Monday, 29 September 2008

Craig Y Mwn...

Early Saturday morning: You are driving up the Rhaeadr valley in Y Berwynion. It is a lovely, fresh autumn morning, sun drenches the gentle rolling hills which gradually steepen as you head further up the valley. Minor rocks and scree start to outcrop, and then in the distance... get closer...
...and see this on the hillside... you think:

1) Fuck yeah, I've gotta climb on that?
2) Fuck yeah, I've gotta climb on that?
3) Fuck yeah, I've gotta climb on that?

Well, I did ;).

Craig Y Mwn is one of the many inspiringly essential crags in the Meirionydd guide. That's essential as in personally essential "wow that sounds/looks so cool I gotta go there" not the mundane socially essential "I must tick this because it's so classic / popular / rite of passage / in a book etc etc". Like last week's Meri visit, I approached it with a certain amount of trepidation: steep climbing, a steep approach, a seemingly shady north-east aspect and an expected lack of traffic lead to many qualms during the cool early morning.

Naturally all of those qualms vanished when I saw that dramatic face, it's beacon-shine an irresistable lure in the morning sun. Those qualms further mellowed when we parked up at a chilled cafe/retreat beneath Pistyll Rhaeadr, the largest waterfall in Wales. Also home to Mr Biggles, the largest dog in Wales:
10+ stone of half-St.Bernard half-ox fluffiness. His stoicism in the serious business of chilling out inspired us to similar stoicism in the short but heinous 50° slog up to the crag. Suitable established I rattled off 3 of the easier classics in fairly swift order, helped by a generous partner - thanks Squirrel. This left us plenty of time to stroll round to the waterfall (it is spectacular) and head up to Snowdonia, via some excitingly lonely moorland driving, at a timely hour.

Aside from the climbing quality, the beauty of the surroundings, and the glorious weather, this crag again was notable for the feeling of....rareness to be climbing on it. Great climbing that few other people do. According to the cafe owner: "Oh, it probably gets two or three visits a year, aye". I like that.

Sunday we started the day with showers, drizzle, and low cloud....Sunday we finished the day with bone dry, crisp sport climbing in the glowing evening sun and fresh breeze! An inauspicious early start was nimbly outwitted by visiting the rather nice Cafe Seren in Bethesda. Well-fuelled with a black pudding roll and a cappucino (with extra froth), we headed to the newly developed and scarcely publicised Penmaen Head to get a mileage day in. If you've ever wondered what this is...
...then this is it. 56 routes mostly from F5+ to F6b+ promised plenty of choice even for those with chronic injuries, and indeed delivered. In the vein of Castle Inn Quarry, an easy access McClimbing crag that manages to combine urban convenience with surprisingly pleasant climbing - the flowstone and concreted rock being particularly nice. Plenty of other teams popping in and out, and the background hum of the A55 provided a good contrast with the previous day - it's a broad church.

So... Another good weekend following inspirations. More great climbs and more great climbing. September might have started dismally but it has finished most pleasantly and reassuringly.


Monday, 22 September 2008


Finally, after this dismal summer of chronic injury and chronically rubbish weather, I have done some good climbing. Finally I have gone on a good weekend to somewhere interesting and exciting. Finally I have got the pure pleasure and fun that comes from following one's personal inspiration.

Within Wales, the Meirionnydd area is a particularly fascinating area, consisting of a bewilderingly epic and varied collection of separate mountain ranges and climbing areas, promising both high quality climbing and a large amount of exploration, adventure, and uncertainty.

Within Meirionnydd, the Rhinogau is a particularly fascinating mountain area, consisting of a substantial and broad area of upland, scattered with vast numbers of crags and craglets and little trace of civilisation, promising hidden gems aplenty and a healthy dose of mystery.

Within the Rhinogau, one route out of many is particularly fascinating, one of the unsung and rarely repeated classics that was so highly regarded it was worth not one but two guidebook photographs showing it's seductive allure. That route is Rock Steady and it seemed to promise an exceptional slab climb - I'm sure any mid-grade leader seeing the photos would add it to their "must do" list. I know I certainly did and was inspired by it for the last couple of years.

