The British Museum … and Climbing for All

Ok, here’s a post that isn’t about climbing. Typing on a train to London. With Clare, climber extraordinaire, and the lovely sisters too. CLIMBING!!!! WE STARTED A CHARITY!! check out, better still our Facebook page , and see the amazing bunch of climbers and volunteers we get to meet at club sessions.

So, London is a bit of an adventure. How does wheelchair travel work out? How can Clare survive a day without the usual health props of supported standing, nebulisers, etc.? WHATEVER!

Try new stuff! We wanna be out there, living it. Climbing gets you in the mood to Go For It.

The dog isn’t in favour of rest of family making a train journey.

So far so good. Parking for Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle at Sheffield station: check. Lifts to platforms: check. Friendly traveller insisting we needn’t lift chair into train: check. Prompt arrival of long & robust ramp: check.

There is space in Coach A for one good sized power chair but we’ve left Clare’s drag-it-anywhere manual chair parked there & got Clare to wobble down the narrow gap to seats.


New bits of London Underground are accessible but having checked out the (in)accessibility London Tube map ( we knew that the four stations near the British Museum are impossible. Nice walk from St Pancras though – flat & kerb-free, and a leafy bit through Russell Square.

And the BM is great. Yup. All that history and inspiration. Visible from 3 foot off the ground and in a wheelchair, even the Rosetta Stone. Also big interior spaces, eating & drinking, excellent book shop amongst the gift shops, and spacious accessible toilets. Gave it 5 stars on TripAdvisor, though it would be good if they put in a Changing Places toilet so that people who can’t hop out of their wheelchair can do a full day at BM.

Back to good ol’ St Pancras, via MacDonalds to keep the rest of party happy. A member of station staff spots us & asks where we’re going…finds ramp…. full train but we swap our seat reservations to sit in and around the wheelchair space.

“But we’re sitting in Priority Seating…”, say the sisters.

“You are priority people!” say friendly co-travellers.

Hey, the journey was too easy. Tate Modern next time. And back to climbing for the next challenge!!



Blogging again after 15 months … whew!

How can I catch up in one sentence? Let’s try …

There was chalk, there was Rafi, there was the idea for a climbing club for everyone (regardless of their ability to do any other particular thing), and all of this had a backdrop of the Foundry’s tall and knobby walls, with a hint of the glorious outdoors.

I’m going to be disciplined and only inflict, say, 20 photos from the last year. Well, I can try. Here is a determined Clare, with up-for-it crew of Nick, Robin and Helen.


And here’s a couple of pictures from Rafi’s first climb, back in March 2015:

.There will be a passing mention of climbing techniques – but you could explore that further from the Climbing for All workshops page for instance.

*Please don’t stop reading if your interest is recovery from brain injury. Recovery (like this blog) doesn’t have to end after 6 months, or 2 years. I realised I was blogging about LIVING not recovery because life is JUST DO IT and not WAIT AND SEE. Whether or not you are “recovering” from anything, you can maximise your fun, happiness and involvement. Er, yes, I mean go climbing.

Life sometimes comes up with a wonderful moment that you always remember. One of these moments was CHALK. It was Christmas 2014, and Clare had been climbing for 10 months. A present was posted through our door … from the Whittakers. Hey, that’s nice of them!

Square. Actually, cuboid, if you’re being picky. A shape that says, ummm, biscuits probably. Or maybe a festive cake, as Clare is known to hanker for cake after climbing. The pleasure of unwrapping …

And it is a gorgeous chalk bag!! Kingfisher blue, with orange trim. A bag to adore. And a block of magnesium carbonate, i.e. climbing chalk, to crumble into the bag. This was the most memorable present of Christmas 2014.

The next climb, January 2015, was awesome. The chalk era had started.



It was still the pre-climbing-Rafi era. Before March 2015 we had barely met Rafi, though he’d slogged along the same path through hospital months and residential rehab months, just eight months later than Clare. Clare’s and Rafi’s paths crossed again at an ABI (Acquired Brain Injury) clinic. Sports swap! Clare went to Rafi’s racerunning club and Rafi tried climbing.


And so did another friend try climbing. A parapente harness worked well. Pics from that next time. And pics from Clare’s transition from full body harness onto a standard harness plus chest harness combo. New techniques …

New ways to support people in their climbing.

Eleven more students from Nick’s and Helen’s schools went climbing.  After Nick’s fundraising ultra marathon last summer, we are all talking about how we can scale up this whole inclusive climbing venture …


Next time, as well as more climbing and cakes and new developments, I’m going to write about the Climbing for All course at the Foundry! And our application to the Charity Commission to help us become (…trendy work alert…) SUSTAINABLE!


Helen: I’ll look after your phone, Robin.

Robin: No, I’m taking it.

Helen: It’ll fall out your pocket.

Robin: No it won’t.

Robin: Selfie from the top of the Slab, yay!




Three Before Chalk

Christmas portions … a lavish triple helping of blog coming up, to catch up. Next entry will have the exciting (and chalky) start to 2015.

Mid-November’s climb at the Foundry is at the shapely dalmations. Hazel is up high when we arrive, climbing a non-dalmation (trickier) class of holds.

A quick news catch up … the 3 new wheelchair climbers have visited the Foundry twice, success!

And Lasse is doing OK after his bike stunts with Robin, though he’s had his broken collar bone operated on in Germany, and it turns out his shoulder blade is fractured too.

Nick hints at new equipment later, but Clare gets started with a climb on the holds.

She is stretching up really well. But she is leaning back a lot – tiring for her neck.Harness adjustment for the 2nd climb, to help with the leaning back. Also a rope swap. I ask for help in matching up the various names for ropes. Ahh right! Got it sorted now: ‘safety rope’ means ‘belaying’, and ‘pulley rope’ is the one with the 2:1 gearing for extra assistance. Robin now takes pulley rope, while Hazel and a sandbag take safety rope for Nick, and Helen continues on safety rope for Clare. Clare gets higher this time, with better body position … also some nice foot pushes, and more oomph from the ropes. Now, says Nick, time for the new thing. He fetches The Foundry’s Karl who attaches a ‘bolt line’ at the bottom of the wall. Nick climbs up to run a static rope from top to bottom. The jumar attaches to the line with a nifty loop, whose name I struggle to remember.

