Making the best of it

My travails in Barcelona – as enjoyable as they were – cost me a day of bouldering. With not being able to collect the car until 1pm and a five hour drive at least, by the time i got here, found the Airbnb, met up with Sally and ate, it was practically the middle of the night again with nought but a glance at the amazing red sandstone blocks i hadn’t seen since the week of my thirtieth birthday.

However, given our collective crippled state, this didn’t turn out to be the crisis we thought. My elbow has deteriorated again and i was nervous i wouldn’t be able to climb, while Sally – on her extended Spanish adventure and the reason i flew out here – had strained some abnominal muscles and wasn’t climbing for a couple of days anyway. Another rest day wouldn’t hurt. Getting stuck in might. Besides, that gave time to build a plan and some psyche…

I’m actually here to coach, not just on a jolly and arriving to find your client is crocked is not ideal. Instead, we decided to chat movement theory, goals and objectives with a view to seeing if any of it worked in practice later. With clients, i’m generally available any time people wish to chat so running over various ideas in person passed the time nicely.

There are several theories and academics related to climbing that i have developed and Sally is just the right type of person to take it on board. She’s also just the right one to tell me if i’m talking total shit and so far, seems very taken with the ideas; able to confirm through her own experiences or question when something doesn’t seem right. Not being able to climb sucks but  i think we are making the best of a bad situation.

The late night led to a late start which was no bad thing! Once up though, i headed into town for supplies, including food and some chalk from the excellent Sofa Boulder. They had not long opened when i was here last in 2014 and are just as friendly now as they were then. If you’re here, check them out.

After several cups of tea, in early afternoon, we finally headed up for a climb. I say we, i was the only one climbing and even then, i was being very cautious not to overdo myself and make the trip effectively pointless. A few 5s in and no pain, the tape holding my arm together and everything seeming pretty good.

A couple of 6bs and a 6c in and i tried the 6b stand start to some more appealing lines. However, when i paused mid route to assess my options (and test my ideas of movement theory on a wall) a nearby Spaniard mistook my musings for confusion and ran over to give me some beta. I wouldn’t ordinarily mind but the beta he was spraying me with was wrong and wasn’t going to work, confusing me further. Eventually i ignored his suggestions, pulled off a slightly harder-looking move and topped out to a round of applause that made me feel slightly embarrassed. 6b isn’t exactly that challenging for me (not that they were to know that).

Given all of this, they must have seemed slightly surprised to see me pull on to the 7a+ sit start version. From the noises they were making as i crept through the crux moves, i don’t think they were expecting me to get that far on El Rompededos. The look on my face at the top probably suggested i wasn’t either.

Sally had missed this taking a phone call and once she returned, found all the stuff had been moved around the corner. We’d looked at Eclipse 7b on our way in; the problem being one of Sally’s projects and she was keen for my beta. I quickly glanced through the moves again, dropped pads down and within about ten minutes had done it in about three sections, working out how to cope with my own issues and apply my own style.

Annoyingly, i mucked up the one attempt that felt like it would be fluid and easy, leaving my foot on a hold too long before it snatched from the hold and smacked the floor. As i rested, Sally grew cold and increasingly frustrated – not at me, at the fact she couldn’t climb – and eventually decided to call it a day, relieved of spotting duties by a group of Germans who had just arrived. If only she’d given it five more minutes, she’d have seen me fight my way through the roof and on to the top. Not a bad return for the day and with next to no pain to speak of!

Certainly psyched for tomorrow.

Unexpected Pleasures

As I board a metro train heading away from the airport, Louis Armstrong sings “I guess I’m just a lucky so and so” in my ears and, in that typical way with music lyrics, it feels oddly apt.

All the stress and worry suddenly disappeared last night as I watched the shutter on the Gold Car desk close in front of me, without car keys in my hand. Weirdly, knowing I have to deal with what’s gone wrong changed my attitude and relaxed me. Now what? Well, you’ve got all your stuff, money in the bank and crucially – certainly compared to the many other sticky spots I’ve found myself in the past – a piece of technology in my pocket that tells me everything I could possibly wish to know.

The counter to this is it told me too much, leaving me struggling to pick through the options and in the end, I opted for a different counter; or an information desk. There, the lovely girl helped enormously, suggesting what turned out to be a fantastic hostel before pointing out to me the gentleman stood behind me was in the same boat and we could share a cab.

Soon after, we were parked on the hard shoulder, the two Spaniards conversing wildly trying to figure out where we were heading while I placed an enormous amount of trust in these two strangers. My faith in humanity paid off as quickly we were in suburban Barcelona checking in.

I’ve got to give huge credit to Indigo Car Hire as they’ve been very helpful and could’ve easily held me over a barrel. They haven’t, have answered late night phone calls and been very helpful. My replacement car – much more expensive but with other benefits – is now booked for 1pm today, giving me a few hours to check out this famous city; something I was slightly sad not to be able to do before.

So now I can add the Barcelona metro onto my collection of London, Paris, Helsinki and Toronto as I head for the city centre to check it out, having checked out from Airhostel Barcelona (another recommendation). And even better, I’m nicely well rested and have even had a nice cup of tea. Failure for the win I’d say!

Uncomfortable excitement

Organising the logistics of a trip are stressful, worrisome and uncomfortable: both uncomfortable to plan and predict what will happen and, for me at least, physically uncomfortable once I get going.

After the usual anxiety that comes before any trip – have I got everything? Have I got too much? What do I actually need?! – and what I imagine will always be a slightly upsetting goodbye to my children, worries did ease as I got my lift to the airport. How I was planning on doing this leg was still a mystery and yet again, dad saved the day. But then I always knew he would.

