Happy New Year: March 2021

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.

Season Review

The winter season is typically an indoor season, used to develop strength and hit form right in time for Spring; and in the past, a Spring trip, usually to Font. Obviously, this season wasn’t quite as simple as that…

It started reasonably well! Work trickled in, almost constantly, resulting in me spending much of my time at one of the two local walls and usually with some climbing after my coaching session. Things were going well and the first tick of the season came at the Wavelength boulders: Pie Eyed 7c/+ saw me play to my strengths, use my feet and complete what felt a remarkably easy problem. However, it didn’t last and soon became a nearly-awesome season with several significant lines left unfinished.

Rock Atrocity Wobbly Block Start 7c+ very nearly fell before the Christmas lockdown was brought forward and stopped another, hopefully successful, session. Throughout the season, continued assaults on Sway On 8a at Gallt yr Ogof failed and right at the end of the season, when stay-at-home became stay-local, both Higg’s Problem 7b at Marchlyn Mawr and Thonz 7b+ at Pacman both left me agonisingly close but without the tick. In the end, last season yielded a meagre eleven completed problems. 

There is context here though. From Christmas, any climbing was practically outlawed and even where i could’ve walked to the crag, the weather saw fit to stop play. Whether it was sub-zero temperatures or persistent rain (as is typical in a North Walean winter) the possibility of getting on rock simply wasn’t there. 

Where it was, though, i have been able to continue developing crags and putting up more new lines. Those eleven climbs includes two first ascents: Unlocked 7a+ and Youth of Today 6c (both graded very tentatively). Both are excellent lines and hopefully will be surrounded with more in the near future. 

Unlocked 7a+ First Ascent, Mystery Crag

And while i wasn’t able to climb, i was able to launch in to my first ever training program, thanks primarily to the encouragement of Sally Lisle. Moreover, we charted our progress through a six-part podcast throughout the year (which you can listen to below) and again, the hugest thanks to Sally for her involvement in this project.

It was an interesting process but in the end, i found i’m not cut out to completing a proper training program. My motivations are most definitely to actually go climbing, not to schedule hang-time on the fingerboard. The one brightside is it has assuaged any guilt i would’ve had were Sway On to evade me forever; i’d have always wondered if i should’ve tried a training program but now i have, and not been very successful, i can know that i gave it my best shot in my own way. 

Lockdown Training Episode 6: Concluding Thoughts Lockdown Training

Welcome to the Prowess Climbing Coaching Training Podcast In this final episode of the series, Pete presents solo and records his thoughts on the training program and what he's learned along the way  Further information is available on the Prowess Coaching website
  1. Lockdown Training Episode 6: Concluding Thoughts
  2. Lockdown Training Episode 5: Barriers to Successful Training
  3. Lockdown Training Episode 4: Should We Be HIITing It Up?
  4. Lockdown Training Episode 3: Reviewing, Recuperating and Thoughts on Surgery
  5. Lockdown Training Episode 2: Adjusting, Calibrating and Intrinsic Feedback

There is, of course, mitigation for all of this. The global pandemic still looms large over all of our lives and i wouldn’t want to come across as moaning and whinging that i can’t go climbing enough when people are dying. I am very grateful for any climbing i manage to get in and am more than happy to comply with any and all restrictions that ensure that people stay safe. Protecting the NHS and the community at large are far more important in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless, i’m still charting my progress and even within these unique circumstances, there is certainly room for improvement.

Previous Season Goals

  • Train for Goal: 8a
  • 1000 recorded boulder problems
  • Continue to develop new venues, ideally at least two by New Year
  • Bring work back towards coaching and Prowess
  • Continue to develop climbing movement theory
  • At least one weekend out of North Wales

How Did It Go?

I’ve already discussed Goal: 8a and how i’m not quite there yet. However, the last session did boost my confidence somewhat and one effort in particular really got me going and away from going through the motions. I’m close, I’m so close, and i’m desperately hopeful that i’m just one good effort away.

Likewise, i discussed Home Training and the lessons learned from it. I’ll certainly continue to try and come back to home training and see if i can attack my weaknesses during my non-climbing time. However the big lesson is that the modern, typical ideology of structured training plans isn’t really my bag but that i’m actually okay with that.

While not last season’s goals, my elbow continues to give me grief. The niggly pain still persists but my current theory is that there is a build up of scar tissue in there that needs attending to. My plan is to see about some acupuncture, which has worked wonders for me with similar niggly injuries in the past but this has become a round-tuit job. However, rehab on elbows, wrists and shoulders should become a high priority very soon.

Being only eleven problems closer to the 1000 boulder problems suggests that was a wildly optimistic/naively stupid goal to put on the list. Yes, things looked like they were opening up a lot more at the end of October last year but to try to actually hit that number was daft on the face of it. Still, it’s an interesting goal to keep, although i may temper the phrasing so as not to be so wildly off. I’m currently on 843 so perhaps hitting 900 might be more realistic.

Likewise with the goal of one weekend out of North Wales. That one was largely out of my hands, again considering the weather. But it’s still a good goal to have and will go back on the list this time and actually up it to three. However i’ll stick an extra one on there: resurrect the Birthday Tradition (more on that below).

The other three goals are interesting. I did indeed start to develop new venues but again, should’ve heeded the old winter=indoor, summer=outdoor guidance for goal setting. That one is another that will simply transfer on to this coming season.

Work has settled so now spending time coaching is far more possible than before. I’ve actually taken a new part-time job on but that takes up twenty hours a week, giving plenty of scope to build Prowess more with paying clients. What will help there is getting many of the current projects on the whiteboard finished and out of the way. Yes, others will crop up but if i can finish more than i take on, that will allow me to focus on my career.

And that will have an impact on developing climbing movement theory. So far, i’ve made some inroads but have been sidetracked by other projects. While these other projects have been great, they’ve taken me away from my core focus and my own theories. Getting them done and out of the way will make a massive difference. So i didn’t really hit this goal but again, it was a little out of my hands as i tried to make the most of the latest lockdown by promoting the business with other aspects. And in fairness, i’ve had heaps published in the last few weeks.

Next Season Goals

After all of that, this list of goals is pratically the same as last season. It turns out they were far more like summer goals than winter goals last time around…

The only real change is to ressurect the Birthday Tradition. Whisper it quietly but Boris reckons we’ll be all back open and sorted by the 21st June and my birthday is on the 23rd. Brexit might still stop everything (will i need a visa for a day in Calais?) but i’m definitely keen to get this back on track. A weekend in Amsterdam would suffice, or something similar; it needn’t be an expensive climbing trip. Part of the reason that the tradition developed in the first place was because i love to travel to new places and experience new cultures. I’d hate that to disappear, especially considering how much it has moulded me into the person i am now. If i can get that back, i’d be delighted.

  • Goal: 8a
  • 900 recorded boulder problems
  • Continue to develop new venues
  • At least three weekends out of North Wales
  • Ressurect the Birthday Tradition
  • Finish projects and focus on climbing movement theories

It’s been more than a year since the whole world was turned upside down and someone closed the doors on us all. Looking back, we’ve all done remarkably to make the best of it but looking back is only one direction. Next, we must look forward and while there’s no way of knowing what we’ll be able to do, we have to keep dreaming. Let’s see what happens next!

Happy New Year!

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Wrapping Things Up

A lot has changed since my last, dour, moaning post: the weather has improved greatly; i’ve started a new part-time job; Em has also gone back to work; and of course, the lockdown restrictions have changed from “Stay at Home” to “Stay Local”. All in all, my mood has lightened substantially and with New Years due next weekend, i’m now looking to wrap up some loose ends before flying into the new season with some momentum.

Getting Out

Whether this is still lockdown, i don’t know, but it’s certainly one i can deal with. Yes, i’m still itching to get out of North Wales soon but at least now the climbing on my doorstep is no longer off limits. Couple that with dry weather and clement temperatures and climbers around here are finding their feet on the rocks again and i’m no exception.