It’s an eye-opener to see this much improvement since Clare last used a jumar. Climbing has developed arm lifting power and it seems gripping power has leapt forward too. I marvel at Clare’s knuckles showing white – she really is gripping! No more need for the the cycling gloves, evostik and velcro (but that technique is ‘in the bag’ for others to make use of).

Firm pulls from Robin & Helen. Clare looks ninja-like from the back.
IMG_6828 It’s hard to see Clare’s face, and I can’t tell if she is still pulling hard. Nick is still talking to her though. Her arms stay raised and she keeps gripping the bar … focused on reaching the top …
She’s there! Yoooooo!!! “High five!”

Back down and we’re all smiling and saying how well Clare did. Clare herself needs encouragement to smile. But she says that it’s surprising how she has improved on the jumar. “And no vent too”, Nick adds.

(Gotta look back now, enjoy again the thrilling first time that Clare ‘Topped out!’)

Clare looks proud and strong in the team pic.

It’s going to be an afternoon in bed. But first coffees & cake. Clare is keen on this: “Which cake is the most chocolatey?” 🙂

A week later Clare climbs in the early evening. We’re in the Furnace – definitely not a hot Furnace, and Robin’s bare knees look decidedly dusky.

“How are you today?” Nicks asks Clare as we arrive. “Very well, how are you?” replies Clare, chirpily though quietly. She’s been very healthy recently, but yesterday’s inaccurately swallowed cake mixture might be why her voice is faint today.

Hazel is at Laserquest with friends, so I wear a harness and take the pulley rope. Robin climbs with Clare, and Nick & Helen are belaying. Carer Ade takes my iPhone and captures the ‘getting on wall’ start to the climb.IMG_6982IMG_6984
Placing hands very well.

Using feet too – left foot at any rate, supported by Robin’s foot. It’s hard to stick to the wall here because of the slight overhang. Robin pulls both of them inwards as required. Clare floats out several times but looks perfectly happy about it. (Hoisting between bed & chair involves dangling and she’s never found this stressful, maybe due to Saturday morning trapeze back in 2011.)

Clare gets surprisingly high before she has had enough.

Abseil to chair. Clare looks happy and strong but end of trache is exposed – speaking valve has mysteriously disappeared. We manage to find it in Clare’s clothing.

Rest time chat: Clare and Robin have post-16 decisions to make. Robin is thinking King Edwards – best for outdoor activities 🙂 Clare isn’t sure, but will stick with Forge Valley, dependent on grades.

Now for climb two. Nick says we shouldn’t say anything to Clare about placing her hands and feet – up to her to plan her route. It’s really hard not to make suggestions, oops.

Clare sets off determinedly. The rest of us mostly manage to stick to “nice one!” and “yep!” though Nick and Robin blab once each, and get laughed at.

Robin uses momentum to keep Clare on the wall, and Clare finds herself holds. Looking good!Great climb! But strangely the speaking valve has fallen off unnoticed again, and this time we can’t find it anywhere. Time for the Swedish Nose – handy to keep the trache covered, though not good for audibility.

For the 3rd climb, we’re going to use the static line and jumar again. Another chance to find out what that loop is called: apparently it’s a “maillon”, which is a French word and is pronounced “my on”.

Nick is thinking of something linked to the jumar to involve Clare’s legs. That’s for a future session maybe. Meantime Clare still manages to lift her feet quite a bit, even while pulling with her arms. We’re laughing afterwards, Clare as well. Some of Clare’s hair has been pulled off in the ropes, the speaking valve is lost, and there’s a scratch on Clare’s forehead. Heh heh, good session!IMG_7042IMG_7047

And now, it’s right before Xmas. And even chillier. Robin and Nick are wearing hats. Robin isn’t 100% – he looks paler, has a cold/cough, and had a day off school in the week. He’s still doing his paper round and outdoor stuff though. Hazel has been off school too – for the first time ever.

Nick had thought Slab, but said it was even colder over there. A small electric bar heater way overhead is heating up the doorway end of the cavern, but not by much. Nick points at some nicely grabbable red holds. So are we going to give Clare hints or not? Who knows. Let’s see.

Nick is showing us an extra line joined onto the pulley rope with a steel karabiner. It was inspired by the other 3 wheelchair users (they’re still climbing weekly, hurray!) and its purpose is to remove a finger entrapment risk. Its use has been discussed and approved by Foundry manager, Neil: it adds one more complication to the gear, not usually a good thing, but it reduces stuff in front of the climber’s face. We try to think of a name for the new device, having already come up with “Whittaker” for a jumar with straps. Perhaps it’s a “Whittaker single strand”.

Clare sets off strongly.

She is pulling hard.She’s finding footholds. It’s amazing: her leg lifts right up. She’s recently restarted lifting her knees up to her chin again – she always used to sit at the table to eat with her knees under her chin.

She is looking down to see where her feet can find holds, and working hard to get them there. Even managing to do it without help sometimes.

During the climb I’m saying “wow, look at that!”

At the end of the climb, Nick says “quantum leap”. It was a “step change”.

“Did you enjoy it?!” he asks Clare. “It was great”, says Clare, emphatically. “It was liberating.”

Real freedom to move. Freedom from the wheelchair.

Long chatty rest. Just before the Xmas break it’s the Mock GCSE season. Clare spent the whole of Tuesday (given extra time) on her English Mock, and both Clare & Robin have Geog Mocks next week. Nick is about to apply for Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc: there is a 1 in 5 chance of getting a place. He’s entered an ultra marathon race near Grenoble too.

