Milestones

I often find it weird how we use arbitrary times throughout the year to take stock of our lives. New Years is the obvious one, as the calender ticks over to the next number but if you think about it, using that as a marker makes as much sense as anywhere else. Especially as climber.

Mid-season, often during the training period, when you take it away from the normal-world Christmas break, it’s an awkward time to start planning and setting goals. Frankly, you should already have your goals in place by this point and be well on your way to ticking them off.

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In terms of taking stock, it’s slightly better and makes a bit more sense but not much. Granted you can assess whether your start-of-season aims are making sense but you should really be doing that a lot more regularly than once mid-season.

So from that, it would make sense to do your stock-take at the end of the season. Whether this is Spring or Autumn (Fall) makes no odds i guess, and both is probably best.

Some decisions were definitely poor and in need of stern assessment...
Some decisions were definitely poor and in need of stern assessment…

Now the problem comes with where the ends of the seasons lands! I’m told that years ago, it was a lot more definitive but now, for the keen boulderer, and more so for those willing and able to travel, it’s easily possible to climb year-round without a break. And as alluded to already, this makes picking a time to review performance and success significantly harder.

At this point, i realise this wasn’t what i wanted to talk about and i’ve strayed off topic. You see, i’m not good at stock taking and tend to just keep going, with short and long term goals but rarely with review. In fact, i’ve never actually sat down and thought about my climbing career and what i’ve done.

This was brought about by a recent comment i made to a friend: “when my climbing career comes to an end,” i said, “Prowess will certainly be a highlight.”

It took a couple of days but eventually i started wondering what the other highlights would be. So instead of an annual review, here is a list, assuming my bouldering career ended today, of the best bits, some of the worst bits, any events and ascents that have shaped me into the boulderer i am today. It ranges from single moves up to huge time-spans but there’ll all important in making me not only the climber i am, but the person i am today. Enjoy!

Storeman’s Legacy 7a+ and Prowess 7b+

I dare say, every climber that develops past a certain point dreams of a first ascent. It’s drummed into us through film and article that it’s the pinnacle of climbing achievement. Just look at Chris Sharma: granted he was one of the strongest climbers of any time when he rose to fame, leagues ahead of his peers, but it was only when he began putting up his own lines that people really started to think he was up there in the pantheon of the best.

If you can’t put up new lines at the cutting edge, putting up any new lines is a close second. The vast majority of people won’t climb the hardest routes in the world (almost by definition) but to put something new into the sport is equally as sought-after.

For me, i would say it was half luck and half perseverance. Many had searched the woods of Bryn Engan, opposite Plas y Brenin in Capel Curig over the years in an attempt to find more lines to go with the long-established Brenin Boulder but to no avail. All that sat along the six established lines was Chris Davies hard highball.

The fact that i succeeded owes as much to available time to search as anything else. Once i started work at the Brenin, hour long lunches meant i had little else to do. Walking through the woods, off the beaten track, would reveal something eventually.

That said, it’s only half luck. My first find, the Mymbyr Boulder, had also been found by local activist Jon Ratcliffe years before, and dismissed. I saw potential and again, with a lack of suitable alternative activities, began brushing.

Slapping up the first few hard moves of Prowess
Slapping up the first few hard moves of Prowess

Neither of the mentioned problems were my first, that was Christmas Comes Early 4+, and even that wasn’t my first first – that is to be found in Sweden and is called Call It A Four 5+. But Storeman’s was the first on that block that taxed me, the one i will always think of (rightly or wrongly) as my first proper first.

Prowess meanwhile was my first hard first. Now given 7b, it’s not easy by most people’s standards and when done, was right near the top of the graph, only half a grade off my hardest accomplishments at the time. It’s changed the way i see the world, looking for new lines where before i saw nothing and the effort and multiple sessions, as well as hours of brushing, all added to make me feel i had left something substantial there for others.

Carnage 7b+

Immense effort

It has long been said (and will long be assumed) that bouldering lacks the feeling and emotion of other forms of climbing; that it does not compare to the sense of topping out a mountain or a big wall after prolonged periods of effort. Anyone who says that will not have experienced what i did on a mild day in March 2014.