So far, i’ve managed two sessions and missed a couple of opportunities (last night for example where i ran out of time for a session on the way home after unsuccessfully trying to help two guys change a flat tyre on a Transit; sneaky tip if you ply-line your van: make sure you don’t hide the spare wheel release nut with plywood…). For the first, i had so many options swimming around my head but it was always going to be Gallt yr Ogof to assess my chances on Sway On.

Turns out i’ve lost nothing, although still am yet to climb my first 8a. The start went well, retro-flashing the last move with ease where before that had needed some effort but despite this, it felt like i’d come back at exactly the same place i left off, continually throwing for the same hold but unlikely to grasp it. Trying to tap in to Flow State didn’t work either and it looked like i was just going through the motions until one effort saw me finally do something different that spurred me on that extra few percent.

I honestly didn’t think i could get any closer to the first move without compelting it but i was wrong and agonisingly, i left unfulfilled but optimistic that hopefully, soon, i’ll catch that first move in just the right way. Not that i’m taking anything for granted but the signs are looking good.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was when Tess barked, clearly having spotted someone, and i looked over to find someone coming to join me. It was my friend Gwil, totally coincidentally, who had picked the same crag to hit up. Miles and miles of quiet mountain crags for us to pick and we ended up at the very same boulder. Still, it was nice to have some conversation.

That was on the Tuesday and i didn’t do much but work (more on this later) for the next couple of days until Friday afternoon. I’d looked at the new guidebook and liked the look of some of the boudlers up towards Marchlyn Mawr so figured they’d be a good option on the way home. Unfortunately, my planning was lacking and i should’ve had a better look, suddenly realising when i pulled up at the parking spot that the walk in involved a mammoth trek up the reservoir road for around 50 minutes; not the type of venue for a quick after-work blast. Coupled with the lack of headtorch and a pressing need to go to the loo, i chose to check out one of the nearer boulders in the circuit.

It’s been a while since i’ve scouted a new but established boulder, even a relatively easy one to find. Guidebook approach descriptions often aren’t actually that helpful but after some clambering, i managed to find my target. It certainly satisfied my wants for the day!

It took me a while to get going, feeling a little rusty and nervous on the top moves of a 6b flash to the right hand side. Still, it got my first climb of the year in the bag and the 6c sit start quickly followed. After a break to wander the nearby hillside in the sun, i shuffled the pads under the target line and promptly couldn’t do a single move. It felt a bit fruitless – and demoralising considering my efforts on Sway On – but eventually i engaged brain and found a good right heel hook to release my right hand and allow me to reach over to the first lip hold.

I think Higg’s Problem 7b would’ve gone, if i’d taken a stickbrush with me and sat on the loo before i left. Sadly, it was left unfinished, another to be added to The List; not that that’s a bad thing!

Ending the Podcast and Returning to Work

With a sudden change to my time constraints and a drastic change to mt affordances (what i’m now able to do) i took the decision to call time on our recent Lockdown Training Podcast. Increasingly, i’d found it difficult to arrange the time to record episodes, let alone the huge amount of time to edit and promote them but for me personally, lockdown training was a way of staying sane and strong until i could climb again.

I want to give Sally a huge thanks for her involvement in the project; it’s been great recording the episodes with her and my exploits on Sway On suggest that it was effective at keeping me within reach of my projects; although not necessarily the boost i needed to complete them. I’ve never been one for specific training – something i alluded to regularly on the podcast – and now that i can climb, i want to climb. While i totally understand the situation may not be the same for my training partner, the strain of creating a regular show was too much to sustain alongside new time pressures and i’d rather put my efforts in to supporting her and getting out than spending seven hours removing “erms” from a recording.

The main barrier has been my new job. I’ve taken on a 20 hour a week contract working for Simple Camper Vans, creating modules to convert Citroen Berlingos, Peugeot Partners and other such vehicles. It’s physical work and takes up at least two-and-a-half days of my week but sees me working with a good friend of mine and doing something with my hands again. The units are very impressive and if you have a Berlingo or similar, they might be of interest and the website is linked here.

As usual, it all comes down to motivations. Personally, training has always taken a back seat to actual climbing so that will always remain my priority. The challenge now will be to find the balance so as not to spend countless sessions failing on the same move and not actually getting any of either.

Reflections on Being Locked Down

Note: if this gets depressing, i try and end on a high note so perhaps skip to the last section before closing the window in a grump

I’m going to start this post by quoting Ross Collins and his wonderful children’s book which i bought for Rosie for her birthday and which has become a solid family favourite:

That’s it! I’m done! I do declare!

This bear has led me to dispair!

It is not fair! It is not fair!

I’m going now, I don’t know where

Ross Collins (2016) There’s a Bear On My Chair, Nosy Crow

Replace “bear” with “life” and that’s roughly where i am right now. I know everyone is struggling with lckdown and the like buy i need to get this out: i am so fucking done with everything.

The walls are still shut, i can’t coach and despite my assertation that everything is an opportunity, am getting drained at the continual promotion of my business. My only avenue now is to write but the thought of more time tapping the keyboard of the laptop on my desk is becoming a burden; ironic given i’ve opted to try and make myself feel better by writing a blog post…

Times of crisis often make people question that with which the hold dear. Whether this is a time of crisis is still up for debate but for me, my mental health is deteriorating, aching for something different from the relentlessness of being here, day after day, trying to convince myself that the things i’m doing to keep busy are actually beneficial in some way.

These are my thoughts. I’m not comparing myself to anyone else, i’m not commenting on anyone else’s situation, there are doubtless countless others who would love to be bored of writing articles in a warm, safe house with views of the mountains. No, this is my outlet to stay on top of my feelings, worries and woes. I hope you can empathise.

Rain Stops Me Kidding Myself

I’m not sure if the current restrictions are less clear than last year or if i’m simply not looking where i should but it seems that there is scope for me to be able to go out playing. After all, there is ample rock within walking distance of my house and it would be perfectly reasonable for me to take my pad and wander up the pass. Would it be moral? To be honest, i think it would be moral enough not to concern me (and if it weren’t, it would certainly stop me in my tracks). But even if i wanted to head out, i couldn’t anyway.

The weather has turned again, in a way very typical for this time of year in these parts, to such an extent that we are hunkered down. Even dreaming of the idea of hitting the rock right now seems far fetched and while there is always somewhere to go in North Wales to find dry rock, being on foot makes it impossible.

But it’s more than that. The weather affects one’s mood, sunny days lifting the spirits inexplicably and irrespective to anything else happening, while grey, wet, windy days lower one’s spirits before you even step out the door. The days are lengthening but are still not long and the darkness intensifies these feelings further.

Is this not normal? Absolutely and in some ways, slightly comforting that even in 2021, when the world is like nowhere we have hitherto experienced, some things remain consistent. But consistently shit – especially when coupled with all the other shit – is not exactly any better.

The Endless Sundays Continue

The weather has a knock on effect on keeping the kids occupied. Anyone who speaks to me regularly will doubtless be tired of my assertion of life as an endless succession of Sundays but it is still as true now as when i first said it.

Our children are still with their childminder three days a week – a mixed blessing of some peace with enhanced lonliness – meaning we are looking after them for an extended, four day weekend. “You chose to have children” you might say and yes, this is true but that doesn’t mean that we expected it to be easy and right now, it is hard. I could complain that we can’t visit attractions that would normally occupy time or drive out of the village but that isn’t really the point; there isn’t really a point.

The one bright side to the kids is their unwavering optimism, their unrelenting forgiveness and the fact that, by and large, they’ve not known any different. At 2 and 4 years old respectively, a large portion of their lives have been lived during a global pandemic and as such, this isn’t the new normal for them, it is normal. They’re not keeping calm and carrying on, they’re living their lives as they have only ever known.

And they do lift the mood. A recent day had me repeatedly wanting to burst into tears, for no clear and obvious reason. The only time i didn’t? When i was with Rosie. It wasn’t that i was trying to hide my feelings from her, it was simply the fact that she made those feelings disappear; when i was with her, i didn’t feel as despondent.

