Nine Year Project

Saturday afternoon, after a session with two of my fantastic regular young clients, I stood under the mushroom in the Beacon, mouth gawping, barely able to comprehend what I’d just done. The context made complete sense and it wasn’t as if I didn’t believe myself but the surprise was hard to quell. I simply don’t climb V9 on the second attempt, certainly not a compression problem on slopers, definitely not one that Dave Noden had been fighting with. And yet, as I took the accolades and looked around for confirmation that I’d done something impressive as people wandered off to try their own climbs, it slowly dawned on me that I am, without exaggeration, in the best form of my entire climbing career.

The list of climbs managed within 24 hours on Friday and Saturday, on a purely personal level, remains hard to comprehend. While safe in the knowledge that to you, the reader, it will likely be the most dry and dull assortment of letters and numbers and has no bearing on anything in your own life, said list is as follows: a 7b project completed with relative ease; another 7b+ project finished off and it’s 7c sit start on the second attempt; and a 7b flash all at the Indy on Friday night; then at the Beacon, two V7 flashes and another on the second attempt; a V8 on the second try; and the coup de grace of that glorious and brutal V9 also on the second go; plus various other climbs of V6/6c+ and below thrown in for good measure. Ignoring the ‘lower’ grade problems (V6 or lower) that gives 71 V-points in a very short amount of time. On a normal month, a successful session would constitute a fraction of that. And this is effectively in a single day. What’s more, on both occasions, I could’ve easily done more.

These are, of course, indoor boulder problems and despite the fact that the world has changed and for many, indoor climbing is now a means to itself and not simply the stepping stone of training or wet weather alternative that it was when I started some twenty years ago, my world view remains that indoor climbs don’t really count. However, to dismiss these climbs would also be to ignore my most recent climbing achievement: only my second ever V10/7c+ on rock last weekend.

The Cave

Parisella’s Cave will, to any North Wales boulderer, always play a part. They may not like it, they may always try and find somewhere else to climb but sooner or later, often periodically, they’ll be there. And to anyone that has spent a prolonged time in this corner of the world, they will likely have either a set of climbs that get repeated or an ongoing project there.

For me, that project line was Rock Atrocity Wobbly Block start V10/7c+. The story goes that back in 2014, I was determined to try the original start and put a lot of time giving it a concerted effort. Back then, it was right at my physical limit and despite having the sequence dialed, each visit gave me three tries, after which I’d be too tired.

One day, there with Andy Marshall, my first try saw me accepting the fact that my feet would have to cut loose and failing, frustrated again; Rock Atrocity does go straight through the middle of a roof after all. Andy stepped up, did most of the problem but crucially, his feet stayed on every move. With a little arrogance,I remember thinking my footwork was better than his and I sent on the next attempt, feet sticking to the roof like glue.

Buoyed and with one attempt left in me, I tried the Wobbly Block version, a grade harder. After all, I had nothing to lose. With excellent beta from Andy, I pretty much completed it, with a got scrape on the floor on the first move and a poor match on the last hold meaning it didn’t really count. I planned to go back a week later, got injured the following weekend and never went back with the same determination.

Fast forward nine years and I had lost count of the number of times I’d been back on the lower start. However none of these efforts involved anywhere near enough effort (as regular readers may have picked up on). This project remained the climb that I jumped on whenever I happened to find myself there and every one of these sessions mainly involved me finding the nuances to the beta again. As such, I’d never stood a chance.

A lot has happened in those intervening years: I’ve climbed 7c+ at Sheep Pen; I’ve become a coach and studied climbing movement; I’ve had two children; etc. And I’m not quite sure why but recently, I’ve felt a drive to finally finish off this long standing project.

Just before Christmas, I was at the cave and was close. There was a foot sequence I couldn’t remember/figure out but it was pretty much there. Then in the New Year, brother in law James got in touch, asking if I wanted a cave session. It was on.

Some friendly and much stronger climbers there that day helped me remember my foot sequence from before and I tried a few times from the floor. Suddenly, I found myself on the finishing moves, James just as surprised as I was. The only problem was I hadn’t refined the final couple of moves and completely powered out, collapsed from the final match, agonisingly close.

I was about to start comparing my diary and the weather forecast for the coming week, having now fixed the issue with a definite foot sequence for the last move when I felt I should try again. Honing the sequence in my mind and getting closer to flow state – as mentioned in my last post – I stepped on. And it wasn’t even perfect, I made a couple of mistakes. But I felt superhuman, felt so strong, like I could’ve showboated if I’d chosen (although clearly, that would’ve landed me in the Arrogance section of the DCBA Scale so I didn’t). Just as with the stand start all those years ago, I cruised through the moves. Rock Atrocity Wobbly Block start V10/7c+ finally complete.

The Inevitable Question

In the same way that I would do a week later at the Beacon, I stood not quite believing what I’d achieved. Our sport is quite frankly a ridiculous one, although no worse than others like gymnastics or weightlifting. We set the parameters of our challenge that have no bearing on the rest of our lives. And then we give our all to achieve these pointless tasks.

For those of us driven enough to find challenges that push our limits, it leads to the inevitable question any time we succeed: now what?

It almost seems a shame that we can’t live in the moment longer, bask in our own glory for a while before contemplating the next step. Perhaps it is the burden of the driven, or perhaps it is me being too full of myself. Either way, five minutes after matching the last holds on Atrocity my mind had already drifted to Sway On.

