Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Injuries, Cheese and Contentment

Here we have the second article in a series of guest blogs. Injuries are common in sports, maybe more so in climbing. They sadly come with the territory of pushing our bodies to their physical limits.  
Below Ellie Pygall gives us a little insight into her recent injury crisis and lays out a few helpful tips, that those unlucky enough to acquire an injury, can do to pass on the downtime and hopefully turn something negative into something more positive. 

 Injuries, Cheese and Contentment
By Ellie Pygall

Since my first foray into the strange world of online writing... www.nectarclimbing.com/words/sex-barriers... where I attempted to grapple with some of the issues of gender involvement in sport, it would appear that a misogynistic deity has struck me down with injury. First, my finger - resulting in being advised by the hand therapists to take three months off climbing. Now, I'm writing this sat in the A&E waiting room with a potential loose body in my elbow which crippled my arm last night and resulted in my long-suffering other half having to help pull my trousers up after I'd been to the loo. Oh...and we're supposed to be on holiday.

So...at the risk of being more cheesy than the brie that would be curdling on our dashboard if we had made it to Font, I feel that a piece on injuries - and gaining that difficult sense of perspective when you have experienced an injury - is rather topical. One of my personal barriers to overcome in this situation is a serious case of hypocrisy. I work as a physiotherapist, which essentially involves counselling people on injury or functional decline for 40hrs a week. I think that I know all the right things to say and do, but when the situation is reversed it feels very difficult to swallow my own carefully crafted nuggets of compassion. However, I believe that this is a common ailment...the old adage “it's easier to say than to do” springs to mind.

Any form of loss, including injury, generally results in us experiencing a chain of emotional states. This is the Kübler-Ross model, or the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. This sounds all too familiar. How do we push through these stages though, and break into the realms of acceptance, contentment and...is this pushing too far?...happiness?

Essentially, the situation is shit. This is a fact. No-one chooses to be injured. It's painful, functionally debilitating and can come with a host of other psychosocial issues: influence on jobs, relationships, social life, mood etc. etc. etc. But the show must go on, as I can't see a high BMI lady (or lad) singing anywhere. Over the last three months, my search for happiness and contentment has led me to (in no particular order):

Red wine
My road bike
Yoga (and my first ever headstand!!!)
My walking boots
Studying Buddhism
More time with friends and family
Learning about permaculture
My kitchen (not merely for eating the peanut butter out the jar with a big spoon during low points) – tons of new recipes and ideas on nutrition.

I'm trying to think if there's anything I've discovered during this process that I can share with you now...so here are my top tips that I'm trying to stick to! (Health warning: if you have a cheese allergy then please handle with care. Also cannot guarantee free from nuts, chocolate or general wiffle-waffles).

1) Happiness comes from the inside
Even with all the wealth, belongings and power-to-weight ratio in the world, it is still possible to be a miserable git! Regardless of our situation, true happiness starts from within.

2) Take enjoyment from other people's achievements
It sometimes feels like the last thing you want to do when you can't join in, but going out to the crag or talking to friends and loved ones about their sporting achievements can make you feel genuinely great once you have the right head-space and have been able to shake off the green shackles of envy and resentment.

3) As one door closes, another opens
An injury can give you the chance to do all those other things you've been meaning to, but can't quite fit in when you spend every night of the week after work training. A friend actually said to me “sometimes I wish I had a non-serious finger injury or something so that I had a valid reason to take a rest from training”!! There is so much time in your week when you don't climb, and if you don't know how else to fill it...then taking a break from climbing to discover the answer is probably healthy for you too.

4) Time with friends and family
Enough said. Dose up on extra time now, because when your injury has resolved you'll want to be back training 24/7.

5) You have the power to change
You might think of yourself as bad at dealing with injuries - often impatient and frustrated. But that doesn't have to be you. Turn things on their head:

Be patient and positive:
Use the experience to learn more about your body. The injury will have happened for a reason. If it's an overuse injury, then consider how you will change your training and climbing. If it was an accident, is there anything that you could learn from it?
Instead of frustration, think motivation!
Channel your energy into whatever you are doing. If it is rehab, set yourself small, achievable goals. If it is another activity – fantastic, enjoy the refreshing change!
You can actually come out of this a better climber
Take the time to analyse how you climb. We all have bad habits or areas that we could work on. Why not use this time to do just that? As you are returning to climbing, you won't be climbing your hardest, so try to use this drop in grade to focus on technique. It won't be wasted time!

