Wednesday, July 7, 2021

2021 July Climbing update

Pretty amazing that shortly after I posted September 2020 climbing update last October, the climbing gyms were all closed due to COVID-19, and remained closed until May 2021. That's 7 full months of no indoor climbing, during which time I pretty much lost all my climbing strengths. The first time I went back into the gym in May, even a level 5 route felt hard to pull on. My legs struggle to make what felt like big steps up the wall. It took about 1 month of regular indoor climbing to feel like I am close to my strength levels last year. So here's the update, almost 1 year later.

I actually had several chances to go climb outdoors in March and April, 2021.  My route reading sucked, so some 3s and 4s actually felt hard. Since my bf and I had no strength, we struggled on some 6-'s (5b's) routes, and left a quickdraw on a wall. Currently we are still climbing max 5bs outside. I hope before the end of this summer season, I can climb more 5c's and maybe try 1 or 2 6a's outside.

Shoe update: Mythos (size 38) are best for outdoor climbing. I don't know why, I am unable to use my slightly downturned Scarpa Vapors (size 39.5) outdoors. They hurt my feet and don't help with outdoor climbing. Same with my new La Sportiva Katanas. I bought a pair of Katanas because they are more flat than the Vapors, so I assumed they would be more comfy than my Vapors. I was wrong. I think I sized them too small (size 38). They tension my feet so that the toes and heels REALLY hurt, and I can't use them outside. Surprisingly, I am now able to use my Finale outside. Finale (size 38.5) has a flat sole, are sized pretty tight also kinda hurt, but there isn't a real foot tension system in this model and the soles are softer than Katana (maybe because they are broken in). I find the friction on the wall to be really good, so it's the right stiffness for me for easy outdoor slab climbs. Indoors, I am able to use the Katana on boulder walls for as long as I can stand the pain. So the performance is there; I'm just waiting for the toebox to mold to my feet. The Vapors feel pretty good indoors now. They are my perfect sending shoes for hard routes (7-s/6A+s).

Indoor climbing update: So now (7-s/6A+s) are my limits in terms of strength. I have gained some weight during corona lockdown (up to 68.9kg). So climbing has felt really hard. I am currently at around 66.3kg, hoping to go down to 65kg, which will be quite difficult for me. Currently, I don't climb too many hard routes per sessions, so I don't get bunion pains during climbing, which is a big blessing. Mentally, I feel more confidence now when I climb above a quickdraw clip. I often feel quite secure on my feet on the wall. My upper body strength are on their way back (getting stronger), and that makes me feel quite good. My hand skin can be a limiting factor for indoor climbing. 

Bouldering: the other day, I went to a new gym to take advantage of their 15 class deal and to try bouldering. I could climb a lot of the boulders up to 5c/6a. I feel like I can struggle longer on boulders now, which makes bouldering more fun than before, when I felt tired so quickly that I couldn't really try a hard boulder multiple times. 

I'm at a point where I don't feel like I will make much progress on harder grades. I just need to focus on moving better on the level that I am: shift weight better, breath better, stay calm on routes, stand up from pistol squats, assisted pull ups, handstands, push ups; lose 1-2 kg more.

It's funny that my bf likes to buy fancy (read: expensive) climbing shoes but doesn't climb much harder than I do. He wears them for his psychology (to "feel more secure" on harder routes). He laughs at me for still using my not so comfy/performance-based shoes (read: Taratulace [size 39... way too big], Finale). The thing is, for the easy warm up routes, I have seen people climb them with approach shoes or even runners. I shouldn't need to waste rubber on expensive climbing shoes to climb those routes. I try to save my "fancy shoes" on routes that do benefit from downturned, tensioned climbing shoes that cost more. I'm happy that I can tolerate the discomfort of my more basic shoes now. It means my feet are on their way to getting stronger. The advanced shoes definitely hurt the feet in a different manner. The bf is torturing his feet on easy routes where foot torture do not help improve his climbing, but he has a different philosophy than me I guess. I only want to submit my feet to expensive torture if they truly help me stand on tiny ledges or push harder on a foothold for those truly difficult, advanced routes. I will climbing a route even my shoes don't feel secure, as long as my feet don't slip off the footholds.  The bf needs too-tight shoes to feel secure. He will move up only if he feels extremely secure with his footholds and handholds. That's totally not necessary for a foothold to keep your body on the wall. Just move up and use insecure holds as intermediate holds. My limiting factor is mainly strength and power. His limiting factor is his need to feel totally secure.


