Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Southern Sandstone at 60

Yours truely in Glen Brittle, Isle of Skye 1984

Now that my big 60 is arriving next year, should I not be hanging up my harness, and thinking about abandoning my local sandstone outcrops for more sedate activities: golf perhaps? I believe there are many reasons why a climber, who has arrived at three score years in reasonable physical shape and still enjoys the sport, should continue as long as he or she can. Of course a certain amount of adaptation is required to ensure continued motivation as the years go by. In this article I will describe the benefits I have gained through this exhilarating sport and  some strategies I have adopted which hopefully will keep me coming back for more in the future. These strategies are also useful for anyone wishing to take up the sport in later life.

Climbing should be fun- but how can this be sustained over the years? I believe this sport involves a mental game which every climber has to play. The way you feel about your own performance can depend on what you want to achieve and who you compare yourself with. Although it may not be obvious, most climbing does have a competitive element, but this must not be allowed to get out of hand. Another pitfall in climbing is grade obsession: the drive to achieve harder and harder climbs. Inevitably there comes a time when when age starts to affect performance.The time in our lives when we experience this drop is different for each person, and could be largely controlled by our genetic make up. Listening to your own body and making decisions about how to realistically challenge yourself is the key to sustained passion for climbing in later life. 

As far as fitness is concerned, most youngsters do have an advantage over us more mature climbers: they are supple and thus tend to be less injury prone. To promote suppleness I do stretching exercises when I get up in the morning and my body is warm, concentrating on the lower back and hip joints. Keeping these parts of the body supple is so important especially when attempting sandstone climbs graded 5+. I always warm up and stretch before attempting a climb and if it is the first climb of the day , then choose a lower level of difficulty. It is tempting to jump straight onto something difficult while you feel fresh. In my experience this is seldom a successful strategy and risks injury. As one gets older the ability to recover quickly after strenuous exercise diminishes. When I was younger I seemed to be able to climb day after day and not suffer the consequences. To prevent fatigue I try to operate a regime of one day on, one day off to give my body a chance to repair itself.

Climbing is great for the back. Your spine is basically a vulnerable string of vertebrae held together by ligaments and anything which strengthens the back has to have health benefits: improving posture and making injury less likely. Regular climbing is bound to increase strength: sandstone climbing is particularly good at promoting finger strength as holds can be less than positive. However the sort of climbing I do relies more on technique than power. If you are taking up climbing in later life, be very patient and concentrate at the start on learning moves rather than trying to build muscle. Of course climbers have to lift their own body weight so losing a few pounds will reap rewards on the rock face. Climbing into a late age provides a powerful incentive to keep light. It is self evident that all these health benefits will have a positive effect on your performance in other sports you do.

The joys of Moonlight Arete (Graded 4b)  Harrisons Rocks

Shared danger can intensify friendships. Apart from solo climbing, more than any other sport, climbing promotes a special kind of friendship involving a large dose of trust. I have always climbed with partners who I consider to be climbing mentors: by this I mean that they have always taught me new things about climbing and acted, in a climbing sense, as role models. In the 80's I climbed regularly with a sandstone specialist which eventually led us to some spectacular multipitch traditional climbing in Scotland. These days, apart from training on local sandstone I seem to be doing more sport climbing -although my partner likes traditional climbing best. Who knows where this will lead? The pub is usually where the next 'mad' idea is born: a place where, with the help of good ale we forget the discomfort and hardships of climbing and dream up the next adventure.

So to summarise, here is my recepe for a lifetime of enjoyable climbing:
  • challenge yourself within realistic boundaries to keep it fun
  • listen to your body and maintain fitness to avoid injury
  • climb with expert friends who can always teach you something new.

No Way!

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