Solstice: October 2017

The first thing you need to do with these New Years or Solstice posts is find the last one and have a very good read. Penultimate paragraph: “if something crazy does happen”. Like moving house…? It appears i managed to foresee something coming at least!

The last six months have been super fun and to be honest, i’ll most likely be doing another reflective post in a couple more weeks when i go back to work. For both of these periods, i don’t think there’s any way we could think of my use of time as anything other than an outstanding success.

Going right back to the end of March could be tricky as to be honest, i don’t really remember that well! I do know that i missed out on my annual Spring trip to Font because having a baby is monumentally more important to life than going back to France for the umpteenth time. One would suspect this would be the pattern to follow for a long time to come but that wouldn’t count on one Miss Emily Slater.

To be honest, i think those first few months were us just being new parents and finding out feet with our new little one. Evidently, it didn’t take us that long. Rosie was four-months old when my birthday rolling around again, and we packed the baby and the dog, pads and pushchair and headed off to Ireland for a week. The tradition survived another year. (What’s more, Em is already helping me plan next June!)

We returned home after the week and i described it as “unadventurous and unproblematic – with a four-month old baby, it was perfect”. What’s more is that it gave me my first new country since 2011 (i think) and Rosie a phenomenal start to what i hope will be a lifetime of adventures.

Closer to home was the release of what is now known as the New Testament. Yes, the North Wales Bouldering Guidebook finally hit the shelves, with particular timeliness for us as it was almost exactly as my time off work began. The No Retro Ticks rule saw a surge of outdoor activity, albeit with little not done before. However, there were some lines that remained unclimbed from the old guide, proving that the system can sometimes have it’s benefits.

When the guide came out, and i first laid my hands on one, there was one page i was desperate to see. I checked the index, flicked through and there, on page 282 it is: Prowess 7b and my name in square brackets underneath. That double page is mostly credited to me and i will always be immensely proud to be featured in my local guidebook. Of all my achievements, i am incredibly proud of this one.

Shared Parental Leave kicked in early-mid August and Em went back to work while i took my place at home with Little Miss; well, maybe not entirely at home. Within the first couple of weeks, we were out, getting into #activeparenting and while the middle month was a washout, i still feel the two of us really made the most of our time together. It’s taken a lot of effort and determination but it’s come back a thousand-fold and the experiences have changed our relationship forever.

We’re also now a little over a month into this year’s Indy Aggregate and to try and encourage me there more, i’m a month into a three month pass too. What’s all the better is how happy they are there for me to take Rosie, so baby-accompanied sessions have been on and so far, the aggregate score sits pretty high.

You have to love a local #climbing wall that will let you do this. The #indy are absolutely awesome and me and Rosie spent a good four hours plus there this afternoon; me #bouldering away, my #daughter either chilling in her car seat or enjoying some space on the mat. Credit to the other customers too, who weren't phased by the site of a #baby on the pads. That said, there weren't many of them as we deliberately went during a quiet afternoon. I've got to give them huge credit. The Indy are always welcoming and friendly, set good problems and provide tea at a good price. There's not much more you could ask really. #worldclasswales #northwales #northwalesbouldering #rockclimbing #climbing_is_my_passion #activeparenting #startemyoung #sharedparentalleave #daddydaughtertime

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What’s equally important for me is that i was able to show that it is possible to get out climbing with a baby along for the fun. My Instagram feed has been awash with pictures of me and Rosie getting out to the crag or the wall, we’ve been out walking if not just climbing and i’ve penned a few articles that will hopefully find somewhere for publication soon. Hopefully, i’ve inspired at least some people to get out with their youngsters and not hide behind them as a reason to stop doing what they love. [For other inspiration, check out the aptly named INSPIRE group on Facebook.]

More recent times (as in the last few weeks) have been the most trying, with the house move reaching it’s conclusion. Days are often spent taking and waiting for phone calls but it’s all necessary and will be better in the long run. Sometimes life gets in the way.

Last Season’s Goals

  • SPA Assessment
  • Another 7c+
  • Top ten yearly average around 7b/+
  • Continue the birthday tradition
  • Get to Font
  • Start to develop the coaching into something more
  • Don’t jeopardise your relationship for climbing…

Okay so first things first, and i’m sorry for this but this fucking SPA. The bain of my climbing career for many a year now and certainly a necessity to actually continue my career as a climbing coach (in any particular guise).

The goals stated, “If I’ve not at least had an SPA Assessment by the end of the summer, there needs to be a good explanation” and the good news is i have had an SPA Assessment – i just didn’t pass… The other good news is that it was only the personal climbing that let me down and as such, it’s only that small part that needs repeating.

The bad news is the warmer weather has come and gone and it’ll be Spring before i can even start to address this. Still, there has been progress, albeit not complete.

Another 7c+? No chance, that was never gonna happen and to be honest, from what i’ve heard, getting anywhere near that has been an achievement in itself! In reality, it soon became trying to maintain strength levels as of Rosie’s birth, not improve them and in that respect, i’ve not actually done that badly. But the idea of climbing another 7c+ right now seems so unlikely, it doesn’t warrant further conversation.

Top ten yearly average of 7b is possible, even now, although as i’m now restricted to days off and i’ll soon be back at work, getting the remaining four needed to tip the balance above 7a+ again looks unlikely. Close, but unlikely. It might have happened, with the New Testament and plenty more projects to go at but i’m blaming the shitty weather on this one – i’m certainly not the only one to be complaining about the insatiable drizzle we’ve suffered from lately.

Andy's Arete in #glendalough is one of the best climbs I've tried anywhere, not to mention in #Wicklow. It is immense, and a testament to the #quality of #irishbouldering. It is not 6c. The problems with grading here were huge in all of the climbs I came across and it was something I have gone into depth about (slightly more than I intended) in my latest blog post, link in bio. It shouldn't matter but sadly it does, it puts people off and makes a mockery of the system. And considering how amazing the rock and the #climbing are, it is nothing short of a travesty that needs to be addressed if they ever want to attract people to this wonderful country. #Ireland #wicklowbouldering #glendaloughbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing-pictures-of-instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #meclimbing

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Continue the birthday tradition: check! and getting to Font has been delayed after selling a buying a house. There will certainly be no complaints here, it’s just one of those things and i was always going to move one day, and that was always going to affect everything. That’s just part of growing up.

As for the coaching, it is certainly moving in the right direction and may be approaching a critical point where it needs to become something official. I now have a growing portfolio of impressed clients of various levels, a series of articles and writings to accompany my work and a growing sense that what i’m doing is working. For now, it’s a case of keep ticking along and see how it goes but come Spring, it’s going to be crucial to get the SPA finished so i can formalise myself into something more professional.

Now the big question: have i jeopardised my relationship during the last six months for climbing? Truthfully, i don’t know for certain but i’m pretty certain the answer is no. In fact, being totally honest, my relationship has almost quashed my climbing at times but that would be to ignore the monumental factors such as having a baby and moving house, and thus would be unfair.

The fact is it’s a balancing act and never an easy one for any couple but whatever you’re using it for, personal space is important for any relationship and finding that balance is crucial to it’s success. So far, i think we’re doing pretty well, all things considered. Em’s certainly stoked for us to get away next year! But then i knew she was a keeper almost from the first moment i met her.

2017 Autumn/Winter goals

I’m not going to break these down into short- and long-term, i’m just going to quickly set some things to keep me ticking along.

