Burgered and Broken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Motivations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do what you want

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

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

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

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

Time away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Back in the Swing Of Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding the Fight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing Goal: 8a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catching Up

Need to step it up a notch? Fine! No sooner had i published my last post that i headed back out to the Cromlech boulders and within three attempts, had finished off James Pond sds 7b+ (the proper version).

Then it all went quiet; not that I’m complaining! Shortly after my success and right in the middle of the hot spell, we had a visit from my fantastic Aunty Helen and my cousin Leejah. The last and only time I’d met Leejah to date was way back in 2011 when I visited Canada and it was amazing to see them both again. Helen has been a few times since and every time, I will quite happily drop everything for them.

Back on that trip, I spent two weeks staying with one of my best friends, Simon, who now lives in southern Sweden. He recently married and in a move of pure genius, the newlyweds devised a plan to reduce the environmental impact of any get together and instead embark on a tour to visit their friends – located all over the world – of which we were their latest stop. Sadly taking a second week off work wasn’t possible and while we did manage to get two sessions in, it would never be enough.

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I've been itching to check out the #slowmotion #video on my new #sony #xperia phone but to be honest, the quality is really poor compared to at normal speed. It also speeds up the footage that isn't slowed and Instagram then cropped it further. Things to work on methinks. However, two things: first from the #coaching of #rockclimbing point of view, this is super useful and gives a very different take on things. Probably not as good as #coachseye but certainly another option. Second, it gave me a chance to capture @simoncfr ticking off The Slopes at the #cromlechboulders in the #llanberisspass on his current visit. So great to catch up with an old friend! #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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Still, a first session back at the cromlech again, with time for walking in and bouldering restricted somewhat, turned out to be a lovely evening, with Simon getting shut down once more on The Edge Problem 7a and ticking a few nice dynamic problems before toiling on James Pond 7a. The daft thing is i’ve seen him climb much harder elsewhere but these two are both very particular climbs.

The second session saw us back at Caseg Ffraith, this time with little Rosie in tow. The crag has history with us and many years ago, when he lived in the area, we were here one evening when the weather turned on us in spectacular fashion. We hurriedly buried all our kit under the roof as the raindrops slapped the floor. We stood, trapped by the immense deluge, and listened to the thunder echo across the valley, from one mountain to the other. It was incredible to witness and to be honest, we could’ve quite happily waited it out and enjoyed the spectacle if it wasn’t that the rain began to creep down the roof and the curtain falling in front of us slowly edged further and further into the cave…

As we inched our kit further and further into the cave, slowly accepting the fact we were destined for a soaking, we looked up to see two people beckoning us into the hut a mere thirty yards away. This may sound dramatic but to explain how heavy this rain was, that thirty yards drenched us from head to foot. And we were running.

This time we had no such issues and enjoyed a pleasant evening in mild heat and intermittent sunshine. Rosie was a dream and Simon worked Boneyard 7b+ just as he had done all those years before.

A great friend and my daughter, taking by his fantastic wife and with the glorious Tryfan watching over them in the background. Photo credit: Kim Nicholas. Insane expression credit: Simon Rose

Success again wasn’t forthcoming but that didn’t matter – not for me at least. The last time i even saw Simon was at Arlanda airport in Sweden in June 2016 so for me, the trip had been as much about catching up and drinking beer as about any climbing, not to mention revelling in the chance to chat climate change and other politics with Kim. For him, i’m sure he would’ve liked to climb more (so would i, to be honest) but i hope it was nice for him to be back in North Wales again.

There was talk of a plotted return next year. I can’t wait.

Now that our visits are done and life returns to normal, I can turn my attention to the latest plan. I’ve always been poor at training; I know my weaknesses but have typically lacked the discipline to do anything about them. The only times I’ve managed to train have been with a particular project in mind. So the obvious step is to put a project in mind.

But that will have to wait for the next post…

 

Leaving Germany As the Germans Come Home

Our departure from Germany coincided almost exactly with the German’s premature exit from the World Cup. While they are not exactly known as the type of nation who would begin looting and rioting after such a disastrous campaign in their national sport, and we certainly saw nothing to think that may be the case while we were there, it did feel a good time to be leaving.

