samedi 19 août 2017

The Owens' return to Britain (only joking, it was a holiday!)

What do you do when your physio goes on holiday and you can't go climbing? Visit Britain of course. To be more precise, visit the Yorkshire Dales and Snowdonia. Why not?

The shoulder has been making good, steady progress. With Patrick (my physio) going on holiday we had a little over three weeks before my next session. Elaine didn't want to go climbing in the summer heat (nor did I want to go to some awesome new crag, as it's way too early for me to even think of doing easy climbs). We needed a totally different kind of holiday this summer and decided to visit Britain, to go walking and climbing indoors.  

We made the long journey north and took the ferry from Calais to Dover. It's amazing to think that we used to do that same journey six times a year, before we moved to France. Driving round the M25 reminded us just why we'd left Britain all those years ago. The weather was vile and driving conditions were awful. At least the British drivers were driving courteously and sticking to the speed limit. First destination was Elaine's cousins wedding reception in Buckingham (thanks for the bacon butties - we were so hungry!). It was great fun seeing the Scottish side of the family again: Susan, Michael, Graham and Bonny.

Next day we headed further north towards Settle in North Yorkshire, destination Settle Lodge Bed and Breakfast, to stay with Eddie and Mandy for a few days, to do some walking in The Dales and, of course, to enjoy Eddie's famous cooked breakfasts. We had a wonderful room with a great view, a very comfortable king sized bed, superb modern shower and the softest, fluffiest towels we came across during our stay in Britain. As usual they were both on fine form and had us in fits of laughter. The four of us made the classic walk round Gordale Scar, Malham Cove and Janet's Fosse, the scenery is still stunning after all these years. Unfortunately nobody was climbing but it was nice to be able to still visualise the moves on the starts of New DawnZoolook and Raindogs. Standing there on The Catwalk surrounded by so many classic climbs was like saying "hello" to lots of old friends. On another occasion we took Ruff for a long walk up Ingleborough from Clapham (some thirty four years since the last trip up there during the Three Peaks Walk). Later in the week, we were unimpressed when we visited Kendal Climbing Centre: verdict very expensive for mediocre bouldering, unfriendly staff and not at all dog friendly. Ruff and I were ejected from an otherwise empty cafe by a surly young woman (having bought a sandwich and a coffee) and had to wait in the van whilst Elaine climbed. I really wouldn't recommend the place to anyone and I certainly wouldn't consider going there ever again. With a full weekend of bookings at Settle Lodge, we bade farewell to Eddie and Mandy and headed south towards Wales. En route we visited my sisters, Elaine's brother and The Hangar in Liverpool (quite possibly our favourite climbing wall; very dog friendly too).

We had got very much used to the luxury of Settle Lodge and decided against staying in the Cali, using the rain and my shoulder as perfect excuses. So we booked a nice little cottage on a working farm. Ty-Mawr Farm in Llandeiniolen was perfectly located for access to the mountains and The Beacon climbing wall. 

The highlights of our two weeks in Snowdonia  were undoubtedly meeting up with so many old friends (particularly my old climbing partners John Roberts, Brian Jones and Pete White) and walking and scrambling in the mountains, the very same place I learnt all my mountaineering skills as a teenager in the 70's. The landscape is still as beautiful and stunning as I remembered it. I think it's true to say that my heart definitely belongs in North Wales (despite the cold, wind and rain!).

By the way, we had so much fun that we'll probably be going back next summer. Any of our French friends fancy joining us to do some trad?
Mandy showing Ruff how to work out on a wet day in Settle.
Ruff enjoying the descent from Ingleborough.
Ruff getting all the attention at The Hangar.
Elaine in the big cave at The Hangar.

I started climbing with these guys: Pete White, John Roberts and Brian Jones.

A chilly day to be on the summit of Pen Yr Ole Wen, looking towards Tryfan, Glyder Fach and Llyn Idwal (Snowdon hidden in cloud on the right).

Imagine bumping into Martin Crook and Mel Griffiths at The Beacon?

Elaine in the big cave at The Beacon.

We also bumped into Bonny Masson as well.

Al Stewart in The Beacon's big cave.

Coffee on the sofa. Al Stewart, Ken Latham, Elaine, me, Denise and Brian Jones, Sarah and John Peake.

