“For my entire life, a healthy meal has meant a portion of vegetables to make you healthy, a pile of carbs to give you energy, and a big slab of meat to make you strong.” So, can climbers really go entirely without eating animal products?
Today I’ll be starting what might be one of the biggest challenges of my life, and I might need some advice from anyone out there who’s interested!
I’ve always eaten lots of meat; anyone who knows me well knows my favourite places to go for a meal are steak restaurants, bbq smoke houses or burger joints. In the past I’ve always thought that eating lots of protein (and loads of delicious meat) was an important part of my diet if I wanted to continue to get stronger and improve in my climbing.
For the past 3 weeks now I’ve quickly been reducing the amount of meat I eat, for various reasons. After first deciding to be Pescetarian, before “graduating” to vegetarian and maybe even vegan, I expected to find the whole thing really difficult. For my entire life, a healthy meal has meant a portion of vegetables to make you healthy, a pile of carbs to give you energy, and a big slab of meat to make you strong (you might be able to tell the depth of my knowledge of nutrition isn’t particularly impressive).
If I’m suddenly taking a pretty important part of my diet away, am I still going to be able to do all the stuff I want to? Won’t I be tired all the time and have to eat meat to sustain myself? Will I give in to temptation just by thinking of its sheer deliciousness, or in wishing for a meal with friends at one of our favourite meaty restaurants?
Quite surprisingly, I was astonished by how easy I found it! Although I craved protein a week after starting my new diet (especially after long climbing sessions), I realised I didn’t want meat anymore. During that first week I thought about why I was doing this, and one of the reasons (ethically speaking) extended to fish as much as other animals, so…I stopped eating that too (despite my immense cravings for protein). I just had to get better at finding alternatives, and that wasn’t as tricky as I’d originally thought!
On another note, I finally got around to watching a truly eye-opening documentary called Cowspiracy and, funnily enough, found pretty much every point the film made impossible to argue with. Even if you’re an avid meat eater, I highly recommend watching it – see the trailer below to find out more:
Through changing my diet, I’ve found that various soy alternatives to meat are actually really delicious, very cheap and full of protein! So, after last night’s heavily soy-based meal and a HUGE tub of ice cream for dessert, today I start my brand new vegan adventure! Now that I’ve let you and everybody else know that I’m now a vegan by writing it on my blog, just like all vegans do 😉 (sorry vegans!), I’ll have some added peer pressure to force me to stick with my exciting new vegan plan, or else face the dreaded wrath of the Vegan Police…
So – in order to stop that from happening – do leave a comment on my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages if you have any great vegan snack ideas or delicious recipes I can try, or if you just want to know why on earth I’ve decided to do all of this!
Side Note: Having massively and quite suddenly reduced the amount of meat I’ve been eating, I’m currently feeling stronger than ever! This could be down to most likely a healthier diet, or of course some weight loss, but for now everything looks peachy! I’m also off on my first bouldering trip to a place called Magic Wood in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned for an update!
Continued: ‘The Difficulties of Being an Indoor Climber – First Ascents in the Atlas Mountains’
As soon as my partner Katya, my friend Aidan (who filmed our exploits) and I had arrived after driving from Marrakech for a couple of hours, we could see immediately that…YES! A seemingly endless amount of boulders were surrounding us! Not only that, but we found ourselves right above the clouds with stunning views of the mountains. Full of excitement, we wasted no time and quickly dropped our luggage off at the chalet to set out to the nearest climbing area, just a 5-minute walk away. As a side note, one of the biggest benefits of the area was in never having to drive or walk more than 15 minutes to find unclimbed boulders. We spent the evening climbing a few established problems and adding a few fresh ones – my favourite being a ridiculously dynamic line straight up a nearly blank 45 degree overhang (definitely my sort of climbing!).
