What big-wall climbing teaches you about life

There are many subtle things that climbing teaches you, beyond using gear and climbing technique, that I think can help you live a better life. In life, as with climbing, the bigger the challenge the more (and faster) you learn;  there are some interesting parallels between being successful on big wall routes and doing well in life.

Aid climbing and the habits that define you

Personally I find aid climbing a slow, however, not being super strong, on big walls I will generally find myself doing it at some point. That said, the interesting thing about aid climbing is that the lazier you are, the harder and slower it is. Efficiency is everything.

(If you do not know what aid climbing is; it is basically sticking in a bit of climbing gear to the rock, attaching a fabric ladder, climbing the ladder and putting another bit of gear in. Repeat.)

Nathan Murphy aid climbing.
Aid climbing, Photo Oli Lyon

For example; let’s say you aid climb 1000ft of a route, your aiders are about 5ft long with about 1ft per step.

If you are being a little lazy, you use the second step on your aider and place your gear at a ‘comfortable’ distance, instead of top-stepping and placing the gear as high as you can, the difference in height gained at each placement can easily be 2ft.

Over a 1000 ft route, this would mean 330 placements instead of 200… 130 extra placements, at 3 minutes each = 390 minutes = 6.5 hours more time spent climbing. This can easily mean an extra day on the wall, which means more food and water, which means slower and harder hauling compounding the inefficiency.

The point I am getting at is that, seemingly benign inefficiencies, when multiplied out throughout a route has a significant impact on your ability, and the time it takes, to reach your goal.

Your life is a bit like a really long aid climb and, almost any way you cut it, this analogy applies, for example;

Health; That bit of cake every day, along with a tendency to skip a bit of exercise for the odd drink after work seems totally fine, but over a period of 20 years, the extra calories in, and fewer calories out means you put on weight. Combined with a slowing metabolism and the fact that being fat makes exercise harder you ‘come to terms’ with the ‘inevitability’ of putting on ‘middle age spread’ and now your just another fat dude sweating it out on the tube wearing a suit that used to fit.

Your personal projects; Most people I know have some kind of side-project. Something they are doing which is not their main vocation but would kinda like it to be. However most people I know do not work overly hard to achieve the side goal and, in reality, because ‘today was a long day at work’ or ‘I deserve a rest/treat/meal out’ or the myriad of lame excuses people use to do nothing in the part of the day don’t sell to an employer, they don’t get it done. If you spent a little over 2 hours a day on your project; it would equate to 16 hours; 2 ‘working days’ a week. If you were given 2 working days a week by your employer to do your own thing; what would you get done?

The reality is that you have more than ‘2 days a week’. After a 5pm finish you have about 7hrs of usable time before you go to bed – plus your weekends. You easily have another working week within your normal ‘working week’ should you want to use it. Not using it is a gross waste of your time and does no justice to the value of your life.

Financially; Let’s you like a nice coffee and a bit of cake every working day, you buy your lunch at the sandwich shop near work and you take the tube instead of cycling. Say this costs, as it would in London, £15/day. Over a year = £3975. Over 20 years with 8% compound interest; £175,000; which could give you £14,000/year in interest in your retirement and enable you to retire a few years earlier. Instead, due to a seemingly benign ‘comfort’ habits you work longer and are less financially secure.

The same goes with.. maintaining relationships, improving skills and probably many other areas I have not thought of. Essentially your life, with any luck, is many years long and small comforts and lazy actions are magnified by time and can make the difference between early or late retirement, physical health or obesity, or simply meeting the goals that make you feel satisfied with what you have achieved and live without regret.

Use the top step.

Speed climbing / goal focus

This is about focus and taking risks.

Speed climbing usually involves commitment and a slightly higher level of risk; you carry next to nothing so a second day would be a real problem and you are probably short fixing (leader self belays the next pitch while the second jumars/cleans) or climbing together where there is more risk of injury in the case of a fall.

Whatever you want to do, doing it in your ‘spare’ time is going to be less efficient compared with doing it full time. All that time spent hauling and messing around with your job slows everything down.  Being 100% committed and taking the risk, speed climbing gives you focus; the option of a night on a hard ledge with no sleeping bag and no water or food is pretty unattractive and this positive stress forces continuous action.

So you want to do [thing-you-want-to-do], if you do it in your ‘spare’ time say it might take 5 years. If you focus completely; it would probably take 6 months.. this obviously depends on what you are doing and how well you use your ‘spare’ time but going at something hard and fast, although tougher, is the usually the quickest way to meet your goal.