The aggregate remains my most likely source of action and while the strong climbers are back for this edition this winter and there are a lot of upcoming good climbers nipping at my heels already, i still think top-10 is a minimum. I’ll go out on a limb and say the goal should be top 5, as well as a score to beat every other category other than my own.

Meanwhile, some outdoor sessions would be nice and given there is a HUGE new guidebook to go at, climbing, say, half a dozen new lines of 7a or above should be perfectly feasible. Either that or insanely hard, who knows, but it should give me something to aim for.

Climbing somewhere that isn’t in North Wales would be really nice too, especially as i know Em is keen to get away a bit more and it would be great for Rosie to see new places. One weekend, again, shouldn’t be too much to ask.

Coaching? Well, just carry on really! More time coaching, more articles, more testimonies and hopefully more professionalism. It’s crossed my mind lately that quickly getting through a CWA wouldn’t be that bad an idea, if i could do it, and would mean i’d actually be a qualified coach. The SPA could follow afterwards.

And finally, start to plan the next two expeditions: Font in the Spring and hopefully Germany in the summer. Both seem fairly realistic and cost-effective for what we’re looking to achieve but will need some forethought and planning. The sooner this is done, the more likely they are to happen.

  • Top 5 Aggregate finish
  • 6 outdoor sessions with at least a new 7a completed
  • A weekend climbing out of Wales
  • Continue to develop coaching and formalise what i offer
  • Plan trips to Font and Germany

There, those are the next goals. Given how up in the air life is right now and how much i’m struggling to get my brain to work in a straight line, i think they’re attainable. This winter is going to be focused on maintaining my current abilities, rather than developing them. Only time will tell how successful we’ll be but i tell you what: so far, so good.

Merry Solstice!

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A Month Later

After my analysis of “active parenting” in my last post, it’s been a month now and to be totally honest, the climbing has dried up; unlike the weather.

The terrible weather mentioned a couple of posts ago has conspired to keep us from going out and totally stymeed the early momentum from my first time off with Rosie. Instead, we’ve… well, truth be told, i honestly can’t remember what we’ve been doing!

Even my Instagram feed – usually a useful record of our latest activities – is filled with throwback photos to try and get some psyche back. In fact, there are only two outdoor climbing posts since the last update post: a very quick and short blast at the Cromlech boulders and a recent glorious day at Clogwyn y Tarw.

The latter was indeed a great little session, with the aim being a climb i’d not really looked at called The Rocker 7b. The big one for me at Clogwyn y Tarw remains The Punk 7c from sit but with my current form, i’d noticed the lower grade and thought it would be a wiser objective. Sadly – as often happens with choosing goals from a guidebook – once i’d seen it for real, it didn’t actually appeal that much, and needed more protection (another pad or a spotter) than i had with me.

Instead, i opted to tick off a couple of other problems whose descriptions in the old guidebook have been greatly improved by photo topos: Soul Boy 6c and Here Comes Cadi 7a. Neither were flashed, as i bottled the top out and am soooo rusty on rock right now, but both were and are outstanding lines with great moves.

The only other outdoor activity of a climbing-related nature was a lovely walk into the newly developed Tal y Fan. This new crag lies miles out to the east of the park, overlooking the Conwy valley with a stunning vista down the the Irish Sea, and was almost undiscovered until the enterprising local activist Owen Hayward developed it in recent years.

With a friend of mine, Alex, living over that way and asking if i was keen to have a day out with our respective young kids, it seemed a logical place to go and explore; especially as the weather was actually quite nice.

In hindsight, taking pads and shoes in wouldn’t have been the worst idea but we would’ve had to be a LOT more organised. Saying that, a scouting mission was indeed useful and the crag dries super quickly. The aspect alone is worth the walk in.

While that short summary concludes all of our outdoor excursions in the last month (MONTH!) we have been able to make use of the local indoor facilities – although even then, i’ve been more coaching than actually climbing!

The most notable session must be over near Queensferry at the excellent Boardroom.  With Em’s brother living over that way, we drove over to meet up and have a bit of a family climbing session. It was, indeed, absolutely awesome, in a great wall that we don’t often use as it’s a little too far away, with James and Em both getting a climb in and with three of us, Rosie had a great time too.

Meanwhile, closer to home, the annual Indy Aggregate competition kicked off again a touch earlier than expected – numbering existing climbs, rather than stripping everything and resetting. Even with this, i still opted to play it safe and try and repeat anything that i could, to make sure i’d actually done everything i was saying i had. A couple of the harder climbs would be the exceptions.

Next thing i knew, i’d managed 50 climbs in one evening. By the end of it, i was making Chris Sharma-esq noises on a 4 and couldn’t do the first move on a 6a. Last time there, i had only five problems outstanding in the current set.

You have to love a local #climbing wall that will let you do this. The #indy are absolutely awesome and me and Rosie spent a good four hours plus there this afternoon; me #bouldering away, my #daughter either chilling in her car seat or enjoying some space on the mat. Credit to the other customers too, who weren't phased by the site of a #baby on the pads. That said, there weren't many of them as we deliberately went during a quiet afternoon. I've got to give them huge credit. The Indy are always welcoming and friendly, set good problems and provide tea at a good price. There's not much more you could ask really. #worldclasswales #northwales #northwalesbouldering #rockclimbing #climbing_is_my_passion #activeparenting #startemyoung #sharedparentalleave #daddydaughtertime

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It has also proven an excellent venue for #daddydaughtertime. Admittedly i do try hard to pick times and days when it will not be busy but there aren’t many walls that will just allow me to take an 8-month-old baby and have her on the pad with me. More than that even, as Rosie often gets some fuss treatment from the lads down there and last time we were there, Dave was encouraging her to start crawling…

I’ve often waxed poetic about the Indy Climbing Wall and it speaks volumes that i’m more than happy to do it again and again. It’s more than just good business, there is a friendliness and genuine encouragement around the place, a nice vibe that makes me want to keep going back. The fact i’m welcome to take Rosie – or in fact anyone able to take any well behaved children like that! – is a testament to the nature of the place. With our outdoor options curtailed somewhat, it’s been fantastic to have such a facility so nearby.

Some Reflections on the Last Month or so

My last post prompted a very good and very old (yeah, Dan, you’re old!) friend to call me on some of the gripes i’ve been having lately and it got me thinking: have i been ungrateful while i’ve been off with Rosie?

His original reply:

To be fair pete, and I don’t want to sound like a dick. You’ve got a sweet deal. You’re lucky to spend so much time with your daughter and go climbing when weather allows is a bonus at this stage in the game. Stop moaning. It’ll stop raining soon.

That, in turn, led to a rather lengthy public Facebook conversation between us about me, my attitude and the things i could be doing rather than staring at the rain fall outside and wishing my life away.

And it led to me reflecting on the time i’ve had so far. As with my ideas on New Years, it’s probably wise to look back periodically and if i do this now, it should allow me to make even more of the rest of the time we have before i go back to work. It might even come to affect our relationship after i have gone back!

Our Daily Routine

To start with, here’s some of our daily routines.

Em works one of two shifts on any given day: a morning shift until 2pm or an evening shift that normally starts early afternoon and finishes at 9pm. Personally, i prefer when she’s working mornings and we’ve developed a standard routine on these occasions.

With Rosie being tantamount to the perfect child, we normally get up around 9am, have a bottle and a cup of tea and then wash up from the night before, including her bottles. Then she has a nap while i write, or do house move admin or hopefully get everything ready for heading out later, making a plan based on the weather. Around 1pm, she normally wakes up and it’s lunchtime, with some shmush, finger food and another bottle. Then we’re out.

