Mint Conditions? Or Utterly Baltic?

I had some really good sentences to start this post with but they’ve disappeared from my head. I’m gonna blame the cold, which seems to be infiltrating everything lately, including my sanity, although oddly hasn’t actually stopped me getting out climbing on actual rock! Well, kinda.

This all stems from the fact that, wanting to make the most of her maternity time, Em decided to go visit family and friends for a week, leaving Tess and myself behind to fend for ourselves. I think it was at the point she first mentioned it that i wondered what the weather would be like…

It turned out to, somewhat miraculously, be dry and sunny! The rock was dry and all of a sudden, that Saturday afternoon while at work, i could ponder the best choice of venue and where i really wanted to head.

I was looking for something specific: it was dry but hadn’t been for that long, so somewhere that caught some wind would be ideal to allow it to dry off. Forest crags: out. But, by that token, there was still a winter wind whistling through the valleys so somewhere perched on a high plateau was definitely out.

After a massive amount of deliberation, eventually i opted to head to the Milestone Buttress boulders; an oft forgotten venue with some outstanding climbing.  I’d looked at and dismissed the Pit before, due to landings and encroaching boulders behind the climber but figured it needed another look.

As i drove in, down the Nant Ffrancon valley, it suddenly dawned on me that our chosen venue would be shrouded in shadow. Fuck. Oh well, needs must, how cold can it be? Turns out it was almost bob on freezing.

Pablo – my Spanish sport climbing friend, for reference – and i struggled on, as i ticked Jez’s Arete 6c, jibbering like a fool on the top out and only completing as reversing the climb or jumping off looked worse than the committing moves to finish. Ping 7a also succumbed – a lovely little climb that is thoroughly recommended – and was then repeated a few times (missing the first two hard moves) with winter weight gloves. It was soon evident it was hometime.

The Monday proved much warmer and much sunnier, but the morning was preoccupied visiting my parents. However, that turned out to be much quicker than expected and despite my protestations of a lack of time, the day was just too good to pass up.

Now i’ve recently begun an article about mental preparation leading up to a session and perhaps that had a bearing, being as it was only when i drove down the steep Gwynant valley that i actually decided where i was going. That or i may have just been ridiculously out of practice but the session did not go that well.

How much does this say about so many places in the #outdoors: a padlocked gate and a broken #stile. This is at the entrance to the #clogwynybustach boulders and was a massive pain trying to get the dog (who managed to squeeze through the gap) and the pads across. Even with access seemingly allowed, it can far too often be very difficult to where you want to go. The sad thing is I don't actually know what to do when I find something like this. #northwales is amazing for the work that's done on maintaining paths in the popular places but there is so much more potential here, so many more little things that could be done and some big and blindingly obvious ways to get people into the area safely. All we can do is keep getting out and keep sharing our adventures. #getout #getactive #woodland #woods #coeden #blackandwhiteisworththefight

A post shared by Chez de la Bloc (@edwards.pete) on

Clogwyn y Bustach, alone but for Tess, Fagin 7a as a warm up before working on Rudder’s Wall 7a+ – an unticked climb for me. It took a couple of efforts to remember and work the first few moves but quickly i found myself at the exit jugs… and totally bottled it. I went to rock over, glanced down, suddenly changed my mind and reversed the move to come back down. “That was weird” i thought and shuffled the pads. Visual inspection of the top didn’t help and i found myself looking for excuses but i knew i had to do this.

Back on, back to the jugs, try and do the (remarkably easy) rock over at the top, bottle it again. “Fuck! what’s going on?!” i couldn’t fathom what was wrong with me!

Eventually, after repeated efforts, i committed to it, got my feet set and hands on good holds and climbed onto the top of the boulder, hyperventilating massively. “Have my trad climbing fears infiltrated my bouldering?!” i thought, worrying my climbing career might actually be regressing. No, come on, this isn’t hard, you’ve done this a hundred thousand times before, suck it up, do it. I got back on the route and finished it again.

There must have been at least five repeats before i began to feel even slightly comfortable again. It’s not a hard top out, not that high, maybe it was being alone? Well, i’m often alone and have had entire weeks in foreign countries alone before! Maybe only having a solitary pad? Again, i can’t rely on being able to carry multiple pads in, especially when the landing was sound. Still, after a few successes, it started to feel normal again. Hopefully, i was just out of practice.