Immediately I realised what would become a recurring puzzle for me throughout the trip – what difficulty had I just climbed? I always find grading climbs difficult; it’s such a subjective thing, and now having to put my name on something permanent made it feel even more so. Then paranoia started setting in…did I use the right holds? If I used the right holds, did I use the easiest beta, and if so, did I execute that beta as efficiently as possible? Did the holds feel worse than they will be in the future because they were dirtier? If you watch any climbing videos of me, you’ll see I’ve got really long arms (Blurr, one of my sponsors, describes me as having “a huge ape index”):
Now what if the next person to try this can’t make the span between the two holds I’ve used? If they can’t, they’re going to have to stick the next hold one-handed, and that’ll definitely be a LOT harder than what I did! After re-climbing it a few times to try and get a better idea and painstakingly revisiting all of these questions, I eventually decided on the simpler approach: “This is getting too complicated, it felt like V6…”. Easy.
The rest of the trip followed a pretty similar pattern of our first day: a wonderful mix of climbing easy problems, struggling on harder problems, getting sunburned and struggling to grade everything. I’m not exactly sure what the rock type is – much like sandstone, but with thick layers of iron ore running through it and creating some incredible shapes, features and textures, all leading to a fantastic variety of climbs. There were powerful overhangs, delicate slabs, font-style sloper problems and enormous highball boulders with thin crimps and tiny footholds. I could go on and on about all the great experiences we had trying to scrape our way up everything we could, but I’ll limit my ramblings to the two climbs that stood out the most:-
On our second day out we went to an already established area called “The Bakery”, where Keoma and other climbers had already put up loads of climbs, but which had plenty of potential for more! After warming up all morning sending a couple of highballs and overhangs, I found a boulder which got me really excited. Whereas a lot of the rocks were covered in holds, (not a bad thing at all if you just want to climb, but a bit of a difficulty if you’re looking for something a bit harder) this one looked like it had just enough to make it climbable and nothing more. After cleaning and chalking the holds, I got to work trying to work out the sequence and quickly realised it was by a wide margin the hardest climb we’d come across! About 11 moves long, the line followed a hanging feature and started off with some powerful compression moves on pinches, leading into some very elaborate toe and heel-hooks before the final section of small, sloping crimps and awkward body positions. After an hour or so of changing beta and complaining about the heat, I managed to send it, giving it the name “I’m Moroccan Hard” (that’s supposed to sound like I’m a’Rockin’ Hard, sorry). Based on how long it had taken me, how hard it felt on the send attempt, and comparing it to the holds found on indoor climbs of similar difficulty, V10 felt about right, which would make it the hardest climb in Morocco and possibly all of North Africa! Exciting!
To confirm this, we headed straight over to another area called “Rivers of Babylon”, which included a climb called “Sinkcrimper”, graded V8+ and the other contender for hardest problem. After my success on my new boulder, I was full of confidence; “I’ve flashed V9 outdoors before, and I LOVE crimps, maybe I could flash this, that’ll make me pretty happy giving V10 to my climb!” Frustratingly, after a good hour of whining about the heat and my sore fingers while trying my absolute hardest, I was no where CLOSE to sending “Sinkcrimper”, which obviously cast a lot of doubt on my climb being V10! We left empty handed with plans to return the next morning.
I’ve never paid too much attention to the difference conditions can make to the feeling of a climb, but I definitely noticed it when we returned and I was able to send the whole thing first try with ease! At first this made me think that my climb was significantly harder and worthy of the V10 grade, but quickly I was full of doubt again. Had my climb only felt harder because of the heat? And if I’m using this other climb as a benchmark, how much can I trust anyone else’s subjective sense of grades? I ended up going back and forth on the grade for the entire week, realising that, however much I want to avoid it, ego definitely plays a role in trying to grade something. If I give it a higher grade than everyone else who tries it, people could think that I’m trying to impress with high numbers. If I give it a lower grade than I think it is, people might think I’m trying to impress everybody with how easy I found the climb, even though it definitely wasn’t easy for me!
Either way, I decided I was thinking way too much about what other people thought. The climb felt pretty hard and I’m a relatively experienced climber; V10 felt like a fair grade for the level of effort I gave when I sent it (also it’s double digits, that’s an impressive number, and it would be great to have put up the hardest climb in Morocco!). I don’t want to over-grade it; maybe it only felt like V10 because I climbed it like an idiot; the next person to try it could find a much better sequence and think “why on earth was Louis power-screaming like a maniac on this? It’s not V10!” After going back to look at it a few more times, and confirming that, yes, the handholds ARE very little, I decided to just go with my gut feeling; it felt hard, like V10s I’ve climbed before, and if it gets downgraded so be it, I think I’ll live.