(Rubbish photos of guidebook ;))

Finally I have done it! Nothing special nor outstanding in challenge nor progression, but definitely special in both the quality of the climb and the day out (which included a couple of lovely warm-up routes, good company, fine weather, and a good appreciation of the tranquility and peace of the area), and in the relief and reassurance of at last climbing something that genuinely inspires me, after many months of mediocre "treading water". This is what climbing is all about for me - inspiration, exploration, quality - and I'm happy with it.

And my elbow?? It had the usual tenderness afterwards, but the next morning (without any icing nor painkillers), felt the best it had for a couple of weeks. Go figure.


Friday, 19 September 2008


Bloody melting yesterday afternoon. Yomped down and up to Ravenstones to vaguely help out with the Moorland Grit guidebook team. Despite this dark, North-facing, shady crag having a seemingly sensible reputation for being cold, the team cunningly persuaded me to climb on the few routes in the evening sun, AND keep my t-shirt on (both factors to do with "good light and colours for photos" or something like that).

The result: much incompetence, weakness, faffing, fingertips boiling in their own micro-pools of sweat, grinding off rounded holds and jams, dismal failure and a lot of swearing. Not my finest moment. In fact one of my un-finest moments for a long while (and this during a summer that has been consistently devoid of fineness).


Thursday, 18 September 2008


Bloody freezing this morning. Had to crack frost off the duvet to get out of bed. I'm rather shocked by what feels like the onset of dry winter weather. Walking around the streets the other day and everything being dry was like....walking around a foreign country after this dismal non-summer.

Thankfully I have managed to do a bit of reasonably pleasant climbing during it. Which is nice.

Have got some stuff to blog about but am rather busy at the moment. More later.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008


Current status:

Mid-Feb 2008: Tweaked elbow (golfer's elbow, join of the tendon inside my forearm to the bony spur at my elbow) bouldering indoors. Elbow felt fine afterwards and kept climbing.
Feb - March 2008: Continued climbing but a mild pain started to build up. Eased off climbing in proportion to pain, but pain continued and worsened.
April - May 2008: Realised (far too late) that I was getting properly injured and eased off climbing a lot more. Pain stayed at a constant level.
June - July 2008: Mostly rested for six weeks until mid-July, started therapeutic exercises.
July - Sept 2008: Eased back into climbing at up to 50% of my usual physical limit. Pain still present and initially no better than before rest. Slowly pain seems to alleviated a little but still prominent and variable.

Physio recommendations:

Physio 1:
- Any climbing usage is likely to re-damage it and slow down or inhibit healing.
- Taking 3 months total rest would likely be a good way to let it heal.
- Intensity of climbing is not so relevant, even gentle use is damaging.
- Recommends icing after any exercise.
- Recommends regular massage with ibuprofen gel.
- Recommends use of an epiclasp restraint below injury site.
- Therapies listed below are all useful although eccentric exercises should be mild.

Physio 2:
- Climbing at up to 50% will be fine for my elbow and possibly beneficial in conjunction with other therapies.
- It will take several months to regain a good level of strength.
- Total rest is not necessary providing I am disciplined.
- Ibuprofen is not recommended for long-term healing.
- There may be some issues with my shoulder / back that should be treated.
- Therapies listed below are all useful.
- Recommends taping and being cautious with epiclasp usage.

Physio 3:
- Climbing at up to 50% will be fine for my elbow and possibly beneficial in conjunction with other therapies.
- It will take several months to regain a good level of strength.
- Total rest would actually be less recommended due to loss in strength and dangers of building back up from scratch.
- If pain is prominent I should drop the level I'm climbing at rather than stop.
- If iced water feels better than icing, I should stick with ice water.
- Ibuprofen does inhibit the healing process (reduces white blood cells).
- Recommends taping across the injury site.
- Therapies listed below are useful.

