Where are you living? Loughborough, England
How long you been climbing? 13 years
How did you start?
I started climbing when I was at university – my best friend kept telling me to come along and try it, eventually I gave in and went with him to the university wall (University of Durban). I was hooked immediately.
Where are you from?
I went to school in Kloof, KwaZulu-Natal, and then university in Durban. A year after finishing my degree I moved down to Cape Town. I consider myself a Capetonian, especially since I think I’ve mastered the typical laid-back, never-on-time traits of a Capetonian.
What work do you do?
I work as a Software Technical Architect, building and releasing distributed business software solutions.
What made you leave SA and will you be back?
Two reasons – girlfriend and fire fighting. The girlfriend thing is going great, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to pursue the fire fighting because of my back problems.
I’m back at least once a year on holiday, but I got to admit that it’s never enough! We’re working on a plan to be able to spend more time each year in SA, so we’ll just have to see how it all pans out…
A couple of years ago you had back surgery and then a big layoff from climbing. What brought on the surgery?
The story of my back started 4 ½ years ago where I was climbing at the Mine and herniated a disk in my lumbar spine (lower back). In layman’s terms it means the outer membrane of the disk (annulus fibrosis) tore open and the soft inside fluid (nucleus pulposus) squished out into the spinal canal and was pushing on the nerves running through there.
I had two options: surgery or conservative.
Either way I would be out of action for at least a year, so I decided to try the conservative approach. A stuffed up back is a hard injury to endure – I went from a lifestyle of climbing, trail running, mountain biking, surfing, tennis, golf, squash and more, to being able to do absolutely nothing. I took a 6 month sabbatical from work to give it a better chance of healing, since sitting is the worst position for it. A year down the line I was finally getting some pain-free periods during the day! Unfortunately the conservative approach didn’t fully work for me and I experienced two prolapses (where more of the nucleus pulposus squishes out into the spinal canal), which prompted me to consult further specialists and decided to have the surgery.
How long did it take you to recover?
After the surgery I was bedridden and not allowed to carry anything heavier than a coffee cup for 2 months. I slowly progressed from there – a year post surgery I was finally able to start climbing properly again. It was tough – I had absolutely no muscle left in my arms and back and had to build up from scratch, but I was so psyched to climb that it didn’t matter if I could only climb easy stuff, I was on the wall and happy!
Did you have to do much physical therapy after the operation?
It feels like the past 4 years have been nothing but physical therapy! It’s never ending!
But focusing on after the surgery, my gym program started at 3 months post op with very light core exercise and muscle activation. Since then it is constantly being assessed and revised by my physiotherapist according to my progress. Before I started climbing I was doing 3 or 4 rehab sessions a week, but as I started climbing that decreased accordingly. Now that I’ve built up a strong core I do one or two 2hr sessions a week to maintain it. I’ve also always had a list of back exercises that need to be done daily, which is by far the hardest part of rehab but the most essential. To be honest I probably do them about 4 or 5 times a week, but don’t tell my physio that!
Have you made a full recovery?
Well, let me put it this way, it’s as good as it’s gonna get. The healing from the surgery is done, but I will always have a dodgy back because there are structural problems with the disk and permanent damage to the nerve. So I will need to be careful and avoid certain activities. I still have nerve pain every day, but it is slowly getting less and less and the hope is that one day it might be gone completely. But as long as I manage my back properly then I’m able to climb so what more could a climber ask for!
Congrats on your February SA roadtrip sends – Whoa She Poopie in Montagu and Going Going Gone at Oudtshoorn! How did it feel to be climbing hard again?
It feels incredible to be climbing again, and to be feeling strong and getting on harder routes is really fantastic. The attraction of a hard route is not the grade but the challenge, where the moves require more finesse and flow which I really love.
I heard from someone that the GB Climbing Team trials went well, tell us what happened?
For senior women we had 5 routes to climb (indoors of course): 7b+, 3x 7c and 7c+. We had one flash attempt on each, and had to top 2 of the routes to be selected for the team. I managed to do that, plus more, so made it comfortably into the GB team
What sort of training did you do in order to get fit again?
Building up to the GB team trials I scoured the internet for all sources of training tips and methods and wrote myself an intense 10 week phased training program. The usual structure of starting with general endurance, followed by hypertrophy (strength), then power, and finally power endurance, while incorporating various training techniques within each phase.
Where in the world have you climbed?
I’ve climbed in Thailand 3 times now and absolutely love it there. Besides the awesome routes, the laid-back vibe and yummy food are extremely appealing. I did a trip to Kalymnos which is also top on my list of places to climb. I’ve also climbed quite a bit in Canada, in Ontario and Quebec provinces, as well as Australia. Surprisingly I haven’t done that much in Europe – been to El Chorro and Siurana in Spain, Font in France, and Arco in Italy - but I do plan to get over there more soon. This weekend I’m off to Mallorca for a 3 day climbing trip (the perks of living in England) so I’ll let you know what that is like soon .
How would you compare overseas rock (that you have done) to the rock in SA (your personal views)
There is superb rock all over the world, but what South Africa has that many of these other places lack is crag tranquillity – stunning views, peaceful, clean, and no queuing!
What other ascents of note have you done in the past?
The Shouting Stage (29) in Montagu is probably still my most satisfying ascent. It’s a stunning line which I remember looking at back in my younger climbing days (when I was working the 23 next to it) and thinking it looked impossible.
What is your favourite crag in SA?
It’s hard to choose just one! It all depends on what you’re in the mood for – ‘MA’ for long sustained climbing in a magical place, The Wave Cave for crazy rounded roof climbing, Boven for stunning routes and tons of them, Oudtshoorn for tufas, Umgeni Valley for balancy… the list goes on and on.