Downside: arriving four hours before my flight. Cue some discomfort trying to last out a cup of tea in Nero for as long as possible. Then of course there’s security and no matter what I say, there is always an element of worry that they’ll confiscate my rock shoes or something, claiming they can’t possibly fit me and I must have stolen them.

Due to my desire to leave security checks for a bit longer, there were no seats and I stood waiting for the longest queue to file aboard our small plane. Just as I was starting to consider sitting on the floor, I needed to join said queue and proceed to shuffle along the floor with the dozens around me.

Once we land, the nerves will kick back in with worry about collecting my hire car a) in time before they close b) that they won’t accept my card as deposit or c) that I fart too much to sit on their car seats.

Get all that right and I’m still four hours from my bunkhouse. Oh and I can’t check in until tomorrow at some point. An uncomfortable night sleeping in the car on the desert in the middle of Spain sounded cheaper and reasonable enough. Now it’s near, I’m looking forward to it less and less.

The flip side of the centime

But you know what, this is all part of travelling. I haven’t done it much over the last three years (for obvious reasons) but this is all part of the pay off to see the world and have new experiences; totally worth it too.

The best stories are of when things went wrong or weren’t perfectly comfortable. The best experiences are the ones that challenge you and force you to think and work and figure out what the fuck to do next.

Yes, tonight is gonna be a stress fest and I’m not reveling sleeping on a hire car without dinner. But tomorrow at some point I’ll rock up in an historic village in the middle of Spain, meet up with my friend, look around me and say “shit the bed, am I actually here again?!”

I hope at least

UPDATE: the delay in my flight meant I arrived at Gold Car just to watch them close the shutter and the delightful gentleman there tell me, basically, I’m on my own. Stuck on Barcelona.

What has followed is an hour and a half of wandering, asking if people speak English and trying to find somewhere to stay tonight. Where Gold Car were gold level crap, the info service at the airport is outstanding, friendly and helpful.

So I’ve ended up in a taxi sharing the fee with a nice bloke who doesn’t speak English, on our way to a hostel somewhere in town that I don’t know in the slightest. Then in the morning, I’ll get a call from indigo Car Hire (also friendly and helpful) and try again.

It’s all a bit surreal but oddly very exciting and enjoyable! Certainly won’t forget this one in a hurry…

Suboptimal Preperations

These past fortnight have seen that rarest of rare phenomena: a dry day with me being free and able to climb. Only i couldn’t, i was forced to rest; my elbow tendons screaming at me that they could take no more. Tweaked simply by overuse from competing on too many levels, i was forced to down tools (or rock shoes) and stare at some of the first dry days from the kitchen window. It sucks.

Things are looking up since last Friday on the elbow front but then earlier this week got a bit harder again. With a few days to go before i fly off to Spain, being fighting fit is looking hit or miss. Not exactly ideal preparations.

Elbows

Where my last post held such promise and excitement, shortly afterwards i tried to catch up on the aggregate competitions after a Christmas break. I’m working on a post about competing on two fronts this winter to be published once they’re done but for now, let’s say that an endurance session on the Monday followed by 85 problems at the Beacon two days later was not good for me. That is, in essence, how i hurt my elbow.

Since then, i’ve been trying my best to rest but with being at the wall most of the time, it’s been tough. Throw in some manual labour as well and it’s been perpetually tweaky ever since.

That is until Friday gone when i bumped into one of the parents of the kids i coach. He suggested the latest thinking is to work it slightly and he gave me some exercises and some conditions on climbing; something Tim had also suggested previously which i’d discounted in favour of full rest. It seems to have done the trick and save for some aching from sweeping moss and dirt off a flat roof yesterday (cleaning is bad for you people!) my arm is starting to feel back to normal.

Dealing with injuries is something i’ve not had much experience with, thankfully and so i’m not the best when it happens. Having a good support network – either for myself or for clients when they get tweaks – will prove invaluable in the future. I think i’ve hit on someone well worth working with!

Suboptimal Preparations

The timing of this is not ideal, given that on Monday i fly off to Spain for a week in Albarracin. Ideally, i’d be tailoring my training to be at peak for a trip like this but such is life, and now i’m just hoping i can get some good routes in. Annoyingly, i’ve not been able to do much climbing this week either and my only session really will be tonight in Worcester.

I’m actually coaching here this week and don’t want to walk in to work in the wall blind. It’ll give me an opportunity to climb with my father in law too, which i’m really looking forward to, and to have a mild training session. I’m expecting to get on the lead, which should lower the intensity slightly too and give a different type of climbing to get ready. Not that i’ve ever prepared for a bouldering trip by sport climbing before but we’ll see if it works!

It’ll also be a chance to see how much these cuts on my fingers hurt too. While cutting wood Monday gone, i threw a piece towards a pile and, just as she often does, Tess went to catch it. Unfortunately, she got a bit too close and her teeth badly scratched my middle finger and cut deep into my index. It was a total accident and you’ve never seen a dog look so humble and apologetic but that didn’t make it hurt any less. I managed to squash it back into place and so far, it’s healing very well so hopefully it won’t hold me back and Tess can be forgiven for her over-enthusiasm.

Coaching Building

While out in Spain, i’ll be working with a friend on mine as she quests towards her first climb at a milestone grade. It’ll be great to be working with someone for a few days on real rock and i’m super psyched to get out there and get started. Her attitude is amazing and she’s a credit to herself in her approach to getting her project done.

