climbing · Guest Post · injury

Climbing Injuries and on Finding a Better Balance (Guest Post)

By Catherine Wearing

I first started climbing (indoors) in 2009. I’d wanted to try rock climbing for ages but I didn’t know anyone who did it and (in the days before meetup and the proliferation of climbing gyms) it wasn’t obvious how to get into it otherwise. When I happened to meet someone who was climbing in the gym, I went along with them and fell in love with climbing. As someone who tends to get interested in something for a while, only to gradually lose enthusiasm and eventually turn to something else, I have been surprised by the ongoing passion that I feel for climbing. Almost a decade and still going strong. I fantasize about being a climbing ‘dirtbag’.

So that’s some relevant background. What I want to focus on is what could perhaps be called a ‘side effect’ of my passion for climbing, namely, injuries. Because I climb as often and as hard as I can, I tax my body – and especially my upper body – pretty severely. As a result, I’ve had a whole slew of minor soft tissue injuries over the past decade: both wrists, both shoulders, several fingers, and most recently, my right elbow. None of these injuries have required surgery and some have healed with rest alone. But most have required doctors’ visits, several months of physical therapy, and in some cases, X-rays or scans of various kinds to pin down what exactly is wrong.

In reflecting on this history, I’ve been led to wonder about two things in particular:

First, the threat of injury doesn’t act as much of a deterrent for me. I hate taking time off climbing to rest an injury, but I seem to end up doing it at least once every other year (and sometimes more often). Rationally, it is obvious that my body simply cannot climb as hard as I would like it to and so it should also be obvious to me that I should scale back my climbing ambitions to better suit what I can do. But I have incredible trouble doing this. When I am injured, that forces me to scale back (or stop), but when I am healthy, I only want to try to push myself a bit harder than before. For me, a significant draw of climbing lies in tackling problems that I’m not sure I’m capable of doing. I have learned to be better about building up my strength gradually and pacing myself (especially in the gym) to avoid overdoing it. But my ongoing string of injuries suggests that I haven’t mastered this self-control (if that’s what it is) yet.

The second thing I find myself thinking a lot about is that I consume a lot more medical resources than I did before I started climbing. On the whole, I have been fortunate not to need much medical care beyond routine preventative check-ups and tests. The various climbing injuries which send me to the doctor and the physiotherapist are essentially ‘self-inflicted’. That is, they’re not the results of accidents, but of overdoing it, of not exercising self-control in how hard I push myself. Given how overtaxed our medical resources are, I’m not sure this behaviour is justified. I suppose I could argue that climbing keeps me happy and healthy in ways that go beyond my ligaments and tendons, which might in turn help me avoid other kinds of medical care. But who knows whether that’s true? Perhaps I’d be almost as healthy if I stuck to the forms of exercise that I enjoy but am not as passionate about.

I’m trying to learn from experience, to push myself less hard and to draw as much enjoyment as I can from simply being outside on the rock, even when I’m climbing something easy. And I think my rate of injury is gradually slowing. But as I continue to age, I expect the physical demands of climbing, even at the easier grades, to increase. It fills me with delight to see climbing friends still going strong in their 60s and 70s. So I’m hopeful that if I can find a better balance, I’ll be able to keep climbing for a long time. But in the meantime, I wish I could do a better job finding the mid-point between the challenge which brings me such joy and a level of physical demand which my body can sustain.

Catherine Wearing is a philosopher, feminist, and rock climber. Also a runner, tea drinker, and mystery novel reader.

climbing

Survey on sexual harassment in climbing (Guest post)

A number of American climbing organizations & publications are running a survey on sexual harassment in climbing: http://www.alpinist.com/doc/web18s/newswire-sexual-harassment-survey

It’s worth filling out if you’re involved in climbing at all, or have been, or have thought about getting involved and been uncomfortable and left (or whatever your experience). It seems to have quite a limited lens on what harassment consists in and what its effects on you might be (it might cause you to climb more, climb less, climb the same), but there are open text fields you can use.

Climbing feels relatively egalitarian to me, but what do I know–I’m in philosophy! (Haha. Not.) I know accomplished female climbers who have to deal with a lot of questioning of their ability–e.g. people downgrading routes they have climbed. There has been a recent discussion around harassment among elite climbers.

