Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My First Finger Injury

Three months ago, I hurt my finger while climbing but I can't remember what exactly happened. The pain was in my left middle finger and it doesn't hurt when I pull down on a hold and only hurts mostly when I try to make a fist, so I thought it would be fine to just keep climbing on it. But over the last three months the pain hasn't gone away which started to worry me a little so I started looking up finger injuries online. There were lots of possible finger injuries including, sprained tendon, sprained ligament, tendonitis, stress fracture, etc. But it looked like the main treatment for all of them, if there wasn't a full tear, was rest.

I tried resting but I'm kind of addicted to climbing so I gave in after a few days and kept climbing again, trying to be careful with my fingers. When climbing I feel no pain in my fingers but afterwards it hurts. Recently it actually started hurting more so I thought I should really have it checked out. But I didn't know if I should go to a hand specialist or a general doctor. I decided to just go to the urgent care center across the street from where I worked.

Urgent care is actually pretty awesome, no appointment necessary and when I went, at 4:30 pm, there was no wait time. I was in and out in 30 minutes. I went through triage, which was just to get information, then had x-rays on my finger, three of them, then the doctor came to talk to me. He told me there were no stress fractures and that it was just a sprain to my ulnar ligament in my finger. The ulnar ligament is the tissue connecting the bones together that are facing away from the body. He said the name reflects the ulna and radius bones in the arm. The injury looks kind of like this but on my middle finger:

He demonstrated where exactly the injury was by bending my finger sideways slightly. If bent towards the left, there was minimal pain but if bent towards the right it hurt a lot. It didn't hurt when I climbed because the injury was on the ligaments on the side which doesn't get used as much when pulling vertically. The doctor said he sprained a ligament in his finger once and it took him months to heal. He said all I can really do right now is to buddy tape my middle finger to my ring finger to protect it from bumps and to keep it from bending, like this:

He also suggested to take ibuprofen to reduce inflammation. I read online that icing it is good too so I asked him if I should do that and he said that works too. He said it should be okay for me to climb but I should be careful and that climbing would probably slow down the healing. For now, my plan is to ice my finger, take ibuprofen and tape my finger when I climb but climb at much lower difficulties and we'll see how it goes from there.

I tried to climb on it tonight and for some reason I just get scared anytime I need to hold with my left hand. I think I'm just going to have to suck it up and just not climb for awhile.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

City Beach vs Planite Granite

I went to Planet Granite yesterday for a change of scenery from my usual gym, City Beach. It's my third time there and I have to say it's probably my favorite climbing gym I've been to so far. We climb for a long time when we go to PG since it's only a once in awhile thing. Yesterday we did five hours and the time before that we did six and I'm pretty sore from climbing so long.

Wall Size
PG has taller walls and I really like long walls. According to their websites, PG walls go up to 60 feet while CB walls go up to 40 feet. I think every wall at PG is 40 feet or higher so that's really nice. PG also has a lot of nice features and different shapes and textures. They did a great job in designing the walls there.

The grades at PG seem much easier than at CB, I think they're trying to accommodate the length of the climb into the difficulty rating but the grades just seem two grades lower than what CB would have. At CB, I would hesitate to try 5.11a+ but at Planet Granite I seem to be able to climb up to 5.11c decently. I even tried doing a 5.12b, which I would never try at CB and got up pretty far on the climb; I didn't finish it though, unfortunately. It's kind of a nice confidence booster which may help with enjoyability even though I'm not really climbing better. The climbs at PG are also more my style, more footwork and less difficult pulls because one of my biggest weaknesses is strength. A lot of their hand holds are great and I find myself able to rest most of the way. The only other gym I can compare difficulty with is The Studio in San Jose and it seems like the grades there are similar to PG so maybe CB just grades things harder. We tried a little bit of bouldering and the grades seem about the same for both gyms. PG has a soft floor though, while CB uses crash pads.

PG seems to have more young working professionals while CB has more families and younger kids. The routes at CB are more catered towards beginners with a lot of routes below 5.10. They also have a fair number of 5.10 routes and few 5.11+. PG has almost all 5.10+ routes with lots of routes above 5.11. I saw maybe 5 routes below 5.10. It's a great place for intermediate to advance climbers which is around the level I'm at now so I really like that. My climbing partner likes the atmosphere at CB better because he thinks people are nicer there but I'm pretty sure people are pretty nice at PG too, we just haven't talked to anyone there. The staff at CB does seem friendlier though. Another problem with CB is they don't put up enough climbs. The Studio is much smaller than CB but they manage to cram in as many or maybe even more climbs than CB does.