Helen is off to Norfolk for the Christmas hols. She has completed 1 year at Hilltop School and has brought along cake to celebrate. “Lots of icing for Clare!” says Helen.

The Whittakers are off to Berlin for a few days, to stay with Lasse’s family. Nick reckons he might write an article for Summit during the journey – Clare is happy to get a mention. As for me, I’m going to promote the blog so other stroke recoverers can find it. (Eight followers is not very many, and apparently this number includes Nick’s mum (hello!) as well as Clare herself.)

The second climb isn’t so high, but still a great effort. Clare does some high leg lifts but it looks hard to get her arms raised and down below we’re asking if Clare is tired. She comes down. Phew!

Group photo “Ho, ho, ho!”

We’re all waiting to try Helen’s cake. Wow – white choc & orange, with the most fabulous icing I’ve ever tasted. It’s a sumptuous end to a year’s climbing. What a journey this year has been. Climbing has become part of Clare’s life and this makes her very happy.

Half-term momentum

When we arrive we find Nick on the wall, and Helen and Hazel below. Where’s Robin? Nick says that his German friend is over, and a bunch of friends are round … they wanted to come climbing this morning but Nick reckoned that would be “too much going on”, so they’ll be climbing this afternoon.

Instead Hazel will belay. And Annie, another teacher, will be along soon too, to see the set-up before she and Nick take 3 more school students climbing. (The next 3 are wheelchair users: they’ll be bringing a hoist for the student that doesn’t do standing transfers. Great! 🙂

Clare is going to climb near the entrance, where the wall is slopey like the Slab. There are nice shapey red holds. Nick and Helen help Clare into the harness: I hang back, because helping Clare stand doesn’t really have to be a mum role.

“What’s the strategy?” I ask. Nick reckons Clare is reaching well for hand holds now & should look down to find foot holds as well.

First climb. Seeking hand and foot holds goes well.IMG_6376

And Clare pushes up from her feet.

But she is leaning back a lot. Doing a stand with Nick was fine but it meant the Nick & Helen combo for putting the harness on wasn’t so effective. Clare’s neck gets tired.

Clare rests and we chat to Annie from Kelford School. This is the school attended by the three soon-to-be climbers – who will be the first from Kelford, as the other students are from Hilltop School.

I help Clare balance on her feet, and Nick and Helen adjust her harness. Now for Climb 2 …

The harness is much better. Clare keeps going. Hands and feet are impressively still in action. IMG_6389
At last Clare comes back down, after a long effort. “You did well”, says Nick. “Arms can get tired they are held up for a long time – it makes my arms ache”. “Sorry”, says Clare. “No need to say sorry,” I butt in, “after all we’ve heard about what Robin has done to him!”

Clare’s forehead is crinkly with tiredness but she’s still smiling. I wonder about another climb. Clare asks is there is going to be a “cake break”.

Heh heh, yes, there can be cake. But Clare should be done with climbing first.

Clare rests while carer has a go at climbing, followed by the entertaining family duo, Robin and Hazel. IMG_6395

The third climb is not so high. But it goes well – Clare has learnt the patterns of the first few red holds.

“One more?!”

Group pic taken, then Hazel & I go to fetch coffees and a couple of cakes. Two Sundays ahead looks a good date but we decide on next Sunday evening as Clare is improving fast. Keep up the momentum….

Next time we meet over at the Slab near the nice Reds. Clare and I had been wondering if Robin would be there today, and he is … and Hazel too, on the wall when we arrive.

Half term is all but over and everyone has tales to tell. Clare says that Paloma Faith had been amazing live, and we’re expecting some Whittaker adventure tales from the family trip to Norfolk and from Robin’s German friend’s visit to Sheffield.

“Have a nice time with your friends last week?” I ask Robin.

“Yes, went cycling in Greno Woods”, says Robin. He starts talking about the 12 foot drop. Lasse from Germany ran the drop first – straight over. “Woo, sounds scary”, I say, not yet realising where this tale is going.

Robin flew over next. Then Lasse again. Then Robin. Then Lasse wanted to try it on Robin’s new bike. Robin went to the bottom of the drop to get a photo – but …”

“What, the new bike, trashed?!” I ask in dismay.

“No, the bike’s fine! Being repaired. His helmet was destroyed though…”

Robin is still giving details of the wipe-out, like ‘scorpion-flip’. “My god, was his back hurt?” I ask, horrified.

“Luckily not. He was unconscious though. Another friend phoned an ambulance. I went with him to Sheffield Children’s Hospital.” Robin now gets out his mobile and shows us an x-ray photo of a spectacularly broken collar bone.

I ask who phoned his parents, and Nick said that had been his job, along with (later on) collecting the bikes. Robin and Nick add details about the hospital stay … very tall 15-year-old with feet hanging over end of Children’s Hospital bed. Luckily sent home after couple of days.

Wow. That was some half-term. Not good. So the family didn’t actually get to Norfolk? Apparently they did, later in the week …. and saw some seals, says Hazel.

Time to get cracking on a climb.

Clare isn’t really 100% today. I’d wondered whether to cancel, but she was certain she still wanted to climb. Her voice is fainter today. She’s been having some worse nights and ending up on oxygen, though it’s probably just a minor cold.

Nick says Robin and Helen can do safety and pulley ropes for Clare, and he’ll climb, with Hazel belaying for him. There is a quick trial of the ropes … Hazel has a sandbag to counter the weight difference and we laugh because it nearly lifts.

First climb. A good effort with hands and feet. In the rest, Hazel belays for Robin, who wants to climb without hands. Just elbows maybe-? Nick tells him to use his hands because he doesn’t fancy any more time in A&E. Robin allows himself to hold the “smears” with his hands.
The second climb gets off to a good start. Good use of feet to push up.
There is some “One more!” going on. IMG_6595
Clare still looks happy to keep on pulling though. She gets higher than on the first climb.