For me as well, this is why i wanted this job in the first place. For the vast majority of sessions, it doesn’t feel like work. I love watching people climbing, see them improve and develop and it’s an amazing thing to behold when they tell you they’ve achieved a new grade; something that happens a lot to me!

Working in Worcester this weekend will be similarly great experience. This will be my first new wall in quite some time and new clients are great to work with. Stoked to have the business building.

The present might be frustrating and the immediate past hasn’t been great but the future is looking very promising. Now to see what happens when i get there!

Waiting for the Click

Many climbers really don’t like football. Often, they don’t see the point of it, the appeal, or why there is so much hype and money in the sport (and i can hear many of you nodding at your screens right now…). I do, though, ever since i was a child, and have always supported Liverpool Football Club. And they are currently going through one of the best and most successful periods in their history; which if you know anything of the club is an unimaginable achievement.

Now, for this next bit i need to explain a little about why they’re doing so well, but bearing in mind the above paragraph, i will keep this simple and brief so please bear with me. Liverpool haven’t won a league title since 1990 and are currently 13 points clear at the top of the table. That means they need to lose five matches that their nearest competitors win in the next 17 games to throw away this winning margin. So far in the league this season, they’ve won 17 and drawn 1 of their 18 games. In June, they won the European title for the sixth time and for context, only two other clubs can match or better that, anywhere on the continent. Just before Christmas, they even world the title for the best club in the world; competing against the best clubs from each continent. In short, they are beating everyone and destroying records that have stood for decades.

For me, having recently hit the form of my life and trying unprecedented grades, i take great inspiration from this. I’ve supported this club through some really fallow years where nothing really that noteworthy was achieved and to know that they can pull it all together and really go for it, really push the boundaries of what the club can do reminds me that i too can do the same.

We often hear of sportpeople being referred to as heroes or inspirations and sometimes i hear people scoff: how can they be an inspiration when they’re on hundreds of thousands of pounds a week? How are they heroes for kicking a ball around? How is it relevant to us anyway?

We go again

As i drove up the Llanberis Pass yesterday, on my way to try the project yet again and hopefully for the last time, the prosperity of my chosen football team wafted through my mind. The standards they are currently at are, quite frankly, absurd and they are at a point where they could push the limits of possibility on to new levels. Granted, they’re in a multi-billion pound industry and i’m some bloke on a bit of rock most people will never even know existed but on a personal level, that’s what i felt i’m doing: pushing my own limits to levels that only a couple of years ago would’ve sounded ridiculous.

To climb 8a these days isn’t nearly as impressive as it once was but climbing isn’t about measuring yourself against other people. It can be, if that’s what you want, but it doesn’t have to be; it is one of those pursuits that allows you to be the very best you possibly can without needing anyone else to compete against. For me, to achieve this would be to show myself there are no limits to my abilities and that i can be my own Liverpool Football Club and can do things i never dreamed possible. If they can, i can, as daft as that sounds.

And yet the reason for the success of LFC is that all the parts have come together and are working in perfect synchronicity. No part of their system isn’t working, they are all gelling in perfection. That’s why it is working. And that’s exactly why i did not end my year with the climb of my life.

Something needs to click

The conditions yesterday were, with no exaggeration at all, absolutely perfect. The temperature was right, the wind was right, the holds felt good and i was fresh and well warmed up. The stage was set for me and even though i was thrown not to find the boulder to myself, my fellow climbers left me to it after a while in favour of other nearby climbs.

And yet something is not quite clicking with it. This climb is notoriously hard and people are quick to remind me of that but i don’t think that’s it, i think there is something else holding me back that i cannot quite place.

While coaching others, i use something called the TTPP model: four attributes to performance sport to break down areas that are holding someone back: technical, tactical, physical and psychological. Well i certainly have the technical skills so that’s probably not the right area to worry about. My tactics could possibly be better, perhaps with timed rests or paying more attention to when my body feels right to try again but i felt yesterday that wasn’t the problem and that i was suitably prepared for each attempt.

The temptation is usually to focus on the physical and suggest that i need to get stronger. It’s also an easy cheat, as by getting stronger than you need to be, you can compensate for something lacking in another area, not to mention strength typically being the most straightforward to improve. The thing is with Sway On, i’m pulling on fine, i’m hitting the hold fine, and i can do all the other moves. I can get to the hold and hold it, i’m just not engaging when i get there. The problem is in my mind.

The last time i was there, i remember thinking i’m not invested enough in this climb yet to do it, it doesn’t matter enough to me; which is frankly ridiculous as it will be my first 8a and i’ve had it lined up since August 2018! Nevertheless, there’s something missing, something lacking. Yesterday was the same, something wasn’t quite clicking in my head and i don’t know what it is.

The problem now is that to clear my mind, i usually go climbing. But how to clear my mind to be able to climb? Two seasons ago, you could feel the same thing with Liverpool. They were almost there, just not quite clicking yet. Now they have, they’re flying. If it can click for me, it may just unlock the next level.

It’s All About Feel

Climbing is all about eliciting feelings: physical feelings, psychological feelings, social feelings, ethical, emotional, even spiritual at times.

That’s certainly why i climb: to feel something. I want to feel my body moving, i want to feel my mind at work, trying to process this complex sequence or control the small variables to be able to work, and so on. What i am less inclined to try and feel is the cold. Especially when that cold is so utterly baltic and freezing that it totally stops me in my tracks.

Trapped in a Paradox

That’s the situation that i found myself in last Thursday gone: just cold. There’s no reason to elaborate on it really, i was simply cold. And it was not fun.