It makes sense really. Goal: 8a has consumed my attention for pretty much the entire four years since its conception. And Rock Atrocity is certainly a good marker along the way; I was even considering its stepping-stone nature on that visit just before Christmas. So while it is a shame that I haven’t taken longer to focus on my success, it does bode well for the next stage.

It seems that whether I sent this or not, I was always going to be comparing the diary with the forecast.

After only climbing one climb this year, my Top Ten Yearly Average was a bit skewed and if I’m honest, I’m tempted not to climb anything else this year, just to leave that spike up there…

Too Busy Doing

The problem with running a blog of this nature is one of two things happens: either you’re too busy doing stuff to spend ages writing about it; or you’ve got nothing to write about. Six weeks since my Solstice post and I seem to have combined the worst aspects of both, with me either being too busy getting stuff done to spend time sat writing or I’ve totally neglected to post thinking I’ve got nothing to write about. Then you suddenly remember it’d be worth posting something and realise there’s heaps to go into the next one.

Most of my “busy” has been work related but given I’m now a pro climbing coach, you’d think that was equally as relevant as anything else! Plus there’s been progress on the personal climbing front, an awesome mini-session out on the grit, a bailed session thanks to this cold snap and most likely stacks of other stuff too. So here’s a bit of a round up.

The Aggregate and Personal Training

I had an epiphany about how I need to approach this year’s aggregate competitions recently and recorded it. That was about a fortnight ago… Still, here’s what the audio said:

I was wrong about what I needed from this aggregate competition. Or rather I was missing a trick. I still want to focus everything on this Goal: 8a, as per my Solstice post, I still want to get Sway On in the Spring. But where I thought I was only using them as base level fitness, now I’ve realised I’ve got a fantastic opportunity to work on the one aspect that’s been missing so far: mental training.

I’ve known for a while that part of the reason I’ve not finished Sway On is because I’ve not been able to harness any Flow State in the same way as I have in all my other hard sends. To be honest, if I had been able to get into that zone, I’d have probably succeeded by now. That’s what’s been missing

So now we have a change of tact. I’m still gonna use the aggregate but I’ve realised that dedicated Sway On training isn’t necessarily going to start now, it’ll start closer to when I’m actually gonna try it properly. Otherwise I’m risking injury and distraction. Three months of physical training is probably better than trying to do six months and failing half way through.

For now I’m gonna focus on aggregate problems but I’m maintaining that idea that i’m not chasing points. Instead, the easier climbs can be used to build base fitness, say up to V7. I’ll drop the V8-10 that I don’t like and the ones that suck me in are the ones I’ll use to train getting in to Flow State.

So that’s the state of play. I actually managed the blue V10 a few days later – my first of the season – and shortly afterwards, almost flashed a 7b+ at the Indy and nailed a tough 7c in around an hour. Neither were exactly good mental training but both required concentration levels I’d hitherto not been utilising and all were a nice little confidence booster.

Outside Action

A few days after my Sway On recording, the two sessions I had for work both got postponed and I had a free day; a free day that was dry, not ridiculously cold and prime for an outdoor session. With what felt like a free hit and a head of steam, I figured I’d go try Sway On.

While it didn’t go, it did feel like progress but in a really weird sort of way. Turns out I was exactly where I had been on the previous visit: still thrutching for the first move, still around the same area, still agonisingly close to catching the crucial first move. My head felt in a better place and I hadn’t lost anything. It means with a little bit of training – both mental and physical – it should go.

While I was there, I measured the hold. It turns out that it’s exactly the same size as the smallest edge on the Beastmaker which has framed my physical training. All in all, it’s looking promising.

I hadn’t been out for a few weeks until I found myself in Sheffield on a work trip. Finishing earlier than expected, I headed out to the Gritstone for a session. Having stayed with my old friend Tom the night before, we’d had a chat about potential destinations and he suggested Higgar Tor to try Piss 7b and Shit 7b+.

His suggestion was inspired and after warming myself up, I had an outstanding session, culminating in a send of Hemline 7a+ and almost finishing off that 7b. It’s become my new favourite grit block, somewhere I’m dead keen to get back to (especially with some video beta and a bit more time) and given how long it’s been since I’ve been bouldering outside (anywhere but specifically on gritstone) it was a really welcome change.

There was supposed to be another outdoor session, at Trawsfynydd this time with my brother-in-law James. However that was the beginning of this easterly cold snap and given the travel distance required, I bailed at the last minute.

It was a mistake not to go. The day turned out to be great, James climbed really well and I certainly regretted not joining him. Still, it’s all about making decisions and this was the call I made. Such is life and all three of those outdoor sessions have certainly sparked something in me. Thinking a Cave session may well be in order…

Solstice: October 2022

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.

You know, I’ve just had a text from my other half saying the clocks go back tonight. I instantly replied and said I know, that’s why I’m currently sat in a pub in Bangor, frantically trying to get my end of season post written up. And yet, despite this being in the back of my mind all week, the first thing that struck me when I went to start writing was how little I remember of the past six months.

Scrolling through old posts, that’s quite disappointing; heaps has happened. I mean, there’s been multiple trips away from home, plenty of ascents at lots of crags and massive headway made with my work. Still, that rabbit in headlights moment is hard to escape, with the same vacant and paincked look I have when she asks if there’s anything specific I want from Tesco this week.

And so we scroll; not through clickbait Facebook bullshit this time but through past posts that I have been using to document my personal accomplishments for over ten years. Suggesting blogging is work is always a stretch but it kinda is, especially when it’s so closely linked in to actual work these days.