In summary..

Loosely speaking, you could apply this to many sports, especially endurance activities, but for me, there is something about the big wall experience that amplifies life-scenarios in a way that, with retrospective analysis, can give clarity and insight in to the way I live my life.

There are also obviously many other things climbing in general teaches you, from relationships, handling stress, injury management etc etc.. but big-wall specific; this is my take 🙂

VIDEO: Yosemite with Oli Lyon

This is a video put together by the talented Mr.Oli Lyon about our recent trip to Yosemite.

Featuring Serenity & Sons, Astroboy, The Great Escape, Free Blast, Separate Reality & Free Rider.

Supported by Rab & English Braids (static ropes).
sponsors

Enjoy! Highest definition recommended.

Winter Alps; tips for dealing with altitude & extreme cold

Over ninety percent of all of my mountaineering experience has been gained from climbing on Mount Blanc in January. The first time I donned crampons in anger it was walking off Aguille de Midi January 3rd 2004 after a night sleeping rough in Chamonix. In the following few days I learnt a lot about living in the cold – the first lesson being after 5 minutes; a platypus hose is utterly pointless.

When getting my annual cold-fix I typically fly out from London on an early morning flight and, by 5pm, I am dug in to the side of the Mt.Blanc massif with enough supplies to stick it out a week. Its pretty cool – however being prepared for the cold and sudden increase in altitude is pretty important.

Climbing in the Winter Alps, especially if your sticking it out for extended periods is generally tough and, from what people experienced in Summer Alpine climbing say,  it is incomparable. In the summer 2 routes in a day can be a blast but in winter, when contending with the environment and it’s effects on your body, if you get 2 decent routes in a week and you haven’t done badly.

Dealing with the cold

The weather in January at 3,800m is generally pretty brisk, and I have experienced everything from sunny pleasant mornings where it feels like +5°C (until any wind picks up) to bitter cold in the regions of -35°C or lower. The general temperature is -15 to -20 and it is often very windy meaning the wind chill can be severe enough to freeze exposed skin and make talking difficult due to the cold’s effect on your mouth and face.

Long term exposure in temperature likes this, especially while on routes means a high risk of cold injury. Typically in the form of frost nip or frost bite but the cold dry air can also accelerate dehydration. If you have the right clothing hypothermia should not be a likely problem unless you end up in a very exposed bivi in bad weather/very extended belay.

Nathan Murphy
Back in the day.. 2004

Sleeping:

  • In winter it is so cold a down sleeping bag is generally fine – not much is going to melt on to it – so it is unlikely to get wet very quickly
  • It is good to melt tomorrow’s water in the evening – put it in a platypus or water bottle and put it in your sleeping bag – this can really make things toasty
  • Sleep with anything you do not wantContinue reading “Winter Alps; tips for dealing with altitude & extreme cold”

Calf training for winter climbing

If you have ever had the pleasure of your calves being so pumped out that you have to hang on your axes to de-pump or when the idea of taking a 60ft fall is tempting just so you would be able to sit for a while – you will understand why when I try to get in shape for a winter trip, if I do nothing else, I will beast my calves.

I find nothing more discomforting than, when on a ice route, your calves pack up. My theory is that, while you are able to stand happily on your front points, you remain in control and therefore can remain fairly safe . In early January 2009 I was going to go to the Mt.Blanc massif and go soloing for a week – the aim was to be self sufficient – live in a snow hole and do some routes on the Tucal. Therefore calves were an important part of my training.

When soloing in winter, the way I see it, you have to bear a few of things in mind;

  1. It is very cold
  2. You need to carry enough to stay warm & rap a route
  3. If you fall you will probably die, and if you are lucky enough to get away with just being severely injured there will be no one around to help so you will probably die
  4. There is a lot of ice, often bullet hard, meaning lots of front pointing.

Weight wise – with plastic boots & crampons,  axes, various clothing required, rucsac, a couple of ice screws/abolokov threader, a pair of 60m half ropes to rap, tat, harness, a bit of water and some snacks you are probably going to weigh around 20kg more than if you stood naked. So bearing that in mind that you are going to be heavier than if you are leading when climbing as a pair – making sure your calves are have good strength and endurance is critical to  your safety.

