Bouldering involves a lot of pulling through the hands and arms, shoulders and back.
When I began, and even up until recently, I think the problems weren't that stressful on my joints, simply because they weren't that hard - even if it took me a while to get them sent!
Recently I've been trying to up my game, and try more difficult problems. The intensity of the moves can cause stress, specifically at the board.
Suddenly, the problems are stressful on my elbows, wrists and fingers.
The guys had spoken in the past about having a 'want' to succeed. I suppose it's easy to step off a problem and say 'ah well, next time'...
Yes, the problem will be sent eventually, but what about sending it this attempt, right now!
There has to be a want and a determination there. A fight to put right a slightly missed hand or foot placement, a determination to keep moving. I'm getting into the idea of 'waging war' on these problems. More often than not these days, I slip off, rather than step off a problem.
All this, added to the fact that I'm not 15 anymore, means that repetitive strain injuries are definitely on the cards.
I've begun finger board sessions too and my elbows aren't too fond of them!!
That is, unless I do handstands to offset the stress I'm putting on my elbows, wrists and shoulders.
A properly held handstand is the opposite of bouldering, as far as I can see.
Instead of pulling my weight, I'm pushing it.
My forearms are contracted when I'm climbing, causing them to get pumped.
Handstands stretch out the forearms and wrists, and when held with totally straight arms (as they should be) give me great relief in my elbow joints. A strong handstand will see the shoulders pushing the body away from the arms, so as they're completely extended.
In a really good handstand, one's toes should be as far away from one's hands as possible.
So if a handstand is held against the wall, (face in), the toes should be pushed as high up the wall as they can be. If held for a minute or so, this position is also a pretty major core workout.
So between sets of reps on the finger board and after every training session, I'm doing handstands in an attempt to offset the stresses and strains, primarily on my elbows.
So far it's working a charm, as any niggles I feel during a session seem to disappear and fizzle away after the few handstands I do...
I suppose it could be said that it's not only handstands that help, but just generally stretching...
But for my money, there's something in a handstand that seems to save my elbows in particular.
Tried to get a second day's bouldering in Glendalough done today, but as we drove towards Wicklow it began to spit rain... then it stopped and brightened up a bit...
Shane stayed optimistic and said it'd be grand, that it would just be small showers.
The sky stopped and started spitting rain all the way to Glendalough car park. We had gone all that way, and it had been such a long time since Shane had been at the boulders there, that we decided to at least make the walk in.
We made it to just past the trees before the rain started lashing and the wind began to really pick up.
Walking extra fast back to the car, the decision was made to hit the Co op for a session. It'd have been a shame not to get any bouldering in, after all!!
Ended up having a really good session with Shane, James and Joe - we even created a great new problem with lots of slopers...
The Classics were on the menu today as I got back to Wicklow bouldering after a few months away. I was so excited to be back again! Granite, top-outs, crimps, smearing...
Need I say more!
A total change of scenery and the day was completely refreshing. Wicklow is new again after squeezing every last bit of bouldering I could out of last Season.
Barry, John, Kev and I warmed up on Big Jim and problems that were taking me 5 attempts or more last year, were put away in 1 or 2 attempts today. I was so psyched about that, I had a real anxious feeling that a Summer spent in the Cave had left me completely out of touch with the subtleties of granite bouldering.
That wasn't the case at all. I loved every second of today as we rampaged through the Classics of Glendalough Valley. After we finished warming up we headed over to Rhythm and Stealth. We had met up with Duggy, Paul, Abbas, Daniel and Andrew and there were mats and spotters galore for the dodgy landing!!
Me on Rhythm and Stealth
I was totally chuffed at my attempts on the line, making it to the slap up to the crimp each time, consistently, but never sticking it. My major project from last year was nearly put away on day one of this year.
Duggy got the send of the day, topping out Rhythm and Stealth. Always exciting and motivating to see a project getting ticked and Duggy was totally chuffed!
Duggy sending Rhythm and Stealth
John and Barry made short work of it completing on their first attempts. Really impressive work, though the ever tricky top out left Barry stuck for a little longer than usual!!
We finished up on Rhythm and Stealth and the four of us headed off to the Egg Boulder. Trying the traverse, I realised that a Summer of Cave climbing has left me a little better at working out sequences for myself. Instead of having to have someone talk me through move by move, though Barry told me after I fell off the middle of the line, that I'd managed to avoid ALL of the major holds.... Doh!