There are other avenues that jog the memory too. Despite my personal disdain for them, ‘the socials’ as they’re now beginning to be known, are handy. Not so much my Facebook account, where a turnover of posts is quicker than a British Prime Minister but Instagram tends to give a good overview of the major events of the season. My Google Photos too helps, mixing useful things I didn’t share at the time with random screenshots and reminder pictures of shopping lists. And of course this being a climbing site, my 27crags ticklist prompts me to every crag and route I’ve done since March.

Looking at them all in preparation for writing left me with one word: really?!

Season Review

First up is Lancashire. Mere days into the new season and dad asked me to take him up to Blackburn to collect his new van. Sure, I said, tacking on a trip to Craig y Longridge. It proved a hugely successful trip, yielding 16 ticks of mostly easy climbs that were thoroughly enjoyable. However it left me mildly unfulfilled, due to time constraints and a little over two weeks later, I took the inordinately insane drive back for Round Two, picking up another 16 problems including Smeg City Plus 7a+. Pretty good progress towards those season goals!

What mostly followed was work related stuff, including some workshops on Teaching Outdoor Bouldering to other outdoor professionals… including a couple of British Mountain Guides! I definitely remember driving to the first one absolutely bricking it at the idea of having people who are paid to take clients up Himalayan peaks listen to me on how to take people climbing but I really needn’t have been. I’ve run three of these workshops this summer and they’ve all been a fantastic boost to my self-esteem and my professional confidence. And they were great fun.

Last season didn’t really have any professional goals other than to say that I didn’t really know what to expect over the summer months. I’m thrilled to say I needn’t worry too much, that work came in and I had several outstanding outdoor bouldering days, all of which that were thoroughly enjoyed both by myself and, more importantly, by the clients. Looking at it now, I’m in a MUCH stronger position now than I was at the end of last winter. Given the time frame, that’s sepctacular.

Then the highlight not only of the summer, the season or the year but of the past however long: the resurrection of the birthday tradition. In Font. With my family. Just writing that has put a lump in my throat.

I want to make this completely explicit: it was NOT my idea. It was Em’s idea. And I don’t say that to assuage any guilt for dragging them abroad, I say it entirely to give credit where it is due. I have no idea that possessed her to suggest it, other than the fact that clearly, she loves me dearly. She must do, even if she knew that both her and the kids would love it too.

Everyone had an amazing trip and I was over the moon. The kids climbed, Em got her trip to Paris, we met a friend out there unexpectedly and I got my French pastries on my birthday morning, not to mention another 22 climbs under my belt that meant I succeeded on a certain goal that I talk about below…

On return, it was back to work: more outdoor sessions, another workshop and a set of BMC FUNdamentals courses arranged by myself but run by Dave Evans at Plas y Brenin. It was the first of three I have so far arranged and, all being well, will not be the last. In truth, the second courses with Andy Swann were much better for my development but I’m hugely indebted to Dave for his support and for giving me a familar face and environment to start off with.

Then came another new acquiantance in the shape of one of the nicest blokes you could meet. I’d been in touch with professional photographer Sam Beaumont a while back, with the idea of him taking some bouldering pics to enhance his repertoire. We never got any plans off the ground back then and COVID stopped anything anyway, as it did with, well, frankly, everything else in the world.

Then this summer, he got back in touch, we both got our arses in gear and finally met up at the car park on the shore of Llyn Crafnant. What followed was the worst climbing session to be portrayed in such an outstanding way ever. His photos made my abject venue choice and ascents look amazing.

We followed this up with another session shortly afterwards at another crag I’d hitherto not visited, Manor Crag. This time I performed much more admirably, actually getting on harder climbs incuding Jawa RH 7a+ (although success would have to wait for a return a week later). I have faith that Sam would’ve got great pictures had I been falling off 4s but it felt more like I was delivering on my promise. The next catch up will be somewhere even more suitable.

And still I scroll through finding more! Squeezed in between those two Sam sessions was three days away from home. I’d been hesitant to go, wondering if it were worth it but again, it’s down to Em that I went; as she persuaded me to take the rare chances I get. I was incredibly glad that she did as well, given it yielded another dozen problems to what was becoming a bit of a bumper season!

Yes, it caused the mother of all flappers but it was on the Nothing to say Dyno 7a+ and was followed by the most satisfying dinner in the Silverdale Arms.

Previous Season Goals

  • Goal: 8a and a six week training plan
  • Ressurect the White Board of Projects
  • 1000 problems
  • Continue to coach, including bouldering workshops
  • The Process book
  • Font trip
  • Take kids climbing

How Did It Go?

First and foremost, let’s address the elephant in the room. Did I get anywhere with Goal: 8a? No, I didn’t but that wasn’t without good reason. Put simply, I wasn’t in a fit shape to do what was needed and by the time I recovered enough, the weather was too warm and I switched tactics.

Niether did I resurrect the White Board of Projects and this had less of a good reason. Local projects still feel unlikely at the moment and some psyche will be required to get back in the groove.

What this season did have was mileage and that allowed me to finally hit that 1000th problem. At first, I’d thought I’d achieved it in Font, of all places, but a glitch in the way totals are portrayed on 27crags (one page shows a total, a different page shows a different total so I suspect the larger total includes repeate ascents) meant it might have been afterwards. Either which way, even the lower total is now at 1017. Whoop.