Finally, remember...

Looking forwards through injury seems long, but looking back at recovery seems short.
Try not to think of the end goal. Create smaller, achievable targets. Don't compare yourself to your pre-injury state. Enjoy every day.

Friday, 17 April 2015

A little Yorkshire love

Last week I paid a long overdue trip back to Yorkshire. Malham was calling, we'd heard it was dry, I needed another break from the Peak and the weather was looking perfect for a couple days of camping.
I love Yorkshire and always look forward to going. It is a shame that for us it is slightly too far for a day trip which is why we don't visit as often as I'd like. However it is finally starting to dawn on me that it is somewhere I desperately need to put more effort into. There are just so many routes, fresh rock and fresh new moves to go at that the idea of missing out is simply too hard to ignore.

The forecast looked to be a scorcher but we journeyed up regardless, full of psyche and energy. My Dad was just as keen to make the trip as was JC so we packed the car and bombed it northwards!

We ended up having two of the most glorious days of weather. Wall to wall sunshine with the most perfect base camp you could want right at the entrance to Gordale. This campsite is probably one of my most favourite places to stay. Super chilled, friendly and surrounded on all sides by beautiful, rolling Yorkshire hills.

I came away happy to have busted out an ascent of one of the catwalks rights of passage, Overnight Sensation (8a+). I was agonisingly close to dispatching this on on my second go, all but for an extremely unfortunate and totally unexpected foot slip right at the top! Gutted I lowered off and called it a night, vowing to make an early start the following morning and hopefully beat the sun!
Fortunately it went down with ease, all before 9am and just in time as the suns rays were quickly on our tails. It was then back to the village for a pot of tea and to bask in the heat. Bliss.

It was inevitably too hot to climb at Malham during the day but thankfully we had the sanctuary of Gordale to retreat to where I had a quick go up Supercool. A stunning piece of rock, a real beauty of a line for sure. It is obvious why this forms part of the Triple Crown and I hope to return soon to finish the job on it!


Just briefly before signing off, below you will find a link to my very first published article which went live on UKC a few days ago. It covers a topic that climbers are all too familiar with. The Redpoint.

The Art of Red-pointing:


Take a look if you haven't already and I trust that there will be something for everyone to think on. I've been incredibly pleased with the response my ramblings have been met with so far and I hope to do more writing like this in the future!

Cheers again for all your support folks!

Friday, 10 April 2015

The 'Art' of Climbing

I had an idea a couple of weeks ago to start running a series of 'guest style blogs'. I figured it would make for a nice change and provide a cool insight into other peoples climbing lives.
First up we have Karl Smith who shares with us a little about his passion for the world of painting. I've known Karl for a couple of years now, having route set on numerous occasions at his wall over in Shropshire. He was very quick off the mark in volunteering to join me, and give us the tour out in Margalef last month, which I was super grateful for. 
Stashed away amongst his climbing gear was a small hoard of paints, pencils and paper and I was psyched to be able to watch him at work. It was mightly impressive seeing how quickly he could bring a few simple, quick sketches to life! 
Drawing has always fascinated me from a very early age. I find it incredible what people can do with a just a pencil and blank piece of paper. I just wish I could do it myself!  

Below you will find a showcase of just a small selection of some of Karls work over the years. He sure has been to some pretty stunning and fascinating places. Enjoy!


How did you get into painting, and why this style? 

Like many people I was successfully put off art by a bad teacher, but did a little in my early twenties before work got in the way. My dad was a watercolour painter, and a member of the Lake Artists. I watched him doing a lot of paintings, but that is pretty much the only form of instruction I’ve had. When he died seven years ago I inherited his studio contents, and thought that I would have another go at painting. I had masses of good quality paper, good brushes that were older than me, and tubes of paint in varying degrees of usability.
It was fairly inevitable that watercolour would be what I would try my hand at, given the materials I now had, plus the complete lack of knowledge of other types of painting such as oil or acrylic.

