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.

Ups and Downs

Aside from the fact that i’ve possibly just found a much better name for the bloc in this post title (it’s only taken ten years to stumble across this one…) it’s been a busy week or two since i got back from our family adventure. There’ve been multiple sessions, mixed levels of success and countless hours of sunshine.

Even before i published the last post, i’d been back out again. With a free three-hour window between work and a coaching session, i was torn as to where to head: pastures new around Fachwen to see some of the lockdown additions to the North Wales bouldering scene or play it safe and head to the Cromlech boulders. On the one hand was the prospect of a stack of new lines to edge myself ever closer to my 900 problem season goal, on the other the prospect of hours spent getting lost in the woods or worse, finding what i was looking for but not liking the look of it and effectively ending up taking my pad for a walk.

As much as development is always a great thing, the new guide doesn’t exactly fill me with enthusiasm for many of the latest additions. Perhaps i’ll be pleasantly surprised but from glancing the pages, i’m not massively enthused to go traipsing the woods and will likely wait for a family scouting mission to investigate closer before committing to it with my massive rig of kit on my back. More than happy to be proved wrong.

Playing It Safe and Reaping the Rewards

Instead, on the Friday afternoon, i played it safe and went back to the Cromlech. As Tommy rightly said, you know exactly what you’re getting there and the 30 second walk in certainly helps when you’ve only got a small window. Besides, part of the reason i rarely visit the Cromlech is it’s non-dog friendly nature so being as i didn’t have Tess with me, i figured why not. Besides, there are a few clusters of problems i’ve yet to tick off, even after all these years.

One of them that i had in mind was Tunnel Wall 7a+ over towards Brown’s Crack. The crack is possibly one of the first boulder problems i ever did, MANY years back and still proves enjoyable; even if the cut on the back of my hand while jamming still hasn’t healed over a week later. While toiling with the unnamed 6b+ that comes left around the arete from the start of Brown’s another climber arrived to the same spot of rock. He was about the only other person there, which was a massive surprise given the gorgeous weather and the usual busy nature of the crag.

He was trying The Lefthand Traverse 7a and after clambering my way with little grace and style to the top of the 6b+, i opted to join him. We both tried, huffing and panting, completing the climb in two halves but not linking, before ranting about life, the world and everything. I’m not sure if the ranting closed his session nicely or if it was the rant that brought his session to an abrupt end but he certainly seemed to find it cathartic to have a good old mutual moan about some shared grumps.

Once he’d gone, i turned my attention to Tunnel Wall, shown below in Charlie Torrence’s fantastic Girl Crush video series. I love Charlie’s videos that showcase the very best of North Wales bouldering and it was indeed this video that brough Tunnel Wall to my attention; it’s been in the back of my mind ever since.

Tunnel Wall is the fourth climb at 2 mins 53 secs

I wasn’t expecting to flash it! Considering how everything i’d tried thus far had felt brutal, the idea that i’d step up and get it in one go seemed baffling but that is exactly what happened. Granted, i hit every hold sub-optimally but managed to keep it all together and suddenly found myself at the lip, standing on good footholds, eyes wide with surprise.

I will be honest here and say i didn’t top it out. Many will claim this voids any claim to a send, let alone a flash but to be honest, i’ve stood atop that boulder many times before and really wasn’t up for clambering my way back down again with no-one around. I was staring at a jug, with good feet and only a heel hook to complete for a textbook finish. In hindsight, perhaps i should have finished it properly but i’m happy with my decision.

Developing a Pattern

The weekend came and went (i don’t even remember what we did that weekend…) and soon enough, my free Tuesday rolled around. Tuesday’s are my day to myself, with no work and the kids at the childminder so i’m free to do whatever i like. Given i agreed to help develop the bouldering in the Carneddau several years ago and – partly through no fault of my own – have yet to really get that much done, i’m on a bit of a crusade to clean and climb some of these venues. Alex Battery has been on to me to come and help develop a couple of crags of his and so this week, i headed over to Mystery Crag Number 1 to get a few more lines ready.

Developing is a frustrating game. It takes much longer than a usual climbing session, is far more arduous and yields very few ascents. Most of the time is spent cleaning rock or sorting landings and by the time Alex left me to it (two hours after i’d arrived) i’d yet to pull off the floor. By the time i left, something like 5/6 hours after i got there, i’d cleaned and climbed only three more lines; and they weren’t even as good as i was hoping for.

Still, that’s the game i’m currently playing and at least the days are long. There are now a dozen or so problems at this venue, with more to come, and i’m really hoping it turns out to be a reasonably substantial place to climb. The hard lines are sitting, waiting for me and hopefully we can supplement these with another handful of lower-grade lines and release the location soon.