As mentioned, coaching didn’t just continue but it flourished. Usual private clients, outdoor sessions with regulars and newbies, CPD workshops and even setting up a new Performance Squad, things are going from strength to strength with short and long term prospects looking even better. As much as I’m trying to not get too ahead of myself, I’m very happy with the way things are going.

I haven’t written any more, annoyingly but such is life; there are only so many hours in a day. One day, I will finally finish this book. But one thing at a time.

As for climbing with the kids, while I haven’t done as much with them as I’d have liked, we have certainly done some and nobody would complain at having a good Font trip including genuine climbs at the age of five.

Hannah is still inding her feet but Rosie is showing a massive aptitude for climbing. However, given my lack of evenings and her existing committments, now isn’t the time to start anything proper or more serious. For now, what we’re doing is working.

Next Season Goals

As predictable as this may be, number 1 has to be Goal: 8a. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve adjusted my goals for the aggregates to allow for more specific training to get this thing done.

Back towards the end of last season, I enlisted the help of Dave Noden and came up with a short-term training plan. Now, it’s time to extrapolate this over the course of the season. For years, I’ve had this on the go and now it’s time to really dig in to it.

I do want to continue with both aggregates this season. They’re excellent for motivation as well as building base levels of fitness. Last season’s 93% completion was exemplary and so I’ll try and aim for the same 85% completion as last season but this time, instead of trying to beat it, I’ll try to match it.

I’m gonna keep fairly tight lipped on this one for a while, needless to say Prowess is developing. I remember when I started, a coach I hugely admire and look up to told me it took him seven years to become a sustainable business. I’m at three and if all goes well, will be there very soon. Watch this space.

  • Goal: 8a
  • Training, alongside aggregate 85% completion
  • Develop Prowess

Back when I was acting as research assistant for the book Smart Climbing by Dr Rebecca Williams, something struck me. Apparently people are more inclined to achieve their goals if they have fewer of them. It’s the opposite of what I’ve always done with these New Years posts and yet something told me what I was doing was right and that it worked.

Without going into too much academic detail on goal setting theory, there’s a pattern I noticed when reading about it. Basically, the closer one’s goals are to one’s are limits, the more specific they need to be. Well, that’s why there’s only three sat there above. It’s time to put all my ehhs in one basket. Let’s hope it works.

Merry Solstice!

In It To Win It?

We’re nearing the end of October and that means that both local walls here in North Wales have started up their aggregate competitions. For the uninitiated, aggregate competitions involve collecting points for every climb set over the winter, one point for each ascent regardless of difficulty, with the person (in each age and gender category) with the most points at the end of the season taking the prize.

Last year, I competed in both competitions, winning the Indy aggregate and coming second in the Beacon version, only failing to a young lad who is a member of Team GB. It saw me climb a total of around 850 problems and build a fantastic base level of fitness. So with so much success last time out, why might I be hesitant to play this winter?

While I’ve already signed up for both and ticked off a decent run in the first set, being bated by staff and regulars along the way, I’ve yet to fully commit to them. I’ve not really decided how I’m going to approach it this year and need to make up my mind pretty soon and it all comes down to goals.

Goal: 8a

Essentially, this is what it all comes down to. It’s been a little over 4 years since I chose my target climb to achieve this milestone grade and while there have been plenty of mitigating circumstances, the simple truth is that I’ve not tried it for some time and feel no closer to success than I have been previously.

Towards the end of last winter, I had drawn up a training plan for myself, with significant help and guidance from the wealth of knowledge that is Dave Noden but didn’t commit properly and the weather got too warm. But the training plan still sits in one of the many exercise books I have kicking about and can easily be resurrected.

The fact is that simply doing what I’ve been doing for the past however many years won’t get me over the edge. Yes, if I go on the right day, with the right conditions and the right mindset, I could get it on the next go but realistically, it’s going to take me dozens more decent efforts to even line up that perfect attempt and I simply don’t have the time to commit to trying over and over. My only realistic chance is to do some dedicated training.

The problem is that if I commit to the aggregates, the available time for dedicated training disappears.

Sack Off the Aggregates?

The obvious solution to this is to simply not sign up for the aggregate competitions but it gets more complicated in that they’re actually really useful for training; not to mention motivation.

I’ve always hated training. I got in to climbing to have something to do in the mountains and got hooked by the movement on the wall. The idea of hangboard sessions or relentless campusing has never appealed and still doesn’t. Granted, now that the reason for training has risen in value thus increasing my motivation but even so, I know that if I try and tell myself to simply train all winter, I’m not gonna listen.

Even from a physical point of view, while isolated replica moves are certainly what’s needed to complete my project, doing nothing but that won’t help in the long run (even assuming I include the necessary antagonist work that’s required). Yes, I’ll get Sway On but then I’ll have to start again for the next climb. Combining some overall movement skills in my programme won’t hurt.

Then of course there are the tactical considerations. This year, the Beacon have gone digital; Olaf creating an excellent app to record ascents instead of the usual scraps of paper. While not obviously useful for me at first, there’s a statistics page, which is pure gold and something I used to have to calculate manually.

The statistics page on iClimb: the Beacon’s new app to record ascents

While the grades aren’t super reliable, it will be useful to see trends and progress over the season.

The Plan of Attack: Compromise

So what to make of all this. On the face of it, it’s been quite tricky but I think I’ve got a plan.

