Additional thoughts on solstice 2018

After my customary seasonal post – written sporadically with two young children around my feet – I realised there were a small few areas that I’d failed to address or things I’d not looked at.

Now, due to my strict policy that publications are final, I thought it wise to revisit said omissions and elaborate. That and I haven’t got anything else to talk about at the moment…

Is Goal: 8a dead already?!

A few months back, I started an initiative called Goal: 8a, which was intended to focus my energy and motivation to climbing the next big grade and my next big milestone.

Yet despite the profile it received at the time, when it came to writing my next season’s goals, this blindingly obvious one totally slipped my mind. So the obvious question (and the one that immediately went through my head when I realised a couple of days after publishing) is surely: is Goal: 8a dead already?

The simple and instant answer is no. Context is important here and with a newborn baby now on the scene, it is simply not a sensible objective.

I’ve read a bit about flow by Mihalyhi Csikszentmihalyhi recently and one of the crucial factors in achieving this is the challenge-skill balance. It turns out, the CS balance is important simply for motivation, not just for achieving flow and with that in mind, 8a falls far outside my current abilities.

The one crucial thing with Goal: 8a is that it was always going to be a long term idea. I’m hoping, if all goes well, to achieve this in spring 2020 and certainly not expecting to be ready next year. Instead, this winter is about getting back to full strength and next summer about putting it into practice. In that regard, leaving it off the list was the right thing to do.

Will there be a resurgence of #babyatthecrag

When Rosie was born, we decided to share Em’s maternity leave between us and while she maintained 9 months of leave in total, I took three months off work.

During that time, I was keen to champion the idea that having children doesn’t necessarily stop anyone from doing what they want to do (not entirely at least) and went on a three-month spree of days out, with photos and articles, using the hash tag #babyatthecrag.

It was very successful and popular and showed that it is possible to keep climbing with a newborn in tow.

Now that we have little Hannah along, will there be a resurgence of #babyatthecrag? Simply put, probably not.

Hannah isn’t the problem, although timing is critical and she should be past the crawling stage by our time off where Rosie wasn’t. Indeed, it is more likely Rosie who will put the brakes on any activities.

By next summer, she will be age 2 and any parent will attest to how difficult this stage is. She’s already started and I would expect to use #tryingtimeswithtoddlers more than anything else…

The other large issue is my masters degree. While I can take some time off my studies to raise a child – and happily will – going climbing probably doesn’t qualify. It may work out, only time will tell but I’m not optimistic.

Nor do I mind too much. Three months with Rosie was a long time and while I got out and made my point, there was still plenty of time to just be with her. Reduce that by a third and I’m not sure it’s worth it; I’d rather concentrate on being with my daughter. Again, we’ll see.

Initial stats: the first 100 problems of this year’s indy aggregate

From the first 99 numbered problems, I have dropped 17 so far. This is of course at time of writing and while, on finding out they’re stripping some tomorrow, I had to go back in and put twenty minutes into a tricky 6c+ I’d been avoiding earlier this evening, there is time to tick off some more.

That said, seven of the remaining problems are 7c or above and these I’m not expecting to get, given the sparse nature of my sessions and the regularity of the setting.

Still, that leaves 4 x 7a/+ and 6 x 7b/+ that should, in theory, leave me with a chance of hitting the 85% I’d set myself. I should at least get a couple of these and hopefully more, leaving a buffer for later in the season.

Granted, this is a tougher set than usual and I’m not likely to be able to skip climbs just because I don’t like them, as with other years. But so far, the target seems a sensible and attainable one.

Prowess Coaching Moving Forward

Finally, i’d like to mention the latest steps forward with my coaching business. I have now actually paid for a proper domain name for the website: prowesscoaching.co.uk and would greatly appreciate anyone reading to share as much as possible.

Business cards and posters are going up soon and hopefully, it won’t be long before i have some clients to teach! Here’s hoping the New Year will bring a new approach to life at the climbing wall for me!

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Solstice: October 2018

For those who don’t know, my new year runs from when the clocks go forward, giving a much better point of the year for resolutions and goal setting. There is also a Solstice when the clocks go back. For more information, click here.

I was slightly concerned I would struggle to find time to write this post this year but ironically, one of the reasons for that has freed me up just enough: on Sunday 21st October, our second daughter finally arrived.

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At the start of last year, people would tell me my life was about to change completely; that any hopes of carrying on my old dreams and ambitions would be dashed now there was a little girl about to take centre stage. Paradoxically, they were so right and so wrong at the same time. We couldn't ask for a better child than Rosie and having her join us has made it a totally different adventure in of itself. And now, we've done it again. I couldn't be happier than having little Hannah to join our fun. To come along on our family adventure. Just as before, nothing stops, and now there are three of us to show this little one just how incredible life can be. The adventure hasn't stopped, it's just getting started. Welcome aboard, Hannah Ellen Edwards.

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She is tiny and wonderful and our eldest, Rosie, is very taken with her. The downside is it’s meant Rosie is getting a lot of daddy-daughter time that looks very likely to continue for quite some time. I’m not complaining at having time with Rosie, but it is exhausting spending all my time with Rosie. Toddlers are hard work sometimes!

I am very fortunate to have both a partner and a daughter who have been incredibly supportive and accommodating to my climbing to date; our trips to Glendalough and Fontainebleau aren’t the type of thing you’d normally do with a young child in tow!

Nevertheless, this first week has seen showering and sleeping hard to fit in at times so I’m under no illusions this season will be the one I crack a new grade. Throw in all the other commitments I’ve currently got and I’m climbing terms alone, this will likely be the hardest season I’ve ever had.