As with everything, there is a balance, a six of one half dozen of t’other and while they do possess this superpower of being able to magically make everything alright, rearing children is always difficult, especially in restricted times.

Daring to Dream

Often, when feeling trapped, i find therapy in dreaming of the future but given the past year, i’m even finding this troubling.

Where should i dream of? After having numerous adventures over the years, i find having some level of achievability to my dreams makes them slightly better; the idea that it might actually live out one day is far better than a pipe dream. But the goalposts have shifted such that the concept of America, Argentina, New Zealand, anywhere involving a long haul flight currently seems so far fetched as to be pointless to even think about.

Even Europe is a stretch, especially considering the Brexit clusterfuck going on. Granted, i’ve read no real news outside a Facebook feed but when the beauracracy to go Sweden – a country i’ve explored more than most in the last ten years – is equal to heading to the States, it seems far fetched now includes nearby too. You could argue that makes the distant dreams closer but realistically, it pushes the previously achievable further from reach.

There’s always domestic trips and places like Scotland, the Lake District or Devon are high on my priority list but right now, once the mind wanders, the realisation that any travel is unrealistic for the foreseeable comes flooding back. With the next valley currently off limits, it is hard to comprehend the idea of spending a week in Torridon any time soon.

For someone previously driven through life with the next adventure on the horizon to aim for, i’m finding this hard to take. Birthdays and anniversaries remind me to look back through the recent past but projecting forward simply becomes depressing. I’ve not given up on dreaming on adventures but for now, i’m benching them so as to maintain some sanity shoudl everthing get shut down again.

Tapping Away

In an attempt not to lose touch with the future, i’ve been trying to stay in shape with a training program (see last post) and recording a podcast (see below) along the way. What qualifies as success in this little endeavour i’m not sure but we’re into double figures for every episode so far and have a few topics in hand. It’s also forced me into some substantial research, not least around HIIT workouts, while more topics will doubtless be explored soon.

Meanwhile the training is still going, on track, even if the benefits may not be known for some time. If nothing else, i’ll not be getting any weaker but to be honest, the training program was never about strength or projects, it was all about trying to maintain a part of my life that has been taken away. I’ve never been one for training and still aren’t but i have always been someone who likes to be active and busy and having some sort of structure to it has forced me to keep going.

Like i say, everything is an opportunity and i’ve been taking this one by and large by writing. Slightly frustratingly writing this post, i realise very little of this writing is actually up yet but much has been done. Highlights include:

  • Best bouldering in Europe for AWE365
  • 8 reasons to try outdoor bouldering, for AWE365 currently awaiting publication
  • Investigating epistemic beliefs of top level climbing coaches, a publication of my Master’s thesis currently ongoing
  • Redefining Climbing: how indoorisation has changed the very essence of the sport, a collaboration with Jez Tapping
  • It’s a HIIT, the findings of my research on HIIT workouts for the Prowess page
  • Lockdown Training, the accompanying piece for the podcast and training program for the Prowess page
  • Replication Training, sharing details of one of my core coaching philosophies for coaches on the Prowess page

I feel like there’s probably more but looking back, that certainly seems like plenty of words! You can certainly understand why i’ve not exactly been blogging much…

Lockdown Training Episode 6: Concluding Thoughts Lockdown Training

Welcome to the Prowess Climbing Coaching Training Podcast In this final episode of the series, Pete presents solo and records his thoughts on the training program and what he's learned along the way  Further information is available on the Prowess Coaching website
  1. Lockdown Training Episode 6: Concluding Thoughts
  2. Lockdown Training Episode 5: Barriers to Successful Training
  3. Lockdown Training Episode 4: Should We Be HIITing It Up?
  4. Lockdown Training Episode 3: Reviewing, Recuperating and Thoughts on Surgery
  5. Lockdown Training Episode 2: Adjusting, Calibrating and Intrinsic Feedback

Ending On A High

Life is indeed full of ups and downs and i am certainly conscious of this; this just happens to be a bit of a downturn, not just for me but for most of us. While it’s like no other we’ve ever had, it’s certainly not the first down shitty time i’ve had to endure and things always pick up.

So in the interests of not being entirely a miserable post full of moans and complaints, i’d like to finish this post on a more optimistic note.

Things will improve, travel restrictions will subside, we will be allowed out to play again and, as unlikely as it seems every winter, it will eventually stop raining. Even the Brexit chaos will settle eventually. Once this begins to happen, i’m sure i’ll be dreaming again.

I have the enviable ability to create adventures on the hoof, needing little or no external help and very little time to plan. It’s perfectly plausible that within a couple of days of the roads being opened up, i can be on the other side of the country; be that alone, with Em, with kids. Even the birthday tradition could still be resurrected this year, especially after Boris’s latest ambitious plans.

For now, we carry on carrying on, grumbling into the umpteenth cup of tea of the day and suppressing any hopes of doing anything exciting in the near future for fear of getting our hopes dashed again. But, to paraphrase Braveheart, they can take our lives but they’ll never take our ability to go on the internet and moan about it. And that’s got to be something.

Learning to Train?

And herein lies one major flaw in the popular Long Term Athlete Development Model: after twenty years of extensive climbing and bouldering, this week has seen me begin my very first training program. In essence, I have now begun to “Learn to Train”.

I’m not going to spend paragraphs discussing Balyi & Hamilton’s (2004) model and why I am not convinced – but let me plainly say I am undoubtedly not convinced and see major fundamental flaws – but needless to say that I seem to be an anomaly on the graph. In the grades I am currently working, pushing the hallowed 8a grade, I surely fit into the “High Performance Sport” category and yet, to date, I have somehow managed to do this without turning to the same training programs that seem in vogue in recent times. Lattice Training may have developed a very interesting, scientific and potentially useful system of developing specific and personal strength in the right areas but I have always been convinced this is only one fraction of what is necessary. Now I live as proof.

So what has changed? Why have I suddenly decided to change tact? And how have I gone about it all?

Friendly Inspiration

No matter how I spin this, the simple fact is that nothing would’ve driven me to this if it were not for one person: Sally Lisle. I’ve known Sally for many years and she is incredibly driven; currently intent to take the next step in her climbing career. However, having recently suffered a serious injury and still recovering, developing using climbing has become impossible for her and she has turned to “training” to not only maintain her strength but to build it during this period.

A chance meeting meant we crossed paths in the Beacon in the middle of December. A fleeting conversation ensued, with me right in between two coaching sessions, where she dangled the carrot of having a training partner and going through a program at the same time. It intrigued me, partly through the reasons discussed below, while also giving me the chance to help her develop as well.

Christmas came and went and at the turn of the New Year, we had agreed to a remote training partnership. It reminded me of the original Star Wars movies. For decades, I maintained that I had never watched them (at the turn of the century, this raised eyebrows with everyone) but eventually, I broke my duck, sat down and watched them through. Now, I’m doing the same with climbing training.

Lockdown

It would’ve been much easier to push this from my mind and continue on the age-old pattern of getting fitter by climbing more/better. Then, of course, the inevitable happened and not only Wales but the whole of the UK went into another lockdown. Suddenly, I had no chance of climbing anyway and no more excuses. What’s more, I suddenly had this stark realisation that if I weren’t careful, I’d drop back down to 7a+ again as I did back in September. After being so close to ticking off Rock Atrocity Wobbly Block Start 7c+ mere days before the lockdown kicked in, that thought added to the motivation to kick on and train properly.

The same had happened last March too, to begin with at least. While making the At Home Exercise video series, I’d made the most of the kitchen and had dabbled with the rings and fingerboards and managed to stay around the right level. By the time I got out again in June, I wasn’t far off where I’d been before. The trouble was it wasn’t structured and enthusiasm waned; it could’ve been so much better.