With me being so easy to please, usually just wanting tea and climbing, the default is always to try and get out to a crag but that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing we do and it certainly doesn’t mean if it’s not possible, we don’t do anything at all. I’ll talk more later about what we have actually achieved so far.

If Em is on a morning shift, normally i wait until she gets home and we normally then do something as a family. Yesterday, for example, was swimming which was awesome and something we all love to do. Walking around North Wales is also a popular option, especially as it keeps Tess, our resident canine, happy too. Sometimes, it ends up being something more necessary than fun-focused, like a trip to Tesco or the other popular one is to socialise with grandparents – we are lucky that both have accommodation of sorts around here and we see them often.

When Em is working and outdoor climbing not an option, there is still a bit of a hierarchy of activities i like to opt for. Both local walls are very accommodating and i have a great relationship with both so an indoor session often works well, and there is another climbing wall on site at work at Plas y Brenin; the latter having the advantage that we get to see Rosie’s mum briefly and our colleagues love seeing the baby.

The next option is normally to go boulder scouting. I’ve found that no level of knowledge of a crag pre-baby can actually tell you whether it’s a suitable venue to take a little one and it’s always best to check with fresh eyes now you know what you’re looking for. And of course, it’s just a walk in the hills really –  a win for everyone.

What about typical baby activities?

As for things like baby club or baby massage, that’s more my problem than anything else. I just don’t feel like i’d be that welcome and don’t actually know when and where most of these things take place.

Granted that’s mostly my responsibility to find out but i’m just not entirely convinced these things are as much for dads as they are for mums. That and why would i do that when i can take everyone climbing, keeping me and Tess that bit happier?

There is a bit of a network of local outdoorsy mums that i kinda know but haven’t really socialised with properly yet. In the interests of some peer social time for Rosie, it is something i know i should pursue but for now, what we’re doing is working and keeping us pretty happy.

Have i neglected the dog?

Erm, yeah probably. Fitting Tess and Rosie into life has proved the biggest challenge for me and sadly, the dog often loses out.

I am conscious of this, hence the hierarchy of activities; it keeps her happier and healthier. At the least, i try and get a walk around the village every day for Tess, so she doesn’t go stir crazy. And of course any baby free time is normally tailored to give my loyal pooch some activity too.

Rosie and Tess have certainly gelled perfectly and have a great relationship, even at this very young stage. Play time with the baby at home often engages the dog too which certainly helps. In a short while, i’m sure they’ll be exhausting each other while i’m washing up.

Has It Worked?

That depends on how you look at it but in the greater scheme of things, yes it has, spectacularly so.

Part of the problem is that i want to be out, every single day. If i can’t for around a week, i get itchy feet and start to think we’re not getting out enough.

Another part of the problem is that my memory is shite and i often plain forget that we got out climbing five times last week and it’s only this week we haven’t done as much. That’s what happened with my last post.

Here’s some figures to go with it: my 27crags ticklist shows 58 new boulder problems since i started Shared Parental Leave – and that doesn’t include a lot of climbs i’ve repeated, that’s just things that weren’t already on the list .

A quick count shows that Rosie herself has been to at least ten venues in North Wales since she was born, either while we were climbing or on a scouting mission. That doesn’t take into account the days i’ve been out without her in that time and that’s just North Wales, so you can add a week in Glendalough into that as well.

On the Facebook debate that prompted this post, Dan said,

For all the support I get from my partner, I can still only climb on average once at weekends, and two or three evenings a month. I tend to get rained off 25% of my days. I climbed a handful of times during my first year as a dad.

That is indeed a bit of perspective! especially as his partner is absolutely awesome. How i’ve done this, i’m not entirely sure but i certainly shouldn’t be taking it for granted.

The Big Important Point

The big huge, neon signed, slap people in the face point i’ve been trying to labour is that you too can get out. If i can do it, you can do it. I’m a barely organised, often unfed and unkept, mess of a human being. People have often said to me before, “i don’t know how you’re still alive” due to my chaotic nature and lack of basic ability to look after myself to others standards. [For the record, i look after my daughter infinitely better and she is perfectly happy and healthy.] If i can get myself sorted to get out climbing, anyone can.

I honesty think that a lot of people – and i don’t mean Dan or anyone else in particular – act the way they think they should when it comes to looking after babies. You’re faced with the fact it’s really hard right from the moment you announce you’re expecting and it really doesn’t fill you with confidence. My dad was the worst for it, telling me i’d never be able to leave the house with a baby; although that may have been a blessing in disguise, as i normally try and prove him wrong with anything he says. So thanks dad, you inadvertently helped.

Get organised, get out. Learn your babies routine and manipulate it to help you. Don’t fall into the habit of being A Parent above everything else – still be you and be a parent as well. Now i’ve looked back, i’ve suddenly realised what the levels of success you can have can be.

Washed Out

This weather is ridiculous. So far this month, we’ve had sunny spells interspersed with heavy showers, meaning we’ve got a beautiful view of a lot of rock that is perpetually too wet to climb on. And as a consequence, a dad here who is getting more and more frustrated at the world.

This happens this time every year. I often comment on weather patterns and that if the latter half of July and August is wet, September normally comes out to be dry and pleasant. A dry August will normally see us suffer from damp, potentially until the spring. So far, autumn 2017 isn’t looking that good.

With being off with Rosie, it’s mostly been a case of making the best of it and trying to get out as best we can and while it seems we haven’t done that much since my last post, looking back through the pictures on my phone has actually just shown me we’ve done pretty well after all!

30th August, two days after saying my farewell to Clare, i actually managed to escape for some baby-free time and head back up into the pass. I’d been keen to head to the Meadow and re-tick Killer Weed 7a for a little while and now, with Em and Rosie potentially to follow on a bit later, i took Tess up for a session. On the way, i bumped into an old friend, Mikey, and a youngster he was working with, who opted to take the long trudge up the hill to join me.

We got distracted on the way at the Wavelength boulder and started ticking. Despite being there only a few weeks previous, No Retro Ticks came into play and i repeated almost everything again and in a wonderful example of why it works, ended up ticking off a new line, Gav’s Sitter 7a+ on the second effort!

Two days later, we were out again, back at the Brenin boulder to see if it had dried enough since our last effort. Land Rover parked in the bushes, pads and baby crap carried in and very quickly it became apparent that the slightly high but easy top out was wet and slimy. While easy and not scary in the dry, in these conditions, it could be a touch treacherous and alone, it just wasn’t worth it. Instead, we bid retreat and headed to a small party to say farewell to this year’s crop of Centre Assistants – a great bunch of guys who will, i’m sure, all go on to great things.

The following day, with no rain since then, we tried again. Without even taking the baby up to the crag from the track this time, it was evident that it was still too damp so the backup plan came into effect: the RAC boulders.

The RAC is an unusual crag, having an abundance of easy lines but without much in the harder grades and since i began generally operating in the higher 7s, it’s somewhere i’ve normally avoided. Most of the lines i’ve done before and weren’t actually that challenging so the idea of going and repeating them again never really inspired. The difference now is a new guidebook to tick and a very baby friendly crag. Plus, there’s a load of new stuff that is actually that little bit harder now.

Old habits do die hard and i quickly ran up and down most of the climbs on the easier lower boulder, one after the other. It did, i must admit, feel very good to get some mileage in and did tire me out a little. Next was the front face on the other boulder and after finding a safe little dip to leave Rosie, i happily repeated most of the lines, trying On One 7b+, the hardest climb at the crag, to little avail. I did, however, forget to tick the 7a Frontside Traverse which is a little frustrating.