CB has the advantage of being significantly cheaper than PG. When I signed up at CB my rate was $40/month but it looks like it's been increased to $45/month. At the time PG was charging $72/month but now they're up to $73/month. If you do the math CB is about 60% the cost of PG. However, PG has more locations and includes a mini gym with weights, treadmills, classes, etc.

If I lived closer to PG, I would probably get a membership there instead. CB is great as a starter gym but they're lacking when it comes to the intermediate to advance climbs, at least for top rope. I don't boulder much but the bouldering problems seem plenty challenging for more advanced climbers. I wish CB would squeeze more climbs onto their walls because I find myself running out of new climbs to try. Maybe I'll put that on their comment card. I feel like I'm totally bashing City Beach but it's a great gym with great people and I'm proud to be part of their community.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Climbing and Socializing

I read that climbing is a pretty social sport but I'm one of those shy guys who are usually afraid to talk to people. Most of the socializing in climbing occurs in the bouldering area but I'm usually top roping, since I prefer it more, so I mostly only talk to my belay partner. But another group of topropers has been talking to us recently. It's kind of nice to have other climbers to talk to. My belay partner jokes that they only started talking to us after we were lead certified because we weren't worthy before, but I think leading just gave them something to relate to us to start up conversation.

My local gym hosts a sort of bouldering competition every month for four months every year and I started participating in that. The reason it's a sort of competition is because it's based on an honor system and people track their own scores. But I'm starting to like bouldering more because of it. I do notice that there is more interaction in bouldering, with people helping each other out and giving tips. It seems like all the best climbers are always bouldering instead of toproping but it's a little intimidating hanging around great climbers. I like to call them the "cool kids" and I never feel "cool" enough to hang with them. But I was told, to get better at climbing I should be climbing with people who are better than me, so I should probably boulder more.

Another thing I've noticed is that the the climbers are usually grouped by age. You have the group that are mostly teens to early twenties and the older group, 40+. My belay partner and I are in between those two groups so it's harder to fit in. It seems like the older group likes to top rope more so we feel like we kind of fit in the older group more. I overheard one of the climbers talking about being a "nineties" kid once, which made me feel old so I think we are probably in the older category.

Climbing has been a great hobby and I'm starting to become pretty passionate about it so I want to get to know more climbers and learn from them. I just need to learn how to talk to people better and get over the fear of being judged.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cragmont Park Climbing

After my anchoring class, my friend and I tried out some climbing at Cragmont Park. The wall is relatively small and is practically in someone's backyard. If you turned around there is someone's yard right there and there isn't even a fence. We tried two climbs there.

When you arrive at the park the left path is to the base and the right path is to the anchors.

To get to the anchors you just hop over this short wall.

It looks like there are at least 3 sets of anchors here. Someone showed us where one set of the anchors were and told us the route was called "Farewell to Arms." From a Google search, it's a 5.10a route. Just to be safe I tied myself off to a tree to reach the anchors. I just used a double bowline with a backup on the tree and a figure eight on a bight on my harness. Now that I look back, maybe a clove hitch would have been better since I could adjust it better but I've seen somewhere that people use the Prussik but I didn't have a small cordelette for that.

This is my first anchor without help so I decided to use the standard figure 8 with a runner. It probably wasn't equalized very well because I didn't really know where the climb was so I just kind of picked a middle point. It worked great except the carabiner kept rubbing against the rock and it's now all scratched up.

That red line is supposed to be the path but it looks kind of weird. But this climb was harder than I thought. I actually couldn't even finish it and this is supposed to be a 5.10a, which is pretty easy in indoor gyms. I got stuck at that hole near the top but everything up to that point was pretty easy. Outdoor climbing feels way different than indoor climbing. 

We found another bolt by looking up near the top of the wall. This time I used the sliding X as the anchor and used two slings for redundancy. I really like the sliding X because it's just so easy to make and it's self equalizing. The only con is the shock loading if one anchor fails but it sounds like bolted routes are usually very bomber.

