Climbing and cafe

Back at The Foundry.  We’re still buzzing after last time’s climb to the top.

Getting ready – to a background of Arctic Monkeys.  Nick produces the adjusted cycling gloves and jumar system.  Hmm, new gloves-? They’re Hazel’s gloves apparently, but Nick & Robin assure us Hazel never uses them.  Anyway, she’ll like the new velcro additions, they say 😉

No need to fuss with the vent tubing as we have at last started to remember that it should go over and not under the harness straps.  Just recently Clare has started to take significant chunks of time off the ventilator so maybe Robin won’t have to carry it in the unspecified future.  We tell him to enjoy the grooves in his shoulders while he still can.


Clare starts climbing.  The now sewn-on velcro is holding well and her hands mostly stay on the bar.  Lifts and pulls are thick and fast.


Upwards progress is rapid. Intense effort.


Clare is rotating to the side a bit more today, but still lifting the bar well. Robin helps her get her right hand back on the bar a couple of times.  Clare and Robin negotiate the groove in the wall.


But now Clare is too tired for more pulls. Time to get down and rest in the chair.

Clare looks exhausted and seems cold.  She isn’t wearing enough today: jeans instead of the usual joggers, and a not-over-thick-or-long jumper.  Nick and Robin are finding it warm enough to wear tshirts today and it’s certainly warmer here than it was in February, but Clare has always been nesh. I put my jumper on her lap, hoping she will warm up a bit.

We discuss the climb. Robin says Clare was pulling down on the bar even before Nick added his weight to the pull.  It was the most intense burst of climbing so far.

The gloves are good. Nick explains some other thoughts he’s had about modifications to the jumar, but wearing the right clothing is a higher priority for next time.  Helen suggests fleece trousers for Clare – Helen leads canoeing groups, and keeping people warm is part of the job.

Clare might warm up a bit when she starts her feed, so I ask her: “Do you want to rest for a bit then do another climb if you’re up for it, or call it a day now?”

Clare mouths her reply, which doesn’t seem to match either suggested option, or perhaps it matches them both.  “Erm … did you say you want to rest for a bit … and then you want to call it a day?”

Clare mouths one word at a time: “No, I want to rest for a bit, then go to the cafe, then do another climb!”

Cafe! “Like your thinking!” we all say.  Right, what are we all having?!

I tell Clare we don’t have a munchkin bag with us as she used it at Woodcraft Folk on Thursday to eat a bourbon biscuit.  OK then, I’ll try to find a cake with some easily eatable icing.

Helen and I head upstairs to the café and return with assorted coffees and a wedge of sponge cake with icing and jam. Nick hadn’t wanted a coffee but volunteers to eat the sponge minus its icing and jam.

Good coffee! Clare has spoonfuls of cappuccino, icing and jam.

Hey, I’ll stage a photo of the drinks as this week’s group photo.  I’m waiting for Clare to finish putting the spoon back onto her plate. But she is still leaning forward over her plate and cup.  Is Clare OK? Hmm, she is looking peaky.

Rachel and I attach the sats (i.e. oxygen saturation) monitor, and suction airways.  Sats are not very good. Turn on oxygen. Have another go at turning on once we’ve realised the cylinder’s valve was closed.  Sats as measured don’t improve much but this may be because Clare is really cold so we’re not getting a good reading.  Freezing cold knees. Forehead feels like cold water.

Lesson learned on clothing. Clare is looking a bit better now.  Rachel, Clare and I watch Robin and Helen get started on some climbing. We set off home, oxygen still running.

It was a good climb.  Clare really went for it.  It wasn’t so high, but Nick reflects that once you start to do something regularly you get some days better than others.  We’ll next meet in 3 weeks, as Robin is doing Duke of Edinburgh expedition in 2 weeks’ time.

Topped out!!!

So, back at The Foundry on 23rd April.  Only 1 day has been spent trapped in bedroom by broken down lift and that day is parked in the past.


Since last Foundry visit Clare and I have been to Decathlon for cycling gloves, hopefully to help Clare keep her hands on the jammer whilst being able to pull them off it too.  I’ve dug out remnants of strong Velcro tape that Speech & Language gave us in hospital to stick photos to a communication board. And I’ve brought Evostik …. ahhh, nice smell!

The plan is to Velcro the gloves to the bar.  Clare tries on the gloves and it seems pretty clear where the Velcro will be needed.  Nick reads from the Evostik packet that bonds take 24 hours to reach full strength, though based on my experience of patching jeans in the seventies I’m hoping we can get away with just 5-10 minutes drying time, before pressing touch-dry glued pieces together.