Despite being the hardest problem of the trip, “I’m Moroccan Hard” wasn’t my favourite. Mid-way through the week we went to another established area called “Friends”, at which was a truly huge boulder with a couple of lines already on it. What hadn’t been climbed before was an overhanging arête leading to a VERY highball slab to reach the top. This was exactly the sort of challenge I liked, and after working out the sequence for the overhang I decided to go for the send!
I floated through the steep first section of crimps and slopers, cut loose on the high pinches, reached for the decent ledge above the lip of the overhang, and effortlessly performed the most complicated, precarious mantle I’ve ever done. Standing on the ledge, I had a chance to chalk up, get my breath back, and take in my surroundings. The view of the mountains was amazing. I wasn’t too high up, but the ground below me sloped away quite steeply and overall the landing wasn’t fantastic, but that was ok. I looked up to plan my attack on the slab, and fear entered my mind. What I saw wasn’t too steep, but looked utterly blank. No one’s ever climbed that before, it might be easy or it might be really hard. It looks REALLY hard. I don’t see any handholds, and the footholds are looking pretty small too now. And that’s HIGH! If I fall from where I am now it’ll hurt, but if I slip off from up there I’m going to be pretty seriously injured. I could just do it, it’s probably not that hard, but I’m going to be smart about this; I’ll down-climb, go get the rope from the car, and abseil down to at least look at where the holds are, maybe even try the moves a bit. But actually now I think about it, that amazingly technical mantle I was so proud of a minute or so ago, that’s DEFINITELY not going to work backwards…OK, I’m stuck, but let’s not panic; I’m standing on a pretty decent ledge, just keep calm and work out what to do…
I ended up stuck on that ledge for a full 25 minutes, gradually getting more and more scared that I’d have to a) commit to the climb above me and most likely plummet from the top and die, b) try to down-climb, mess it up and land in a broken heap anyway, or c) start a new life for myself on the stupid ledge. It all came to a fairly anticlimactic end: Aidan and Kat moved the pads around and stacked them on top of each other, and I climbed down a foot or so (weeping slightly by this point) and jumped down to the pads, realising as soon as I landed that I had fallen far further before and been completely fine. That’s the strange thing about fear; I see it a lot when I’m teaching people, I remember it from when I first started climbing and had just had a lovely reminder of how powerful it can be – fear makes holds feel smaller, you feel weaker and the ground look further away. It makes you forget all the things you know you’re capable of. I was determined not to let the fear beat me, but for that day I was done with climbing; I had never been so petrified for so long and not been able to move. When I got back to the ground I was a shaking ball of adrenaline, shock and tears; I was in no state for another attempt!
The next day we returned so I could try it again. I was feeling incredibly nervous, but exhilarated by the challenge. I warmed up quickly on a few other boulders, then got to it! Quickly finding myself standing on the ledge again, I chalked up and set off on my planned path with as little hesitation as possible. Having had a good look at the slab from the top of the boulder (there hadn’t been anywhere to build an anchor so I couldn’t abseil down), I had decided that going directly to the top of the boulder from the ledge looked far too blank, but it did look possible to traverse a few meters and reach a nice big seam in the rock, where I was fairly convinced I’d find some jugs. It went with surprising ease! Catching a quick glimpse of the drop below me and quickly muttering the phrase “I can do this I can do this I can do this”, I stepped out onto the first smear and put all of my weight on it. I didn’t slip, and I was immediately filled with confidence; if I can stand on this foothold, I can stand on any of them! Within a minute I was at the top of the boulder, feeling absolutely elated! The slab section was far more of a mental challenge than a physical one, but it was a challenge I was proud to overcome.