From where we left off in the last post, we got back to the campsite from our shopping spree, undecided on what to do for our afternoon. With our departure from Garmisch set for the following day, there was some debate on what we’d squeeze in before biting off a chunk of the long drive north. Em was keen to explore one of the gorges in the area but after a lot of talking, she kindly offered to skip it in favour of a few hours of climbing at a crag called Vils; just off the road on the way home. Apparently i owe her one day visiting a German gorge but i’m sure i’ll work on paying her back some point soon.

So our last afternoon was spent on the site, relaxing and packing to make the most out of our Tuesday. It was odd to be in such a stunning place and not trying to get out or get anything of note done but in truth, having a laid back approach to the afternoon was thoroughly enjoyable and made the following morning substantially nicer.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Vils from the guidebook – featuring as a lone crag in the Alpen en Bloc guides but being a section in my newly acquired Allgau book, and located in Austria, giving Em a new country to tick off. The walk in was certainly pleasant enough but it was pretty obvious this was more of a local’s crag, overgrown and mossy. Still, the main lines were clean enough and finding the lines was not particularly difficult.

Neither was the climbing if i’m honest and after a couple of token-gesture warm ups, i managed to flash Soul Rebel sds 7a – my third flash of that grade in recent weeks. Chuffed but suddenly lacking inspiration, Em suggested the 7a+ traverse to finish on the same line and after a little work and some thought as to the moves through the middle, the traverse quickly fell too.

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Back from #germany now and we actually managed a short period in #austria too, at a small crag in #alpenenbloc called #vils. Granted it wasn't exactly the type of place you could wax poetic about but it was another new #crag which is always good. I didn't manage much but found the three #climbs I often tell students to look for: one you get relatively easily, one you have to work for and one just outside your limit. This is the crux on the first of those: another 7a flash; the third in recent weeks at that grade. All three were surprisingly good! #alps #alpine #alpinebouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #rockclimbing #grimpeur #klettern #escalade #escalada #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion Photo credit to @emks93

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So now, my Top Ten Yearly Average reads four 7a climbs, three at 7a+ and three at 7b, averaging out at 7a+ quite nicely. It could’ve included another 7a+ too but in good form, i found a challenge problem that i was forced to leave behind. Hanuman just proved a touch too far. It has meant i now have to up my game, as ticking off more 7a won’t cut it and even four more 7a+ won’t affect the average grade. No, i now need to be ticking off 7b or higher but that is certainly no bad thing.

After the experience of Vils, we got back in the car, destined for, well, we didn’t know where. The car had been repacked and the plan was certainly to sleep in there somewhere nice and quiet for the night but as we approached Mannheim, and studied the map, we realised that the best route was to get off the famed autobahns and get on the a-roads. As we trundled cross country, i suggested finding a campsite instead and after a tiny bit of googling, we found a site on the edge of a town called Annweiler and right underneath a castle at Berg Trifels.

Our last night was pleasant, albeit ludicrously hot yet again (what did we expect once we were around a world-famous wine producing area?) and with time on our side, we walked from the site straight up the hill to check out the castle.

It was a slog but hidden in a beautiful forest, was quite cool and emerged to offer us a spectacular view and a quaint and oddly busy castle. I didn’t deliver a gorge but we did find a German castle.

There is no way you’d randomly search for the Berg Trifels, or come across this sleepy little venue but it was a nice little find and a testimony to this sort of travel. It’s something i’ve done since we travelled Europe in my childhood: taking the smaller routes and stopping when we find something cool. Granted the Berg Trifels may not make the UNESCO list (it might, i’ve no idea, haven’t checked) but coming across it certainly felt like a little win and gave our trip something different.

I’ve always loved this and love finding the smaller places – it is something that climbing trips offer. We would almost definitely not have gone to Odenwald if not for a guidebook i’d bought many years previously and yet it was a fantastic place and will certainly get a repeat visit. Sometimes the gems of the world are, perhaps, best when just stumbled across.

A Birthday to Remember

So we now find ourselves south; higher,  wetter and older than we were before. Well, i am anyway.

We currently nestle in the Alpine town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen at the base of the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak, hunkered down in the tent listening to the rain fall on the fabric above. There is not an established boulder problem that i know of for at least an hour from here.

