Starting out again: Returning to climbing in my fifties

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 FrankBooth 14 Jul 2021

Up until about seven or eight years ago, I use to climb quite regularly - indoors once a week, and the occasional foray to the peak District or Snowdonia. I was never particularly good (don't think I even seconded anything beyond VS), but always loved it. Anyway, on a cycling trip in 2015 I managed to bust my ankle quite badly (a trimalleolar fracture if that means anything) and didn't climb again until about two months ago when my daughter and I started going to the local bouldering wall.

Granted, I'm carrying some extra lumber these days, but boy, am I struggling to manage even the low grade stuff! Technique is still there (in as much as I ever had any), but my physical strength is completely zapped. Psychologically, I'm also a lot more apprehensive. Due to the ankle injury, I need to down-climb everything and dropping from head-height feels quite risky.  I hadn't appreciate just how much deterioration comes along with age.

So, I'm just wondering if anyone else has similar tales to tell? And if so, how long it takes to gain a bit of form?

 johnlc 14 Jul 2021
In reply to FrankBooth:

Hi Frank, yes I have a similar tale to tell.  I used to lead VS but in 2002 had a very nasty climbing accident.  I had a permanent lay-off until 2019 when I decided to give things another crack (unfortunate metaphor in the circumstances).  To my surprise and disappointment, shakily leading polished V Diffs seem to be the edge of the known universe.  This creeps up to the occasional severe by the end of the summer but then I regress again over the winter.  Psychologically, I am definitely a very different person, who even with plenty of gear in, gets nervous and wary very easily.  Tips to improve would seem to be:

1.  weight training in a gym if you can't get climbing regularly.  Muscle bulk is harder to maintain as you get older.

2.  Don't neglect your core and legs when training.  These get imperceptibly weaker over the years. You probably won't have realised.

3.  Bouldering seems to help.  When I am then faced with a move on a climb I can tell myself that I can do that type of move fairly easily.

The good news is though that the sense of satisfaction and enjoyment are still there.  I never thought I would be able to climb again so every time I go for a climb, I drive home with the pleasure that I have done something that few ever thought would be possible.

 FrankBooth 14 Jul 2021
In reply to johnlc:

Thanks. I've never been much of a gym regular, but I'm coming to the conclusion that doing weight is probably a good idea (and not just for climbing).  And I completely agree about the satisfaction and enjoyment - just a couple of hours bouldering a week has definitely re-kindled my interest.

 C Witter 14 Jul 2021
In reply to FrankBooth:

I've not had the experience of this situation, but I don't think you should worry too much about regaining form - especially as you're climbing at quite a modest level. If you spend too much time telling yourself "I'm rubbish now, I'm not able to climb as good as I used to be able to" then it will just be frustrating and demotivating.

I think, rather than not having enough stength, it will mostly it will be about confidence and refamiliarisation. At odds with the previous poster, my advice would be: don't train unless you like training. Instead, of beating yourself around the gym, I would advise you just enjoy yourself and rediscover your passion. It sounds like being more active in general will help to trim down the "lumber"! You will probably find, if you are patient enough to enjoy the process, that you can learn a lot more about technique, too (because... who hasn't got more to learn on that front!?).

It's summer, so get outside if you can and revel in the rock, the company and the beautiful places. I think, if you just let yourself relax into it and have fun, then you could soon be climbing better than ever before - especially if time with your daughter provides a good motivation for getting out.

 alan moore 14 Jul 2021
In reply to FrankBooth:

I'm in my mid 50s, and though I have never had a long spell without climbing at all, for the past decade I have only climbed two or three routes a year.

I find that by far the biggest battle is psychologically, staying positive about your abilities.  I very often arrive at the foot of a route feeling emotionally burnt out..a 'what was I thinking!' moment, sitting on my own at the foot of a sunny mountain crag and wanting to go home. At these times I try to remember all those hours spent poring over guide books and wishing I was on the route...all the positives of the experience, which for me at least, are about getting psyched up,  rather than expecting it to be fun.

I've always been weak, have immobile shoulders and stiff hips but (depending on the routes you choose obviously) I dont think this makes much difference at sub E1.

Post edited at 13:43
 steveriley 14 Jul 2021
In reply to FrankBooth:

Can I recommend channeling Frank Booth?

“A ride? Hell, that's a good idea. Okay, let's go. Hey, let's go.”

Climb sure, train if you will, have a laugh. Get stuck in. I stopped for about a dozen years and couldn’t let go of ‘what I used to be like’ for a while. It’s much more fun if you just get stuck in and take the improvements where they come. They will. I’m a few grades off where I was and my old climbing mates are flashing the things I’m sessioning. But, damn, it’s been a ride.

 FrankBooth 14 Jul 2021
In reply to steveriley:

Ha, ha! Absolutely - great advice! Not sure I'd want t encounter Frank on a crag, mind you!

 Dave Reeve 14 Jul 2021
In reply to FrankBooth:

I think you can be held back by comparing with how you are now to how you used to be. If you'd just taken up climbing for the first time you'd have no expectations over your "performance" you'd just get on with it and probably be pleasantly surprised over any improvements you made. Climbing has so much to offer besides the actual climbing like friendship, being outside etc so it's worth persevering and not being hard on yourself...

 Chris Craggs Global Crag Moderator  UKC Supporter 14 Jul 2021
In reply to FrankBooth:

I don't know how bad your ankle is now but I suspect leading (indoors) rather than bouldering - would be better both for your fitness and mental state,


In reply to Dave Reeve:

>Climbing has so much to offer besides the actual climbing like friendship, being outside etc so it's worth persevering and not being hard on yourself...