I’m sure i’ve heard somewhere that you can equate three bad experiences to one good one (backed up by an interesting article here from the New York Times) and it certainly makes sense. What it means is that every time you bottle it, or every time you back off, you need to have three good experiences so as not to reinforce that negative experience. The downside in real terms to that is that it takes a lot of time to build those positive thoughts (think Oddball in Kelly’s Heroes) and by the time i start to try Rudder’s Wall i was spent.

It was a sobering session and not exactly one that filled me with joy but i guess an important lesson: time indoors cannot totally replicate time outdoors and if you want to climb hard boulder problems outside, you need to go try boulder problems outside.

So Friday afternoon, following two days at the fascinating Adventure Sports Coaching Conference at Plas y Brenin, which i will talk more about another day, Friday afternoon came and under blue skies, i headed out again. With good conditions and little wind, and as i was coaching in the evening, i opted for an old forgotten venue: Gallt yr Ogof. I’d always been put off before but recently seen some videos of ascents and wanted to go have a look with fresh eyes. Having a topo now helped too.

When is it too cold to be good #bouldering conditions? When there's a sheet of ice over the entire top of the boulder… With an afternoon free after attending the inaugural adventure sports coaching conference at @plasybreninstaff I opted to head a few miles down the road in the #ogwenvalley to the #galltyrogof bloc. I'd always been put off by this before but now with fresh eyes and photo topos in the #northwalesboulderingguide the problems seemed immense and impressive. So I started to at least try and warm up, only to find the top out dodgy as sin! An entire sheet or verglas meant even if I had pulled over the top, it would've been rather treacherous to say the least. Nevertheless, another #beautifulday in #northwales! #worldclasswales #snowdonia #northwalesbouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

A post shared by Chez de la Bloc (@edwards.pete) on

The path was wet on the walk in, the turds and ruts on the path totally frozen but i persevered anyway, figuring a walk would do Tess some good anyway and was pleasantly shocked to find the routes themselves bone dry! Granted it was cold but it was dry and it’d be fine.

The Ramp 7a/+ Smackhead 7b+ Diamond Eyes 7c Regeneration 7b and even Sway On 8a all looked much better than i’d remembered and very inspiring! They’ll all be on the list for the future but given the situation and temperature, the first priority was GyG Arete 6b+.

It’s a bunched start but my bendy-ness helped and quickly i was off the floor, reaching over the top for a neat little flash when my hands began to slip on the holds. Almost totally numb now, i had to see if i was still clinging on as my hands peddled off the holds and after a few seconds standing there feeling very confused, i jumped off. Looking at my hands i saw they were now actually wet and another inspection showed a complete sheet of ice across the whole of the top of the boulder.

I pondered for a few minutes, repeated the moves a few more times and tried to figure out what to do. Even if i managed the top out, i’d now be alone on a very slippy bloc that while wasn’t that high to climb onto, would still be quite painful to land off after a slip. Working low moves risked missing out on a potential flash (unlikely but possible). Reluctantly, i opted to sack it and go indoors.

Oddly though that didn’t actually feel like a negative experience and while i walked out with my tail between my legs and hands pressed hard into my armpits to thaw, the fact i’d gone and tried made it feel much better. It is worth thinking closely about what constitutes failure.

Later that evening my coaching session was sandwiched by a few burns on the last remaining projects at the indy before the latest reset. Andy Marshall was there and as i stood eating my hard-earned Chinese take away, with Tim explaining we were level pegging on our scores, Andy arrived and with huge glee announced he’d ticked off another problem and i should be demoted a place. It appears we have some healthy competition this year! So it was a sweet feeling to tick off another problem myself by the end of the evening.

Since then i’ve returned to indoor sessions and other than a hugely successful session Wednesday gone – including three 7a, four 7a+, a 7b and a 7b/+ which thrilled and confused me in equal measure – it’s been pretty much back to normal. Snow adorns the hills today but the big lesson i’ve learned: if you want to be able to get out, you gotta start getting out! With one eye on a family font trip in Spring, i think i’ll be checking the forecast.

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