  • Step 1: Sign up to aggregates and tick off climbs steadily throughout the season
  • Step 2: Tick off as much as yields within a couple of sessions
  • Step 3: Once these are ticked, leave the projects behind (except ones that will help with Sway On)
  • Step 4: Train specifically for Goal: 8a
  • Step 5: Climb 8a in the Spring and rejoice in finally achieving the long term goal

That’s pretty much it. I spend so much time in the climbing walls – that’s where I work don’t forget – that getting a reasonable score won’t be an issue and this will get me the requisite mileage to build that base level of fitness. However once I’ve done the (relatively) easy ones and am left with climbs I’ll need to project over several sessions, leave them alone and go train instead.

If I find I’m not actually training, I can come back to the projects. But instead of spending session after session throwing myself at huge, shouldery moves that aren’t my thing, go on the campus board, do some fingerboarding, do some antagonist work, whatever is needed to finally stand atop that lump of rock at the bottom of the Ogwen Valley.

Note: I don’t really have any interesting photos/videos related to this post so have something vaguely indoorsy from recent sessions

Pain Stops Play

And just like that, the momentum stops. Suddenly, I seem to be collecting injuries so that when i finally do go and get them treated, I might get a collective discount: buy three, get one free type thing. A weird pull in a deltoid on my left arm, RSI on both elbows from a summer of drilling and sanding, a knee injury sustained way back at the end of last winter that i thought was healed but was apparently wrong and the most muppetty of finger injuries on my left hand from standing up while forgetting to remove my fingers from a slot.

None of these are particularly debilitating but are all enough to kill off any hopes of climbing exceptionally hard. They were even enough to get me out of the pool before the session ended last week, with even different strokes merely meaning the pain simply moved around my body. And as a measure of how much these things are bothering me, they’ve reached a point where I’m doing something about them.

I worked and climbed with two stretches of tape wrapped around my right arm last week; isolating the tendons and doing a surprisingly good job of it. Meanwhile, the antagonist work I’ve always known I should be doing has actually been completed and is paying dividends. A sports massage with Emma Cawte has certainly helped with the deltoid issue and meant last night’s swim saw me get out with everyone else (although that does come with the caveat that i was fifteen minutes late). The knee is next on the list.

A Bournemouth-style exception

In an odd parallel with the performances of my favourite football team, whose performances have been poor so far this season and not stood to the impossible standards of recent years, there was a shining light of an exception in the middle of this. Much like Liverpool’s record-breaking 9-0 win over Bournemouth, I too had the most outstanding of sessions right in the middle of this fallow period.

Again, like Liverpool, it was equally as inexplicable. Wanting a session before my staff meeting but not getting out of the house early enough, I arrived at the Beacon only to find I was the only one there for the staff meeting… So I had my session after all.

Ordinarily, such upheavel in the lead up to climbing doesn’t equate to high performance but on this occasion, the patterns didn’t follow. But the epic number of sends did.

V1 and V5 warm up, both flashed. More flashes followed on two more V6s, one of which widely regarded as a sandbag. Next, a V8 would go on the second attempt, followed by a V7 that should’ve gone quicker had I looked closer at the holds. Another V7 took three attempts, one through the fact the orange hold looked white and another as someone sarcastically commented how amazing I am and I got all big-headed and fell off. But I followed this up with another V7, this one flashed.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this was a V9 replica of Jerry’s Problem at Sheep Pen. Knowing this, I sent this on the first time of asking (last move notwithstanding). Happy enough with my effort, I called it quits on that one and moved on. The next V9 was done in two halves, all the moves now dialled. Tiring now, I tried another V8 and got more than half way on the first go before trying a V8 in the roof and doing likewise. Neither were finished but I certainly was.

It would’ve been a good effort for the entirety of a set, let alone a single session. Perhaps going back to my static stretches before climbing were the difference, who knows. Since, though, the niggles have kept me down, the work (or rather the search for private clients) has kept me on the ground and a newfound pride in group sessions has occupied me. Still, I’m happy to live off this experience for a little longer. I certainly earned it.

Revitalised

My Lakeland jaunt certainly managed to jump start my enthusiasm to get out, fortuitously timed with a slowing of work meaning I had a bit more time. Meanwhile, Sam certainly seemed to get a lot from out session at Crafnant and was keen to go out again. Suddenly, from doing next to nothing for months – Font and Craig y Longridge aside – sessions seemed to come a lot more frequently.

What I hadn’t anticipated was how much I’d find myself drawn to the limestone. It’s no secret I’m not a huge fan of this rock type and yet for some reason, after some far away limestone, that’s where I have found my recent inspiration. Way back in March, old friend Tim Peck had posted some pictures of his trip to Manor Crag and they’d certainly caught my attention, sitting in the back of my head ever since. So when Sam Beaumont got in touch for a second photo shoot session, it seemed a good chance to go give it a go.

The bright side of the Ormes are that they sit with their own little micro-climate; they’re the perfect retreat for when it’s too damp to climb in the mountains. I’ve often used them as an emergency backup plan and when coupled with an actual desire to climb over that way, I was pretty stoked to get some ticks in over there.

Sam is indeed a hell of a photographer, with a good eye and great technical skills that he’s looking to put into practice with climbing. What it does mean though is that with just the two of us, I’m effectively on a solo trip. It meant Crafnant was probably a poor choice but Manor Crag worked much better. I blasted up a few of the 6s (ill Manors 6c, The Academic Workload 6c and Jawa Original (lip start) 6b+) working with Sam to get the right angles on the right bits of rock to get just the right shot for him. Sadly, my speedy tick of Jawa 7a wasn’t really conducive to the shots he was after but remained my highlight.

