17 June 2012

Any excuses?

Can’t climb for a while? Injured? No climbing wall nearby, no crags? Sure it’s rough not to be able to do the real thing for a while. However, it happens to almost all of us every so often. You can moan about that, but one thing you cannot moan about is getting weak. Have a look at this video. Do you really have any excuse? Thanks to Beastmakers for pointing at this.

14 June 2012

Review: Vertical Sailing & Welcome to the Hood

We’ve just added three new products in the shop. Vertical Sailing and Welcome to the Hood DVDs, two of my favourite climbing films from the last few months. We also just added the much awaited new edition of John Sherman’s uber book on techniques, tactics and training for bouldering; “Better Bouldering”. I’m definitely bias in being excited to see it since I’m a co-author! I wrote the chapter on training, with some perspectives on gaining strength without turning into the ubiquitous steely youth you see in every bouldering wall who never seems to actually get V-Hard problems done on the real rock. I’ll do a full review shortly but for now let’s just say it’s a five star book and the best dedicated boulderers handbook out there. [Update - it was super popular and we sold all our stock in a few hours! We'll get more copies in as soon as we can get hold of them].
Made by the best adventure big walling partnership on the planet right now’ Nico Favresse, Olivier Favresse, Sean Villaneuva & Ben Ditto, this DVD is the most entertaining climbing movie I’ve seen in a good few years. I’ve watched it several times, and in between laughing out loud at the hilarious situations they end up in, I’m awed, inspired and highly jealous of the adventure they take us on.
The film starts of in fine style with hilarious team vomiting as Captain Bob Shepton’s tiny yacht sails them through rough waters up the Greenland coast. Over the course of several films, the team have perfected expedition filming like noone else I’ve seen. From the footage you would really think they had a film crew with them. But it’s just that they have it so dialled. Some footage of stunning granite fjords and onsight new routing of 400m E6 6bs follow. But that’s just the warm up for the impossible wall. 1000 metres, great granite, but this isn’t Yosemite. There are grassy cracks that look desperate, fulmars, loose rock days waiting out storms and a ridiculous wet chimney. You would think that footage of a wet greasy overhanging chimney pitch pouring with water would make for a laughable short clip but would be a lot more ‘entertaining’ to climb than to watch. But for me this is probably the highlight of the film. 
It absolutely captures why we climb routes like this instead of just going on chalked up sport routes all the time. It looks frightening, totally out there, dangerous and apart from all that, unclimbable. So watching Villanueva thrutching his way up it Gore-Texed to the hilt with water everywhere is excellent. Not many films could shoot this sort of terrain and make you wish you were there. There is the usual portaledge partying which the Belgian team have made their trademark. By the end you are left with a feeling that you could go to the most ridiculous corner of the vertical world, climb the most desperate and committing thing you can find and just have nothing but laughs all the way. Most uplifting. And your non-climbing friends could watch and be just as entertained and impressed. It’s in the shop here.
Fortunately, since bouldering is convenient to film and good cameras like the 5D are so well suited to this sort of filming, we get to see a lot of the worlds best ascents, well filmed often by the climbers themselves. And so it is with this movie of 4 of the strongest in the world just now; Daniel Woods, Paul Robinson, Guntram Joerg and Andy Gullsten. We get to see 8b+s in Font and then over to several Swiss venues. I was particuarly keen to see more from the lesser known venues of Murgtal and Silvretta. I was in Murgtal myself for a session in April and thought it was a lovely place with it’s bouldering potential being rapidly developed right now. The section in Chironico was a great highlight. Interesting as always to watch and learn from the contrast of movement style and strengths of the different guys.   Even at their level their styles are quite different. The finale of Woods’ flash of Entlinge 8B+/8C (the hardest bouldering flash in the world to date) is jaw dropping. What a machine. Essential dose of viewing for boulderers. It’s in the shop here.
If you didn’t catch my blog post last night we also have just put a good sale on with about half our products discounted by 25-50% for a month. It’s been super popular today and a few things are selling out or getting close to it. So do have a look.

