Bookended By Lakes

Back in July, free from parental duties for a week, i took a long weekend up to the Lakes (see posts here, here and here). It seemed pretty obvious at the time that it wasn’t going to be a big-tick kinda trip and while it was just the tonic for my beleagured soul, it made me realise i needed a break.

I’ll discuss this more in my next post (so please subscribe to the blog to catch the latest updates) but suffice it to say i needed to stop for a while. I buried myself in woodwork projects, took on a couple of mammoth household jobs and generally enjoyed not having the self-imposed pressure to perform. The psyche was slowly returning as we saw out August and the country slowly came to grips with the pandemic but life was getting in the way and i couldn’t manage to find that time to get out again; things kept popping up and getting in the way.

Then, last weekend, we had a family trip booked to the Lake District, of all place. In recent trips, i’ve based either the family or just myself further North towards Keswick, this jaunt was to be out of the National Trust campsite in Great Langdale. It is a site i know incredibly well, albeit not one i’ve been to for a long time. This was where i would spend my Wednesday nights during my undergraduate degree in Lancaster and the Langdale boulders were my common haunt.

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

On relaying this to my brother-in-law James on the drive to the boulders, he apologised, saying he didn’t realise, possibly thinking i’d rather go somewhere new. I hadn’t meant it as a criticism in the slightest and was really looking forward to heading back to my most visited venue during those formative years.

Much of my recent Lakeland adventures (those over the past couple of years) have seen me exorcising demons from those years of youthful naivety and this was another example; having a good session, being strong now and willing to try any of the climbs therewithout a fear of the grade. More importantly, though, it seemed an apt finish to my summer break away from the rock.

We started on the lower block, warming up and getting some mileage in, flashing a few easier lines and completely honestly, i didn’t remember a single move. I barely remembered where the climbs went and spent as much time scouring the guidebook as i would at any crag i’ve not visited before. As such, while i may well have climbed these lines way back when, i’ve classed them as a flash for the records, as they were effectively completely fresh for me.

The main event at the Langdale Boulders is definitely the upper block though and it was here that we were both keen to have a blast. James was far more keen than myself, content with having a short break and watching him enjoy himself on The Crack 5+ that i really felt no need to repeat as i was certain i’d climbed it a very long time ago. The Overhang 6c+ though was a different prospect. I’m pretty sure i have done it but nothing came back to me. So i tried it again.

James had already shuffled the pads and had a couple of attempts so the starting beta was there ready and waiting. I’d even watched him up to his crux move and figured out the top he’d not reached yet. Sure enough, my coach’s eye proved effective and soon enough, i’d cruised through the lower section and had one move left to slap the top. In that common way that boulderers tend to do, i forsook the technique that had got me that far, leapt for the slopey top and latched it successfully. Then immediately regretted it.

Had it not been my flash attempt, i think i’d probably have reversed a move or two and dropped off. With my body flat against the rock and my feet seemingly stuck under the overhang, i did the only thing i could think of at the time and tried a high heel on top of the boulder. However i couldn’t swing my feet up against the friction of my body on the rock and it ended up as a marginal toe hook… Now horizontal high up on the face, i managed to stay out of my own head enough to match feet (so now all four limbs horizontal on the top of this high boulder!) and switch to a heel, much to the wide eyed amazement of James underneath me. Eventually i clambered my way over the lip and stood on the top, shaking and glad it was all over.

Not that it stopped us and James valiantly kept on at the stand start, fighting through the nerves that prevented him from committing to the higher and trickier moves. Meanwhile, i tried to link the super-comfy sitting start into the vein-busting stand start. Eventually, after much grunting and effort, we moved on.

The Pocket 6c+ seemed to be the polar opposite to The Overhang. Less strenuous, possibly more technical and scary but on the way up the face, rather than the top which was (apparently) much easier. While i succeeded on the first climb, here it was James and his trad head that came good. The technical starting moves are knacky but not too bad but the crux is simply committing to standing up straight on the starting hand hold. Half way through this move, there’s a little voice that appears in your head to say “this is the point it feels really high, you know?”. Where James was able to overcome this and finish it off, a send eluded me. Meh, i’ve probably done it before anyway (he says, tongue in cheek).

Back To It

And so, where my climbing had ended in the Lakes at Sampson’s Stones, it has now begun again a few short miles away. The temperatures have now dropped, our new routine is settling down and i’m hoping this is the start of some good sends.

I will have a closer look at that summer in my next post and will hopefully look at writing an article on the topic of coming back to climbing after time away in the near future. When posting the question on several Facebook groups, i was inundated with responses and so have a stack of data to trawl through. Again, keep an eye on the site for more details in the future. Now if you’ll excuse me, i have to get ready. I’m going out bouldering again.

Reflections of Climbing’s Olympic Debut

The phrase “climbing makes it’s Olympic debut” has been getting up there with others such as “unprecedented times” so far in 2021, such has been the clamour over this addition to the Olympic roster; and rightly so. Olympic climbing has been a long time coming, has been hugely anticipated by many but also derided in some quarters. Now, after a one-year delay due to coronavirus, in the first week in August in Tokyo, the very first climbers took their place to challenge for the very first gold medal for the sport.

Yet, it’s not been entirely plain sailing. Setting aside the fact that many traditionalist climbers do not agree with the sportification and olympification (these are genuine academic terms for a non-typical sport being adapted for a sporting competition and to becoming an Olympic sport, such as has already occurred with other adventure sports such as snowboarding and kayaking) of climbing and many comments on social media have been to simply reference trad climbing, there has been strong criticism from competition climbers alike. Two famous quotes floating around have come from Shauna Coxsey (“like asking Usain Bolt to run a marathon and then do the hurdles”) and Adam Ondra (“anything would be better than this combination”) and there were many more in the lead up.

But has that been the only take home? Has climbing been well received? We already know it is set for inclusion in Paris 2024 (more on that below) but how has climbing’s bow on the greatest sporting stage gone?

The Competition

First let’s start off with the simple bit: what actually took place. After all, as eluded to above, many climbers are not accustomed to competition climbing and may not have actually watched this competition. So let’s run through the format, the competitors and the eventual winners.

Forty athletes from around the world competed in Tokyo 2020; twenty male and twenty female. As was discussed at length before the competition kicked off, it was a combined format where all competitors were required to compete in all three disciplines on display: speed, bouldering and lead. More on that in a minute.

The forty climbers all took part in qualifying with the top 8 going through to the final two days later. Men’s qualifying was first on the Tuesday, women’s qualifying the day after on Wednesday before men’s finals on Thursday and women’s finals on Friday. What was particularly interesting was with Bassa Mawam. Bassa tore a bicep muscle on the lead climbing qualifying and while he made it through to the finals, was forced to pull out with injury. However, instead of allowing Alex Megos (German superstar outdoor lead climber who finished 9th) through in his place, the men’s finals instead only had seven participants. Given the scoring system in use (again, more on that in a minute) it seemed an odd move.

