Almost Perfection

Much as the worm did for the Two Ronnies, the weather around here is slowly starting to turn. Sessions are becoming less rare, conditions are coming in more and more often and the psyche that disappeared during the three-month deluge has reappeared. The average grade of The List is rising rapidly again, the ticks on my 27crags page are once again coming thick and fast.

Keeping this trend going has been pretty easy this week. The standard Sunday/Monday off and a good forecast for the former left me with multiple options but with sunny weather predicted, i was pretty sure where i was headed: Sheep Pen in the Nant Ffrancon. The climb? Jerry’s Problem 7c+/V10.

Now my hardest climb to date is 7c and i have three to date: Rock Attrocity at Parisella’s Cave my first, Intermezzo in Magic Wood last summer and Love Pie at the Pieshop boulders up in the pass. Is that enough to be getting on the next grade? Well, the truth to that one is it doesn’t matter – if i found the right 8a, i’d gladly skip a grade, even at this level. It’s a big mistake i made at uni, where “my grade is V5, i don’t climb V6, so i’m going to leave them well alone”. In hindsight, it was stupid trad climbing mentality; not to say that trad climbing mentality is stupid in of itself but it’s stupid to apply it to bouldering. It’s a bit like going into a 100m sprint and trying to run it like you would a marathon.

So, fuck it, go on then: let’s get on it and see what happens. It helped when Pablo agreed to come along with his friend Cameron and i heard my old friend Tim Peck was planning on going too. Even better when i arrived, another old friend and ex-colleague Andy Marshall was there too, with Michelle Wardle. (Michelle lives with Tim on the high street, here in Llanberis, some 100m from my house. We first met on the beach in Magic Wood last summer… one of the weirdest experiences i’ve had to date!)

Finally a #gloriousday off and a fine one for #bouldering in the mountains! Sadly, I didn't take it pictures… Not of me #climbing anyway, as I only got on two problems: the link up from Toe Dragon into Kingdom of Rain V8 and agonisingly close to Jerry's Problem at #sheeppen . The conditions were perfect, the company immense and the send of my first V10 so close I can taste it. If I wake to find it still dry, nothing could stop me heading back, first thing in the morning and topping off one of the best periods in my life. #northwales #snowdonia #northwalesbouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_photos_of_instagram #nantffrancon #Ogwen #mountain #mountains #scenery #landmark

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So, the perfect crew conveniently mustered, we set about getting to work on the main block. Link ups between Toe Dragon and either Dog Shooter or Kingdom of Rain were attempted at V7 and V8 respectively and completed. Ding Dong’s Traverse 7c was given a bit of a bash and Cameron especially walked away with an impressive array of ticks quietly tucked under his belt; cheating slightly in that he’s strong and had never been, having more to go at than the rest of us…

Myself meanwhile did my usual trick of jumping on the V8 link up between Toe Dragon and Kingdom of Rain as a warm up. Granted, this one isn’t as bad as it sounds, as the moves have been well rehearsed and being a long traverse to begin with, with the potential to simply step off the rock at any point, it’s possible to get into it slowly. The fact that i didn’t and ticked it on the second attempt is entirely besides the point.

I’ve always been abject at warming up. I blame it on visiting crags where the easiest line is my project too many times and i’ve adapted to it nicely now and rarely feel too much need. Considering my recent coaching exploits, it’s worth pointing out i do understand the concept and was talking a few people through it last week: get the blood flowing, start easy and slowly crank the difficulty up to get your body used to the idea of working hard. As soon as you start to feel that bit of pump, step away, let yourself recover slightly, then get into your session proper. I know this from the swimming club, where you’d complete 750m of various strokes for your warm up. I know the concept. Doesn’t mean i do it.

But whatever i do normally works for me and while i wouldn’t teach my own methods, anyone who argued can look to my injury record (or lack of it). What this meant on Sunday was as soon as Toe Dragon – Kingdom 7b (my seventeenth of that grade no less) was done, i was ready to jump onto Jerry’s. Thankfully, Tim and Andy were keen for that too.

Once again, in typical fashion, they cracked on while i sat and had a smoke, absorbing beta. Turns out they’d not been on it before, whereas i’d had two previous sessions to try the difficult first move. They tried, struggled to make the distance at first but had several sterling efforts that were certainly to be proud of. I got up, put on shoes, chalked up and sat under the initial holds.

I knew it was far, knew i had to give it beans, knew this one was going to take some effort. I stretched down and thrusted my body upwards, hard. Not only did i make the distance, i hit the hold and stuck it, swinging backwards wildly and letting out the most enormous scream as the effort poured out of me. I couldn’t hold it and returned to terra firma with a thud to a cacophony of encouragement. Andy shouted over, “when did you learn how to do that?!” Truth be told, i have no idea.

Giving it beans yesterday on #jerrysproblem at #sheeppen. Session 3 on this one and I stuck the first two hard moves fairly quickly, much to the surprise of the excellent crew surrounding me. Sadly it didn't go and despite dry #rock this morning, and a repeat to try and keep the momentum going, it again eluded me. With rain falling this afternoon and another day off not until a week Thursday, it's not looking likely to be going any time soon. Still, it's not going anywhere and the weather is starting to turn… Photo credit to @michelle.l.wardle and top marks for capturing a great move with a great shot #northwales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_photos_of_instagram

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You could feel the enthusiasm, Owen Hayward and his young lad coming to watch. I tried several more times and did very well, sticking the first two moves to make a new high point. Only one more move after this and it would’ve been done – a new grade achieved, a champagne moment, i’d be a V10 climber.

But the best climbs are the ones that fight back and this one tempted me, slapped me in the face and walked away. I had a break to take a walk and never really got back to that high point. Either nerves, exhaustion, a mental barrier or one of a multitude of other factors suddenly reared to mean that at five o’clock, i was forced to pack up and walk away empty handed. Granted, i couldn’t complain at the success and there was no doubting it had been a hugely successful session. Nevertheless, like a lower league football team losing the cup final, sometimes it’s not much consolation being so close and yet not quite getting the reward.

The difference is that, unlike a cup final, i can build on this, go back and get it done. Even a night’s rest could be enough and i told myself that if it hadn’t rained by the time i awoke, i was back there to get this thing done. I’d even worked out my celebration, worked out the Instagram photo i was going to post (and still am, by the way), in my mind, a new day would bring new focus and i’d hit that first hold, make the second move and i’d be one more grade up on the ladder.

This problem is a fighter though and Monday, despite the dry weather, called in the help of the weather gods to give freezing conditions and a biting wind – much like the conditions that completely derailed me at the Roaches recently. I was down to two pads, from the myriad of them the previous day and there alone, conscious of the top out and it’s slightly treacherous landing.

It just wasn’t right – i still wasn’t hitting the hold, i couldn’t stay warm and every necessary rest meant i was back to square one, freezing cold with numb digits. Eventually i reasoned that repeatedly doing the move wrong could run the risk of ingraining failure into my muscle memory so for the second time in as many days, i packed up and walked away.

And believe me, that’s hard to do. When it’s so close, knowing that just one more attempt could be the one for victory, packing everything up and leaving it behind for another day is agonising and there have been plenty of times where i’ve packed up, unpacked for a few more goes and repeated for quite a while.

But having to go back, having to go train and put effort into this makes it all the more worthwhile. The best climbs aren’t the ones that feel easily, they’re the ones you had to really want. So now, with no days off for a nine-day straight, it’s time to train and rest and get ready for that one more session. Granted, ticking my first V10 would’ve topped off one of the best weeks of my life but sometimes, waiting for the right moment makes it all the more special. Trust me.

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