Barry made relatively short work of the Egg Traverse, that has what looks like a super tricky match on a sloper at the end. I hadn't seen it done before and was excited to watch as Barry moved smoothly through and topped it out. Awesome!
The Egg Boulder
Kev got on Tim's Mantle and sent it, leaving me eager to give the line a go. I felt really solid on it and almost had the final hold. Pressing down on my left hand and pushing through my right heel, it began to slip, and I thought, maybe I can just... no it was slipping... but perhaps...
Denied the send, and the guys said my heel seemed to slip in slow motion.
Pokery was next on the list and it occurred to me after a couple of attempts that my power levels were dropping. That 'snap' you need for granite bouldering needs to be developed again, I had a couple of unconvincing attempts on Pokery and had to admit defeat.
The guys all sent it and we moved the pads just over the way to Afro Left. Barry made the point that the line is quite different to the rest of the style of bouldering in Glendalough. The moves are so varied and intricate. It starts off with a long slap up to a sloper from a sit start under the roof. The second hand is brought up and one's weight is pulled over the lip through the use of a heel hook just left of the hands on the same rail. A mantle follows and a series of presses up the corner allows one to reach a standing position, before a balancy reach to the top of the boulder.
John sent it after working out the initial throw sequence. Barry came so close, that I'm wondering now if he actually sent it in the end?! Can't remember!
John sending 'Afro Left'
Next on the list was Chillax, but we took a detour to check out Johnno's relatively new line 'Beta Burglar'. The sun was beating down on us at that point and the crucial holds were all flooded with sunlight.
Barry and John worked it for a while before finally deciding it was too sharp in the heat of the mid afternoon.
Barry working 'Beta Buglar'
We made it up to Chillax and again, the guys took little time to put the problem away. I was out of energy and zapped of any strength and though I made it to just before the jug, again - the send didn't come together.
Admittedly I was a bit miffed, but the day had been amazing so it wasn't too long before I got over it!! I am totally psyched for the Winter Season now. The only way today could have been any more perfect is if I had sent anything!!
It seems to me to be the number 1 reason for the potential changing of a bouldering grade.
The first ascentionist will give a line a grade. They've worked out a sequence, they've put in the time and they've earnedd the right to say:
"I thought it was 'this' hard"
Problem is, when more people come along and send the line, and find a new foot placement or someone really tall can skip a move, or someone finds a knee bar ;), etc etc etc, the grade is subject to change, usually with traffic - the problem is downgraded.
Equally though, traffic can mean a hold breaks and the grade goes up, because you can't do it 'that way' anymore.
I'm not sure - because this is my first year of living in Ayton's Cave for the Summer, but it seems as though there's been a LOT more traffic through the problems and lines of the Cave than there has been before.
I've seen lines there completed in a staggeringly varied number of ways. A new heel/toe cam, a new jug that was too wet all last year, a knee bar, a different angle - whatever! It would appear it's time to openly discuss the grades of the Cave!!
Firstly HOW do we grade them? There are really only about 2 bouldery problems in the Cave.
The Funk (7b+) Afterthought (6b)
The rest are all like routes in a way - upside-down upside-down routes... but routes never the less.
They're about 10-15m in length and cannot equate to anything one might do in Wicklow or Fairhead or, in my narrow experience, anything in Ireland!
Is it the case that we take the easiest method to climb the line, even though it may not be the 'nicest' sequence?
Case and point: Maneater (7b)
It probably is 7b when you climb it using the original sequnce. However a 'hands off' knee bar rest was discovered on it this Summer and it's now the case that I was able to put it away in about 3-4 sessions. It's, for me, a whole lot easier than Solstice (7a+), which is a line where there's nowhere to hide - you can either do the hard moves or you can't.
However - Maneater is a lot prettier to look at when one climbs it the original way, and the sequence is far more like bouldering when one doesn't use the knee bars.
I haven't met anyone who doesn't have an opinion on the grades at the cave this year -
It's my opinion, the grades should be seen as fluid at the moment.
I think I'm happy enough to call it a day on a really successful Summer's climbing in the Cave.