There were other subtle differences between qualifying and finals. With the variance in the number of competitors, qualifying for bouldering consisted of multiple climbers attempting their respective problems while the finals saw one on the stage at a time; something few seem to have commented on so I’m unsure which was preferable, although to the best of my knowledge, this is normal for competition climbing. While the lead contest was consistent across the week, it was the speed contest (yet again) that proved controversial.

Speed in qualifying rewarded those with the fastest times. In the finals, it was a straight race between two at a time, becoming effectively a round robin with quarters, semis and a round-final with a repechage to determine places 5-8. That meant a simple slip – of the many that happened with non-speed specialists – could have drastic consequences to the eventual podium placings.

For each discipline, climbers were ranked 1-7/8. Then, their scores were multiplied together to give a total; lowest takes the prize. And therein lies one of the biggest complaints.

Results table for Sports Climbing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Those placing first in any discipline are shown in bold

Analysis

One thing is for sure: Olympic climbing certainly saw it’s fair share of coverage. From featuring heavily on the BBC Sport page and other pages on the Guardian, climbing also saw coverage and analysis from America, Australia, India, Japan and France, to name a few. And of course, coverage was extensive across the climbing media. Across both climbers and non-climbers, there were indeed some common themes.

The Scoring System

The scoring system proved to be one of the biggest talking points. Climbers derided it as not giving a true representation of the best climber, many people simply claimed it was far too complicated and even those that liked it commented heavily.

Ironically in the men’s category, given that the format was designed “to find an all-round winner” (see i Newspaper issue 3,340) the scoring system actually ended up favouring the specialists: all three medalists won one of their disciplines as you can see from the Table above. The women’s was less so, although Garnbret’s dominance (winning two disciplines outright) changes the maths substantially. Nevertheless, the scoring meant that any climber who won a discipline was effectively multiplying two numbers instead of three. This is highlighted by Noguchi landing the same score as Miroslaw who claimed a world record speed ascent before finishing last in the other two disciplines.

Every commentary i checked commented on how ineffective the scoring system was. Facebook group threads were awash with criticism of it. And there has been substantial talk regarding Adam Ondra’s distinct lack of podium while being widely regarded as the best climber in the world; almost along the ‘bees can’t fly argument‘. Ondra is the best and finished sixth, so the system must be wrong, or so the argument goes. And much of this comes back to the complaints over Speed climbing.

Speed Climbing the Big Evil?

Immediately once the decision to include sport climbing in the Olympics was announced, there was fervant criticism to have one overall medal for all three disciplines and much of this focused on Speed climbing. Petr Klofac voiced a popular opinion stating “it’s not real climbing” and much commentary since the Olympics – both in the climbing and mainstream media – has agreed that Speed is too different to be included alongside bouldering and lead.

However attitudes towards this honesly popular discipline have been mixed. The decision to only have one set of medals available aside, some climbers are starting to come around to the idea of speed climbing, such as this piece from Climbing magazine in the States. Burgman raises some excellent points that this author has been saying for some time: speed is the oldest competitive discipline dating back to the Soviets in the 1930s; speed ascents on the Nose or the Eiger get massive attention with climbers; it is still actually climbing. The fact is though, for many climbers, speed climbing is the ultimate in sportification, and for those with an academic bent, is the ultimate in the application of Darbon’s systeme sportif into a hitherto adventure sport and that rubs against the grain.

The real travesty vis a vis speed climbing actually comes from before the qualifying round. With athletes needing to be proficient and to qualify across all three disciplines, there was no Olympic place for Iranian speed specialist Reza Alipourshena for example (see Reel Rock 13, episode Up To Speed). While much has been made that speed has stumped many of the major forces in bouldering and lead, the combined format worked both ways and robbed us of the chance to see holders of world records compete on the world’s greatest sporting stage.

It is impossible to deny it is the speed discipline that gained the most traction amongst non-climbers. It is by far the easiest for non-climbers to comprehend, being a race like so much of the rest of the Olympics and despite Australian sports news stating the race “was over as quickly as it started” (hard to deny, surely being the quickest Olympic record out there at sub-6 seconds), received the most exposure on BBC Sport, was the only world record available and achieved quotes such as “What’s not to likeabout spider-people scampering up a 15-metre wall in twos as fast as possible?” (i newspaper, number 3,340). The one constant through all of this: the format did not work.

The Controversial Format

This was the major talking point in the lead up. I’ve mentioned it above but it almost became overbearing in the years leading up to the Olympics among anyone in the discussion: Speed should be separate. This point has been made abundantly clear.

What we’ve now seen is the mainstream media and anyone else watching saying the same. Speed climbing remains divisive, the Marmite of disciplines, and should be left separate. However, here we need some more context. The IOC only offered one set of medals per gender for Tokyo and so the IFSC decided to take it, not wanting to ignore the established speed climbing competitions. The idea was “primarily to establish climbing and it’s three disciplines as Olympic sports; changes to the format could follow later” (see Wikipedia, Sport Climbing at the 2020 Summer Olympics).

The fact is that the changes had already been agreed before Tokyo. Climbing had already been announced for Paris 2024 back in December 2020 with the IOC stating that they were offering a second set of medals to each gender, as can clearly be seen here on page 4. The fact that both climbers and non-climbers alike said exactly the same thing that both the IOC and IFSC had already agreed to change actually vindicated everyone.

The IOC were always going to be hesitant to throw too much in too soon. But the way it has all played out, everything is starting to come together.

Indoor Climbing

Of course, climbing’s profile has been growing in recent years anyway. Climbers feature more in advertising, on I’m a Celebrity and such programmes, or featured in newspapers as potential activities for people to try. A climbing film even won an Oscar.

Names such as Alex Honnold have become true celebrities in their own right but what has been interesting over these two weeks is how little his name has actually come up. In recent years, to tell someone that you’re a climber has been to endure instant questions about Honnold and Free Soloing (a term even many climbers can’t explain properly). The Olympics has presented a new crop of names and while their exploits are equally as superhuman as Honnold or Tommy Caldwell, they are infitely more accessible to anyone who wishes to try the sport.

Free Soloing the Nose is something that no-one will ever attempt, save for a handful of experts. Climbing on an artificial wall though, is something nearly everyone in the UK can do within an hour of their home. Yes, the grades and times may be wildly different but replicas of the exact Olympic speed route abound aplenty and anyone can have a go themselves. Many traditionalists fear Olympic climbing may seem the crags overwhelmed but it may be more likely that this new breed of climber remains indoors in the setting to which they recognise. More climbers on more climbing spaces all seeing the collaborative and ethical nature of climbing; a true legacy indeed.

Verdict

It is difficult to truly assess how well climbing has done from my little desk here in North Wales as our extensive coverage is primarily dominated by sports with involvement by British athletes (fair enough really). Given Shauna Coxsey failed to make the finals, and with no male counterpart, other sports were always going to dominate such as skateboarding with Sky Brown. Plus of course there are my own biases to seek out climbing over other sports; i only caught the beach volleyball, which i love, on the penultimate day and have missed many sports over the past fortnight. I’ve had to spend a lot of time searching foreign news sites to see how much has been covered abroad.