Monday, October 5, 2020

September climbing progress

So there were days when I felt really weak (couldn't complete a 6+/7- properly). There were days I felt really strong. I completed a 6+/7- with bad handholds (slopers and small jugs) and the footholds were not directly under the handholds. It was the first time in quite awhile that I felt my hands could grip hard even when a pump happens and I couldn't arrive at good handholds / resting spots for quite a few moves. The day after this my left wrist was hurting a bit when I exerted force on the left hand. I have not had this happen before. I'm hoping it will go away in a few days.

Overall, it seems like my strength goes up and down on different days. I keep thinking if I lose some weight then I would climb better, but I am really bad at losing weight. It almost never happens. The alternative is to get stronger... I have a better chance improving my core, back, arm and hand strength. I also have a lot of room to improve for footwork. 

I feel like my currently achievable goals are to climb better... get better at flagging, improve strength slightly, improve my climbing techniques. I hope to also be less scared and dare to try more moves high up on the wall. I guess I will keep climbing 6Bs / 7s for all of next year. I don't expect to gain a lot more strength soon.

The good news of recent climbing are that the limiting factors are usually back and finger tiring out, or general depletion of overall energy. My hand skin and my feet don't seem to cause so much pain that limit my climbing lately. I hope my feet continue to get stronger and that my bunions do not worsen.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Last few weeks of outdoor climbing

 Recently I have been climbing outdoors to take advantage of the last few weeks of good weather. Moves are more diverse outside; the foot holds are sometimes smeary on slabs; the rock face could be wet and muddy. The wind, insects, caterpillars, etc. makes it all more difficult than climbing inside.

So I have fallen twice outside already. I don't know why I have a blind trust that my feet will hold a smear as I go upwards using not so great handholds. I think I have a blind trust on the reported grades -- a 5? For sure I must be able to place my foot on a slab and it won't slip! I am excited about holding some weird positions while clipping. Feels like I am gaining experience and progressing, and I feel strong enough to do some tricky moves.

The bf is really having more trouble with climbing outside. He does not trust his feet at all, and he hates falling even more. He needs to psyche himself before he would do the moves on 3s and 4s with bad/no footholds. We only dare to climb 5- (4cs). I'm hoping to tackle more 5b's and 5c's, or even 6a's, but P is not ready for it.  

I feel this year I will just learn to manage my bunion pains on the rock walls. I won't be climbing 6a's or 6a+s outside at all. Hopefully if my feet are good for the lower grades, they will be good for the higher grades too. A big issue with outdoor climbing is endurance -- holding a move while figuring out what to do next. Now I am at a point where I will cheat and grab the quickdraw if I don't know what part of the wall to grab next. I just need to be strong enough to be able to try a few things, re-position my feet and body in order to get to the next hold, try things half way and be able to reverse into the former position. I am also learning to not be scared of creepy crawlers. They seem pretty harmless compared to falling and getting scratched/cut by rock. Wasps are still annoying/scary though.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

End of August climbing progress update

There were days where I couldn't get through 7-s without hanging. I have gained about 1-2kg of weight, and I can feel it in my climbing (7s feel way too hard for my hands now). I also realized that sometimes the climbing shoes hurt my feet because I didn't put my shoes on properly (the toe box needs to be wiggled until my toes don't feel squished). If I don't wear my shoes properly, my feet hurt and I can't climb so well.

Anyways, recently the Scarpa Vapors have been feeling better than they used to, probably because I have broken in the resoles, and because Instincts have a fit that feel even harder on the feet. I am sad that my Tarantulace now feels too large and not supportive enough for my toes. They are fine for very easy routes, where I can place a large portion of my foot on the footholds. They are also fine for routes with smaller footholds, but after awhile, the base of the big toes start to hurt due to lack of shoe support. I guess I will wear them only when my Mythos eventually get resoled. I still haven't decided which rubber I will resole my shoes with.

I haven't done overhang for awhile, and boy, I either felt totally freaked out, or super tired on these routes. Usually I feel especially low energy after eating something, or in the evenings. I'm not sure if I will ever improve this aspect. 