I’ve realised that despite all this “optimum friction” malarkey at low temperatures, my body just refuses to function in the way i want it to once my tempterature drops too low. Many a wasted day has been spent thinking the friction would be top only to realise that it makes little difference when i can’t get my body firing.

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Another day off #goal8a today but absolutely bitter, I got stuck between needing to rest and needing to keep my fingers firing. In the end I lacked time and the necessary sticktuiteveness to get anywhere. @curly_hair_climber on the other and had an awesome day! A stack of ticks in the 7s ended with a flapper but a great day nonetheless. His success far outweighed my poor session and had me leaving with a smile. My worry now is that I'll have to wait until spring for the right conditions. But that probably won't stop me going back in the meantime #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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It doesn’t help when my body shape is so slight that i lack any discernible body fat and with it, any natural insulation; and while i can make up for this with layers – cold weather now instantly brings out the “double legs” approach – i cannot do anything about my fingers. If the rock is cold and the weather biting, i’m stuffed before i even start.

So, there i was, underneath Sway On yet again, optimistic that this time, it could go and i could change my climbing career forever. Yet i was stuck in this paradox: pull on a couple of times to warm the digits but then need to rest; rest and the fingers go cold again. If i keep climbing, my fingers tire and i risk injury but if i stop, i chill off and am back to square one.

Gloves and various other things taken along didn’t help and within a short while, i realised it was fruitless and that i would need to wait for another day. I much prefer cold days to hot days but there is a point where you simply need to admit defeat and call it a day. The wait continues.

How Are You Feeling?

Learning to harness feelings like those experienced that day is the key to climbing at your limit, both tactically, psychologically and physically. When is my body rested enough to go again? When am i tuned in enough to give it enough effort? It comes down to listening to yourself and reacting to those feelings to get out what you have put in. Sometimes that results in learning to deal with the disappointment of a bad day.

My morning was filled with emotion and nerves, almost to the point i didn’t want to go. The session itself held so much frustration, not to mention cold (did i say it was cold that day?) and of course the reason i didn’t have that many attempts was simply because i didn’t feel like i was able to pull on properly.

Listening to your body and mind comes through heavily in my coaching and it’s really hard to teach, especially with youngsters who are used to being told what to do and when. Nevertheless it’s one of the most crucial aspects of developing our skills whether in the wall or at the crag. If you want to improve, you have to listen to yourself and what your body is telling you.

For me, the long battle i’m engrossed in continues for at least another week. I’m not actually planning another session there any time soon, with indoor training and conditioning taking centre stage while it rains before a planned day on the limestone crags of the Great Orme on Friday. I’m hoping i’m feeling better then.

The Calm Before The Storm

I am quite used to constant, mild pain; it’s part and parcel of exercising hard i think. Running normally does it to me more than anything, primarily because i don’t do it very often and whenever i do, i go too hard too quick and can’t walk properly for about four days.

Dealing with the pain is fine but there does come a point where you start to need to listen to your body and that’s exactly the point i got to a fortnight ago. Despite all the recent success and the obvious form, it was a case of rest or ruin and i really didn’t fancy several weeks off injured (at best, i imagine).

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If you're going to push your limits, sooner or later you'll have to do some conditioning work. If you don't, you'll either plateau or worse, get injured. Recently I've been walking that line pretty close and I'm now on an enforced rest week. Part of this involves trying these smart bits of kit from @the_powerfingers. They come recommended by @neil.gresham and help to area the imbalance in the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the hands and wrists. I think, I'm not 100% sure yet as I'm still getting to grips with them and have some reading to do. Considering I'm struggling to open my fingers fully now though, I'm certainly hoping they'll help! #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #grimpeur #escalada #escalade #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #training #conditioning #stayingfit #avoidinginjury

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Enforced Rest Week

And so it came to pass – coinciding nicely with a bout of wet weather – that i forced myself to have an enforced rest week. No climbing, more than necessary at least what with me now working in the climbing walls, and nuts to the various aggregate competitions.

In fairness it worked well and allowed my body to settle and recover enough that those niggly pains had just about gone. But there are still some tweaks in my shoulders and neck, my back still doesn’t feel great and i still can’t sleep in the position i have for years as the pain becomes too much to let me drift off. I’ve realised i need to pay more attention to my antagonist muscles and do more conditioning on a regular basis, not just driven by the pain but also by the fact i know i’m climbing hard and becoming imbalanced.

After getting back on the wall and having an outstanding and epic session at the Indy – reducing my remaining climbs down to only 2 from 145 – i realised i need help. None of us know it all, there are always gaps in our knowledge and Tim Peck knows far more than i about anatomy of climbers, injuries and conditioning to help them. So i recruited him to help me come up with a routine to follow. I’ve yet to get into it but i was really impressed with the way the session was tailored to the parts of me that needed it most and how informal it became, lacking any judgement.

So conditioning and rest week all in hand. They say you get stronger on your rest days so i’m hoping a whole week off will serve me well for what comes next…

It All Builds To This

The preparation for this afternoon started back at the weekend gone, when i aligned the diary with the forecast and realised there was the ideal gap for the next episode in my Sway On saga. After my break, it’s now time to crank up Goal: 8a and get this thing done! Before the snow comes proper…

I’ve long advocated that a project session starts long before you arrive at the bottom of it and this is my own little proof. Every now and again, every day for the past week, i’ve been pondering this problem, running through the moves in my mind, imagining success. I’ve been putting things in place, asking friends if they want to join me and generally psyching myself up for the climb of my life.