What a superb foot push.

It’s Clare who says “One more” at the end. Afterwards we agree it’s certainly been a worthwhile effort, even without Clare on top form. IMG_6604
Robin nips up the wall opposite on auto-belay, then belays for Hazel and Helen, who climb interestingly numbered routes. Term starts tomorrow (“I can’t wait”, says Clare). The 3 wheelchair users will have climbed twice by the time we next meet. See you in 2 weeks!

Ninja Power

Enthusiasm for strength in climbing …. Clare has tried some strength training in the park.

But we have to cancel the 28th September climb. Clare is having a rough time. It’s just a viral cold/cough, but a challenge to anyone without hefty breathing power and a forceful cough. A few days of oxygen, day and night ventilator on raised pressures, and chest physio.

“I’m very bored”, Clare tells the respiratory nurse on Day 2 of being stuck at home. “I’m desperate to be out and about”, she tells him after a week at home. “If it wasn’t you, I’d say have another week off school”, he says. Clare goes back to school, but works on recuperation for another week before climbing.

Back at last! A Sunday afternoon – we meet Robin on arrival, in colourful cycling top after bike ride with friends and cycling over to the Foundry. Nick and Helen are over at the Slab, also Hazel.

The hot news is the plan for a climbing club for young people with disabilities. Nick mailed us about it yesterday after a meeting at The Foundry. Training up some instructors, buying specialist kit for assisted climbing – yay! it’s really happening! So pleased that Clare and I have been a part of it, even just to be on the receiving end.

As we start to get ready I decide it’s a good opportunity to speak to Hazel, after using her stuff for weeks. “Thanks for letting Clare use all your stuff!” I say sincerely. Hazel looks blank.

Ooops. She didn’t know?! Robin and Nick and Helen are making jokes and laughing. I feel sheepish but Hazel seems OK about things.

Clare is breathing OK today, and speaking OK with her speaking valve. We’re talking about the climb. I recall the “7+” tiredness factor from last time: hmm, good to go for it, but Clare needs to not build up too much oxygen debt. Well, that’s what I’m thinking, perhaps feeling a bit more cautious after the recent cold/cough…

But Clare says: “The word is determination!” IMG_6120

We do a ninja pose. “Hyor!!” (To be revisited, later, in photo-capture mode.)

Everyone else is good. Nick has been for a 2 hour run today – because of his ankle, he explains. “Err…is a 2-hour run good on an injured ankle?” Apparently so. One ankle is visibly wider than the other but “not a problem”.

The first climb – with Robin. Hazel belayed Robin, and Nick & Helen did ropes for Clare.

It’s a thoughtful and steady climb, using both hands and feet. A strong and sustained effort. Robin lets the team know when Clare wants to come down. As she’s lowered into her chair there are at least 3 of us scrutinising her face for signs of over-tiredness. Nick says there’s a certain kind of tiredess you get from climbing and describes it …I get the impression of fatigue deep in the muscles.

Hazel sets out to climb using just dalmations. Robin climbs the corner chimney to the left of the Slab. Enjoyable spectating.

Climb 2. Ninja! IMG_6151

Nick is climbing with Clare now, Robin belaying. Clare is reaching to position her hands and Nick is getting her to look down at her feet.

Clare rest. Robin on spotty greens … Third climb. I wasn’t sure Clare would want a third climb. She looks well-oxygenated but cold. Still a ninja. Nick suggests she tries just two moves on this last effort, aiming to get both hands together around big red holds.IMG_6172

Two moves achieved. And then Nick’s saying (because he can’t help it, and we’re laughing at it): “One more pull!”

One more pull… achieved. Hah! IMG_6173

Coffees. Check Helen’s busy diary. See you in 2 weeks. Hyor!!!

Vent and Mountain

Woo, 3 climbs over the summer months – gotta catch up on this blog.  Picture fest coming up … ventilator ducking out of sight … and in the background some huge, dark mountains.

Late July, it was back to the Furnace.  Not been there since Clare’s 2nd-ish time at The Foundry.  It was more of a Fridge in the winter but now it’s hotter and Nick has got a big fan blowing air near our corner.  Clare says it’s not hot, and certainly her hands aren’t warm.

The conversation starts with dogs. The Whittaker dog is old and very poorly.  A lovable dog, from the pictures that Robin shows us.  Then we look at pics of Helen’s mum’s sociable labs and whippets, and then show pics of our Pip trying to sit on Clare’s lap while Clare tries to use her laptop.

We discuss the climb. Nick has weighed the climbing helmet and a cycling helmet, and the climbing helmet is actually lighter.  He suggests the first climb without the helmet.  See whether Clare is swinging round and actually needing it.  Robin will try to assist Clare with posture.

The vent. Hardly discussed!  A month ago Clare did her only climb so far without it, and Robin carried it, ready to reconnect.  But now … nah, leave it switched off on the back of the chair. Reconnecting it won’t solve problems fast enough, and Clare should come down if needing a rest.  Nick and Helen point Robin to a sand bag to carry instead, tee hee.

Today Clare wears a different pair of Hazel’s shoes, size 6 so a bit smaller: they seem to fit OK, but here the wall is a bit undercut and Clare’s feet don’t make much contact.  It means swinging round is less of an issue.

Clare reaches well with her hands and steadily scales up. Robin is both checking when she wants to descend and encouraging her upwards. 

She still looks good when she comes down and Nick offers her advice on tactics for the next climb.  He suggests to all of us that she should get up the undercut start fairly quickly (so Nick & I should pull hard) and then she can use her feet at the more vertical zone.

Robin (with his ultra short pre-holiday day) has climbed up and down by now, and we hear about his new bike … keenly awaited… in the meantime he’s stripping down and cleaning the old bike, and planning a long canoeing trip in Germany.