My early stuff was terrible, but there was just enough- small sections or particular effects- in the paintings to keep me trying, and I have really just stumbled along from there, with the help of books and youtube videos. I keep wanting to try oils, but don’t really have the space to deal with what is quite a messy form of painting. At least with watercolour I can carry it in a sack quite easily wherever I am going.

I try to paint a range of subjects, but find I tend to get drawn to landscapes, particularly mountainous ones - not surprising given that is where I choose to spend most of my spare time.

 If you had one place where you could go to paint...?

An easy one to answer! The Alps without a doubt, it has everything. I’ve been to lots of mountain ranges around the world, but the alpine landscape has fantastic architecture and farmed land as well as the peaks and glaciers. I remember how disappointed I was the first time I went to the Canadian Rockies and saw the emptiness and lack of human impact.
Fortunately, getting to the Alps is hardly the impossible dream, it just seems that my climbing trips over the last few years have been elsewhere by and large.

Is any of your work online? 

I’m not good at online self-promotion, so mostly not. I did a blog of my trip to South Georgia and Patagonia a couple of years ago, which has paintings and sketches of the trip, including some of the Petzl Roc Trip venue at Piedra Parada: www.southernoceans.blogspot.co.uk

 New Year’s day, yr Glyderau
This was during the last really heavy snowfall winter we had (3 winters ago?) and a brilliant start to the year.

Summer evening, Snowdon.
I’d been working over in North Wales doing some guiding, and it was one of those fantastic warm evenings when the light was magical. I’d often thought of doing a painting from near the top of the road that goes up to Dinorwic from down by the lake, so headed off up there and did a quick sketch. I later did this large painting from the sketch.

Roches Moutonees, Cwm Idwal (pastel)
I love the shape of the glaciated outcrops around Ogwen- I hope to paint lots more of these in the future. This one is on the top of the slight ridge when you go from the shingle shore at Lyn Idwal down to Ogwen Cottage via the narrow quarry (whose name escapes me)

50 degrees South
Not a climbing-related one, but the emptiness of the southern Atlantic left a lasting impression. We were followed by various kinds of Albatross for the entire journey south to South Georgia.

Hajar Mountains, Ras al Khaimah

I’ve done quite a few short contracts working in Ras al Khaimah over the last few years, and am quite attracted to the landscape. At first sight it is completely barren, but after a while you start to appreciate the occasional tree or date palm oasis and it certainly grows on you.

North Gaulton Castle
It looks a bit more substantial from this view than from further north. I took a few days off and stayed up in Orkney after guiding a couple up the Old Man of Hoy- he proposed on the summit. Fortunately she said yes or the descent would have been uncomfortable.

No prizes for guessing this one! I tend to gravitate to this section of cliff when drawing rather than climbing.

Stanage popular end
Easter this time, we were staying down at Litton and bumped into Zippy at the crag- neither of us were climbing but just happy to enjoy the snow.
Wadi Rum
This is actually a view from high up on Inshallah Factor, where it does the long traverse left to the exit chimneys. I wanted to capture the haziness of the distant towers rather than focus on detail too much. I climbed this with Andy Long so was able to relax and enjoy the scenery knowing I was in safe hands!
Unnamed Peak, King Haakon Bay, South Georgia
Unnamed, and probably unclimbed as well. The number of spectacular peaks is quite incredible- literally the whole length of the island. It’s a pity it’s so difficult to get to.
The former refuge, Siurana
This was where we stayed when we first climbed here many years ago- the perfect location with bouldering traverse in the dining room. Painted on a rest day during a trip with Simon Lee and Robin Barker-I was recovering from broken ribs at the time after slipping whilst out painting and falling onto the plywood sketchboard I was carrying.
Britain’s most impressive piece of unclimbed rock. Overhanging, solid rock, several hundred feet high and in an amazing position. It’s crying out for someone like Steve McClure to visit!

Lastly, no prizes for this one either! Quite early in the season, and the path round to the back of the towers was closed by avalanche.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Spain! Coffee, pockets and Chorizo.

Just over 48 hours ago I was sat by the side of the road, sunnies out, vest on and basking in glorious 20 degree Spanish sunshine. Now I'm rugged up back home, down jacket firmly fastened up and listening to the wind and rain completely lash it down outside. Quite the change and a sudden shock to the system!

