Feast and Famine

It has been a busy time the last few days, my feet barely seem to have hit the floor. Which is something the bank will like although working hard means there is very littel time left for playing. Although my elbow is still sore so looking forward to seeing the physio tomorrow after work.

So far I have been doing some setting up a GCSE hillwalking group before remotely supervising them on sunday. I was then in the climbing wall on Sunday teaching some young year 6’s, today I was helping staff a course for a single lad on a two to one staff ratio, I then went straight to see my editor to talk about chapter 7 to start finishing it off, then straight to the climbing wall to coach two young guys in climbing. A quick sleep and I am back into work tomorrow morning and then off to the physio to see if they can help with my elbow. Another half day thrusday and then my diary is clear again.

Talk about feast and famine, until last wednesday there was nothing in my diary, then back to back work. This is the way of the freelancers life, you have to take the rough with the smooth, make hay whilst the work shines and then try not to spend all the hard earned cash.

Glen Denny’s Yosemite in the 1960’s

Although quite rare for Llanberis to attract such a legend, and only having a smallish number of local climbers. Probably the fact that many of us ‘locals’ have travelled to Yosemite and been inspired by the iconic pictures of pioneers of Yosemite Big Walling, meant that there was a great turn out for a dark, wet and stormy Monday night.

Glen Denny was amongst those early pioneers and using black and white photography captured many ascents of the now classic routes. One thing I noted was he mentioned just in passing that he made the third ascent of the nose. It took Harding and co 45 days of climbing over 180 days, then Royal Robbins and Tom Frost (plus another I can’t rememeber) repeated the route in 7 days in an alpine style. Glen Denny and his team then made what is probably one of the first standard ascents, as he climbed the route in 3 days. A challenge that many climbers still fail to match, although it is a pretty standard time for this route today.

More than that though we attempt these big walls with a whole manner of specialist equipment from cams to RP, jumars to wall haulers. They had little more than half a tonne of pegs, hawser laid nylon rope and some prussics. To haul their two 50 pound bags the two seconds had to prussic up the rope with two prussics whilst dragging the bag.

That sense of just how out there the pioneers of Yosemite Big Wall Climbing, was quietly paid out by Glens Slides and stories of the first ascent of that classic or a first repeat of another classic. A thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Adding Structure and Focus to your Winter Training

Well the nights are certainly starting to close in, and whilst the weather never really got into what might be described as a ‘summer’ mode this year. The temperature and weather appear to be turning all too rapidally to Autumn. For many climbers this is a double edged sword, as whilst days out on the real rock tend to subside, the number of evenings a week that you’ll find yourself locked in battle with indoor climbing will probably see an increasde in the average number of routes you climb a week.

I have always loved the winter, as it allows me to passionately follow my guilty pleasure of training indoors. With this in mind I have for the last year been developing a online Coach facility. This is a way to monitor performance and find your weaknesses to focus on what will help you become a better climber.

iCoachClimbing.com has many features the first and most interesting is a similar feature to the BMC training logbooks. However rather that £6-7 and a pen all you need is a internet enabled device and a your away. The actvity logbook function on icoach allows you to record every route you climb during your training, both during your warm up and main climbing session. More than this though after a few session iCoach displays your average grade and rate of exertion, and a whole load of other data relating to your performance. You can even get the whole of your last session as a readout so you can try and add more routes, harder routes or other overlaoding factors into your session.

This overlaoding is key when it comes to training, as you will never improve if you go to the wall and do the same thing over and over again. A simple arrow indicates whether you improve (green), hold steady (orange) or decline (red) in the training analysis. As such this should be great way to watch for smaller improvement than absolute grade, in particualr the rate of excertion for a given grade may well reduce before you break the next barrier.

If you pair that with the performance profiling facility that finds you five weakest climbing attributes. You can then focus your training on those five things over the coming four weeks. An intergrated coaching library finds articles related to your training needs and will help you find ways to train and improve those five attributes. After 4 weeks you re-assess your performance profile and can see if you have indeed improved.

The idea is simple improvement takes time and hard work, often it can be hard to detect any changes as the performance benefits are so small and difficiult to keep track of. What iCoach does is help highlight those imporvements for you. All you have to do is add the data.

I have made some videos to explain the site that can all be found on the video tutorials for icoach climbing.


Work and Play

Having had work, not had work and then had work this week, I was reminded of the fragile life as a freelancer. Having just read Echoes, I have to say that it started to remind me why I live this life, and whilst for the last few months I have been battling tendonitus in my elbow, it is the mountains that I am here for.