The imposing figure of the RAC boulders – imposing to those that don't know the #climbs they hold. This is #northwales premier beginner venue, with a plethora of low grade lines ideal for those just finding their feet in this #sport – now with all documented on 27crags.com For those of us with more experience, these days, there are a handful of harder lines to be searched out or, thanks to my No Retro Ticks rule and the challenge of repeating everything in the area, a chance to get some mileage in. Despite not doing anything over 6b+ today, 29 problems actually worked as reasonable training on another glorious day in #snowdonia. #babyleave is rapidly becoming #bouldering leave… #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #Bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram @27cragsofficial

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On my return home, i continued to update 27crags with accurate records of all of North Wales bouldering and found, to my dismay, thirteen climbs of 6c or harder that i’d either missed, neglected or not had a chance to finish! It appears i need to read this book more and not assume i know the crag…

Since then, outdoor climbing has become nothing more than a dream. Where the weather was glorious on the Saturday at the RAC, the Sunday was nothing more than a deluge for Em’s birthday and her planned trip up Crib Goch was undoubtedly cancelled. Instead, in search of some shelter from the torrential drizzle, Em, her brother James and his partner Rachael, their mum, Rosie, Tess and myself all went for a little wander through Beddgelert forest.

It had crossed my mind to do a bit of boulder scouting but that wasn’t the point of the day and it wouldn’t have been right to try and hijack it. This was Em’s birthday and despite the poor weather, it was a lovely family day out, topped off with food and tea in the Hebog cafe in Beddgelert to dry out a bit.

A dry day the following Wednesday (that i’d forgotten about) was stymeed by a cement mixer making a hash of getting up Goodman Street here in Llanberis and managing to spill a large amount of concrete all over the road… and the cars parked along it. Three cars took the brunt, including the Land Rover with a splash on the front wing.

She was in desperate need for a clean and a polish anyway so that was the plan for the rest of the day and to be fair, she looked absolutely sparkling afterwards. Problem was, the day after, i noticed cement underneath, on the suspension, diff, brakes, all over so my beloved green machine is currently away being tended to while we cruise North Wales in a Nissan X-Trail.

It proved quite useful for our Non-Climbing Commitment (or NCC) in Birmingham at the weekend, giving us an economical and comfortable ride there and back. A party for some old friends on the Saturday evening was preceeded by a trip to the Botanical Gardens in the daytime and to be fair, it was an excellent weekend.

Since then, it’s been a case of timing the gaps between showers and getting pissed off. Thankfully, Rosie has grown to the point where she is now able to ride in the rucksack carrier and so, armed with a steak pie and a smile, on Monday gone, we went boulder scouting once again, to the Llyn y Gadair boulders and then possibly further into Beddgelert forest – a spot seemingly turning into our second home lately!

Sadly, on arrival in Birmingham on Friday evening, i’d decided i was only going to get strong if i exercised more and went for a run. An hour later, dripping in sweat, i had staggered back and my legs hadn’t quite recovered by our walk on Monday, meaning that as time wore on and progress slow, we cut the walk short and headed home. Llyn y Gadair looks good for a short session though.

Looking back, it seems i’ve not actually been that unlucky after all and it’s surprising how high are the standards i’ve set myself of late. We’ve actually been getting out much more than i’d realised and given i have a young child in tow, I’ve been spending my mornings writing lately on how you can maintain much of your old life once a baby arrives and it’s important to remember what you have done. Once you’re into the day to day routine, it’s easy to think you’ve not done enough.

Roo Stops Play

Okay, the name of this post is a little misleading given the amount we’ve been managing to get out recently! It came to me as we were forced into a hasty retreat on our first unaccompanied day out once someone decided enough was enough and the title seemed pretty apt as we’ve been at various crags this weekend listening to Test Match Special and following the cricket… Nevertheless, there’s no doubting the start of our little adventure together has been a resounding success.

My last post talked of a solo session for myself (admittedly with Tess in tow) up in the Llanberis pass and some scouting missions but no actual bouldering sessions for me and Rosie. Well, after much anticipation, Thursday gone, we finally got out.

I think in hindsight, the excitement of finally taking my young daughter bouldering with me got the better of me and as Em went off to work, i frantically ran around trying to get all the required accessories together and piled into the car. A Land Rover 90 is not big enough and on the way back, the piles of stuff in the back nearly covered poor Tess, who at one point was almost scrabbling to get into the front cab with us.

We were afforded the luxury of taking plenty as the crag in question was Caseg Fraith – an old favourite of mine and perfectly suited to a baby session. We were even able to pull up right near the crag, unload and then move the car around to the farmhouse, giving us a minimal load to drag in. In a move that would later make me slap myself hard in the head with the palm of my hand, i figured the car was so close, i could leave the changing bag in the car…

The session started really well, with me ticking off the easier lines on the left of the crag up to and including Caseg Fraith Arete 6b while Rosie enjoyed playing with the toys on her play mat and occasionally watching me climb. The occasional fussy moment was easily dealt with and soon enough, i was shuffling the pads under the roof of Skunk X 7a+.

That seemed to be the trigger – or at least the time – for Rosie to begin to fall out of love with our adventurous afternoon. Rapidly, contentedness made way for fussing and some early crying and just after i’d ticked Skunk X, we both realised time was up. She was hungry now.

The problem, as mentioned above, was the changing bag being in the car. By the time i’d saddled up with the inordinate amount of crap, she could probably be heard the length and breadth of the Ogwen valley.

With the session having equal success and failure, i decided to call it a good one. I’d defied most of my own advice i’d recently penned in an article about bouldering with babies and thought i should probably learn from my mistakes but remain undeterred. And that is exactly what i did.

The Saturday following our mixed day out, we tried again. The target this time: the Braichmelyn, or Super Boulder, near Bethesda. Another short walk in with enough space for Tess to run and play, i was definitely making the most of the No Retro Ticks rule!

One subtle but important change for this session was the play mat for the baby. As Caseg Fraith, i’d taken the small play mat from the living room whereas this time, i took a much larger one procured from my cousin Lindsay. It worked a treat and Rosie was an absolute dream – playing with toys peacefully while i duly ticked off more climbs. I stopped to feed her briefly and she dropped off for a nap but none of this prevented sends of The Ramp 6a!, Central Wall 6c+ and the sit start at 7a, Braichmelyn Arete 5b and again, the 7a sit start and a fresh tick of Kryptonite 4c!.

In fact, it wasn’t even Rosie who forced the exit from this crag – more my own abject efforts at ticking the two 7a lines Klimov and The Crack. Given the miniscule crimps in use, i’m blaming the conditions and not my own failings. That’s what good climbers do isn’t it?

One from yesterday at the #superboulder of me on the sit start to Central Wall 7a as Rosie watches, taken on a timer. Where our session a couple of days before was good, this one was much better as my #daughter had loads of fun playing on her play mat with her toys, giving me plenty of time to continually fall off the fierce crimps of the #braichmelyn. I'm blaming the conditions for my average list of accents… The only downside was an injury sustained by Tess somehow who came home with a major limp, probably while chasing a ball. She's much better today though, thankfully. #bethesda #worldclasswales #snowdonia #northwales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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Monday i needed to call into work to say goodbye to a colleague going off to greater things and the plan was to go in early and head to the Plas y Brenin boulder, given there are now several good new link ups to go at that didn’t appear in the old guide. However, we were once again thwarted by the friendliness of the Brenin…

You can’t go anywhere in that place in a hurry; certainly not without a stern look adorning your face and a furrowed brow. It can regularly take half an hour to get a cup of tea, getting distracted chatting to pretty much anyone else you happen across along the way. Throw an adorable baby into the mix and you’ll never get anything done. That’s what happened last time i went in: climbing took second place to sitting in the bar.

