Tag Archives: bouldering

B is for Bouldering, Broken, Barbara, Brace and Best

Bouldering: the art of hauling oneself onto large rocks – imagine hunks of stone the size of a school bus or a garage – using only fingers and toes (and heels, if you know how to do a heel hook)


Bouldering indoors: the art of simulating hauling oneself onto large rocks inside a climbing gym using moulded plastic holds bolted to the walls – using only fingers and toes (and heels, if you know how to do a heel hook)


Bouldering indoors badly: the dark art of hauling oneself up a wall using fake holds, leaping for the last hold up under the roof/overhang/tunnel entrance of the climbing gym (10′ off the ground), missing, and falling sideways, then crashing onto the ground

Aftermath of bad bouldering: If one lands on the heel of one’s hand (nothing to do with heel hooking), the full force of one’s body slamming onto your arm results in a double-dislocated elbow as both bones in the forearm shoot past their usual home in the elbow joint. This is not a pleasant feeling. As a matter of fact, this is an experience far worse than childbirth. A pain that borders on… I can’t even come up with a comparison as I had always been led to believe that childbirth (no stroll in the pleasure park) was about as bad as it gets. Trust me on this one. Blowing your elbow apart beats birthing a big baby by a billion miles (how’s that for using up my letter b’s?)

Fact: If the ER doctor gives you too much Propofol and not quite enough Ketamine (or the other way around – what do I know? I was supposed to be unconscious…) prior to jarring said wayward bones back into position, then one is lucid enough to believe one is dead and to remember much of what happens next quite clearly. And, really – I don’t think I was so far off in my conclusion that I had passed over to the other side. I even told the doctor that he should be careful not to kill me because wasn’t it Propofol that finished off Michael Jackson? Some rather spectacular hallucinations further supported my ‘I guess I’m shuffling off this mortal coil’ theory. When the room fills with white light and you have the sensation you are climbing out of your body and up the face of El Capitan in Yosemite – free of ropes, free of any obligation to return, climbing like a ballet dancer, crawling upwards toward oblivion, quite aware that this (climbing into the light with a grace even more graceful than Alex Honnold** demonstrates on his best days) could mean only one thing – I was dying – or already dead. I had the brief sensation of my back pressing flat against the emergency room ceiling and then heard the sound of someone screaming somewhere at the end of a very long corridor. I later learned that the screamer was me as the doctor snapped everything back into place. The noise was loud enough that anyone who was ambulatory fled the waiting room of the emergency department.


Which brings me to Barbara, climbing partner, good friend, and there with me at the gym when I took my spectacular fall. Fortunately, Barabara’s name starts with a B so I can talk about her here. Also fortunately, in her day job she is an ER nurse, so she remained cool, calm, and collected while she scraped me off the mat at the gym and cajoled me into the back of our mutual friend’s car (thanks, Larissa – you were a trooper). Even Barbara, though, couldn’t handle the cries of desperate agony emanating from yours truly and raced away to take refuge out of earshot.

All this happened not quite a year ago – late on a Friday night. I strapped my useless arm to my body and started climbing again on Monday using the other arm (I blogged about that here …) and then started on a course of physiotherapy and quite a bit of whining and complaining. Eventually, I was fitted for a skookum custom brace, which I still have to wear every time I climb (or make bread or move a box or carry groceries). Things do not look good in terms of avoiding surgery, but the brace has proven to be fantastic in terms of keeping me functional for the foreseeable future. Slowly but surely my muscles have been rebuilding in the damaged arm so I’m mostly able to climb whatever I want to climb (yes, yes – as long as I’m not leading). The nerve damage that temporarily had my left thumb forgetting how to exert pressure on anything is more or less healed (that took about eight months) so now I can’t blame my fumbling clipping of the climbing rope into the draws on anything other than total lack of coordination.


Tying the climbing rope to my harness with one hand (my non-dominant hand no less!!) on that first night back at the gym was incredibly awkward. This isn’t a great photo, but you can see the bulgy padding (an oven glove) protecting the injured elbow, which was stuffed into a sling and then covered with a tight T-shirt so there was no risk of getting hung up on the sling or bumping the arm in case of a fall.

