Thursday, 28 July 2011

Corduroy Fetish

It’s funny how proper preparation for climbing can make you taller.
I don’t mean doing a lot of stretching, although that might help too. But the other day I had a banana and some cold coffee before heading out for an evenings bouldering, and then did a full warm up, and suddenly I’d gained an inch.
I realised that either my legs or my arms had grown when trying a problem I’d almost given up on because I couldn’t make a reach. Suddenly it seemed within range.
I pulled up and really stretched out and my fingers tickled the edge. I couldn’t hang it but buoyed by my improved stature I made the jumped and held it comfortably.
I have now decided that I should provide my body with real stimulus and nourishment before going rock climbing rather than relying on superstition.
“Superstition?” I hear you ask (you’re always in my mind, dear reader). “Does he paint himself in wode and sacrifice a goat before trying to on-sight a 6c+ at the local wall?”
Well, no, you can’t get the livestock these days, but I did make my own chalksack the other day.
That’s not particularly superstitious in itself but I should say that I only made it as a way of resurrecting my favourite climbing trousers, so that they may continue to climb with me wherever I go.
And then I decided to take it with me on my trip to the Peak, and wouldn’t take my old one because I thought it would show a lack of confidence in my own abilities. And confidence, on grit, is everything.
Anyway, it turned out fine because the homemade chalksack, despite having no firm rim, worked well and didn’t fall apart even though it’s held together with a hairband.
In fact, it’s pretty dapper even if I say so myself, and of course it reminds me of my favourite cords, which had worn so thin as to be almost see-through in all the wrong places.
So, as you’re all wondering, I’ll tell you how it was made.

I took my old climbing troos and cut off a leg at around the knee, giving me a tube of corduroy. As it’s only cord on the outside and I thought it would be a nice material for the inner as well, I turned the trouser leg inside out, then bound it tightly in the middle and pulled one half over the other.
This gives you a sort of doubled skinned cup, with cord on the inside and out - the rudiments of a chalksack. I used an old hairband to tie off the middle.
Now make a hole in the outer layer where the drawstring will go, and sew the two layers together slightly below that - you don’t need to stitch all the way round, just at two or three points to keep the string in place. Drop your string in between the layers and pass both ends through the hole. Stitch it to the point furthest from the hole, ie the back, and tie a knot in the loose ends.
Now sew the two layers together along the top. Ideally, you could take a nice seam from somewhere on your beloved trousers and incorporate that to make for a firm rim that will hold the bag open nicely, but that means sewing it will be hard work.
That’s pretty much your chalksack, but I finished it off by cutting a couple of belt loops off the trousers and sewing them on to the back, so that it can be attached. I used another elastic hairband tied tightly around the drawstring to enable it to be fastened shut. Surprisingly, it worked.

I improvised this entire process one rainy evening as a way of doing something climbing related when I was feeling frustrated, so I’m sure countless improvements can be made. As to my climbing, I can't say it's really helped, but then it hasn't hindered me either.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Sweet Sixteen

I’ve just been on holiday and I feel half my age – the only trouble is, it’s not that great being 16 again.
With no car, I had to carry all my stuff in a rucksack and walk to the campsite, and when I got on the rock I found I had no stamina and no head for leading. Plus I was living off cold pies and bacon butties from the cafe, making rookie errors and wondering why I failed.
In fact, it’s not the holiday that made me shed the years, it’s the working. It’s stealing my soul, strength and personality so that soon I’ll be a baby again. It just took a holiday in the Peak District to highlight the fact to me.
Going back to old haunts, I should have known that the grit commands respect at the best of times; that until you’ve really run yourself in, picked up the knack again, you have to drop your grade by a fair bit. But over-enthusiasm and a desperate need to achieve something on rock this year saw me hurl myself at one of the ambitious target routes I’d set myself, without so much as a warm up, let alone a build up through the grades.
Rock gods can do that. I can’t. Soon I was slumped on the peg in the middle of the imposing wall of High Plains Drifter at Lawrencefield, trying to work out if I really had to cut loose on a finger edge. It wasn’t especially hard, but it took me about four attempts before I was able to commit to the move, and even after that I found the top section terrifying.
And what happened to my stamina, the product of many days training on the Black Wall traverse at Salisbury Crags? It went the way of all bouldering-based gains when faced with a proper route: burnt away with excessive grip in the first five minutes, it skulked for the rest of the holiday, waiting for a nice little traverse it knew well to show off on.
It wasn’t so much “come on arms, do your stuff”, as “where the hell are you, you bastards”, as I thrashed myself against classic lines in the baking hot gritstone quarries like a demented salmon trying to ascend a dry waterfall.
By the end of the second day I was crushed, psychologically and physically. Never mind 16, I felt like a helpless child, until an unlikely ally came to my aid.
I have never been one to enjoy the rain before, but this time it gave me the break I needed, the chance to step down a few grades and recover some of my mojo.
I couldn’t have asked for a better setting for a showdown than Dovedale – why is it not more celebrated as a climbing venue? It hadn’t rained for an hour so I chucked myself on George, an E1 up one of the Tissington Spires, magnificent fingers of rock in an otherwise quintessentially English valley.
Forty feet up, the heavens opened, but determined to succeed I held on, taking the full force of the downpour while hoping for a break. After twenty minutes or so, it became clear it was no passing shower and I lowered off. Almost immediately, the rain stopped, and after a few false starts, the rock was dry enough for me to get back on. This time I made it to the top, but as Matt tied in we heard the first rumbles of thunder.
He raced up as best he could, as the storm approached, and made it to easy ground as it engulfed us. We abseiled off in a hailstorm, feeling we’d beaten the gods for once, my spirits recovered.
For the next three days we climbed almost constantly, dodging the rain, defying it, claiming classic lines with a good excuse not to get on anything too desperate. We got wet countless times but dried off in the sun just as often. I slept like a log in my tent, and started to feel weather beaten and lean, the moves coming naturally at last.
And then, of course, it was time to go home. I wonder when I’ll next be allowed out to play?