However, with that being said, the coverage of climbing in the UK has been extensive, British involvement or not. Traditionalists aside, who were never going to be happy one way or the other, climbing has been a big hit overall. Various decisions on format, for example, may have been criticised but have effectively been vindicated. Overall, Olympic climbing has proven a great success.

There is still need to be cautious. While climbing is scheduled for Paris 2024, it is still an exhibition sport and not technically part of the full roster of sports just yet. But just as the IFSC wanted it’s foot in the door, now they’re sneaking their way in. With Los Angeles 2028 and Brisbane 2032 already confirmed as hosts, we can only hope that we continue to see climbing come back time and again and if it does, the teething problems of this first games will soon become distant memories of stepping stones to truly great things; not only of shiny medals but of a more inclusive and diverse set of participants. The Olympic finals already look more diverse than your average weekend at Stanage, not to mention the equal interest placed on both the men’s and women’s categories, and with climbing showcased to a significantly wider audience – as well as indoor climbing becoming an end in itself rather than a means to an end as it has previously been viewed – Olympic climbing could well be the point where our sport really becomes one for everybody.

Finally a huge congratulations to all 40 climbers who featured in Tokyo and of course to all medalists. Thank you all for a fantastic spectacle and for being true ambassadors of our great pastime in all it’s guises.

Leaving a Little in the Tank

Ironically, I think if I hadn’t been meeting a friend, John Kettle, on Monday, I don’t think I’d have come home early from my Lakes trip. I’ve had many solo trips in the past and while I always prefer company, I am more than happy with the idea of being out at the crag on my own. Yet, I think having company for three days – coupled with the poor climbing conditions discussed at length in my last post – made me feel that the extra day wasn’t entirely necessary, that I wouldn’t be gaining enough from it to be better than a recovery day at home and that I’d rather spend that spare day with my partner instead.

Yet despite waking peacefully in my own bed on Tuesday, feeling fairly broken and drained and immediately telling myself that coming back was the right call, that decision still sits a little uneasy. It just goes to show how deep the ideology of “making the most” runs in my mind. It had been years since I’d spent this long in the North West, and longer still since I’d been there with the freedom to climb without constraints, so this was a rare opportunity; a typical example of the type of trip I would ordinarily want to stretch to it’s maximum. Still, there I was, another glorious day, at home with no plans to climb.

Does this show a change in my mentality? A shift in the way I view my time? A growing maturity, as John described it? Or is it that I’m coming to terms with the idea that big, foreign adventures are likely now off the table for the foreseeable and trips like this may become more frequent, meaning I can become more selective over the time I spend there? Perhaps in this case, I had exhausted this opportunity for everything i was likely to get. After all, this was a fantastic weekend.

Proper Mountain Bouldering

Back when we were planning this trip, I knew I could take four days away but Jay could only afford two and so I got in touch with John Kettle to see if he was keen for a days play. I’d only met John in person once before but we’d chatted quite a bit since via various social media channels – welcome to the modern world eh? – and he was keen for a meet up. Monday it was.

Over the weekend, we’d sent a few messages, with John suggesting a couple of venue choices, specifically quite high up to catch the cooler temperatures. The plan in the end: Sampson’s Stones, high up in Eskdale. I’d heard of it before and it sounded like a stunning setting. Turns out it was a stunning setting.

After a long walk in that didn’t feel very long with the conversation in full flow, we arrived in an almost deserted mountain valley with a small cluster of excellent quality boulders underneath some immense and scenic crags. In truth, it was very similar to bring back home, somewhere such as Cwm Dyli on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon to use the more well known name) but it was different and that was what I both wanted and needed.

I do feel a little bad that I wasn’t more enthused but by this point, I was exhausted simply being outside for three days and had largely given up on the idea of getting up anything even vaguely hard. Still, I hope I didn’t short change John and that he doesn’t mind too much. Hopefully soon I can return for a proper performance day and we can project something challenging.

It’s hard to believe given the accomplishments of my past but I did step up the standard for that last day, albeit only to 6c+ and not into the 7s which is what I think we were both hoping for. John did complete a 7a and a 7a+ but it was mainly mileage and experience in the end and we pottered around mainly flashing climbs that took our fancy. I think John managed around ten climbs, with me being about eight by the finish to right double my tally for the trip.

We both finished off trying one last climb: a brutal 7c roof called The Ergosphere. Starting on a good hold at the back of the roof, we took some time to work through the sequence, reaching out to crimps before some desperate and clever footwork to try and prevent dabbing on the all-too-nearby floor. It actually went very well, with both of us getting surprisingly far, even if neither of us completed the climb.

Perhaps that was why those nagging doubts continued even once I’d returned home. 7c was ambitious from before I left home but suddenly, completing a grade-7 seemed possible. Maybe if i’d stayed that extra day, bounced between crags on the way home as was my original plan, i’d have achieved something. But maybe i was right to call time and come back instead. As the old phrase goes, it’s the hope that kills you and as long as there’s a chance, i think i’ll always feel i should just keep trying to climb as hard as i can. And maybe that’s no bad thing. After all, that one hard send, that one landmark send was all that was missing from this fantastic weekend in which i already managed so much and which proved such an elixir. It just means i need to go back.

A special thanks goes out to both Jay and John for playing such a great role in my brilliant weekend of stress-free recovery from life and my personal little break from the world.

The view from Sampson’s Stones looking out towards Dow Crag and Bowfell but more importantly, looking out to peace and solitude

Connies and Pleasantries

I recently read or heard of a very British peculiarity: because the weather in the UK is perceived to be so bad, whenever it is deemed “nice” there is a desperate clamour and seeming social pressure to be outside to “make the most of it”. Why this is perculiar is that we don’t actually like being in the fierce and hot sunshine and once outside, desperately seek shade and big floppy hats.

You see it all the time in city parks on a sunny day: the park full of people all clustered under large trees planted decades earlier, probably for this very reason. You see people eating dinner in their gardens, not because they want to but because they can and thus, they should while they have the chance. We may not be happy but at least we’re making the most.

It has seemed a very apt mentality this week. And this trip has felt very much like “the rock is dry, the sun is out, we should be climbing! So that is what we will do.” Only, the climbing aspect hasn’t actually been that enjoyable; it has simply been too hot.

Connies

At the other end of the spectrum to our little British phenomenon lies that strange beast, the Performance Climber. Don’t get me wrong, I love Performance Climbers, they’re my clientele, not to mention being one myself! These dudes are fixated on performing to the best of their ability whenever they can.

But climbing relies on grasping difficult holds with your hands, hands that become sweaty easily. And while this can often be rectified with chalk, it only works to an extent. After a point, chalk simply doesn’t do enough and the conditions for performance climbing just aren’t right. The real performance climbers can sometimes take this to sightly extreme levels, whereby they actually don’t end up doing that much climbing, waiting for the right “connies” to go out.