However, the next day I was left with a nagging feeling. Had I really overcome my fear? I had challenged myself, I was sure of that, but it felt like I had taken a slightly easy option to finish the climb. Instead of questing straight up the blank face of the boulder, the original source of my fear, I had scuttled off to the side to look for better holds. Surely the REAL line, and real challenge was going straight up that slab…
On our last day before we left Oukaimeden, we returned to the boulder for a final attempt at what I now considered to be the true line. The same as before, I warmed up, chalked up, and got on with it…
I always say this at the start of each post, but WOW it’s been a while since I wrote anything here! Lots to catch up on and lots of new videos to post 😀
Here’s a great video my friend Adrien Godet at Mouvement Productions made of me going about a days climbing in London:
My competition performance and indoor climbing have been slowly improving over the last year! I came first in a few of the monthly competitions held by the new Vauxwall Bouldering Centre (though I wasn’t allowed to win any prizes, as I work there lol), and am getting better and better at climbing well consistently, which I think is the most important skill a competition climber can have. I realised a while ago that being able to climb hard problems does not make a good competitor; I had a great day a while ago when I felt especially strong and managed to flash a V10 Dan Varian had put up in Vauxwall as part of the “perma-set”, so was definitely having a good day!
However, I noticed that even on my best climbing days, when I can flash really hard problems, I’m still incredibly inconsistent and will still fumble the occasional V2! The result is that there are plenty of people who wouldn’t be able to flash V10 who always beat me in competitions, because even on their worst climbing days, they will never fall off anything below V8 and end up with a far higher total score! I’m putting it down to experience, and hoping that so long as I carry on focusing on climbing confidently and precisely, I’ll get better at focusing and not slipping off the easy climbs!
Climbing outdoors more and more often is helping a lot with my indoor climbing too, as the more relaxed and cautious approach I try to take to climbing outdoors is starting to become more present in my indoor climbing too. The biggest lesson I have learned so far in climbing is that a bit of patience can go a long way sometimes. I posted a while ago about grappling with my failure on Karma (8A) in Fontainebleau, after having battled with it relentlessly for days and wearing through all my skin, eventually leaving empty and sore handed and very very miserable at what felt like a wasted trip.
I returned a few months afterwards with my friend Ben Berisha, this time with another goal in mind: Miserichord, the stunning highball arete just up the hill from Karma. However, I knew this time to have a far more relaxed approach, and to drastically limit the amount of attempts I gave each problem in comparison to how I had attacked Karma a few months before. On our first day I took a couple of pads and left Ben trying Beatle Juice while I went and had a look at Miserichord.
I was ecstatic that my main project of the trip got done after only a couple of hours work, and even more excited that my new approach had worked: I tried the moves from the ground for about 45 minutes or so, then when I was confident I could do it, I rested for a full hour, returned with Ben and a few more pads, and it went first time!
Throughout the rest of the trip I continued with my new approach, sometimes with great success, sometimes with no success at all, but getting less hung up on individual problems gave me so much more time to enjoy Fontainebleau properly.
Here are the videos from the other days I was there, including some of the worst top outs ever seen and Vengence Du Triceps, the hardest V3 in the world!
I also went on a trip to Yorkshire recently to have a go at High Fidelity, a V13 highball at Caley Roadside, armed with detailed beta from fellow Blurr clothing ambassadors Dan Turner and Matt Birch. I got completely shutdown and then left early due to the changing weather, but tried my best to be OK with my failure. I try to keep in mind with climbing that every failure makes you a bit stronger and gets you closer to your goals, and that a bad days climbing is FAR better than no climbing at all. And I managed to tick a few other great climbs around the area, so I didn’t leave totally disappointed!
I have also been lucky recently to get some more sponsorship! A big Thank You to Mad Rock for sending me plenty of pairs of their award winning Shark rock shoes, as well as a harness, bouldering mat and a load of clothes to keep me warm during the winter from their partnered clothing company Nihil! I’ll be off to try the Southern Sandstone bouldering tomorrow, and a video will be following shortly :D.
Wish me luck!
Last weekend was the British Bouldering Team Selection Event at the Castle, a competition to decide which of us would be going to the World Cup Events. It was also the event which finally proved to me that I have to change the way I approach competitions; I finally know now that being strong and knowing I can do the problems does NOT mean that if I give each problem everything I have for five minutes straight I will get them done. Instead I get fairly far on a few of the problems, but never have quite enough energy to finish them, and end up with a terrible score due to giving everything a thousand attempts each when other competitors only tried each climb two or three times.