2018 Spring/Summer Review

As usual, we now turn to the most challenging part of this post: remembering. At the best of times lately, my mind has been all over the place and having a newborn thrown headlong into the mix hasn’t helped with that! On a course on Friday, i introduced myself with “my second daughter was born last Sunday morning and i’ve since forgotten my name…”

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Finally, after probably about ten years of waiting, James Pond was possible after the longest dry spell I remember meant you didn't need wellies to get to the start… What a session that turned out to be: a 7a flash, a 7b/+ tick and a host of other excellent #bouldering that I'd honestly never done before. I've been waiting a long time for this and save for attack of the midge, might have had just enough left in me for #jamespond sit start too. What's more, you really can't argue with the setting (proximity to the road notwithstanding) – not many places you get to climb under the shadow of #dinascromlech And #dinasmot! #cromlech #cromlechboulders #worldclasswales #snowdonianationalpark #snowdon #northwales #northwalesbouldering #rockclimbing #escalade #escalada #grimpeur #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_lovers #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #meclimbing

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The big, stand out, headline event since last March (second child notwithstanding) has been the Masters degree that started in June and quickly gained momentum. Granted, when i first began, i was totally clueless and it took a little while to realise if i didn’t know something, it was up to me to find it out. Similarly, digging out the right resources and finding the right places to find the right info was a steep learning curve. Four months in and my second assignment will hopefully result in a top-class document.

What’s more, the degree has opened my eyes vis a vis my coaching. More models have been developed and put into practice, working quite nicely. My usual Friday night coaching group shuts down over the summer holidays but since we’ve come back the ideas i’ve developed seem to be effective and helpful.

Of course all of this coaching relied on achiveing some sort of qualification and for years now, i’ve been targeting my SPA. After missing out narrowly on passing the assessment, i opted to try and go around the problem, at least temporarily, and go for my CWA instead.

The CWA – or Climbing Wall Award, now called the Climbing Wall Instructor (CWI) – was primarily an attempt to offer some standardised accreditation for those working in the indoor environment. As such, those on the course are often people working in a climbing wall on taster sessions and birthday parties. I did that work a very long time ago and am now in a very different place so applied for, and got, exemption from the training. Cue one slightly nerving assessment after some last-minute cramming into what exactly i was going to be tested on.

It worked and i passed. What was instantly a huge relief to have this monkey finally off my back suddenly turned into the realisation i have now opened myself up to a shed load more work. Time to go be a coach… almost. There are plenty of hurdles still to overcome.

This site’s sister website, Prowess Climbing Coaching, was adjusted to match this one and a lot of the old articles relating to coaching were moved across. I looked into the particulars of setting up a new business and (please do correct me if i’m wrong) as a sole trader, there is no need for me to do anything other than start trading! PCC is now open for business, save for a couple of hurdles that will be tackled once i have my first client. Please have a look at the website and share with anyone who might be interested.

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Two things are happening here: first, I'm #training to utilise my #core more and keep my feet on. As you can see, more work needs to happen and when they do cut loose, I need to be more accurate getting them back on. But this is easier to see with the second thing: in #experimenting with #slowmotion #analysis to better understand my flaws, they become much more obvious. Yes you can see that poor foot placement in real time but it's so much easier to see when slowed down. It really is a fantastic tool and something I'll be using a lot more in the near future. Oh there's a third lesson: put your camera in a sensible place! I guess that's the pay off with the #phonewedgedinshoe method of filming yourself… #coaching #coach #learning #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion

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All of this has kind of overshadowed any personal climbing to the extent i don’t actually remember much! Which is a bit ridiculous now i’ve looked it up.

The season started, aptly, with an ascent of Regeneration 7b after dismissing Andy’s assessment of Gallt yr Ogof and going for another look. The boulder is awesome, suits me perfectly and that day really set up the rest of the year.

I finally got into the Aberglaslyn to Supercrack 7a and sent Dog Crack 7b with remarkable ease. The spring dry spell made it an ideal venue – i was hoping that would happen one day!

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Apologies for the poor quality video, I blame the midges – they were, after all, what drove us away! Not before @lil_lewis_climber nailed #Supercrack 7a with the most committing heel hook I've seen in years and inexplicably, I also ticked off the link in from the right, Dog Crack 7b. Shocked as that wasn't the line I wanted to try at all but I couldn't be bothered to keep shuffling the pads under Super Has 7b. Was far too hot for the crux sloper anyway. Then, quickly, on the way home, we stopped at the cromlech boulders and I got Leo's Dyno 7a+ on the second go! Not a bad evening, all told. #worldclasswales #northwales #snowdonia #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #boulderingisbetter #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #sport #rockclimbing #escalade #escalada #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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The same could be said of my time under the James Pond roof. Ten years i’d been thinking of heading under there, only for every attempt to be put off by the pond the name implies. This year, the spring kicked in, everything dried up and i made several special efforts to get down there.

It paid off. James Pond 7a was finally sent on the first go no less. I must admit to a bit of sadness that after all this time, it only took one attempt but Bog Pond 7a+ followed in the same session. What’s more, the slightly easier variant of the sit start went too. The original 7b+ sit start would follow a month later.

Around the time i sent the hardest line this year, i also had a visit from one of my best friends, Simon. As the years tick on, the longer the gaps between seeing friends can go but for the best friends, it matters not. It was only a week but i am so glad we managed to sneak in a few sessions at old favourites, and to chew the fat and catch up. It’s never enough but every session is a treat.

In that interim was our trip to Germany. In climbing terms, it was pretty good but that wasn’t what i was thinking of on the drive south. Even the Birthday Tradition continuing into it’s ninth year was overshadowed this time around. With no children and even no Tess in tow, Em and myself found ourselves on a German mountainside where i proposed. We are now officially engaged.

2018 Spring/Summer Goals

  • Go to Germany
  • Start the Masters degree and REALLY work at it
  • Be more productive with my time
  • Actually train, don’t just boulder. 1 in 5 sessions
  • At least one weekend away climbing without the family

Well, that turned out to be a good little list! We went to Germany, carried on the Birthday Tradition for another year and threw in an engagement for fun.

As said, the Masters is driving along like a bullet train and so far, all is going very well. What’s more, i haven’t been this enthused about something for years. I am totally and utterly loving it. Big tick in that box.

As predicted, an Autumn trip was out of the question and this was reflected in the goal of having a weekend to myself. Despite desperate attempts to go to the Lake District, the weather Gods stepped in and sent Lewis and myself east instead.

