Friday, 13 May 2011

Back to "Normality"!

I’ve been back in the UK for a week now after 5 weeks in Spain, and to a certain extent it felt as though I hadn’t even left as soon as I got back into some sort of ‘routine’. Routine is perhaps not the best word to describe my life at the moment – it’s all very busy and despite there being a kind of regularity in what I do – eat, sleep, study, train, drive, coach – there are always things which crop up at the last minute and cause me to re-arrange and reconsider!

Whenever I return from a competition abroad or a climbing trip, I experience what I call “displacement” – a confused feeling of not knowing where I am and still thinking that I should be where I have just come from, and a refusal to get back “into the swing of things”. I never liked that phrase! It is also an odd feeling getting used to spending time alone again after constantly being around a big group of friends for 5 weeks, but I suppose this is a necessity which is encouraging me to study for my exams! :P

 It never ceases to amaze me that I can be transported to a place miles and miles away with a completely different lifestyle and culture in a matter of hours, and likewise return to where I came from via a short plane ride.  I suppose it could be described as a kind of “culture-shock” - where I become so immersed in one way of life that I experience withdrawal symptoms and become slightly disorientated upon returning home. At the moment I am still very much in Spain mode! Even my eating habits seem to have changed – eating little and often (as was often the case when out at the crag in Spain!) seems more appealing than eating 3 large main meals per day as I was used to before going out to Spain. I have also retained the feeling that Rain = Very Bad. If it rained in Spain, it would mean wet rock and potentially no climbing, and also wet gear and bags if our possessions were outside our tent, which caused me (after looking out the window and seeing rain) to turn to Robbie on our first day back and almost come out with “Are the bags outside?” :P

However, the upside of returning has been the reunion with friends and family and getting on with training and coaching work, and making things happen. After a few days of relaxation it was back into action as I helped out with the Competition Climbing Team club session at Ratho on Saturday, where it was great to see how much the kids had developed in the time we had been away – we were truly impressed with the talent on display! On Sunday we headed to Alien 2 for a bouldering session where I enjoyed trying out some new problems, and felt pretty strong despite not bouldering for 5 weeks. Back at my flat on Monday, I signed the lease for our new flat for next year (which I am sharing with 3 friends from University –Emma, Rain and Jenny!) and had my first exam – German grammar, which wasn’t as bad as I was expecting!

Pals reunited :)

 On Tuesday I met with a photographer and journalist to discuss an article in which my life as a climber and student will be featured. They had some great ideas for photos and interview questions and I’m really looking forward to meeting with them again! Wednesday I had my first driving lesson with Dave after a 6 week break which went surprisingly well – I think I surprised him too! :P In the evening I met up with some friends from the Uni mountaineering club at the CSE (Centre for Sport and Exercise) bouldering wall where we managed to get some problems done, despite getting distracted by an impromptu gymnastics/acrobatics session, which resulted in people jumping and flipping on the boulder mats, and performing (attempting in my case!) some outrageous dynos!

Yesterday I met with my flatmates and had a Farewell Lunch (not really a farewell as such, seeing as three of us will be living together next year and one will be just across the road from us!) which involved a picnic of Chinese food, chocolate and rhubarb pie with icecream. Unfortunately I had to dash off early, as I had an interview to be re-selected for the Edinburgh University Performance Sport program which I was involved in this year. The program provides athletes with support on various levels such as strength and conditioning, nutritional and sports psychology advice, injury treatment, physiotherapy provision and financial support. I have really enjoyed my involvement in the program during my 1st year, and look forward to getting involved next year if I am re-selected.
                                                                    Glad to be back?! :P

Alongside this busy schedule (and as Robbie is away in Sheffield until tonight on a routesetting course) I have been undertaking the task of sending off the posters for the Yorkshire Sport Climbing weekends which we are running this August. I sent the first batch of 25 poster tubes off yesterday (much to the dismay of the poor lady who had to deal with each one individually at the Post Office!) and still have another 25 to fill, label and send off to climbing walls around the UK. We are very pleased with the posters - thanks go to Will Carroll for his work in creating them! Hopefully spaces will fill up and the weather will hold out for some great climbing in August!
                                                            Come and get yer coaching! :p