Having guided Dream of White Horses a few weeks back, a bunch of Gogarth VS/HVS’s a spattering of Tremadog classics, all in the line of work. That injury whilst stopping me pursue harder routes, I can still climb, something that I been working on slowly in the beacon by getting pumped on huge holds on the steep main wall.

Yesterday, I was stood in the rain at an abseil not the most enjoyable of jobs,  but with weather like we have had this ‘summer’ I think I picked a great time to be injured. Then today we headed up Snowdon in far from pleasant weather by mid-morning and the group did amazingly well all things considered.

Back at the centre I had to shoot off pretty quickly as I had a coaching session at the beacon that evening. Where I did the first of 7 sessions for a couple of ladies who want to improve there climbing. Today as with nearly all my courses we started with thebasic of improving technique and we look at body position and foot work before moving onto bridging.

Tomorrow I have to do some prep for another beacon coaching session tomorrow evening.

Book Review: Echoes by Nick Bullock

In 1971 Standford University attempted to run an prison experiement into what happens when you put good people in an Evil Place. The experiment took a group of 24 students from an initial batch of 70 applicants, all of which score normal on a barrage of tests. At the flip of a coin each was assigned into one of two groups. Either a prison guard or a prisoner, in the end they only used 9 from each group anticipating they might need to replace some people.

One day real city police officers turned up and arrested the 9 prisoners and brought them to a corridor in the basement of Standford University which had been turned into a prison. The experiement was meant to last two weeks but only on the first morning the prisoners barracaded themselves into their cells and began to verbally abuse the prison guards, the guards responded by using a CO2 fire extinguiser and forced their way into the cells where they then stripped the inmates naked putting the ringleaders into solitary confinement a 1ft by 2 ft room darkened room. They also took the people least complicit in the rebellion and gave them special priveledges.

Less than 36 hours into the experiement one of the inmates suffered acute emotional disturbances. Within 6 days three of the inmates had psychological breakdowns, the scientist running the study had crossed into his role of prison superintendant and only after reviewing some behaviour by the guards at night when they thought they were being watched and another scientist describing the behaviour as immoral (some of the abuse bordered on what has notably happened in Abu Ghraib in Iraq), did he eventually stop the experiment after days into a plans 14 day run.

The experiement unearthed what it can feel like to be a prisoner, and also what behaviours are inappropriate as a prison officer. As a scientist I find the study fanscinating, as this along with Milgram Experiments into what people will do when it is believed they have permission from a high power.

What this has to do with Nick Bullocks new book Echoes is interesting as whilst it is a book about climbing, it is also about much more besides. One thing that that experiment showed was what happened to the prisoners, and very little emphasis was place on the effect on the prison guards.

However as Nick served as a Prison Officer for some 15 year, in his book he spends half the time reflecting on just what that has meant to him. Whilst there are no scientific reflection to argue the case of those effects, instead we are just hit repeatedly with the raw emotions of what it is like to quite literally fight for survival both on the rocks and in a prison. Both of which require great feats of mental toughness.

At times you feel that that Nick truly feels guilty for what at times are quite violent acts of control over an inmate. But faced with a daily cycle of intimidation and violence both towards the guards and fellow prisoners you are left with the overwhlming conclusion that it was a neccessary evil. As such there are times in the book where you sense Nick’s total disillusionment with his lot.

At this point he discovers rock climbing and a duplicitous world, where on the one hand he too is serving a prison sentence, one that anyone stuck in the 9 to 5 grind of working to pay the bills can feel, versus the freedom of climbing. The book charts his own bid to a world free of commitment to a place where he is the master of his own destiny. A destiny that lead him to attempt, fail and occassionally succeed on more routes than you can possibly dream of. Although I am reminded of John Middendorf’s words about the best routes being the ones that you give 110% only to fail just below the summit, as only then do you truly know you have given it your all.

His dedication and unwaivering enthusiasm to climbing shine from the pages as you are transported from one of his worlds to the other as abruptly as he was. It is an emotionally challenging book but one that eventually leads to an ending that in itselfs is a new beginning. I am sure he will eventually get round to finishing his next book that will no doubt pick up the narrative of his life where this book left off. I certainly hope that is sooner rather than later.

Like Nick, I too was inspired by the Deep Play by Paul Pritchard, it is still one of my favourite books on climbing. Next to it now is Echoes, undoubtedly destined to become one of the greats of modern mountaineering literature. Nick also keeps a great blog where you can find more of his great writing.

His book is availble from V12, Joe Browns, Amazon (although you might save £2 via Amazon Nick will lose about 40% of his author fee so I would buy it from your local climbing store and support both them and Nick) or it is also available on Kindle and iBook (I got the iBooks version, although I might have to buy a proper paper copy if I ever get a book case!). When I chatted to Nick yesterday eary reports were that the book was selling really well.