It was a good little weekend, despite dodging rain and indecision and saw us hit no less than five crags in two days. My idea for a video of Seven 7s will have to wait for another time; this one was just about being happy and being away and in that, was another huge success.

“Be more productive…” was too vague a goal and failed to be anything to work to. Meanwhile, the idea of 1 in 5 training is admirable but not suited to the outdoor season in the summer and one i will move to this coming season instead.

2018 Year-long goals

  • SPA completed (yet again)
  • Try and match Top Ten Yearly Average of 7a+
  • Make big strides into Masters Degree
  • Don’t drop any potential climbs during the Aggregate

That SPA is circumvented, for now, but needs to be kept in the back of my mind. Outside climbing is now a chilly challenge and putting the effort in for that one over the winter is setting myself up for a fail so it’ll wait for the Spring now.

Not dropping any potential climbs during the Aggregate most likely referred to last winter – truth be told, i don’t remember and can’t be bothered to look it up – but my final position was a lofty 3rd! However, it is worth noting that the margin to 4th was 94 points so it’s not such a great achievement. Throw in all the other categories and i dropped to 6th.

This season will be when i adjust the Long Term Athlete Development Model for myself. One of the latter stages is Train to Win, which obviously requires an element of competition and in the Aggregate in its usual guise, that’s fine. This time around though, i’m not bothered about comparing my scores to anyone else and thus am swapping that stage for Train to Complete. For me, now, the competition is against the climbs and i’m hoping to drag my sorry self up as many as i can.

2018 Autumn/Winter Goals

The business end of the lengthy bi-annual post.

  • Climb. A bit. If Possible
  • Coach. A lot. And earn some money from it
  • Learn. A hell of a lot. And keep the pace with the Masters
  • Train. 1 in 5 sessions
  • Complete 85% of the aggregate
  • A trip away without the family in the Spring

While time off with Rosie i could be pretty confident i could fight my way through and keep climbing with her around. Now, she’s at that stage in between being safe to leave to herself and being able to understand boundaries. Then of course, there’s Hannah as well. Simply put, if i have the kids as well, climbing isn’t possible. Not this season anyway.

Available time is a major issue too and other parts of my life MUST take priority, ESPECIALLY this season. That means my focus has to be elsewhere for a while. It’s a shame but to be honest, not the worst timing given my lofty enthusiasm of the last few years is waning ever so slightly.

Critically, the word now is maintain. Come spring, we’ll re-assess and go again. By that point, we should be ready to step it back up again.

Merry Solstice!

 

About to Pop

The storm that grabbed the headlines at the back end of last week certainly affected us here in North Wales. Friday night saw a landslide in the Ogwen valley just below Bochlwyd Buttress, what must’ve been shortly before i drove past en route to the Indy. Standing water aplenty and flooding, it was a grim night and the chaos got worse when a tree came down in Nant Peris, closing the pass. For anyone that knows the area, you’ll understand quite how difficult that makes it to get anywhere around here!

With the Brittania bridge likely closed, i inadvertently joined the traffic in Bangor and soon decided by the time i got to the Indy, it would time to go home so sacked it off instead.

So last night’s Mill session was my first in nearly a week and truth be told, i couldn’t get going. I am finding it hard to dig up that usual enthusiasm lately, especially as the Indy seems to have at least delayed the start of the annual Aggregate competition or at worst, decided to take a year off.

If they have opted for a break, i can certainly empathise. Two-and-a-half years ago, i hit my peak (to date at least) by climbing Jerry’s Problem 7c+ at Sheep Pen and my grade has slowly dropped ever since. My focus has simply shifted and my dedication waned.

It is nigh on impossible to keep up that motivation year after year. I’ve had lulls in the past and always come back stronger. Perhaps it is the same for the Indy, who have got plenty going on. One of their full time members of staff is off for a prolonged climbing tour around the States, they’ve only just finished remodelling a large section of the wall. It is totally understandable.

And it is much the same for me. There is plenty going on for me at the moment.

In Other News

I am now officially a small business owner! After finally completing a group-management style Instructor Award with Mountain Training UK, i can now officially start up my own coaching business proper.

It took quite a lot of thought to come up with a name but eventually i took inspiration from my landmark first ascent, Prowess and called the business Prowess Climbing Coaching. Certificates and insurance and in the pipeline and then i’ll be on the lookout for clients.

It is a dream job for me; a combination of the best of my skills and abilities (including tea drinking) and a natural extension of my Masters. I have had a lot of positive feedback in the few years i’ve been coaching and thoroughly enjoy it like no other job i’ve ever had.

Progress will likely be slow going to begin with, so i ask any reader: if you know anyone who would be interested in rock climbing coaching, please pass them my details. All sessions are currently bespoke to the requirements of the client and while i’m based in North Wales, i am happy to travel (subject to conditions, obviously).

About to Pop

If all that wasn’t enough, our second child is expected any day now. Literally every phone call and every text message when we’re apart widens my eyes that this might be it. Mornings and evenings are spent wondering whether this will be the day and the last thought that goes through my head before i sleep every night is whether i’ll be woken before morning.

People have asked me whether i’m excited and i reply: i switch between utterly terrified and mildly nervous. It’s a weird paradox too, between wanting to have the baby soon and wanting to eek out the last little bit of “normal” time we have before true chaos ensues. I’m pretty sure that goes for both of us.

For me, the worry comes when thinking about Rosie. Our first daughter has, so far, been tantamount to the perfect child – or as close as i could reasonably hope to get – and remains utterly wonderful. She’s happy, bubbly, playful and friendly, sleeps and eats well, everything you could hope for as a parent. The idea of throwing a newborn into that mix is more nerving than attempting a trad climb; and it’s not as if i can take off the harness and walk away this time.

Last time i could hide behind the countless people telling us we had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. Now, i have no such refuge; i know exactly how harrowing childbirth is (again, for both of us) and know exactly what it’s like once mother and baby are home.