Other sources (e.g. Dave Mac's writing etc):
- Iced water recommended.
- Ibuprofen not recommended.
- Therapeutic exercises all recommended.

Current therapeutic practices:

1. Ice water bath 2 x 30 minutes daily.
2. Eccentric wrist curls 2 x 3 sets x 10 reps, 5 days per week.
3. Reverse wrist raises 2 x 2 sets x 20 reps, 5 days per week.
4. Press-ups 2 x 20 reps, 5 days per week and/or after climbing.
5. Massage and stretching 2 x 10 minutes daily.
6. Massage before and after climbing.
7. Ice after climbing (or ice water if ice does not alleviate pain).
8. Climb only up to 50% of physical limit and avoid anything further.

(Note that I probably do half as much of the therapeutic practices as is recommended)

In my actual experience:

Good (i.e. less pain):
- Iced water
- Massage
- Eccentric exercises then massage
- Taping across elbow
- Random days when I wake up and it feels fine

- Climbing steadily (more tender to pressure later in climbing session but reduced to normal within a day)
- Epiclasp below injury site
- Taking ibuprofen when climbing (reduces pain but reduces healing)

Bad (i.e. more pain):
- Sleeping on it funny and waking up with random pain
- Any obviously harder pulling
- Strenuous gardening / DIY
- Regular icing i.e. ice pack


What I've done in the last couple of months is monitor the pain and what I can do on the elbow carefully (those being the only - and vague - indications I have of what is going on), and to seek as much advice as possible from different sources. I take all that advice, mix it all together, see what comes out as the average, and then tally that against my physical instinct and what it actually feels like. That more people have said "keep going" than have said "rest completely", I'm not taking that as gospel nor as a carte blanche to climb lots - I realise that caution and discipline are essential. Based on this I am going to keep climbing at a low level, perhaps reducing the level a bit, but making sure that I rest as much as possible and do the therapeutic practices as much as possible.

Sunday, 7 September 2008


I always thought "IMHO" meant In My Honest Opinion. Then I kept reading that it means In My Humble Opinion. So I stopped using it and reverted back to IMO. There is nothing humble about my opinion :).

This blog is my opinion. Just because my opinion is often objectively correct (although people might not realise it yet), doesn't mean that it's not still MY opinion, and as such people might find it contrary, disagreeable or offensive. In fact I'd be disappointed if people didn't, at least sometimes. However it is still an HONEST if not humble opinion, I post what I mean to write and want to say, and almost invariably I will stand by that.

However, if I've got something wrong, i.e. I've based my opinion on something incorrect, or I've failed to take something into account due to ignorance, feel free to point it out. I've allocated myself an "Admit I'm Wrong" token each year, and I don't think I've used this year's yet ;)

Just FYI ;)

Friday, 5 September 2008


September is usually one of the best months of the year for me. The crags are usually driest even after the usual mediocre summers. The air has usually cooled down to allow decent conditions for quality trad climbing. I'm usually feeling strong and fit after climbing - and the occasional walk-in - for various parts of the summer. I usually go on some good trips and get some great routes done in September.

Anyway it's totally spunking it down outside, the next forecast dry spell is in 2018, my elbow's still fucked, and I'm still fat and weak.

Appropriately September arrived with the most flaccid of whimpers: A rare dry weekend, well most of it anyway, seemed to indicate the validity of a climbing trip away. So I went to Northumberland for the best forecast, quick drying crags, and some good mileage places to explore. And LO!, it was dry. Well, as humid, muggy, and moist as it is possible to be without all the water coagulating into rain and spoiling the illusion of "dryness". Suffice to say it was climbable, but since those "good mileage places" had a certain amount of lichen etc, conditions were rubbish. Thus I did very little and the most fun part of the weekend was the long easy amble into Ravensheugh, surprisingly enough.

And thus time plods onwards... Okay I do have some stuff to ramble and rant about, soonish.