Anyway, that aside, Espanya or more specifically Catalonia, is finally ticked off of my places to visit. I have been to the mecca of sport climbing in Europe, albeit only a small sector, and have seen the light! I have always known climbing abroad is where it is at, but this trip has opened my eyes even further to just how much there is to do out there.

Margalef is a dreamland and a true climbers paradise. The amount of rock is on an unprecedented scale and situated in some of the most beautiful countryside you could wish for. It was everything that I imagined and I already cannot wait to get back.

I headed out with my friend Karl Smith who runs the only climbing wall over in Shropshire, Newport Rock, and has many years of climbing experience all around the world. I was super grateful to him for offering to come out with me and essentially be my belay gun and chauffeur for a week!

It did almost turn into a disaster however with our visit very unluckily coinciding with some of the worst and most torrential weather on Spanish record. For the first 5 days of our trip it did nothing but rain and rain and rain some more. I could have literally broken down and cried. For the whole winter in the UK I had put up with this nonsense and had finally gotten the chance to escape to what should have been 'guaranteed' wall to wall sunshine but instead been firmly hit, bang in the face with the very thing we were trying to get away from. Unbelievable. Out of the frying pan into the fire so to speak.

Not what we had in mind...

All that rock, all those amazing routes I had heard about and wanted to climb for so long were suddenly right on the doorstep but they had turned into full raging waterfalls. To say it was torturous would have been putting it extremely lightly.
We tried to keep the faith as best we could. Drinking endless amounts of coffee and tea, visiting cafes, eating nice food and spending a lot of the down time on the Internet.

Spanish lunch! Muy Bien.

Despite all the dampness we did still manage to get out most days and search out the odd piece of dry rock. In fact the very first day the trip could not have gotten off to a better start. We quested up to the beautiful crag of Espadelles, nicked named the 'mini Ceuse' which is not hard to see why! 
The crag sits proudly, high above the valley below and offers some truly stunning routes up and down the grades. I felt like a kid in a candy shop, my eyes flicking from one sector of rock to the next. Scanning through the guidebook, locating all the must do routes.
It was a tad chilly but I decided to dive straight in at the deep and quickly set off up a classic 8a, Transilvania. Within a few minutes I was clipping the chains on my very first 8a onsight. Not bad for a warm up and decent way to kick things off! Sadly that evening the bad weather came in and thus began a frustrating few days.

 Moody afternoon spent wandering around the ancient city of Lleida.

We spent the first week staying at the pleasant retreat of Els Tres Pins. A small hotel situated in the centre of the village of Margalef itself. Having a solid roof over our heads, food cooked for you every night, free Wi-Fi and just somewhere to chill and hang out was pretty nice. Not that I don't enjoy dossing in a tent and sleeping bag but having that bit of luxury is a definite bonus.
For the last few days I moved just around the corner into the Refugio. The 'true climbers' hang out, the hub of the village and a constant hive of activity. To be honest I have to say that I enjoyed the scene here so so much more. Their super relaxed and friendly attitude, excellent modern and clean facilities, coupled with being surrounded by like-minded people virtually 24/7 makes for a brilliant vibe and atmosphere. You can go and leave when you wish, cook your own food and all for a seriously great price. I would highly recommend it to anyone. Check out their Facebook page here :) Thanks for a quality stay chaps, we'll be back! Gracias. ;)

Here I hooked up with Alex Barrows and Nic Duboust and spent the remaining days trekking around with them. Barrows is on a mission to climb his first 9a. The stunning Chris Sharma line of Era Vella up at La Catedral sector. Excited to hear that he is making good progress and I am confident that the lad will succeed! Venga youth!

 La Catedral!

 Barrows gives us the lowdown on the 9a breakfast...

Cooking and food - my next biggest passion outside climbing!

Eventually the sun returned and boy did it feel good. I took my beanie off for probably the first time in about 5 months! Just laying out in the sunshine with that heat beaming down on your face was pure bliss and we quickly forgot the dark times experienced a few days prior.

I had written up a list of routes as long as my arm. Some I had wanted to try for years and others that had been recommended by various folk. I quickly realised that it was going to be an impossible mission, especially considering the dodgy conditions, to even get close to ticking half of them!
The ones I did manage to get through though were all absolute class and it would be tricky to single out any one of them. However at a push I would have to say that my two proudest sends would have to be the uber 'must do' and slightly cliche classic, Photo Shot and the mind blowingly good Sàtiva Patàtica. 