Climb 2: Clare keeps on reaching.  She is dangling at times but her arms (and all of our arms) are helping her up the overhang.  Robin climbs behind to push her to the wall.  I can’t really see Clare’s face but while her head looks firm and she keeps making an effort to reach, I have to assume she is OK.

She gets quite high.

Then fairly suddenly, her head starts to hang further back and she doesn’t lift her arms forward and up.  She needs to come down.  She looks exhausted on arrival.

Nick says it was a 7-minute effort, the longest yet.  I suction airways and put on the probe, which gives a lowish reading.  I tell Clare to breathe up as she can reoxygenate herself faster on her own than wait for the vent at modest pressures to do the job.  Sats starts to rise and then I connect the vent so she can really rest.

Helen goes for coffees and we talk holidays.  Helen will be taking people kayaking (happy smiles, there’s just no staying away). Nick and Robin and family have 2 weeks in France and lots of cycling, and after that Clare and I and family have a week in Oxfordshire … after that there might just be time for a climb before Nick’s ‘Tour De Party’ when Nick gets launched on the road to Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc with the help of a charity cake bake by Robin and sisters.

We watch Helen leading a ‘5c’.

Clare is looking a bit better by now but hasn’t been cheerful enough to join in talk of the holidays, saying only that she is going to sleep when she gets home.  Then she manages a smile when someone who saw her here at The Foundry early on comes over to say “Hi” and to congratulate her on her ongoing success.

Fast forward to late August …

Helen waves from the top – she’s fixing the ropes.

It’s been 5 weeks, and some things are different. Nick has stubble and Robin’s Y10 GCSE results are in.

The stubble is protection from the mountain elements. Wet weather is expected in the French Alps at the weekend but Nick is undaunted, travelling out there tomorrow. We give him a cake baked by Clare’s sister, Xan, and a couple of choc bars (carbo loading / recovery / comfort).

What’s really different for Clare is her new trache and new speaking valve. She is only using the vent at night-time now.  Her voice is more audible and the others can understand.  “How was your holiday?” asks Robin.  Clare’s swift reply: “Good! And how was yours?”

Holiday anecdote: it was “hilarious”, says Robin, his dad’s biking accident. Apparently French bikes have front and rear brakes on the other handlebars compared to British bikes …Nick braked sharply at bottom of hill and flew over handlebars. “Leg was bruised black!” agrees Nick cheerfully. Oh yes, he confirms, still OK for the 100-mile Ultra Trail run.

Can’t match the bike stunt, but Clare had her own slightly spectacular crash, when the power chair spun off the road on a country lane and she plunged down into a hedgerow. No damage, luckily, except hair leafage and nettle rash.

Robin spent 3 days canoeing from the Polish border to Berlin – and his new bike was waiting for him when he got back.  “How’s the bike then?” we ask.  “Wonderful. [Sigh.] Everything you want in a bike.”

So, now for some climbing.  We’re at the same place as 3 climbs ago, but this time Robin climbs to Clare’s left rather than beyond the “liquorice”.

Clare wears Hazel’s grey climbing shoes, as used last time, and the strategy is to get hands and feet on the wall and to hold body out from wall. Clare is saying “thank you” a lot.  She really is going to get speech back.

Nick suggests Clare tries without a helmet at first, and we’ll see if she needs one. A very lightweight helmet would be good … what kind could we get? Helen and I think that French white water canoeing helmets are very light, and Helen says she’ll see if she can find one around.

First climb. Clare is reaching well.  She draws up both feet and uses them a bit, with help. It’s the most “whole body” climb I’ve seen Clare do.

I wonder if Clare is breathing.  I call her name, and ask. She nods.  Robin says she’s OK.
The speaking valve falls off and I catch it one-handed.  It isn’t essential but Robin has no trouble reaching down for it and fitting it back on.
Clare gets pretty high.

She comes down tired but she’s smiling.  I’m smiling too because we can hear what Clare says: “It was amazing!!”

Nick and Helen discuss Clare’s technique. Clare is using her stomach muscles. Though not under command for a year or so, they are still there. Clare used to be able to swing up onto a trapeze bar, I say.

Clare’s next remark is harder to figure out. I thought she said “I am going to climb again [after resting]”, but it turns out to be “I am really going to learn to climb again”, i.e. to get my ability to climb restored after my stroke.

Then it’s more holiday chat. Robin tells us about the “dead animal” that a friend on holiday started to look for … the friend traced the smell to Nick’s and Robin’s climbing boots 🙂

Clare says “Congratulations on your GCSE’s” to Robin. She is really looking forward to going back to school. She prefers school to holidays. Robin is the other way round.

2nd climb. Nick climbs with Clare.  Helen belays Clare, and Robin belays Nick.  It’s all change (though I keep pulling).  Clare gets almost as high with an all-over-body effort. 

She comes down tired, though still cheerful. Nick says it’s usually Robin saying “climb to the top” but actually he thinks himself that Clare could do it. 

We fix the next climb for 14th September, fitting round Helen’s busy weekends.  We wish Nick good luck for the UMTB, drink coffee, and eat Xan’s cake.

Swooosh …

Now September.  Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc is in the past, just about. We followed Nick via the LiveTrail SMS update service … for 82 kilometres of dark and steep mountain running, until medics told him to retire.

We meet Robin at the entrance.  How’s the bike?  “Excellent!” says Robin, huge smile.

We look for Nick and Helen as we enter the main hall and see them setting up at The Slab. We look particularly at Nick as we approach …. thinner?  Yes!  Certainly is.

Nick says he was 8kg lighter when weighed by the race medics, severely dehydrated. He’s grinning about that. He was extremely disappointed to be forced to stop – though he knew it was the decision that had to be made after throwing up from 8pm onwards all night and next day. But he’s pleased that people are still giving him sponsorship money to benefit the schools.

Clare and I have studied the results and tell Nick he would have been well-placed (exactly 1000th) if he’d not been forced to stop.