Love is the answer

Yes this is still a post about the usual subject; training for climbing. The old (but still just as important) mantra ‘work your weaknesses’ comes with some baggage. There is an undercurrent of “I know it’s a chore, but it’s good for you so make yourself suffer it”. The hardcore can even do it this way and muster enough discipline to actually get some significant work done in the areas of performance they would class as ‘chore, but important’. However, training zealots aside, weaknesses just don’t get worked because of this. It’s the same outside of sport. Over 90% of diets fail in the medium and long term because denial of food is just too painful to bear forever. Another approach to the problem is needed.
And it does exist. Instead of ‘work your weaknesses’, lets change the mantra to ‘love working on your weaknesses’. I first heard of this perspective on it in an interview with Marc Le Menestrel over a decade ago, and the comment has stayed in my mind ever since. As I remember, he said (about working weaknesses) something like “try to play a game with yourself so that you enjoy working on them”. 
An example of this: Think about when you’ve studied for an exam on a subject that seemed so uninspiring during your classes on it. Revising for the exam seemed like the last thing on earth you could make yourself do, even when it was time for panic stations as the date drew near. Your room would be spotlessly tidy, every file on your computer organised, every inane forum read, every biscuit in the cupboard eaten. But once you actually prized your reluctant ass into a last minute cram, it was actually ok, and for a fleeting few hours you suddenly started enjoying it. Perhaps you wouldn’t even admit that to yourself because you were so set in your will to hate the prospect of having to learn this stuff.
What if you could bottle that feeling and reproduce it? Exams, chores, diets, and working weaknesses might actually get done. It is hard to tame, but there are two big things you can do to make it happen much more often:
1. Love it. Love is a verb. You do it. So find ways to love working on the weaknesses you have. Sometimes just the act of breaking the cycle of viewing it as a chore that you hate (also a verb) is enough to trigger enjoyment. 
It’s probably not enough just to love the feeling of the gains you make by actually working on your weakness. Gains in most cases happen to slowly for this to work and at a higher level will be imperceptible enough to be impossible to measure directly. For instance, your fingerboard PBs might plateau for several months, yet after a season of training you break a new climbing grade, as happened to me.
The task is to actually love the activity itself, regardless of improvement. However, the enjoyment you take could be quite tangential to the actual activity. Taking my fingerboarding again. I used to do it in my living room and watch tennis matches during my workouts and found it really relaxing. Similarly I hated running but used to love the focused time to visualise moves on my projects. These days I’m lucky to be able to explore new mountain glens on every run I do. It’s hard not to have a good time. It might even be that in working on a type of climbing (lets say it’s bouldering) you know you are awful at, you simply enjoy the freedom from any internal pressure to perform well. Maybe you simply even learned to enjoy the pain of being pumped!
Either way, make yourself attack the weakness, whatever it is, at first. Give it a good chance. Then reflect and think hard about any aspects however coincidental that made it enjoyable.
2. Once you know how to love it, amplify the things you love about it. Try to arrange it so you get more of the enjoyable aspect out of working on the weakness. If you enjoy the social craic of the bouldering wall, make sure you’re there on the right nights. If you know good music makes you complete your circuits, download and save a new album ready for each session. Etc etc.
Being human means doing more of what we love. The smaller the areas of our training jigsaw we don’t love working on, the better.

