I’ve spent the last week of climbing here in Spain attempting to bring my fitness and confidence levels up, while still striving to rehabilitate my nerve impingement as well. We’ve been climbing one day on, one day off, in part because of the car-sharing situation with one of the other couples here (their projects are at a different crag), but also, I really don’t know that I’d be getting that much out of two days on here yet. It’s amazing how much fitness plummets when you don’t climb regularly, always – and amazing how quickly it comes back, relative to strength, too, for sure. Still, though, after almost three weeks of not really climbing here, I’m finding that just today, after about two weeks back into climbing, I’m not totally annihilated from climbing yesterday. It’s the first time here that I’ve woken up after a day of climbing and not felt utterly destroyed and exhausted. Bueno.
I’ve been spending my time primarily trying to redpoint the 8a+ (13c) that’s my rehab route, finding that each day, I’m feeling more fluid in climbing, stronger, and like my climbing brain is coming back online more and more. I’ve high-pointed to the redpoint crux two days now, getting through the “true crux” down lower only to dump off this weird, balance-y, slopey section up high. I’ve realized that the places that I find extremely difficult on this climb all have to do with my left hand and arm; this isn’t surprising, since it’s still notably weak in daily living activities as well – i.e., I can’t pick up heavy objects like a full water bottle or a frying pan full of food yet.
So the fact that anytime I encounter strenuous or complex move, or both, that involves my left hand and/or arm in climbing at the moment, I struggle, is no big revelation. In fact, it’s still a shocker to me anytime I do manage to make a clip with my left hand, because it’s really challenging still to perform this motion; lifting the rope up and wrestling it through the biner is quite stressful and requires lots of concentration and effort on my part. But still – I’m doing it sometimes – and this is such major improvement over a hand that didn’t work or function at all that I’m extremely grateful and relieved.
As the weather’s warmed up, we’ve been putting in double days now, too – so I go and get a couple of burns on my sun-bathed project, and then we hike up to a shadier, steeper, more powerful crag, one that would challenge one of my greatest climbing weaknesses (this being one-arm pulls on super-steep rock) even if I were at full strength. At injured-left-hand strength level, after trying a route that’s hard for me, this crag is spanking me down on a daily basis, but I’m trying to just hang with it and be okay with whatever (with varying success in maintaining this attitude through each climbing day, of course).
It’s still a little bit hard to take, honestly, to be in Spain and to feel so weak, to not be at full steam and strength and not able to really tell where I’d stand in relation to these routes if my arm and hand were fully functional. I’d hoped to get used to the climbing here and then try for some challenging, at-my-limit onsights, but because I’m so untrusting and uncertain of my left hand and arm, and because I get totally shut down clipping with it at least half the time (resulting in a wrestling match with the quickdraw as I desperately try to hold it with my already-fatigued left hand while using my right hand to push the rope in), I just have had to let go of this plan and goal. I do still feel at bit bummed every time I think about it, but that’s why we’ll have to plan another trip here, I suppose…and that’s definitely not a bummer to think about at all.
So instead, I’m trying to focus on the positive, that maybe I can at least redpoint this 8a+ even with my floppy hand/arm situation and the extra moves I have to do to manage all the clips on it…and perhaps I can add a couple of other routes of similar grades to this over the next just-under-a-month we have left here, while also checking out a few harder routes here and there for possible future efforts on return trips. I’d like to save the routes I could potentially onsight for a full-strength trip, as hard as it is to look at their awesomeness every day and not just jump on them.
When I reflect on this, I feel okay about it, honestly – at least I’m climbing again already, and my hand improves daily. The weather’s been great, warm and sunny, as I’ve been recovering. My fitness improves every day I climb. I had a really fun time refining my beta on my project yesterday, coming up with smarter ways to stress my left hand less, since right now, the smartest way for me to succeed in climbing is to figure out how to rely on my stronger side as much as possible – and I’ve fallen off that upper crux twice in a row because I can’t hang onto a slopey left-hand pinch strongly right now. Coming up with a smart, technical alternative yesterday pleased me, and it will hopefully result in a redpoint of this route sometime during this next week of climbing.
Another bonus from returning to climbing regularly, which is also a huge relief, is that climbing really does seem to help my nerve impingement situation improve. What I mean by this is that after every day of climbing, I see and feel the most noticable improvements in my daily-living activities the next morning and throughout the next day. I’m not sure why this is; it could be that climbing brings more blood to the nerve and/or that the complexity of climbing movements helps my brain reestablish the connection with my hand and arm, or both, or something else entirely. Whatever the reason(s), I’m psyched, because it’d be so much harder if climbing made the nerve impingement worsen. Progress toward full recovery is awesome, especially when climbing helps make it happen.