Personally that’s seems a touch too far. My time is precious and if I get chance to climb, I’m going to climb, be that by dropping my grade or being more selective about my choice of venue or whatever I need to do, I simply redefine the term performance for the conditions I have. That being said, this week I think I have met my match; the conditions have simply been too bad and while we have made it to the crag, I’ve done the bouldering equivalent of sitting under a chestnut tree in a park and not getting much done.

Saturday afternoon

We did try and find the best conditions by waiting until later. On Saturday, after our St Bees fiasco, we headed into town, picked up some more supplies – I now have a travel fridge… – and went for the most underwhelming pub meal I think I’ve ever experienced in Keswick at the Twa Dogs. Genuinely, our food at home is leagues ahead of this pub and we don’t charge a thing for it. In fact, I’ve had better burgers at a school fair. But at least it was food and fitted nicely with our underwhelming climbing experience earlier in the day.

Once refreshed (of sorts) the conditions had improved and we headed up to Honister Pass. I’d remembered hearing good things about these roadside boulders in the past but the current guidebooks didn’t seem as enthused. Still, they are roadside and ideal for our quick after-dinner hit.

Turns out the boulders were slightly underwhelming after all, but the lines were pleasant and the scenery typically beautiful. We climbed a handful of lines on the Beefcake Boulder, all of which I described as pleasant, though sadly not including Beefcake Eliminate 6c+ as the growing population of midge added another factor into the list of conditions for performance climbing at its best.

That being said, even if the breeze had picked up and the midge disappeared, simply existing in the heat during the day had taken its toll on our energy levels. We were frankly spent after a long and exhausting day. And this was only day one.

Second bite at the cherry?

Sunday rolled around and we had done our reading. We had both agreed that we really wanted to check out Carrock Fell, which every piece of information led us to believe we would not find, erm, underwhelming. The crag faces East so the conditions would get better as the day wore on, giving us a nice pleasant morning to breakfast, chat and for Jay to pack his kit ready to leave straight from there.

We took our time and eventually found our way there by late morning, only to find that the conditions were not much better than at the coast the day before. We started on some warm up blocs, finding the holds hot to touch and the rock almost unbearable on our skin; unusual given that we had hitherto managed about six climbs each…

We wandered over to the popular boulders, the Low Boulder and the Mushroom Boulder, as these looked appealing, had a good reputation and a relevant grade range for us but it was no use. Drained from existing in the heat all weekend, neither of us had much energy, managing not much more than a handful of low- to mid-6s; all of which were described as pleasant and, save for another underwhelming meal at what was described as a coffee shop but was actually a village hall with half a dozen cakes and a water boiler, which brought our weekend of Lakeland climbing to a close.

Some pleasantries

I apologise for the overuse of the word “pleasant” but it is deliberate. Pleasant had been our word of the week, although not intentionally, as it is far too fitting to describe pretty much everything we have experienced from this weekend in the Lake District.

The rolling hills are pleasant and not extreme and fierce like back home. Driving the roads has been pleasant, given the levels of traffic. The food we’ve had has been pleasant and not delicious. The climbing has been pleasant but not outstanding. Even the people we have met have been pleasant, with the exception of one climber today who could only be described as mildly vile. This weekend has been a wholly pleasant, if underwhelming experience.

However, I must not lose sight of what has been brilliant about it. I feel infinitely more relaxed than when I left home and while I haven’t performed, it was been a fantastic elixir for my mental well-being to have been here without the cares, worries and stress of life at home. I have had a fantastic time catching up with an old friend for the weekend, reminiscing about old times and looking forward to the future. And Tess seems to have had a whale of a time running around a different hillside to usual.

Jay may have gone home but I still have one more day here, meeting another friend tomorrow, although I have decided to cut my trip short and go home after that and not on Tuesday. The original plan was to stay and climb alone on the way home, calling in at old haunts on the journey south but I’ve opted to call it quits for this one. To be honest, the connies just aren’t right.

Seaside Shut Down

I often think of St Bees as the Lakeland equivalent of North Wales coastal venue Porth Ysgo. After today, I’m inclined to think I’m right. Despite both having stellar reputations, with ample climbing containing enough stars to warrant their own red carpet, neither of these places gives anything away easily.

First there is the location and neither crag is in the type of place you would just be passing by. Both are obviously coastal just outside National Parks but getting to them requires a determined effort to begin with. As you can imagine from coastal bouldering, the boulders themselves are nestled beneath substantial sea cliffs, meaning the landings can be poor or the approach tricky. While Ysgo protects it’s gems with the former, St Bees goes for the latter.

If you can navigate these hurdles, the rewards are great and I’ve had several good sessions at Ysgo, albeit infrequently for the length of time I’ve lived in North Wales. However St Bees had always evaded my efforts, from when I opted for closer crags living in Lancaster to now, where a trip is a monumental effort. Now that we were so close, Jay and myself decided it was time to break the duck. But as I said, these places don’t give in that easily.

There are three approach paths described in the book for St Bees: approach C a treacherous descent of the sea cliff “not for the feint hearted”; approach B the most popular but still requiring some near-vertical descent/ascent using in situ ropes; and approach A which is described as an easy descent path and the most suitable for those with dogs or small children. Given we had the dog, we obviously opted for option C. In my opinion, it is not easy and while my judgment may just be me weighed down by my neuroses, Tess certainly wasn’t going down there without some serious coaxing and I definitely wouldn’t be sending my kids down there any time soon.

I am certainly no mountaineer, that much has been made abundantly clear over the last few years, whereas Jay is more than adept on steep terrain. After launching his pad down and watching it tumble and spray kit across the hillside, he was committed and headed to the sea front. Now alone and still with an epic rig of pads and kit, as well as the reluctant dog, there was no way I was following.

After vain attempts to find the real “easy path” to which I had no joy (because after much deliberation, this WAS the easy path) I figured I had two choices: sit in the baking sunshine and wait for my companion to reappear or go off and find somewhere else to climb alone. I reasoned that given he’d scrambled in that Jay would do the sensible thing and make the most and being as our position atop the cliff have absolutely no respite from the relentless sun, I walked South to the Fleswick boulders.

After a long trudge (it felt long at least, it was really hot) and multiple stops to explain what I was carrying, we arrived at a beautiful bay on the sea front with a very straightforward path; good news at last.

I’ll just go back for a second to those who inquired about the cumbersome looking collection of items hanging from my back. To the uninitiated, they must look very strange and many climbers get irritated by repeatedly having to explain them over and over. Bouldering pads are massive and don’t really have an obvious purpose to non-climbers. The jokes about moving house so get tiresome but I never mind the genuine curiosity and am always happy to explain. The career I’ve currently chosen involves me talking to and enthusing people not versed in climbing and this is an important part of that process, albeit a very small one. Yes, I may have already stopped five times to say the same thing as before but they’ve only asked the question once. So every person deserves the same respect.