I make this sound a lot worse than it is. Having Rosie is undoubtedly one of the best things that has ever happened to me, infinitely more important than any rock climb. Having a second was something we both always wanted and i know, in my head and in my heart, that in a few years time, once the initial insanity of babies has settled, we will have a gorgeous little family. After all, give it a while and Rosie will need a spotter…

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I came across this picture from many moons back, taken by good friend Mike Pinches on our way to #fontainebleau on the French motorways. It seemed the perfect #metaphor for our lives at the moment: the #anticipation of something utterly #beautiful and amazing, with such beauty in of itself, about to spark into such #life and #promise. You #marvel in the moment, #eager to see what is about to become but nervous it might not turn out as expected or hoped. Our second child is due any day now and much like a sunrise on a beautiful day, anything could happen. This #sunrise began a spectacular trip that would change my life forever. The sunrise we're about to #experience will be much the same.

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Some Outdoor Sends

Once i got back from the Peak, it all went a bit quiet. Not that you can tell from my Instagram feed…

But then, slowly, the sessions started coming back. My Friday night coaching session with the Anglesey Adventure Club, started up again after a summer off, i continued route setting at work and was looking pretty reasonable to be honest.

Then, after the weather took a turn for the better, i managed to sneak in a couple of outdoor sessions too.

At the start of October (far too long ago to remember details to be honest) i managed to get out with Tess in tow on a solo Monday session up in the Pass. I’d been thinking about The Crook Roof for some time, keen to repeat and have a better look at the Crook Roof LH 7b, sad at the fact they couldn’t think of a better name…

To begin with, though, i got distracted. The ground under Jerry’s Roof is undoubtedly eroding and more to the point, seems to be progressively sliding down onto the road. Time and again i drive past and see a large collection of stones, all kicked down, and it’s only going to get worse.

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The famous and amazing #jerrysroof; home to uber-classics such as Bus Stop 7b+ Mr Fantastic 8a and of course the namesake problem at 7c. It is a must visit for anyone in #northwales operating in the High 7s and 8s but as such, sees plenty of traffic. If you look closely on the road, you'll see a large pile of stones knocked down, some by sheep but many by thousands of #climbers feet, clambering over the wall, eager to sink their teeth into some quality #bouldering. And that is going to take it's toll. I spent the first ten minutes of my session today putting many of those stones back and I urge anyone going to do the same. The ground is getting lower and the road more full and if everyone going moved one handful of rocks, it would help greatly. Climbing up the wall further to the side would be even better; after all, if you're coming HERE to climb, I'm sure you can manage a slightly harder step off the road. This is everyone's problem, we all need to do it together. #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #grimpeur #escalada #escalade #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #conservation #allinthistogether

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It’s as much my problem as anyone else: while i don’t often climb there, i am local and have climbed on this iconic bloc. I figured i might as well do something to help.

While i finished my smoke, i stood in the road, chucking the stones back above the wall. Granted, i had to repeatedly jump up and down the wall to avoid being run over but it didn’t take long and made a big difference. I’d ask anyone else going there to do likewise; one handful from everyone and it’ll make a huge difference very quickly.

Eventually though, this grew tiresome and i went off to warm up properly. As much as warming up on a 7a doesn’t normally phase me, there was a nearby boulder that looked interesting and i figured it was worth checking out first.

The Dash bloc is indeed cool, with good landings and next to no-one to bother you, other than Alice, who had happened across me while waiting to head off on trad. (Always a lovely person to spend time with, she deserves a huge congrats today as she passed her MIA! Nice one!)

She didn’t stay for long, enough to see me tick off The Dash 6a, The Dash sds 6b+, The Dash Right Hand sds 6c and Dash Arete 5a. Seriously, if you’ve never stopped to marvel at the imagination of climbers when naming routes, you really should…

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Some snaps from my #session yesterday afternoon in the #llanberisspass. I had been keen to go check out the Crook Roof, now 7a but given V5 when I climbed it, but I quickly got distracted by this awesome warm up bloc! #thedash 6a trends up the centre of the #boulder with several variations and the hardest one at 7a moves from the sit start out to the arete with some beautiful moves. It took its toll though and got its pound off flesh in exchange for the send. Well maybe not a pound but certainly enough to stop play for the day. Still, awesome to be out, trying something new and with my loyal crag buddy along too! #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion

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After she’d gone and i’d fished out the camera – i’m still self conscious of taking photos/videos of myself when others are watching me – i quickly finished off The Dash Traverse 7a and found it so good, after i stopped the camera, i stepped on and did it again.

Foolish move. The moves are good but the rock is sharp and it put a genuine hole in the index finger on my left hand. I can verify it was a hole: it was bleeding. Yet again, the Crook Roof would have to wait.

The sporadic nature of my climbing sessions continued until Wednesday gone. I’d been supposed to be climbing at the Indy on Tuesday evening but had actually lucked out when the session was cancelled. As pissed as a i was that the battery on the truck was dead and that i was stranded with the shed keys in dad’s pocket 30 minutes away, Wednesday was truly glorious and inside was insane. When my brain became fried early afternoon, i sacked off study and headed out to clear my mind.

I called in to work, printed my project to make annotation easier and bumped into local climber and wall-designer Michelle. We both pondered which venue – we had two options each at first – would yield good conditions before i cruelly decided to hijack her decision to head to Clogwyn y Bustach. She obviously didn’t mind as she appeared later on.

Before she’d arrived, i flashed Problem 22 6b+ and realised it’s actually a lovely little warm up line and worked on repeating Sick Happy now given 7a/+. Much as the first time around, i bottled the top out and even the arrival of three more souls to ease any fears of lying crippled alone, and without the excuse of a wet topout, i still couldn’t bring myself to finish it properly.

Instead i joined Michelle on Rudder’s Wall 7a+/b, indeed a line i’d had in mind for ages but couldn’t figure out the beta. It was awesome to have Michelle to work on it with, and to steal the beta from, even if she wanted me to get it first to show her the topout. Turns out it’s not me that struggles getting onto the top of that bloc…

We climbed almost until dark, bidding a hasty retreat in the twilight. No blood loss this time around and a great little evening!