It makes a difference. Last time i was there, i was close but felt like if it had gone, like i’d have missed part of the process. I hadn’t invested enough in the climb yet and don’t think i would’ve experienced the euphoria i have on other long term projects; which sounds insane considering i’ve had this in the back of my plans for well over a year!

Now that we’re on the day of, waiting for the weather to warm up slightly, all i can feel is nervous. The niggles in my body mentioned earlier have cranked up the volume, i can feel doubt in my mind and i’m looking for excuses, wondering whether to go out at all. Oh, i’m tired; oh, my back is sore; oh, i’ve got too much work to do. All this plays it’s part in making this morning slightly unpleasant.

The fact is, there’s no reason i can’t do this today and those nerves are actually a good thing. The conditions are perfect, i’m in the form of my life, recently rested and have recruited a friend to come along. Everything is set up and perhaps that’s why i’m jittery: the weight of expectation. Today has the potential to be momentous for me. The trick is going to be to take a deep breath and enjoy it as much as i can.

Merry Solstice: October 2019

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 could’ve easily fit another post in between my report from last weekend and this year’s Solstice post, such is the form i’ve been on, but truth be told, if i had the time to write that, i’d most likely have been out crushing something else instead. The fact is, something incredible seems to have changed over the course of the last season and i am now, unbelievably, stronger, better and fitter than i have ever been.

While this is undoubtedly fantastic news, it has left me with a quandry: i have no idea where i’m at or what sort of goals to make next. It is pretty remarkable considering this time last year, number one goal was “Climb. A bit. If Possible”. Now i’m getting 7c in a session – albeit ones i’ve been trying for some time but haven’t visited for years – and wondering just how far i can still go.

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The good form continues, and it seems my coaching is partly responsible: after many years of substantial effort, I finally analysed my foot beta properly, changed my tact slightly and boom, Nazgul's Traverse 7c. Quickly sent Arya 7b+ too. This was Tuesday and yesterday, I had a VERY good blast on Sway On at Gallt Yr Ogof, now millimetres away from the first move and hopefully with it, the send. Tired out on that, I quickly got the easier version of Diamond Eyes at 7a and then the link from Regeneration at 7b+/c. Quite a haul for two days of solo bouldering! #worldclasswales #NorthWales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #grimpeur #rockclimbing #escalada #escalade #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion

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Season Review

Cue the section of this post where i scroll back through Instagram and 27 Crags to see what i’ve done in the last six months… I do love this part of this post as it is a good prompt to check out what i’ve done in the recent past; something that is far too easily forgotten.

For example, our Lakes trip back in April. We had a week off and wanted to take Hannah on a good adventure so camping in the Lakes – especially after a heatwave – seemed a good idea. I can still vividly remember the feeling of waking up on that first morning with snow capped mountains all around and us wondering what in the world had prompted us to do this.

We stuck it out and did have a great time, including a very successful session on the Bowderstone, ticking Picnic Sarcastic and the sit start to Power Pinch both 7b as well as a flash of Statstick 7a. The start of things to come it seemed! Moreover, the trip did turn out very well, with plenty of excitement and activity for both us and the kids.

Local excursions continued through April and into May, with Down on an Elephant 7b finally falling, and a first ascent at Supercrack that i called Doggle 7b. It maintained my strength levels before my birthday trip, kept alive by the stellar soul of Simon Slater who almost single handedly got me to Helsinki for a standout trip that also worked as a great bonding experience with my father-in-law-to-be.

It was yet another fantastic birthday, with birthday pizza only tainted by the divebombing seagulls and four crags visited in only three days. This trip wasn’t about ticking high grades – a couple of 7a to show for my efforts – and was more about keeping the tradition alive and spending time with someone i have a rapidly increasing admiration for. Still a bit gutted i didn’t finish Melankolia 7b+ though. The trip even inspired an article on ukclimbing.

Then came the Stunning Summer of Stress: a week in Birmingham (including a day at Cratcliffe), a music festival with the kids, a week in Worcester and a wedding in Cambridge (more kiddy camping), not to mention the beginning of the travelling for my thesis for my Masters. It was a fantastic experience, each trip a great opportunity and great to look back on but the stresses involved meant we completed each week saying “that was amazing! When is this all going to end…?”

Eventually it did end and we settled into an Autumn at home; the difference being that for the first time since 2015, i came out of the summer just as strong as when i went in. Maybe even stronger, given the growing list of local ascents getting ticked off.

The catalyst for my current high has to be, looking back through the ticklist, Barrel Groove 7c, my first of this grade since before Rosie was born and you can hear the emotion in me on the video. I’d had the idea for a film called Seven 7s all year and so it came to pass in the past week or so. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time and i’m thrilled i’ve finally produced something.

Almost to cap off the season was a weekend spent at the Roaches, again with my extended family. A healthy mix of time spent on boulders and time spent with children, this was a great way to round things off. Or so i thought.

Once back, and making the most of my current free time, i hit the crags again and wowed myself. In two days, i climbed a 7a, two 7b+ and a long-awaited 7c (Nazgul’s) and suddenly threw open a world of possibilities i thought may have been lost to me forever.

A Quick Note On Prowess

Out of all of this, the Autumn of 2019 will always be remembered as the time i finally went self-employed and decided to run my own coaching company. Prowess Climbing Coaching was named after my greatest first ascent near Plas y Brenin and had been running for around a year when i decided to throw everything into it. A huge thanks must go to Em for being so supportive, especially considering what is at stake if i get this wrong.

It has started well but is not yet sustainable and so i emplore you to check out the website, like the Facebook page and most importantly, help me find clients who are keeen to improve.