The other new plan is to photograph or film some climbing: Robin puts on a bright yellow helmet to carry the automatic camera.


While the glue does its thing there is time to admire (or joke about) the colour match between Robin’s helmet and his dad’s tshirt, also looking good with Helen’s green today.

Now it’s time for Clare to get into the body harness. We attach the sling for the vent (which adds another zingy slash of yellow).

Robin asks briskly: “So how high are we going?” Obviously he’s thinking about the top.

Nick replies casually: “We’ll just see how it goes.”

Ready to start. There’s still the question of the vent tubing – does it go over or under the harness?  It seems we have to figure this out every time.  Under looks better while Clare is stood on the ground.  But Robin remembers it should be over, so it doesn’t detach (so often) while Clare is reaching and pulling.

Upwards.  Clare lifts her arms so much better than she used to, I’m saying.  The training effect of climbing.

Robin is encouraging Clare.  It is teamwork.

“Go on!”

“Go on, Clare!”


“There we go!”

“Nice one!” from Nick, too.

The Velcro has failed on at least one side. Robin is helping Clare place her hands. But Clare seems actively to be doing both sliding and pulling.


“That’s it.”


“You ready?”

”Very nicely done!”

“We going for the slide?”

Now Clare is really high up. Higher than she’s ever climbed.

“I think you might make it!” Robin is saying.

“Go on Clare!”



It’s tricky right up at the top. The wall seems to be bulging outwards so it’s hard to slide the jammer up.


And/or Clare is now tired.  I can’t actually see her face. I’m thinking I’d notice if her head was wobbling backwards of if she looked trembly.  Though I’m not totally certain.

I’m looking at the whole scene. Necks are bent upwards. Nick and Helen are totally focused on the two-person climb.  I point the iPhone upwards for yet more photos but Clare and Robin are tiny figures up high.

IMG_3649 IMG_3652

“I can’t see if Clare’s OK!” I call cautiously. Nick relays, sends on the message as a question.  “She’s fine!” Robin’s voice floats down confidently.

They are so close to the top.

Robin’s encouragement keeps going. Clare’s hands on that jammer manage some more lifts and pulls…

“Touch the top!” says Robin, and demonstrates. Clare reaches up … that arm lift! wow … she touches the top.


Whew. Cheering from us below.

Robin and Clare shake hands. I ask them to do it again, for the photo.


Now to get down. I untie that knot I’ve been taught about.  Nick and Helen and Robin get Clare down to the waiting wheelchair for a rest.




I’m really, really impressed.  With Clare’s climb to the top, certainly. Also with the climbing partnership side – it’s been an eye-opener. The 5th climb together.  Who would have thought a couple of Y10 school students could achieve this?

While Clare rests we take a look at the gloves.  Velcro gripping power has overcome the strength of the young glue bonds and two of the four Velcro pieces have become unstuck, meaning neither left nor right glove has retained a Velcro grip on the bar.

We can’t see what the camera has captured yet but we look at some previous stuff on the robwhitt youtube channel.  Robin’s video of his France holiday gets its first like 🙂

Clare says she isn’t too tired for a second climb. She sets off strongly, effortfully.



She does some good pulls and goes upwards but finds her muscles need more rest. Back down. Nick and Robin take the gloves for more work.

I’m still reeling from the climb to the top. I’m going to read Karen Darke’s climb up El Cap. And we’re all looking forward to seeing the pictures from the headcam.

Talking of which, enjoy:

You need to watch this, if only for the sound of Robin chuckling all the way down. “And you said we weren’t going to do it this time, dad!”


Getting outdoors?

Double helping of the blog coming up.  Now for a spoiler, a huge whopper of a spoiler: Clare climbed to the top at the Foundry!!!!!

But topping out is the theme of the next post.  Soz for the spoiler.  If you want to go there straightaway then check out this headcam video by Clare’s climbing partner:

Theme for this post is our trip to Horseshoe Quarry. Well, almost to Horseshoe Quarry.


We arranged to meet at Calver crossroads, bringing the time forwards to morning due to weather forecast.  Clare and I are 10 minutes late.  It’s been a bumpy journey because nearly all roads are bumpy and Clare is feeling fairly cross because her feet kept falling off the wheelchair feet (we’d rashly removed the chair’s velcro heel-straps to make the feet fold better for standing transfers).

Nick and Robin wave us into the car park, and Helen is there too in her car. Greetings. Clare cheers up. We set off without delay for Horseshoe Quarry, in convoy.

We are hoping to see the quarry, to appreciate its sunny shelteredness, possibly to recce climbs – though there’s no certainty Clare will be able to drive her chair close to the walls.

