Tag Archives: cold hands

Climbing Reflection & Introspection: Feeling Grateful To Be Healthy & Strong Now

This past week has been one of reflection and introspection on my part, taking a realistic and detached look at where I’m at right now and how my year has gone this far. I’ve been routinely getting a little swept up in feeling badly that I’m not progressing more quickly on my proj from last year, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned. I’ve been juggling that self-doubt around for the past three weeks or so, when I really honed in on starting to pick away at it again.

But now that I’ve taken the time to delve into a more realistic look back at my year thus far, I completely understand why I am where I am right now in my climbing and fitness levels, and I simply cannot be the least bit upset about it – in fact, I’ve realized, I should be incredibly psyched and pleased with what my body’s been able to do.

My plans for this year went haywire when I impinged the nerve in my left arm, leaving my arm virtually paralyzed for about six weeks, back in February and into March. Even when enough control to move my fingers and arm came back and to do such simple motions as clipping the rope into draws again returned, the arm wasn’t back to 100% normal for a much longer time. So when I returned from Spain at the end of March, I still had residual numbness and weakness in my left hand. My right arm compensated for this subconsciously – meaning I didn’t try to overuse it, but it was still permanently pumped on everything I climbed for quite some time. My back also tightened up to the point that I had to go and see a chiropractor several times to try to get everything to loosen up again. My body was obviously struggling to repair itself and be able to handle the level I wanted it to perform at.

I was happy enough upon returning from Spain to just be able to rock climb without constantly stressing about my arm for a couple months – I still couldn’t really train at all (though I’d planned to have a training segment in the spring). I was too concerned about overdoing it and causing more damage. My left arm still felt screwed up. I couldn’t do push exercises yet, nothing for my triceps or the motion that I’m struggling with now on my project, the deep lock-off transitional motion from pulling into pushing. I didn’t even start back into training beyond just climbing until the end of May, and I know that into mid-June, my left arm was still problematic. When I started into push exercises again, even lightly, it would fatigue really quickly and my elbow would start making disturbing clicking noises, feeling fragile and like I shouldn’t push it at all.

Gradually, though, my arm has healed up enough for me to not notice it anymore as an issue at this point. This actually astounds me, when I take a step back! There was a time earlier this year when I thought I wouldn’t ever be able to climb hard for myself again. So I’ve had to realize that any expectations on my part that I’d just come out and smash my last year’s project after this serious setback and the long, long time away from working on my weaknesses in training is utterly ridiculous, but also an ultra-classic Alli-move, to set up an unrealistic expectation and to live so much in the present moment that I allow myself to forget the recent past and how it’s influencing my performance outcome now.

The fact that I’m at all stronger this year on the moves is amazing just by itself, I’ve come to realize. Now, I simply need to allow my being the happiness and pleasure to savor the feeling of climbing sans injury and of being able to train without fretting constantly about my left arm. Now is a time when I can work on my weaknesses. Now is a time when I can strive to develop that transitional strength I need for deep lock-offs that turn into pushing movements. There’s no way I could have trained this motion at all when my nerve was inflamed; the pushing motion was the source of inflammation in the first place.

Coming to terms with all of the above and realizing how much I’d set myself up with unrealistic expectations has really freed up my mind and soul to just relax and enjoy the rest of this summer season, whether it brings me a send or another few seasons away from my big project before I return for another crack at it next year. It really doesn’t matter if or when I do the route at this point, and I know that. More importantly, I need to have a great time and learn all I can from this seemingly eternal a#&-beating that this climb is delivering me. The awesome part of it is that I’m still learning and evolving as a climber on the route, as I experienced yet again this last week…more on that tomorrow.

A Sport Climbing Project Work Day (a.k.a. Mastering My Inner Whiny Baby)

Yesterday was cold and windy and cloudy, but at least it wasn’t raining, so we headed out to climb despite the unpleasant conditions. I hadn’t climbed in a week, and I was feeling it, for sure. Not that I hadn’t trained, mind you; I’d had two great, hard, high-intensity training sessions since my last day on the rocks, and I definitely had benefited from the resting time after those. But they weren’t climbing, and I was missing it.