I will always be proud of taking that step, no matter how long it lasts. If i can keep it going into a viable career, i will have truly achieved my goal. And hopefully, will be able to help so many people with it.

Previous Season Goals

  • Unassailable 7b annual average grade
  • Re-establish The List
  • Work towards Goal: 8a
  • Train in the Mill/swim for the club again
  • Remember family and masters matter more than personal achievements
  • Write these goals down somewhere obvious

How Did It Go?

Well put it this way: within a couple of weeks of writing “7b average” on a sheet of paper and sticking it on the wall, i’d had to up that to 7b+ because i’d already done it. And you know what? This week, i’ve hit that revised goal as well.

Again, my situation is volatile and the rug may be pulled from under my feet any day now. And yet, despite all of that, i’m thriving and believe it or not, nearly three-years after my eldest was born and a year after she was joined by my youngest daughter, i’ve actually surpassed my best ever year of climbing. Whatever i’m doing, i need to keep doing it.

The same is true for my mental state too and both of these probably stem from turning self employed and developing Prowess Climbing Coaching. That has freed up so much more time, has left me significantly happier in myself while seeing me do what i love and what i’m actually really good at. I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet too much but if i was designing the ideal job for my particular skill set, my current job would be it.

It seems to be working too; all the noises i’m hearing are excellent, the reviews i’ve got online are outstanding and at least three clients i’ve had have gone on to climb a grade harder since a session with me.

It’s all got me improving my own abilities and both The List and Goal: 8a have gone very well. Granted i’m not as good at updating the List as i once was but it is vaguely up to date and is helping. My season goals are stuck on the wall to the right too.

Sadly, i haven’t trained: Em’s evening shifts moved to prevent me swimming and the Mill closed down temporarily. BUT to complain about that given what i’ve already said would be ludicrous. Yes i need to train, especially my antagonists, but to worry about it in terms of improving would be idiotic.

Next Season Goals

Dave Noden’s voice is ringing in my ears at this point: “never let good form go”. Yes, it might all go wrong any day and i might have to go get a typical job but while i can, i might as well aim high. Aim for the moon and you might hit Milton Keynes and all that.

So the goals are chosen to reflect how well life is right now and considering Friday gone saw my first ever 8a at the Indy, they’re pretty damned high.

With freelancing at both climbing walls, i’ve gone in for both aggregate competitions and that gives around 700 (seven hundred!) problems to try and tick off. As a consequence, i’m keeping to roughly to the same indoor goal as last winter.

Of course this hinges on still going to the walls regularly and that will come from still being in business throughout the season. More importantly will be not going bankrupt and putting the family in jeoaprdy but if i can keep building Prowess then it’ll be a big success.

Lastly, Rosie has taken to climbing in an unbelievable way, on that first session at the Boardroom and it was great she got to spend time with her uncle and develop that relationship further. I’m keen to keep this going but in such a way that there is not pressure on her at all. Keep the option open for her but don’t push her at all, that will be key.

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So unbelievably proud of all of my girls! A day at the @boardroomclimb yesterday and you wouldn't have thought a two year old could climb so well, phenomenal effort! At one point we had to stop her going higher, to which she pointed to the top of the wall and said, "I want to touch the yellow one" Credit to little Hannah too, who adapted to what must've been a strange day very well, and of course to @emks93 for getting on the wall and making some good sends, not to mention looking after two little ones while we were busy playing. Finally, we couldn't have done it without @james_slater_vertical and it was fantastic that we got to spend some time with their uncle. They've got a good climbing pedigree already these two! First three photos credit to @emks93

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  • Goal: 8a
  • Between 85-90% completion in both aggregate competitions
  • Complete the vast majority of the Masters work
  • Still be in business at the end of the season
  • Take Rosie climbing semi-regularly (including once on rock if possible)

This is a scary period in my life in so many ways and yet it is scary because it is so incredible. I have been trying for so long to achieve something noteworthy, not so much for the recognition from others but more for the recognition from myself that i can actually achieve if i put my mind to it. I’ve got myself to the doorway and am now staring through. Next i have to take the next step and i cannot wait to see what i get to put in next season’s post.

Merry Solstice!

Girls on the Gritstone

In the past two years and eight months, we have had at least three major family trips away with the kids, to climbing destinations where we’ve tried to combine our old pre-child lives with our current situation. I’ve made quite a big deal about getting out with younger ones in tow, being very vocal on social media and writing articles for ukclimbing and for The Project Magazine about this subject, not to mention the countless days out locally. And yet, despite all this experience, there is still a massive amount of apprehension before going away with the children.

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"we're going on an adventure!" that's what I've been telling our eldest before we head off this weekend to the gritstone for a family climbing trip. And its scary! More scary for us, full of apprehension and nerves; what if they're sick? What about their sleeping? Have we got enough stuff? Have we got the RIGHT stuff?! What if we get distracted working a project and the cold disappears into a hole in the ground…? Okay that last one is more me than Em but it is nerving. But that shouldn't hold us back and for the last two and a half years, it hasn't; this photo is by @emks93 on our first baby climbing trip to Ireland. She was four months old. Granted, we've had to do things differently but there's a word for that: parenting. Everything in our lives is now done differently! And, for us, it's really important that they get these experiences and that they get them young. We want to show them that they CAN go and have adventures, that there are no limits to their abilities. We want strong, empowered children that become rounded, enlightened people. We want them to develop experiences from different people in different places, to show them to keep learning. So come on kids, we're going to show you the world. It's amazing, you'll love it.