 El Laboratori

The Lab is perhaps one of Margalefs most famous and recognisable sectors. This is the home of the short, the gnarly and the mono pulling rigs that many people would most associate with the area.

To get a quick sense of just how steep and intense this crag is then take a look at the rad video below of Iker Pou repeating the desperate Sharma route 'Demencia Senil' 9a+!

Photo Shot sits just to the left of this famous testpiece and was a route that I had dreamed about climbing for a long long. Seated firmly at the top of my tick list. The whole idea of climbing at a perfectly located roadside crag, on sinker pockets had appealed to me for years and I was itching to get involved. 

Easy to see where Photo Shot gets its name...
Ben Heason showing the way here one winters day a few years back. 
©Andrew Stripp

I'll admit that I had vague ambitions of attempting to give it a good flash go. I knew all the required beta and was fired up to execute. Sadly I ended up blowing it which was slightly frustrating as it could have quite easily gone the other way. However I sucked it up and boshed it out a few tries later. I lowered off into the middle of the road and sat there for a while enjoying the moment after finally realising my little dream. 
Thanks to Andy Stripp for the use of his cool photo of Ben!

Sàtiva is entirely the opposite style of climbing. Being a long 30 metre, pumpy juggernaut fest up a perfect crag on pristine rock. Clipping the chains on this represented my second true onsight of an 8a sport climb and without a doubt one of my proudest and most memorable routes. 
Below is a list of my best ascents from the week, while nothing too special or hard they were all brilliant and considering the rain I've come home fairly pleased with how it all went. 
Having not travelled abroad and visited many world class places as some people, these ascents have given me a tiny taster of just what I might be capable of in the future. 
The UK can be decent, but these foreign countries are where its at! Especially if you want to truly test your abilities and scale some fabulous formations of rock.

El Ball del Tríceps - 8b
Photo Shot - 8b
Transilvania - 8a (Onsight)
Sàtiva Patàtica - 8a (Onsight)
Dando Brea - 8a (Onsight)
Dr Feelgood - 8a (Flash)
Telemaster - 8a (2nd go)
Maligna - 7c+ (Onsight)
Aeroplastica - 7c+ (Flash)
La Corva de la Felicitat - 7c (Onsight)
Esquerre Espinazo - 7c (Flash)

The final headwall of Sativa.
©Alex Barrows

The Future

On my very last day I got to belay the future of British climbing. The young Josh Ibbertson. At only 10 years old he has already climbed 8a on a recent trip to Margalef over the winter period and with that became the youngest ever Brit to climb the grade by a good two year margin!
I watched him totally cruise up a short 7c at The Lab first go. Very very impressive to watch! It is great to see such a psyched family all climbing together and full of motivation for being in the outdoors.
Josh and his younger brother Jack are both ones to watch without a doubt.  Their extensive knowledge of the climbing world and psyche is quite astounding for lads of such a young age.
Enjoy the rest of your two weeks in the sun guys and catch you back here soon!

Josh cranking down hard on his first 8a, Innuendo up at Raco de les Espadelles
©James Ibberston

It is so rewarding when you can plainly see that those improvements in your climbing come from a direct consequence of putting in all that time and training at the wall. I love training and pushing my body hard but I have to admit that sometimes it can be hard to find the motivation to bust out another lap of my circuits. Sometimes you really cannot be bothered to drive out in the bad weather on a cold blustery winters morning and spend the next foreseeable few hours pulling down on plastic on your own, when all you really want to be doing is climbing outside.
However, when the weather does finally improve and you do finally get to head outside or jet off on an adventure to foreign lands, it is all so worth it and you will thank yourself for that extra bit of effort you put in.
I kind of feel that personally I could have pushed the training a little harder this winter, but what is exciting for me is that if my climbing can improve by this much from the amount of hours I did actually put in... Then how much can it improve in the future, with maybe just another extra 10% of effort... Exciting times for sure and I am psyched to have finally been able to test myself and my abilities, however briefly, on a very small selection of some of Spain's classic routes.

The harsh nature of Margalefs pockets begin to take their toll...