I have also recently taken on the role of Country and English Language Editor for the climbing site 9b or “novebi” – The site focuses on bringing together climbers from all over the world of all ages, abilities and nationalities. After meeting its creator in Siurana - an Italian named Emanuele - I was asked by him to help out by providing translations, blogs and UK-based news articles for the site. If anyone wishes to put their sponsor or company web-address on my page, please get in touch!

Today I plan to continue studying, poster-sending and then I’m coaching young Jodie in the afternoon. Saturday is very busy indeed with a full day coaching kids from the Granite City Rock Stars club – I look forward to working with them and hope they will be able to transfer some of the steely determination which I saw from some of their members in Spain to the indoor wall!

Next week is filled with revision, exams and the European Youth Series round at EICA: Ratho – it will be a bit strange going to watch and help out due to being too old to compete for the first time in 6 years of competing internationally, but I am looking forward to cheering on Team GB on home terrain!

Now back to those posters…

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Spain 2011 Trip Summary

Hola! 4 more members of Equipo Escocia are now back in Scotland after spending an inordinate amount of time eating bocadillos, drinking cafe con leches and of course...climbing in and around the valleys of Siurana! Since my last blog update an already very impressive list of ascents has been added to by every member of the crew, as everyone pushed to finish their projects and finish on a high.

On Sunday Calum, Geek, Gary, Mark and Ross drove back to Santa Linya to complete some unfinished business, whilst me and Robbie decided to stay at the campsite in Siurana for 3 extra days rather than return to Santa Linya, as I still had an elusive project to tick off...

The day before had been named the official "Day of Sendage" due to Gary, Geek and a mystery member of the team doing very well indeed. Gary ticked Migranya (8b) and Geek completed his project Dogma (8b+) - a massive relief for the guys who had been so determined to finish off these routes. With this being theoretically the last climbing day in Siurana, the pressure was on to get psyched and send. After arriving at the crag to the news that Geek had been successful, we were inspired to watch Gary and give it our all in our own performances. As Gary climbed the atmosphere at the bottom of L'Olla sector intensified as he made his way up Migranya - everyone knew how much it meant to him to complete the route, and I reckon we were more nervous than Gary himself! Looking calm and in control he neared the top, composed himself for one final time and went for the last few moves...and clipped the chain, resulting in a very happy man!