I said at the beginning of the last lockdown that everything is an opportunity. Then, I designed the new outdoor bouldering courses and completed the necessary admin for them. This time, the opportunity is there not only to maintain pre-lockdown levels but to boost them up. And to be honest, that’s probably exactly what I’ve needed for a little while…

Hitting a Plateau

If I’m truly honest, I’d been shocked to even be close to the lofty levels I’d achieved way back in March 2016 when I ticked off my hardest route to date, Jerry’s Problem 7c+ at Sheep Pen. The subsequent dip in ability had largely been as an obvious result of Rosie’s arrival a year later and I’d expected that when Hannah came along roughly 18 months later that I’d drop even further (although I’ll hasten to point out this is not a complaint nor a suggestion I’d change anything if I could). In fact, the opposite happened.

There are many factors and reasons for this; not least my change in job and more time spent in the climbing walls. I’ve charted all of this on this blog over that time and so, aren’t keen to lay it all out there again but needless to say, somehow I’d managed to get back in sight of that elusive first 8a. The problem now is getting over that hurdle.

A new approach has been needed for a little while and while I often say I can’t coach myself well, I’ve always been well aware that in hard bouldering, my clear and obvious weakness is my strength. Relying on my technique to get me up hard climbs will only ever get me so far and while there are gaps in my mental skills and tactical nous at the crag that I could train and improve, my weakness is my weakness. It’s time for that to change.

So Far, So Sore

As much as I’ve never gone through this personally, I am still a professional climbing coach and have plenty of knowledge and resources at my disposal. There’s also some guiding principles, such as Replication Training, that I’ve implemented in other areas in the past and will not chuck it all together. In short, it’s not the designing stage that’s put me off training in the past, it’s the training stage…

The details of the plan are available on a separate page on the Prowess website, including a copy of my designed plan, so I’ll not repeat myself here. Needless to say, two days in and I’ve never been so glad of a rest day in my life. I’m wondering what muscle groups will hurt next! My pecs and deltoids are sore to the touch, my abs likewise and my calfs have the usual ache the day after a run. My quads are a touch tender but my typically enormous hamstring muscles seem to be unaffected.

It seems I’ve gone hard into this, working myself and now feeling the consequences. Again, I won’t go into too much detail right now and will leave much of the discussion for our weekly podcast (see below) but I will say it seems I’ve adopted the old adage of “no pain, no gain”. The trick now will be to make sure I’m not overdoing it and risking injury and that is where my attitude of self-selected training programs will pay dividends, given I have the intrinsic feedback to guide me with the right levels of intensity.

The Podcast

Given this is my first ever training program, it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up to treat it as a case study. As a coach, I’m fascinated to see both the process and the outcomes first hand for someone who is new to this area of performance but still fits our label of High Performing Athlete (I use the term athlete loosely here to avoid becoming too arrogant).

Couple that with a desire to create useful and engaging content for other climbers – a motivator for my career as a climbing coach after all – and we decided to produce a podcast; starting from the planning stage and returning weekly to chart progress and see how well we’re sticking to our respective programs. Half way through my first week and I’ve got plenty of notes already…

Please do check it out and just as importantly, offer any feedback, for which the Prowess Facebook page is ideal. For those accustomed to training, it may seem a little strange but hopefully it’ll be interesting any which way; even if it’s just a case of listening to me complain about how much my body is hurting.

Lockdown Training Episode 6: Concluding Thoughts Lockdown Training

Welcome to the Prowess Climbing Coaching Training Podcast In this final episode of the series, Pete presents solo and records his thoughts on the training program and what he's learned along the way  Further information is available on the Prowess Coaching website
  1. Lockdown Training Episode 6: Concluding Thoughts
  2. Lockdown Training Episode 5: Barriers to Successful Training
  3. Lockdown Training Episode 4: Should We Be HIITing It Up?
  4. Lockdown Training Episode 3: Reviewing, Recuperating and Thoughts on Surgery
  5. Lockdown Training Episode 2: Adjusting, Calibrating and Intrinsic Feedback

Surprise, surprise

For all that New Years and Solstice posts are really useful for goal setting and the like, you can never really count on the weather around here. No matter what you’ve got in mind, there’s always a chance the weather will throw you a real curveball and knock your plan out of whack.

Throw in the uncertainty of the self employed, and the months of October and November have been a little bitty. Another national lockdown removed a load of work but didn’t seem to free up much time and before i knew it, it was early November before i stumbled on a rare day off with half decent weather.

Eyes on the Pies

I say half decent, it was still cold; much colder than i’d realised. I’d been at work on the Friday, cleaning out gutters in a factory (i’ve diversified quite a bit since the coronavirus threw the world into disarray) and looked over at my employer/colleague/friend and made a throwaway comment about sacking it all off and going climbing. It must’ve been a slow day as he was more than happy with the idea of our short day being that bit shorter, and was more than happy with my running off to go play. After a little deliberation, i ended the working week early.

At home, on the decking with the sunshine beating down, it felt pretty good as i waited through the day for the rock to dry out a little more. All seemed good and with time ticking away – and our new planter-bench now built and in place – i packed up quick and ran off up the pass. Back at the end of September, i’d climbed Plinth Eyed 7b/+ at the Pieshop boulder and felt the proper start shouldn’t be that much worse. I’d mentioned this to Dave Noden, only to find an interesting little video on his Instagram a few weeks later… [See below but scroll right]

Parking up, there was a small group of boulderers next to me, one of which, Felix, opted to join me under the giant Pieshop roof. He was keen for some Humble Pie Disorder 8a, the start of which actually turned out to be a great warm up for my intended target of Pie Eyed 7c/+. Felix quickly got engrossed on Love Pie 7c+ or the insane exit move to HPD but, with previous experience on that problem, i was more than happy to leave him to it. Instead, i kept placing the (very) high left heel, grasping the slopers and thrusting myself at the decent slot.

Eventually, after tiring of the one-move wonder he had been trying, Felix came to join me. Given the beta i’d acquired, it didn’t take him long to send and start a mini-send train. Next go, i walked it, finally getting my feet and body position right. It was my hardest send of the year, my first 7c since Nazgul’s Traverse at Rhiw Goch last October and in fact, technically the third hardest climb of my career. It didn’t feel it.

I alluded to the softness of the send on Instagram but Chris Davies – a local climber i have the utmost respect for – commented:

Easy when you get it done, tough when it doesn’t work – same old story!

As much respect as i have for Chris, it still felt overgraded for me. Nevertheless, i’ll take it.

Developing a Style

While Friday was an extra, the following Monday i’d been given day release to go playing and, especially given i’d been to Pieshop the week before, opted to go check out somewhere new; as in, i’m not finished developing it yet so i’m not telling you where.

After a family walk, i’d spotted a boulder that looked too good to be true and had half assumed it would be too good to be true. Turns out it was true and is very good indeed. The only downside is the walk in…

Tim Peck got in touch after i’d posted the video, recognising the boulder and correctly asking about it’s location. “Good effort walking up there with a pad!” was one comment. You see, i’d walked in with Rosie and wildly overestimated how much faster i’d be without her with me. After forty minutes, i arrived, puffing, panting, sweating and knackered.

To make matters worse, for the entirety of the walk, it had drizzled lightly on me; not enough to make me turn around but enough to make me question every step further forward. This is a proper mountain venue too and i had gone armed with headtorch, map and compass, so as to avoid any embarrassing issues if i ended up walking out in the dark and couldn’t see the path to follow (i did walk out in the dark but didn’t need the compass). Thankfully, the drizzle was very light, the rock cleaned up nicely and to my surprise, the route fell in one session, leaving me with another classic first ascent; one of my best to date: Unlocked 7a+.

Looking at it now, i can understand why Chris Sharma famously stopped grading his first ascents. While i still don’t agree that’s the right way to go, offering a grade on these sorts of climbs is frankly the hardest part and it has crossed my mind. However, i feel that first ascentionists have a responsibility to offer some indication of how hard their climbs are.

The problem is that you are naturally swayed towards overgrading. Finding holds is harder, and then they’ll need cleaning too, while finding the optimal beta is much harder when you don’t have any indicators already in place. Furthermore, first ascents take much longer than established climbs, giving more bias. Unlocked could be anything between 6c+ and 7b+, i really don’t know. It felt tougher for me than Pie Eyed but i don’t think it’s that hard. So i’ve plumped in the middle, happy to be corrected as and when the location gets released.