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This weekend has been planned for nearly a year and yet at the back end of last week, with days to go, we nearly sacked it off on account of stress. Granted there were slightly extenuating circumstances – with sickness and general sleep deprivation – but even at the time, it seemed more that the stresses of getting everything ready and in line were taking their toll and didn’t entirely seem worth it.

Even once we arrived at the hut, we weren’t sure how long we’d last and at one point, even i was ready to pack everyone back up in the truck and go straight home again; stereo screaming echoing in my ears. And yet, partly through our resolve to allow the kids into this aspect of our lives and partly through the knowledge that valuable reinforcements were on their way, we stuck out that first night, and the second and returned having had another fantastic child/climbing adventure.

Girls at the Gritstone

The scene for this particular adventure was the Roaches in Staffordshire: one of England’s most famous crags, with a fantastic circuit of easier grade bouldering to accomany the more established and iconic trad lines of the last seventy years. On the face of it, this weekend should’ve been significantly easier as we were staying in the old Don Whillans Memorial Hut at the basse of the crag.

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An eventful end to and adventure weekend at the Don Whillans Memorial Hut at the Roaches. Such a convenient and awesome place to stay, where you could literally throw the pads out the front door and hit an established boulder! And yet one of the things that struck me was how much was there that wasn't developed! Do people assume that because it's one of the countries most famous crags, there's nothing new left?! Or have they been done before and long since forgotten about? Most likely I imagine is that it takes a different mindset to go off piste and try something green and undone before. Still, I'd love to go spend a week here and do nothing but new lines. I reckon it could easily be done #peak #peakbouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #grimpeur #escalada #escalade #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion

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The hut is pretty incredible and dates back to the early 1880s, although later became a gamekeepers hut in 1862 (for a more detailed and interesting history, see this article by the BMC, who now own and run the venue) and is a thing to behold. With a rustic charm indicating it’s history, the hut holds a slightly industrial feel – steel sinks and table in the kitchen for example and distinct lack of sofa – that at first feels a little cold but probably stems from an attempt to live alongside the inevitable wildlife that share the grounds. Still, considering the locale and the intentions of anyone staying there, this makes sense as it is unlikely people will want to spend too much time indoors when staying here.

Such was the case for our crew: our family of four and their maternal grandparents, who had booked the hut, plus their son James and his two friends, Tom and Karl. If it hadn’t been for England and Wales both being in action in the rugby world cup, i dare say we’d have been out even more than we were; which was practically all hours we were awake! Thankfully, we had the weather to make that work.

Routes of All Lengths

The England match coincided with a foggy and murky start to the day, luckily, meaning we could watch the Aussies get a thumping while waiting for the rock to dry out. Once full time had been blown, it was game on and after a short reccie, we were up at the famous and popular Upper Tier boulders.

For me, it turned out to be an apt place to start. I have no idea when i first climbed at the Roaches, probably sometime around 2003, but i do remember the first problems i tried: namely those on the obvious bloc under The Sloth and the very same boulders we began at this Saturday gone. These days i climb a lot harder than back then, meaning i have much less fear of actually trying the tougher lines (see this article written for Prowess last week about grades and performance) opening up more oppotunities than last time.

Having a substantial landing helps too and soon, instead of utilising this fact, i was dangling from the lip on the dyno eliminate Apocolypse Now 7a+ feeling my recent form might carry through to the weekend. There was an infectious drive within the group too and it was great to see the crew studiously working on the tricksome Don’s Crack 4+ to form a bit of a send train up the awkward moves. It spurred me on to flash Broken Wing 7a, although if anyone can shed light on the start of this i’d be grateful, as it appears that a “hanging start” is no longer possible without a one-arm lock off…

Lunchtime timed out immaculately with a heavy shower that stopped just as we finished munching and soon, the lads were off out in search of dry routes on the nearby crag. They managed to find something suitable: a wet hand jam crack that saw multiple ascents again as our little family walked up to catch some of the action. I’m sure there was some disappointment not to get on something a touch tougher but such is life when things are booked in advance; you play the cards you’re dealt and it was great to see people making the most, rather than sitting, complaining about conditions.

The evening rolled around, pizzas all round and while the children slept (mostly anyway) and most of the group played an enthusiastic game of Articulate, Em and myself took the lanterns out for a night-boulder. The last time i was at the Roaches was around the time we got together and i was distracted in freezing conditions on the Tetris boulder with very little in the way of any tangible success. At the time, i’d thought i didn’t need to come back but time introduces an element of doubt and i thought i should give it another try, with the added irony that i am now here with the same wonderful girl i was trying to court from the last time. For me, that evening held a beautiful symmetry.

It did not yield any sends though and did bring a rather bad knock to my arse when i fell hard and landed on a rock. Tetris 7c is hard, high and scary in the daylight, let alone by torchlight and i was happy to get the first four moves or so. I’ve no need to go back now, although i can’t say i won’t change my mind again in the next three years…

Easy Like a Sunday Morning

Sunday saw the lads run out as a foursome, eager to make the most of the sunshine while i cheered on the Welsh in their 20-19 quarter final win over France and the girls recovered from another tumultuous night. A boys bedroom and a girls bedroom kept me separated from any parental responsilibity for the weekend and while i do feel a bit bad, it’s the first time i find myself glad we have two daughters.

Soon enough, after packing some kit, we were kitted out and went in search of the climbers, taking a lovely walk over the top of the moors trying to find them. I had intended to get Rosie on a rope but the one thing we’ve learnt about being active with kids is that you can’t force it; you put things in place to try and make it happen but always remember that it still might not. In this case it didn’t but even so, it was another good day for them to experience the outdoors and to see their family in action.