One thing that I consider an interesting kind of sexual harassment is the way that the culture of adolescent sexual humour in climbing means that a lot of routes and peaks and problems have sexist or racist names–and in coded youth language (of whatever era) that I don’t know. I’m constantly wondering whether I’m saying something offensive in saying that I climbed x. There is a peak in Alberta with a name that would make you spit your coffee. Peakfinder says “Obviously very politically incorrect, the name will likely not be made official but is in common useage [sic].” It offers no alternative, despite its being 2018 and the name’s offensiveness having been more than apparent my entire life. (That’s 52 years and counting.)

I was very proud of the first thing I climbed on Le Salève outside Geneva—and then I figured out I was saying something pretty offensive in saying what I had climbed. I wanted to talk about that in the post I wrote, but I thought that having to write about it in my “proud I climbed this” post was part of the problem, not the solution. So I saved it for another time. (Now. The survey.)

 

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I know Sam likes climbing pictures along with my posts ( 😉 ), so here are pictures of some great climbing partners on Sorrow’s End, a cliff in my own neighbourhood that I finally got to climb this week. I was so excited that in Europe I found I can climb things that supposedly translate into a 5.9+ in North America! I’m ready for 5.10s, I thought! But here I am back to reality, and granite, and my local scene. The people here are on two 5.7s. I climbed them, one on the first attempt but with a lot of coaching and the other on the fourth or fifth attempt. I’d be flashing the European equivalent of a 5.7, no question. (Flashing means climbing on first attempt, with no coaching and without having seen someone else climb it.) 5.7 for 12 metres of layback! Google “layback” and you’ll see it’s described as an advanced climbing technique. Sigh.

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Soon I’ll be in Cambridge with nothing but railways bridges and old colleges to climb. So I’ll enjoy these 5.7s while I can.

 

climbing · fitness

Urban crags (Guest post)

There’s a particular kind of climbing spot that climbers call an “urban crag.” Close to a big city, convenient—but dirty and subject to hazards, trash, and irresponsible teenagers who think it might be fun to mess with an anchor you’ve set for top-roping.

Geneva’s urban crag–or mountain o’ crags to describe it more accurately–is pretty spectacular. Le Salève rises to 1300m above Geneva (the shores of the Lake are around 400m). 110 bolted single-pitch routes on limestone in the area called Le Canapé alone, and hundreds more multi-pitch routes in the other sectors.

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The wider band beneath the two narrow bands is Le Canapé, our destination, as seen from the last bus stop before the French-Swiss border.

Bjorn and I tried fit an after-work climb earlier in the week–but we still have to get back for the dinner the Brocher Foundation generously supplies for researchers. By public transit, it wasn’t feasible. After a long ascent and a wrong turn or two, we got to the crag with 15 minutes before we would have to turn around to make our way back to Hermance. We put on our helmets (warnings about falling scree in the topo) and fake-climbed by traversing a bit without ropes. And we worked very hard to ward off the climbers’ rock enchantment that makes all other considerations fade into the backdrop.

We had it all worked out for a weekend climb at the same place, planning to come down from the cable car instead of walking up. What we didn’t plan for was that 300 runners would be running the opposite direction—repeatedly— on our approach path. It was the Saturday of the Ultra Montée du Salève, a race in which people try to run up the mountain (elevation gain 600-odd metres) as many times as they can in 6 hours, taking the cable car down each time. Something doesn’t seem right about this activity–but since we were on our way to spend all afternoon climbing up 15 or so metres and then rappelling down, who are we to judge? But we had to step aside and get out of their way as much as possible and this slowed our approach considerably!

We had plenty of time once we got to the crag–a good 7 hours–and the entire sector to ourselves. I climbed something my grade conversion chart tells me would be the equivalent of a North American 5.9–the easiest route at this crag, the topo says, and named for a kids’ fairy tale, like everything I’m able to climb!—and got stuck at the crux of the many climbs that would count as 5.10a in North America. I’ll hold onto this bit of evidence, translation issues and all, that I can climb a 5.9 route outdoors (not just in the gym) and see if I can translate it to the much sharper Nova Scotia granite when I get home! I’d be very happy with that semi-aritrary achievement number. Bjorn snapped this photo of me belaying.