Me and cold conditions don’t go well together, but all things considered, I made the best of the day. I warmed up and numbed out on the warm up, as I knew I would. I then got on a route I’ve tried a few times before. It starts with an easy opening section on big jugs to the first anchors, which I could manage in the cold conditions. Then it instantly transitions to the hardest part of the route for me, using a small crimp – not a chance that I could do this with numb hands, so I took and stuffed my hands in my armpits and whined for a bit about being cold. Little did I know that my real whiny-baby episode of the day was just starting…

The smartest way for me to do this sequence got into my head and rendered me a head case yesterday on this go, for some reason. I don’t know if it was the cold wind whipping through my shirt and making me feel unsettled and chilled on top of my relative unfamiliarity and insecurity about the actual movements themselves, but I just was having the hardest time dealing with the fact that to do this sequence in the most intelligent and balanced way for a person of my stature, I had to purposefully kind of wrap the rope around my right ankle so that when I committed to the sequence, I wouldn’t end up with the rope behind my leg and experience the dreaded upside-down fall.

The sequence itself involves crossing my right hand wa-a-ay under my left hand, which is gastoning a crimp locked off, with only my right foot on a hold, backstepping and with my right hip turned in as hard as possible, left foot off the rock and just out for balance. It feels cool, but there’s this fraction of a second when I let go with my left hand and my right hand isn’t really weighting the hold I’m crossing through to yet (a sidepull facing right, so I kind of gently fall into it) – it’s a real leap of faith. Add the cold and wind and the having to step out and up and deliberately wrap the rope around my ankle so when I stepped up it wouldn’t be behind my leg, and I was just balking and whining. The other way to do the sequence is just plain dumb (thrutchy and low-percentage) for someone my height, though, even though it feels safer (no weird rope management issues); it’s not safer, though. It’s fine to fall in the more balanced but somehow scarier position, as I proved to myself by jumping off on purpose in the middle of the movement.

After wrestling with trying to find any other way to do this for a while and honestly just acting like a big baby, I finally did the sequence correctly (with the next draw clipped, mind you), a couple times, and then lowered off, kind of (okay, really) disgusted with myself. I had to regroup and get myself together, had to master this mental demon that was taking away my climbing fun. I spent my time on the ground visualizing the movement, complete with the strange-feeling rope-wrap beta, and I also “used” my friend Christine to vocalize my fears; sometimes just saying it out loud and getting some empathy for my silliness helps.

In any case, back up the second time, I took at those first anchors to warm up my totally numbed hands, and I took that opportunity to give myself one more stern talking to about how I wanted this sequence to play out. I gathered my courage, and floated right through it like it was nothing! (what was all the fuss about?), and then continued on up through the true crux of the route, and then all the way up to the very end of the route, one move from where you’d never fall – and I fell there, mostly because I was just using Kevin’s beta up there and hadn’t taken a closer look at it, seeing as I didn’t think I was close to doing this route yet and had never gotten to this point in sequence. I finished the route with Kev’s beta, but then took the time (cold days are great for this!) to really look for other options, and I found something better that works for me and my strengths at this point in the route.

I think this can be so key – when you’re tired near the end of a climb that you’re trying to redpoint, you want to find the sequence that plays to your strengths at that point. For me, this means shortening the moves, because when I get tired climbing, moves that aren’t even really that big start to look huge (power failure strikes again). So if I can make moves shorter and do more of them, this can really help me. Plus, I can cop a shake with my new beta, too, which always helps me. Not that my beta would be right/better for someone else; it really depends on the climber’s strengths and weaknesses, these types of choices.

I was psyched after this go, of course – two hangs, one due to numbness, and one real fall. Buoyed up, I wanted to climb more, but I also realized that it was cold (meaning no chance of a better go next time, most likely), and that I had put in a LOT of work on hard sequences for me already, climbing them over and over and over again. This is a ton of work to put in, even if I’d “only” climbed three times. Also, I know from experience that every time I string together a bunch of moves that I’ve only done in pieces on other go’s on a climb, I am far more worked from the effort.