Who have you been climbing with?
I have so many awesome climbing friends I wouldn’t want to try list them in case I miss somebody out! Generally I climb with whoever is psyched, belays safely, and is keen to go to whatever crag my project is at.
Do you find it more motivating to climb with people who are better or worse than you and why?
It doesn’t matter what grade they are climbing, as long as the person is motivated and loves climbing then it motivates me. It’s nice to have someone to work a project with, and climbing with stronger people is easier in the sense that there is always someone around to help get draws up or down, but in terms of motivation that can come from anyone.
Why do you think the level of climbing in UK is so much higher than in South Africa?
I think in the UK climbers are exposed to a more competitive environment, and hence tend to follow a more structured and holistic approach to their climbing, considering factors such as training, nutrition, peaking periods and psychology. There are a lot more climbing gyms here offering different training facilities and walls, which I think promotes a training mentality. Finally, I think another factor is that there is simply more climbers here in the UK.
What has made such a difference to your climbing ?
Training has made a massive difference to my climbing, as proven by my training schedule for the GB team trials where I jumped 2 grades from flashing 7b to 7c (indoors) in just 3 months. The winter months in the UK are perfect for following a training programme since you can’t get out on rock anyway, so might as well train hard and get strong for summer.
I think a general plan as to when you want to peak and what you’re aiming for is good. Its not possible to peak all the time, and its not possible to maintain an intense level of training all the time either.
Nutrition definitely has its place, depending on what your goals are of course. I don’t believe in dieting (i.e. simply eating less), but eating healthy, and eating the right foods at the right time can definitely make a difference to ones performance. I recently saw a nutritionist and the advice he gave me has helped me a lot with feeling stronger, healthier and more energetic.
There is absolutely no way I would be able to climb at this level only 2 years post back surgery if it wasn’t for my physiotherapist, Rone Thompson. It is incredible how much she has helped me, not only with physical treatment on my back, but also with things like rehab and strength & conditioning programmes, and emotional support. I think behind every successful athlete is a kick ass physiotherapist
Do you warm up?
Yes most definitely! I have a few muscle activation and back exercises that I do before I start my session. This is simply because I’m old and creaky and need to do things like this now . I generally warm my fingers up by squeezing a soft ball while driving to the gym or walking into the crag. I start climbing on low grades and build up slowly until I feel my muscles responding nicely and moving fluidly.
How often & how long do you train per week?
This will vary depending on what stage I’m at, but while in a training phase I train 4 to 5 days a week, ranging 3 – 5 hours, plus 1 or 2 days in the gym focusing on core strength. I always make sure I have at least 1 day rest a week, and won’t do any upper body in the gym. Every 5-6 weeks I have a few days rest, a week is optimal but I don’t always manage that long.
What is your Hardest onsight? What enabled you to onsight the route (what was different about it)?
Onsighting is one of my weaknesses which I’ve been working on improving over the past few months. The best way to get better at onsighting is to onsight more, and of course to have loads of endurance. Currently my hardest onsight is 7b, but I’m hoping to get out this summer and with some luck improve on that grade.
What gets you psyched?
I love being outdoors, which is a big part of why I love climbing so much, so just knowing that I’m getting out on rock gets me psyched. I generally go for clean rock with flowing lines, and I get psyched when someone else is psyched.
What do you do on a rest day?
Its not a very glamorous answer – mostly I spend the time catching up on housey things like laundry and cleaning! Of course spending some time with my girlfriend is top on the list, and I love cooking new meals and having friends round for dinner.
Do you boulder?
Not much unfortunately – with my dodgy back it’s not a good idea to be jumping, or falling, from height. But also just that I’ve been more focused on sport climbing lately.
Do you trad climb?
A little bit but I think I’m just too much of a wuss for trad climbing. I like doing moves that push at my limit which is why I’m more attracted to sport climbing.
Do you do any other sports?
I definitely think it’s a good idea to cross train if you can. Unfortunately for me I’m rather limited with my back so all I can really do is swimming (which gets rather boring after a while!).
Who is your hero?
Lynn Hill. I think she is awesome and am very inspired by her achievements. I also get huge inspiration from reading autobiographies of elite sports people, like Andre Aggassi’s book ‘Open’.
Tea or Coffee?
Chilli margarita please!
What projects are you working?
I don’t have anything in the UK yet – spring has finally arrived so from now until end September (when the weather starts deteriorating again) I plan to get out and find some (and tick them . On my most recent trip to SA in April I had two perfect days at Kalk Bay crag and got on Golden Eye. I got all the moves sussed on my first day and had a few redpoint attempts on the second day. I was so close – just one move away – but unfortunately hurt my shoulder so had to stop. I was then thwarted with bad weather and a food-poisoned belayer and didn’t get a chance to finish it. I definitely plan to get back on it when I’m over next.
Do you have a 5 year climbing plan?
I don’t really, but it’s a good point, perhaps I should make one! I do see myself climbing harder grades – 8c has always been a long term goal of mine, and when I achieve that I’ll notch it up even higher and just keep going.
Are you sponsored?
Not at the moment – in England it’s a lot harder to get noticed as there are so many more strong climbers out there, but now that I’m in the GB climbing team I may approach a few companies and see if I get lucky.
What are your expectations for the future of Climbing in SA?
I think its just going to get better and better. Already over the past 5 years we’ve seen a radical increase in grades being climbed by our top climbers, and this really inspires me.
I think there’s big achievements in SA’s future.