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climbing · Guest Post

Climbing above Geneva (Guest Post)

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A year and a half ago (or more), Wendy Rogers, Stacy Carter, Bjørn Hofmann, and I applied to the Brocher Foundation in Geneva for a one month residency to work on conceptual and normative issues in overdiagnosis. Between application and acceptance and arriving in Geneva, I had become addicted to climbing.

Lots of time on google got me the info that the closest climbing gyms are an hour or more on public transit away from the Brocher Foundation site. I moaned a great deal about this, but my friends had no sympathy. A month in a villa on the shores of Lake Geneva, and I’m worried about finding a climbing gym?

I got excellent news just before setting out for the residency—Bjørn is an avid climber (an alpinist, even). Once at the Brocher, we found Jennifer Carr, a PhD student from Glasgow who already has a month at the Brocher under her belt. She has been climbing indoors for 6 months and was intrigued by the opportunity to climb outdoors for the first time.

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Bright and early on our first Saturday morning, we set out for the cliffs overlooking Geneva — La Salève. After a long approach through the woods starting from the base of the cable car, we found ourselves almost the first climbers out. We had some pleasant conversation and advice from the climbers ahead of us, some scratching of their crag dogs behind the ears, and a scary moment watching one of them take an odd kind of fall when he wasn’t expecting it. He went on his way and we settled in for our turn at La Corne du Coin.

This massive rock formation peels off the side of the main cliff of le Coin. It has a good assortment of short climbs (by Salève standards—20m), easy enough to let us get accustomed to the limestone, which is new for Bjørn and for me. Jen did fabulous on her first outdoor climb, I enjoyed my first limestone finger pockets and fossil-crimping, and Bjørn was a most excellent and patient coach for beginning climbers.

And the limestone really is this amazing mixture of blue and gold.

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climbing

More on “the sort of person who…” (Guest post)

When I said in my guest post earlier this week that I wasn’t the sort of person who climbs mountains, that was a thought with many facets.

I emphasized the self-confidence/failure side of it–the 7-year-old who always came in last on track and field day.

That’s by no means all of it.

I went to a “jock” high school and have a long-standing association in my mind: the world of football players and cheerleaders is a world of rape culture. There’s no particular place in my own experience where I got this. I was a nerdy kid and stayed as far as possible from normal peer activities in adolescence, apart from my very closest nerd friends. I tried youth church group once and that was certainly a very rape-culture place. I suppose that that being a dangerous places didn’t make me eager to try other peer spaces.

I’m sure this association is unfair to many individual football players and cheerleaders, but rape culture in sports is real, even if I haven’t “personally experienced” it. (Whatever that means. Like compulsory heterosexuality, women whose behaviour is controlled by fears of things they haven’t experienced are still controlled by—experiencing—those things.)

Consider for example this recent news story: Outrage for delayed sentence for sentence for Calgary hockey player convicted of sex crime against child

Bouldering has been accessible to me because it happens in coffee shops and other somewhat alternative spaces where I feel safe (under the train arches at Vauxwall in London!). And the people doing it are diverse and often nerdy and I feel safe with them.

Sometimes when I travel, bouldering spaces are more like normal gyms. I like the fact that that means greater class inclusiveness (good old egalitarian Finland). But not when it means less. (I’m looking at you, U.S. boulderers talking mergers and acquisitions and when you’re going to make partner. And salivating over that hot babe doing radical things (your words, not mine).)

When I go to a climbing wall that is literally part of a sportsplex, I’m surprised by the strength of my association of those spaces with a lack of safety. Just going through the front doors and into the locker room puts me on alert. It’s not the sort of thing that blatantly stops me–it just gives it a slightly aversive feeling.

I had slight PTSD from my first ridge scramble. For a week afterwards I involuntarily visualized myself falling off Crib Goch when I was falling asleep. My clever career coach suggested I remind myself that I didn’t fall off, and rehearse instead the (true) memory of being successful. This worked. I’m not discounting structural and cultural approaches to rape culture (at all), but it’s good to have tips and tricks to help control how the associations are affecting my life.