All photos: Sam Beaumont Media

As pleased as I was with my sends, I did want to get something at least a little harder and the right hand alternative to Jawa at 7a+ was the one that really grabbed my fancy. It made some good photos too althgouh two things counted against me: firstly, my fitness isn’t what it was and by the time I got my teeth stuck in to it, I was beginning to fatigue somewhat; and secondly, just as I started to embark on a full on assault, the sun came out and Sam was sweating taking pictures, let alone me going full on project.

It meant I had to suffer the ignominy of photos of me climbing topless. I used to love it, back when I was younger and trying to prove myself (to myself at least). Now, it seems a little cringeworthy and rarely something I enjoy looking back at. Granted, the tense muscles are pleasing on the eye but I’d much rather have a shirt on.

Sadly, tops off was the only way by this point. And still it didn’t work.

Instead I had to wait nearly three weeks before I got another chance to return. Alone this time, yesterday I drove over again and dragged in as many pads as I could muster, spurred on for a solid session of sending good grade problems. And the Jawa alternative was first on the list.

I’d recently done a bouldering session with a client at Parisella’s Cave and one of the things we’d been discussing was how to warm up at venues where the easiest line is your project. Here, with an active wasps nest underneath the outstanding 6s, I opted to put a lot of what we’d discussed into practice and warm up on the project. I lowered on to the holds, completed individual moves and then started linking them. I had one go from the bottom where I got back on every time I dropped and then on the second full attempt, sent the bloody thing. It was another “just do that” moments.

The bug is certainly back for me to get out and I’m almost at the point of re-writing The List and doing it properly this time. Just a shame about the timing. I’ve got a month before the clocks go back and it suddenly gets a little bit tougher. Tick tock, tick tock.

Homeward bound

I awoke this morning to two sensations: the pitter-patter of rain on the roof of my tent; and a deep ache in my fingers. It didn’t take me long to decide to head straight home. The clincher came when I made my morning cup of tea and found the milk had turned.

Not that I’m going to complain, I’ve packed a lot in to what is really a very short space of time. Three climbing sessions in a little over 24 hours, two nights of camping, a fantastic meal in the Silverdale Hotel (go there, it’s brilliant) and cooking al fresco on a stunning evening beside Morecambe Bay. It’s been brief but just the shot in the arm I’ve needed, not only to unwind but to revitalise my personal climbing.

I’ve managed a dozen problems in this short space of time, mostly 6s with a 7a flash (the softest anywhere, certainly mis-graded) and a 7a+ dyno that has caused what may turn out to be a week of discomfort when working. I’ve not quite braved taking the tape off yet, I’m saving that until I get home to a shower as I know it’s gonna hurt. I’ll assess the damage later.

Everything about this has been refreshing; from reminding myself of the friendliness of people in this little corner of the world to chatting politics and music festivals late into the evening last night with my neighbours from Manchester. It’s been a long time since I’ve done a solo jaunt like this and no doubt these trips are better with company but it’s been great to do this again.

Now it’s time to pack up. I feel like I want to say more but sometimes less is more. And on that note, I’m going home, one happy man.

Silverdale Sojourn

What is it with climbers and access?! Don’t answer that, it’s rhetorical.

I have one full day here in Silverdale after the first night’s blast at Woodwell and had a couple of places in mind. One of these was Fairy Steps. It was another I visited briefly during my youth, another I wanted to return to. Over my morning tea, I read the two guidebooks for more of an indication as to whether this was purely more nostalgia or whether there was somewhere better I’d neglected back then.

It certainly sounded good with a good mix of flashable climbs and some achievable projects. Then I noticed the access advice. On the second page of the Fairy Steps section in Lake District Bouldering, not under the standard Access and Approach section, I found a warning: “… after a prolonged negotiation with the BMC, the new owners have decided that they will no longer allow climbing. Nevertheless, there is access along the footpaths close to the crags and the spread-out nature of the outcrops means that climbers are unlikely to be challenged. If you are asked to cease climbing, please do so courteously”. Boulder Britain simply says “Climbers have no agreed right to be here. If asked to leave, do so politely”.

I’m not one for blindly following rules, as anyone who knows me personally will attest. And as Chapman rightly says in the book, climbing at Fairy Steps has been “permitted… since the early 1960s”. Even so, I can’t help but feel these attitudes towards access from climbers can often be counter productive. I’m not about to judge anyone for their decision but it is clear to me that if enough people simply ignore the issue and carry on regardless, the situation is only going to go one way. If nothing else, these issues should be highlighted more strongly to avoid confrontation and perhaps persuade people in situations such as mine that there are plenty of other options to pick from.

Given how long I’m here, I’ll likely give it a miss. Certainly having Tess with me won’t help any. It is indeed a real shame as it was one of the few places I’d earmarked for this trip. Still, I’d rather avoid and allow the negotiations to develop than simply do as I please and exacerbate the problem.

Instead, focus today was on somewhere I neglected before: Warton. It was known about back then but for some reason, I never bothered and in the interim years, have often wondered why. So this was my chance.

It did not start well. I did indeed find the parking easily enough but immediately took a wrong turn out of the gate. Soon enough, I found myself below a very large quarry, with the crag in question somewhere at the top. Cue a hefty ascent around the side that made my thighs burn. Eventually reaching a position that could in some way match the guidebook description, with a clump of climbable rock in front of me, we headed off to find the climbing proper, only to end up bushwhacking past brambles a farmer could’ve used as barbed wire.