It almost happened again but with dark clouds gathering overhead, an indoor session seemed more sensible anyway. With an empty climbing wall on site, we headed down to get some mileage in.

True to form, Rosie was great and with Cat from the bar mixing playing on the wall with playing with the baby, i managed a third good session in five days. Clare, the departing colleague, even managed to take a few minutes out to come and say hello – to be honest, that made the session all the more worth it. Clare, it’s been a pleasure and i know you’ll be sorely missed around the centre.

The Long Awaited New Testament

It’s here.

It has been a long time coming, for anyone wanting to boulder in North Wales; that’s quite a number of people given it is up there as a contender for the best bouldering in Britain! The last guide was originally published in 2004, in moody black and white and was actually bilingual, with everything being given descriptions in Welsh (Cymraeg) as well as English. It went out of print back in 2009 and has been a prized possession for anyone lucky enough to lay their hands on one – something not to be loaned or lost for sure! – until now.

For some context, the old guide was 303 pages and (as well as half of it being duplicated already) contained the usual general pages, commandments for bouldering outdoors, two pages on gear, another on landings, four pages on the definition of a boulder problem (worth a read) and another three on grading. At the back, once past the faraway crag of Cae Ddu, you’d find a FULL graded list of everything in the book, eight colour photos including one of the great John Gaskins and SIXTEEN pages on history of the local scene. Oh and a glossary.

All that is gone, save for four pages of introduction; such is the nature of the North Wales bouldering explosion since the last guide first hit the shelves some thirteen years ago. In fairness, it had to as the weighty tome that now covers my homeland extensively still comes in at 667 pages. It weighs 1150g, almost half the weight of my daughter when she was born…

The old classics are in there, obviously but with entire new crags that only the most dedicated of locals were aware of. Nevertheless, with almost every crag at the very least giving a photo topo for an old project for me, and after years of deliberation, i’ve opted to go for a No Retro Ticks approach to the guide.

I was chatting to an old friend Andy Marshall the other day and said about this so just to clarify: No Retro Ticks refers simply to literally ticking the guidebook, not claiming the ascent. What this means in real terms is that there is a lot of repeating of boulder problems around here for me all of a sudden!

That’s not to mean i’m going to leave a lot of the new stuff. On the contrary, unable to wait for the delivery at work, i snagged a copy from local shop V12 (often called VDiff) the day it arrived and was out the following day checking out somewhere i’d been before but not climbed.

I love doing established boulder problems, with beta and a grade and i love doing first ascents but what i really don’t like is doing something that i know has been done but i don’t know how or how hard. I find it really irritating and more than once i’ve done something slightly different from the original and don’t quite get the ascent. There have been a few places like that around here but all of a sudden, i have a book that now shows me where they lie.

The first crag on my radar? The first crag in the book! Little walk in, dog friendly and oft pondered, i headed into Fachwen to get some much needed mileage under my belt.

A great little session culminating in Shorter’s Roof 7a+ while listening to the Test cricket. More than getting back into the swing of things, it was liberating to actually climb something i’d looked at years ago but was put off by not knowing enough detail. That and it’s a great little roof.

The only other ticks in the book were up in the pass where i managed to sneak out for a couple of hours. The Llanberis Pass has always been the focal point of the North Wales bouldering scene and has suddenly expanded, somewhat unexpectedly. One would’ve thought it couldn’t get much else new but it really has.

The Obedience Boulders are one such area that weren’t really known before but now have photo topos and provide a quick session for those nearby. Most people will be lured to the nearby Corridors Of Power 7c+ but i would suggest Nicotine Wall and it’s surrounding problems would be worth stopping at on the way there.

Sadly, despite obsessively reading the book at every opportunity, that remains my only outdoor sessions to date; stymied by poor weather and a baby, not to mention moving house. What we have mentioned though are some excellent scouting missions.

The crag of Fontainefawr was another i’d heard plenty about but not visited so an evening walk turned quickly into bushwacking and searching in the woods to find the inspiring hanging roof. It did look mighty impressive but for me, didn’t quite hit the spot and would most definitely not be baby friendly.

The one that did push my buttons was Supercrack. Under the heading of the Black Rhino boulder – a less inspiring but equally tempting boulder – Supercrack has captivated my attention since i first laid eyes on it in person. Despite the rain, the bottom half remained chalked and i really cannot wait for a dry spell to get back there and get spat off the harder (and hopefully not the easier) lines.

It looked inspiring in a recent video that caught my attention too but that wasn’t why i was watching. Long time readers will remember the excitement i felt after completing my best first ascent, Prowess 7b. So imagine my excitement when i watched this video:

It is a great feeling to put up a new line, even better to see it in the guidebook but to know that people are out there climbing it is a real thrill. What’s even better is a conversation i had the other day with the boys at Dragon Holds.

After recognising the woods of Bryn Engan in a photo, and a comment saying they were searching for new boulders, i asked if it was where i thought. The reply: “You know where it is, near Pyb boulder and prowess”. Not only are people now trying my climb, they’re also using it as a landmark!

It might sound a little sad but it’s nice to think that while this new book is giving me so much inspiration and new climbs to throw myself at, that i’ve been a little part of that.

A Conversation With David Flanagan

As regular or recent readers will know, i recently went to Ireland for a trip to the Wicklow mountains and was a little scathing about the guidebook.

Well, a comment appeared underneath the post from a Mr David Flanagan, author of said guidebook. He was, let us say, less than impressed by my review.

That is totally understandable; guidebooks don’t make the authors much money and are a labour of love so having some random internet guy write horrid things about it online can’t have been pleasant.

Thankfully for us both, David has been very understanding and we’ve been chatting via email about my post, the guidebook and his thoughts and explanations. I said in the comments, i’m genuinely grateful to get called up on my post and for him to get in touch. He’s been very open to conversation and we’ve been talking it through. So here are some of the reflections since we’ve started talking:

Areas covered

Firstly, a mistake i made with my review: we only went to Glendalough. We didn’t travel to any of the other areas – and i’ll talk more about this in a minute – and certainly didn’t make it to the North, South or West of Ireland. So to judge the whole guidebook based on my experience in Wicklow, nay Glendalough alone, was unfair.

So all of my previous comments related purely to this one crag. As such, i apologise for this mistake. In due course, i’m hoping to explore a little more but until that point, i need to remember to specify.

Maps in the guide

This is the point where David had the most trouble and something we’ve since talked about quite a bit. I have argued that there is a gap in the mapping – with a large scale overview and a very small scale map to get from the parking – and that there should be one in between.

His counter to this: “I think that to find any area would be pretty straightforward on a gps enabled phone” and he has also suggested, “A good road atlas is worth getting. Probably don’t need the OS maps unless you are exploring new areas”.

While i completely understand, i still feel a map with a scale in between the two on offer would pay dividends and it is something that most guides do offer. This is the point where we seem to disagree and that’s fine, we’re entitled to our individual opinions. There are some map-related retractions from my posts and they can be seen below.

Problem descriptions and Photo Topos

Here we get a bit more subtle and into the minutiae of the guide. Again, much as with my first point, it is important to remember this all stems from the relatively small number of problems i encountered; 12 pages out of 230. As such, for me to offer an opinion on Ireland as a whole was unjust and i apologise.