It would have been so very very easy to have stayed in bed Monday morning, had a leisurely breakfast in the sun and headed back out to the crag! Just one more day even. But you could keep on saying that forever and still not be content. Such is the way of this climbing life!

I'm stoked for the season ahead. Projects, more trips, seeing those gains, but most of all having fun! I had barely been back on home soil an hour before already looking at flights for my next adventure. We'll see where that takes me but fingers crossed it'll be soon!

Sunday, 15 March 2015


Hard to believe another year has passed by and the CWIF was back for the 9th time! Whats even more hard to believe is that it has already been a week since it was all kicking off The Works.

I was mega keen to get involved again with this comp as it is always a great weekend of hanging out with friends, meeting new people and just generally having a real good time of it. Last year was the first time I'd entered in around 3 years and with it I achieved my best result yet, amongst a very very strong field, narrowly missing out on the semi finals.
This year I was determined to try and step it up a notch and try to get through to Sunday when all the action really starts to heat up. Qualifiers went fairly well for me, with a good mix of weird, powerful, techy and utter nails problems that the route setters had drummed up. I handed my scorecard in with a total of 248 points and figured that might just about enough to get me through to the next round.
All that was left to do now wait for the afternoon session to finish and then keep an eye out for the results coming in...

It was super close but later that evening I got the word that I had JUST snuck into the semi-finals by the skin of me teeth! I was buzzing and quickly headed off to bed for an early night hoping to feel refreshed and fired up the next day.


I will try to not go into too much detail with how Sunday panned out but after arriving at The Works and a slow, steady warm up we were all ushered into isolation ready to begin climbing at midday. By qualifying in last place it meant that I'd be first out on the comp wall. Something that can be an advantage but also a little nerve wracking at the same time! I fully expected the problems to be pretty tough and definitely made sure to be prepared for the bizarre and whacky.
They needed to be tough though considering the strong field that had made it through. Megos, Barrans, Jorg, Tito, the uber strong Swiss brothers, just to mention a few. The setters had to split us up some how, with the top 6 making it through to the evenings final.

Bloc 1 for me could not have gone any better, with a super quick and fairly straight forward flash. Phew. Nerves settled and I instantly felt at ease. I had topped a problem and anything else that happened now would just be a bonus from my perspective.

Men's Problem 1


The remaining 3 blocs were definitely a step up and did the job of splitting the group up nicely. Two techy power problems up the middle of the comp wall, with problem number 4 being a nightmare balancing act up the far slab. Suffice to say only one us managed to get the top on this. Desperate!

The slab.

It was all over so quickly and I was then able to sit back and enjoy watching everyone else giving it their all. Before getting slightly stuffed on burgers from the famous free BBQ!
In the end I came home with 11th place which I'm pretty stoked about! I will be the first to say that I am definitely not a comp climber but I do like to dabble every now and then and this has for sure spurred me on to enter some more comps in the future!


Those that watched the final were treated to some serious take down action in the form of eventual men's winner and german powerhouse Alex Megos with Shauna Coxsey leading the way for the women and defending her title in the process. Congrats to those guys!

Massive thanks and big up once again to The Climbing Works who absolutely nailed the whole thing, as they always do! It is so great that these guys are prepared to go to so much effort and lengths to put on such a cool event for us all to enjoy. Already hugely looking forward to next year, especially as it'll be the 10th year! I am sure they have big things planned...

The one and only! On hand to give out the prizes!

Meat meat meat!

Big thanks also to Dom Worrall and Alex Messenger for the sick shots. Cheers boys!
Check out www.domworrall.co.uk/dom/cwifsunday for a full blown gallery of all the action!

In other news, I am flying out to Spain this Thursday. Heading to the pocket, sun kissed limestone heaven of Margalef to be exact! It'll no doubt surprise many that I have, rather embarrassingly, never actually stepped foot into Spain before... I am beyond psyched to finally get the chance to climb over there and I really cannot wait to get stuck into some deep mono action!
Flicking through the various guidebooks I have been blown away by the amount of routes and crags on offer within such a confined area. My tick list is huge but to be honest I am just massively looking forward to getting away from the UK, heading out and having a fun time climbing somewhere totally new and different. I am confident its gonna be rad!