The case against climbing becoming an Olympic sport

Should climbing be an Olympic sport?

Apparently last week some guy at the ‘International Federation of Sport Climbing’ (whatever that is) announced that they are putting forward a multi discipline format to the IOC in with the hope that a sugar-coated spectator-friendly approach to climbing will help them pick climbing as an Olympic sport.

It is my opinion that this is a bad idea.

BMC Olympics 2020
Two organisations that will probably see financial gain..?

This is why;

1. The people pushing this through, in the most part, are doing it for narrowly-focused personal or organisational gain not for what is best for the global climbing community.

Thanks to political zeal, Olympic sports can be rather well funded; which can give a great cash-boost for climbing-focused organisations (of the right kind) across the world. Regardless whether the heads of these organisations truly believe that it will be better for climbing over-all,  to ignore the potential of this sort of cash boost for generally cash-strapped organisations seems to be tantamount to professional misconduct. It really wouldn’t be.

“This could give a great boost to organisations and provide more jobs within the sport” I hear you say? Put simply this sector-building argument comes from a selfish drive for constant growth and, constant growth is not necessarily a good thing, it is only the corrupting pressure of money that makes people think it is.

The suggestion that more money going into climbing has to be a good thing depends on where that money goes and how you would like to see climbing develop as a whole.

Personally, when I think about the climbing experience, I think of climbing big walls under azure skies, freezing while battling winter alpine routes, bouldering in peaceful forests. Suffering with friends, overcoming fear and the enjoyment being in amazing places. When you look at the vast experiential-diversity that climbing can deliver, the indoor climbing experience comes out paltry and miserable.

It is this ‘paltry’ side of climbing that will:

  • Get all the money from Olympic inclusion
    Gov’t funding is hardly going to send people to Baffin to climb inspiring new routes if it is not helping them climb plastic better..
  • Grow in ‘importance’ to the organisations which exist to act on behalf of climbers
    Gold medals mean more money for your sport..
  • Become the ‘face’ of climbing & drive perceptions about what climbing is about
    Are you happy with this idea?

2. The proposed event is ridiculous and the whole concept of finding the ‘best’ climber is a fallacy

Being a ‘good’ climber has far more texture and depth than say being a good 100m sprinter – and therefore it will never raise the ‘best’ climbers in the world to the Olympic platform. A good climber may climb something with extreme difficulty or risk with good style when there is no-one watching or applauding, by being diligent and focused a good climber may save a friends life, by caring about the natural environment they may minimise impact or a good climber may climb routes that challenge the perception of what is ‘possible’. I could go on – but the point is that it will never be as binary as the 100m sprint where, quite literally, the only thing that matters but how fast you travel from A to B.

Because of this, we need to ask some questions;

Do we want to shift the focus even further away from the true experience of climbing towards a manufactured and sanitised ‘sport’?

The media is generally incompetent at explaining climbing when it gets into the news – in part due to its complexity and, if they are given an Olympic definition of climbing, will this be the story of climbing that wins-out? Will this vision of climbing, delivered to a global audience, encourage any more than increased climbing-gym memberships?

Will it develop a new breed of Olympic-focused climbers who focus intensely on bouldering on plastic, leading on plastic and, for some strange reason, speed climbing plastic? I suspect so.

Will it deliver a future of  ‘climbers’ motivated only by winning at competitions, bring in doping-inducing desperation to win above everything else in an activity that traditionally has always been embedded in team work and imagination? Will this have an impact on the attitude and culture of the climbing community?

These future Olympians will be the new media-stars of climbing; and when we have them why would a journalist or politician take the views and opinions of a near middle aged man who has climbed some of the most incredible routes in the world (where they have little grasp of his achievements – and he is not reliably near a phone) when you have an Gold-Medalist media-darling on call 24/7 via their London-based agent?  It would be the equivalent of having Tom Daley provide media representation for Deep-Sea Technical Divers. Both ‘diving’ but vastly, vastly different.

The media loves to dumb down complicated things; climbing in the Olympics will be the fastest way to dumb down climbing on a global level.

To summarise.

We must avoid thinking that being in the Olympics is automatically going to be good for climbing as a whole.

A constant push for growth, which doubtless is the key driver for Olympic inclusion, only really makes sense for people who profit from climbing which means it does not make sense for the vast majority of climbers regardless of discipline.Continue reading “The case against climbing becoming an Olympic sport”

Solo in the Winter Alps

My aim was to go for about a week, alone, live in a snow hole in a self-sufficient manner and climb some routes on the Tacul Triangle and, if that went well, hit up some bigger steep routes on the back of the Mt. Blanc Massif.