We discussed the problems i had tried and struggled with and some of the issues i’d had and again, to his credit, David listened and accepted what i had said; for example about the back of the Big Jane boulder. Likewise for BBE he agreed that commenting that the rock plinth was in would be worthwhile.

There may be a third edition on it’s way so these subtle differences could well be included.

For me to say, “photo topos for boulders are scant” is harsh and not the case. There are boulders that could do with more attention, as mentioned above, but there are plenty of photo topos in the guide.

Grades

Grades are always a contentious issue and this is a conversation we did have but one that didn’t interest David that much. You’ll always get this, where someone disagrees strongly with the area’s grading but to use three days of bouldering to come out with the comment, “listen to me when i tell you, dear Irish climbers: your grading is just pure wrong” is misguided and with my experience – especially when i then use that to back up the comment – i should’ve known better.

I maintain the grades in this area lack consistency and could do with some outside influence but there is scope for that online in the form of online logbooks and there are not many opinions on problems. Until Ireland and specifically Glendalough attain more international attention, this will be an issue for travelling climbers. Even then, i am willing to concede that i may be wrong.

This is not uncommon. I’ve been to places both famous and not and this is always an issue. It’s normally worse for locals who can debate the intricate details of each problem for a much longer time. As for Glendalough, i still don’t think it’s perfect and i still think Andy’s Arete should be 7a but that is one area in a whole country and my comment, “the grades in Glendalough are shit” was uncalled for.

Overall

Anyone who writes for the public – journalists, essayists, bloggers, forum users, anyone with a social media account including twitter and facebook among the myriad of others – should be held to account for the comments they make. With the advent of the internet and the ease with which we are able to make public statements to be heard by the masses, the more extreme comments can come to the fore much more easily.

I have often dismissed comments of this nature by others as “keyboard warriors” who don’t really care or think about the consequences of their words. This episode has highlighted to me how easy it is to drift into that state of mind without realising.

I’ve been lucky: the guy i slated has had the strength of character not only to call me on it but to discuss it like a professional and i hope i’ve conducted myself in a similar fashion. I can only apologise for making rash comments. A friend said to me, when talking about penning this post, that when he read the originals, he thought i’d get hate mail and to be honest, in hindsight, he might have been right.

I have left the original posts unedited deliberately. As with print media, once you have said something, it is said and i don’t want to tamper with it to try and make myself look less culpable. However, i have posted an addendum onto the post to point people in the direction of my retraction.

As for the guide, it is not, as per my original judgement, a “crap guidebook”. Yes, i’ve used better but i’ve also used much worse and we were able to find the crags i was most interested in and plenty of problems to climb. Yes, the maps don’t live up to my high expectations but they do work, in conjunction with another road map as eluded to in the opening chapters. To pass such harsh judgment based on Glendalough alone was simply wrong and i should’ve been more specific.

The most important point is this: don’t let my review put you off going. The climbing in Glendalough is worth the trip alone and i’m sure some of the other crags in the area are similarly excellent. The guidebook, as new editions emerge, is becoming better all the time and got us to and around the crag with ease.

If i did go back, would i want the guidebook with me? Absolutely and i think that says it all.

Some Retractions

The following are comments from my two original posts that David highlighted that i wish to retract.

  • “it is massively lacking as even a half decent guidebook”. This is harsh and untrue.
  • “There are practically no maps, photo topos for boulders are scant and the descriptions for the problems that aren’t photographed are often useless”. There are maps, as discussed above, there are several photo topos and often descriptions are perfectly suitable. If there are individual problems with routes you find, the guidebook author is amenable to feedback.
  • “try and find anywhere less obvious – like every single other crag in the area – and the guide lacks even the slightest bit of quality”. I didn’t actually try to find places, we relied on climbing at Glendalough and so this comment was unjust.
  • “i would suggest that even at this wonderfully accessible location, i would’ve really struggled to find anything”. In hindsight, we did find the crag and several problems without help and locals generally gave more specific information on individual problems.
  • “the crap guidebook didn’t actually show us where any other crags are”. It does, you just need to try a little bit. I was being lazy and this comment is not based on any evidence.
  • “the grades in Glendalough are shit”. A snap judgement, possibly born out of frustration at my own performance, that wasn’t backed up by attempting enough climbs. A lesson not to judge grades by one’s own performance over a short period of time.
  • “listen to me when i tell you, dear Irish climbers: your grading is just pure wrong”. I did not try enough climbing in Ireland to make this statement.

Once again, many thanks to David Flanagan for taking the time to discuss this with me.

No Ranting As I Talk About the End Of Our Trip To Ireland

No ranting this time, i promise. Actually, following the same pattern as the trip itself, there’s nothing really to rant about, as our trip seemed to get that little bit better every day as the week wore on.

Despite my misgivings about Irish bouldering, i really did enjoy it and going back for those three days did make every one that fraction better than it’s predecessor. And i do really want to go back.

To be frank, that might not have been the case were it not for our penultimate day. With Rosie now struggling to sleep as long and being increasingly sicky, it had crossed my mind to cut it short, especially considering the weather forecast but the end of the trip was getting closer so i didn’t really mention it. I’m very glad i didn’t.

We had a look on some of the maps and realised that we were at the eastern base of the Wicklow mountains proper and that really, we should head West a bit to check out what was over there. It certainly looked more promising and turns out, it really was.

We did a big loop around the park in the end, heading over the mountain road from Glendalough over to Hollywood, checking out some of the awesome views back down to where we’d come. After dropping down again, we drove through some sleepy villages with not a lot there to Blessington to stop and grab a cup of tea and a cake.

It took a little wandering before we found somewhere (sigh) but the bookshop-come-cafe we did find, The Blessington Book Store, was really nice and obviously servicing the local kids with their school books for the next year. It was really nice to see this, with parents and kids heading to the shop and placing their order. Certainly much nicer than them sitting at home and ordering on Amazon! And the cafe certainly deserved supporting, it was a lovely little place.

Photo credit: Emily Slater

A lakeside walk took us along the shores of the Poulaphouca Reservoir (i think) on a glorious day that put smiles on everyone’s faces. This was a well kept and fantastic, pushchair friendly walk along the edge of the water and through the woods that summed up the trip wonderfully: slow to start but just kept getting better as it went along. When we eventually left, the drive over Sally Gap and a stop at the Lough Tay Viewing Point emphasised this even more.

Our last day, we rose early, packed at quickly as i possibly could while Em looked after Rosie, said our goodbye’s to the wonderful host Jim and hit the road – leaving ten minutes before the weather closed in! One thing we must say is the weather was certainly very kind to us that week; with poor forecasts and good weather every day.

A planned walk on the way back to Dublin was cancelled as we’d be swimming through mist and turned into a ten minute stop to let the dog out. Now partially drenched, i jumped back in and we headed to the capital for a wander round before our late night ferry home.

The day in Dublin captured our whole trip exactly. We thought we’d read up enough on where to go and what to do. We really hadn’t and as we made our way into the city, it soon became apparent that while Dublin has plenty of places to park, none of them are suitable with tall vehicles. With the roof box on, it was futile.

Round and round the city we drove, becoming increasingly frustrated and snarky with each other, starting to think we’d never find what we were looking for. Eventually, we plumped for somewhere we’d discounted right at the start, got the baby out of the car and went to look for the outdoor shop i’d been craving all week, a place called Basecamp.