Rounding off on Slopers

I thought i’d posted this and have just come to give the latest update in my life when i suddenly realised it wasn’t published… Originally written on the 19th September

 

It is now Wednesday and while the ache in my shoulders has now finally subsided – putting my down jacket on yesterday was still causing me to wince slightly – it has been replaced by tiredness after a long night of dealing with a sleepless 18-month old. It seems my little weekend trip is now most definitely over.

Once you come back from something like that, it’s inevitable to be asked how it went and i’m not entirely sure how to answer this time. Even two days on the grit, people are interested and in the past i’ve been known to judge my time away by the sends i’ve come back with. This time, that leaves me a little disappointed.

I had become very focused on the idea of Seven 7s on film and as i mentioned in my last post, once we’d lost the Friday it was an unlikely and tall order. The experience on Gorilla Warefare and Early Doors had left me slightly dejected but a quick send of Kiss Me Arsee 7a at Birchen late on the Saturday had renewed hope.

Again, i was left in the balance come rise on Sunday: the tents were sheltered and dry but a glance across to the next field could show driving drizzle. Not bad enough conditions to simply give up but not good enough to drive psyche.

So we did what all good Brits do in these conditions: we went for a sandwich and a cup of tea. Pack up reasonably efficiently, drive north, first to Calver and then on to the familiar Outside in Hathersage. In the time it took to eat and drink (and begin a conversation about Bob Dylan that would last two days) the ground had dried up enough to get us going. We were now psyched, despite Lewis’s fingertips so thin they were almost leaking plasma.

I’d prompted us in the direction of Cratcliffe, as i was keen for both Jerry’s Problem 7b and T Crack 7b and i thought the shelter may help us in getting something done. One or both of those problems would almost definitely make the weekend a success, especially if i could capture it on film!

On the way, though, the weather turned again. Little rain began to fall on the windscreen and i realised it was drier further north, where we’d just come from. A session at a crag we weren’t as keen for would be better than nothing at a crag we weren’t so the sensible option was to turn around and find somewhere nearer Hathersage, where there was no liquid falling out of the sky.

Yet. After so much faffing – in hindsight at least – we eventually arrived at the good old Suprise View car park with a view to hit up Millstone, only to look across the valley and see the familiar drizzle we’d been running away from had found us. Damn you, weather gods.

I figured shelter was what was now needed and so, as i have done many times before, we made the short slog into Secret Garden. I enacted my revenge on Lewis for his bushwacking exploits of the day before, unintentionally mind, as we ploughed through ferns taller then me, let alone my companion and eventually stumbled across the small scar that i’d first visited back in my undergrad days, all those many years ago.

Beachball 7a fit the bill for my plans and has been on my radar for very many years but alas, there was just not enough energy left in the tank. Much as with Early Doors i couldn’t have been closer without getting the tick, i was that close but that problem has thwarted me time and again. Everything else followed suit.

Looking back, the indecision of the weekend certainly contributed to our poor return in terms of climbs and the remarkably large amount of walking definitely didn’t help with overall fitness levels. Our pads were heavy and uncomfortable over such distances and it sapped the life out of me, the straps digging into my collarbones. In retrospect, having a more definitive plan and sticking to it would’ve probably yielded more success.

And that, right there, has probably tipped the balance on the verdict for the weekend. Poor trips are part of climbing, we have bad days and in turn, they contribute to make the good ones all the better. Being able to learn from that is what makes us better climbers, nay better people, in the long run.

 

A huge thanks to Lewis for coming along and putting up with me for the weekend! Here’s looking forward to many more in the future. 

Burgered and Broken

With burgers in our bellies and Climb On now covering our fingertips, both my companion for the weekend – who, Mr annoying man at Frogatt is neither my son nor am i his “chaffeur” – and i are throughly wiped out after a day that saw us at three separate crags. Sadly, though, despite this valiant effort, my goal of Seven 7s on film now looks increasingly unlikely.

You’ll recall from my last post that we were hoping to head to the Lakes for this weekend but as i woke on Friday morning, i checked the forecast and instantly wrote it off: apololyptic rain and climbing don’t mix and no amount of wishful thinking was going to get us anywhere with this one.

So the decision was quickly made to head east and a surly disposition soon followed. Every time i try and go to the Lakes, i get rained off. Every fucking time.

What made it slightly worse was the relentless drizzle we found ourselves taking with us from North Wales right to the campsite. We ran into Ben Brandsby in Outside in Hathersage – a friend of little Lewis, who introduced me – and at one point, his reply to the question of where would be dry was “The Works will be dry…”

We found a nice site near our intended crags, pitched camp and went shopping for food. Still the drizzle fell and soon nightfall with it and with that, we found ourselves in the local pub, me nearly falling out a couple of pints, hours and a hefty pudding later.

At this point, the idea of filming us completing Seven 7s and compiling a short movie was unlikely but i was undeterred and this morning, after a bit of a lie in, we awoke and i chatted with a woman for whom a tin-foil hat would’ve been entirely appropriate – “you’re not Jewish are you?” she asked me while watching me eat a bacon sandwich before railing on our collective decision to poison our bodies with meat and wheat and pretty much anything else! Soon we were heading for the quick-drying Curbar.

Trackside was my very first 7a back in April 2006 and for a little while, i’ve wanted to repeat it. It seemed fitting now was the chance, with another huge life-change just around the corner. Lewis ticked it first (today that is, he was five back when i got it the first time) while i eagerly filmed from a distance. Then it was my turn, along with pretty much anyone else who was passing. I’ve been flashing 7a outside lately but the retro flash most certainly didn’t and after the first attempt, i was clutching my thigh before i even hit the ground, cursing my aging and creaking body. It’s still sore nearly 12 hours later.

Still, a repeat did indeed follow, as well as a stunning photo of a new friend:

Feeling buoyed, we headed up slightly to finish off an old project line, Gorilla Warefare 7a. I’d set up the tripod before i set up the pad and quickly realised the reason i’ve always been put off is the large rock right underneath the finish. However, a more direct finish, Early Doors 7a+ avoids this and was now well within my capabilities. Or at least i thought.

