So initially this post was going to be Ten Reasons Life is Good but when i started to write it, i found it wasn’t right. Granted, i can easily find ten things about my life that mean things are good right now but it’s not what i want to talk about; they’re things that have been around for a while and aren’t what’s made my ears hurt from smiling. No, in all truth and honesty, there are merely two reasons that there is currently a (literal) skip in my step.
In my first draft of this, i started with the weather and it is true, the weather seems to have turned and now i’m getting out regularly. But this isn’t really the cause of my recent happiness, it’s just a trigger. It’s meant that after a long nine-day stretch in work, on Thursday gone, i was finally off with fine conditions and there was only one place on my radar: Sheep Pen.
Pads packed in the Landy (another one on the aforementioned list that, granted, does make me smile every time i get in) and we were off, a relaxed start a must. Turns out the conditions were too good – sunny meant warm and after a poor warm up that did little to inspire confidence, i could feel my fingers sliding off the gaston hold. Last time i was there, i was wearing everything i had. This time, less than a fortnight later, i’m down to skin and i’m still too warm!
[It is worth noting that normally, i am not a climber known for complaints about conditions and will generally try anything any time. I’m currently planning an article on this subject for the near future]
But this does lead me into one of the reasons i am currently walking with a spring in my step: my companion for the day, for i was not alone this time. My girlfriend was with me.
I’ve always tried to avoid talking about my personal life on here, it’s not relevant or appropriate. But Emily is entirely relevant to this story, crucial in fact as she followed me up the steep gully approach, carrying a pad for me, fully ready to spend the day sat on a rock watching me repeatedly fall off the first move of Jerry’s Problem V10. Or at least, i hope she was as that’s exactly what happened!
For an outsider, bouldering like this must seem more than a little obscure, and i was struggling to think of another sport like it: you do the same movement, time and time and time again, over and over, until you finally do it right and then move onto another equally unique move. With gymnastics, for example, there is a limit to the number of said movements but not with climbing, it is infinite and no two moves are identical. But compared to something else, you repeat the same thing dozens of times to get it just right. It must seem a bit weird.
And yet, there she sat, taking photos, offering whatever help she could, consoling me and hugging me when i needed it and giving me hope when it started to wane. She was the perfect person to have there that day and i hope more than any climbing aspirations that she is there for a lot more of them. And the few words of encouragement she did offer out loud while i was on the wall were equally perfect, both in what she said and when she said it.
For as the sun dipped behind Foel Goch, the temperature dropped several degrees. I began to shiver slightly and felt the holds. No grease! Now is the time, now is when it shall fall.
It took another hour (or thereabouts, i have no idea on time scales) of repeatedly falling and i’d completed the route from one move in twice now. I lowered onto the starting hold, looked up as i have so many times i struggle to comprehend, and sprung upwards to the left gaston. I hit it and stayed on the wall, clawing my fingers around the hold to desperately try and get as much possible purchase from the hold as i could. I threw my right hand up and hit the crozzly pocket, also not perfect but enough to keep me on for a second to readjust. On previous efforts, my right foot had popped off the small hold but not this time and i lifted my left foot onto the rail my fingers had started on.
Now the right foot came to join it and the left was left to dangle. I looked up again and saw the juggy rail i was aiming for. From behind me, a voice said, with mild surprise, “Go on, Pete!” in such a way as to imply that, after so many times falling off, this might just be it, maybe. I almost imagined that Em was actually looking away during those first two moves and had suddenly turned around and realised i was still on. It was just what i needed, at just the right time and i thrusted upwards to hit the good hold.
I was still on and moved my left up to the sanctuary of the finger jug for my left hand. Just one more move and a top out now, it’s easy but i was nervous. Drop off here and i might not get back, certainly not today! As i looked for the exit jug, i thought to myself “Don’t drop it” but just at that point, the voice behind gently said “Come on,”
It gave me that added little edge of confidence. It’s an easy move, and i knew it but it was almost as if Em’s voice had released me from my nervous tension and as she said it, i flew upwards and hit the jug. I hung there for a second, savouring the moment before realising if i dropped it here, i’d never forgive myself. Come on, get on with it, get it done and with that, i threw the left heel on top of the boulder and rolled around to be safely stood atop the block.
The whooping and hollering started even before i’d finished – a normally reserved climber unable to contain his excitement. Another hard problem, a new grade! my first V10! and the perfect one in the perfect setting with the perfect companion! And there, with that, i moved into the next grade boundary. V10. 7c+. Something i never thought would happen.
First V10 done! #jerrysproblem at #sheeppen, stunning line at #northwales best #bouldering venue. Action shots to follow all courtesy of @emks93 life just keeps getting better #northwalesbouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #newgrade #champagnemoment #stoked #psyched
Hard bouldering is a strange game, as i mention regularly but more specifically, right at the top of you ability, i find there’s something specific. Stood on top of the boulder, cheering and whooping to my hearts content, looking down at Tess and Em, i suddenly started to question what i’d done. Did i really just do that? I had to ask her! It doesn’t feel like it just happened, such is the extent that you’re engrossed in the movement at the time. I’ve had this plenty, where it doesn’t feel real and you have no recollection of what you’ve just done. Jerry’s Problem is five moves and a top out, not exactly much to remember! But it’s gone from your mind in the immediate aftermath of success, the exhaustion and exhilaration pushing it all away to the point where you question if you’d actually floated up the wall instead. Or more likely cheated and not noticed, with a sneaky dab for example. I asked, did i really do that? The smile said it all but Em said it anyway: “Yeah! You did it!”
Not the actual #sequence (not the sudden disappearance of the hat…) but these are the moves that I somehow managed to link together. A brutal first few moves of utter delight, a few beautiful moves where you have to keep it together and not get too excited and then pure delight. #jerrysproblem V10/7c+ First problems of each grade for me are often forgotten but I wanted this one to be perfect and it was: the crag is my favourite in #northwales, the moves flowing while making you burst with effort, the day glorious and the company (and the words of encouragement) couldn't have been better from @emks93. This one will live long in the memory and rightly so. What a day. Thanks to all those who contributed. #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram
I came back down and we hugged and kissed, Em just as excited at my success as me. I couldn’t believe myself. Andy Marshall, my old friend and colleague, has long since accused me of not truly trying with my climbing. Perhaps he is right. But only up to now. I know the feeling when i’m giving it my all and now, the goal posts now forcibly moved by completing my annual goal in mid-March! i’ll be finding the right climb and going for it. For the greater the effort, the sweeter the reward. And right now, thirty years of effort have given me the greatest reward i ever could’ve asked for.