We have a sale on

Our sale on slacklines has been super popular (UPDATE - now sold out), so we decided to run a more general sale in our shop. It's the first time we've ever done this! We’ll run it for one month and we’ve put some good discounts of 25-50% on roughly half of our products. Worldwide shipping as always and do be on the quick side in case our stock runs out. Here’s what we’ve discounted:
Mountain Heroes - Lovely and substantial coffee table book of superb and iconic shots of many of the world’s most influential climbers. We sell a lot of these when we run stalls at festivals because as soon as folk pick it up they see it’s a lovely book. We quite often sell them two at a time becuase folk buy it for a gift and then decide to take a personal copy too! Previously £30 (like I said, it’s a big substantial book). On sale at £22.50 here. Folk at lectures often ask me to sign the page with my picture. Just ask in the checkout page if you’d like this.
Mountain Equipment Beanies - Warm, and comfy for anything from bouldering to winter alpinism. On my head about 250 days in the year! We have various colours in the branded version and the plain version. Was £15, now £12 here.
(UPDATE - now sold out) Ron Fawcett, Rock Athlete - Hardback edition of the great man’s autobiography. An interesting time in climbing and always much to learn from characters like Ron. Was £20, now £15.
Hostile Habitats - It’s a book that often comes out in conversation with owners of it, since it’s so full of fascinating details about the landscape, flora and fauna of Scotland’s mountain environment. If you are planning to spend your life in these mountains, it is frankly crazy not to make yourself aware of the richness of interest all around you, from geological features to the lichens that colour the rock so beautifully. I first became aware of the book when Tom Prentice appeared above me as I sat on my boulder mat at Dumby, He was taking pictures of the gas pockets in the Basalt I was climbing on. I had no idea they were gas pockets. These days I look at the places I go to in Scotland with a new pair of eyes, and take so much more from being there thanks to the knowledge in the book. Was £17, now £12.75 here.
(UPDATE - now sold out) The Players DVD - Dave Graham, Chris Sharma, Emily Harrington, Daniel Woods, Lisa Rands, Joe Kinder, Alex Puccio, Chris Lindner, and Ethan Pringle. 9as, Font 8cs, E10 trad, Deep water soloing. A ton of great climbing footage and a ton of learning from the best movers on rock. End of. Was £20, now £10.
Northern Beats DVD - Bernd Zangerl and friends on tour opening new boulders in Norway. Amazing rock, impressive movement, good music. A psyche hit! Was £10, now £5 here.
(UPDATE - now sold out) The Mountain Marathon Book - A hill racer’s bible. If you’re thinking of entering your first hill race, or trying to move up the rankings, it doesn’t make much sense lose out on to make one of the mistakes this book will save you from making. It’s a young sport and this is the first good instructional book on the subject. Was £20, now £15.
The Munros in Winter - One way to look at it is ‘it’s a book about hillwalking’. So why is it so inspiring? Well something to note for starters is that it’s author the great North West Highalnds pioneer is now (in his 50s!) one of the best winter climbers in Scotland, regularly  hillwalking grade VIII mixed routes and IX if he’s looking for a more serious ‘day on the hill’. This book is about an extra long day on the hill - he got in his van, drove to Scotland and did the first completion of the 277 Munros in a single winter season. I first read it as a 15 year old and was left utterly inspired to explore these mythical corners of the highlands. It’s a much, much better way to learn about these mountains than reading a standard guide book, that’s for sure! A great story about a great effort from the softly spoken man machine. Was £15, now £11.25 here.

(UPDATE - now sold out) Extreme Alpinism - Mark Twight’s seminal book on techniques and approaches to alpinism. A bit of a bible really. Was £20, now £15.

9 June 2012

Redpoint - a whole book on tactics finally!

Finally we’ve got hold of some stock of Hague and Hunter’s new book ‘Redpoint’ in the shop (right here). The authors are most famous for their superb book The Self-Coached Climber which is justifiably one of our better selling climbing improvement texts. Like I’m sure most experienced coaches know, tactics are becoming an increasingly important area that forms the difference between progress and stagnation among modern climbers. So they have written a whole book dedicated to perfecting all the tactical tricks and advantages for both onsight and redpoint climbing.
It’s a worthy addition to the knowledge base and I’d say there are very few climbers around who are not aware of, or milking all the tactical advantages offered in the book. Whether you read it as a beginner or intermediate level climber to open up a whole new world of tactical awareness and advantage, or as an expert climber reminding yourself of all the tricks you could be using to get that crucial extra edge for your current goal, I’d recommend it.
It’s a substantial subject and a substantial book too. There’s even a 30 minute DVD that comes with it to see the tactics in action. They have included some assessment forms and checklists in each section to help you get a clearer idea of where you stand with your use and prowess of different tactics or skills. This sort of thing maybe doesn’t appeal to everyone. But if writing things down isn’t your style, you can just skip them and simply read the advice. Just as with The Self-Coached Climber, the book is thoughtfully laid out, well illustrated with colour photos and thorough without being a mind-number.
As a coach visiting ever improving climbing walls with stronger and fitter climbers, I’ve appreciated that tactics are the big deal for climbers these days. More and more often, climbers have the strength and fitness from many hours in the climbing wall. But without even knowing it, lack of tactical awareness has placed the glass ceiling above their head much lower than it ought to be. It’s a shame when that happens.
You can get hold of a copy from our shop here.