First climb.

Nick will climb behind Clare again, with Helen belaying Clare, and Robin belaying Nick.

It’s a great start. I pass Robin the iPhone once Clare and Nick are round the 1st blob and he gets some good pictures. Feet on holds, and straightening legs – Nick encouraging and helping. 

Something of a whoop from Helen as Clare gives a huge pull and Helen and I have our ropes go slack. Clare pulled harder or sooner than we expected, or she pushed up with her legs.

Nick is saying go for top.  Not very far from top … but Clare wants to descend.

Nick asks how tired on a scale of 1 to 10.  Clare says “7 plus”.  I’m thinking that Nick stops moving at 10.  On the other hand, Clare ought to stop moving before oxygen debt builds up.

Clare now says: “I want to work on my weight training”.  Well, we have just bought a pull bar to put up in doorways.  Robin gives us advice.  Tell people not to leap at it and swing into the room.  Erm, ok then.

While Clare rests we hear about Robin’s planned 4-hour bike ride to follow climbing today. He is building up to a ride from John O’Groats to Cornwall.  Or any excuse for a 4-hour bike ride.

2nd climb. Went much higher than any of expected.  Clare is trying really hard.  There is some “1 more pull!” going on … 1 more pull is followed by another 1 more pull.

It’s Robin, watching from below, who says Clare should come down.  I’m just thinking that her hand positioning is looking less lively when Robin says she is “looking pale”.

Zoom back to chair. Clare is smiling and very positive.  “I really enjoyed it.”

Now for some spectating: Robin climbs up a chimney route to get the ropes down.  Meanwhile Helen fetches coffees, including a frothy one for me and Clare to share. And cake for Nick, to try to feed him up a bit again.

See you in 2 weeks!

Proud to be climbing!

First evening climb. It takes over an hour to reach The Foundry due to ‘police incident’ but Clare is undaunted. I’d been wondering if she would still be psyched up for climbing after putting in lots of effort at school. Apparently so.

Clare and I were boosted this week by her climbing photo in the paper. One of her carers spotted the article: it’s about Nick’s forthcoming 100 mile mountain run. (See – and mail
to sponsor him.) So proud to be part of efforts to let other disabled youngsters go climbing.

It’s straight to business when we finally arrive at the wall (though we do ask Helen how her mum’s wedding went).

“How do you feel?” asks Nick. Clare waves a horizontal hand: “So-so”.

The vent is silent on the back of the chair and Clare has managed without it most of the day, but I turn it on and connect it. No point in getting any tireder than you have to.

Clare tries on Hazel’s climbing shoes. Robin and Nick assure us that Hazel won’t notice absence of these shoes or she doesn’t mind or there’s lots of stuff in the house anyway. The shoes are a bit large but with awesomely sticky rubber soles they are going to be good.

Nick has also brought the yellow helmet tried on last week. More foot pushing may lead to more risk of head swinging into wall.

Here goes. Fingers crossed!


Also … ropes crossed.

Robin is on the other side to usual (to Clare’s right – though he points out that he has climbed on this side before). For some reason there needs to be some ducking and weaving around the ropes, and high-stepping or limbo-ing over/under the vent-tubing.

Robin is also a bit further over today, his and Clare’s paths separated by a vertical black ribbon. Liquorice, I call it. Robin and Helen are eyeing it up for climbing.

Clare sets off. Pretty good start.


The shoes certainly do help her feet stick to the wall.


Clare seems more independent in placing her hands this week.


She searches for hand holds, and inches upwards.

Feet and legs get a bit of the action.


Since her injury, Clare has found a tendency to tilt her head to the left, and when I see the tilt increasing I wonder if she is getting tired.


Yup, time for a rest.

In the rest Nick tells me to pull harder. Then Clare can ascend faster, and find more holds.

Robin and Helen deal with the liquorice. The question is whether it can be climbed to the top with hands and feet gripping nothing but this thin black strip. Robin sets off to find out, Helen belaying.

I get my iPhone back from our carer Ade to take photos but I’ve been chatting to my sister for ages and the power runs out. Ade gamely changes to Nick’s phone instead and gets a picture of Robin just before he gets to the top:


While his dad is running, running and running at the moment, Robin’s thing is cycling. He is planning to cycle from Lands End to John o’ Groats. When he gets his new bike … he’s currently stripping down the old one (apparently a required skill before the new bike can be acquired).

All of us saw something of Le Tour. Clare and I cheated a bit, but we do have selfies including cyclists zooming past Meadowhall (and we did better than Clare’s sisters, who stayed at home and watched Trollhunter).

We ask the “Year 10’s” about their work experience experiences. Clare did her work experience in the school office, and enjoyed the change in environment for a week. Robin was at a Youth Hostel and he got involved in outdoor stuff as well other duties (no surprise there).

Now it’s time for Clare’s next climb. Nick thinks Clare’s strategy should be to hold her body out from wall a bit, and demonstrates. OK, give it a try.

Slither from chair … stand …


… 2 steps to wall … and a few moments of standing while we and our ropes and the vent tubing all change places. “Maypole dancing!” says Helen. The ropes end up untwisted.

In Climb 2 Clare doesn’t really get her body out from the wall much, and she uses her feet less. But what I’m struck by is how amazing she looks with her body positioned on the wall.

Her hands are doing well finding and staying on the holds. I’m pulling harder.

I can’t really see how Clare is. But she still nods when asked if she is OK. Nick says we should get the helmet off. It isn’t really helping and it slips back on Clare’s head.


Back in the chair. Group photos. Clare really pleased with the climb.


We don’t have coffee today but there’s still time to chat.

Robin says Nick is out all the time now … running. I ask Nick if his ankle has recovered enough to be coping with this. Nick says he seems to be fine running a lot of miles now, preparing as much as possible to tackle the 100 mountainous miles.