Anyway, it may not have been where I’d intended but there are good problems at Fleswick Bay and this is where I now found myself so time to make the most. Unfortunately, our original plan had hinged on getting to the crag fairly early while the sun was still in the East and the crag in the shade. By the time I eventually got there, this was no longer the case. By this point, I was now quite tired from the relentless heat and mild dehydration but climb I must!

Remember when I said these crags don’t give anything away cheaply? Well while the guidebook may have overstated the simplicity of the approach path, it was spot on about the seepage at Fleswick. Despite being one of the hottest days in living memory (that’s how it felt by this point at least) I seemed to find a crag that inexplicably dripped water on me from it’s towering overhanging cliffs and had water emanating from the crucial holds. After flashing a 6a, I duly pinged off the 6c sit start with wet fingers and crashed back to the floor. Three days into a heat wave.

I got up the 6c on the next go and jumped off from the top on to the pad. Feeling drained, I sat still and suddenly found the black rubber soles of my shoes getting hot. Very hot. The beaming sun was quickly about to make them excruciating and on realising not only what was happening but also what was about to happen if I continued to do nothing, I couldn’t get them quick enough.

Clearly this was getting to me as my thoughts suddenly drifted to Jay and what he was up to. Little did I know that at the same time, he had the same thought, also brought about by heat exhaustion. I wandered to the sea to try and find some phone signal but it was in vain. Come on! I thought, you’ve got to make the most of this! And so I wandered over to The Cave to check out two more appealing lines: Merman 6c and a 7a+ whose name escapes me. Start easy, I thought, and shuffled my pads under the problem. Shoes now cool, I popped them back on and was suddenly emboldened to get up a climb.

Hands on the start holds, reach out across the roof, heel on the ledge, reach up and bang! The small hold in my right hand was damp, my fingers had exploded from it and I got the ground hard on my right shoulder. That bit was fine but in the process, I’d stubbed my left toe. I took it as a sign.

It wasn’t the day I was hoping for. In fact, I don’t think there’s a measure you could employ to say this was any sort of success. Still, I’ve now got two new ticks on my guidebook and they are at St Bees. At last.

The Adventure Begins

The overriding feeling in the last little run up to a trip like this is one of apprehension and a fear of what might go wrong; especially in a vehicle that is yet to fully win back my trust. I love my Land Rover Defender dearly but it was only last year that the entire engine was changed after a catastrophic breakdown on its way back home from Birmingham and despite a successful trip to Dorset last month, the what-ifs still lingered as I prepared to set off.

And yet, I actually felt quite safe. Part of the reason for my absurd choice of transportation is size and in the back of my truck was enough kit to last, well, indefinitely. Granted I’d have to get some food in a couple of days but I have somewhere I can sleep with me and a stove to cook dinner and that’s actually quite a comforting thought.

If I couple that thought with the experience gained from countless epics – including one many years back where I thought I’d have to get a temporary job in Germany in order to get home – then I start to relax and focus on what is actually about to come: in this case, an adventure just like old times.

The Good Old Days

The phrase that has kept popping in to my head over the last few days is “the good old days”; a throwback to some halcyon days pre-kids, pre-covid, even pre-relationship. Back then, I wanted nothing more than a loving girlfriend but even then, in my youthful naivety I knew there was something to be appreciated in being young, free and single. No responsibilities meant no restrictions; just chuck a load of kit (and the dog) in the back of the car and hit the road.

Now, suddenly, I find myself unexpectedly able to relive it for four days in the Lake District. Don’t get me wrong, I love my partner and my children more than I could’ve ever imagined but it still feels so good to go by the old rules again while the kids spend some catch up time with grandparents for a week.

What makes this all the sweeter is where this is all taking place. Our recent trip to Dartmoor held an extra element of trepidation in that I don’t know the South in the slightest so was entirely at the mercy of my navigator. I don’t have that problem in the North, having spent my student years – and most of my student loan – traveling the top of the country. I had a map of the UK on my wall in those days with the motorways I had driven filled in. From Chester to Carlisle, Liverpool to Leeds, there wasn’t a blue line left.

So to be back here on this trip evoked strong and vivid memories. Driving through the Howgills, I remembered taking that same motorway journey after a storm in 2004/5 that I really shouldn’t have driven through to go to a training exercise with mountain rescue teams near Derwent Water and that resulted in countless trucks lay on their side on the hard shoulder. Or as I took the A66 I recalled the odd Japanese woman driving very slowly the wrong way around the roundabout coming out of Keswick.

Back then, I was naive and despite my desperate enthusiasm to climb, failed to make the most of what was on my doorstep. I returned to the same routes at the same crags time and again and as much as my trip down memory lane had been enjoyable, this time will be different. Our plan for this weekend takes in places neither myself or my good friend Jay have been to before; certainly places I missed out on some fifteen years ago. A mix of the familiar and the new.

And if nothing else, if the truck does break down now, at least I’m already here. The adventure has begun.

Another Year

By all conventional measures, yesterday should’ve been a complete bust. Regular readers will know of the significance of the 23rd June for me (click here to read about the Birthday Tradition and why it matters so much to me) and with Covid still clinging to it’s stranglehold on society, coupled with the vagaries and responsibilities of being a grown up now, this was another nail in the coffin for my annual summer adventures.

There were even more factors to include this year. However, somehow, in part thanks to the kind efforts of my friend Jack Pearce and our collective desire to make something good out of the day, we managed to pull it all together and leave me, for most of the day, with a smile on my face.

Odds Stacked Against Us

While June 2020 was in the depths of a national lockdown and i was able to have the nice, relaxed approach to the day with a good family breakfast with my partner and children, this year life is pretty much back to normal (on a local scale at least) and so my birthday started not with an Alpine vista or Scandinavian cityscape but with the weekly Wednesday stress of trying to get the kids dressed, fed and out the door for school and the childminders. Wednesday’s i’m flying solo too, as my other half is on the morning shift at work and is gone before we all wake and not that i blame my two- and four-year old children for forgetting but the fact they failed to acknowledge anything about the day too didn’t help. By the time i got home to sort my kit, i was pretty mopey and almost tempted to spend the day at home, alone, feeling sorry for myself.

Thankfully, i’d been in touch with Jack to see if he was free and keen to climb. Originally, we’d concocted a plan to hit up the Cloggy boulders, nestled underneath the summit of Snowdon and accessed from my house. It seemed like a pretty awesome plan, to be honest, especially as the forecast actually looked very promising at first: if you can’t get abroad to a stunning crag in a spectacular setting, make a special day of it and head to a nearby stunning crag in a spectacular setting instead.

It would’ve been great, if only the forecast hadn’t crapped out on us. As the prediction for rain came earlier and earlier in the day, our options reduced, to the point where i was wondering if i’d be heading over to Eastern Grit country in search of dry rock. But Jack had early evening plans and couldn’t drive that far so we ended up planning a limestone trip to Pantymwyn. And i don’t generally like limestone either. So it was climb on rock i’m not fussed about or stay home in self pity. Great. At least it rained back home yesterday or it would’ve been exceptionally shit.