What there is is terrific scenery, some amazing walking and a lake so clear and blue it’s like it was drawn by Disney. The town itself is remarkable too, with an awesome arrray of murals decorating the buildings that again have come straight out of the Stereotypes of Germany Handbook. It’s very quaint, it’s very Alpine and it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

We arrived on Friday, after what turned out to be a ludicrously long drive from Bensheim, suddenly in awe of the spectacular mountain vista in front of us. I’ve seen the Alps many times now but never have they snuck up and slapped me in the face like they did coming from Germany. Don’t ask me why but for some reason, one minute it was flat farmland, the next there’s an imposing lump of rock towering in the sky above.

Even once in Garmisch and on the campsite, the view of the fierce mountain ridge above us was enough to keep us occupied while we pitched the tent, cooked and ate German sausage with pasta and stuff.

Saturday was my birthday and quite a memorable one. Anyone who knows me, or indeed has seen me in passing any May for the last nine years, will know of the Birthday Tradition: spend my birthday in a different country every year. It is to Em’s enormous credit that i am able to count Germany as number nine – yeah, nine years, nine countries! – and as such, i thought i’d make it count.

We’ve been together for a little over two years now, have a daughter approaching 18 months and a bump that is due to pop in October. We’re pretty settled but still only really fall into the boyfriend/girlfriend category.

So, after a slightly disastrous attempt to head up on the cable car, where i was struck by the sheer exposure and we headed straight back down again, we went for a valley walk, found a clearing and i “popped the question”. We are now, officially, engaged.

That evening we headed into town, not quite the romantic evening you would expect after a successful proposal but instead a burger at an awesome pub in Garmisch called Shaka. Yes, we accidentally ate each other’s food but both agreed it was delicious anyway. Another sure sign it was meant to be.

With nothing better to do, we stayed for the evening, watching Sweden almost pip the Germans to a win at the world cup, surrounded by vocal and ardent German supporters (unsurprisingly). Two years ago, we were in France and watched them play Iceland in similar circumstances. It really is fascinating to watch the locals support their own team.

Sunday was equally beautiful and so we headed for a touristy trek around Lake Eibsee that was, in all honesty and despite the throngs of middle aged German tourists, also thoroughly enjoyable. The Lake is stunning, the views straight up to the Zugspitze and surrounding mountains amazing, and the walk itself just about the right length to be a decent work out but not exhausting. It really was another lovely day.

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Sun's out, bumps out 😎☀️

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The one thing we hadn’t accounted for was the German attitude to Sundays, which turns out to be decidedly more French than English; that is to say everywhere was closed, including the supermarkets. And we had no food. Oh well, good excuse for another evening out and the Italian restaurant Celentano – Cucina Italiana was excellent and very reasonably priced. The calzone was delicious, you should go there if you’re in town.

Alas, the rain was always forecast to hit us at some point and this morning we woke to the pitter patter of water falling onto canvas. We’d been keen to head into town anyway, to collect some souvenirs and other gifts as well as to check out the local climbing shop for local beta and possibly a guidebook not available back home.

The guy in Bersportgeschaft Alpinsport was wonderfully helpful and confirmed my suspicions of German attitudes to bouldering guidebooks: they do not like them. His quote was beautiful:

We do not want the guys from Munich to come down here and shit in the woods.

Possibly over simplified, i know what he means, and it’s not as if there aren’t an abundance of other amazing options around here. Still, it is a bit shit for many of us, who would love to spend more time in the area but lack the focal point to bring us in and in fairness, he was certainly empathetic. He offered the local climbing gym and a bit of local info and, much as in the Rockstore in Frankenjura, i got the feeling he was actually on my side. Nevertheless, no guidebook, no established bouldering. Not yet at least.

If you are German and are reading this, please think carefully about this situation. Yes, guidebooks do bring people into an already saturated area but with them, they bring their earnings from elsewhere. That is how tourism works. This is abundantly clear given the amount of tourists already here but with a guidebook, you can help to herd said tourists and educate them that there are local toilets and no need to “shit in the woods”.

Secondly, as i say, a guidebook can help to control people in the area. Many boulderers will come regardless and without any information, run the risk of wandering aimlessly and ending up where you don’t want them.

I sense i’m preaching to the converted here but i also sense it’s only a matter of time. The Alpen en Bloc guides grow substantially with every reprint and sooner or later, someone will put up a stack of lines and begin to document it – that’s what happens. There isn’t really a big boulder field and perhaps that is why it hasn’t happened yet but for anyone willing to search and shuffle their pad from bloc to bloc and keen for some first ascents would benefit from a trip to the area.