Nick also says he has been taking school kids climbing on Mondays. I feel extra happiness about how the whole climbing adventure is working out – it’s not just for Clare, but for everyone. Nick’s fund raising will provide training as well as equipment to open up more possibilities for youngsters with disabilities to climb.

Here’s a picture of Clare from January, trying out a ‘rescue harness’ in our living room.


This harness isn’t so different from a sling you might use for hoisting to and from wheelchair and bed, etc. … and it could be a climbing choice for people without “head control”. Hurray for climbing being the kind of sport where problems are solved, for all people and their different abilities and ambitions.

Back to the Slab

Clare and I arrive to the sound of Sultans of Swing, which I suddenly remember from our first Foundry session back in Feb. What is also the same is the Slab: this is the slightly slanted zone/block where Clare first tried a climb.

What is different, is that Clare has no ventilator attached! Recent chunks of time off the vent have now built into pretty much whole school days (3 days managed so far).

It’s been 28 months since Clare’s stroke, and it just goes to show you shouldn’t believe the “improvement window is the first 2 years” myth. Clare and I know of super-fast recoveries but also 7- and even 16-year big improvements. In this uncertain life we have taken the approach: “live your life NOW and any improvements that happen are a bonus”. Plenty of life lived, and plenty of bonuses so far. Including climbing – both categories.

Anyway, is Clare going to climb off the vent? Good question. And parked for now …

We are talking about music while Clare gets into the body harness. Robin has been watching Metallica’s Glastonbury performance on TV, while Clare and I watched Friday’s Glasto highlights on iPlayer, and Helen’s brother has seen Metallica live. Nick has enjoyed the ‘chilled’ music playing at The Foundry this morning … Dire Straits & Queen & the like.

So, the climbing. Nick is pointing out the plentiful holds. The nonverticalness of the slab wasn’t helpful when Clare climbed with a jumar but if she’s using the holds it might help. There are enough holds here for Clare to have a real chance of using her feet.

Right, decision time, what about the vent? Is Clare going to climb without it…?

I’m not sure if she’ll manage strenuous movement without ventilator backup – we haven’t tried yet. I’m dithering. But Clare wants to give it a go. Well, it will be easy enough for Robin to attach the vent if Clare needs it while she’s on the wall. (Ha! You weren’t thinking you’d get off carrying it, were you, Robin? 🙂

Robin takes the silent vent off the back of the chair and I tell him how to turn it on (very easy, just one button). He’ll also need to take off the ‘swedish nose’ on the end of the trache. (Mild amusement … why “nose”?! It’s because it humidifies incoming air, same as your nose does.)

Clare starts off well. She is placing her hands with some help, and pulling up. And she is using her feet a bit.

Up and up some more. Not many photos though, as I’m busy at the wall pulling through rope to assist Clare and Nick.

Robin is wondering if Clare should be back on the vent. “Come down, then”, I’m saying. Either Clare’s breathing patterns are worrying Robin needlessly, in which case there’s no rush to reconnect the vent, or she is struggling a bit, in which case the vent’s moderate pressures won’t be enough for rapid improvement.

Clare is smiling as soon as she lands back in the chair.

She looks OK. How did it feel, Clare, using your legs?

So far so good but I’m thinking we could turn the vent on for the second climb rather than push our luck. Clare agrees.

On the second climb Clare gets higher.

Helen is excitedly pointing out the way Clare draws up her knees as she pulls down. Clare’s feet are seeking holds. Pushing from her feet makes Clare’s body swing round, and Nick is calling instructions to Robin to steady her.

Robin’s knee helps Clare’s foot find a hold.

The vent tubing gets trapped as Clare and Robin climb up past the chunky ledge that crosses the wall, but Robin digs it free.

The ledge provides a really good push up for feet, though Clare’s body swings round some more.

A bit higher, and then back down, cheerful. Great climb!

Nick says a helmet will be a good idea in future, in case foot pushes swing Clare’s head round to the wall. We undo the twisty bun and try on a helmet he’s brought along. It’s perfect for the team photo 🙂

Helen goes for coffees as we don’t have a carer with us today. Nick and Robin get the ropes down and I ask about Nick’s 60 mile running event last weekend. Best part of 15 hours of running, with a 3 mile run home afterwards. Nick is training for the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc to raise money for his schools and for climbing equipment for disabled youngsters (mail him at ).

“Unbelievably, I’m fine … I’ll do a 10 mile recovery run on Saturday and see you Sunday,” Nick’s email had said.

“He wasn’t ‘fine’!” says Robin, cheerfully. “He was sick! And exhausted – I had to look after him when he got home!”

“Are you worried about picking up injuries in long runs before UTMB?” I ask.

It seems not. One ankle is twice as wide as the other, but this doesn’t stop Nick climbing to the top to get our ropes down.

And now we take a proper look at Robin’s nose – it is purplish and wider than usual. He was kicked during football. Ouch – first aid & sit out rest of game? No, played on! (I decide not to mention my two mildly purple toes from Thursday, when the power chair veered over my foot as Clare & I struggled down a steep slope – I sat down for half an hour to ice my foot.)

We’re drinking coffee now. Clare has a couple of spoonfuls of my cappuccino. She worked really hard this morning and now looks zonked. We might try an evening climb next, as in 2 weeks’ time it’s Helen’s big event (mum’s wedding). Will Clare be too tired? Hard to say and Clare is actually too tired to even contemplate it now … back home to rest!


Nick & Robin & Helen pick a different place at The Foundry each time we go, so when Clare and I roll in we are looking round for them…

Spotted! There they are, roughly where we climbed last time. I remember commenting on the Dalmatian holds just here … large and white and all-over spotty.
Nick summons Clare to the wall straightaway, to look at the Dalmations. These holds are more grabbable than most: Nick’s new suggestion is to try pulling up from them instead of using the jumar … see how it goes. A future addition could be to use stirrups for Clare’s feet, which will be lifted when she pulls down with her arms, allowing her to then push with her legs as well.