It turned out to be pretty average, for what i was looking for anyway. It would’ve been quite good had we been hiking and backpacking but for a rock climber, it left a bit to be desired. I’m conscious that the last time i railed on something i didn’t like at the time, i offended the author and wrote a retraction but i think i’m justified in saying this really wasn’t a climbing shop when they only had three climbing shoes on display… Sadly the guys working there weren’t that chatty either. Nevertheless, i bought an icebreaker top and we headed back to the car.

With time to kill and dinner to find, we headed out of the city centre. A google search for “best burger in Dublin” coupled with some kind local info from Ryan meant we headed South East of the city towards a place called Merion Square and what a lovely little park! Easy parking, a lovely little walk and a fed and happy baby, we had a great little wander, taking in the statue to Oscar Wilde and enjoying one of Dublin’s quieter hotspots.

With Rosie fed, it was our turn and with me keen for a burger, we found a place called Jo Burger. It felt like we were suddenly in the Shoreditch of Dublin – a totally different vibe to earlier in the day. The burger was awesome, thoroughly recommended in a child friendly place that seemed to have people of all ages and walks of life – even if we did manage to find the only pub in Ireland that didn’t serve Guinness…

Our finale had started slow, with a few niggles but had just got better and better, just like the whole week. All in all, it was an awesome week and while sailing across the Irish Sea on the way home, we were able to look back at it and smile at Rosie’s first foreign foray. Unspectacular and largely uneventful, it was perfect for us to get used to being away with our little one and despite the lack of distinct memories, will forever be remembered, not only as the latest birthday trip but the first for our new addition to the family.

Family adventures. #goofy

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A Slightly Less Ranty Post About Irish Tourism and Bouldering

Firstly, apologies for the ranting in my previous post. Some aspects of the trip did annoy and frustrate me, considering my background and expertise but that doesn’t mean i want to inflict that on my good readers. So, here’s a photo of me, Tess and my daughter looking super cute in the tent two days after my birthday, chilling to the Jungle Book soundtrack:

Now that we’ve brightened the mood, back to the activites of last week. As i’ve said, it wasn’t just a climbing trip this one, with family time being just as imortant and with that in mind, the Sunday was to be spent doing just that. The problem was we didn’t really know what family time should involve around the mountains of Wicklow…

After a morning of mild indecision, eventually we did head out, dropping in to the “market” in Roundwood – actually just a handful of old ladies with cakes and plants for sale in the local Church hall – before heading North. The plan was to head into Bray, to try and find an outdoor shop and buy gas, before grabbing something to eat and seeing where the wind took us. Little did we realise that it was Sunday in a very Catholic country.

Everything was closed, much as the same way as i’ve experienced around Europe in the past. A quick search online showed our intent to buy gas was doomed from the start and tensions started to fray as the day ticked on and we hadn’t actually done anything. We drove along the coast but were stymied by the roofbox and the added height and it began to look like we’d not achieve anything when unexpectedly, we found ourselves at the Great Sugar Loaf.

An obvious tourist trap – born out of the fact it’s visible for miles around – The Great Sugar Loaf is one of those unique mountains/hills that sits isolated from everywhere around it. At 501m above sea level, and with the road and car park eliminating quite a chunk of that ascent, it’s not really a tough walk, even considering the scrambly gully. It was a nice little wander and the view at the top was outstanding! We could see over Dublin, across to the Wicklow mountains and right across County Wicklow. Busy with people – and you could certainly understand why on such a nice day – it was a great little find and meant we headed back to the campsite after a successful Sunday after all.

Monday came and to my surprise, i was treated to another climbing day. I say surprise as to be honest, i didn’t think we’d get another one in but Em did a sterling effort in dragging us out quickly and efficiently, proving it is possible, and the poor forecast turned out to be a false one.

Yet again, we headed up the valley in Glendalough; partly because the crap guidebook didn’t actually show us where any other crags are but mainly because i had unfinished business on Andy’s Arete. At the car, we loaded up and i was keen to test out getting me, Rosie and all of our stuff in to the crag ready for Baby leave this summer. So, i saddled up with the Petzl pad on my back, my climbing bag and changing bag hanging off the back and a baby strapped to my front.

The problem was that i couldn’t get the waistband up properly so all the weight was pulling down hard on my shoulders. As a consequence, i was leaning forward quite a bit. That meant that little Rosie’s head drooped quite badly and then needed supporting by my hand. We got more than our fair share of funny looks on the way in! and i have enormous gratitude to Em for taking the baby and an unladen pad on the way back.

After a quick break to catch my breath and allow myself to stop sweating, i got on some of the boulders close to the path. These are really convenient and indeed meant i could also keep an eye on Rosie and not have to run off on my own. There are also some real gems in there. But then we get onto the subject of grading…

Now i’m aware that i advertised this post as less ranty than the previous but this does need to be said: the grades in Glendalough are shit.

Let me explain. In any area, there is often a disparity in what climbers think is, say, a 7a compared to elsewhere in the world. That’s quite normal and is to be expected but in the Wicklow mountains, it seems this is just that step too far. There were apparently classic 7a climbs there that i couldn’t figure out how to step off the floor (not a problem i usually have) as the holds were simply too poor. That just doesn’t happen on 7a.

On Saturday’s session, it took three attempts to finish off a simple 5 – and that was on the second session. Remember that not last year i climbed 7c+ in North Wales. Yes, i’m off form, and yes, i’ve not long had a baby but a fall from grace this large would only really result from a substantial and debilitating injury. A week before we left, i flashed a 7a+.

Now we're back, I get to regale the story of our trip to #Ireland to anyone who'll stand still long enough to listen! Here I am, #hangingout while trying Mark's Problem 7a+ which didn't go. Once back and ticking stuff on my @27cragsofficial logbook, I found out it's actually called Greg's Problem Traverse at 6b+. Always nice to tick something you didn't realise was even there! In #climbing terms, our time in #glendalough didn't quite meet my hopes but what a place! And the #bouldering certainly warrants a return! Thanks @emks93 for the photo and the support during the trip #irishbouldering #irelandbouldering #wicklow #wicklowbouldering #glendaloughbouldering #sandbag #rockclimbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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You could make the argument that it’s a very different rock type to back home and you’d be correct, granite is a very different beast. It was when i climbed on granite in Ailefroide in 2005 and 2006, in Val Daone in 2010, in Squamish in 2011, in Zillertal in 2013, Magic Wood in 2012 and again in 2014 and on Dartmoor in 2012. That’s not to mention last year’s Great Swedish Bouldering Tour, mostly on, yup, granite.

I’ve also climbed hard while away. No less than two of my 7c ascents were abroad, as well as several 7b and 7b+ ticks. The point of this isn’t to blow my own trumpet, it is just to offer some evidence to the opinion that the vast majority of these climbs are at least two grades undergraded, compared to almost everywhere else i’ve been.

You could also make the fair point that we were there out of season, at the height of summer at the end of June and you’d be right too but again, bear in mind that all bar two of the places listed above were at exactly the same time of year. No, pure and simple, listen to me when i tell you, dear Irish climbers: your grading is just pure wrong.

Andy's Arete in #glendalough is one of the best climbs I've tried anywhere, not to mention in #Wicklow. It is immense, and a testament to the #quality of #irishbouldering. It is not 6c. The problems with grading here were huge in all of the climbs I came across and it was something I have gone into depth about (slightly more than I intended) in my latest blog post, link in bio. It shouldn't matter but sadly it does, it puts people off and makes a mockery of the system. And considering how amazing the rock and the #climbing are, it is nothing short of a travesty that needs to be addressed if they ever want to attract people to this wonderful country. #Ireland #wicklowbouldering #glendaloughbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing-pictures-of-instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #meclimbing

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It shouldn’t matter but the fact is it does. Grades are a measure of your ability, a way of selecting climbs that are at the level of difficulty that you want to try. When you get shut down on something you should theoretically be able to achieve, it is demoralising and can even put you off an area.