German Granite

Apparently, there is such a thing as a “Baby Moon” – a getaway before the arrival of a new baby – and without having any real knowledge of the term, or indeed seeing any need for it to have its own phrase, this is what I now find myself on. With Rosie in Worcester and Tess in Wales, I woke this morning, just me and Em… and an inordinate amount of sweat.

We’re in Odenwald: a seemingly little known area to the east of Mannheim with enough bouldering to have its own guidebook; a book I picked up in 2013 on my last prolonged trip to this country and the Frankenjura. A little delayed, with yesterday’s travels taking 8 hours from Calais and thus losing a day to explore, it seems I failed to heed the lessons (at least some of them) from five years ago: namely that Germany in June is hot. Fucking hot.

On a stop in Luxembourg yesterday, the famous watch thermometer came out and was rested on a bench. Last time I was here I recorded 40C heat and have questioned whether that could actually be true since but again yesterday, watch resting in the sun on a bench, it tipped over 40. Five minutes laid on the bonnet and it was reading upward of 50C.

Obviously the air temperature isn’t that high – even if we weren’t dead, the laptop wouldn’t be working – but it does give an idea. Odenwald was never the destination for the entire trip, this is a stop-over and a scouting mission to see if the climbing here is worth a cooler visit but nevertheless, the idea of climbing in this weather is ludicrous. I will, no doubt, but any goals with any grades are largely out of a window that even at 70mph yesterday, blew warm air at us.

The area certainly seems lovely. We’re staying on a campsite that I’m struggling to describe: urban, lacking even a reception – there’s a number on the wall to call when you arrive – and covered in caravans possibly older than my better half. Still, it has showers (a godsend) toilets and a flat grass pitch and the proprietor seems friendly and accommodating. It isn’t “glamping” but it is a pitch with nice people; just what camping used to be.

So today has been a climbing day; down to the one pad as there is no need to make my pregnant partner carry unnecessary weight on what turned out to be an awful lot of walking uphill! The majority of the guidebook is dedicated to a crag called Felsenmeer so that seemed a sensible place to head and it turned out to be a very good shout. Granite (I think) boulders of great quality and plenty of them in a fascinating and serene setting hosted what turned out to be an awesome session, including at least ten ascents.

We found the parking easily and got out to find ourselves at a bit of a nature walk, the information point’s window greeting us with some stuffed animals. With nothing else to guide me – beta on Odenwald bouldering is scant at best online – I’d opted to try one of the nearest sectors to our parking: Sector F and head for the Kanterblock.

We wandered in the right direction, found a couple of climbs to start with and got a nice video of Dyno-Varianten 6b+ before failing on Rechte Kante 6c and barely getting off the floor on the project line next to it. Despite a longer search for the Kanterblock while Em napped on the pad, it was not to be and we headed up the hill further to the sanctuary of the Kiosk and further adventures.

As we approached, the rain began to fall and a glassy sheen appearing on the blocs indicated day over; or so I thought. We sat, chatted and chilled as the rain stopped and we realised that it wasn’t actually that bad, the canopy of trees had sheltered the rock from the rainfall.

I’m very glad we waited, too, as even just a good look around went to show quite how much there is to do here. There are classics in abundance, including Dyno Direkt 6a+ on the Rampe boulder and Diskus 6a+ to name but two that I completed on a great bouldering day. I even got my coveted 7 tick with Leistenterror 7a on the second attempt.

Most importantly I found out exactly what I wanted: this is one good crag. Granted a dedicated trip from 14 hours away may not be worth the effort but for anyone heading from the low countries to the Alps, Odenwald makes a fantastic stop off on the way. Watch out for the destinations page, coming soon.

Tomorrow we pack up and head south, destined for Garmisch-Partenkirchen. From what I can gather, it’s a bit of a climber’s town, akin to Hathersage or Arco but only time will tell. Nearby bouldering is scant, again from what I can tell, but with Lake Eibsee, the Partnach gorge and the famous Zugspitze, we’ve got plenty on the agenda, and we’re still in the Alps. The latest copies of the Alpen en Bloc guides sit above the front seats of the car so we’ll have to wait and see.