Mick Lovatt gave us a guided tour of the Lleyn crags.

View from Mynydd Perfedd, L to R: Tryfan, Glyder Fach, Foel Goch (closest), Glyder Fawr (most distant) and Y Garn.

Meeting up with Kath Goodey and Dave Lyons at Joe Brown's in Capel Curig.

Meeting up with Fluff from our student days at I M Marsh over 30 years ago!

Summit of Tryfan, there were people all over Adam and Eve (hence the reason they're missing from the photo, just left of Elaine).

The classic photo of The Cantilever on Glyder Fach.

Meeting up for a meal with Sue and Colin Goodey in Penmaenmawr.

Meeting up with some old faces from the Liverpool/Deeside scene at The Boardroom. L to R: Roger Bennion, Andy Boorman, her, legend Phil Davidson, me, Paul Bolger, unknown, Al Stewart.

Re-living the good old times. Me and Phil Davidson. When was the last time we climbed together?

Excellent motivation for next summer's visit.

dimanche 9 juillet 2017

Life after shoulder surgery

Two whole months, that's all of May and June so far. The first time in my life that I've not climbed for anywhere near that length of time. There's still all of July, August and September as well. Climbing has been my life; it has kept me active and very happy more or less every weekend, every holiday and as often as possible during the week as well, for over 43 years. I don't want to sound negative but it is hard work, waiting patiently for my body to recovery after surgery but I'll get there, I'm keeping positive.

What happened?
I heard a loud tearing noise in my shoulder whilst climbing a very steep route at Easter. I knew it was serious, despite much pain, but I was hoping it wouldn't need surgery to fix, alas I was wrong. I saw two excellent shoulder specialists who both recommended surgery. They both confirmed a partial tear in the supra-spinatus tendon (running along the top of the shoulder) and a slap tear in the long biceps tendon. The first injury was caused by a sudden shock load due to my feet cutting loose with my arms in a crucifix position (a very common situation when climbing steep routes), the second was caused by long term wear and tear. Both surgeons said full recovery was expected with a return to climbing again after six months or so. Both injuries are fairly common in climbers.

What did the operation involve?
Dr Nicolas Brassart carried out the operation, which consisted of four parts. Firstly, the tear in the supra-spinatus tendon was repaired, reinforced and reattached to the scapula with Kevlar sutures and two suture anchors. Secondly, the long biceps tendon was cut and reattached lower down the humerous with sutures and two suture anchors. Thirdly, the acromion (a bone at the end of the clavicle at the top of the shoulder joint) was shaved to remove any bone spurs and to prevent further pinching of the tendons in the joint (a process called acromioplasty). Finally, any damaged fibres were removed. The operation involved arthroscopic key-hole surgery, via four small incisions. It took one and a half hours under a general anaesthetic and I was in hospital for three days. I was signed off work for six weeks.

How's the recovery going?
My right arm and shoulder were totally immobilised for eight days and I was on strong pain killers and muscle relaxants for the first five days. After eight days I was able to remove the splint in the house and start doing some gentle pendulum exercises several times a day. However the arm and shoulder needed to be immobilised for sleeping and going outdoors. I started physiotherapy, with a really good sports physio here in our village, four weeks after the surgery, three times a week. Six weeks post op, I was able to stop wearing the splint completely and I can now use a 1 kg mass for the pendulums. I can now drive and do easy stuff around the house. Physio is going well and I'm making steady progress with gradually improving mobility, though it's quite painful at times. Sleeping continues to be uncomfortable.

How long will recovery take?
Physio will continue into September. I have been told not to force my arm for the first three months to allow the shoulder to heal properly. Then it will be a case of re-building the atrophied muscles with specific exercises starting with light resistance. I am hoping to be up for some easy climbing by the October half term holiday.

I would like to give special thanks to Dr Brassart for carrying out such a good job and for his continued advise and encouragement, and all the staff at Clinique St Jean in Cagnes sur Mer for their help and care. Also, thanks to Patrick Vialli for all his patience and care with my physio.

Finally, I would like to thank all the people who have taken the time to offer me help, advice and encouragement via Facbook. No doubt I will see most of you again at some crag soon.
Thumbs up one hour after the op when Elaine arrived.

A substantial arm splint and moobs (due to muscle relaxants!!!) one day post op. 