As it turns out, having a serious injury in an arm was about the best thing that could have happened to me when it comes to improving my technique. Because I’m pretty strong and don’t weigh much, I’m blessed with a strength-to-weight ratio that is really helpful when it comes to climbing. The temptation is to haul yourself up through tough spots, which can work ok but isn’t efficient or particularly effective. Technique begins with the feet – it’s way easier to lift your body weight using the big muscles of your legs than it is to do a series of chin-ups all the way to the top of the cliff. Placing your feet well, finding your balance, trusting that the rubbery souls of your climbing shoes are not going to slip off that ludicrously tiny pimple of a hold makes it sooooooo much easier to keep going than using brute force. Even if a wall is steep, if it doesn’t have any bulging holds on it to grab onto and pull, if there are lips and cracks and bumps big enough to wedge your toes onto it’s amazing what you can climb even when the wall looks blank.


Sometimes there just isn’t much to grab hold of. Note the awesome red brace holding my arm together. It would also work well as a face-smashing device should I ever get mugged. Bam! 

Blank. Bam! Good words to end on, given this is B for Boy oh Boy No More Bouldering for Me Day.

**Yes, I know Alex was the poster boy on A is for Ace Climbers Day – what can I say, I have a bit of a crush…


Powerful Climber Rocks! (and, yes – she’s a girl…)

Ashima Shiraishi is, objectively, amazing. Just a few days ago, the 14 year old climber from New York became the youngest person ever to send a V15 boulder problem. If you’re not a climber, you might not have a good sense at just how remarkable an achievement V15 is, but it’s the kind of grade […]

via Ashima sends V15 (Guest Post) — Fit Is a Feminist Issue

A Tale of Two Rock Piles

In the world of rock climbing there are a few places that everyone has heard of and added to their rock climbing bucket list. Hueco Tanks in Texas is one of them, particularly if one is into bouldering. Located just outside El Paso, the park is named for the hollows formed in the rocks – some large, some just big enough to hook a finger in when climbing.


Fabio enjoying some easy climbing at the start of this hueco-pocked climb…

We headed there after a visit to Big Bend National and State Parks waaaaaaaaaaay down in the southern part of Texas hoping to spend a few days climbing and exploring. Alas, Hueco Tanks has fallen victim to its own popularity. Gazillions of visitors, some armed with spray paint and stupid enough to deface ancient cave paintings and others too lazy to haul out their trash created a big problem in this beautiful place… The desert environment is pretty sensitive to heavy traffic and the combination of people stomping all over the fragile flora, leaving their junk everywhere, and vandalism resulted in a major pendulum swing in the ‘we’d better protect this place’ direction.


I was pretty happy when we found this pair of cracks in the middle of hueco-land. 

Now, it’s tough to get in at all – only 75 people are allowed into the park at one time, permits are required, you certainly can’t take a dog in there, and activities are severely restricted. Access to 3/4 of the park is limited to visitors who come in with a guide. The result of all the hoops we had to jump through (including finding a local campground with a kennel where we could leave the dog for the day) meant we had a rather unproductive half day of climbing in the park. Granted, the climbing was fun (and, ironically, we were the only people rope climbing – the few others we saw were bouldering), but we wound up sprinting out with our packs at the end of the day to make sure we didn’t get locked inside when the gates closed at 6 pm sharp. The result was a stressful visit where we felt more like intruders rather than appreciative visitors.

We decided not to stick around for another day and headed instead west. Plan A was to make for Cochise Stronghold in Arizona – but along the way we stumbled across a State Park in New Mexico that sounded like it might be worth a look. City of Rocks was everything Hueco Tanks wasn’t.


Set up to welcome visitors, the campsites were roomy and private, nestled in among the boulders. The visitor’s centre was spotless with clean bathrooms (Hueco Tanks was having some plumbing problems when we were there…) and as long as we kept the dog on a leash and picked up after him, Tuulen was welcome. There were no places we were not allowed to go and our afternoon spent scrambling up a few boulders and poking around was pure pleasure.


Every time we turned around there was a convenient garbage can, excellent directional signage, and a bathroom or outhouse – which meant the park was spotless. It was also pretty much empty, at least on the side where they had the tent sites. Knowing what we know now, we would probably have skipped the Hueco visit and spent a couple of days in City of Rocks…


Bridging Practice


Fabio – tidying up a bit… 


One of the RV/Trailer sites – step out of your door and start climbing!


What a great tent site! Check out what’s hanging over your head while sitting at the picnic table! And how can you beat the view while eating your s’mores!