If it wasn’t hard, it would be easy

...And we are looking for hard, aren’t we?!
On this blog I guess many of the posts are about finding and attacking weaknesses. Lots of people avoid them without realising it and hence the need to keep reiterating both the general point and the detail. But what of milking your strengths. Some strengths, like being a little stronger of finger than the next guy or being able to reach a bit further or being dynamic and confident enough to jump can only be milked so much. Not all strengths, or weaknesses are equal.
Someone recently asked me what my ‘secret’ was for climbing hard. I’m wary of oversimplifying or seeing a complex picture as black and white, but I’d say I have one strength that I’ve milked a hell of a lot, and fortunately it’s a gift that keeps on giving. I’m not good at climbing hard, but I like having a hard time. Simple as that really.
So why is that a strength? Well just think about some of the things that are ‘hard’ about climbing: Failing repeatedly and not having an immediate solution or avenue to pursue next. Nerves of anticipation. Fear. Even occasionally a little pain or self-discipline (these things are all relative). These are normally the things that make climbers outright give up an attempt or decide not to keep having attempts. Or it could be more of a subtle effect. Thee things might not make you give up, but just cause you to lift off the gas pedal slightly.
Revelling in the ‘hardness’ of hard climbing isn’t an easy mindset to adopt. What worked for me was simply to remind myself, sometimes subconsciously, sometimes directly, that if whatever I’m trying wasn’t hard, it would be easy. I’m not looking to do easy climbs easily. I want to do hard climbs easily. Every hard climb I’ve ever done has felt easy in the moment of success, but hard right up to that point. Therefore since 99% of climbing time is going to feel hard in all the forms that ‘hard’ takes, if you enjoy those things then you get on with the journey to that special moment of easiness quicker.
Some examples:
Bouldering - When holding a swing at the limit of your strength, you feel like you don’t have enough strength to absorb it and are going to come off. A lot of hard bouldering experience teaches you to ignore that feeling and keep pulling. A proportion of the time, despite your expectations, your feet will swing back and you’ll get to the top. All of this process of doubt and reaffirmation of belief happens inside a split second at the apex of the swing.
Sport climbing - Just because you tried the move for 300 times doesn’t mean you cant do it with your present level of strength. You might not have found the best way yet. Just don’t keep trying it the same way. Change something, however small, each time. Experiment systematically. You’ll learn that the available holds and ways to move through them have a lot more to offer than you could have imagined. If you do want to try it 300 times though, do your belayer a favour and learn to top rope self belay!
Trad - When you are dealing with something that is all in the mind, like confidence, recognise that you are dealing with the most complicated object in the universe. You might try to understand good and bad mental performances, but you will never be able to attribute them completely and correctly to the factors that resulted in the performance. Take what messages you can, use them and shrug off the negative or retrograde feelings with vigour. We feel amazing after a steady lead of a bold route because it is a feat that is extremely difficult to achieve. Don't be scared of mental blocks. Although they seem utterly impenetrable when you are up against one, they are ultimately just thoughts. 
Treat each climb as a worthy enemy. Expect it to lie down and it might be impossible, Expect to be tested and you’ll be ready for the test.