Given 7b by some, it didn’t even rate as the hardest graded problem at the time but was certainly leaps and bounds above problems of the same grade already ticked: Left Wall Traverse, The Sting or Ongle Jo, a climb i’d done just the day before. While Ongle Jo took a session, Carnage took an age.

My first try was when working on the neighbouring Helicopter back in 2007. While this wasn’t a serious effort, it was certainly when the seed was planted. It was in 2010 (i think) that i really started to give it some serious attention.

One of the most historic bouldering spots in the world: Place du Cuvier in Fontainebleau
One of the most historic bouldering spots in the world: Place du Cuvier in Fontainebleau

To be honest, i can’t remember exactly when i was on it properly for the first session, nor can i remember how many sessions (let alone efforts) i’d put it by the time it relented. What i do know is that when i rocked up in March 2011, i thought i was close and was sat underneath it for a good portion of the week.

The winter of 2013-14 was when i realised i had to do something different – simply going back to try again, hoping for that little bit more wasn’t going to work. had to work. I trained, for the first time, specifically for the problem, doing dead hangs on holds that matched those i knew so well but struggled to hold. Pull ups on similar holds, sessions on sling trainers and rings to work relevant muscle groups, even a project-specific problem at the Beacon.

By the time i returned, i knew i was ready but wouldn’t know how ready until it was over. Cuvier was scheduled for early in the week, day two or three i think, and while the others continued on the blue circuit i was using to warm up, i quietly left.

Fontainebleau

It took three efforts. The first i fell from shock at being able to hold on so well. The second was over enthusiasm. I sat, breathed, calmed myself, ignored all around me, strangers all. Still shaking slightly, i stepped up and sent.

Years of effort, obsession, commuting while running through the moves in my head, training and work like never before, the emotion got to me. Once the screaming had subsided , i sat atop the block letting it sink in. It was over, after all this time and i began to cry. Softly, i sat on top that boulder for ten minutes, unable to get off thanks to shaking limbs and teary eyes. I can still tell you every hold, every muscle that aches and when nearly eighteen months later and i wager i still will for quite some time to come.

To say bouldering lacks emotion is to be short sighted. To say it’s lacks time and effort is naive. Big walls and Greater Ranges can take weeks or months, granted but true bouldering, at the true limit of your capabilities can take years. When it does, the rewards can be so much greater.

2011

Carefully placed pads on a rising traverse

They say your school years are the best years of your life. Well mine were shit. The best year of my life followed a slightly obscure path after the death of my Grandmother.

With Grandma on her deathbed, her youngest son, now living in Thunder Bay, Canada, came to pay his respects. Not I nor my cousins had ever met him and so, while tinged with some sadness, this event became a golden opportunity to forge a friendship with a distant relative.

In a weird way, i think it rekindled the relationship between my Uncle Andrew and my father and our two families kept in touch, predominantly through Skype. Before long, i’d managed (somehow, through the generosity of the family) to fenagle myself a plane ticket to Canada.

Wolf Mountain said they wanted to use this shot to show to their students to demonstrate good footwork!

Not content to wait for my summer trip, in March i made my now-annual pilgrimage to Fontainebleau, this time in the company of good friend Mike Pinches. Mike is a similarly sociable guy and on day one, at Cul de Chien, we made friends with a Canadian couple and a Swedish couple. Plans with Steve and MC were made to hook up in June, as they lived about an hour north of my intended destination of Vancouver, and Facebook details were shared with Fredrik and Karin. We then went on to have a stunning  week – my best to that point in the forest.

Canada was, as was hoped, the trip of a lifetime and to date, the only excursion out of Europe. Two weeks helped to forge a lifetime friendship and i will always be indebted to Simon for his kindness and generosity. While hard ticks didn’t happen, the experience was unforgettable and this in itself would easily make the list. The reason it hasn’t is what happened ten weeks after my return.

With two foreign trips already in the bag that year, and one of them to the other side of the world, i was quite content to stay in the UK for my Autumn week off, and was planning to go back to the Lakes for a bit of a tour. With a week to go, i had a look at the long term forecast and it did not look good.

Now love Facebook or hate it, it has it’s uses and i put a post on asking for suggestions for suitable destinations at short notice. Soon, there was a reply from Fredrik, championing his local area, more in jest i suspect in hindsight.