I tried an 7/7+ the other day. I was able to do moves, with shallow handholds, tiny footholds, and uncomfortable/unstable moves. I felt like I could use these holds and do the moves individually, but I was uncomfortable doing that many hard moves in a row. My hands and my feet get tired after one hard pull while pushing hard on a small foothold. The hands and feet (and mental psyche) want a break after every single move. I guess I just need to do the route over and over again until the holds feel less intense and that I get used to doing these moves.

At this point, I don't really expect to get much better at climbing. I have always have trouble losing weight, so unless I can manage to lose like 3-5 kg, I don't think I can improve a grade. My small wish is just to be able to maintain the current level of climbing. The current grades feel relatively challenging and I have fun doing them. So I will keep doing the 7-s forever, while occasionally trying some 7s and 7/7+s.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Bouldering progress

 I felt like I could boulder for longer than before, which means an improvement in endurance. The skin started to feel a bit sore after about an hour. I still have trouble with the blue boulders (up to 6B) since they require strong hands. I tried the circuit and I could barely do a 6A+, but I was happy I could stay on the wall when I was tired and was ready to give up. My hands stayed gripping tightly on the handholds. The foot placement could definitely improve. 

I tried on my Tarantulace  after they have been resoled with "unnamed rubber".  The rubbers are pretty sticky and I have no problem with the resole job. I could however really feel that the shoes don't squeeze the toes together enough. They are sufficient for boulders at my level, but I could see that I won't be able to reliably pushing off of them hard enough for harder routes. The resoled ScarpaVapors though feel reeeeally tight. I'm hoping that the rubbers would soften up a tiny bit after several uses. I'm still hoping to find a pair of shoes that cause less pain to my feet than the ones that I own.

Things to work on: core strength, grip strength, endurance, foot placement, reading routes, hip placement, balance.

I'm also hoping my feet would strengthen enough for them to hurt less in climbing shoes in general. 

Thursday, August 6, 2020

August climbing update

I'm looking at my July climbing progress article . I feel like that after doing several routes that were quite fear inducing. Recently I feel less fear when I am on new 7-/7 (6b) routes.  I even did an outdoor 5c route where I actually fell because a handhold I grabbed came off. At the time I thought I was too close to the ground and would hit the ground for sure, but luckily my belay partner caught me so I was totally fine.

For August, I haven't been able to pull harder, but I recognize I would be able to do a 6b route better if I could sustain hard pulls for several moves. So what I am lacking is power endurance. I also recognize that if I had (sustained) stronger finger strength then I would be able to master this grade. I also need much better footwork, because there are some tricky parts where I felt like my feet and hip placement have not been ideal. For lower grades I could just compensate by hanging onto the handholds stronger; but for this grade and higher, the handholds are not nearly as good, so the feet better be more solid and balanced to hold my body weights.

- My core also needs to be stronger. I had less of a body tension issue this month, but maybe I just didn't go on a route that put me in really odd position.

- Regarding fear about being out of balance (at 6b, this will probably change when I climb a higher level): 

  •  Less of a problem unless I am very tired. So I am more used to certain positions now. They used to feel imbalanced, now I know my body can still hold the position without falling off. 
- Fear of heights: less of a problem this month

- Fear of falling: having actually fell outside, it's less scary for now.

- This month I started grabbing the quickdraw when I felt like I was not going to hold a position stable. This was a no-no for me before, and now I seem to just care less. I don't know if this is a good or bad development.

I hope by the end of the year I would be more comfortable lead climbing 6b's. Specifically, I hope to improve my power endurance, my footwork, and my core strength. I think losing some weight (3-4kg) would help a lot too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Choosing climbing shoes


Climbing shoes function to hug the foot, provide support for the sole, squeeze all the toes together, and allow the toes to push off strongly against a foothold to launch the body upwards. Shoes with soft rubbers provide sensitivity, allowing the climber to feel the texture of tiny footholds wherever the toe part of the foot is placed. Stiffer shoes do not allow the foot to feel the shape of footholds, but they provide support for the foot overall, so one can stand on tiny edges on the wall. Advanced climbers prefer soft, downturned, asymmetrical, tight-fitting shoes, which crunch the toes, pull them towards the big toe, and turn a climber's feet into a claw-like structure that can stand on tiny edges even when upside down in a overhang ceiling structure. For intermediate climbers whose feet are not yet used to modern foot binding, a stiffer climbing shoe which support the feet may be a better option. For beginner climbers who are not used to shoes fitting like a glove, a less tight fitting shoe with a stiff but not too stiff, somewhat sticky, flat sole could work. 

