Friday, 25 November 2011


The planned three weeks of rest shortened into one week after the pain in my finger disappeared and the psyche returned. However, during my week of rest, in proper injured climber style, I turned up at the local crag where my friends were climbing to heckle, belay and dead-hang off the other arm. When all your mates are climbers what else is there to do?!

With no work for a few days it was time to head down to Cornwall in The Van (yes, the capitals are required) to see how the injured finger would cope with trad. The weather forecast looked good but a big swell was predicted – surely not a problem for Cornish sea cliffs!

Tuesday – Sennen
Heading down to Cornwall at midday gave us just enough time to get a route in before sunset; we walked down to Sennen with the idea of checking out hard stuff but were put off by clouds of spray thrown up by the massive waves. After seeing a wave crash over the rocks we had just walked on we decided to run away up Monday Face. I topped out with my finger still pain free and we sorted gear as the sun set from a clear blue sky whilst the waves crashed on the rocks below – a beautiful place to be and a long way from the bustle of everyday life.

Wednesday – Bosigran
Bosi, being as far from the sea as West Cornwall crags get, seemed like the perfect place to go to escape the waves. Alexis got on Saddle Tramp, a rarely climbed route in the Raven Wall Area, which I seconded falling off only when I realised I was trying a hard move from a very similar set of hold to the ones I had injured myself on only this time with numb fingers and feet on lichen-y smears.

Following on in the spirit of climbing underrated two star lines we got on Dominator which did involve climbing up a small stream but finished in ape-like fashion swinging from massive holds on steep rock. Another day of pain free climbing and another beautiful sunset... time for another dinner and pint in the pub.

Thursday – Carn Barra
The day started by tramping over heathery moorland, looking down fenced-off mine shafts, staring in turn at massive waves and inspiring route-lines and fighting the urge to quit work, move to Cornwall and climb quality routes all day every day. 

The guided tour of Penwith complete, we ended up at Carn Barra, a sheltered choice for a windy day but a very wavey one when there’s a big swell. We abbed down to the Northern Platform and looked at a couple of damp E2s until a particularly large wave sent us scurrying up a V Diff like rats fleeing a sinking ship.

The view from the belay ledge
Not content to find somewhere sensible to climb we abbed in to Central Wall where the cliff and ledge below the belay prevented us from getting soaked... most of the time. I led first, turning occasionally to see a curtain of water at eye level and an excited-looking belayer cowering from the spray. The view from the top was awesome, massive waves crashing against the rock on all sides and in the middle of it all a seal bobbing around without a care in the world (at least I assume that was a carefree expression, I've never been very good at reading seal body language).

We abbed back in for another route, Dialectic, and I belayed on the ledge watching the waves send plumes of spray higher and higher as the tide came in, feeling glad I was still attached to the ab rope but certain that there was nowhere in the world I’d rather be. I seconded the route trying not to barn-door off, unable to feel my fingers or drag my eyes away from the sea. One final VS, Axis, to tick off and it was my lead again. Chalk by this point was only of psychological use and the gear was dripping with condensation but the granite provided enough friction and big holds to prevent any problems.

Soon we were tramping back over the heather towards the van thinking of hard routes and inspiring lines to get on next time... my name is Cherry and I’m addicted to Cornish Trad.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Bad Days

The week started well with a trip to Avon for some bold balancy climbing on Krapp's Last Tape and an ab off the nearby ‘Abseil Station’ – which definitely doesn’t merit the title ‘Station’ consisting as it does of old bolts, old rusty snap-gates and some faded tape – but it didn’t fail so I can’t complain!

Down to Anstey’s on Tuesday, the rock was nearly all dry and a cold easterly was blowing bringing with it strong waves, heaps of seaweed and cold fingers to anyone who stood still. The warm up traverse is tucked away from the wind and I did laps on it until I could feel the blood pumping around my body. Feeling suitably warmed up I got on Tuppence, limiting myself to 5 goes on the inital crux before moving on, this allowed me to try the rest of the route with some strength left and not to waste the whole day repeatedly falling off the same move with no noticeable improvement. The middle section felt good and I managed to link the hardest move through to the jug, progress! I played around on the top section trying to figure out a way to do the move before heading back to the ground for a rest.

The next go went well, I found out a way to eyeball the hold above the top crux though I couldn't seem to be able to move any limbs to hold onto it, the route felt a step closer nevertheless.

Third go of the day, just one more crack at the bottom section after this then home. I start off with 5 attempts at the bottom crux then up to the middle crux which I can’t do at this stage of the day as my left hand’s getting tired. The top section still looks like it should work; a few more tries pulling off a small left hand undercut crimp and jumping with my right and I might figure it out.

I pull on, push through my feet and reach out with my right hand when I hear a pop from my left and a line of pain shoots through my hand. For a split-second time stands still and I can see two futures stretching out ahead of me: One of my normal life, climbing every day that I can, getting on Tuppence once a week, trad epics and adventures. The other of injury, pain, weeks or months of rest, rehab, getting weak and frustrated. I slump onto the rope clutching my hand and look up, only one future remains.