Bouldering on the fantastic island of Hönö

I got home on the Tuesday and frantically messaged him to ask if he was serious. Wednesday, without hearing a reply, i sent another message to say i hoped so as i’d just booked my flights. Thursday i packed, Friday i left and Saturday afternoon, i arrived to a slightly shocked Swede and five days of bouldering bliss.

It spawned what has become a tradition: an exchange, if you will, with one of us visiting the other annually, taking it in turns, with the fifth visit due later this year. In 2014 i even had the privilege to attend their wedding.

The latter trip would also easily make the list on it’s own but the fact that all three landed inside the same calender year (if you’ll pardon the hypocrisy from the opening paragraphs above) combine to make 2011 the one i will always remember.

Fontainebleau in June 2009

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If you challenged everyone to create a similar list, you’ll find they are littered with firsts. [This is a hunch but one that i am so confident of that i will pass it off as fact]. First climb, first climb of a grade, first time abroad, so on and so forth. This is one that bucks that trend.

My first climbing trip to France was by invite of my good Uni friend, James Siverns, now regularly referred to as Mad Jim. His friend, Sean, drove the three of us to Ailefroide: an Alpine village in the Ecrins Massif that has continued to grow in it’s appeal to Brits. This was back in 2005.

The following year, i recruited my best friend, Dave Boulton, and another couple of reprobates from the climbing wall, Tom Churchman and Chris Lancaster, for a three-week tour of some of Europe’s bouldering hotspots, including, of course, Font. Even before this, i’d travelled with my parents during my childhood to some eight European countries. So by 2009, being abroad was anything but an alien concept.

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What made this trip unique and important was the format that it took. Accompanied by a friend, Steffi Orke, originally from Germany but living in London, we drove down to Font and stayed at La Musadiere – a place that from here on would become a home away from home (although again, this wasn’t my first time there). We climbed, made friends with other climbers, had a great trip and from here, planned the next, beginning the pattern for the next six years and counting.

Nothing stands out from this trip as particularly significant, which in some ways makes it even more significant. Looking back through the few photos i have from that trip, only Jet Set, my first Font 7a and the three-way slackline have any lasting memory.

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What is important here is the way it all unfolded. A short week long trip, drive out, climb, plan the next one and come home, it’s a simple format. Granted, sometimes it doesn’t quite work out the way you expect (the lad we met on this one, George, had agreed to meet us in Spain in September but bailed at the last minute, forcing us to take drastic recruitment that worked out for the best anyway) but without this one, we wouldn’t have gone to Albarracin, then Val Daone, which is all the more important for other reasons.

The Birthday Tradition

The campsite of the inaugural birthday trip to Val Daone
The campsite of the inaugural birthday trip to Val Daone

In Spain, in September 2009, with Steffi and good friend Stu Goodfellow, we met two Italians. Now, if you’ve been on a climbing trip abroad, and met people, i would wager you’ve championed your home climbing areas while listen to others try and encourage you to visit theirs. It’s one of the nicest aspects to travelling like this. In this case, Super Paolo and his girlfriend Stef were from the North Eastern corner of Italy, and an area called Val Daone.

They convinced us (it wasn’t hard) to plan a trip to see them. The next question was when. Now, i can’t for the life of me remember how we came to the decision, and i think it took a lot of faffing with dates but somewhere down the line, we arranged to go for my 26th birthday, much to the dismay of my mother. (“But you won’t have anything to open on your birthday!” she remarked. My reply: “I’ll open the door of my tent to see a beautiful Alpine valley…”)

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In Austria at Sundergrund on the day i turned 29

What began is a tradition that i have managed to keep going for the following six years and counting: to spend my birthday in a different country every year. To date, the list of birthday destinations reads Italy, Canada, France, Austria, Spain and Switzerland, with next year’s trip to Finland already in the pipeline.

It is now the highlight of my year and while everything else is very flexible, this summer fortnight is not. Finding places with suitable conditions in June is proving harder and harder, especially as flying to the Southern hemisphere where it’s mid-winter is currently out thanks to costs. I’m also running out of emergency i’ve-got-no-money-this-summer options, although Ireland still remains, as do a couple of others. Sooner or later, it’ll become “…in a foreign country” instead but for now, the tradition continues good and strong, with at least next year all good to go.