The hardest part for me is grading things. Yes, i’ve flashed 7a+ recently, but i also spent half a session trying to get up 6b+. So can i really use the number of attempts as a metric for difficulty? Even a rough feeling doesn’t feel reliable enough. If i were honest, i’d not grade stuff at all, as i think my grades can be miles off, but i think it’s my responsibility to give some indication of how hard something might be. I usually go on gut feeling, saying that something feels between 6c+ and 7a+ so i’ll give it 7a, including things like difficult body positions or small holds to guide me. Either which way though, if you ever repeat one of my recent first ascents, please bear this in mind and let me know; i’m happy to adjust grades according to the thoughts of anyone who repeats my routes.

Finding My Feet Again

The one downside for me right now with developing crags is that it is generally something i do on my own. Perhaps it’s selfish, not wanting to give away my first ascents, but i still keep dreams of finding that classic line and having my name next to it in the guidebook one day. I guess that’s the choice i make but the consequence is i spend a lot of time sat on my own on a Welsh hillside. It also affects the way i look at risk.

I’m usually in a remote setting and don’t exactly advertise where i am, so if i have a problem or a bad fall, i’m pretty much on my own. It results in me being reluctant to take any more risk than i need to and this his filtered it’s way in to climbing at established venues too. An example was this Friday.

I’ve wanted to check out the Super Boulder at the Marchlyn Mawr reservoir for a few weeks and as i wouldn’t be joining the AAC crew this week, saw this Friday as a good chance to make the long walk up the tarmac road. I wasn’t actually supposed to be alone but my partner bailed on me at the last minute so off i trudged on the 45 minute slog up the approach. Eventually, i got up to the trig point and looked down at a very steep and very loose scree slope. On my back are around 20kg of various crap, which didn’t help.

I got half way down the slope, slipping and sliding around and looking at the drop off directly below me with my paranoia having a field day. i clambered my way – with difficulty – back up the slope and looked down, wondering whether to persevere or not. I’m an anxious man at the best of times but for some reason, this Friday was that little bit worse and i pondered whether it was worth both struggling down there and putting myself through the stress.

If i’d not been alone, i’d have likely gone down there. If i’d been in a more confident mood, i’d have easily gone down there, and perhaps this is what will happen later in the season after i’ve been out a bit more. After all, this isn’t unusual for Springtime for me. A few years back, i freaked out topping out Fagin 7a at Clogwyn y Bustach on a solo outing, after spending all winter on indoor walls but went back a few months later and had no issues. It’s silly but sometimes it takes me a while to get my head back in the game. That seems to be what happened this Friday.

In the end, i sacked it off, deciding it wasn’t worth stressing over, and walked back down to Higgs’ Problem 7b. Annoyingly, if i’d planned to hit up Higg’s i’d have taken more pads and a stickbrush but as this wasn’t the original plan, i made do with one. Turns out those extra additions to my kit would’ve been useful too, as i made it past the (now very chalky) sidepull crimp, held the swing of my right leg releasing the heel hook and made it on to the slopey shelf. Foolishly thinking it would be done and dusted then, i was left in shock that i didn’t really know what to do next and floundered before falling off. I got near again once but missed the second sloper i was aiming for and plummetted again. Another problem to come back to and this one is bugging me now.

Adventure At Last

The last year has been difficult for everyone and our family have been fortunate that the coronavirus that has struck down so many has managed to evade us. For us, we’ve got off very lightly: we live in an amazing village which has let us keep most of our activities relatively normal; our kids are at the right age to cope well; i’ve even managed to get plenty of climbing in and continue to develop my new business.

Probably the biggest thing we’ve missed over the last year is getting away and the biggest casualty of that has to be Hannah. It might not sound important but ever since we were expecting Rosie, we both agreed of the importance of continuing to go away, see new places, meet new people, do new things and how these early experiences can go a long way to sharing our children into the proper we want them to become. Rosie had some amazing early trips, as regular readers will know; from Ireland at six months old to her first steps in Font at a little over a year old, and the idea of going new places was certainly becoming totally normal to her.

Hannah, though, was only eighteen months when the first lockdown kicked in. She’d been to the Larmer Tree Festival with us and on a week-long trip to the Lakes but not much more and even then, she was too young to experience much from them. The hiatus stopped us in our tracks right at the point we’d have liked her to get used to the idea that the world is bigger than she realises.

That is, until now. With travel allowed within Wales but the border closed, I figured it might be a good opportunity to check out some more local places than the usual big ideas we typically get. First thought was Pembrokeshire but with an up to date bouldering guidebook still to be produced and no clear and obvious activities for us, it was benched. Instead, we took the more unusual option of actually staying close; just far enough away to be an adventure really. A week in Bronaber, in between the village of Trawsfynedd and Coed y Brenin.