I came away from the day having learned a ton. I’m psyched to have dispelled my fear of the weird rope-wrap situation so quickly; that stuff infuriates me to no end and I get frustrated that I still deal with it at times (I swear it’s tied to my ridiculous fear of heights), but it’s always a point in the “win” column when I manage to turn off those irrational voices so quickly and focus on the climbing instead. Embarrassing to admit, for sure, that I struggle with that, but whatever; it’s the reality and I have to deal with it. Such is life. At least it was over quickly this time.

I also realized that this route challenges something that’s really hard for me, which is an abrupt change of pace from really easy climbing to a really hard, throw-down, technical and powerful sequence – even without the strangeness of the rope in this movement, mustering up this pace change is always really difficult for me. I do better with rising difficulty, more consistent difficulty and pump management before cruxes, not sudden changes from really easy climbing to really powerful movements. I need to get better at this, both mentally and physically. And this leads to the final revelation from the day, which is that I somehow need to warm up better for this, to prime my muscles and mind more adequately.

My warm-up route (which was a project a little more than a year ago – so crazy!) isn’t enough anymore. I have to find some other way to prep my body for this type of power delivery. I believe that yesterday, my first go on the route (the flail-‘n’-whine fest) WAS my warm-up, which was why I did so well on go number two. But I’d like to not do that every day, so that I could have two good go’s on it instead…so I may experiment with doing a secondary warm-up pitch on another previous project next time. And if that doesn’t work, perhaps the good ol’ pull-up and finger-roll routine will come into play again. This remains to be seen, but I feel that it’s so important, to find a warm-up routine at every crag that works for my body, and also, to be willing to change that routine as needed – and I need to change this one, for sure.

Canyon Crash

We arrived at the crag yesterday in the late morning, only to discover the horrific aftermath of a semi-truck accident right where we usually park to go climbing. I guess the brakes went out at some point, and when the truck hit this curve in the road, its trailer, filled with 45,000 pounds of fertilizer, flipped up over the cab, smashed into a gigantic rock face (20 feet tall and maybe equally as wide or wider), and came crashing down on the cab, exploding the contents all over the highway and taking out about 100 yards worth of guard rail in the process. The twisted, mangled carnage was so barely recognizable that I instantly said, “No one could’ve possibly survived that.” Unbelievably, though, the two people in the semi did survive.

We talked with the emergency personnel cleaning up the accident and directing traffic to make sure us climbing nearby wouldn’t disrupt them – and they were totally fine with it, and excited to actually see us climb (though we did get the usual comments of “I think you’re crazy!” and so forth from them). I always think that what’s really crazy to me is the public perception that bolted sport climbing like what I do is somehow MORE crazy that driving a car (or a semi) down a canyon and trusting that everything mechanical is going to go right, as well as trusting that every other driver on the road is going to be sober and obey traffic laws. It’s just the way sport climbing is portrayed by the media, along with a lack of understanding of the strength and design of the equipment, I suppose. But it seems so much safer to trust your life to a relatively simple system operated by yourself and a person you trust rather than to blindly trust your life to more complex systems that you don’t set up yourself (i.e. cars and trucks), not to mention all the other people on the roads operating them, doesn’t it? I’m just saying. Nothing that hasn’t been observed by climbers before, I know, but still – it’s kind of crazy to think about how we’re so “extreme,” when really, I think getting into a car and driving through rush-hour traffic in any major city is probably much more “extreme,” in reality.

Anyhow, the climbing day was okay, despite me feeling tired and sore. It’s completely amazing to me, still, how one attempt on one route lying at the very upper edge of my current strength/power ability level has the capacity to render me utterly useless for days afterwards in terms of climbing performance and recovery. One day of rest left me clearly not recovered yesterday – but then again, neither was anyone else, so I wasn’t alone in my less-than-100-percent energetic feeling. I managed to whittle a bouldery route (13b-ish) I’d tried once before down to a couple hangs (with numbed fingers) in a couple tries, but then I decided to call it, just feeling tired and knowing that more numbness was most certainly in my future on future attempts, seeing as the sun was off the crags and the wind was picking up. Kevin and David sent a couple mellow-ish routes for them, and we all headed home for an early dinner (homemade mint pesto whole-wheat pasta for us, yum!).