I always wanted to climb E6, that was nearly as hard as it got when I started climbing in the early 80s. Johnny Dawes was on the cover of guidebooks doing E6s. That was the top from my low vantage point, to climb that you needed to be good, really good. 35 years later, you still need to be good, but only Birmingham good, not Sheffield or Llanberis or even Yorkshire good, and it’s a long way from the top.
A couple of years back after El Cap and with a lot of time on my hands I flogged my way back up to E4 (where I had been 10 years back) and suddenly realised E5 might just be doable. Not E6, but E5. A regular climbing partner had been doing E5s and I followed one, Darkinbad the Brightdaylor on Pentire Head. A stunning route on a stunning crag. I loved the climb and the climbing. Admittedly it got E5 mostly because of the lethal start, sketchy 5c for 7m above a back breaking block. But it was doable. I tried to lead an E5, Pacemaker at Sharpnose. Soft touch but I cruised to the last 5m. Rested and finished it. So I could do E5. So which E5 to do, only one route for me, Right Wall on Dinas Cromlech in the Llanberis Pass. Right Wall is an uber classic, benchmark in a way Cenotaph Corner is the classic E1. This is a place I never imagined I could aspire too, not a place for mortals, only rock gods did Right Wall back in the 80’s. My E5 mate had done it, not once but twice, he fell off the first time and survived. So it wasn’t lethal. That opened the door, I know his climbing, I follow him up routes, I know his strengths and weaknesses. Alas he is so much stronger than me, has epic amounts of stamina unlike me, is fearless where I tremble, and gets vast amounts of rock time in against my 40 routes a year. However, I can keep my feet on horizontal roofs better, but that’s not going to help much on the 40m vertical bold crimp fest of Right Wall.
So why now? Things are changing, in the summer, time is going to get short. My ankle injury makes me think Scottish winter weekends aren’t going to be viable, a day on then a day off is all I could hope for at present. I like a challenge that I don’t know if I can do, and Helen isn’t going to be doing much climbing this summer. Oh, and at 51 it’s time to get going, who knows what is around the corner health wise, and I already know training isn’t getting easier.
So how am I going to do what I couldn’t do before, what are my ‘enablers’ in business speak? I could just keep on as before and hope the weather is good, I don’t get injured and try harder, that might work. I could do lots of research and come up with a training plan applicable to the route. That would probably work if I stick to it. Or I get a coach to look at what I need to do to get from climbing E2 and 3 with the occasional E4 to climbing the E5 Right Wall, and get a training plan developed on the back of that and do the plan. Secondly put in the kit I need to train at home, fingerboard, rock rings, etc so I can put in the sessions required, do long days at work and still see my family. Thirdly take a serious look at my diet and see if there is anything I can do to help me towards my goal. That’s the plan.
Where am I now? I have been doing sessions on ice axes and rock rings for a few weeks to get in the groove (and strong for dry tooling) at first hanging on the loft hatch but I have now constructed a free standing frame to take the new fingerboard, rock rings and what ever else I need to train on at home. Crucially this is not in a dark cellar, a cold garage, or blocking the stairs or loo, and it isn’t in a spot where I will wake up the house doing early or late sessions. It is in the spare doorway to the living room, a warm spot where I can see the TV, it’s within earshot of the stereo, and I can talk to folks in the kitchen, dining room or living room. All in all somewhere good to be.
Coaching. I figured I needed someone with broad climbing experience, substantial coaching experience, lots of life experience, and someone I get on with. Tom Randall is nearby and almost fitted the bill but he only coaches elite climbers, that’s me out. Gaz Parry and Adrian Berry have moved to Europe. Others didn’t quite inspire me. Next stop was Neil Gresham in Kendal. I have had a coaching session with Neil before so am happy with him and his style. He advertises coaching and training programmes on his website. He has done all manner of climbing, highlighted by his King of the Pass – three climbs in the Llanberis Pass, a super hard boulder problem, Jerrys Roof 7c, Lord of the Flies E6 6a, and Central Icefall Direct at WI6, all in the same day. That takes multi discipline talent and enthusiasm, which is something he has in spades. He is in his mid forties with two young children so understands how life gets in the way and how climbers perform as they age.
I filled out Neil’s pre-booking form. Age – what will he think of an old dog? Current grades, trad, sport, indoor – depends on what wall, and bouldering – what bouldering? I knew this was going to be an issue, bouldering is moves and strength combined efficiently. Aims, Get from doing lots of E2s and a few E4s, to some E5s and ultimately Right Wall, THE E5. Will he think I am mad? Strengths and weaknesses, tricky. Probably technically ok, strength varying across grip types, head game, great – I fall off a lot, stamina ok, power endurance poor, recovery very poor. No injuries allowed, I hope a bit limpy is ok? Email sent, now I wait, will he be ‘busy’, send me a suggestion list of other coaches or plans? It’s like applying for a job, and two and half years and hundreds of rejections have taught me not to be optimistic. A few days later Neil’s response arrives. Amazingly he says yes, enthusiasm shines through in his response, he ‘wants’ to coach me, I guess me applying to give him money helps rather than the other way around. Coaching session booked with Neil at Kendal climbing wall where he will assess where I am now and see if he can produce a programme to get me where I need to be.
Nutrition. This goes against the grain as a vegetarian I think I have a pretty good diet. However just like on our El Cap mission we looked at everything in search of improvement including nutrition. Lots of research in the climbing media suggested that I would have nothing to loose by upping my protein – we can’t process more than 40g per hour, any more passes through our gut undigested. An article told me I won’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger by eating salmon, and as vegetarian it won’t even be that! What to use is a more difficult choice, supplements are very expensive, be it whey or hemp, £10 a week is the order of the day. Eggs are good but eating sufficient eggs may bring my insides to a halt, less good. Lentils and tofu is no bad thing but will need planning.
Another supplement suggested in several quarters for climbers is creatine. This should help supply energy to my muscles without bulking up. One article by a British climbing nutritionist stated that all climbers would benefit from using this, another mentioned older climbers and vegetarian climbers. I don’t ever feel at a disadvantage as a vegetarian climber – Steve Mclure is a vegetarian and one of Britain’s top climbers in the last 30 years. Thankfully this does seem to be cheap at least, 500 servings for £10.
That’s the plan, now let’s see what happens.