Considering the number of local friends we saw at the trail centre, who were there for the day, it did feel a little odd to be holidaying so close to home but truth be told, the important thing was to stay somewhere that wasn’t home and where exactly was largely irrelevant. Besides, when we have travelled there in the past with two young kids, we have found it a long and trying day. So why not stay there?

It turned out to be quite lucky given the 110 Land Rover we’d planned to pack everything and everyone in ended up off the road a week before we set off. The backup plan: take two vehicles to accomodate people, pads, four bikes and a bike trailer. Even staying in an AirBnB, it wouldn’t have been possible to get all that in one car but at least we weren’t using too much fuel.

And the bikes were the crucial part of the trip. Rosie and Hannah are both taking to their respective bikes nicely and we were keen to keep up the enthusiasm. Meanwhile both me and Em were keen to ride a trail with the kids in the trailer on one of the days; a ride that was as enjoyable (and exhausting at times) as we were expecting. They’re starting to get a little heavy in there and on a couple of ascents either the front wheel of my bike lifted off the floor or i stood out of the saddle and the back wheel spun. At least i felt better when i tried to push and found the back wheel suspended from the floor between my front wheel and the trailer… It wasn’t me being soft, it was actually hard.

And of course we had the inevitable: it’s April, we’ve taken Rosie to stay away from home, so we got snow. It’s become a running joke but it is genuinely uncanny. Two years ago we set off to the Lakes in blistering sunshine only to wake in our tent on the first morning to two inches of snow. The previous year was that trip to Font – somewhere I’ve visited many times before and had never seen even a hard frost – and the entire journey South had snow on the side of the road. Sure enough, out of nowhere this time, we had a flurry on the first day and an inch bedecking the ground on the morning of the second.

Not that it stopped us at all. Our kids do seem pretty resilient and we were happy to let them enjoy making snow angels and snowmen that morning before our exploits in the trailer. After all, they don’t see it very often and it is important to let them make the most.

What made this year even more strange was that by the evening, every inch of it was gone. The sun was shining, the conditions perfect and a small crag sat not give minutes drive from our cabin.

I’d looked it up before I left and it was unlikely I’d bother making the drive south to bother under normal circumstances but being as I was so close, I was keen to check out Carreg yr Ogof. Thankfully Em sorted the kids and I spent a fantastic evening climbing 14 new lines at a crag that is definitely worth the drive south.

I started on the lower escarpment, taking in the view across the lake on the most stunning evening, flashing line after line before moving up to the higher level. Nothing I climbed was particularly hard – a dubious ascent of Dafydd’s Groove 7a possibly with a hold out of bounds being the peak of difficulty – with the harder (and better) eliminate version of Addicted to the Shindig 6c+ being the highlight, but this was about getting some mileage at a new crag and exploring somewhere new.

After all, that’s the point of adventures for us. And it felt great to be having one again after such a long time. Hopefully it’ll be the first of many in the near future.

Happy New Year: March 2021

For those who don’t know, my new year runs from when the clocks go forward, giving a much better point of the year for resolutions and goal setting. There is also a Solstice when the clocks go back. For more information, click here.

Season Review

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

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

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

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

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

Unlocked 7a+ First Ascent, Mystery Crag

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

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

Lockdown Training Episode 6: Concluding Thoughts Lockdown Training

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

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

Previous Season Goals

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

How Did It Go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Season Goals

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

Wrapping Things Up

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

Getting Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ending the Podcast and Returning to Work

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

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

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

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

Reflections on Being Locked Down

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

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

That’s it! I’m done! I do declare!

This bear has led me to dispair!

It is not fair! It is not fair!

I’m going now, I don’t know where

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

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

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

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

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

Rain Stops Me Kidding Myself

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

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

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

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

The Endless Sundays Continue

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

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

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

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

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

Daring to Dream

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

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

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

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

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

Tapping Away

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

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

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

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

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

Lockdown Training Episode 6: Concluding Thoughts Lockdown Training

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

Ending On A High

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

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

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

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

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

Learning to Train?

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

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

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

Friendly Inspiration

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

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

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

Lockdown

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

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

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

Hitting a Plateau

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

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

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

So Far, So Sore

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

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

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

The Podcast

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

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

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

Lockdown Training Episode 6: Concluding Thoughts Lockdown Training

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

Surprise, surprise

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

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

Eyes on the Pies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing a Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going International

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

Thanks for your article on bouldering in gripped

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

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

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

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