Turning 30 in Spain in the middle of June turned out to be a bit hotter than expected. Evening sessions were the way forward
Turning 30 in Spain in the middle of June turned out to be a bit hotter than expected. Evening sessions were the way forward

The crossover on the overhang at Lancaster Uni wall

As said above, landmarks are expected to be first climbs, first times to a place, so on and so forth. Bouldering being what it is, i wanted to include a single move in my list. The question was: which move.

In truth, once i could think of one, it was likely the winner. Not that it made things much easier! Every move i could think of came in the middle of a sequence and was, in essence, part of that sequence and not the move that mattered. In fact, after much thought, there was only really one contender and, against my better judgment, it’s an indoor one.

I have precious few photos from that time so here is an indoor shot at Creation Wall in Birmingham, shortly after i left Uni
I have precious few photos from that time so here is an indoor shot at Creation Wall in Birmingham, shortly after i left Uni

In 2002 i went to Uni, finally escaping the evil clutches of my bourgeois parents (or so i thought at the time; it wasn’t until years later i realised how much i relied upon and admired them both). It was freedom at last: no more “be home by 5”, no more checking up on me, as with so many students all over the world, i was now out on my own.

The downside is i had no one checking up on me and thus proceeded to waste the next three years of expensive education doing no work and failing my degree. With no one to hassle me, i was free to do as i wanted and all i wanted to do was climb.

In freshers week, i went to Fresher’s Fayre with one intention: to join the climbing club. I had also intended to join the Hiking Club but this fell by the wayside and climbing became the all-encompassing obsession right from that first week. At some point that week, i did my induction at the climbing wall on campus and signed up for unlimited use.

It was described on UKC as a “greasy sweat pit” but it became our greasy sweat pit – an old converted squash court that became a standard place to find members of LUMC, Lancaster University Mountaineering Club. I used it to train, although not training as i know it now, this was training on footwork and technique and it got quite good. As i trained more, i naturally got stronger.

By the time of my second year, i was one of the stronger ones, although still incapable of transferring this to trad but that’s another story for another day. The leisure centre who ran the wall saw a golden opportunity with a captive group of budding volunteers and got us to set new problems and clean the holds.

It didn’t last long; just long enough to leave me with the bug for route setting. Even once the allen keys were taken off us, we still set our own lines using bits of coloured tape wedged behind the holds. One day i set a peach.

By this time i was into my third year and definitely in the top three boulderers in the club. With my attitude stuck at V5, setting indoors was the only true challenge i had, in hindsight – the only way to truly push myself on a long term project.

Winning a fancy dress competition just after my third year as an old-school climber
Winning a fancy dress competition just after my third year as an old-school climber

The line ran up the large wavy overhang opposite the door from a hanging start matched on a jug. You went wrong handed for a couple of moves (deliberately) before making an the move.

A right heel hook and a left toe on a screw on led to an awkward cross over and one that thwarted me time and again. After that, you would do a dyno out left before moving straight up to a poor finish on the sloping top of the wall. The fact i can remember this ten years later is testament to how it stuck in my  memory, though quite how long it took has long since left my old grey matter.

What i do remember vividly is the crux. The crux wasn’t a move, it was far more subtle than that. You could fairly easily reach across and grab the pocketed green hold but you’d need to be much stronger than me to keep hold and don’t forget, i was practicing technique and was climbing much harder than my pure strength would suggest.

The trick came in the hips: instead of leaning back on the left handhold and simply reaching over, you had to twist your hips parallel with the wall, pressing hard with the left toe on the screw on. It was as subtle it comes and the first time i realised quite how delicate and precise this sport was. From them on, when the going gets tough, it’s the smallest details that make the biggest differences.

Lancaster looking lovely in the evening, up the top by the Infirmary
Lancaster looking lovely in the evening, up the top by the Infirmary

Leaving the Rescue Team

Due to the delicate nature of Rescue, i have very few photos and those i do have i’d prefer not to add. As such, this is going to be an exclusively text based post. If you want to see the type of thing the Ogwen team get up to, check out their Facebook page

I’d always said i wanted to join a rescue team one day and when Ken Dwyer, a stalwart of the Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Team and good friend and colleague, sadly passed away, there was no voice left to dissuade me.  Instead, words of encouragement could be found in regulars and team members coming into the shop. With the words of an ex ringing in my ears regarding giving something back to the community, i filled in my blue form and applied.