I realise now, after speaking with Gaz Parry about my perfomance in the competition, that I get far too pressured by the time limit. After having a few solid attempts at one of the harder problems, I had begun to make progress but was running out of energy. I looked up at the clock, and, according to Gaz, saw that I had two minutes left. In the same position, Gaz said he would have thought “good, two minutes left, I’ll rest for a full minute and think hard about how I’m gonna get this sent, then get back on it after recovering a bit more”. What did I think when I saw the clock? “OH MY GOD!!! TWO MINUTES LEFT?! I’D BETTER GET BACK ON IT ANOTHER EIGHT TIMES!!!”
I also found out that I was rushing things before I’d even tried the climbs; the best competitors would come out for their 5 minutes attempting an unknown problem, and spend a MINIMUM of 30 seconds viewing the problem and visualising themselves climbing it, sometimes not starting to climb until a full minute had passed. I had always begun climbing within the first 5 seconds of my time, which usually meant I misread the sequence and wasted a yet more energy.
For some reason this is an enormous revelation to me; from now on, I’m going to climb smart, or try my best to do so anyway! My first opportunity to try out my new tactics will be at the Last Friday of the Month competition this week at the Biscuit Factory. Last month Tom Arnold and I tied for first place, this time I will DESTROY him 😉
In other news, I have been offered a new Job as a Part-Time Duty Manager at the new Vauxwall Bouldering Centre, which will be opening in the next couple of months! I got to have a look around the building site yesterday and hear a lot more about how the centre is going to be run. . . it’s gonna be pretty fantastic, get psyched people!!
I also received another delivery from Blurr; a load of patches to sew onto clothes and bags, lots more t-shirts, and their new hoody, which is a really stylish assymetrical design (I hinted to Blurr that I really liked the look of it when I saw it in the Castle shop, and it arrived at my door a day or two later! Very generous of them.)
And as always, here’s a video to end with!
If anyone is interested in trying out the bouldering at West 1 Climbing Centre, come on down! I run a Bouldering Workshop from 19:00 – 21:00 every Thursday, there’s always a really nice bunch of people who attend and some great problems to try!
I’m very happy to say that the pain in my fingers is pretty much entirely gone! Apparently it was all caused by a huge amount of tension at a certain point in my back which was irritating the nerve, so a few stretches shown to me by the physios I saw at the last British Team training event at the Foundry in Sheffield has solved the problem! I’m now back to climbing hard, and getting REALLY excited for the next two weekends; this Saturday 15th of February is the final round of the Blokfest, and the week after that (23rd February) is the British Team selection event, where all the team members compete against each other to decide who gets to go to the international competitions!
I also wanted to say thank you to Blurr clothing, who sent me a big box of clothes to wear a few weeks ago. I haven’t reviewed any climbing clothes before, but I’ve got a couple of pairs of the Rogue Pants, and a pair of Method Pants, and honestly, I haven’t worn any other trousers since they first arrived! They’re great to climb in, having just the right fit and the right amount of stretch, and also look pretty smart, so I wear them pretty much everywhere! The two different pairs have loads of cleverly hidden pockets and neat ways of tightening the waist or cuffs of the trousers, the colours are great, and having worn them around for a while now and climbed in them almost every day, I can tell you that they are fantastically durable. I really can’t recommend them enough, thank you Blurr!
And here’s a video of me and Tom slapping and humping our way up a 7a/+ at Apremont in Fontainebleau 😀
Tom Arnold somehow made 4 hours worth of footage of me failing on Karma into a really exciting video! Wish I had got this, but glad to have a good reason to go back.
By the way, Tom is crushing everything at the moment, this weekend he qualified in first place in the Foundry Bouldering Open, Sportiva should be sponsoring him pretty soon now.
Wow it’s been a long time since I’ve posted on here! So much has been happening!