It's kept me fit, it's made me stronger - both physically and mentally I think - and I can't wait to see what I can do there next year, but for now... It's certainly time to reacquaint myself with the wonderful granite of Wicklow.
I've done far more than I ever imagined I would at the Cave this Summer. I started off not being able to complete Caroline's Traverse and I was sure I'd only have a couple of sessions down there attempting to get Loco Total, but that Loco would be more of a long term project...
The Cave and me just clicked this year, and I got so psyched to project the lines there. In addition to that - there was always something to go to next. When I was finishing up on CT, there was Loco, that ended and there was Solstice.
Solstice was my Summer project this year. Tiny crimpy holds took me out of my comfort zone completely - and I really enjoyed that. The crux on that line is the hardest sequence of moves I've done on rock to date.
When that was done, I snuck in a send of Maneater (the knee-bar way).
Ron, Chris and I were going for an early raid on the Cave today and I couldn't get to sleep last night and this morning I woke up at 5.45am...
Climbing suffered, and though I warmed up well and took a few fairly decent attempts on the crux throw backwards of 'Bring out the Swans' - sticking the hands but always having my feet slip from the rock, negating my success - my power soon fizzled out and my brain seemed to sort of go asleep. My hands wouldn't close on holds and I just felt heavy.
Chris arrived along a little later than us and warmed up in a very patient manner. He never seemed rushed or overly eager and seemed to piece together 'Bring out the Swans' in a sort of backwards fashion, working it from the end and then starting closer and closer to the beginning on each warm up attempt.
He pulled on from the start and despite afterwards admitting to a few stress points during his send, the whole thing looked very smooth indeed.
Great to see it come together, and the throw backwards is made all the more impressive by the fact that Chris' foot isn't in the jam that taller people can use, his foot is simply pasted against the wall and pushing backwards, keeping contact all the time.
Ron had to go soon afterwards. We realised that despite an early start (setting off at 8.30am) it was already midday. Chris and I worked The Funk afterwards and I had fun, but was disappointed that my arms and body and brain weren't in the game.
Chris discovered the heel placement that John had shown us before but neither of us had ever used. Weird how today it just fit. Both Chris and I were able to place our foot in exactly the right position on the rock each time - where before I always thought - 'that's too fiddly, I'll just throw a toe in and hope it sticks'
The heel/toe in a lot more solid.
On Wednesday, there were a couple of things left behind in the Cave - including Dave's grill and Ron's dog leash. When we arrived along today, not only was the Cave in very good nic, the tide had spared both objects.
Whilst Ron took his dog leash, I am currently in possession of Dave's filthy, greasy, seaweedy grill tray...
I think I'm happy enough to walk away from the Cave because I have no more projects there for this year. There's still plenty more to do - but it's all way beyond me at this point.
Dave's idea of a Barbeque at Ayton's Cave couldn't have been better timed or better executed!
The weather was a blissful mix of sunshine with a balmy breeze and the pleasantness of the evening only got better as the sun set.
John and I arrived along and met Dave who had cycled in with a bag of wood bits for burning and a grill tray. He also had 4 burgers and a few burger buns.
Chris arrived in soon after that and we decided it'd be cool to start cooking food in about an hour or so.
Ron arrived and reminded us all that it would take a good while for the coals etc to heat up, so Ron and Dave got the barbeques lit and burgers and sausages were put on to cook :)
Rhys cooking his posh burger
Rhys, Claire, Tom and Colm all arrived along a little after and dare I say it, there seemed to be a sense of occasion about the evening!! Everyone worked away on their projects and lines - there was a rare mix of fun and focus. Tonight was gas craic but a lot of effort was put in too.
List of things I neglected to bring with me today include:
Crucial, crucial, crucial! What was I thinking?!
I did remember banana bread and sausages though...
Ron and Chris worked tirelessly on 'Bring out the Swans' and the sequence looks to be coming together for them.
I worked on Maneater and felt jittery,maybe even scared - I found it difficult to focus and was sure I would slip or fall or something. I couldn't remember my sequence and my head was all over the place.
I went and ate a burger.
Fresh off the Barbeque and offered to me by Dave, I realised how hungry I had become. Just as I was about to bite into it Dave warned me that the juices would spill out and were really hot. I thought 'how bad can it be?!'