At the time I had a spare room in my house & a load of wood from an old fingerboard frame and an ikea bed I recently dismantled – so feeling fairly creative I made the mother of all calf training rigs..

The mother of all calf training rigs
The mother of all calf training rigs

This rig enabled me to stand on my front points, carrying a 20kg weight bag and do sets of one/two foot calf raises to build strength or spend around 5 minutes at a time on one foot to build up endurance. With the stack of rungs – I was also able to use it to train my thighs in a style similar to the requirement Continue reading “Calf training for winter climbing”

Hydracare – Idea to IP sale

Hydracare was a project which aimed to reduce dehydration in hospitals and care homes – a problem sadly still poorly addressed. It started while at university and the patent/surrounding IP was eventually sold in 2012.

I came across the problem of dehydration after obliterating my foot in a climbing accident that required me to spend 8 days in a French hospital. After leaving the hospital with a rucksack and directions to where I could purchase crutches & injections I was prescribed to inject myself with – I made my way to Paris and hitched a lift back to the UK where I started to research my injury with the precision of someone who has a 30% chance of not walking properly again and with a job that was not taking up all of my time.

If you break your Talus in half there is a chance the bone will die causing you life-long problems.

I cannot remember where, but there in an online medical forum a woman was writing about how her husband, after under going reasonably significant surgery almost died from dehydration – which caused further surgery to be carried out at (I think) a loss of a limb. Again after that operation he became dehydrated and further complications ensued. All the man needed was water on a regular basis – but somehow this was not being administered.

It turns out that dehydration can significantly slow the progress of recovery, and if serious can cause further complications. In need of a project for university and sensing I was on a rich vein I Googled ‘Dehydration problem’ which I suspect today will have people asking the same questions and pointing out the same issues.

Dehydration is a big problem – especially with the elderly.

My research at the time shown the dehydration problem to cost 80,000 bed days in the UK alone (one bed day is estimated to cost £600+) and costs even more through dehydration caused illnesses and accidents. In the US, Medicare paid out over half a billion dollars for patients diagnosed with dehydration, in one year; dehydration is a global problem.

 Elderly patients often don’t want to drink due to poor thirst mechanism, water is often changed by cleaning staff and, with nurse shift changes it is currently very difficult to monitor patient water consumption. The elderly, especially, need constant reminding and monitoring, if the carers don’t notice a patient not drinking, within a short time it can lead to a long hospital stay, from which many never fully recover.

 In hospitals dehydration causes post surgery complications and can reverse a patients condition, again it’s very hard to prevent. If hospitals used this product it could save millions of pounds just from bed-days saved resulting from improved recovery rates.

 At home the elderly need to be reminded to drink, staying hydrated prevents dizziness (caused by low blood volume) and falls upon standing. Elderly with care support could be given independence for longer preventing them from having to move in to nursing homes.

Project..

As a Brunel Industrial Design student – for me it was important to build a product of some kind. These days, if I wanted to make a tangible difference I would probably lean towards lobbying and trying to change how dehydration is viewed on a legislative level. Either way I designed a product and through entering competitions IKB Awards I was able to get low-cost access to a Patent Attorney who patented they key basis of the product; a drinks container with a monitoring and alarm means.

Hydracare simply reminds patients to drink and alerts staff if too little water is consumed. The product can be used in hospitals and care homes as a bed side unit, or can be used by the elderly in the home potentially with family, day carers or the elderly person themselves using the devices’ feedback. In a care setting carers are able to identify those who are not drinking within one day; preventing serious problems and possible legal action from the patient’s family. The design was shaped with significant input by care professionals with the aim for it to be a simple and inclusive design although admittedly it is fairly over-engineered from a commercial/production point of view.

The project I won a few competitions including a Medical Futures Innovation Award a grant from UnLtd and a couple other minor cash wins (IKB Award, Bright Ideas Award, Reliance Prize of Prizes Award) which in the most part went on the project or went into future ideas.

Dehydration Prevention

I could have moved faster on the product – but it took several months before the Tech Transfer department at Brunel renounced their claim to 75% of my IP; a ridiculous practice considering I am a fee payer not an employee – I was pissed off to say the least. After University, and a bit of travel, I made attempts Continue reading “Hydracare – Idea to IP sale”

A foray into illustration #1

I have been illustrating since I was very young (in particular for family birthday cards). I probably peaked when I was around 18 and have not really done a huge amount since then. I have however recently decided to pick it up again and have set myself an illustration project to do so (more on this soon).