In fact, we don’t get any closer than the small parking place near the road, as two giant boulders block the path up the hill, with a padlocked heavyweight chain between them.

Interesting problem!  We look at various options to get past the boulders.  There is no way round them and, even if we had a key to unlock the chain, the jutting shapes of the boulders make the gap too narrow to push a wheelchair through.  A few pairs of climbers go past and step over the chain: no one has a key or knows where one is kept.

Could Clare step over the chain? Not very easily.  With support she could take little steps from her chair to the gap … more help needed to lift her legs over the chain, with a third person carrying the vent.  And meanwhile her chair would need to be carried over the smaller but still chunky boulders to the right of the path.  I assure the others that the chair is too heavy to lift. It’s reputed to weigh 12 stone though we haven’t checked this.  (In fact, its weight is 15½ stone or more, according to an online manual.)

As we’re here now, we decide on a little pilot try of the ‘get through the gap’ idea anyway, as a learning exercise.  Clare stands up with my help, and Nick tests the weight of the chair. Yup, very heavy!

Tentative conclusion is that we would have a chance of carrying a non-powered chair over the boulders, and that with a key to remove the chain Clare could step through the gap.  Beyond the gap a gravel and leaf mould path slopes uphill beside woods: it would be useful having a power chair to get up the hill, but perhaps not essential.

So, where next?  Nick suggests Burbage Edge, and we set off.

In the car, I’m wittering on to Clare about the scenery, telling her to look out this window or that (while I keep my eyes on the road, of course).  On the way over I’d already been speculating about the rock formations that are everywhere visible in the Peak District.  Has Clare studied in Geography the kind of erosion that produces these high-up rocky edges? And what is this kind of cracked and craggy rock – could it be the limestone of GCSE Chemistry?

Burbage Edge looks special when we get there.  We park in the kind of car park that makes you feel like you’re on holiday (bring out the thermos and sarnies, please).  Outside the car it’s windy.  Clare manoeuvres down the road behind parked cars and the chair can be shoved and bounced through a kissing gate.  Now we are at the end of a path that runs at the foot of the edge, with sweeping views in front and out to the right.  It’s chilly, but luckily the others have brought hats so Clare can borrow one.


Access uncertainty dealt with, can start to enjoy surroundings. Nick points out and names a few landmarks.  I remember to ask the basic geology question: “Is all this rock limestone?”

“Gritstone”, replies Nick.  “It’s God’s own rock!” he laughs, and the climbers enthuse about the kind of cracks you get in gritstone, and other great things about it.

We look at the rock face as we mosey down the path.  Triangle Buttress is the first route discussed as a possible climb.    It can be “well-protected”, like many routes here though there is the question of how to get to the foot of the climb.


A non-powered chair can be lifted up individual steps and ridges… but is there any sort of chair-pushing route up the boulder-strewn grass? It seems inevitable that a chair has to be lifted at least some of the way.  Carrying Clare and her chair separately would need a biggish team so we need to carry Clare in the chair.  Well, no big deal. We still have the base for a non-powered chair and we will sort out a complete chair: it’s already on the todo list because we visit houses that aren’t accessible even with our 6ft ramp, and we have carried Clare and the chair up 9 steps before.

Nick says we could climb some buildings.  It’s the new thing: “buildering”.  Buildings can often be well-protected and access to their feet isn’t usually a problem.  Possibly something to do in the summer …

“I want to climb the Eiffel Tower!” mouths Clare, with a cheeky grin.

We go past other scenically named climbs, stopping to look at Overhang Buttress and a couple of others.  Robin runs up a rocky slope and urges Helen to give her footwear the same trial.  We pass others on the path, or they pass us: one or two walkers or joggers; the occasional dog walker and dog; two teeny cyclists and their little pink bikes.  The edge itself is lightly sprinkled with brightly-coloured climbers and their ropes.  Burbage Edge is a playground, I think admiringly.


We get as far as Ash Tree Wall and turn back.  Now Clare is tired from the terrain so we put the chair onto one speed higher and I walk alongside Clare to steer the chair back up to the top.  Our first real outdoor walk with the power chair has been excellent.



The next day we have already planned to meet at The Foundry at 2pm.  It’s going to be a busy day for Clare as we have an appointment with the neurology consultant beforehand.  We have a carer for the morning and Clare is up in good time … warm but smart clothes chosen, make up and earrings, hair twisted into the plait-bun for the climbing.  Ready to go.  But the lift has broken down.  Rachel and I try various strategies then cancel the neurology appointment.  Oh well, morning in the bedroom, then let’s use the big red pull-button in the cellar to get Clare and the lift downstairs for climbing.  The lift engineer can sort out everything when he arrives.  It’s 12:50 and Clare and I are in the lift while Rachel is in the cellar.  Pull big red button …. jolt, but no descent.  Repeat 10 times with minor variation. Drat.  So much for lack of access to Horseshoe Quarry – today is going to be a day in the bedroom.