I would like to make a point to the keyboard warriors out there though: before you get deep into heavy discussions on whether something is 7a or 7a/+ sat at home on your laptop, spare a thought for the guy or gal who climbed it first. Get too obnoxious with your comments and you risk there being no grade at all (imagine not knowing if a climb was 6a or 8a) or worse, not finding out about them at all. I’ll not deny that some first ascentionists smell glory from their actions but many merely wish to develop new areas and climbs for people to repeat. So next time you’re slating them for getting their grade out, even by a long way, bear in mind it’s really not as easy as it seems.

Going International

Finally a quick bit of related news: late on Friday, my phone pinged with an Instagram message request from @innosantonagara:

Thanks for your article on bouldering in gripped

My article in Gripped? I submitted something this time last year that they said they were keen for but never got back to me… Where’s that Google app again…

Sure enough, there it was! Is it Highball Bouldering? Or shoulder we be calling it Free-Soloing. Other than the lack of question mark at the end of the headline, i was very pleasantly surprised! I genuinely didn’t expect this to ever make it to print and was pretty thrilled it had! The article uses the famous article Games Climbers Play by Lito Tejada-Flores to examine whether the Bishop highball ascents of Nina Williams in Reel Rock 14 should really be thought of as solo instead of highball.

It’s certainly generated much debate on the Facebook groups it’s been shared around [49 comments on Climb Smarter, Not Harder at time of writing] and has certainly been well received. I’m now hoping there’s a connection there and i can continue to write for them again.

merry Solstice: winter 2020

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.

We have to keep looking forward; especially right now

The Coronavirus continues. Yes, it’s not quite as drastic as it was back at the end of March for the New Years post but normal, things most certainly are not. As of the Friday before the Solstice, we’re back in a lockdown again; albeit one with a fortnight time frame. What is the same as back in March is that predicting the future is just as impossible now as it was then.

Much as for the entirety of the last season, we continue to play things by ear. The problem with that is that playing season goals by ear didn’t work for me before – hence the whole New Year tradition in the first place – and so some sort of structure is necessary to drive progress and continue to develop and improve.

And so the tradition must continue. The trick will be to be vague, and use the last season as a guide and as such, the first place to start is to look back at the last season to see how we got on.

Season Review

I would like to start with a statement: this post is largely about climbing during the summer that was disrupted by Covid-19. Much of this post may come across as a moan about the fact i couldn’t go out playing as much as i wanted. However i would like to point out that i totally understand and support protecting both public health and the NHS; there are many more things more important than climbing. 

New Years came shortly after lockdown was anounced and i took the approach that everything is an opportunity. I produced a series of At Home Exercise videos that were pretty well received and lasted for the majority of the lockdown. I hope they helped some people along the way.

Aside from that, of course, climbing was off the table. Even if i’d been so inclined, breaking the rules would not have gone down well at home and there was certainly a sense of solidarity among climbers in those early days. It seemed everyone was content to comply with the rules and stay home for the greater good. Instead, our GADE (Government Approved Daily Exercise) was spent with our kids; exploring the village and spending time watching them develop into miniature people. They really are turning out great.

Much as with everyone else, my personal training involved running and cycling, with some home training thrown in for good measure. Things continued in this fashion until early May, waxing and waning slightly but generally going pretty well until after three long months, we were finally allowed within five miles of the house, if not driving. Even with the National Park still off limits, around here that meant climbing was back.

It took a while to get my head back in gear, not ticking a 7a for three sessions back. That first session even involved struggling to top out at first (admittedly not the easiest but for the grade, wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem). Eventually, though, after sessions on the Clegir, Clogwyn y Bustach (oddly left open despite the rest of the Snowdon Massif being closed to all but livestock) and the RAC boulders following a coaching session, i got to my birthday; not abroad as the previous ten years but at a local crag. This year, it certainly felt like a relief.

While at the Pop Block, i looked up the valley at the head of the valley, to a garrison of rock. There must be stuff on there, i thought. Just this week, we released the location and topo of the first ascents we’ve since put up; around fifty in total. The feedback has been that leaving more independant lines would be better and perhaps we got a little carried away. Still, most of the summer was spent developing Clogwyn y Garreg (topo available here).

Developing came as a welcome relief following submssion of the thesis of my Master’s degree. While thoroughly enjoyable, the final stretch was more than a little epic and you can click here to read more of the redemptive effects that finishing my degree had on me. However, it is now over, and with the delivery of my qualification certificate, it’s all official: 18 years after first enrolling in University education, i finally have a degree.

Once life resumed a fairly familiar version of normal in early September, things began to settle. A wildly unsuccessful trip to Pillbox Wall was followed by a much better day down at Tanygrisiau, including Cashmere 7b and a flash of Geoff’s Roof 7a. Then worked started to pick up…

Sadly not much coaching work, more labouring, some weekly instruction and a little shop work. A stretch of around 30 days ensued of consecutive days of work – granted not full days, maybe an hour and a half on some but eight hours on most – curtailing any hopes of outdoor climbing. Still, after a summer of mostly sitting, it’s been important to get back out and earn my keep.

Previous Season Goals

  • Goal: 8a
  • Conduct Home Training
  • Let elbow heal
  • Finish master’s degree
  • Publish articles and find online consultancy work
  • Continue to offer climbing to the kids

How Did It Go?

Somewhat interestingly. We’ll ignore Goal: 8a for now, as for the majority of the (available) season, it was impossible to get there with the land being closed. Granted i could’ve trained at home better but that’s the next point.

Despite the picture and early enthusiasm, home training has fallen back to it’s natural state: pretty much non-existent. To be honest, i simply don’t have the time (there’s a three-year-old and a two-year-old living here remember) and even when i do, i don’t have the motivation to train at home. I either need to find a way to get motivated or i need to stop putting this as a goal.

Even doing the necessary exercises to allow my elbow to heal have fallen by the wayside; something far worse than not training. The tendonitis in my left elbow was caused by a session back in January and even now, it often hurts, whether climbing, working or just doing day to day things like cooking. It’s not bad enough to stop me working but is bad enough that it really needs dealing with. And soon.

I have managed to have a couple of articles published, notably for Professional Mountaineer but sadly not paid and not what i had intended by the goal. The online consultancy work failed to come, as i stuggled to find the right place to advertise. With work being so insanely busy, it’s proving even harder to make any progress with Prowess but the next plan is to generate some online coaching videos. Any recommendations very welcome.

As far as the kids were concerned, while it could’ve been possible to offer them climbing, given the restrictions it would’ve been very difficult. We’ve made sure they’re happy being outside, spent three months exploring the village like i hadn’t in ten years prior and give them the opportunity to keep exploring and being happy. Climbing will come soon.

Next Season Goals

We have to keep looking forward; especially right now. Granted none of us knows what even the short term future holds but we each have two options: wallow in self-pity that the world has changed in ways that stop us doing what we want or adapt and continue as best we can.

What i have found is that – following the development of the Garreg – i’m very interested in putting up first ascents; especially as i have a little collection of hitherto unclimbed venues. The surge of climbs at the Garreg, as well as visits of venues like Tanygrisiau where i’d not really been before, has also seen me hit 832 recorded ascents at time of writing.

My Top Ten Yearly Average grade currently sits at 7b and while it would be nice to push that up to 7b+, i think doing that in the next two months might be a stretch; especially when that involves at least five 7b+. I’ll still put Goal: 8a in there, as i still want to climb 8a one day but i think i’d rather concentrate on mileage and seeing if i can get to 1000 recorded problems.

While it’s fantastic that i’m working so much – i do like eating and not being in debt – it is important to remember why i went self-employed in the first place. I want to be a climbing coach, that’s what i really enjoy, helping people develop. I’m enjoying the work i am doing, very much, but i still want to get back to coaching somehow. Using the master’s certificate might help.