Changing the Psyche Levels

I can’t thank Jack enough really. We get on really well and climb on similar levels, with Jack being significantly stronger and more determined but my technique and footwork abilities dwarfing his. Between us, we get up most stuff these days.

He is also a font of enthusiasm and by the time we’d driven pretty much to Mold, the sky was blue and a smile had found it’s way on to my face. I’d wanted to go to Pantymwyn for some time and had been put off by stories of a sinkhole that had developed there. Now i was here, in an awesome glade, an expansive footbridge and a great looking cave. It might not have been the big foreign adventure i was hoping for but it was cool, in good company, it was climbing on my birthday and it was somewhere new. And it was successful too. Very successful.

Part of the credit for that must go to Scouse Owen (i’m sorry, Owen, i know you’re not keen on the moniker but i didn’t get your second name!) who arrived shortly after we had struggled on the 5c warm up traverse. A regular at the cave, Owen pointed us at the right climbs, gave us beta when we looked puzzled and in essence, opened the door to a very prosperous ticklist for the day: seven climbs in the end including Embers 6c+, Firestarter 7a, Grinnin’ in your Face 7a, Gasoline stand start 7a+ and Gasoline (d’you know what i mean?) 7b+. That’s more grade 7 climbs than i’ve managed this year put together…

Moreover, Owen is an awesome bloke and we chatted about climbing, the local scene in North Wales and even about education and politics; all of which really added to the day. A major part of my desire to travel is to meet other people and experience other cultures, other world views. Owen helped to show me that while there’s no reason not to strive to find this far from home, it isn’t absolutely necessary; you can expand your horizons much nearer to home too.

A New Approach

On the way there, Jack had suggested that perhaps i should be content with enjoying the memories of my past adventures but that goes completely against my life philosophy. That philosophy states that

If i can get to the end of life, whenever that may be, and look back and say “that was worth it” then i’ll be happy. It doesn’t matter if that’s tomorrow or decades from now, i want to make the most of the time i have and that means that i must continue to go out and live my life to it’s fullest

So no matter how much credit for amazing adventures and experiences i have in the past, no matter how much credit is in the bank, i can’t rely on that to fulfil my philosophy. Up to March 2020 i could’ve said that uneqivocably but now? I feel things are a little flat.

Now i’ve said it before but i want to reiterate: the public health of the nation is FAR more important than me going climbing and i AM NOT SUGGESTING that we should not have gone in to lockdown to allow me to go away on holiday. [NB i’ve always tried to convince myself and others that these trips are expeditions or adventures or something like that because i don’t want to label them as holidays but if i really cut through the crap, they really are holidays, albeit non-conventional ones.] You can have whatever views you like on the handling of the pandemic by the UK Government but to suggest they should disregard scientific advice in order to let me go climbing somewhere a little bit further away than normal is NOT what i am suggesting.

And the fact is that those hedonistic days of galavanting are most likely now done. It’s what i call GTFUT or Grow The Fuck Up Time. I have children now, i have responsibilities, i have a life outside clambering over foreign rocks in order to put a tick in a guidebook, life is different now. And while i’ve said all through the last four years that children needn’t stop you doing what you love and what you want to do, responsibilities do require a new approach.

Yesterday was a thoroughly enjoyable day and helped to show me it needn’t be all or nothing. It was great to go somewhere new and perhaps that’s the new approach: spend my birthday climbing somewhere new every year. If that new can be abroad, great! If not, make the most. Because surely Covid-19 has taught us to adapt and make the best of a bad situation. And yesterday, we managed just that.

Dartmoor Days

It’s always a tricky balance when you go away to somewhere new; especially somewhere with a glut of recent development like Dartmoor. On the one hand, you don’t want to just head to the big obvious crags all the time and want to experience a bit more variety. On the other, the famous and popular crags are popular for a reason i.e. they’re the best…

As we pulled in to the car park at Bonehill on Thursday (the fourth day of our trip and third day of climbing) I was left pondering whether I’d made the right call in the venues chosen so far this week. My haul of climbs for the week hadn’t turned out quite as extensive as i’d hoped for thus far, meaning that neither my season goal of 900 problems, nor boosting my Top Ten Yearly Average, had gone particularly well. Still, on reflection, we’d actually been exactly where i wanted to go all along.

Build Up

Let’s start a little further back. This half term was due to be a very important one: a huge release for us following the lockdown that kicked in at Christmas. Finally, we were free to head to my in-laws and give them a chance to catch up with their grandchildren. They’ve seen precious little of them over the past couple of years and so this was a chance for them to make up for lost time. For a week. While we disappeared off…

So after dropping the kids off (and having a nice weekend catch up) we took off south bound for Dartmoor. It had been nine years since i visited last (i think, there was an issue with the dates on the photos and i had little other records on when we’d gone) but that last visit was literally freezing cold, shown by some of the photos below. I didn’t get much done on that wintery week away.

This time was supposed to be different. Armed with the new CC Dartmoor guidebook rather than the limited Boulder Britain from last time – a great guide for what it is but nothing compared to a comprehensive book – and a rack of new developments over a decade, i was really hoping to get some good mileage in. Sadly, i hadn’t anticipated a heatwave…

There’s nothing you can do about conditions with a trip like this, especially in Britain. Weather forecasts are generally only reliable around a week in advance and most of us need to book our trips much further forward than that. As such you get what you get and this really doesn’t help with somewhere like Dartmoor where the granite really does require good conditions. It’s a shame for it’s appeal as a destination but it is what it is and one day, maybe i’ll actually make it down that way at the right time and finally get some harder climbs done.

Tuesday

With the sun beating down, it made sense to seek some shade and the one crag i was desperate to visit this week was Bearacleave near Bovey Tracey. The crag rose to prominence a few years ago with the problem Devon Sent 7c+ and had captivated me ever since.

We tried to be tactical and take a walk round before fetching the pads, although getting the turnings wrong at the start meant it didn’t really work the way we had in mind. Still, it was better than nothing so i grabbed the kit and we wandered back to the appealing Goalmouth Boulders. The crag reminded me very much of the Swedish hotspot Kjugekull, and although Bearacleave couldn’t quite match the 1000+ problems, the aspect felt very similar; bringing back fond memories of past trips and reminding me of some of the thrill of travelling to new places, regardless of what you get done.

It actually started very well and the Beckham problems were excellent; a great warm up for the rest of the trip. Sadly once we moved on, things started to unravel and finding something that appealed to me proved tricksome. Devon Sent was too high, too hard and too hot to mean it was worth bothering getting the pads out but the nearby Full Length Feature 6a (featuring brick-like features along it’s full length) was aesthetic and enjoyable. After this, the climbs became very green to the point of unclimbable on all but the most popular lines; some of which thwarted me from the offset.

