Tuesday, 3 January 2012

2012 Rock Climbing Goal & My Climbing History

Goal setting is important for progression. I've never been very good at it, to be honest. I think about these things and hope for the best but never remember what goals I set and whether I achieved them. So, this year, 2012, I am writing it down - here, on my blog. I'm not setting a plethora of goals, mini-goals, or things to achieve between now and the end of the year. Just one goal, to achieve by 2013.


A while ago, a few blogs back, I made a conscious decision to omit grades from my posts. I started off writing about the different grades I had climbed whilst out and about, but realised this was pointless because the main message I wanted to get across was not about how hard I had been climbing (not that hard, all in all) but about how much I love rock climbing and getting out in the beautiful Peak District, the rest of the country and around the world (although, at the moment, there is a depressing lack of the latter). A great deal of my climbing life has also been spent inside, as I am a working man with a full-time job, and my climbing must fit around that. 

However, as this is a post about goal setting, I must renege on that decision on this particular occasion. As I alluded to earlier, my goal is a simple one. I feel it isn't shooting for the stars, and therefore also an achievable one. I want to send a boulder problem two grades harder than anything I have ever climbed prior. 

Before I mention what grade that is, I want to give you a little background on my climbing past, for contextual reasons. I realise I've never written this down before and, as readers of my blog, hopefully you will find it of interest. (If, however, you want to skip ahead, please find the next line break.)

Labour of love - who else goes out with a toothbrush to scrub rocks? (Fontainebleau 2010)
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I started climbing over 10 years ago, when I was 14 years old. At this time, it was entirely as an 'after school activity'. My P.E. teacher started a 'Climbing Club' and two of my close friends and I decided to give it a go. We started going to The Edge Climbing Centre, in Sheffield, once a week, on a Friday. We would mostly climb with ropes in the main room, scaring ourselves silly in an effort to get over the natural vertigo of people who had never been more than six feet off the floor, unless in a building or up a ladder. Anyone who starts climbing, from day one, saying they have no fear of heights is either lying or has a screw loose. There are, however, degrees of fear, and some feel it less than others.

Anyway, going slightly off topic there. This once a week climbing schedule continued for a couple of years, with frequent periods (up to a month) with no climbing at all. I made very little progress in these early years, only achieving the odd V4/5 (I use the American grading system here because that is what The Edge used at the time) inside - and nothing harder than V2/3 outside. I knew little of the achievements of world class climbers and rarely saw anyone sending anything harder than V8 at the centre (despite a number of very strong climbers using The Edge at the time, the problems there rarely reached beyond this grade). Therefore, I assumed V8 to be at the forefront of human capabilities for a short while. 

At 16 I started using the internet to research rock climbing in a little more depth than what had been imparted by my school teachers. I realised people were climbing V10 and 11 in other places, that one-arm pull-ups were actually possible and gymnastic positions (front lever, for example) were being used as training mechanisms to build the required strength to send problems well beyond what I had previously thought possible. Call me naive, if you will, but I had little interest in the wider rock climbing community in the beginning and was only doing it as an occasional activity that I enjoyed.

Where I used to spend a great deal of my time (The Roaches, Staffordshire,  2007)

I started climbing more often. At first twice a week. Sometimes three times a week. At 17, during a session at The Matrix (the student climbing wall in Sheffield), I pulled on a side-pull and felt a strange unzipping around the knuckle of the middle finger of my right hand. I immediately let go and then a searing pain shot through my arm. After squirming around on the floor for a moment, I got up, composed myself, and declared to my friend: "I won't be climbing for a while". I took six months off. Unfortunately, stupidly you might say, I never got this diagnosed. I couldn't bend my finger at all for around two or three weeks, opting to keep it strapped to my forefinger with climbing tape, and then slowly started regaining some movement. After around three months there was no pain but I chose to continue the rest to ensure that it wouldn't happen again whilst it was probably still healing. My only assumption for what I did was that I damaged the cartilage around the joint (it wasn't the tendon, I know that much). Whatever I did to my finger, you can still see the consequences to this day - as the joint is considerably more bulbous than the same joint on my left hand. Although, saying that, all my fingers are a little worse for wear these days.

Anyway, when I finally got back into climbing I took it very easy, very slow and cautious. I started at the beginning, basically. And then I went to university, at 18. Here, I started climbing as part of the Staffordshire University Mountaineering Society (SUMC). There were so many psyched climbers that I immediately felt in my element. I started climbing more and more and training harder and harder. My right finger kept giving me problems now and again (and still does), so I kept it strapped when climbing, but all in all I slowly progressed. For some climbers, university would be an excellent opportunity to improve quickly, as you have quite a lot of free time. However, the excessive partying was not conducive to quick progress for me, so I was quite happy to send the occasional 7A boulder, although more often I was climbing around the 6C/+ mark (by this time, I had adopted the French grading system - largely because the latest bouldering guide had chosen to do the same).

Classic 6B (V4) called Staffordshire Flyer, at The Roaches (2008)


After university, at the age of 21, I got a job, as a newspaper reporter. I was eager to impress and therefore threw myself at the job, working flat out and leaving little time for climbing. I took another six months off. I missed it dearly, however, and after I had totally settled I started making a weekly trip to Creation Climbing Centre, in Birmingham, being as it was the closest to my place of employ. Again, it was like starting from scratch and I slowly began to build my strength back up - eventually going to Creation three or four times a week.

A couple of job changes later, maintaining a fairly regular climbing schedule, and I find myself where I am today, at 24. There have been dips in motivation and access to climbing over the past two years, but largely I've maintained a relatively regular schedule. Climbing when I can, mostly for fun, and training as best I could. If I managed to climb something hard (hard for me, anyway) I was always over the moon and totally surprised. Since moving back to Sheffield (only two months ago), I have been climbing at the Climbing Works almost every other day and trying to get into the Peak District as often as feasible (although, regrettably, this hasn't been as often as I would have liked, due to inclement weather and busy weekends).

In 2011 I managed to send a handful of V8s (outside - it doesn't count inside, in my opinion), which, if you have managed to read this entire blog, you will know is quite a milestone for me, as I believed it to be the limit of human capabilities at one time. Obviously, if I can do it, it most certainly is not. But nonetheless I am very happy with my progress.

Struggling in Siurana (I have no endurance - hence all the bouldering)
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So, back to the original reason for writing this - goal setting. Based on what I have written, you should now be able to figure out what my goal for 2012 is. Got it? That's right, I want to send a V10 or 7C+. I feel it is within my grasp. I have a whole year to push my abilities just two grades. I will need to find one that suits and one that motivates and I will most likely need  to project it, but I think 7C+ is possible. 

Whilst I will continue to omit grades from this blog, in large part, I will be sure to inform you, my devoted readers, of when I reach my goal. You should also be able to deduce, from the many blogs I aim to publish from now until the end of the year, how I am getting along.

Please comment below and let me know what your goals are for this year. I would be keen to know. Maybe we can motivate each other?

Many thanks for reading. I wish you a successful 2012. Climb on!