This route was much easier maybe a 5.7 but it seems like outdoor climbing is harder than indoors so maybe it's a 5.6 or lower. There was one point near that big crack near the top where I had a hard time finding a hand hold but other than that it was easy. I also tried picking a path along the right side but I couldn't find a hold and it was getting pretty far from the anchor so I would have swung really far if I fell so I gave up on that attempt. I saw another set of bolts after this but we ran out of time.

There were actually a lot of mosquitoes there, so lesson learned, bring bug repellent when climbing outdoors. We only climbed for two hours and then we had to stop because the sun was setting. But we had this amazing view to look at as we watched the sun set. Overall it was a good first time anchoring and hopefully there will be more to come.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Anchoring Class

I just finished my anchoring class yesterday with Greg and Nick from Outback Adventures and it was a really great class. The class was at Cragmont Park in Berkeley which actually has a wall you can climb on considering it's such a small park. The class was about six hours but most of it was spent practicing different anchors. This is what we went through.

Webbing is strong and lightweight but not as versatile as rope. It looks like a good length to have is 20-30 feet. We were only taught two knots to use with webbing, water knot and overhand on a bight.

Water Knot
This knot is good for making a loop around an object or even a large loop for a girth hitch. It's basically an overhand knot and a retrace with the tail. First you need to determine how large of a loop you want and create the knot there then you use the tail and retrace the knot. The only tricky part is which end to retrace from. If you're making a loop with part of the webbing, retract from side of the tail. If you're making a loop with the entire webbing retrace from the other tail. I don't have a picture of what the bad water knot looks like but it's bad when the tails of the knot are touching. In this picture, the tails are on opposite sides.

Overhand on a bight
I couldn't find a picture of an overhand on a bight knot and I have no webbing to demonstrate. I'll need to get some eventually. A bight is simply just when you fold the rope or webbing in over itself. Then you take the whole thing and just make an overhand knot. Then that creates a loop at the end you can clip into.

It seems like the cordelette is best used by tying it into a loop with two fisherman's knot and then using that loop to make a figure 8 knot as an anchoring point.
I think that was the only thing we learned for the cordelette. This picture shows three anchors but you can also do the same thing with two. They also showed us a quick look at friction knots with a short, small diameter (4mm) cordelette, prussik and autoblock, but we never got a chance to practice those.

Static Rope
The instructors recommended getting a 40-45 feet static rope. It's good for tying around boulders, large trees, and generally any strong anchor points. The knots we learned were the tensionless hitch, double bowline with backup and BHK/BFK (Big Honkin' Knot/Big F***ing Knot).

Tensionless Hitch
This is basically a figure 8 on a bight wrapped around a tree three times and clipped into itself. It depends completely on friction and clipping into itself is just in case it slips. This knot is good to maintain the full strength of the rope because there are no sharp bends in the rope but it requires a lot of rope to use.

Double Bowline
This was the trickiest knot to tie. It makes a nice solid loop and is easy to untie after it's been loaded. Since it's so easy to untie it has a chance to slip so it's usually backed up with a fisherman's knot. The way we were taught was to do two loops around the left hand, up the back up of the hand, around the back of the long end and back down the same hole.

This knot is a nice strong knot for an anchor point. It also has a nice property of setting the carabiner perpendicular to the wall so the rope doesn't rub against the wall. To tie it, you pretty much do a bight twice in the middle of the rope, wherever you want your anchor to be, then tie an overhand in the middle of that last bight. You end up with two loops and an extra loop in the opposite direction that can all be clipped into one spot. This is very good as a top rope anchor with lots of redundancy.

These are usually made of nylon, but there are light weight material called Dyneema or Spectra. They told us that Dyneema and Spectra loses a lot of strength when tied so I'm not sure when those are good to use, I'm guessing when used in a girth hitch. One surprising thing is that these slings are rated for 22kN, which is about 4945 lbs, so one of those little things can hold up a car?

Girth Hitch
A girth hitch is just a loop around itself. Very simple and good around small diameter objects. This photo I found shows a bend though which is not ideal. Ideally you would want to keep it straight since bends weaken the material.

Slings can also be hooked to anchors and tied in a figure 8 just like the cordelette. 