I’m not sure if i bottled it or ran out of juice, i’ll have to watch the video, but in my experience, if you’re asking that question, you could’ve finished it if you really wanted to. Sadly, either way, it was not to be and with that went our last realistic chance of Seven 7s in a weekend.

We packed up, bickered slightly about the route ahead before Lewis led us across a non-path through chest high bracken and seriously broken ground and i got the hump. We traversed the bottom of Curbar crag, missed the path we were looking for and before we knew it, were at Froggatt.

I wasn’t really that inspired by the routes Lewis not aptly threw himself at, never really being sold on crag problems that finish half-way up the wall and still grumbling internally at being led somewhere like this without any discussion. Still, it’s his trip too and it was only fair to let him crack on. Eventually i wandered off to see if i could see something that did insprire me nearby.

What i saw didn’t inspire anything other than hurry. The Peak District is a laregly flat (remember where i’m from) area that allows for a lot of vision for miles around and a few miles away, you could make out the rain falling from a very dark sky. Suddenly very conscious of quite how far from the sanctuary of our vehicle we were, i wasn’t about to suggest we started on a different problem; i was suggesting we quickly run away.

Lewis finished up nicely and we packed up and took another beeline back to Curbar. We still didn’t find that elusive path and made an impromptu descent down some more sketchy and broken ground with more bushwacking, this time with rain gently falling on us from above.

Still we made it to the car largely dry and unscathed and with the sky now clearing. It was only 5:30 and that offered either a very long evening of not a lot or a chance to get another crag in. We opted for the latter.

I thought the walk in to Birchen was shorter than it is but it is quite easy and largely flat. Annoyingly the problem i had in mind was at the far end of the crag and after a gut busting route march, we made it.

Kiss Me Arsee 7a didn’t give up easy and manages to hide her beta well. What’s more, with a whopping 1 seven filmed so far, the camera battery died and we were left with a mobile phone instead; oh well. That largely didn’t matter as i seemed to inexplicably stick two very slappy moves to slopers and soon found myself topping out my second 7 of the day.

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After a long trudge across the top of Curbar to Froggatt, where @lil_lewis_climber made some nice repeats of old classics (#photo coming soon) we made a hasty retreat, watching some ominous black clouds heading our way. But while we did get rained on a little, it really wasn't much and was still early when we got back to the truck. So we made an equally hasty beeline for #birchenedge and this little beauty: Kiss Me Arsee 7a. I've been flashing 7a back home but this was a fight and she didn't give away her beta easy. Still, there was just about enough juice in the tank for one last and off the day #peak #peakbouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #grimpeur #escalada #escalade #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #weekendaway Thanks to @lil_lewis_climber for the photo

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And that brings us to now: sitting quietly in my tent while Lewis is crashed out in the tent next door, exhausted from our day’s exploits, sat on my laptop, bloggin away happily. I did marvel for a moment about how far technology has come, that i can connect my computer to the internet in a tent in the middle of nowhere, until i remembered i did this up an almost uninhabited Alpine valley back in 2010* . Still, my tent has an electric hookup this time. Funny how things move on.

 

(*may not have had internet through my phone, may have just written it and posted it later, too long ago, can’t remember but i’ve DEFINITELY done this before in a tent somewhere.)

Motivations

A glorious day was Wednesday last week, not a cloud in the sky, the rock dry as anything and what did i do? I drove fourteen miles and paid £5 to go swimming in an indoor pool.

Every instinct told me i had other, better options. Tess couldn’t come with me, surely going outside would be better. The pass is closer to my house than the nearest swimming pool, it would be quicker. It’s not going to stay dry like this much longer, make the most! Even training in the mill or the Indy would be better strength gain. And still, despite all of these thoughts swimming around my head, swimming was all i could think of. I had to go.

It seems an unknown fact that i used to swim competitively; albeit not at a great standard. I swam on the Masters circuit – not typically a home for the youth of today and while i won a large stack of medals in every colour, that was often as i was the only swimmer in my age group…

Still, for a couple of years, i swam, got strong and found myself in the upper echelons of my local club, often swimming in the fast lane and competing around the country. In 2012, i competed in around half a dozen towns and cities in the UK.

Then, for various reasons including time commitments and apathy, it tailed off and i stopped swimming as much and got back on the wall. The competitions waned and i stopped training, to the point that by the time Rosie arrived, i’d pretty much stopped altogether. Lately, that desire to feel the water encompass my body has been coming back.

And so it transpired that on the perfect day for outdoor bouldering and with a suitable project in mind, not to mention the work that needed doing that i was aptly avoiding, i sacked it all off and found myself with more headwear than clothing on poolside, thrilled at what i was about to do and pondering coaching and participation motivation.

I’d already come up with the idea that i could call my swim “cross training” but even as i thought it, i knew it was an excuse. Still, it’s not wrong and swimming – i mean goggles, swim hat, head down and put some effort in here, not a breast-stroke pootle keeping your hair dry – compliments climbing superbly. Back in the day,  a few swimming sessions would allow my fingers to recover, for example, but wouldn’t let my shoulders become weaker. In fact, it made them stronger and developed antagonists really well.

Do what you want

Not that cross training made any difference on Wednesday: the simple fact was that i wanted to go swimming and with that, it was instantly the most productive thing i could’ve done. Motivation is a major driver for participation.

The fact is there is no point trying to force yourself to do something that you’re not entirely invested in. You’ve got to want to do it.

Granted, sometimes, when it comes to training, you have to really want to but even then, if you don’t want to bother, you’re never going to give it your all. In this case, i was going to gain more going for a swim that i was psyched for than a climb that i couldn’t really be bothered with.

Motivations for participation (sorry for the buzz-phrase) are heavily investigated in academic circles and a major question for many outdoor pursuits centres. After all, it’s important to understand why people actually want to go climbing, for example, so they can tailor their offer to maximise the amount of people they appeal to. However, on a personal level, the message is simple: do what you actually want to do. Most of the time at least.