Lucky for us, Nick, Robin & Helen say they can do Friday instead….

Confident workout

Saturday 5th April – it’s smiles all round when we meet for Foundry session no.4. The jokes are about differing musical tastes and the daily variability of music style at The Foundry. I’m thinking there’s less caution about smiling now – confidence, about gear and technique, also about Clare’s enjoyment up there on the wall.

Climbing was Clare’s choice. Out of the blue, when she was asked to pick an ‘Elev8’ activity to do at the end of a Wednesday school day. Some “suitable” choices were pointed out to Clare. But she looked at the list and chose climbing.

Well, no chance. School has excellently supported Clare’s return to learning after 15 months away. But climbing was out of reach in the school setting. Clare joined the ‘Making sock monkeys’ group instead, and sociably watched other people sewing.

I detected a hint of ‘sympathetic reaction’ from some (“Ah, if only you could, Clare!” or “Poor thing, clinging to a lost past”), though definitely not from Clare’s switched-on Teaching Assistant. She and I mused about adventure holidays for disabled people … “disabled”, hmm, definitely need the p.c. “differently abled” term here, as the point is that everyone, so-called “able-bodied” or otherwise, needs different types of help to do their thing.

A highlight of 7 months in HDU was Sheffield’s Tramlines festival. Bye bye nurses, back later. Out the ward, carry all the medical stuff (hang as much from possible on the wheelchair), trog along to tram stop. Hey, city centre with music, sunbathers, icecream, freedom in the crowd. Those were the early days of the one-sided smile – smiles that struck like arrows of happiness.

So, Clare suggests climbing … really? Pre stroke she was leggy and bendy, clambering up rocks on holiday, finding a liking for trapeze. OK, then, I suppose it’s fun and I bet it’s possible somehow. Presumably needs ropes and someone to carry the ventilator? Where to start, who to ask?

Email to Pippa of ibk. “On a completely different topic I was going to ask you …”. And so, in New Year, Pippa was round at ours with Nick and Robin. And we got started.

After 2 practice sessions in our living room, Clare says she is going to write a climbing diary. She still intends to… 🙂 …but trying to get GCSE homework done is hard enough already. GCSE homework burden: Clare and Robin both. And a topic today, along with the music.

Also the blog is in the limelight as friends have read and liked it. Clare has linked to it on FB. We all agree it should become findable online. Clare and I get a lot of help and hope from others and it’s good to be in some way stuck in. I’m reading a few stroke recovery blogs (inspiring) and I’m going to tag this blog similarly … maybe spread the word that climbing is not on the forbidden list.

So, still chatting on all this stuff, also getting the gear sorted. Today’s session, not discussed so far, but now Nick proposes “workout”.

Nick reckons that a training session would be good. Don’t always go for climbing-high efforts. Really focus on strength and technique. Rather than get too tired, have breaks, hit it again after resting.

It makes sense. Slight delay in starting when Clare’s carer points out that the new padded strap for the ventilator is flimsily attached and in fact one clip is already broken. Helen produces karabiners and then Nick adds a sling.

First climb. Strong.

Second climb. Still strong.

“Could go for the top”, Robin says hopefully, more than once. But Nick says it’ll be easier to get to the top on the first climb of the day.

What about 5 linked moves, suggests Nick. Lift up and pull down, and onto the next…

Third climb. Clare is still pulling strongly. The 5 linked moves, then it’s 6 linked moves … and down, for a rest.

Clare isn’t exhausted, but she’s done enough. We review the kit. Descents have seemed slower today, with the jumar sticking, and Robin needing to help Clare get her hands out the hand loops. It might be good if Clare could peel her hands off the jammer at will … so what about cycling gloves and sewn on / glued on velcro? To be explored.

Rachel has a quick go. The 3rd carer to visit the Foundry but the 1st to try a climb. She’s been enjoying the music!

Then it’s time to think about the next session.

What about a trip to Horseshoe Quarry in the holidays? Not necessarily to climb but because it’s such a great spot, say Nick and co. Uncertainty over the powered wheelchair, which is nice for cruising round school or Meadowhall but makes heavy weather of even teeny steps. I’m thinking we could move the wheelchair seat back onto the non-powered base and then carry it if we have to. But possibly just go for a recce – find out how close we can get to routes, etc.