Just as we were cresting past all of this, the nearby clay pigeon shooting venue really kicked into gear. Cue one very nervous collie. She’d already been a bit unhappy about the loud bangs but now we were no longer walking and the noise much closer, she went into hiding in a nearby hovel.

I thought my time was up before it even began but having finally made it all the way there, I wanted at least something to show for my efforts. I figured I’d have a quick play, tick something easy then if she was still unhappy, we’d head elsewhere.

Thankfully, the gunshots stopped and around the same time, a friendly climber from Burnley arrived to keep us company too. The easier Hoodoo People 6b in the bag, I figured I’d try something a bit harder: Voodoo People 7b. I was particularly buoyed when the first four moves went on the first go. But that was when the guidebook told me to expect the crux and it was most definitely right.

Eventually I was forced to bid a retreat. It’s always painful leaving a project like this but to be honest, I was exhausted by this point and failure was now pretty much a given. One for the future and at least it’s possible to get back there easily enough!

The afternoon of shopping didn’t quite go to plan and I found myself back at the sight not with souvenirs and trinkets but with pasta sauce and salami. Originally intending to eat out tonight, the weather was so pleasant I decided to cook, cursing myself for not bringing a bigger or better stove. My meal, when I came to eat it, was cold. I didn’t care.

Finally, after dinner, I wanted that one extra session squeezed in. The only question was where. You see, I had been slightly presumptuous earlier when I’d thought there were “plenty” of other places around here. Turns out I’ve already hit the main ones, the only obvious exception being… Fairy Steps. Almost at the point of eating my own words, I figured no, I’d stick to my principles and head to a backwater venue; in this case Hyning Wood. I’m glad I did as I’m sure I never will again. That said, it yielded a 6b that felt like a 4, a 6c that felt like a 6b (flashed) and the softest 7a you’ll ever find (also flashed). Even the 7a+ traverse almost went too but by that point, I was simply too spent. This one I won’t be coming back for. Funny how that goes sometimes eh?

Carnforth Carnage

It was arguably during the second year of my undergrad degree that my academic career unravelled to the point I should’ve realised what was going on and got out. Looking back I can pinpoint the day.

My work had become non-existent and my attendance dwindled rapidly, inspired by films such as American Pie and Road Trip whose attitudes towards any actual study border on ridiculous. [Please note I’ve never blamed anyone but myself for squandering what was a fantastic opportunity at that time and coming away with little more than debt but I watched the latter film recently and thought it explained a lot of my attitude at the time.]

With my deteriorating studies, the head of my second year had contacted me for a meeting to discuss my situation. The meeting was for early afternoon and after having finally risen from my bed and feeling nervous, I reasoned I had time enough to get a quick bouldering session in at a nearby crag. I went climbing, lost track of time, completely missed the meeting and a letter was sent home to my parents. It should’ve been the red flag I – and everyone around me – needed. It wasn’t and I continued in the same vein for another year and a half before finally failing the finals and leaving with nothing.

The venue that day: Woodwell and it is the very same venue I find myself sat underneath writing this; very probably the same buttress too. Nearly twenty years later, everything has changed. I’ve changed, my work ethic has changed, I have a family, the world has changed, even the crag has changed with a large rockfall at some point in the intervening years meaning some routes that were here that day (that I’d have scarcely glanced at, given their grade) now lie in pieces on the floor below.

What remains of the routes Kaizen and the aptly named The Art of Self Destruction at Tom’s Buttress, Woodwell

But what hasn’t changed is that I’m still climbing. With a few days off freedom (kids away, no work booked in, my partner’s blessing) I chucked some kit in the van and hit the road. South Lakeland is a slightly forgotten area for many but my local knowledge told me it was perfect for my couple of days away. Some old venues to revisit (to go with Trowbarrow and the Bowderstone of recent years) and some obvious places I should’ve made more of back then.

My original plan had been to hear back to Thorn Crag on the way here, only to find myself bogged down in report writing before I left and time no longer on my side. No matter, I headed straight for the campsite at Gibraltar Farm and suddenly found that I was walking distance from Woodwell! And from there pub too.

The same allure from years back kicked in again and I found myself at Tom’s Buttress. I could easily take a good guess at which routes I’d completed before but there are no records from back then. Still, the climbs that inspired me then still inspire me now and I “flashed” six low- to mid-6s while throwing my energy into Nothing to Say Dyno 7a+. It went eventually but it took a while. And it took its pound of flesh too, almost literally it seems!

War wounds from Woodwell

I guess it’s inevitable to be reflective when you find yourself in situations like this but said reflections are certainly good for the soul. Back then, there’s no way I’d have even looked at that dyno and now it’s done. I guess I don’t really know what my point is through all of this. Apart from anything else, it’s just nice to be back.

Crafnant and Other Venues

Featured image above is by Sam Beaumont of Sam Beaumont Media. Climber: Pete Edwards on Breakaway 6b at Crafnant

I’ve never had a good session at Crafnant. Every time I’ve been, it’s been damp and given the nature of the crag, this makes the rock slippy and treacherous. Regardless of the conditions to climb, it’s made even exploring the venue incredibly difficult.

Yet, I’ve always felt it was somewhere that deserved another try. Perhaps it is purely the reputation – with multiple 3* classics – or maybe simply an allure built up in my own mind. Something in my mind said I didn’t get on with the place simply because of previous experience and that if i returned on a good day, I’d have just that: a good day.