Turns out, it was bloody boiling!! I squeezed the rest of the juice out of the burger and let it cool a bit and it was absolutely yummy!!
Got to the knee bar chill out point on Maneater and made it to the end crimp again, but my feet were all wrong and I didn't know what to do - I dropped off and was really frustrated. I curled up into a little ball on the ground and took a moment.
Chris pointed out that the final toe hook is a lot easier if the right toe is in, as opposed to the left toe I was using which jumbled my feet up for the end.
It was the beta I needed and despite a less than smooth start, which included an unexpected cut loose, and some improvisation on a couple of foot placements, it all came together for me. I matched the final jug having used Chris' foot beta and was so pleased to have completed the line.
And in the dark!
My Send (Thanks for the pics Ron!)
I had attempted to chalk up at the rest point, but I was upside - down and forgot which way my chalk bag was... Well, John's chalk bag... I moved it to chalk my hands and the entire contents spilled out over Chris' boulder pad...
Sorry Chris. Sorry John!
It was great how even for the last few moves of Maneater, everyone was still telling me to 'stick with it' and encouraging me right until the end - I think every boulderer appreciates how easily a problem can just fall apart in the blink of an eye. It's so easy to think - 'the hard part is over' but the problem's not over until the final hold is held - or the top out is made.
Ron working 'Bring out the Swans'
The energy this evening was great, food was amazing ;) , weather was absolutely perfect and the Cave was in mint condition.
Dave's idea for a Barbeque at the Cave was a splendid one indeed!
My right forearm suffered a flash pump as I caught the final crimp on the line. I had my left foot in the jam - I was about to move my right heel up to reach over to the Glory Jug, and my right hand began to open, and there was nothing I could do about it.
I was chuffed when I came off - having made so much progress, but now I feel gutted that it didn't come together this evening.
The line is great fun, and such was my excitement at nearly finishing it, I jumped on it for one last attempt before we had to leave. I got through the opening part and as I went to do the last hard move before I get into a knee bar rest, my left foot slipped from the rock and the speed of it sent my knee on a collision course with the roof of the cave.
I felt the chunk being removed as my knee hit and walking away from the line, I rolled up my jeans to assess the damage. The cut was at the point before the skin realises it's been savaged and it wasn't bleeding, but I knew what was coming!!
The tide was coming in and we started to pack away our stuff, as I put my shoes on I checked my knee again and sure enough... it was a bloody mess!
Claire said something along the lines of - 'Oh shit, that's gammy!'
Colm said: 'Attractive!'
When we arrived in the Cave today the emergency services were doing some sort of training and their helicopter lingered overhead for ages! The sound of the spinning blades started to do our heads in a bit. It moved off after about 15 minutes or so, but not before they'd lowered one of the guys to just over sea level... He gave us a wave and then he and the helicopter flew off...
Claire worked the start of Maneater (7b) today and made some really good progress on 'Afterthought' (6b). It seems to be ultra reachy unless your tall. I've never thought about it, because I have the asset of a long reach, but Claire did some fancy foot work (as usual) to overcome the length of the move.
As she moved into the final part of Afterthought, and with myself and Colm spotting and talking the moves through, Claire wedged her right foot into the final jam before the Glory Jug. 'It's stuck!' she said... Myself and Colm were unanimous in our response: 'Good' we said!
'That's what you want!' we agreed...
Claire didn't agree at all...
That's the funny thing about the Cave. The foot jams are too good - they leave everyone with the sinking feeling that if hands fail, feet will stick - ending in possible dislocated ankles and/or hips!
In my experience though, they only feel that way - in reality, once a few spills have been taken, the realisation is that one's feet will explode off the rock just as quickly as one's hands might!
It's a head trip for sure though!!
I'd like to think Maneater will be sent next session, seeing as it took a good bite out of me today, I'd like to be done with it!!!!
Really great evening's climbing with all of us working super hard - psyched for the next session! ;)
Thanks Claire for driving me all the way home with my gammy knee!!!
We had discussed going to the Cave for what will surely be one of the final weekends of Summer climbing on the Howth coastline and both myself and Chris agreed we were pretty keen to check it out.
Yesterday's fail with regards conditions had left both of us skeptical and the texts that were exchanged this morning read of a co op session rather than a risk on conditions and ending up with no climbing at all!