At the time I did not really realise it but I was feeling a general background hum of stress at the time (2010) with the recession nabbing the more interesting projects for the coming year while still having staff costs/general overheads always there. The ‘recession’ was literally everywhere with doom and gloom in the news, papers, TV, radio and in conversation.

The previous winter I was meant to go to the alps with a mate but he managed to totally ruin a finger pulley bouldering so cranking  on ice axes was not going to happen. This year there was not really anyone eligible to go (motivated & in possession of the cold-weather right gear)but as I was super keen to get out so I decided that this was as good a time as any to test myself with a solo trip.

I had big aspirations (as you do when sitting in the warm a 1000 miles from the mountains). I learned how I could self-belay on half ropes, should I need to, and started my  training. This mainly involved running and calf training with the general expectation that if I can keep comfortable on my front points, avoiding a fear inducing calf-pump, I will not find it too scary and can stay in control.

I spent quite a bit of time studying a super high-res picture of the Tacul Triangle I found online to work out which route I fancied doing first and which sections could be more daunting for free solo. My preference was ice over mixed as it felt more secure from a soloing point of view.

Going there

With ropes in a big carrier bag as hand luggage and wearing my mountain boots, I took a morning flight to Genva, coach to Chamonix and, as always, got there just at the 2 hour French lunch was starting. This means there is nowhere open that sells cooker fuel/gas (the only thing I did not bring with me). After walking around Cham waiting for a couple of hours I was able to get some gas so I went up the to the Midi via the cable car started the walk off. My bag, with enough for a week’s snow hole living and various options for climbing weighed around 35kg (80lb) making getting down the thin edge of the midi a little more precarious than usual. Later in January they put up hand rails to help with the decent – but I was there too early to benefit from such a luxury.

Winter_alp_solo2
Nathan Murphy about to descend the midi with 35kg+ bag

Once down I picked a suitable place, away from potential avalanche and started to dig in to the deep snow. I made an L shaped snow-hole and, to finish it off, heaped snow up at the entrance so it could more effectively be blocked with a bag to keep some of the cold out (but requiring you have to dive/slide in).

Winter_alp_solo3
Snow hole with dive-in exit to the right.

A few hundred meters away was a tent, unusual for this time of year, but no sign of any people throughout the evening so  I bedded down for the night and possibly for the first time I felt actually quite alone. Being the first week of January there was literally no one around and it was insanely quiet in the snow hole. I melted snow for tomorrow’s water, cooked some pasta and went to sleep waiting for the carb-loaded dinner to start warming me up.

The next morning I woke up to good weather and as I slowly got stuff sorted I saw a rescue helicopter choppering off what seemed to be stretchers from the longer routes on the East Face of Tacul. It turned out that the day/evening before two young British lads took a fall from the upper sections of Gervasutti Couloir. The news of these deaths via text message was a little sobering; a few years before I had been on that route; a fairly straight forward route but with high objective risks due to the massive towering Seracs looming threateningly over the top of the climb. It reminded me of the seriousness of the winter Alps.

During the day I walked to the base of the routes breaking a trial to make it easier when I went to climb them. To reduce the amount of stuff I had to carry I did not bring up snow-shoes making trail breaking fairly arduous, the snow builds a hard crust in the top layers which takes 90% of your weight to punch through, meaning that you are constantly doing steps ups.

Climbing

Moving from London (elevation 20m) to 3500m on Mt.Blanc in a day is a fairly significant shift in altitude so your body is not used to it. For me, the usual affects are a constant mild headache (for which I bring plenty of Asprin) and general sleeplessness. The sleeplessness is caused by the fact that your heart has to pump faster and your lungs breathe more making your body keep thinking it is waking up not falling to sleep.

The next morning I woke with the light,  time was not such an issue since I was going solo, so I geared up andContinue reading “Solo in the Winter Alps”

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 🙂

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”

Training to free climb El Cap

I am in the middle of training for an attempt to free climb El Capitan via the Free Rider route. The route has sections of E7 climbing which is basically as hard as I can realistically climb normally but after perhaps 4 to 5 days of climbing and general tiredness gained from living on the wall. Alex Huber made the first ascent of Free Rider in 1998 – a variation on the Salathe route.

An image borrowed – from Mayan Gobat’s blog via Google. Click the image to see her blog.