I find that doing purely creative things benefits me greatly – it frees up my mind and in this sense I feel it aids creative thinking in my work life. It is also satisfying on a primal level – I think that everyone should have some creative outlet.

When I have illustrated things in the past it has generally been predominantly Pilot v5 fine liner with a basic addition of colour – colour being something I never really got on with. Before embarking on my project I decided to actually research how professional illustrators go about illustrating and discovered things I wish I learnt 15 years ago!

It speaks volumes for a more focused approach to anything – starting with market research – some bench marking and a strong desire to create at a highly professional standard.

The first of these discoveries is the dip pen, the second is coloured inks.

Coloured inks, dip pens, a couple of brushes & water colour pencils
Coloured inks, dip pens, a couple of brushes & water colour pencils

The dip pen and black ink makes a dense line (which is actually raised when it dries). When dry it is insoluble to other inks so does not run or bleed. The line they create has character and can be anything from 1mm thick (or more nib depending) to incredibly fine. I can hardly begin to describe how awesome they are compared with a normal fine liner. The line even creates a rather nice barrier to the coloured ink making coloring much easier.

Coloured inks, applied by brush, are also Continue reading “A foray into illustration #1”

Climbing new routes with Chris Weedon

I thought I would do a short write up a bit about some routes Chris put up at Swanage last year.

New routing requires you to be either very knowledgeable about a climbing area or, to be a bad-ass climber and climb the hard, more obviously unclimbed lines. Chris Weedon has the advantage of being both – and his latest routes put up on the South Coast show-case this fact.

Chris put up several new routes – but ones that stand out for me are the routes at New Dawn Wall at Fishermans Ledge; ‘Slide Show’ (E7 6c), StuckOn (E5 6a) and in Boulder Ruckle; Bert and Ernie (E2 5b).

Slide show – E7 6c
An epic line with an easy start to a mid-point gear point but from there to the top there is no gear, the climbing is thin and deserving of the grade. I tried this on top-rope a couple of times – and unless you have very good flexibility in your hips you are going to struggle to remain balanced on this route.

The top is very bold and the moves are tenuous and committing. Maybe once my A4 pulley is healed I will get down and work the route a little more – it is an inspiring line and simply an awesome route.

Chris Weedon climbing the impeccable but hard Slide Show E7 6c on FA

StuckOn – E5 6a

Another cool route – and the first I have climbed with pretty much only Sky-Hooks for protection. I climbed this straight after seconding Chris on the first ascent picking up the ‘second ascent’ for the route. It has a tenuous and awkward start and from there you move up in to a flowstone holes with very little in the way of gear. The gear mainly consists of sky-hooks – Continue reading “Climbing new routes with Chris Weedon”

Free climbing on The Nose

Ok – so Oli Lyon and I arrived in Yosemite for what was to be a month long trip and we started out hitting up a few shorter valley routes, a bit of sport climbing and we were struggling to adjust to the style of climbing – we needed something to toughen us up a bit. So, more-or-less on a whim, we decided to climb The Nose – probably the most famous rock climb in the world – an incredible line up the prow of El Capitan.

El Capitan; The Nose approximatey taking the line of the shaddow

The next day we started getting things ready; food shopping, preparing water bottles and organising gear.

The gear for climbing the route was the usual generic stuff as in the typical-gear-shot picture below; and the other stuff we took was as follows:

Sleeping: 2x roll-mats, 2 sleeping bags + bivi bags, portaledge with fly
Living: Spare teeshirt, down jackets, synthetic jacket, rock shoes, trainers (for jugging), sun glasses, sun cream, camera (cannon g12 & oli’s pimp one), go pro, speakers/mp3, torch, lip balm
Cooking: MSR Reactor, two plastic spoons & forks, pen knife, lighter x2, 1 mug, 1 med gas canister (NOTE: CAUTION I would never use an MSR reactor again – they have a tendancy to break and be totaly unfixable – in some places this is game over!)
Climbing: Approx 40 cams (as we planned to free climb needed a few more), nuts, some hooks, mini trax, 1 set of aiders, jumar straps, belay device & gri-gri each, 2x daisy each (& other generic climbing hardware) topo, 70m climbing rope, 60m trail line/ab line (half rope), 100m haul rope (sponsor English Braids), tape (we accidently got shit stuff so basically didn’t use it), chalk
Food & water: 3.5ltr/day + a can of coke each per day, tea & coffee, mike cartons (free from deli), 1 pop-tart each/day, 5x lunch, 4x dinner, 4x breakfast
Shitting: Toilet paper, duct-tape for sealing it up

Breakfast (for two): 2 pop tart, 2 sachets of oats
Lunch (each): 2 cliff bars, half a bag of dried fruit/sweets
Dinner (for two): Packet of cous-cous, half jar of sause, 1/4 block of cheese (or 1/2 a salami sausage or tuna can).