There was scepticism, not least from myself with my prowess on trad climbs less than impressive, but i was rightly told if i don’t try, i’ll never know. So try it i did.

It ate my time but please don’t take that as a complaint. As well as attending some 45 callouts during my time on the team, i was present at almost every Wednesday night training session over the eighteen months of my trainee-ship and could often be found at base on weekends, training, learning and trying to learn the ropes. However, as time went by, my lack of exposure to exposure was exposed as the problem it was.

Technical climbing wasn’t a problem and i worked well as a packhorse – able to lug heavy loads quickly up the hill. The problem came on the bit in between: the loose, scrambley ground with low risk of problem but high consequence if i did have a slip. With bouldering, the consequence is normally minimal but the risk of failure and falling incredibly high – that’s kinda the point! Yet i couldn’t shake this when up on the mountains and accept that while the drop was huge, nothing was going to go wrong.

I tried. I enjoyed being a team member so much, i wasn’t going to walk away that easily, and i started going on multi-pitch mountain routes fairly regularly. I hated it but i had no choice: don’t go and i’m off the team. Those i climbed with were understanding and supportive like you couldn’t believe and i thank every one of them for their help. The hard fact is, though, that it didn’t work.

I reached a crossroads. At a meeting some six months after my inadequacies were brought to light, i was in a meeting to assess how it was going. I could have bluffed my way through, blamed extenuating circumstances and kidded not only them but myself that i could carry on but i knew it would only be a matter of time before it all came back to haunt me. One exposed scramble could put me in a very tight spot.

I reluctantly left the team, although on very good terms and with nothing but friends. Again, the support was immense and the door has been left for my potential return in years to come.

It was then, in November 2014, that i decided to finally give up on trad climbing. Something finally dawned on me that should’ve been obvious as far back as 2003: if you don’t like it, don’t do it. With that epiphany, and a sudden surge of available time, i threw my focus entirely on the discipline i truly love.

The timing worked well, right at the start of the aggregate, and i began to get much stronger. Other factors played a part but the weight off my mind from forsaking ropes and racks was key. Suddenly, i began to perform.

I do think that has led to a spike in my grade-graph since then. I loved my time on the rescue team and if i had my time again, would do exactly the same. I also plan to return one day but for now, i’m doing what i want to do. And it feels so good.

The crux on Utopia Traverse

Utopia traverse in the world-famous Llanberis pass, North Wales
Utopia traverse in the world-famous Llanberis pass, North Wales

While Carnage may have been a multi-year siege, it wasn’t the first time i’d done this. After befriending Simon Rose during his time at Bangor, and thus leading to the Canadian trip and many more after, we’d headed out to the Utopia boulder about a week before his departure back home. The goal: Utopia Traverse into Left Hand V7.

God we were close on that first session and i tell you what, it’s a long problem. For those that have been, it starts as far right as you can in a crack and goes right the way round the main face to finish almost up the arete on the left. Some 20-odd moves, it was more of a mini route than a boulder problem. In that first session, we got the lot wired and were up to the crux on Utopia Left Hand; or the last hard move.

Thankfully, Simon got it just before he left, thus not leaving a tantilising project so close to completion before flying off to the other side of the world. The same cannot be said of me. Ten months later and i was still failing on that very same move.

It was getting annoying, although that was probably the only thing dragging me back. Granted it wasn’t every week for ten months but there were plenty of sessions during that time. And every session ended the same way: snatching for that last poor hold before hitting the pad and screaming out.

Something had to change and the idea of training to get stronger hadn’t quite entered my head yet. No, i was strong enough, i could do Left Hand with ease on it’s own but had somehow conditioned myself to fall off at the same point every time. All i needed to do was give it that tiny bit more.

I’ve written an article on this on it’s own so won’t go into too much depth, needless to say something clicked in my head. It’s a bit zen and not something i’d normally say but i managed to harness something deep inside my mind and through sheer focus and concentration, found that extra x% to get me finished.