In many ways it was very similar as we trudged over to try Andy’s Arete ss again at 7a+. The bottom section hadn’t proved too bad, just the top to finish off and complete. So after a few tries, i opted to try the stand, mainly to work the upper moves.

I’d snatched for the right hand hold on the arete but not held it and didn’t really know how bad it was to be. Again, based on the grade, i was expecting it to be a pretty decent hold that allowed me to readjust before slapping the top. When i caught it and found out it was worse than the previous hold, i was more than a little surprised. It took the entire rest of the session to get the stand start complete. The grade: 6c.

Now, this really did annoy me, i shouldn’t be struggling like this on a 6c and if it hadn’t been for the conversation with Ryan mentioned in my previous post, i’d be more than likely trudging back in a proper sulk, shocked at being utterly abject compared to my former self.

Now the stand was done, i was keen to finish it from the sit start, the beta wired, although by this point i was conscious of Em beginning to get a bit bored. I did try a few more times, with an eye to her perhaps trying some of the quality lines on the Big Jim boulder but when the spots of rain arrived, i thought the bad weather was gonna hit us and we packed up quick. The stand will have to wait and i’ll have to return. If i didn’t know better, it would be easy just not to bother.

And therein lies the problem for Ireland and the Irish bouldering scene. Couple this latest one with the two issues mentioned in my last post and you just can’t see Ireland becoming a major bouldering destination any time soon. And here was me saying i’m not going to rant… Oops.

A Slight Rant About Some Aspects of Irish Tourism and Bouldering

Birthday climbing didn’t actually happen but that didn’t matter; climbing was a secondary purpose of the trip this year, behind sharing my daughter’s inaugural foreign foray and spending time with my significant better half. Instead, the day was spent chilling, watching bottles sterilise in a pan of boiling water and then going for a nice little walk around the nearby Vartry Reservoir.

I say around, we didn’t actually make it all the way around, it’s absolutely massive and not the most romantic of walks. This is a fantastic metaphor for Ireland (or at least the Wicklow National Park): they have some fantastic scenery and some wonderful places but really don’t know how to market it. North Wales is similar, in that we really don’t make the most of the assets we have here to their full potential, but there is politics in play and it’s not quite as simple. Perhaps that is the case in Ireland too, and that there is some deep seated reason that the local communities do not want to attract large quantities of tourists but without knowing that, all i can say is they really don’t make the most of the wonders they really have.

Here is the perfect example. I have just know googled “Vartry Reservoir” to find a link to post on aforementioned name and found, to my great shock, this video:

Now until right now, i had no idea about this at all. We didn’t see this and would’ve quite like to! Instead we were treated to a mediocre gravel path, half maintained but not to any exceptional standard with signs only for restrictions on fishing and an interesting A4 print out about a white cross built into a wall. If that spillway was in the Lakes, it would’ve been given brown signposts for miles around.

What they do advertise often doesn’t live up to it’s billing. After our walk, we headed into Roundwood for a traditional birthday dinner out and opted for “the highest pub in Ireland”; Kavanagh’s Vartry House at the top of the village. This is a pub (that looks nothing like the website by the way) that had a sign outside claiming to be the highest pub in Ireland but a quick Google search brings up no less than three other pubs. Now, i really couldn’t care less if i’m drinking at a higher altitude than the others, (for those that are, check out this lengthy thread on a message board, that i could not be bothered to reach the end of) but inside was a less than charismatic inn, seating plenty of stereotypical Irishmen watching the horse racing with their betting slips in their hands. Our dinner was pleasant, nothing to write about really but the place really was incredibly unspectacular. Perhaps the people of County Wicklow just don’t have the same ideas of what constitutes quality to visitors?

Not wanting to berate the good Irish people too much, i must say that they are just that: good, friendly and accommodating. The barman was incredibly friendly and pleasant with us, as was Jim at the Roundwood Campsite and indeed everyone else we met for the duration of the trip. Jim in particular would greet us with a cheery smile, a happy wave and often as not, a nice chat whenever we approached or passed him and did make the week just that little bit nicer.

An exception to the lack of tourism is indeed the village, lakes and valley of Glendalough and indeed, the day after my birthday was indeed a climbing day. Parked up at the shores of the lower lake, it was now Saturday and obviously that bit busier; although the number of confused looks and questions about the pads wasn’t as many as is common.

Up at the crag and Em stayed put at the ruins with Roo and i headed off, intending to scout out some projects before touching base again. I got a bit distracted on the Big Jim boulder to be honest, and wasn’t in somebody’s good books by the time i returned. A little oblivious to what i’d done wrong – in my own inimitable way – i headed over to the Big Jane boulder instead…

These two blocs are touted as some of the best in Glendalough and so surely some of the best in Ireland. Big Jim houses the easier or the routes, Jane the tougher and i was keen to have a look and see what was there. Turns out, it looked really good.

The big one for me was Andy’s Arete 6c from stand with a 7a+ sit start version that i found two climbers working: Ryan and Rocio. Several other lines did inspire on this bloc, thankfully shown to me by Ryan and he pointed out the excellent looking Rhythm and Stealth 7a and The Groove ss 7c which both looked immense, albeit with slightly worse landings. The Arete certainly remained the one to grab my attention.

They were working the start from sitting and despite being shut down by grades somewhat – something i will discuss more in another post – i figured it was still well within my grade and opted to join them. Between us, we figured out the beta, thanks to Rocio and her cheeky heel hook to start and the line so very nearly fell in a single session before a slightly abrupt departure.

A photo posted on 27crags.com by Barry O’Dwyer of the excellent Andy’s Arete

It was an excellent line although i fear without Ryan’s help, i’d have struggled to find it properly. The guidebook, Bouldering in Ireland by David Flanagan covers the entire country of Ireland, with a large swathe dedicated to the Wicklow mountains. Yet while at home it inspires hugely, it is massively lacking as even a half decent guidebook.

There are practically no maps, photo topos for boulders are scant and the descriptions for the problems that aren’t photographed are often useless. Take this line for the 8a on the Big Jim boulder: “Powerful? Yes. Pointless? Yes.”

Now this unnamed problem is even photographed but fails to provide enough detail to even know where to start. It was only when i bumped into some other local climbers who gave me a bit of a hint but considering they were working the lower grade problems around the corner, i couldn’t expect detailed beta.

While i appreciate opinion is a guidebook, it needs to be first and foremost just that: a guide. It is (supposed to be) a book that shows you where the lines go, where they start and sometimes finish and at the very least, how to get there. Glendalough wasn’t a problem but try and find anywhere less obvious – like every single other crag in the area – and the guide lacks even the slightest bit of quality.

David Flanagan has also written other books, notably a book called Bouldering Essentials; an excellent read aimed at those getting into bouldering, with some detail for those operating in the slightly higher grades. It tails off once you look for advice on climbing “hard” and in many ways his Irish guidebook works in many the same way.

In much the same way as i described earlier with Irish attitudes towards tourism, rightly or wrongly i might add, the solitary guidebook for the area seems to contain the same shortcomings. As someone on his very first trip to the country, i can say i’m indebted to those friendly locals i met as without them, i would suggest that even at this wonderfully accessible location, i would’ve really struggled to find anything. Given my level of experience, I’m classing this as a bit of a fail from them.

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