The pain is in the ring finger of my overtired left hand, too many weeks of crimping and trying to get stronger have taken its toll. I belay Alexis on Fisherman’s and again on Tuppence where he kindly takes my quickdraws out for me, he doesn’t even claim them as crag swag!
Slacklining - a great rest day activity

I drive home trying to change gear with my thumb and the depression sets in. It may sound clich├ęd but climbing is everything to me: it’s the reason why I get out of bed in the morning, the reason why I go to work, the reason why I eat breakfast when it’s far too early to eat anything that isn’t chocolate.

Time passes and the shock fades, I see a doctor who knows little about tendon injuries and a climbing physio friend who knows a lot more, I vow to rest properly and let it heal. I make a list of things I have been meaning to do but never get round to because I’m always climbing and a list of easy slabs to try out some one-handed trad climbing. Life goes on.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Tricky Part

In summer I find the best way to improve is to go climbing everyday that I can, get on the routes I’ve been putting off and keep on trying the ones I’m falling off. As a general rule this tends to work quite well and the best part is that it’s exactly what I want to do. However it isn’t summer now and ‘just going climbing’ is no longer the answer... it’s time for the tricky part... training. This way if the routes I want to get on ever dry out I might stand a greater chance of getting to the top.

That said for the last three days I ignored my own advice and used the dry days for bimbling on easy routes and the wet days for hanging around at wet crags feeling sorry for myself:

Cheddar Gorge
Sunday: Cheddar
Sunday was dry but colder than my fingers can cope with (this isn’t saying much as my fingers and toes tend to freeze and the merest mention of chilly weather). Of course the sensible thing to do would have been to climb on the north side of the gorge in the sunshine; instead we opted for a freezing ‘warm up’ climb and then wandered up to the start of the spectacular Space Tourist. I can’t help but enjoy multi-pitch sport climbing; it feels like a bit of guilty pleasure to climb without the usual trad-induced fear but it’s great fun nevertheless. We reached the top of Sunset Buttress as the sun set behind us and abbed back down to warm socks and a fish-and-chip-based dinner.

Monday: Daddyhole
Another dry day and I had promised to take my visiting brothers, all three of them, out climbing. I wanted to choose a crag and a route that summed up what’s so great about rock-climbing and Gates of Eden at Daddyhole seemed to tick most of the boxes:
        ·         Adventurous setting
        ·         Abseil descent
        ·         Sea cliff
        ·         Exposed location
        ·         Multi-pitch trad.

It turns out that a four person stacked abseil does work quite well and they all reached the ground laughing and not shaking too much. I showed them the route, explained how it all works (emergency exits are situated here, here and here... if someone shouts “below” don’t look up...) and set off up the first pitch. At the belay I brought two of them up together with one trailing a rope for the third brother, only the stopper 5a/b move seemed to cause any problems. Much faffing with gear, ropes and the belay followed and I set off to the top. They followed using a combination of technique, brute force and desperation borne of an innate distrust in the whole system. A good day was had by all.

Tuesday: Anstey’s
A rainy drizzly day. It had been at least 5 days since I had been to Anstey’s and the desperation to return ate away at my gut like a particularly unpleasant virus. It was also our only hope of dry rock, a hope that was cruelly dashed upon arriving. For once The Cove was almost entirely unclimbable apart from the first few bolts on Tuppence and A Fisherman’s Tale. As these are the routes Alexis and I are working we spent the afternoon, hanging around in the rain, falling off 
Time to get inspired: The Dartmoor Webcam
damp holds and eating malt loaf.

Today, Wednesay: Training
Rain, rain and more rain. Time to engage the winter training plan I think: train on wet days, climb on dry days. I hope the sun doesn’t shine too much during the next four days at work or I feel my work-life balance may undergo some irreversible restructuring! 

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Rainy Season

Well the rainy season is here and finding a dry place to climb is now a major challenge; apart from the dank and dingy Pixies Hole at Chudleigh, Anstey’s cove is one of the few local crags that tend to stay dry in the rain. Unfortunately most of the routes leak like a sieve after a few days of wet weather – Tuppence being almost the only exception.

I’ve been working Tuppence for just over a month now and progress is now slow to non-existent, mainly involving me falling off in the same few places:

The bottom crux: A bit of a jump from two poor holds. I try this move approximately 20 times per session with a gain of about 5mm. In a couple of years it’ll be in the bag!

The middle crux: A move off a painfully small left-hand crimp. I’ve heard that both Adrian Baxter and Gav Symonds had to train specifically for this move ... time to get strong I think.

The top crux: A massive jump. I can’t get anywhere near the hold I’m leaping to but in my dream last night I could do it easily so I’m not too worried.
All that said, the process of working a route with such funky moves is great fun, it has become a very enjoyable feature of my climbing week. I find it useful to have one route to focus on and to train for... I can go away and hang off left hand crimps for a couple of days, take a rest and get back on Tuppence ... only to find that this time I can hold on slightly longer before falling off as usual!

Time to head back down there for another session of jumping, crimping and falling...