I did the same thing to a lesser extent on Carnage years later on the final redpoint attempt and have done likewise on various other projects as well. It sounds a bit odd, “harnessing the power of the mind” but likewise with so many other points of this article/series, once you’ve managed it once, it becomes an invaluable resource and not one to be forgotten.

The ill-fated summer of 2013

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Things go wrong when travelling; that’s part of the fun, in a weird slightly sadistic way. And i’ve had plenty of things go wrong on me over the years. What i haven’t had is for everything to go wrong on the same trip. Well, hadn’t until 2013.

With a poor recruitment drive, i was left to find budding boulderers from further afield and a fortnight was appealing to poor Fredrik – my unwitting friend who had agreed to come to Austria for my summer trip. The concept seemed sound though: drive to Southern Germany for a week in the Frankenjura with the dog before meeting him in Munchen and heading down to Zillertal. Granted, it would be a long way and a lot of time alone but i wasn’t that worried; Frankenjura’s reputation is excellent so surely there must be climbers there, and there was a reputed climbers campsite where i was sure to meet someone.

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What i hadn’t anticipated was that they wouldn’t take dogs. With my German lacking at best, i managed to find another site and a quiet corner… right next to the road. Still, next to a little river would be great for the dog.

And for a local school group it turns out, who pitched camp on day two and didn’t leave for the rest of the week, causing me great fun trying to keep Tess from growling and barking at anyone who walked past.

A truly scenic area, well worth experiencing. I only hope the bouldering access issues are resolved soon
A truly scenic area, well worth experiencing. I only hope the bouldering access issues are resolved soon

By this point, this was the least of my worries. On my first morning, on route to find some boulders, the clutch went on the car. Alone, now stranded, without recovery, this was more than a little problem. Thanks to a bit of off-road experience and the film Little Miss Sunshine, i managed to somehow drive to not one but two garages where, being German, my car was back on the road within a few hours.

That didn’t help me climb much though. The temperature was in the high 30s and the lack of guidebook left me wandering the forest aimlessly. By the end of the week, filled with nerves and anxiety, i had got practically nothing done, eaten about two meals and was much more tired than when i’d started.

In Austria at Sundergrund on the day i turned 29
In Austria at Sundergrund on the day i turned 29

Picking up Fredrik lifted my spirits enormously – just to have a friend with me made me feel much more secure, especially as, by this point, my phone had almost entirely given up the ghost. Our first day in Austria (co-incidentally my birthday) was the one and only day that went well.

For the rest of the week, we were scrabbling and searching for dry rock and hiding under a tarp to cook away from the rain. When we did climb, i managed to graze my ankle which thus got infected, making wearing any proper footwear uncomfortable at least.

The view of the village of Ginzling from the crag - typically Alpine
The view of the village of Ginzling from the crag – typically Alpine

And the problems kept on coming. On one evening, after filling a couple of bottles with petrol, i inadvertently cross threaded the fuel pump and when priming the stove, watched a ball of flames engulf my face. I was unscathed (relatively low heat and lightning quick reactions both helped) but the stove wasn’t and was now completely useless. Thankfully i had a spare.

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Then big disaster: the clutch went again. While the garage in Germany were incredibly helpful, the one is Autria was quite the opposite and that was it. The only options now involved returning without the car (and most of it’s contents!). An international recovery policy had been taken out the week before and now it was going to be put to good use. And to top it all off, while trying to deal with all of this, on the last night, the tent broke.

Last morning and we awoke hunkered down in the basement of the campsite. It had been an uncomfortable night’s sleep, worrying someone would appear and try to evict us. All of my possessions were put into two piles: one of essentials i was to take with me, the other of things i’d leave behind for the recovery truck, potentially never to be seen again. Soon, Fredrik was forced to leave for a train to catch his flight, leaving me alone again, awaiting a recovery and only contactable by text through my tablet.

Loving the descriptive graffiti
Loving the descriptive graffiti

Eventually i was collected and left at Innsbruck airport with a hire car. Several hundred miles and three ferry crossings later (thanks to P&Os dog policy and Avis insistence the car be left in France) and i was in a car with my dad, driving back to Birmingham. It was another fortnight before i saw my Freelander again, thankfully it’s contents unchanged. Several times on that trip i genuinely didn’t know how i was going to get myself out of the mess.

