The Rocklands fever: How not to climb V10

Rocklands in South Africa. A bouldering paradise discovered in 1996, which in the last decade has quickly become one of the world’s hotspots for hard rock climbing. Elaborate shapes of orange sandstone litter the nearly deserted, rugged landscape. As the South African winter brings cold temps, low humidity and blue skies, boulderers from all over the globe flock towards Cederberg, the official geographical name of the region. Most of them are not your average climber and it almost feels like V15 sends happen every day left, right and centre (rumour has it that Charles Albert not only climbed ‘Monkey Wedding’ barefoot, but also down-climbed it…)

Although Rocklands offers a bunch of extremely good 6C lines (‘Creaking Heights’, ‘Tigerclaw’, ‘Golden Rail’, ‘Crack Addict’, etc.), it’s certainly not your best bet for mileage in the easier grades. From mid sevens (V8) and above, it’s definitely the place to be. I bought my ticket to Cape Town hoping to benefit from the famous “indoorsy” style, snatch my first V10 (7C+), and possibly get a feel for something harder. ‘Caroline’ (7C+) and ‘The Hatchling’ (8A) topped my dream ticklist.

A few months before my trip, Tom Randall warned me about pushing it too hard. Last year in Magic Wood I had climbed my first 7C but I also sustained a nearly full tear to my right middle finger pulley and my left middle finger was severely inflamed. Then for a couple of months my left index finger kept swelling up every time I pulled on it.

‘How about you don’t climb an 8A this season, but two, three years later you can climb just about any 8A?’. Tom’s idea sounded great in the long run but I’m not known for my patience. Judging by my progress in the past year, I was confident.

Unfortunately, when things were about to go wrong, I hadn’t seen the early warning signs. Or, maybe I had, but I chose to ignore them. Either way, I ended up not only not sending anything I had hoped for but also nursing another pulley injury.

So, here’s what to look out for when you’re trying to push your climbing forward:

Stress

The few weeks leading up to my trip were filled with a lot of mostly work-related stress. I also had a few other unpleasant things on my mind and was extremely busy with too many projects. First I started losing sleep, both because there weren’t enough hours in the day and because of anxiety. Then I began to skip training sessions. My training plan fell apart in no time and I falsely believed I could maintain my progress with a more random set up. With hindered recovery, my body couldn’t take what I was putting it through and a suddenly impinged shoulder was a sure sign that something was going wrong.

Expectations

With the help of my physio I managed to somehow get the shoulder in check and I set off for South Africa. I was tired and in need of a holiday – not pushing it to my very limit. As much as climbing is fun, it can easily be draining and stressful. Especially when, instead of enjoying yourself, you’re fully concentrated on your progression. I had run myself into the ground with work and carried this mindset into my climbing. I had to get the next thing, reach the next level or, I don’t know, the world would probably collapse!

On top of that, my friends were ticking off our shared projects quite easily and I felt I was lagging behind. Instead of savouring the climbing, I started chasing the tick.

The Rocklands fever

Or, the send fever. When you know you’re close, when you know it goes, when you know your trip will end all too soon, so you have to get it all done not next month or next week, but now. On top of that, tickets to Cape Town aren’t exactly cheap and the journey takes forever. The Rocklands fever pushes you do to more than you should. De Pakhuys campsite is full of people on crutches and every day there’s rumour of another broken limb. It’s hard to pace yourself in Rocklands and it’s hard to let things go.

I am a victim of both Rocklands fever and bad technique. Had I not needed three sessions to learn a tricky heel hook on one of my projects, I would have not overused my fingers. Had I not ignored the persistent pain in my knuckle, I would have taken more than one rest day a week, and again, not overused my fingers.

After three sessions on ‘Weihei’ (7C+/V10) I was getting so close. Consistently going through the crux, I only had to refine my beta for the easy finish. After three hours of working the problem, I fell off the last move. I was confident I could rest and send.

But I didn’t rest enough and my finger was still sore when I got back on the problem the following day. A session of wasted effort from a severely tired body. I gave it another day, got back on fresh but this time my finger, which started playing up exactly twelve months earlier in Magic Wood, gave in. A soft, quiet sound of a slowly ripping pulley. I taped it, and with blind determination gave another burn. The sound again. It was time to call it a day.

I’m writing these words with a mildly swollen finger, contemplating trying easy climbing next week. Most likely it’s a bad idea and most likely I won’t. If I didn’t want too much at once, I could have finished ‘Weihei’, not got injured and gone home happy. But I wanted to tick it off and move on to the next, harder project.

Nobody likes to call themselves a grade chaser because most people grade-chase unwillingly. Somewhere, sometime, your motivation takes a wrong turn. Expectations, comparisons and ill-understood ambition are a roadmap to injury and a path better avoided.

Almost 'Weihei' | Rocklands 2017

As close as you can get to sending without actually sending. By the time I had my beta perfected I was on this rock for three hours and just didn't have enough in me for the last move, however easy it may be. It also turned out the last bit of beta to know was a left foot down instead of right one for the mini pop at the end. Next time I got back on this bloc one of my left hand knuckles made a soft sound of a slowly tearing tissue. I taped it, blinded by the Rocklands send fever that puts so many people on crutches here. I jumped back on and the same sickening sound followed, this time making me realise I better stop. Today my finger is slightly swollen, my bouldering in ZA over and I'm fighting hard to see the positives of it all. There are positives though and I will make the most of them. #ComeBackStronger is a thing. For now, my first V10 send has eluded me. Next year when I'm back on 'Weihei' it will feel like a piece of cake. Also because I will be more technical and I won't need 50 goes on the heel hook to learn how to use it and I won't give my fingers a chance to give in. More training, more psych, more listening the body. Another lesson learned.

Posted by Zofia Reych on Thursday, July 20, 2017

PS. Just came back from my finger scan and it turns out I’ve sustained a full A2 pulley rapture. I’m three weeks into recovery, nine more to go. Read some words about managing climbing finger injuries here.

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