And for now, i’ll leave the kids to whatever they’re up to. They’re happy, they’re developing very well and we can come back to climbing when the time is right.

  • Train for Goal: 8a
  • 1000 recorded boulder problems
  • Continue to develop new venues, ideally at least two by New Year
  • Bring work back towards coaching and Prowess
  • Continue to develop climbing movement theory
  • At least one weekend out of North Wales

“These are unprecendented times” and “this is the new normal” are now stock phrases, among many others. But that shouldn’t be an excuse to let everything slide. I’ve had a fantastic season, under the circumstances, and it’s up to each of us to decide how to move next. I hope your next seasson is ass succesful as you can make it.

Merry Solstice!

2020 Summer Update: Part Four

Considering summer updates were supposed to bring everything back up to date, they seem to have fallen by the wayside slightly. To be honest, one reason it’s been so long since my last update was that i was reading. A lot. I mean, i’ve been reading pretty much constantly for the past two years but all of a sudden, i can read for pleasure again, without feeling i should be reading academic papers or textbooks. In the space of a couple of weeks, i churned through Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project and The Rosie Result and am now on with How England Made the English by Harry Mount. I remember something similar once i officially finished my undergrad degree (not that i actually did much reading during that time but i felt i should be) where in the days following my finals, i quickly read JD Sallinger’s Catcher in the Rye. 

It seems that once released from what we feel we should be doing, we’re free to turn our attention to other things instead; usually subtly different but definitely different. In a similar parallel, with the knowledge that several months of lockdown will have obvious consequences on my climbing level and top ten yearly average grade, once free to go playing, i decided to mostly foresake established climbs this year in favour of developing areas and putting up first ascents instead.

Becoming a Local Activist

Back when i started at Plas y Brenin in 2014, i started searching the woods of Bryn Engan to see if i could find anything new. I did, with Prowess 7b being the best of the bunch of around eight boulders cleaned and developed. That experience tickled my fancy and in an odd sort of way, announced to the local climbing fraternity that i am open to the idea of being an activist in the bouldering scene and apparently encouraged them to throw various new potential crags at me… 

I’ve had a handful of places to develop in the back of my mind for a while now but struggled to find time to go check them out properly. After starting to offer outdoor bouldering courses (please tell anyone who might be interested!) i bought myself a bespoke local 1:50 000 map of the area, mounted on a pin board, with locations of all local bouldering venues, both established and new. After taking down the map of the states in the office that was there for a planned trip that never took off, the map now sits with different coloured pins showing me where to head next. It now couldn’t be clearer.

Now i have no less than eight crags ready to be developed to one level or another. At the beginning of Wes Anderson’s amazing film Grand Budapest Hotel, Tom Wilkinson is describing how as an author, he doesn’t develop ideas out of nothing, that people proffer ideas to him once they know he’s a writer. It seems similar with crag development. Once people realise you’re happy to put up first ascents, they’re happy to tell you about all sorts of rock they find, here there and everywhere.

And it seems there’s a lot of them. I’m constantly reminded of a foolish conversation i had with my good friend Fredrik Niva back in 2012. He asked me how many first ascents i had done, to which i glibly replied “none, i’m British…” My argument at the time was that everything to be developed on our small island had been developed and you either had to be a) lucky b) extremely good or c) immensely tenacious to find any new lines in North Wales. Turns out i was incredibly wrong; not that i mind that much this time!

Finding Our Own Crag

On my birthday at the Pop Bloc, i looked up the road and saw a garrison of rock at the top of the pass with an enormous boulder field. Surely there had to be something on there, i figured. Turns out we were right.

And so, i am delighted to announce that our new crag is at:

Clogwyn y Garreg

We have spent many sessions climbing there, landscaping landings by shuffling the blocs around and putting up around fifty boulder problems. The grade range covers from the very easy right up to the low-7s with the stand out lines being Dr Collins 6c+ Deep Low Boom 6c (which has not been repeated since a broken hold but should still go, albeit a little harder) and the outstanding Roohan 7b; the hardest line currently there. 

There is also a glut of new rock waiting for someone with fresh eyes and maybe a different take on what constitutes an enjoyable boulder problem, with a host of scary and highball additions waiting to be added; which was not really our scene. 

There’s a topo attached below that is waiting for you to download. Please do download, go visit, let me know what you think. 

[Some caveats about the topo and boulder problems:

1. the grades are likely wrong and are given as an alternative to giving no grade at all. Sadly with Covid this year, we hadn’t really climbed anywhere else to calibrate our abilities. Please don’t hate us if they’re out by miles.

2. We may have been a little lovestruck with the crag after spending so many hours developing, so commenting on the quality of the crag is probably not our place. All we can say is we really enjoyed these climbs and we hope you do too.

3. While we’ve made every effort to make sure there is no loose rock and that everything is secure, new crags always have a risk of being brittle in places. Obviously the Garreg has yet to have the traffic to weedle out the loose bits so it is possible that you might pull something off.

4. Any new climbs are fair game and up for grabs now, although please do let us know if you put up something new so we can update the topo. A permanent page is available here for you to be able to check back in and download the latest version.]

#saveoutdoored

This post relates to the need to support outdoor education in the current climate of Covid-19. Please read on to understand the wider issue at hand and to help the cause, consider:

  • Using your social media platform by showing the hashtag #saveoutdoored
  • If you live in a city, write to your local MP to show support of outdoor education for city children. If you are in a rural area, consider not only your local MP but also those in areas whose children come to visit your local centres.
  • Like and Follow the Save Outdoor Ed Facebook page, @saveoutdoored on Facebook.
  • Sign the petition to “Change DfE school guidance to allow overnight educational visits”. This is the big one and will make the biggest difference.
  • Share your experiences of outdoor education.

Why Outdoor Ed Matters to Me

I think I’d have been 17 when I stood in the office of the head of Ogwen Cottage Outdoor Centre. In front of me was a man I had yet to fully appreciate: Davey Jones, local legend in North Wales. Being a school child from Birmingham, I had no idea of his significance to rock climbing, locally and further afield. All I knew was the question i had to ask: how do I make climbing the focal point of my life?

Ogwen Cottage was then known as an LEA Centre; a property owned by Birmingham City Council and run exclusively (to the best of my knowledge) for the benefit of youngsters from the urban sprawl to expose them to the outdoors and the opportunities one can find there. For me, I already had a rich experience of climbing, mountaineering and various outdoor activities but even then, I was fortunate enough to visit three times during my school years and it gave me the opportunity to dream of what might be. 

For me, I knew even then that climbing was already offering me something i couldn’t find anywhere else. What I lacked was the ability to explore them further and speak to outdoor professionals. I could see them in action, look up to them, speak to them and learn to emulate them in my attempt to make climbing my life. It worked and entirely changed my life.

One such instructor that I keenly remembered was Jamie Holding. If memory serves, he took me climbing on Holyhead mountain, although I can’t be sure of that. I distinctly remember going climbing with him though. 

Fast forward fifteen years and i found myself in my local wall introducing myself to a mountain guide who runs a local kids club, asking to volunteer to hone my newfound climbing coaching skills. The instructor: Jamie Holding. I had come full circle, having completed the route that i had originally asked Davey Jones about all those years before.

My path from LEA to Pro

Those trips to Ogwen Cottage cemented a desire in me that was already in place. My parents had been taking me to North Wales and other outdoor areas all my life and i’d been heavily involved in scouting for a long time at this point. For me, the LEA centres gave me the realisation that there was a potential career path here, if i chose it.

It just so happened for me to follow that path. I climbed extensively at University, worked at a local climbing wall once coming home afterwards, later moved on to a Birmingham climbing shop and then to a climbing shop and later a mountaineering centre in North Wales but the importance of those trips to Ogwen in my formative years – and that conversation with Davey Jones that became quite prophetic – cannot be understated.