So when Sam Beaumont got in touch to revive an old arrangement of climbing and photography that never actually transpired, it seemed the perfect place to try. Plenty to try, all of it new (for me) and in a spectacular setting at the head of the valley above the brilliant Llyn Crafnant.

Well it seems that even then, Crafnant just doesn’t seem to do it for me. Granted, it was baking hot and following the steep walk in, we were literally dripping in sweat, our shirts drenched. Yet I can’t reasonably use that as an excuse; by the time we arrived, it was early evening and the crag was in shade with a pleasant breeze. Not perfect, yes, but perfectly adequate. But I still couldn’t find the right thing to truly inspire.

The bouldering in Crafnant is a talus field (words I feel I’ve said before on this site) and the landings really aren’t great. Sure, there are plenty of similar venues around here but they are equally difficult and often don’t inspire me. The fact is, they’re tricky places to boulder, especially alone.

Having Sam along did indeed reduce the usual concerns of ‘what if something goes wrong’ but with his primary focus on looking through the lens, there was little in the way of available spotter. Likewise, with Sam carrying in his camera equipment, the pads I had with me were limited at best. The few climbs I did try felt a bit sketchy.

That being said, I did manage three climbs, with progress on two more. Breakaway both the stand at 6b and the sit at 6c are superb lines, thoroughly recommended and Sam’s shots were brilliant.

My objective had been Grasswind 7b+ and I’d watched a little video beta and chatted to Ben Walley about it before I left. He’d suggested the lower moves weren’t that bad and that the top section had been harder for him. I found exactly the opposite. While I easily completed the move from the jug to the top on the first effort, the first move was nails and the second baffled me. Once I took the fall and almost found myself rolling down the hill, I decided I’d come back another day with more people and more pads.

We moved to the edge of the boulder field, where the landings are grass and not gaping holes, and I quickly repeated Chocolate Elephant 6b. I remember this feeling hard for the grade before but this time, seemed straightforward and enjoyable. Finally, I ducked into another hole for a blast on Candyfloss Sheep 7a. In fairness, it would’ve gone too if not for us getting chased away by the midge. A little penned in, it was definitely an enjoyable climb and yielded another outstanding photo from Sam.

A Rare RAC Tick

With a private session booked, I pondered for several days over where to go. Knowing my views well, when I told her my intended venue, I received a slightly mocking “Oh you’re going to RAC are you?” from Em, my partner.

It is true, I’m not a fan of the RAC Boulders. I feel they’re overused by local centres and instructors and act as a default venue for many inexperienced climbers. Very accessible and with plenty of amenable grades, people return time and again there, foresaking anywhere else. This time, it was exacrtly what we needed. For me to ignore that and go somewhere else, purely based on my personal attitudes towards the place would’ve been exactly the same as those who go over and over. It’s all about what’s best for the client.

It seems I made the right call (it seems I usually do). Both clients completed three sides of the Marshside Boulder, with one commenting in the middle of the session “This is great fun!” which was music to my ears. I even got to have a bit of a play while they were climbing too. What was unusual was that, after the recent hot weather, the marsh side of the lower boulder was actually dry (near enough at least) meaning the problems were actually possible for a change!

Without showing off, I quickly managed repeats of the 6a to the right and Marsh Dyno 6c, the direct version. I said at the time, whenever the ground there is dry enough to climb these, I’m usually somewhere else and not having done them for donkey’s years, the last time I managed them they felt nails. This time I was slightly embarrassed it took me three attempts to land the dyno; and that was only because I kept picking the wrong finishing hold.

After the session, I wandered back up and ticked off the 6a to the left of the dyno; a compression problem between a crack and arete. According to the guidebook, the sit goes at 6c, so I quickly ticked it off too. It was only once I got home that I read that the sit doesn’t include the left arete and instead goes directly up the crack…

Second Tries

I knew I had to go back so once I’d dropped the kids off with their mum at her work this afternoon, I went back. I took one pad, a single pair of shoes and a chalkbag; bouldering as it’s often described. It took one go.

Not wanting to repeat various climbs at RAC simply because I was there, I moved on. It must’ve looked quite weird to Stu McAleese, a friend of mine also there this afternoon, who had seen me turn up with the kids, stay twenty minutes, come back half an hour later and leave just as suddenly. But then I’m sure he understood. After all, I did try to explain as best I could and told him of my next destination.

Jack Pearce has been putting up new problems left, right and centre in North Wales. He’s been finding the new lines at new crags and squeezed in between existing ones. He’s been a breath of fresh air for the area and one that I’d seen him put up is Wind Power 7b near the Milestone Buttress. It grabbed my attention a while back and given it’s easy access, seemed a good option.

I’d watched his video at the Brenin before I set off but struggled to commit his sequence to memory and once there, had no phone signal to help. So it was back to the old school methods and just as I was making progress, the rain came.

Yet, with the wind direction, the route was actually sheltered quite nicely. I kept playing for a while before my bag and pads seemed like they may get saturated. The sky was looking ominous but the climb remained dry. I couldn’t fathom it out, or make a decision to stay or go. I started to pack up but changed my mind. I stood and stared at the sky, unable to figure out what was likely to happen. There were two layers of cloud: a light, white layer peppering the blue sky higher up; but a thick black one below it. Yet the black one seemed to be separating and I couldn’t fathom out what was likely to happen.

In the end I bailed. With work on conservatory happening tomorrow, if my pads had been soaked, there is nowhere to dry them. Then, after I left, at the end of the valley, it turned nice again. Oh well. I’ll certainly be back for this one.

A home for European bouldering reviews and info