Time away

All this being said, i’m not about to ditch my rock boots in favour of goggles any time soon; far from it! In fact, i’ve been keeping a wary eye on this weekend for what will hopefully a hugely enthusiastic trip away from home.

The destination in mind is most definitely the Lake District and i am absolutely stoked for it. I’ve been printing off topos, watching videos online and even making lists of kit needed for the weekend. It will be my first trip without Em since Spring 2016 and while i will undoubtedly miss her terribly, and i’ve loved having her company on our adventures, i am really looking forward to some time away to crank hard on some unfamiliar boulders.

It will surely be my last excursion for quite some time, too, with our second child expected at the end of next month.

Not that the planning has been plane sailing. Recruitment has once again proven tricksome, not helped by a poor forecast. It’s also led to a dilemna: there is more rain forecast in the Lakes than in the Peak or Yorkshire. But there is more chance of finding something to climb on the steep grab and pull of Cumbria.

So, do we head where the weather is likely worse with possibly better options in the West, or try and play it safe but risk having nothing at all to go at in the East? I leave in the morning and still haven’t comletely made up my mind.

The current plan is the Lake District, both as crags like the Bowderstone both retain dry lines after rain and the psyche level is higher. Still that may change by the end of the M56. Tomorrow, we find out.

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All thoughts at the moment have turned to next weekend and an upcoming trip to the #lakedistrict. So I've searched through my archives and this is about the only picture I can find that is even remotely related to the #bouldering to be found there at I have! This is a shot of the #langdaleboulders from 2012 and possibly the last time I touched rock in this #beautiful corner of #England. There is a host of amazing #rockclimbing to be found there at over hitherto neglected in favour of the same old places so this time, I am definitely keen for new venues. Currently the forecast isn't looking that promising but such is the desire to get to crags like the bowderstone that we may just go anyway and hope for the best. #lakesbouldering @greg_lakesbloc #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #scenary #mountains #outdoors

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Back in the Swing Of Things

And with that little revelation, normal service is resumed. I hadn’t climbed since that poor session at Plas y Brenin a fortnight ago until last night when i headed back to the Indy.

I certainly wasn’t any stronger, although possibly more rested. To be honest, on my way i wasn’t any more psyched, particularly, merely armed with the knowledge that confidence breeds competence. My technique wasn’t any better and to be honest, my tactics remained largely unadjusted. The only difference was that epiphany.

It is remarkable what a difference a subtle change in attitude can do. I finished my session with a 7b retro flash, of a problem i had almost managed last time, tickling the top before plummeting in what i now think may have been more ammunition for my self-perpetuating downward spiral. This time, it fell first time during the warm up. Next, another 7b that suited me perfectly, on Jenga blocks; it fell quickly and in good style.

A break, that lasted a little longer than i intended preceded that send and after, i was looking for another to try. A friend offered up the project he was trying for me to have a go and, unexpectedly, i flashed it. I hate doing that and wouldn’t do it deliberately, sometimes that’s the way it goes. It did turn out to be useful for him, as my beta on the lower section avoided him using a knee that was causing him pain.

I tried a couple of other problems without ever getting going, flashed a 7a+ with a bit of a fight and found myself sat under a 7b+ that really tickled my fancy. Andy had mentioned some hidden beta in it but i couldn’t really see what he meant so opted to jump on and see how it went.

By the end of the session, when all energy had sapped from my body and it was obvious i wouldn’t complete it, i had managed it in two halves, one move away from linking it together. Aside from that, though, was the style of the crux move.

Without getting into the annoying move-by-move of the climb, the crux involved a tricky cross through that was hard to hold and a big move up with the right hand to salvation. It was more like two separate boulder problems stacked atop each other, the upper problem starting just before the crux. This was where Andy’s beta came in but i didn’t use it. Instead, i performed a move reminiscent of Johnny Dawes that flowed so beautifully, it stole the show of the whole session.

Hands primed on the holds, left foot pressing hard on it’s own, i rested my right foot on a crimp too high to provide power… yet. Left hip went up and i snatched the next hold with my left hand but as my body then untwisted, i simultaneously pulled and pushed with my right foot that now suddenly engaged. In one seamlessly smooth motion, i completed both crux moves in one, cruising through to the easier moves above.

I don’t know how it looked – an onlooker, a regular working the problem with me, seemed impressed – but it felt like pure bliss. It’s hard to describe and i really wish i’d caught it on camera as moves like that rarely happen, especially on harder climbs. It is something you’d see from Udo Neumann (above) or, as mentioned, Johnny Dawes and it is incredibly hard to perform or coach. The only reason it happened for me was purely subconscious.

I was back, primed and fighting fit. 7a+ flash, 7b retro flash, another 7b in a session, 7b flash and a 7b+ in two halves would’ve been a very pleasing session when i was fully fit! So imagine this after the abject failure of two weeks prior.

It just goes to show quite how important having the right mindset is on performance. Get it wrong and don’t get off the floor. I can feel my confidence and my belief come back almost immediately, and i’m back in the golden spot on the DCBA scale that has proven so important for me in the past.

The DCBA Scale the optimal mindset in order to maximise their own performance

Finding the Fight

It is no secret that i am out of shape and this weekend gone certainly confirmed it. Friday night at the Indy saw me just scrape what i would class as par but then a Saturday afternoon in the wall at work saw me dramatically under-performing. What was significant was why i was under-performing.

At the Indy, i did feel weak and wasn’t shy in exclaiming such. Tim heard it from his captive position behind the counter (sorry dude) and Em certainly got it once i got home: “I’m old, weak, fat and ugly”.

I repeated this, much as i have been for a few weeks now but perhaps i was saying it a bit too much; over-compensating? making excuses? Who exactly was i trying to convince?

At the Brenin, i struggled badly. Climbs that i should be able to walk up spat me off. Indeed, climbs that i set threw me. After failing on a trunk-route 7a, i opted to change tact and try a bit of campus movement. A yellow route would suffice, nice easy jugs, certainly doable.