But i did, somehow by the grace of god – in this case god being named mum and dad. I don’t think i’ve ever felt as lost and helpless as i did on this trip but i tell you what, the confidence boost on any excursion since is phenomenal.

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Getting the Job at Plas y Brenin

The Bull's Eye Boulder - one of many i would not have discovered if not for my time at PYB
The Bull’s Eye Boulder – one of many i would not have discovered if not for my time at PYB

After six years at Joe Brown’s, it had long been time to move on but North Wales being as it is, there was nowhere to go. I’d tried for countless reps jobs with most manufacturers, was reluctant to take a sideways step to another shop (none of which suited me as well) and even tried applying for the police force, again to no avail. Stuck in a rut, feeling low and depressed, i was in need of a change.

I’d met lots of people through my time in the shop and had been putting the feelers out for quite some time to try and find the next thing. I’m not sure if it was irony that it was Ann Dwyer – wife of Ken, a good friend and colleague at the shop before he sadly passed away – who told me of a storemans job going at the nearby Plas y Brenin.

Joe’s had moved me out of my beloved shop in Capel Curig and down in Llanberis to take care of the web orders. The Brenin would take me back to Capel and return my commute; the best commute in the world. It fit the bill perfectly and i’d known the storemen there for years, as well as plenty of the staff.

An early attempt on Going Down On An Elephant, with poor foot beta
An early attempt on Going Down On An Elephant, with poor foot beta

In hindsight, i was lucky: Rob Spencer called me in for a chat and i was expecting info about the job, rather than an interview. At one point, he asked about my outdoor experience and i waved, sniffed and said, “yeah, don’t worry about it”! The look he gave was great and i certainly wouldn’t have done that if i’d known this was make or break! Even less so if i realised what i might be missing out on.

Thankfully, he offered me the job. I began at the end of November 2014 and settled in quickly. I started setting routes in the wall, started getting out more, even started searching the forest opposite for new lines.

Looking at the best commute in the world
Looking at the best commute in the world

Suddenly the whole scene around me changed. I’d found somewhere i fit in, found somewhere i was more myself and it started to show in my psyche levels. I was in the wall more, in the gym, training indoors, out on the boulders whenever i could. The grades began to tumble as the psyche got higher and higher.

I’ve always said you spend more time at work than you do anywhere else so you have a choice: try and be there as little as possible (and accept potentially being miserable when you are) or make sure you find a job where you’re happy to be. I’ve managed to find the latter.

I’ll not stay forever, i’m sure, no-one will and 40 years in stores might lose it’s edge along the way. But when i do leave, to go and do whatever and look back at my time it will undoubtedly be with fondness. There was a time at Joe Brown’s where i actively wanted to go to work, the best couple of years i’ve had. My tenure at Plas y Brenin, i’m sure, will be just the same.

Just some of the crew that have accompanied me on many trips since i began at PYB
Just some of the crew that have accompanied me on many trips since i began at PYB

 

And everything else

There are so many more. Every experience, from a whole year right the way down to a single move has the potential to reshape your life from that moment on. I had more potential sections but had to draw a line somewhere or risk writing my entire life in a single article.

Moments of inspiration can come from nowhere, like a magazine article about a foreign land that drives you to go or from something much more obvious. For me, i could’ve easily talked about the films Hard Grit, Stick It and Progression but again, there simply isn’t space. Many other experiences nearly made the cut.

I’ll leave you with the knowledge that this exercise is not without merit. In going through these events with you, i’ve not only brought back many fond memories (even if it was that i made it out of Austria and home somehow) but also rekindled some old techniques i’d neglected lately. Last night’s bouldering session would’ve benefited greatly from a dose of Focused energy. It’s all the more likely, now, that the next one will.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading through these. Please feel free to leave a comment to let me know or perhaps share some of your own. And here’s to the next chapter.

 

A huge debt of thanks should go out to so many people – anyone involved in any of the previous posts. They are FAR too numerous to mention but needless to say, if you’ve had any effect on any of the topics discussed, i owe you one. Cheers for everything. 

Cheers!
Cheers!

One thought on “Milestones”

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