It is a classic catch-22 with developing crags: people don’t want to climb there unless the climbs are clean but they’ll never be clean without the traffic of people climbing them. You feel that there is much potential at Bearacleave – and probably some of the neighbouring crags too, although we didn’t visit to know for sure – and hopefully some more traffic will lead it to be a leading crag of the area.

Wednesday

While Tuesday was baking hot, Wednesday was soggy wet; in the morning at least. This was Em’s trip too (i suddenly realise i hadn’t actually mentioned her in this post yet, oops) so we spent the morning driving the moors and visiting the town of Lydford. The gorge was out, due to Covid restrictions and the National Trust, but the castle and old Norman mound, coupled with the beautiful church made this a lovely change.

We then headed to Okehampton to have a look at a town but this possibly wasn’t the best we could’ve chosen. Nothing against Okehampton but a tourist destination, it probably is not. However, due to where we’d ended up, we opted to head to a crag that was on our way home: Gidleigh Tor.

Where the routes at Bearacleave were either clean or green, those at Gidleigh were almost all some level of green and many were unclimbable in their current guise. The Nose 6a was definitely one of the best problems i’ve done in a long time and almost justified the visit on it’s own, while i can see the appeal of A Fist Full of Slopers 6a. However the most i can say about the rest of the crag is that it is stacked full of potential.

Gidleigh will undoubtedly develop into an outstanding destination one day but it needs more attention. And while the Climber’s Club should be applauded in their attempts to document places like this, they really need to make sure they include the fundamental information for a guidebook. It was only once i got home that i found out The Nose was indeed a sit start problem. As obvious as this may well be when looking at the problem, boulder problems regularly have two starts and it wouldn’t have surprised me if this had been the case. The fact that some problems state the start and others don’t further confused matters for the week.

Hopefully, not only will Gidleigh receive some attention and some traffic but it will also find some documentation from the first ascentionists too. If it does, it could become a great little option.

Thursday

Of all the rock on Dartmoor, the best for bouldering is found at Bonehill and by a country mile. For density of problems, quality and setting, there isn’t really anywhere that competes at all. With only one day of climbing left before heading home, there was only one place to head.

Slightly overcast conditions worked in our favour but despite the fact Em complained about being cold when the breeze blew, it was still a bit too hot for climbing. In hindsight, i should’ve looked closer at the climbs i’d ticked here long ago as it turns out that in the dozen-or-so problems i tried over the day, many of them were repeats. I probably should’ve been a bit more tactical in my choices too.

I was certainly hoping to have a more successful day than transpired. My lack of recent climbing this year meant my skin wasn’t really up to the challenge and both the Cube Traverse 6c+ and The Slopey Traverse 6c resisted my best efforts, taking enough of my skin in the process to kill off my high aspirations. I often think of bouldering of a competition of mano a roca rather than mano a mano with the problem actually trying to resist one’s attempts to succeed. It’s almost as if the rock is putting up a challenge to stop you and it is up to you to win the day. This Thursday, the rock won.

I am still keen to go back but after a second unsuccessful visit, it’s not high on my list. I think if and when i do return, i’ll try and do so when conditions suit and hopefully with an entourage in tow. I still feel there is scope for a great day here and that i’ve been slightly unfortunate not to catch Dartmoor on a good day but perhaps this is the park weighing in on the fight. One day maybe, one day.

Final Thoughts

One of the major things i noticed while we were away was the complete lack of other climbers. Yes, it wasn’t exactly prime climbing condition and it was mid-week but this was half term and i would’ve expected to see at least a few climbers. I spotted two pairs carrying pads, with Em reporting seeing one more which seems close to nothing for a moorland scattered with rock.

Is it that there aren’t any climbers here? Or are they hiding somewhere? I’ve no idea but surely Dartmoor deserves a bit more attention. Last time i was here (yes everything was frozen solid) i encountered not a single other climber leaving me to think that this just isn’t a popular climbing destination, perhaps one that fails to register with most climbers as a destination at all. It seems a shame as there is plenty here be a significant draw across the south of England.

On a more personal note, do i feel like this was a successful week? The evidence would suggest not but i’ve long since given up judging any trip by facts and data. Travelling is about far more than ticks in books and while some good ticks do imply a good trip, they’re certainly not the only metric for success. Yes, Magic Wood 2015 was a resounding success and much of this stemmed from the inordinate list of hard climbs i completed (Intermezzo 7c and Dynos Don’t Dyno 7b+ being just two lines done that year) but far more was the camaraderie developed with the other climbers in camp, the relationship built with Tomasz at the Edelweiss, and so on.

This trip lacked that sociable edge too but it did serve two major functions: it was the first trip away from home since Albarracin in February 2020 and was the first chance for Em and myself to have some child-free time for a long time. In both of these respects, it felt great. The destination was almost irrelevant but Dartmoor played host fabulously; an important reminder that you don’t need to leave this island to have a great time away. Hopefully this has got the ball rolling for more adventures around the UK over the next period of our lives.

The Destination page for Dartmoor has now been updated to incorporate the new information discovered this past week. It can be viewed here.

Dry Rock Searching and Indoor First Impressions

My last post was a little disingenuous. Yes, my weekend plans were to head to Birmingham to climb indoors – a good example of indoorisation, which i’ve written about extensively lately – but i had also decided to take a detour en route.

While normally i’d head down the A5 (the most direct route back to Brum) this weekend i took the coast road, the A55, to Liverpool. The original plan was to head to Frodsham and get some mileage in on the sandstone, edging closer to my season goal of 900 recorded ascents but the forecast didn’t look promising. Walking to work on Saturday morning and the expeccted drizzle indicated that my plans were shot. However three hours laer, when i finished, the ground had dried up and things were looking more promising.

I chummed about at home for a while, letting things dry out a bit more and hanging out with the family and my in-laws. After about another two hours, i figured i was running out of time and left on my search for dry rock.

The Old Search Again

Searching around for dry rock is nothing new. Back when i was younger, in the days where going indoors was a desperate last resort, i’d spend ages wandering the hills in search of some rock dry enough to climb. I remember once at the Roaches on a cold, wet and grim day with three friends. We started on the lower tier to find everything literally dripping. In our youthful naivety, we thought the upper tier would catch more wind so we went up the hill to find exactly the same problem. “The skyline catches more wind, that’ll be dry!” we continued and plodded up again. Same again. Well, the far skyline is even more exposed, that’s surely got to be dry!

By the time we were on the top of the moor, the wind was pretty biting and the weather was pretty miserable but still our quest continued. Eventually we found a beer mat-sized piece of dry rock. “There we go!” someone exclaimed, “that’ll go!” So we proceded to try this solitary problem, the vast majority of which was gopping wet, with the wind battering us and almost freezing us to death. I have no idea how long we were there before someone suggested we head to Sheffield to The Edge; at which everyone wondered why we hadn’t just done that in the first place…

This Saturday was different. I had no desperate desire to climb, per se, and had already decided that continuing on my journey to Birmingham was preferable to climbing indoors; after all, i was planning to be indoors on Sunday anyway. This time my aim was to clock up some outdoor boulder problems to try and get closer to my goal . It was rock or bust.