Our mighty 52 cam collection (thanks to friends!)

So – we planned to spend 5 days on the route – but fixed ropes to Sickle Ledge the day before to make it even easier. We were going to aim to free climb as much as we can so we were in no rush to do the job. My first trip to Yosemite we only speed climbed – it was awesome – but now to get a flavour of hauling and doing it the slow way.

The other aim was to get some cool photos for supporting brands Rab & English Braids Ropes.

The next morning we got up – geared up – and got to the base of The Nose ready to free climb the first 4 pitches. We roshambo’d for the lead – Oli won and fancied leading second – so I got the first two pitches. The first pitch was actually pretty tough compared with the 5.10d grade – although early mornings and first lead of the day is never that great. The pitch is up a crack/pin scars – which have been ground smooth by countless aid placements. I messed up one sequence and took a small fall on a RP.

My climbing improved after this – less sloppy – and the 2nd pitch – which goes around a corner and up a steep crack was burly, a bit harder, but went really well – feeling more ‘in to it’ and climbingContinue reading “Free climbing on The Nose”

Yosemite valley life & road tripping

Living in Yosemite as a climber is not overly straight forward. Firstly you are limited to the amount of time you can stay in the valley (2 weeks) and especially Camp 4. To stay at Camp 4 when it is busy requires you to que up at the site enterence at 5am to try and get a camping spot.It is not unsuprising that some people who want to stay for longer tend to spend their time sleeping in caves or just somewhere in the woods with the bears.

Vagrants biving (legitimately!)

The only problem with this is that, if caught, you get Ranger bum-raped and shipped out with a $500 fine; meaning the people who do sleep rough need to have a co-ordinated back story at all times just in case; ‘We arrived in the valley today’ – ‘Tonight we are staying on El Cap’ – ‘Last night we were on the Captain’ – ‘Tonight we are leaving the valley’ might be a choice set of explanations. It’s a  bit of added stress for people who stay in what is unofficially coined as ‘Camp 5’ – but being able to stay for longer and do amazing routes is worth the hassle (for the people who might do this).

Other than that you are free to enjoy the scenery (so long as you do not collect fire wood, recycle bottles from bins, have a piss in the woods, park in the wrong place, leave food in your car, leave food in a locker for too long, sleep in a car, sleep at the bottom of a route, sleep anywhere outside a designated camp etc..).

Rules aside it is an awesome place to hang out! With clear cool stoney bottomed rivers, beautiful waterfalls, awesome woodland, bears strolling around, fantastic weather and Continue reading “Yosemite valley life & road tripping”

Why you can’t stop the start-up crack

As you probably already know starting a business can be hard work and if it fails, compared with the hours you put in, it can reap poor financial rewards. Despite this once you start-up, even if you have multiple failures, it is completely illogical and perhaps impossible to stop.

If you are a first-time (or second/third time) entrepreneur there are many reasons why your business might fail with the most likely reasons coming down to the following;

Poor business model; the business model is not scalable, not set-up in a way you can employ another person (or this is very difficult) or there just is not enough people willing to pay for your product or service which leads on to my next point..

Poor market research; you did not fully understand the market you are trying to enter, the incumbent or perhaps not obvious competition are just too hard to budge, customers are just interested in something new or there just is no market demand for what you are providing and perhaps where you are providing it is wrong.

Poor effort; you had something that could go somewhere but were too lazy to put in the effort, or effort in the right places, to get it going. Perhaps you were not able to build a team that could do so either.

Rarely will a business fail based entirely on something that happens which is out of your control. Take global economic crisis – sure you might get hammered, may have to let people go, and it will be difficult but a robust business model should be able to survive testing times with the profit margin taking the hit.

Your point?

I am getting to it.. The above things, although perhaps ‘obvious’ on paper, when it comes to really understanding them – nothing works like real experience. And no learning is better than hard-learnedContinue reading “Why you can’t stop the start-up crack”