Café, views, outing… yeah!

High expectations or height expectations

Third climb at The Foundry – Saturday 22nd March.

High expectations or height expectations … from the start there is talk of topping.

I’m thinking privately: is it wise? Wise to aim for the top and in not reaching it risk disappointment for Clare? Safe to aim for the top, so high up, if mum and carer down below can’t see whether Clare is OK?

Yeah, let’s do it.

We’re looking at the new equipment, and smiling. Clare is smiling because climbing is what she wants to do.

Nick has revisited the bar that wedges through the jumar, and its wrist loops.  I take a picture of new, improved item later on, held by Robin.  We decide that henceforth it will be known as a “Whittaker”.

Nick also has a “gri-gri”, which he spells for me. A simple, standard bit of kit which hopefully will stop his hands blistering on the belay rope. I don’t think Helen is using one – but Robin’s feet stick spider-like to the walls so Helen’s hands perhaps avoid much friction.

My contribution for Robin is a thicker and padded strap for the ventilator.  Robin has made a shoulder-slung ventilator look surprisingly easy, but it surely is a strain and we joke about his bruises and blisters.

Getting into the body harness is now old hat but still done carefully.  Nick reminds me what untying I’ll need to do if Clare has to be lowered quickly. And we’re off…

The Whittaker is a success and Clare can mostly keep her hands on the bar. With help from Robin and Nick, Clare’s pulls lift her higher and higher… she is working hard, again and again ….

The vent tubing drops off a couple of times. Down below we shout up to Robin, who retrieves the dangling tubing and pushes it back on. A lot of responsibility for Robin? – definitely, but actually the vent tubing is not hard to deal with.

As Clare gets higher, Robin is checking that Clare wants to do “one more pull”.  Clare nods yes.

But then comes a time when I can see Clare is starting to look a little bit trembly.  She should get down.  I untie that rope, and Nick and Helen let Clare and Robin head downwards.

A deep, sculpted groove runs across today’s climbing spot, and Clare’s foot looks like getting stuck … Helen and Nick shout advice to Robin, who clambers across to help the foot escape.

Straight back down into the chair. Phew. Rest. Rest. Rest.

Rest. Rest. Go again?

As Clare makes her initial pulls on the jumar and leaves behind the support of my hands I can feel those triangular “trap” muscles working hard.  Nick is pulling hard too, and Clare surges upwards, even faster than before.

Up past the Moon slogan, burst by burst, up to and above the groove, up to the big white painted moon …

I’m not certain if Clare will call it a day before she’s exhausted.  Before and after her injury she’s shown the kind of determination where need for success overrules well-being. One time, during the locked-in months, her chest ‘splinted’ and her oxygen levels dropped low as she put utmost effort into typing C L A R E on the eyegaze computer she’d been loaned.

We are all checking (mainly via Robin) that Clare wants to continue.  One surge at a time.  Slightly above the level of the painted moon … getting close to the top.

Now Clare really has had enough. Back down.  Wordlessly into chair.  “You’re shattered!” we are saying to her, and, “Rest!”

She manages to be smiling again for a group photo: “See you in two weeks!”

Climbing at the Foundry 2

Second time climbing at The Foundry.
Nick has put a wooden bar through the jumar, so now Clare can try pulling herself up with both hands, and there is also another rope, somehow, that is going to let Nick help Clare’s upwards pull.
First time up … going higher … higher than before … but soon Clare is straining to hold her head up, and her head is on the verge of dropping backwards. Quick descent on the ropes, swing back into the chair.
Grace, same age cousin, feels her way to the top and walks down. Clare’s neck is resting meanwhile.
Clare needs to have her upper body more vertical, so Nick adjusts the harness. Success. Clare’s shoulders are now rounded forwards and her head no longer defying gravity.
One more improvement: wrist-loops. They aren’t perfect, but they reduce the time that Clare and Robin spend getting Clare’s hands back on the bar when they slip off. After Clare’s second climb, Nick tweaks the wrist loops. Grace climbs again, and then it’s Clare’s turn once more.
Two-handed climbing with determination!
Each pull moves Clare higher.
“One more pull?!” shouts Nick.
And again. And again.
Higher and higher!
Wooo! Still going!
Heh heh!!

Climbing at the Foundry 1

Just because you are a wheelchair user, just because you breathe with the help of a ventilator, wouldn’t you go climbing if you wanted to?
First climbing session was 26th February ….. wow!

IMG_3001Before – smiles of anticipation.

After – team smiles with success:

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