That's what I tell myself every time I go out for a run these days. I wheeze, I gasp, I stop but I still am outside, often somewhere nice and, well, ageing is what is it is and if I can still do this, more power to me!

On climbing, I stopped for ages, but had some great times recently at Bosigran on easy stuff with my wife and son. Another outing is planned. Somewhere else, somewhere nice.

In reply to FrankBooth:

It will come back. I got to the heady heights of leading 6b+ indoors, then had a few too many years off and came back struggling to get up 5's. Every week was a bit easier than the week before. Unfortunately though I pushed too hard and injured my shoulder (old injury) so if I were to go back again it would be hard.

It's demoralising knowing where you were vs where you are now so don't fall in to my trap and try get back there too fast.

Yes to anyone reading this a 6b+ isn't a massive grade but at 18 plus stone it was excellent for me

 MarkH55 14 Jul 2021
In reply to FrankBooth:

I'm 58 and two/three years back into climbing.  I climb with twenty and thirty something's.  If they are better than me then it is because they have trained harder.  Maybe I'm deluding myself but it's worked for me so far.  As someone who never climbed harder that E2 in my forties I fully intend to march or beat that in the next couple of years.  Maybe I'm older but there is so much more info re training, nutrition and injury prevention that I think it is a more than possible.   

 Caralynh 14 Jul 2021
In reply to FrankBooth:

Keep the faith! I'm in my late 40s now. Used to climb very regularly VS-E1 until 2008 when I started working as a paramedic with the associated antisocial shifts. Combine that with a marriage and a child born 2014.

Since then I've hardly climbed, but I'm blessed with an adventurous child. We started scrambling and last weekend I led a severe that she competently seconded, age 6. 

I doubt I'll ever lead E numbers again, but if husband, child and I can enjoy climbing, esp,the big mountain vdiffs, I'll be happy

 colinakmc 15 Jul 2021
In reply to FrankBooth:

I think as you get older you become more aware of your mortality/fallibility. Muscle mass and proprioception are also heading south. Just doing it will halt or reverse some of those factors. 
Meantime you can just have fun!

Why not give yourself a project, see how many V Diffs and Severes you can get up within 2 hours’ travel of the house, or something like that?

I also bust an ankle and long after the healing process had ostensibly completed, it was still really painful even walking a short distance. Rock tape turned out to be the solution.

Post edited at 09:02
 wilkesley 15 Jul 2021
In reply to FrankBooth:

I mostly stopped climbing in the mid 1990's. I never got beyond leading about E2. When we had children I took them climbing in the early 2000's when I was in my mid fifties. Despite having lived and climbed in the Peak for 20 years, I found climbing on grit difficult mainly because I had almost lost the ability to trust my feet using friction. However, when we went to Wales I could climb VDiff and Severe with no problems and we had several good days on Tryfan and Idwal slabs.

I do a lot of cycling now, so my legs are OK. However, I had an open bowel cancer operation about five years ago, which left my abdominal muscles weakened and I doubt if I could get up anything strenuous without first doing some serious training on my abdmonen. 

In reply to FrankBooth:

I climbed from 1976 - 1981, then a bit more from 1986 - 1989. Nothing very hard. Then a lay off until 2015 when I started going to a local wall regularly (so was then in my early 50s). I'd been a regular gym goer/occasional runner all through, so decent fitness/overall strength. I found the same as you, i.e. little finger strength (as nothing else really trains that), so 5's were ok but 6a was tough. But regular attendance, and finger boarding through lockdowns, has improved my technique and grades, so i'm now working on 7's. Is it somewhat galling watching young blokes who've just started climb harder than me within a year? A bit. But hey, I'm smart enough to know the different gains a 20-something can make vs a 50-something. All i care about is that i improve (in skill as much as in strength, something that's often lost in the young) and that i enjoy myself. Which i do! So stick at it. 

 Richard Horn 15 Jul 2021
In reply to FrankBooth:

I suspect one issue is that when people first start climbing, they are learning technique as well as gaining strength in parallel. After a break, you will lose the strength a lot more than the technique, so it is probably going to feel frustrating. 

I climbed pretty obsessively throughout my 20's (peaking in the high 7's, never getting an '8' is a lasting regret), then essentially stopped in my early-mid 30's, then last year (in my early 40's) decided to start indoor bouldering again, as much as a means to an end as I realised that I need to work harder to stay in good overall shape (cycling is the main outdoor activity these days, but like any activity it can lead to imbalances etc if thats the only thing you do). Was pretty depressed how bad I was, although in some ways not too surprised, but it only took a few weeks to start seeing some gains - climbed a couple of 6a/6b's, but then Covid hit, the walls shut and I havent been again since...

 Rick51 15 Jul 2021
In reply to FrankBooth:

I last climbed seriously in 1985 just breaking into E4. Apart from a few routes on holiday in the early 90s, mainly seconding, I didn't climb again. I started going to the Depot as a way to lose weight in 2018 aged 70. I regret the missed years and missed routes but that can't be changed.

I still push myself but my expectations are realistic - if I lead a vs I'm very happy. I'm also wary of jumping or falling from a height onto the mats and so leading or top-roping indoors seems much safer than bouldering indoors.

Strengthwise I can't do a press up or a pull up but technique doesn't go away. Lower your sights and enjoy the journey.

 FrankBooth 16 Jul 2021
In reply to Southvillain:

The 'young blokes' comment is amusing for me - my son is just about to turn 18 and came bouldering with me for the first time in years. Like most guys his age, he's just dead lean and strong, and without a thought for technique, he just bounded up stuff.

As the saying goes ' youth is wasted on the young'!

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