We had agreed to meet at the board at some point, mid afternoon... beep! - text from Ron wondering if we were still cave bound for 5pm...
I told him about yesterdays fail and how we weren't going to risk it today...
Ron pointed out that it was a lot windier today and that humidity had dropped significantly... and that it might well be worth a go...
Myself and Chris needed little persuasion and Chris picked me up at 3pm and we set off Cave bound! I let Ron know we had set off and he replied, 'Great - let me know if it's dry!'
Had to laugh!
Dry it was, aside from a couple of holds that we salvageable with traffic, brushing, toilet roll and chalk! Got straight to work on Maneater (7b) and Chris and Ron were working on 'Bring out the Swans' (7b+), Matt was working 'The Funk' (7b+) and Eamon was on Solstice (7a+).
Everyone was making really solid gains for the work we were all putting in on our lines and then almost out of nowhere Matt took another attempt at 'The Funk' (7b+) and sent it. He hit move after move - solid.
Toe hooks weren't fiddly, throws were accurate - He matched the final hold and there was no doubt it had been a savage effort from him.
My knees are in tatters after a summer of knee barring in the Cave. I think I've learned a lot though about the sensitivity needed between toe and knee, before I know I'm solid and can take my hands away from the rock altogether...
Also my pain threshold has risen significantly!!
It's funny how I'm more concerned with getting a project done than I am with how much any of my extremities are hurting... it's just more important!!
Ron's technique of knee-barring through the crux of 'Maneater' is impressive, no doubt - In this case however I was pretty adamant I wasn't using his sequence, because my knees are just TOO sore these days.
When push came to shove today, Ron's way made way more sense to me. His opening sequence is easier, his knee bars cut out the crux, and there's something a little magical about hanging from my knees upside-down from the ceiling of the Cave!!!! I threw on Ron's knee pads and tried to forget about the pain!!
I can see that line coming together for me way quicker than Solstice did, but are there enough sessions left for me?!!
I was pumped out my mind by the time I'd finished on it, and having just spoken to Matt about what might be causing my current state of total mental and physical exhaustion, I have to agree with him that a good night's sleep might solve the problem!!
Chris and Ron worked 'Bring out the Swans' (7b+) today and it looks amazing - Chris started hitting the big throw backwards and was looking super solid on it before he had to go.
Ron working 'Bring out the Swans' (7b+)
The move is a giant span backwards to a jug from a left hand side pull and a right toe lock, followed by, what was a pretty dramatic cut loose, until Ron worked out a sequence of foot moves through the ceiling of the Cave.
All in all I'm very glad Ron convinced myself and Chris to go to the Cave today. I'm also glad Chris was willing to pick me up, and Ron was willing to drop me home.
I brought the cookies I'd made last night, and Claire brought along Apple Crumble... but despite all the sugar, sunshine and good humour we could muster... the Cave was absolutely manky.
And it didn't dry, and it didn't look like drying.
It was so sunny and hot and humid today, I couldn't believe it. I got to the cave and was as psyched to sunbathe as climb anything...
We had soon given up on the Cave (but not before cookies!!) and we headed over to John's newly discovered problems. The spray from the sea was unreal though and the first of his problems that one arrives at (Stool Pigeon (7a+)) was soaked.
The sea was pretty dramatic today... for the east coast!... and wind just carried with it so much moisture. We carried on over to Feral (6c+) and John's new project and both were greasy damp.
Myself and Claire sat back while the lads attempted to dry the rock... We got a slagging for our laziness but for all their good efforts, the guys didn't make a huge impact on the state of the rock's condition. John's project seemed climbable... ish - but 'Feral' was a write off, with it's tiny edges and intricate foot placements... all damp.
John and Kev NSync!
We all had a bit of a play on the chossy rock that makes up the scramble out, and as much fun as that was... ;) .... Myself, Kev and Claire all stopped climbing and were happy enough to hang out on the Howth Coast line watching out for seals and eating apple crumble.
John made some progress on his project, which is really nice to photograph. It has some amazing moves.
In the end Wicklow sent grey clouds our way and as the wind picked up and the rock stayed wet... we decided to call it a day.
Not the most energetic climbing session I ever had... in fact I think I can call this evening's effort - a write off...
But it's always good to make an effort what ever happens.