ended up in the finals. Not only was I shocked, but amazed that going from not being able to do a pull up at all, I had risen to placing third. And boy when that happened, there wasn’t much that could stop me. I’ve been climbing and competing now for about four years and despite my (many) injuries, a few surgeries, summers off and even drama at the rock gym, I haven’t stopped and I dont think I can.

Climbing has turned into my life.

I’m a yoga teacher, dancer (not necessarily a good one), an occasional volleyball player, aerial artist, but I don’t feel that any of these define me how climbing does.

I think about it, talk about it, and when I’m not doing it, I’m plotting the next time I can. It’s unavoidable, I’m a climber. I’ve been dodging the urge to start another outdoor blog as there and many, and plenty amazing to choose from, but I give in. How can I not write about something that is so much a part of me, that before I even started this post I had 20 more ideas of what I can write about next. I look forward to this adventure together & thanks for reading! -Alice