Thankfully, i could call on my experience from those naive days. I can’t do anything about any rain falling from the sky and so had to assume it would stop; if it didn’t stop, it didn’t matter either way and i’d continue. Sheltered crags don’t dry quick so my original idea of Frodsham was out. From my brief reading of guidebooks, and my scant knowledge of Merseyside and Cheshire rock suggested Pex Hill housed some quick drying walls so i took a punt and headed there.

It did indeed stop raining by the time i got there and the road was mostly dry. With a five minute walk in, i left the pads in the car and went in for a look. The path had both dry patches and puddles; mixed signals, mixed emotions. I dropped down the steps into the quarry and turned left towards the Lady Jane Wall. I touched a wet hold and looked at my fingers: a few grains of sand sat on my tips. It’s important not to climb on wet sandstone or the rock is quickly eroded and it was clear that even routes that had some dry holds were out.

I moved around the sectors, one at a time, the same thing over and over. There were some routes that might have gonee but little to pique my interest. Then, over by the Pink Wall Area, i bumped into someone doing some maintenance work. His name was Pete Trewin and he wass great to chat to, once he’d lost the stunned look that i’d driven from Llanberis to Pex Hill… Pete directed me to the Pisa Wall and there lay a wall peppered with chalked up holds. I’d managed to find my dry rock after all.

After realising that the top outs would’ve been wet even if i had the balls to get there (Pisa Wall is quite highball) by climbing Gorilla 5+ on the shorter right hand end of the wall, i got sucked in to the weird and wonderful world of eliminates.

Elimante walls are a strange beast and as such, pretty rare. They involve a photograph of the wall with each hold given a coded number. Then each problem specifically dictates not only which holds you can use but the order with which you use them. They can be very hard to figure out but can increase difficulty and substantially increase the number of available problems. Crucially for me on Saturday, all the eliminates finished at the break at what felt a more sensible height.

In the end i ticked off five of them but it could’ve been more if the hardest – Big Eric V6 – had gone pretty quickly and not taken me an age. Still, i didn’t complain at my meagre return for the day; given the conditions, my rustiness and a rock type i haven’t climbed on since February 2020! More to the point, it was a great day out and i thanked Pete Trewin again as he left during the final downpour.

Back to Business

Pex Hill was a detour en route to my actual destination and on Sunday, i took my old friend and his two eldest kids to the Depot in Birmingham for their first climbing session. I started climbing with Dave back when we were teenagers some twenty years ago and while i took to it and became engrossed, Dave’s life took a different direction. He was rusty but nowhere near as bad as he expected and i really hope he gets back into it again.

His two kids took to bouldering exactly as i knew they would. One of the key attributes of adventure sports (climbing, paddling, skiing, snowboarding, etc) is the lack of peer-to-peer competition and it was refreshing to see them both trying climbs for themselves without any comparisons towards each other. It’s something we’d been talking about for a long time but i felt they needed a nudge. My hope now is that they go back again and really get the bug. They’re great kids and once they get the early nerves out of the way, i can see great things for them both.

But as a professional coach, it’s just great to see youngsters coming in to the sport. With my expertise now, i have stacks of extra knowledge to be able to highlight some things and avoid some of the pitfalls that often need amending later in their climbing career. Still, the first session is the most important as it’s the one that gets them going. And it wouldn’t surprise me to get a visit from either of them in a few years time. I hope so anyway!

Taking My Own Advice

Rain in May around here is normal; I often joke the April showers turn up late, although snow isn’t…

While normally this could put a damper on progress for my climbing, this year I’ve seen it as an opportunity to improve my fitness and get some movement in. Developing new venue is all well and good but as I’ve mentioned, it’s not actually seen me doing much climbing, even if I am much stronger and moving hefty rocks around the floor.

Some days, though, it has been sunny but I’ve stuck to plan; getting the mileage in on plastic, rather than heading out to established boulders. This has left me with an odd feeling, that I’m doing something wrong, that I should grab every opportunity to get out. It’s that old mentality from when I started climbing: yes, you can climb indoors but only if outside is out of the question. Yet this is counter to much of the articles I’ve been writing lately.

Recently I collaborated with Jez Tapping, from the Westway climbing centre in London, on the impact of indoorisation in climbing and since, I’ve adapted the conversation for Professional Mountaineer (due in the next issue) to focus on the impact on, well, professionals in the industry. In both pieces, I came to the conclusion that climbing has changed to accept dedicated indoor climbers and the alternative environment as a different option, and not a lesser one. Yet I still can’t shake this idea that if I can, I should be outside.

Clearly the feelings run deep; ingrained in my mind from decades of social convention. And no matter how much I try and convince myself that it’s okay to be inside on a sunny day, there’s still this lingering feeling of guilt.

Of course, in this modern world, you could easily neglect outdoors if you’re “training” instead, that’s okay. But I’m not really training in the conventional sense, I’m just bouldering inside and admiring the sunny day on my breaks.

Define training…

Of course, training needn’t necessarily be fingerboarding and campus boards and I had a great training session this Wednesday. With only a short time window, and a host of new problems to go at, I opted to try and climb all the V4 and V5 problems in the wall (downstairs at least). Given I will typically flash anything at this grade, it worked well with some climbs throwing me off but most going first time and the level of the grades – around 3/4 v-grades below my max – being enough to tax me at the right level.

It’s worth remembering that the majority of one’s training should still be climbing – Gimme Kraft suggests 80% – and this is especially true right now given the recent five-month long lockdown we find ourselves escaping. Exercises like mileage below max are great for building up some of the muscle that’s gone missing since Christmas while also reminding us about good climbing movement.

In a similar way, I’ve been employing a different training routine for one of the thirds of my climbing sessions. I break my sessions into three sections, as shown in the picture below, and one of these thirds is now spent campusing. However, this isn’t on a campus board but on normal boulder problems. Yes, they are just routes but they have the complex movements that create more transferable skills than on a board. I’ve not done it much yet but so far, I’m seeing a difference.

An Arse About Face Weekend

The epitome of indoorisation had to be a dedicated trip for indoor climbing and that is exactly what I find myself doing this weekend. Granted, this is slightly different and while I’m about to head off to Birmingham with the sole intention of visiting the Depot climbing wall, I am also planning to take my friends kids as a coaching session. Technically I’m working but even so, it feels a bit weird.

I spent my childhood in Birmingham coming up to North Wales on the weekends to go climbing. Now, I leave my home in Llanberis for a weekend to reverse the same journey. I can write all year long about the benefits of indoorisation and desperately try and justify and normalise it but, as a friend said when I mentioned my plans, this will always feel arse about face.

Still, I need to get back to coaching after a long lay off. This week saw my first session of the year, which has boosted my confidence no end but I’m still feeling like I need some momentum. I need more clients, fresh clients, to remind myself as much as anything else how much I love my job, and that I’m actually really good at it. This weekend will hopefully help.

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