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Dirtbag Diary: James – overcoming injury.

Humans are quite good at problem solving. As Dirtbags solely uses recycled materials and machines in need of repair there has been quite a bit of problem solving to understand how we can create what we want from what we have at our disposal.

Lately I have been doing a lot problem solving. Since breaking my leg in Fontainebleau after landing awkwardly off my pad blowing my MCL and ACL. At first I struggled to come to terms with my injury and how my knee may never work the same again. It’s strange how having a problem to solve takes your mind off of immediate longer term problems like healing a climbing preventing injury. For example, a good few hours designing and building our own embroidery machine for the labels took my mind off the injury for a while, but being stopped from climbing in the longer term was the last thing I was going to allow to happen.

Night bouldering at Trowbarrow Quarry, Jame on Shallow Groove V11.
Trowbarrow Quarry – Shallow Groove V11
James in front of hospital with his new knee brace.
Brace yourself…

At first the frustration is immense, I actually spent 11 days laid up in Chamonix before I made it home. Staring at mountains you can’t climb only leaves you with one option….the bar. Rehabilitation started slowly as my leg was so swollen but after two months of intensive physiotherapy and lots of ice I started to get back into climbing outside. Here’s a quick run through of my of how I managed to get back to roped climbing within 5 months without surgery.

  • I didn’t take Naproxen to reduce swelling as there is evidence that it hinders the ligament healing process
  • I used constant ice and heat to get blood flowing to the area (ice also really helped with the pain).
  • Know the difference between the aches and pains of healing and making it worse pain
  • Knowing the above allowed me to tentatively put weight on my knee with a brace on and then start to regain flexion and extension (this hurts but you have to try really hard).
  • Once I could bend my leg a little I went hard with the TENS machine followed by a few private and NHS physio sessions
  • I stuck to the physio exercises religiously and did them two to three times a day to get my quads and hamstring working properly again.
  • I started going to the climbing wall and got straight back leading with a brace on.

Now five months on, and as a result of exploring every avenue to healing my leg, and training my upper body in the mean time; I’m already on the road to returning stronger.

A large part of my motivation to climb comes from finding a route that inspires me and makes me want to go climbing. I was feeling pretty low about not being able to climb well again so I knew that finding a new project route would be a large motivator to sorting out my head. My body would heal with time but the confidence I had in my physical ability had gone to shit.

Only a few days ago, while Wetherlam was dusted with snow and a mist hung low in Hodge Close Quarry I was dangling over the water scrubbling lichen from my new project. Excited for warmer, drier times to get back on the rock, some potential E6 slate is definitely on the cards for 2019.

I really enjoy climbing on the slate, it lends itself well to a climbing style typically adopted from climbing indoors. You move from hold to hold but without large dependency on smearing such as a grit route perhaps.

The Lakes slate areas sometimes get a bad rep due to their chossy nature. I love exploring esoteric choss that nobody wants to climb on and find something new in amongst the rubble pile. While Tilberthwaite Quarry is well known, some of its routes appear reclaimed by nature, part crumbling and dangerous looking. I’m always surprised to not see more people climbing at Tilberthwaite Quarry. In such a pleasant setting there are some great lines here with an adventurous feel, protected by a mixture of bolts and trad gear.

I’m always intrigued when I walk up to old routes in the slate quarries. Could I climb this route? Is the old peg still safe?

James Dickinson: Latex Generation E5 6b

The first route I projected rather than trying to onsight was Latex Generation, my favorite to date! The process of working this route opened up a door allowing me to realise that I could climb a lot harder if I really wanted to.

Initially I set up a shunt on the route, scrubbed twenty years of lichen off all the apparent holds and started to piece together all the weird compression moves, long powerful reaches and strange jams. It felt ridiculously hard.

I top roped Latex Generation a few times sporadically and finally I was able to make it through the first powerful crux, through the mid-section protected by a rotting peg and a tri-cam placed into a shot hole and up to the final hard move. This must be the 6b move. While smearing on slate, toe cammed in behind a flake and a two finger lock as deep as the first joint, a really powerful sideways dyno is made to a ledge. As I went for it, I latched the small flake hold of the ledge at the absolute extent of my reach. The hold snapped off and I took a big swing with the flake in my hand. The problem now was that I knew I could make it this high but I also knew how hard the sideways leap was and didn’t think I would ever be able to do this move, it was at the absolute limit of my reach even with a jump. A month later I was back. I top roped the route with a friend, making it to the upper crux and stuck the sideways dyno. I was at the top.

When working on a route at your limit I love and hate this moment.

I got straight on the lead the following afternoon. After placing the last piece just below the upper crux I lunged sideways, brushed the ledge with my fingertips, took a big fall onto the old fixed protection and smashed into a razor slate edge with my heel.

I could feel my heel swelling and I knew that if I didn’t try again, this time committing fully in my head then I wouldn’t be able to try again until the bruising had gone down. Back at the upper crux I clipped the gear. I felt really tense but after composing myself I sank the tips of the first two fingers of my right hand into one of the best finger locks you could ever wish for. Releasing, I leaped across the blank wall and latched the ledge. Mantel up, bridge the corner, off the top, done.      

I felt really absorbed by this climbing experience and the problem solving process. The exploration finding a route that inspires you, working out how the climb the route and the challenge are all great motivators for climbing but also as mini lessons on dealing with things that push you physically and mentally.

James Dickinson leading Latex Generation E5 6b – Tilberthwaite Quarry

Lesson: If there’s something you want to do whether that be solving a technical problem, recovering from injury or even working out the crux on a route then take something positive away from every failure and learn from the experience until you can eventually overcome the challenge.

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