I had no clue I would be owning so many pairs of climbing shoes when I started climbing. The problem is, I have what is known as "Greek feet", meaning that the second toe is longer than the big toe. I also have bunions, where the big toe pushes into the other center, and the base of the big toe pokes out as a big bump on the inner side of my foot. Therefore, the front part of my foot  is quite wide and the toes themselves are long. This just seems like a bad combination for climbing overall. I mean, if the toes can function like fingers and grab tree branches/foot holds, then my climbing would be great. But since I am a human being rather than an ape, the hand-like functions of the toes are not longer valid. So the length of the toes just serve as a weakness.

My first pair of shoes (La Sportiva Tarantulace) had a stiff rubber sole, did not hug the feet much, and was the least uncomfortable out of all the climbing shoes I tried on. After I got to 6A/6A+ level, I wondered if an intermediate shoe would help me climb better. So I purchased a pair of Scarpa Vapors, since the internet reviews all claimed that this was the most comfortable intermediate shoes available. The fit of the shoes were fine, and seemed more comfortable than other intermediate/advanced shoes I tried on. However, when I climbed in them, they hurt my feet at the big toes from the beginning, and never really got better. The plus side was that Vapors use XS Edge rubber, which are much stickier than Tarantulace's FriXion rubber. The toe box was also pointier, which allowed me to be more precise with my footwork, and my feet slipped off the footholds less frequently. This helped me advance through 6A+ to 6B. In the mean time, I also learned to have better footwork in my Tarantulace shoes (need to push harder into the wall/footholds).

Having experienced a lot of pain in the Vapors, I decided to find another pair of more comfortable intermediate shoes. I landed on La Sportiva Finale (with XS Edge rubber), which are touted to be not completely beginner shoes, but are supposed to be quite comfortable. Unfortunately, they did not perform as well as the Vapors (hug/support my feet as well) AND they hurt my toes. 

Finally, I turned to La Sportiva Mythos, which are supposed to be the most comfortable climbing shoes. Now that I got used to Vapor, which hugs the feet much more than the Tarantulace, the Mythos felt much more comfortable than when I first tried them on. Mythos have XS Grip2 rubber as the sole, which are sticky, but less stiff than XS Edge. People with fantastic footwork should be able to climb up to 7A with them. But with my problematic feet and toes, I would feel quite insecure climbing 6A+ and harder with the Mythos. So I would switch to Vapor when I climb a new 6A+ or 6B route.

Since there are no shoes more comfortable than the Mythos, I decided to go for an advanced shoe -- the Scarpa Instinct, which are more downturned, but better made than the Vapors, so they hug/fit the foot much better and provide even more precision. They felt totally fine at the shop, but -- you guessed it -- they hurt like hell when I stand on my toes on the wall. I am still in the process of breaking them in, so I can climb about 1-2 routes with them each time I use them before my toes scream "NO MORE CLIMBING FOR TODAY". The good news is that, comparatively, the Vapors don't feel as painful any more!

You might be thinking what a waste of money! Not quite. Climbing shoe rubbers get used up within 3-9 months anyways. You can either resole them (change the piece of rubber at the toe box), or they would need to be replaced (due to a hole forming at the toe part of the shoes). So far I have resoled my Vapor and my Tarantulace. I will be alternating between all of my shoes for the next few years until they are not resolable any more. I use my Mythos for warm up and then switch to the Vapor for hard routes. I think the Finale and the Tarantulace can be used for outdoor climbing, as well as when the Mythos need to be resoled eventually (takes 4-6 weeks before I get them back). I am hoping my feet will eventually get used to the Instinct VS lace, which is supposed to be a "comfortable" super performance shoe. I now understand that when climbers say "comfortable", they mean that the shoe doesn't cause permanent bruise marks in various spots in the foot. Since climbers often size their shoes down 1-4 sizes compared to their street shoes, by sizing down my shoes only 1/2 a size, by climbers' standards, I might as well be climbing in a pair of Crocs. In the mean time, I will keep toughening up my toes until they get stronger or got completely numb!!