The time had arrived for me to try my 8a - L'escamarla-Ramadan link, of which I had only tried the bottom section after completing the 7c+ which runs parallel to Ramadan (8b) named L'escamarla. The route starts off on steady ground up to a ledge before traversing right into a bulge to a bouldery first crux, then with steady climbing up the 7c+ until a traverse onto the top half of the 8b, with a spicy crux and a precariously technical slab to finish! On my first attempt I came off at the crux in the 8b section (not the actual crux of the 8b....just to point that out!) but quickly worked out a better sequence and went straight to the top. I rested at the foot of the wall until I felt ready to go for it - thinking of the rests, the sequence, the was getting late and I decided to get on the route before a headtorch ascent would be in order! The valley was emptying out and only the Scots remained. Quite by chance, I happened to be climbing at the same time as another member of the group as they were on their sending mission...(We have been asked not to give details of their climb as of yet over the internet but watch this space...) The atmosphere was amazing - the Scots had taken over the valley and the echos of "ALLEZ!!" and "Go on Nat!" as the last of the daylight provided a dull glow on the rock. It was as though we were competing in an open-air amphitheater, with shouts of "COME OOOONN!" ricocheting across the valley. I was now at a shake-out just below the crux on the 8b section...absorbing the atmosphere and at the same time trying to recall my sequence for the upcoming crux moves. A tiny two finger undercut...feet high...right foot out right, lock out and twist....cross through with left to a side pull...cross over the top of that with right...bump right foot up...get intermediate to steady and left foot out far left.....reach to good jug.  After a deep breath I traversed to the undercut and did everything as I had planned, reached the jug and went "Ohhh...yay!" Robbie called up "Are you at the jug Nat? Through the crux?" "Yes!" I replied with surprise. More good holds followed and all that was left was the tricky slab with very long runouts! I tried to compose myself on the rest just before the slab. Night was falling fast and I knew that the dark grey rock would be rather hard to interpret in the dim light. I moved slowly and carefully...a foot slipped..but still on and keeping calm. Last quickdraw before chain clipped and the hardest move on the slab completed, I felt as though the route was mine. After shaking out on a rail I moved to a very positive crimp and then up to another just above, the chain just up and right. I weighted it and moved my right foot up but in a split second I was falling through thin air before stopping just at the crux...I couldn't believe it. The crimp and it's surrounding layer of rock had broken off just before the chain, luckily just skimming past Robbie belaying below. I was so disappointed and the thought of having to do the route all over again after doing everything right, and being robbed of the tick by a hold breaking made me feel ill. Just as my confidence was peaking after having a tough first few weeks dealing with my finger injuries, it seemed as though all the mileage and the gradual build-up of my skills climbing on rock over the 5 weeks would leave me just cruelly short of ticking my first 8a. We were due to leave the next day to Santa Linya, but me and Robbie had a different plan...

A long rest day at the campsite followed on Monday with many of the people we had met during the trip enquiring enthusiastically about the night before's events: "Did you get your 8a?" The truth hurt and yet deep inside me I had a steely determination to overcome the hurdle that the route had thrown at me; I was not prepared to go home without clipping the chain of that damn route! It took so much concentration and focus to get to where I was when it happened - I wasn't pushed physically as much as mentally, but it certainly took a lot out of me and showed me how much I wanted to succeed. Could I do it again?

The next day I was sat at the foot of the wall feeling nervous ( perhaps more than in a competition!) and tried to block out the previous attempt's disappointing end. It was a hot morning and the tension was building. Robbie reassured me that there was no pressure to get it first go today, I still had plenty more attempts if necessary, but the truth was that I desperately wanted to get it over and done with, as much as I loved the route! I started up, feeling less nervous as the moves flowed. I tried to climb quickly as by now I knew the sequence pretty much perfectly and had my rests timed well. I sprinted to the rest below the 8b crux section. Recovery was quick and concentration high. Calmness echoed in the valley as I prepared for the storm of the crux - two-finger undercut, over to the side-pull...but this time I had accidentally reached for the higher part of the sidepull in my over-exuberance to get through the crux. I thought it was over, but prevented panic from taking over as I resorted to spontaneity and improvisation over my carefully planned sequence. Fortunately for me, my spur-of- the-moment mistake sequence worked (perhaps even better than the last one?!) and I was on the jug again. Now onto the slab...this time I was particularly hesitant and slowed my speed right down...paranoid about breaking holds or feet slipping. I came to the tricky move and once again half-improvised on my sequence. I took so long completing the slab that I heard Robbie call out to friends who were climbing a bit further along from us to see if they could see me! A few holds further, past the brown scar on the rock where I had torn off the hold, I continued up to the final jug...and clipped before giving any sign of relief or celebration just in case the hold breaking was some sort of revenge for getting too complacent on the first redpoint attempt! I had to rest for a bit to absorb the moment and calm down before getting the clips out and lowering to the ground. I was incredibly pleased if not a little bit shaky but all in all - mission was completed!

On the same day, Robbie ticked his 7th 8b of the trip - Pati Pa Mi, rounding off what has been his most successful trip yet, completing 3 x 8b+'s too. It is unbelievable how quickly he has been ticking off these routes at such a high level, and I am looking forward to our upcoming journeys abroad and in the UK here I'm sure he'll continue to rip it up! 