Sliding X or Magic X
One cool thing you can do with slings is to tie a sliding X which is a self equalizing anchor since it lets the master point slide around. The problem with the sliding X is that if an anchor fails, the system will extend which will cause shock loading. This can be minimized by tying limiter knots (just use an overhand knot) near the master point. Another problem is that there is no redundancy in the material. If the sling gets cut the whole anchor fails so using two slings would add some redundancy. The sliding X is super easy to make and requires no tying, but it looks like it can be easily done wrong which can be deadly, so it's probably a good idea to double check that.

Oval Shaped: These are the original carabiners which aren't as strong as D shaped carabiners but has more area for holding gear. 
D Shaped: These are shaped so that it directs the material towards the spine which increases the amount of weight these can hold. One thing the instructor mentioned was that if you hook two carabiners to one D carabiner, they'll kind of fight each other for that corner.
Pear Shaped: I'm not sure what these are good for but it looks like you can hang a lot of gear on the wide side and supposedly it's good for a belay device.

They showed us two ways the gates hook to the carabiner. One way they called it a key hook where the hooks are to the side. They say this is better because the rope doesn't get caught in the hooks like the other type which I think they called a fish hook where the hook faces in toward the carabiner. Other things to keep in mind are straight, bent, and wire gates. Straight gates are for standard applications, bent gates are good for clipping, and wire gates are good for its weight. Then for locking, you have screw locks and twist locks.

Anchoring Principles
A: Angle, make sure the angles between the legs of the anchors are small to reduce the force on each anchor point
S: Sound, Stable, Secure, make sure the anchor points are good
E: Equalized, make sure all the legs are holding equal weight
RE: Redundant, make sure there is redundancy in the system so if one point fails the whole system doesn't fail
NE: No elongation, make sure the system doesn't move when one point fails and cause shock loading to the system

ERNEST is the same thing but they added a T for time.

At the end of the lesson they showed us some trad gear, chocks and cams, and how each works but it was very brief just so we know what they were.

So that's what I learned from anchoring class. There was a lot of other information but these were the important stuff. Greg and Nick were really awesome and I would highly recommend them for a class if you're in the Bay Area. Here's the website for their classes:
I might take the lead climbing and self rescue class some time in the future. But first, I'll need to do some more outdoor rock climbing. I did do some climbing at Cragmont Park after the class but I'll save that for another post.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Rock Climbing and Weight Loss

After I started working, I gained 15 pounds very quickly from eating out a lot, so one of the reasons I started rock climbing was to lose weight. I weigh myself almost daily and in the morning, because I think we're lightest in mornings, but after one and half years of climbing my weight has actually not changed at all. I thought going from no exercise to some exercise would make a difference but it only stopped the weight gain. I'm hoping some of that fat was replaced with muscle though. I admit I still eat out a lot, which is probably why I'm not losing any weight so it's true that diet plays a huge part in weight loss.

At the gym, I see people of all sizes climb. Even some of the regulars are on the heftier side, so it makes me wonder if rock climbing is good for weight loss. But then there's always those climbers that are super ripped. I bet they supplement climbing with other exercises, which is something I don't do. I know running is a good way to increase recovery and also aids in weight loss, but I find it monotonous. If I ever get serious about losing weight, my best bet is to eat better but for now, I'm content with just maintaining weight.

Monday, March 4, 2013

My Starter Anchoring Set

I wanted to get a starter set for anchoring before going to the class on Saturday so I went to REI to get some. My local REI has a very limited selection but it seems to have the basics. Assuming I want to anchor to a basic two bolt anchor, all I need is one runner and four carabiners: one on each bolt and two on the master point for redundancy.

This is what I picked up at REI:
2 18mm 120cm(48") Runners ($9 each)
1 7mm 30' Polyester Cordelette ($12.50)
4 Locking Carabiners ($8 each)

The instructor advised me to get a cordelette and an extra runner. I'm also thinking of picking up some webbing but maybe later on when I know what it's used for. I read that I could use two non-locking carabiners facing opposite directions for the master point but I saw on a post somewhere it's possible for the two carabiners to open each other so I just went for the safer router and got all locking since I don't know what I'm doing. They only had polyester cordellete at REI but nylon seems more common. I also bought a helmet and already had rope and an ATC from leading in the gym. Hopefully this is enough to create a basic top rope so I can do some outdoor climbing after the class.