A very frayed long biceps tendon (looks like an old climbing rope!).

This shows the Kevlar sutures used to repair the torn tendons.

Not much to see on the outside.

Eight days post op, starting gentle pendulum swings.

Four weeks post op, using a 1 kg mass for the pendulums.

mercredi 3 mai 2017

Easter in Slovenia and Croatia

It's been a long time since I've written. I think that's because we haven't really done anything that was much worth writing about. So, here goes....

Christmas and Feb half term were spent climbing in the sun above Moustiers Sainte-Marie in the beautiful Gorges du Verdon. As usual, the crags were very quiet, the climbing fantastic and the grades were tough.
Bipolaire, 7a at Courchon

Olivier red pointing Un air de famille, 7c+ at Corchon
Casse-bonbons, 7c+ at Baume Blanche

Throughout the winter we've been using our board quite a lot for bouldering and for circuits. Elaine has made really good progress, especially on the circuits and her fingers are working well at the moment, despite some soreness/stiffness afterwards. My training was going well, with the specific goals of getting fit enough to do the two big ones that beat me last year (Et dieu creer la flamme and Triste Lune) hopefully quickly and early on in May. Outside, I managed to do Christophe Louis' fantastic Inch of dust (7c+) at Le Discret in one session, although I had tried the start previously.

Easter was coming and we fancied going somewhere new (at least for us) and quiet. That obviously meant going in the opposite direction to usual, ie. not towards Spain! We decided to head to Slovenia and Croatia, specifically the crags at Osp and Buzetski Kanjon. We were amazed how quick and easy it is to get there: only 8 hours! However, you do have to suffer the crazy Italian drivers (never a pleasure). Initially, we were both suffering from colds and allergies, so after one night on the village campsite (which is very basic and expensive) we moved into a lovely modern hostel, which we had all to ourselves (apart from 2 nights) for the whole time. Apartmaji Pod Kostanji is run by Carmen (who speaks English and many other languages) and is not much more than the cost of camping. Fully recommended!
Lukjna cave at Osp. Wow!! Very steep and very big.

The climbing:

Misja Pec (Osp); Awesome with plenty of king lines but it's so polished. Basically we were about 25 years too late, seriously! The 7a warm ups were nails and finished you off for the day! I wasn't brave enough to try anything harder than 7b, and that took me 3 goes.

Befana (Buzetski): More climber friendly, not polished and normal grades. Long routes but a fairly small sector. Busy. Great for 7a up to 7c up overhanging tufas.
Befana, 7c at Buzetski Kanjon

Lukjna (Osp): This is totally world class and like a bigger version of Grande Grotta. Stamina is the name of the game here. Very steep climbing on tufa blobs with lots of funky climbing, ie. knee bars and heel hooks. Some of the routes here are 55 metres, so you need a long rope (through the draws are in place on most). This crag has the highest concentration of hard routes in Slovenia, apparently. The left wall has about 8 routes between 7a and 7c up tufas, all of which are about 30 metres long. The main cave is another world and just has to be tried. Interestingly, it gets flooded most winters and there's a lake at the bottom (a very deep lake from the clearly visible high water mark!). The perfect crag, whether you're trying to red point your first 7a or 9a, as long as you like your climbing on the beefy side!
Trzaska smer, 7b+

Ana working Helihopter v omaki, 8b

Approaching the crux on Trojanski konj, 7c+  (same start as Laokoon, 8a)

Bitka s stalaktiti, 8b and 55m long. Looks so good.

The 8a part of Active discharge

Elaine had a great indoor session at Plus Climbing gym in Koper. Lots of volumes and World Cup style bouldering.

All was going so well, until the last go, on the last day. A partial tear to my right supra-spinatus means that I'm now out of action. Not sure how long that's going to be at the moment, until an arthroscanner tomorrow and a visit to a shoulder specialist next week. Physio is going well, so it might not need surgery and could mean climbing this summer. Obviously, those 2 Verdon projects are not going to happen this year! Still, can't complain: 43 years of climbing virtually non-stop every weekend, mid-week and holiday. Apart from 3 enforced layoffs due to broken bones (one motor bike crash and two climbing accidents when I was very young) I've been very lucky and have had no real injuries. It's obviously pay-back time. I'm enjoying the chance to have a well earned rest.