I know many other outdoor professionals locally that, once their journey into becoming instructors has begun, turn to the very same centres to further their skills, gain experience and crucially, earn their keep. The same centres they visited when young become their workplaces later on and are a crucial step to greater things. Almost any instructor in North Wales that i can think of will have worked in a centre at some point, teaching children who typically come from much further afield and are experiencing the wonders of the natural world for the first time.

I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the outdoors from pretty early on. Most city children don’t have that opportunity and visits to outdoor education centres are the only chance they have to experience mountaineering and paddlesports in natural environments

Those without the introduction to the outdoors from home

My introduction actually came from elsewhere, with the various centres giving me a more rounded view of outdoor education. For many – most in fact – this is surely not the case. Children living in suburbia simply do not typically have access to anything outside the city limits; and don’t forget, that equates to about 80% of the population of the UK living in cities.

For most of my peers on those trips, outdoor education centres are the ONLY way they are ever likely to experience adventure sports at all. More than that, for many of them, these trips during their school years will potentially be the only time they will ever VISIT the mountains and National Parks of the UK. It would be an interesting study but i dare say that if you surveyed most visitors to Snowdonia, they will have attended a school trip to a centre during their school years. This is that important as a pathway.

And for all that Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough have made huge inroads into environmental awareness, i can tell you flat out that as a child growing up in a city environment, most of it will be as fanciful as the Avengers. When the only nature you experience is your local park, it is difficult to empathise with the issues being presented to you.

A week might not seem like long but it is enough to make these issues very real. Activities on these weeks often include not only climbing and mountaineering but also paddlesports and coasteering; activities very relatable to the surge in action towards reduced plastic consumption and ocean waste. It may seem a bit of a stretch but a week in the mountains has the potential to completely change a youngsters attitude towards the environment

The Importance of Outdoor Education

Environmental influences aside, there are huge benefits to be found in outdoor education. This isn’t my opinion, there are many academic studies and reports that have investigated the importance of outdoor education.

Sport England commisioned a report into Getting Active Outdoors, finding the benefits of participation in outdoor activities can have lifelong effects on physical health, mental wellbeing and many other aspects of life. As mentioned, a popular pathway into the outdoors is through outdoor education in schools. Take this away and many hundreds of thousands of people lose the potential to benefit.

The benefits of outdoor education aren’t exactly new either. Neill and Richards (1998) wrote a paper entitled “Does Outdoor Education Really Work?” conducting analysis of 12,000 participants, with such strong statements as “Does outdoor education work? It’s a big and complex question but the answer from the three meta-analyses is that, yes, outdoor education does ‘work’.” and “this evidence suggests that
participants experience additional growth on returning to their home environments”.

More recently, James and Williams (2017) state that in their paper entitled School-Based Experiential Outdoor Education: A Neglected Necessity, “This research addresses the question, “Is experiential outdoor education for middle school–aged students a valuable use of school time?” The answer is a resounding “YES!” School-based experiential outdoor education, although often neglected as a part of the curriculum in our current era of high-stakes test-based accountability, is definitely a necessity”

I could go on. Indeed, one could probably write a paper on the subject, based on the return of 583,000 results in Google Scholar when searching for “benefits of outdoor education” alone. It seems clear from the research that outdoor education is vitally important, to countless young people around the country.

And yet, the sector is struggling; partially as a result of decisions made regarding the coronavirus outbreak but also dating back much further to the disillusionment of the LEA centres. Wolverhampton City Council not long ago closed their site in Capel Curig, the Towers, while the very same Birmingham City Council facility i visited that started me on this path all those years ago was sold since i moved to North Wales through a lack of funding for local education. The neglect has been there for a long time and now, even private centres that run based on visits from school groups are now also facing closure.

Why is Outdoor Ed at Risk and What Can YOU do to Help?

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"The worst crisis we have faced" #saveoutdoored

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Two things really: funding cuts and Covid-19. However, while schools themselves are allowed to reopen, outdoor education centres are having their hands tied and receiving a distinct lack of guidance as the country begins to reopen after the national lockdown this summer.

It is vitally important, for the sake of the education of children nationally and for the centres themselves, that we implore the government not to allow these centres to survive this difficult period and that they begin to understand the significance and importance to so many people; not just now but for decades to come. If they close, they won’t be reopening any time soon so this issue isn’t just about our children but also our grandchildren and generations to come.

To help the cause, consider:

  • Using your social media platform by showing the hashtag #saveoutdoored
  • If you live in a city, write to your local MP to show support of outdoor education for city children. If you are in a rural area, consider not only your local MP but also those in areas whose children come to visit your local centres.
  • Like and Follow the Save Outdoor Ed Facebook page, @saveoutdoored on Facebook.
  • Sign the petition to “Change DfE school guidance to allow overnight educational visits”. This is the big one and will make the biggest difference.
  • Share your experiences of outdoor education.

If everyone who has ever benefited from outdoor education lends their voice to this cause, there is no way it can be ignored. And it is certainly a cause that deserves our support.

Continue reading #saveoutdoored

2020 Summer Update: Part Three

Another hiatus (apologies) as life begins to return to normal, people go about their usual business and North Wales resumes the usual battle between locals and tourists. However returning to normal has been phased, with Em going back to work but children yet to go back to school and childminders, meaning my primary role as the summer draws to a close is primary child carer; putting the brakes on any return to climbing that had begun.

I did manage to get some climbing in on my birthday, but that wasn’t the first climbing i’d managed. In fact, that was the fourth time i’d been out since lockdown kicked in. In this third update, i’ll be looking at how i came back from a substantial break by getting back outdoors, some of the difficulties i faced, and some of the crags visited thus far.

Quickly, before getting into personal climbing, while i have been mainly at home, i’ve actually managed to get some work and am again looking at building my client base. With the walls shut, i had to turn my hand to outdoor coaching, and as a bouldering expert, made that my speciality. I’m still running outdoor courses and for this, i will unashamedly ask your help. This is my livelihood, the only way i’m currently earning, so if you know anyone who would be interested in guided outdoor bouldering and coaching sessions, please ask them to get in touch. You can do so by clicking here.  You never know, it might just be the session that helps keep me in business. Indoor sessions are also now available too, if you prefer to head indoors instead. Book a course through the same channels.

And trust me, i know bouldering. I’ve climbed for twenty years, all over Europe, on crags of every aspect you can imagine. I’ve even developed boulders on my own. In fact, we’re right in the middle of developing some new ones now.

A Whole New Crag

Yup, we found an entire new crag. No established lines on that we can find anywhere. There’s much more to say about it but that’ll all be in Part Four. For now, let’s concentrate on the established climbing i’ve been getting in, between sticking up first ascents.

Post Lockdown Climbing

Instead, let’s get back to climbing we can talk about, and the places i’ve managed to get to in the past few months. There was always a nagging wonder in the back of my mind whether i could actually climb the whole time but for several points that stopped me:

  1. It was obviously morally wrong. As with most people, i knew that we were being asked to stay in for a very good reason – because it keeps people alive – and that was far more important than my selfish, personal desires to clamber round on small bits of rock.
  2. Solidarity. It seems everyone else in the area thought the same way and by and large, i haven’t heard of anyone who climbed in those first few months. We were all in it together and that seemed fair
  3. Peer pressure and curtain twitchers. I can’t say it didn’t cross my mind that i’d be publicly lambasted if i was spotted either at the crag or on the way to the crag and let’s face it, you can’t smuggle a bouldering mat out of the village under your jacket…
  4. Em. She’s been a staunch follower of the latest rules and me blatantly breaking them would not have gone down well.

Instead, i waited, like so many people, scouting options and waiting for the day when i could finally get out again. I remember that day, clear as anything, walking from the house to comply with the rules on daily exercise in Wales, over the Clegir road for that first play in a long time. A very long time.

At one point, i scrambled over the top of the boulder, hearing voices and wondering if someone wanted to share the crag with me, only to find two locals smoking a spliff and looking utterly shocked that some guy had just appeared over the rocks below them. We chatted briefly before happily leaving each other to it.