The first move didn’t exactly turn into a campus move. I’d got a right foot on to get going, the starting jugs being a bit low, but as i tried the move, my foot stayed pinned to the hold. Odd, i should’ve cut loose. Oh well, carry on, campus the next few moves, up to the penultimate hold. Matched, as the last move is far, i pulled up and didn’t even throw a hand in it’s direction, i just came back down to the ground.

Now this is odd: it is not common for me not to commit to a move, certainly not indoors and CERTAINLY not on a route like this. I didn’t even try the move! I eyed it up, decided it was too far before i’d even tried, did a token gesture and came back down. This is not normal.

Was it a fear of failure? Don’t try, don’t fail, don’t look so stupid? And then it hit me, an epiphany that slapped me in the face harder than the ground when i jumped off: i’ve slipped down the DCBA Scale and i’ve managed to convince MYSELF that i’m not strong enough. I’ve actually managed to talk myself out of being able to do anything.

There are Four Facets of Rock Climbing Performance: Technique, Strength and Conditioning, Tactics and Mentality. These are the four areas that encompass all climbing performance and any area of weakness can be traced back to at least one of these Facets. What i’d suddenly realised was that where i thought the problem was (S&C) had actually shifted without my realising and now manifested itself in a problem with my Mentality. That didn’t mean i was suddenly stronger than before but it meant there were more problems too.

I kept on with the analysis and realised i’d talked myself into having problems with ALL of the Facets. I wasn’t really trying and when i was, i was trying the wrong things at the wrong time and lacked the necessary structure. Even my technique was failing as my mind continually worried i couldn’t hold on – ironically putting more pressure on the muscles that weren’t up to it in the first place! It was a vicious cycle. But suddenly, with this epiphany, the cycle had been broken. In that instant, the problem had shifted significantly.

I could still feel the pain and the ache in my body so i knew the S&C issues were still there but now i understood the problem, i could begin to address it. For a while i’d been suggesting my next move is mileage on the wall and now it is even more true. I can’t afford to wait for the start of the winter aggregate, training starts now. And it needs to be much more purposeful.

The one bright side to this is it could help my career and demonstrates wonderfully the need both for coaching in rock climbing and self-assessment and self-coaching. It has also given me a nice little case study to help cement the theories i’ve been working on over the last few months.

I am now fully immersed in my Masters degree; a Professional Masters in Elite Performance with the University of Central Lancashire. Basically i’m looking at coaching in rock climbing and as such, at the moment i’m reading loads about the Adventure Sports Coach. It seems this is a new role in the outdoor industry and is facing some opposition.

Certainly, the coaching qualifications with the Mountain Training Association faced some mild backlash as many of the old guard failed to see the need for formalised coaching in rock climbing. While this is one isolated incident, it demonstrated to me at least that there really is a need for a coach, and an educated and reflective one, in this sport; competitive or otherwise.

Something had twigged in my head. I hit the ground and swore very loudly, thankfully in an empty room. The realisation that my mentality or worse, my technique may not be at their best had got under my skin and pissed me off. I’ve always prided myself on these two aspects of my climbing and the idea that they weren’t working properly got me angry.

I caught a glimpse of my reflection and there i was: clenched jaw, furrowed brow, there was fire in my belly again. The hunched body language of earlier was gone, now i was up for a fight.

I walked back over to the yellow and tried again. First move, second move a big squeeze and i could feel my shoulders tensing as i felt better about myself. Carry on, move after move, giving my all. I’d done it, i’d changed that mindset and i’d completed it. All bar the last move. I was too tired.

Introducing Goal: 8a

They say train your weaknesses. But what if your weakness is training?

It’s been something i’ve always struggled with and the idea of “training your core” fills me with gloom and dread. I just can’t be bothered! The whole reason i got into climbing was to get out in the hills and the idea of staring at a wall dangling statically from my fingertips could not be further from that.

The problem comes when you want more. There came a point where just climbing wasn’t enough, i wanted to be operating right at the end of my ability level and there is only one way to make that happen: you have to train.

For me lately, there has been another driver, and one that comes up twice in year at New Years and during the Solstice: my Yearly Top Ten Average grade, calculated on 27crags. It may sound daft but for me, that single grade is a huge motivator. The problem i have at the moment is that it sits right below 7b. And i’m not in 7b shape: so i have to train.

But as i’ve mentioned, setting a training regime is really not my forte and while i could easily learn how to do it, sticking to it is entirely another matter. Will power is not something i possess in even small quantities and i am often found lacking any mental discipline for things like this.

So i asked myself: when i have managed to successfully train in the past? I’ve climbed 7c+ and i didn’t do that by simply going to the crag over and over, i have managed it before. What kept me focused for that?

The most obvious occasion that saw me even remotely training was preparing for Carnage. For any long-term readers (all three of you…) you’ll doubtless be aware of the effort i put in to tick this particular climb in Fontainebleau several years ago but for the uninitiated, and cutting a very long story short, it involved deadhangs on replica holds, a replica climb on a systems board and six months of preparation ready for my Spring attempt. And it worked.

Having such a definitive end goal gave me that undeniable focus. I had holds to copy, i had moves to practice, i had something tangible to work towards. And because of that, i’d find myself in the wall on a sunny day, training. But in the end it was worth it.

So there it was; the makings of a vague plan. Find a climb to work towards, and then work towards it. Simple really. But what climb…?

Again, my very top grade is 7c+ and i’ve wanted for a very long time to reach that next, momentous grade of 8a. There’s something very satisfying about the next number grade and it does have that tiny bit more cache. So why not?

I took a pen and a piece of paper and wrote in big letters at the top Goal: 8a. Then, i wrote down all the steps i could think of to get me from where i am now to achieving that goal. Turns out there weren’t that many either.

The first couple of steps are now complete, with huge thanks going to Tim Peck for helping me narrow down a long list of 11 to a shortlist of 2. Steps have been taken to move along on step 3 as well, although that ill discipline is rearing it’s head again. Still, this feels like progress. Now to see if i’m right.

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