It will be harder gripping the holds than the jumar, but there’s also a harness for me this week, with rope and gri-gri (Nick reminds me how to use it), and pulleys so that for every metre of rope I pull through Clare will rise 50cm. I give my iPhone to carer Rachel, who gets cracking on the photography.

Clare reaches up for dalmations, using the arm lifting power that she’s developed through climbing. Robin and Helen both help with hand positioning. Once Clare’s hands are on top of these shapely holds her fingers wrap around them fairly well.

Clare pulls down. Nick pulls down, and I pull rope through my gri-gri, and we have lift-off.

The technique works! Clare and Robin grapple with a couple more spotty holds, and then Clare rests briefly before Take 2.

It’s a chance to quiz Nick some more about his mountain race: the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. One hundred mountainous miles, running day and night, fund raising for his schools … Nick had told us about it when we’d first met, and I’d thought “hey, that’s a pretty exceptional way for a headteacher to raise funds!”

Then last week Nick sent out the details, and Clare and I watched the event video:
What?!?! How on earth?!?!

Nick has extended his fund raising aims to include support and specialist climbing equipment for young people with disabilities, as well as expedition equipment and sensory equipment for the schools. I’m delighted Clare’s own amazing experience of climbing is opening doors for other young people. (Nick is aiming to raise £30 per mile, so if you’d like to contribute or get more info, mail him at

Clare’s second effort:

Practice gained from first meeting with dalmations seems to be helping Clare with her grip.

She climbs as high as before …
And then a bit higher… Then, surprise! Clare’s leg is lifting up onto one of the big blue bulgy protusions … she’s trying to push up with her feet!
Almost. I’m nudging her foot onto the bulge, but her body is swinging round a bit. She comes down for a rest. Not too tired yet, and really enjoying the climbing.
All of us are laughing during the second rest, as Robin tells us how he’s accidentally injured his dad over the years, e.g. with karate kicks. Nick laughs as much as anyone and owns up to self-inflicted injuries too … the skin graft is from when his arm went into a heated mangle, which seems to relate to a climbing accident in the kitchen when he was a boy. Your mum can’t have been pleased, I say (surely an understatement).

A third climb, energy levels still high:

Once again Clare reaches the first big blue bulge …

It’s not so surprising this time when she raises first one foot then the other to get a push off. Robin provides a steadying force, and Nick and I nudge her feet towards a flatter part of the surface.

Whew! That session was an eye-opener. Clare was very happy with it, and says “I enjoyed using my leg myself.”

Next weekend it’s Helen’s Duke of Edinburgh practice trip, taking kids canoe camping. Nick is running a 60-mile marathon to train for the UMTB. See you in 2 weeks!

Upward lift

Nick: “How are you feeling today, Clare?”

Clare curls her fingers and gets her thumb up.

Nick: “Right, we’ll do something hard then!”

It’s been 3 weeks, and we have wet holidays to talk about as we get ready.  Helen’s Norwich trip involved canoeing so was bound to be wet. And it was. Robin’s D-of-E trip was really wet (he says cheerfully) but he had a tarpaulin that he sheltered under, so no worries there. Clare and I were in a comfy dry cottage looking out at woodpeckers and wet trees, and had to admit our trip to Harry Potter Studios had been totally unaffected by rain.

Last time she climbed, Clare got very cold.  Today we help her put on Hazel’s cycling gloves at the start, hoping her hands will stay warm.  Which they don’t – but today’s clothing, including full thermals, joggers, an ample jumper, and fleece, keeps her warm enough.

For the first time ever, we don’t need to think whether the vent tubing goes above or below the harness – we’ve remembered it goes above.  And we repeat last time’s nifty trick of tucking the NG tube into Clare’s hairdo (Clare’s carer Becky does this as she knows how hairdo was built).

To the wall! Nick, Helen and Robin have picked another new location, this spot having vertical rather than horizontal obstacles (if obstacles is the right word).

Clare starts very fast, raising the jumar without assistance.


“Nice one, Clare”, we’re murmuring.  But Clare is already pulling the jumar down, and going for the next lift.

Upward progress is steady.  What is surprising is that Clare continues to lift the jumar herself. The velcro system built round Hazel’s gloves is doing a great job keeping Clare’s hands from slipping off the bar, but upward lift of the bar is all from Clare.

The big blue vertical obstacle keeps Clare and Robin further apart, but not too far apart.  The vent tubing falls off only once, dangling downwards … we all shout at Robin and he’s already retrieving it to reconnect.


Ooh, this is looking like another trip to the top ….



Robin is telling Clare to go for it.


Hesitation as the climbers near the top.  Four of us watching below. Two people up high.  Movement.  Watching.  Waiting.

Is Clare still OK? Robin says Yes.


Hovering.  Encouragement.  “Reach up for the karabiner!”

Clare’s hardworking arm reaches up waveringly.  And again.  “Go on, Clare!”

I think Clare touches the karabiner.  Anyway, she is defo at the top


Woo hoo!!  The amazing thing is that Clare has done every single lift of the jumar herself.  That’s a first.

We get Clare down as fast as conveniently possible, not sure how tired she is.  Her knees are coming into contact with the holds.  We don’t need a full-speed descent, and Robin helps Clare’s feet and knees past tricky spots.

She lands in the chair. Smiling! And looking well.

High five!


Climb again? Well, Clare’s priority is café.  We fetch some coffee and Clare has a few spoonfuls of mine.

So – another amazing climb to the top.  More for future reference than anything (as Clare is looking perfectly well) we take a reading of Clare’s sats – they are 100% (i.e. fully oxygenated) once we have got a reading from her cold hands.  We relive the enjoyment of the climb and Clare feels really pleased with it.

Coffee drunk.  Ropes to get down.  See you in 2 weeks!


Wheelchair, ventilator? So?! Teen stroke survivor goes climbing…