For now though, with temperatures much more amenable in the mid-teens, it’s time to reflect on a thoroughly enjoyable day. Baby moon or climbing trip, it doesn’t really matter, as I sit peacefully, typing under a gazebo, watching the trees sway gently under the glow of the half-moon resting nicely in the sky.

 

Apologies for the lack of photos – i’m using my phone to publish this so data allowance is a consideration. They will be forthcoming soon. 

Presently Looking to the Future

I wasn’t expecting to post any time soon but when there’s a session like my last one, i’d be foolish not to document it. I keep prattling on about the heatwave of late and i truly got the chance to reap the benefits, at the Cromlech boulders no less. After nearly a ten year wait, the landing under James Pond at the famous roadside boulders was finally dry.

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

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Granted, it’s not really been ten years and i’m sure it’s been dry in that period; it just didn’t happen to fall right for me or i didn’t end up there. Either way though, it is NOT common, being the lowest part of ground following the run off from the Glyderau high above. Now, finally, with a dog free evening and not a huge amount of free time, was my chance.

I took it with open arms and a grateful smile. A repeat of Moose’s Problem 5c/6a and the sit start at 6b+ were a great place to start, being so fun the first time around. After that, The Slopes 6b proved to be significantly better than i’d first thought, before heading into the cave proper.

After all this time, i was a little sad to flash James Pond 7a, although after my send of Cross Fader the other day, it did help to flash another at the same grade. At least it wasn’t soft! Bog Traverse 6b+ also put up little resistance and was excellent, before a first attempt at linking them with Bog Pond 7a+. Shocked by the success, it did mean i could get my teeth into the James Pond sit start either at 7b/+ or a little lower giving 7b+ proper. The former was done on the third attempt, the latter left for another day once the midge descended…

I’m not sure if it was this session, the recent spate of outdoor ticks or seeing my Top Ten Yearly Average creep up yet again, but something has lit a fire under my backside. I’ve never been one for training very well, lacking the mental discipline. Now, it has dawned on me that the only time i’ve been able to knuckle down and train is for a specific problem. So i’ve come up with a plan.

Goal: 8a. With a small ream of A3 paper and a pen – only one colour for a change – i’ve written not only the new list (photo on instagram imminent) but also five steps to achieving the next magic grade. My logbook shows two 7c+ after Love Pie was upgraded in the New Testament and that extra little bit of number has spurred me on. To climb 8a given my track record, experience and past would be good. to do it with two young children would be mighty impressive.

I’ve listed eleven of them to start with; next step is to scout them out and slowly whittle the selection down to one. Watch this space.

In the meantime, despite a dry evening, i’m heading for the Indy. It’s the first time i’ve been since they dismantled and rebuilt the famous central boulder and to be honest, i’m itching to see what it’s like now.

Any time i pass up an outdoor session in favour of an indoor one, i question what the fuck i’m doing but i think sometimes it is a sensible thing to do. This morning it rained solidly for five or siix hours, and it would be worthwhile to go and get 8a advise from some strong boys who’ve actually gone and done it.

Moreover, the Indy isn’t just a local climbing wall, it’s a local hub for boulderers, wads and general climby types and to be honest, i have missed it. Justified or otherwise, sometimes it’s important to forget what you should be doing and just do what you want to. The list of projects will still be there.

With Germany in jeopardy – the trip, i’m sure the country is fine – in could be timely to be thinking of things a little closer to home. I wouldn’t like to say that i’ve never been so close to the departure date while still not being 100% sure we’re even going but i certainly haven’t been in this situation often and definitely am not enjoying it. The Land Rover, which was to be transporting us, is still suffering mechanical problems and is out as an option and Em’s Berlingo isn’t filling me with masses of hope.

Only time will tell if all goes ahead and on schedule. Not a lot of time either: at time of writing, we leave home in about two days.

We have been discussing backup plans and a city break is on the cards, although i mentioned to Em that i’d be loathe to chose somewhere i’d later want to go for a June climbing trip. Nevertheless, the Iceland football team has really inspired me and i’m now itching to go. Perhaps a last minute change is possible but i’d rather collect up some strong lads and head over with a bit of a crew. June would be ideal and from what i’ve read, might be a good time to try.

With the present looking uncertain, perhaps focusing on the future could brighten my spirits. Who knows. I just hope when i look back on this year, wherever we head that there will be just reason for it to be remembered in many years to come.

Link to awesome Iceland bouldering article: here.

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