After finishing University I’ve moved back to London and got a job as an indoor instructor and coach, which I absolutely love, and am climbing as much as possible. It’s really nice to be climbing back at the Castle regularly; I spent all of last summer on the Wave (the Castle’s training board), and was feeling stronger and stronger:
For this climb I decided to find the smallest hold on the training board and see if I could use it in a climb really suited to me, powerful moves on small holds.
This climb was set by one of the ultra-strong polish guys who climb on this board; he does LAPS on this thing, and he never cut’s loose, it’s really amazing to watch!
After a few months of climbing hard almost every day and competing as often as I could, I was surprised and ecstatic to find an email one day telling me I was invited to join the Senior British Bouldering Team based on my performance in the British Bouldering Championships! This had been a dream of mine for years, but I certainly didn’t expect it!
This huge achievement for me coincided with starting a new project on the Wave; it was by far the hardest thing I have done so far. I wanted to make the problem suited to me, so it was all on pretty small crimps, with lots of weird twisting movements, the crux being a full stretch into a gaston crimp; when I first started trying it none of the moves felt possible.
For some reason, as I became more and more obsessed with the project, I attached more and more meaning to it. I would come into the Castle almost every day for about 3 weeks, and try nothing else but this project, and I started telling myself that if I couldn’t get it then I didn’t deserve to be on the team and I wasn’t as good a climber as I thought I was. I started getting more and more frustrated, after a week of trying I was finding what I previously thought to be the hardest move really easy, but never seemed to have enough energy for the final lunge to a tiny hold when I tried to link all the moves. I remember one attempt when I hit every single hold perfectly and was sure that I was about to complete the climb before yet again running out of energy on the last move. I actually teared up a bit, suddenly thinking that I might not ever get it done.
About a week later I linked all the moves from start to finish; I hit every hold perfectly and it felt EASY all the way through, it felt like a huge breakthrough for me. I felt much more sure of my abilities, I had been doing better in competitions, I suddenly felt like I was back on track.
That was in November, and since then I think I’ve been struggling to stay motivated. A combination of severe pain in my fingers, work taking up a lot of time, not having my project to work on and doing worse on the competition scene was slowly draining my psyche (and for anyone who know’s how psyched I am about climbing, that might be a bit worrying!).
One thing which cheered me up IMMENSELY during this January was my first ever trip to Fontainebleau (I’ll be writing a full blog post about this once I finish the video!). The week I spent there really confirmed to me that all I really need to be happy is somewhere to sleep, a good supply of food, and plenty of boulders to climb. However, I had planned to climb Karma (8a+), and had trained specifically for it. After spending two days trying it and repeatedly falling from near the top, I had to leave it unfinished, which I again took as a big blow to my psyche levels (writing all this down makes me think I’m being too sensitive to failing occasionally), and I spent the last few weeks barely climbing, and when I did manage to climb was really struggling with the pain in my fingers. I kept feeling like I couldn’t pull as hard as I used to, and was constantly seeing all the kids on junior teams climbing almost as hard as me despite being years younger.
However, over the last week or so things are slowly turning around again; the pain in my fingers is getting marginally better, and the last round of Blokfest in Nottingham gave me hope that I’m not as weak as I thought. Although I didn’t make it into the finals (slipping off one easy problem cost me the 3 points I needed), I completed all of the hardest climbs, and when I did send them, none of them felt particularly hard. Two nights ago I went to the Biscuit Factory for an evening session after work and was suddenly back to feeling like I could CRUSH! I sent pretty much everything on the comp wall in about an hour, intentionally using stupid powerful beta on some of the climbs to test how strong I was feeling. After two hours of hard climbing and quickly getting to the top of a load more of their hard climbs, I realised the pain in my fingers was almost non-existent!
I’m really excited for the coming year; working with the Castle Competition Squad is a great source of inspiration to me, I’m feeling like I could do well in competitions, and I’m hoping for a few trips to Stanage Plantation and maybe even some sport climbing. And of course, as soon as the opportunity comes around, I’m going straight back to Font to send Karma.
Before I finished Uni I had a class with Neil Gresham, who worked out a really tough training programme for me. I do this sort of thing / three or four times a week for a month, then next month it’ll be endurance training, then a month of working projects and bouldering, two weeks rest and then I start all over again!
One of the funniest ascents I’ve seen 😀