What i did notice that day was how utterly rusty i’d become. The first climb, a 6b, spat me off at least twice, before rendering me useless at the top. I downclimbed at least twice, bottling it, before taking some big jumps from the top. That worked a treat and regained the confidence i needed to actually get climbing again, but it did take quite a while.

By the next time i went climbing, the travel restriction meaning i must walk from home (i’m not cycling with a Petzl Cirro on my back!) had been lifted but the National Park was still partially closed. However i’d trawled the maps and found all the open crags, including to my surprise Clogwyn y Bustach, which appeared in a small anomaly on otherwise closed land.  Much like before, i opted to stay off the hard stuff – namely the Fagin Bloc – and keep things under 7a, exploring various other problems in the woods instead; including the Beauty Sleep boulder. There are many more lines there to be climbed, i can assure you.

Shortly afterwards, i actually got some coaching work! A 1:1 with one of my regular clients and again, checked the map and opted for the RAC boulders. I often avoid them, as i think they’re wildly overused but it occurred that to deliberately avoid them purely because they’re overused is as bad as blindly going back over and over and it served the purpose wonderfully. As it turned out, we had the place to ourselves.

After the session had finished, i stayed for a play, again opting to stay off the obvious and explore the satellite problems, finding some gems in the process. As annoying as it was that the 6b arete was unnamed (name your first ascents people!) it was a bloody good problem that called me to repeat twice, and Violence 7a was equally enjoyable and my first 7 since Spain back in February.

That was it, until my birthday and the three retro flashes on the Pop Bloc. Three days later i managed to get back again too, in order to finish off Pop Art 7b+ as my hardest send of the year, soft as it seemed. I’ll blame my small girly fingers that fit in the shot holes to explain why i don’t think it’s anywhere near that hard.

However, since then, I’ve either been engrossed on developing our new crag (more on this in Part Four) or not been climbing and as such, my form has dipped. Conditions haven’t been ideal either, including some light drizzle on the one day at Pillbox Wall i managed to sneak in.

I’d been wanting to visit Pillbox for some time; one of the last crags in North Wales with a good selection of climbs for my ability level that i’ve yet to really visit. Granted, i’m not a limestone fan but nevertheless, i was confident that with 14 climbs at 7a or 7a+, and a further 12 7b/+ that i could come away with a reasonable haul of ascents to bulk out my yearly average.

I was so unbelievably wrong.  I got totally spanked. My movement was disjointed and clunky, meaning i couldn’t rely on my technique to sneak my way through moves while i was also weak and out of shape, so couldn’t drag myself up some lower grade problems either. Throw in the fact my head wasn’t in the game and the higher moves often meant i failed to commit and, climbing wise, it was not a good session. I came away with a solitary tick of Pillbox Original 7a and even that i’m not sure if i used a hold out of bounds.

It does need perspective though and returning to climbing will be slow going and require a lot of hard work. Mileage is now the key and today i’m hopefully heading to the Beacon to do just that.

What’s odd, though, is that my tick list shows at least 50 more climbs completed in recent months, pushing my total number of recorded sends above 800. The context is that these have all been first or second ascents, rarely above 6c, put up in haste to hit a guidebook deadline.

The deadline is now passed and we passed the info on to the author, who sadly wasn’t as taken with our crag as we are. In Part Four, i’ll look at the process we went through to develop our crag, how it all went for us and at the end, i’ll do a big unveil to finally let everyone know where to find the latest addition to the North Wales bouldering scene.

2020 Summer Update: Part Two

The last post about my degree was a little longer and more in depth than i had intended. I was going to tie it in with something else that’s been going on but it got away with me and i thought it best to leave it on its own. Who’d have thought finishing a postgraduate degree would be such a thing?

Anyway, for Part Two, i’m going to discuss something more usual: climbing. Obviously going climbing was tricky over the past few months and only really possible with the right ethical standpoint. That said, as lockdown has slowly eased, people have slowly been getting back out to the crags – even in Wales – to the point where from Monday coming, it’s all fair game again. Within reason, you know.

For me personally, the biggest disappointment has been that the hiatus has crossed over my birthday: a time when for the past ten years, i’ve managed to find a different country. Ten years, ten countries. Until now.

The Birthday Tradition Finally Ends?

First and foremost, please do not misunderstand me: there are myriad of more important things in the world right now than the fact i can’t take my annual holiday. It does not matter how important this trip is to me, or how long the tradition has been going, measured against even a single death and any personal gratification is nothing. And we have not seen just a single death. I have stayed home because it is the right thing to do, in every possible way.

But doing the right thing doesn’t mean you have to like it and it doesn’t mean you can’t be sad that this is the way it has to be. And that is what i am: sad, melancholy and disappointed.

I specifically asked for there to be no hoopla for my birthday this year, knowing it would just remind me what i’m missing out on. I also knew that no matter how much work needed doing on my thesis, i was taking the 23rd June off. Ten years is a long time and this was a real shock to the system. I was 24 the last time i had a “normal” birthday, at home with the same old routine, so i was determined to try and make it at least slightly special.

The bright side is, as i said to a friend on text in the evening, if i dind’t live in North Wales, it would most definitely be right up there on my list of places to be. The climbing is superb, the area is stunning and there is a sure fire reason i live here. The only reason i don’t want to be here for my birthday is that i’m here most of the rest of the year and i want a bit of a change. Otherwise, there are not many better places to be anywhere.

But here i was and the one thing that is missing every other year is family. Last year i was in Finland with my father-in-law, the year before in Germany with Em. In fact, since Rosie was born, i’ve only spent any birthday with one of our girls on one occasion. And even then she was four months old. It’s been something like fifteen years since i’ve seen my parents. So it seemed like a good way to spend the day. Everything being an opportunity and all that.

Family breakfast of pancakes and playing and an afternoon seeing my folks, watching the stone walls outside to see them dry was the order of the day. The plan was always to try and get a climb in somehow, preferably outside, so a few options had been planned to see how things went. I make it sound like climbing was all i had in mind but actually that time with family made the day really. The climbing topped it off nicely.

Around half four, i figured it wasn’t getting any drier and i better head out and hope for the best. Some deluded part of my brain totally misjudged the aspect of my target crag, thinking the Boss Cuvier area of Gelert Forest was open enough to have dried, depsite it still raining at noon. Thankfully, i had a backup plan at a roadside venue (and Tess loved the walk in and out).

Twenty minutes of setting up and walking in, fifteen minutes back and i should’ve felt slightly defeated but even before i set off, i knew it might not (massive understatement in hindsight) be dry and almost went straight to the Pop Bloc first time around. I’d been years ago, on the way to see my folks one evening, and have noticed a resurgence in recent months. Keen for another look, i took the short trip up to Rhyd Ddu, took the road over to Nantlle and found myself with bone dry rock in a sunny setting, as good as any other year thus far.

The climbing went pretty well too, albeit lines that were retro flashes rather than flashes. Not that i remembered them in the slightest. I noticed Alex Megos posted a caption on Instagram claiming a “retro onsight” which seems the most stupid thing ever but i genuinely couldn’t remember anything about these climbs. I didn’t even realise i’d done one of them until i went to tick it on 27crags.

Last time, i vaguely recalled – after finishing the climbs, memories slowly eeked out of the depths of my memory – the last session and looking at the other lines, thinking them too brutal and difficult for me. It’s called the Pop Bloc for a reason: the effect it can have on one’s tendons/pulleys. This time, though, i’m fitter, stronger and frankly, didn’t want to go home so i started to work on the next appealing line: Pop Art 7b+.

By the end of the session, by which point the shot hole had cut a nice round hole in my ring finger, i’d managed all the moves in two halves, not quite linking it together thus avoiding the slightly nerving top out with no one around but a sleeping dog. Nevertheless, it felt a very successful session, a very enjoyable evening and on the whole, a great day.

I’m still sad i couldn’t get away, no matter how substantial the reasons. 2020 will have an asterisk over it for so many of us for so many reasons and i’ll always be a little sad about mine. But the reasons were sound and you know what, it turned out to be a pretty damned good day after all.

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