El Cap is a 3000 foot high granite rock face and is possibly the most famous rock face in the world. To climb it using aid techniques can be pretty straight forwards technically (not to ‘do it down’ however – it is still a great achievement).

Climbing it ‘free’ however means you have to get up using your own strength only. Every pitch must be climbed clean at least once; so no falls, no sitting on gear, no rests and no pulling on gear.

We plan to climb the route ‘team free’ (means that between us all the pitches have to be climbed free) and we are realistic enough to realise we have no chance on on-sighting the route (so far no-one has) but we are keen to try and do the route ground-up if possible. This means in all likelihood taking falls until we manage to climb every pitch clean.

I saw this title image of this blog somewhere and it rings true. This is, at least for my standards, doing ‘epic shit’.

I am going to be going with Oli Lyon who has been training like a dog for the past 3 months while living in Chamonix.

Training regime:

My training has not quite been as steady as I would like – being in the middle of a business launch and building up Repskan’s client base. To top it off we have been going through office relocation over the past month or so making my time being a bit strained.

What I am doing is:

– Trad climbing every second weekend

– Training routes at The Castle Climbing Centre (my local wall) and slowly pushing up my stamina into a zone which might make the route possible. I am doing this 3-4 times a week and try to do it in blocks so it gives my body a chance to feel like it has been climbing a multi day route

– Also fingerboard work and and Continue reading “Training to free climb El Cap”

Cold and pain in Chamonix

The day after climbing Chere Couloir (late Jan) the weather came in cold and generally not very pleasant, the temperature dropped to -25 and it had snowed during the night. With the weather forecast looking like it was only going to get worse we had to weigh up our options.

I had hoped to go down and snow-hole underneath some of the big routes on the back of Tacul, but if the weather was bad it would only mean a longer walk getting ourselves, and all our kit, off the mountain.

We decided to climb the relatively easy Cosmiques Arette with our day-packs full of stuff to leave at the Midi station and come back for the rest of our kit. We figured it would only take a couple of hours so we had a leisurely 11am start.

The weather was seriously cold and the snow conditions were poor. There was two to three feet of fresh snow making climbing generally slow. By the time Oli had climbed 40 metres up the route I was already pretty cold and with every plunge of my ice axes and hands in to the snow my hands just got colder.

The snow blasts melted on my face and, due to the extreme cold, immediately froze again forming lumps of ice on my eye lashes – freezing my eyes shut. 

The route climbs to a mini summit from which you abseil down twenty meters or so to get onto the next section of climbing. Unfortunately due to the snow heaped up on the ledges Oli lowered too far and we ended up off route. By this time the wind had really picked up and the snow was relentless. After Oli traversed with no pro for about 20m he was able to climb up a steeper section of mixed climbing to get us back on route.

As I joined him at the next belay we were back on track, but due about an hour hanging at the belay in fairly ferocious wind my hands were very cold and stopping after climbing I experienced the most intense and painful hot aches. Although Oli was leading the entire route in one block the main thing I had to do was suffer diligently.

Another section required me to take the rope in tight and then lower Oli down a small cliff Continue reading “Cold and pain in Chamonix”

Five tips for hydration efficiency

Hydration is always a major issue when doing extended periods of exercise; dehydration can cause severe drops in physical and mental capabilities, slow you down and exacerbate the problem.

There are usually guidelines quoted telling you how much water you need based on activities and conditions but what most people tend to over-look is techniques that you can employ to improve your hydration efficiency and that allow you to consume and carry less water while maintaining a good level of hydration.

Here are my top tips for hydration efficiency;

Tip #1: Small sips often

This is the most important method to improve your hydration efficiency. I learned this during a 4 day trek through Malaysian jungle; I was trekking with two Sweedish guys, and as I had the water sterilisation pills I was aware of how much water each person consumed. It was during a very hot spell of weather (in an already hot and humid place) we were sweating so much that you could literally squeeze a puddle of sweat from your tee-shirt after taking it off.

Clearly this sort of activity requires a lot of water to stay hydrated and as there were plenty of small streams to re-fill we could drink as much as we needed. I noticed that between leaving after breakfast and arriving at the next camp I was only consuming a little over 2 litres of water whereas my friends were drinking well over double this amount and despite this I felt well hydrated.

The reason I could get away with comparably so little water was that I was using a hydration pack and was having a small sip of water every time my throat & mouth felt dry. It may have been as little as 10ml Continue reading “Five tips for hydration efficiency”