Once again, the rain hinted that we should stop on the rock and we headed back to pack up and clean before heading for home. We could’ve climbed more if things had worked out differently but it could’ve been significantly worse and the most important aspect to the weekend was to get out with others and have a good time. All told, we accomplished that in spades and i dare say, will be back next year to continue what it fast becoming a very good tradition.

Welcome to the Sport of Climbing

Sadly there are no photos to accompany this. There are witnesses though. 

This story has been a few weeks in the making but I’ve held off to surprise a few old friends before publishing it. After all, for both me and many people i climb with, this has been a big surprise. The fact is that after roughly twenty years of trying, and five years of dedicated bouldering, i have finally got my leading head on.

Granted, i’ve been in this situation before and have had bouts of being on the sharp end comfortably in the past but for some reason, this feels different. Now i’m taking lead falls, not clipping lower offs and pushing things harder and harder, dreaming bigger and bigger.

So what changed and why did it happen so suddenly? And after years of being so happy on the boulders, why am i suddenly even tying on in the first place?

A VERY Good Training Course

For a while now, in order to increase my employability and especially since i went self-employed, i’ve been trying to get on the Climbing Wall Development Award (the award that entitles the holder to teach indoor lead climbing). Eventually, almost by chance, i found one running and booked my place; run by the local legend, Andy Newton.

The morning involved a lot of chat and a lot of thinking about legislation and risk. It was interesting and to be honest, i wasn’t that disappointed given my nerves when it comes to lead climbing. After lunch, though, it was time to tie in.

I could’ve probably avoided leading but i knew that wouldn’t exactly help my cause, especially as this was likely my assessor for the same award! Moreover, though, i actually felt up for it for a change. I got on a simple 5 and led it fine, reminding myself it doesn’t actually feel that bad. Then came a phrase that before has sent a chill down my spine: fall practice. Only this time, i wasn’t worried…

I’ve no idea why but for some reason, it didn’t seem that bad. Andy made sure there was no pressure to try it and unlike all other talk of fall practice i’ve heard of before, he suggested starting with the clip by my eyes – something that didn’t actually seem like a lead fall at all. I tried it and for the first time in a long time, didn’t totally capitulate and freak out. Well, i kinda did but in a good way.

Back up, clip by my chest now and another plummet, again, all fine. By now i’m banging my hands against the wall with glee, cheering myself on. One more with the clip now below my waist and the whooping and hollering probably seemed weird to everyone but me. No one knew what i’d been through to get here, what it’s cost me in the past. It seems i had to be okay not getting what i wanted in order to get it.

And Then the Grades Tumble

The following night, i was at the Indy and decided to show off my new found skills to some friends who had rarely seen me put a harness on, let alone lead anything. They were more than a bit surprised when i clipped the fourth clip on a 6a, climbed to fifth and jumped off but not as surprised as later in the evening.

Knowing i needed to log some recent routes, i recruited a belayer and ticked off a 6a+, 6b and 6b+ before running out of 6s on the steep section of wall. I looked up at the 7a+, recognised the holds and thought they all looked like jugs so i figured i’d try it… and flashed it, with only one move that made me think at all.

These four were all back to back and when Lewis said he wanted to try the 7c black route, i was glad of the rest and told him i wanted to second it. When he didn’t make the top, i figured why not? and got on the lead. From 5+ to 7c in about 36 hours: pretty insane.

I ran out of juice, tiredness winning out four moves from the top. Still, it had whetted my appetite and i spent the next week thinking about it before my next shot. Annoyingly that chance came after a family walk that saw me carrying Rosie up to and down from Llyn Elsi and thus, pretty tired. Even warming up felt hard work.

Still, by the end of the evening, i felt recovered (enough) and sure as that 5+ at the Beacon the previous Thursday, it was done, 7c in the bag.

Keeping the Momentum Going

People seemed underwhelmed by my story, partly apparently because the grades at the Indy are renowned for being very soft. Then came an abrupt back-to-earth moment (figuratively thankfully, not literally) at the Beacon when i got shut down on the tall routes.

Falling foul of the DCBA Scale and ending up being too arrogant, i was looking at least at the mid 7s for my session and was even a little disappointed to be warming up on mid 6s. Ridiculous really, when i looked back on it, this was all about consolidation and this wall was almost twice the height of the Indy. I got tired on the first climb and totally shut down on an ungraded line that turned out to get 7b+.

Tail between my legs, we moved to the easier smaller walls around the back and ticked off line after line, low to mid 6s but to be honest, they felt easy, uninspiring and by the end of it, pretty boring. The last climb had me continuing our conversation all the way up. Yes, climbs needed to be logged but the balance had now swung back too far the other way.

Thankfully, i received another boost at the Boardroom shortly afterwards when i flashed a 7a that felt very easy. There was a 7c ish line there too, with no discernible chalk that had apparently eluded the finest regulars and looked attainable but given recent experiences, i decided to leave it alone. That day at the Boardroom was with the last person i planned to impress and he certainly seemed pretty taken aback. To be honest, i have been too!

Talk since has quickly moved to “does this mean you can start doing trad now?” from quite a few people but the answer (in the short term at least) is no. The current plan is to consolidate my newly-reacquired skills indoors over this season and see what happens in the Spring. Then, i might partake in some outdoor sport climbs. Either way i’ve learned my lesson about getting carried away and still keeping things interesting and i’m happy to be dabbling on the sharp end once again.

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