I've learned a lot about my climbing on this trip - I had to work around my injuries and realised that I can do hard routes if I put my mind to it, and if I truly believe in my abilities. Earlier on in the trip I was hesitant and scared of pushing it too far with my pulley injuries, and would get frustrated at being unable to climb at my best. In the end I learned to appreciate the bigger picture and just enjoy climbing with friends in one of the most amazing climbing locations in the world with amazing weather! I got some good mileage ticked, gained experience and most of all...had fun! I also learned many other things - don't touch electric fences, don't order anything with chicken at the Climber's Bar, the fact that I can't coil a rope at all (or uncoil it for that matter!), that Principe biscuits and Nestea are a life-saver and that the way from Santa Linya to Siurana involves a mandatory drive through Decathlon car park...

Bring on the next trip!

Friday, 22 April 2011


Hey everyone welcome to my first blog! I'm still in Spain right now with just over a week and a half to go out of my 5 week adventure! It´s been great fun despite taking a while to build up my confidence on rock (especially difficult with two pulley injuries!) but now I am really getting into the style of climbing here in Siurana and have started clipping some chains!

We started off in Santa Linya (Catalonia) where we spent a week climbing at crags such as Tres Ponts, Terradets and Santa Ana. Unfortunately I did not get the chance to climb at the famous Santa Linya cave but hopefully I´ll get the chance next trip! The first week I focussed mainly on building confidence on rock by doing easy mileage and enjoying the sun and amazing landscape that the region had to offer! Highlight of the stay has to be the "coca" (traditional thin Catalonian pizza-type bread) that Lynne and I made, despite the boys claiming that our "mistake" - the first bread we made which came out too thick - tasted nicer :(

Now I am in Siurana with the rest of the Ratho crew who are still out here - Robbie, Mgeek, Gary, Calum, Mark and Ross.  Life at the Siurana campsite is both relaxing but exciting at the same time - every day we can look forward to yet more fantastic climbing on a wide variety of routes, and at the end of the day chill out with the other campers in the communal cooking room or at the bar. We have managed to cook some "interesting" meals to say the least - the best(worst) being the obscenely dry chicken, onion and rice dish on the first night! To be fair, we desperately needed a supermarket trip and did the best we could! We still look at the German campers in envy as they put chicken, sausages and steaks on the barbeque and we have to settle for the usual staple of chickpeas, lentils and vegetables...

Despite our lack of gourmet meals, the climbing has certainly wet our appetite! The first few days were spent checking out crags for the kids who were taking part in the MCofS Coaching Week and working on our suntans - a great opportunity for us to get a feel for the technical nature of Siurana´s routes. After being inspired by the youngsters involved in the coaching holiday, we fitted in a few evening sessions after the day´s work where some serious chain-clippage went down - Robbie has now ticked 3 8b´s in the valley and has some other projects on the go - watch this space! Gaz ticked an 8a and 8a+, Mgeek completed an 8a and yesterday I sent my hardest redpoint grade so far - a 7c+ called Outback. I was so happy to have acheived this grade, especially with all the mental barriers that finger injuries have caused me to experience. In fact I was so concentrated and determined to complete it that I told Robbie to "shut up!" and stop encouraging me as I composed myself before a tricky top move...I didn´t mean it, honest! :P Through collecting mileage of routes from 7a - 7b+ I finally felt as though harder routes were a possibility for me I am now looking forward to trying some 8a´s and maybe a couple of 8b´s before we leave on the 4th May, as well as maybe taking a few trips to Margalef to pull on some pockets and steep roofs (although today on a rainy rest day we attempted to have a look around and got lost - mission unsuccessful!)

I have also become slightly addicted to thanks to Robbie, and have finally made myself a scorecard! I hope I can add some more high quality routes to the list over the next week and a bit, but for now it´s time for some food and our nightly dose of Father Ted...

Hasta la vista!