All posts by chezdelabloc

Super Cracks and Repeats

The feeling of total disinterest from Em couldn’t dampen my spirits on Tuesday when i announced proudly and loudly to her my latest climbing achievement: my Top Ten Yearly Average grade had finally tipped above 7a.

It was understandable, really – it’s not exactly exciting news! But to me, it showed how my recent spell of outdoor sessions and (more importantly) outdoor sends has improved. Since my last post and the success on Regeneration i’ve managed no less than four days of outdoor bouldering and one lunchtime hit outside on the steps of a fire escape…

The crucial factor has certainly been the weather. The Spring finally arrived and yielded prolonged dry spells, meaning that the forest crags began to dry out and escape from the searing sunshine was possible on the wooded crags of North Wales. First and foremost, the local Brenin boulder was finally dry.

Back at the end of April, one Thursday while walking the dog, i went for a quick lunchtime look and was stunned to find it not only dry but in reasonable nick. I’ve since joked that there are winter lines around here that are in condition more often than the Brenin Boulder and to be honest, even now i don’t think i’m actually wrong; it takes that long to dry.

Downside, it was warm, muggy and humid; so a repeat of either Eat the Meek 7b or Original Traverse 7b weren’t on the cards. What was possible was to retro tick a load of the old stuff, some of the new link ups and to manage every climb there below 7a in a session. Not bad in a quick hour after work before coaching!

I couldn't believe it when I wandered up here yesterday: the #breninboulder was dry! It's in condition as often as some of the ice routes around here! And yes, I've done all the lines in the old guide, but the new #northwalesbouldering guide has various new link ups (and of course I've got this #noretroticks thing going on) so I was super #stoked to get up there for an hour or two after work but before coaching this evening. Everything under 7a done and a quality play on actual rock with Pete Fagan, who took this sweet photo of me repeating #thehobbit 6c+ on significantly better style than the first time around. Anytime I get to climb is great at the moment, anytime it's outside is even better. Having Pete there was the icing on the cake; always great to have #psyched mates there with you #worldclasswales #northwales #capelcurig #brynengan #snowdonia #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #boulderingisbetter #rockclimbing #grimpeur #escalade #escalada #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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Ten days later, i was out again. Different day, different forest, same thinking: head into the woods, make the most of it and find the shade. Sadly, motivation was lacking slightly and it took a while to get into the swing of things.

The last time i was at The Shocker area in Beddgelert forest, i think, was back in 2015, not long back from my very successful foray to Magic Wood. I’d been eager to try The Shocker 7b+ again ever since but may have forgotten quite how hard it was.

Back then i was using some printed text from the guide that would not appear for another two years and struggled to find the problems. Armed with the new guide, i found myself looking at the same lines but not finding any further inspiration. Sadly it seems, The Shocker Area may not be for me.

The one line that i did complete back then and thoroughly enjoyed was Houdini 7a and despite some early setbacks – i couldn’t even hang the holds at first – eventually i managed to pull myself both together and off the ground and repeated the one move wonder. I even managed to throw in Derw’s Move at 6c too.

Didn't realise it had been this long! This was actually last month now, up in the #Beddgelertforest at the shocker area, a 7a called #Houdini. This was actually a repeat, so given the slightly poor landing, the myriad of pine needles on the top and the solitude, I opted to skirt left on the top out, making it a bit safer. I did want to give The Shocker 7b+ a good go but for the life of me, I can't seem to feel the right movement! Given that it was 2015 the last time I was there, think it might fall off the bottom of my list. Shame as I'm sure it's awesome when it goes. #northwales #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #boulderingisbetter #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #rockclimbing #grimpeur #escalade #escalada #climbing #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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Sadly, though, lacking enough pads to give full confidence and with my head hurting slightly from all the head-scratching, i realised i could not for the life of me figure out the movement on the dyno. Even a video online failed to provide inspiration and i fear i may not be going back for another go.

Any disappointment didn’t last long though, as a week later i found myself with another free evening and finally heading to a crag i’ve been waiting six months to get to: Supercrack.

Deep in the Aberglaslyn pass, hidden in the trees above Aberglaslyn Hall, i’d been to see this crag during a deluge with Em and Rosie and was so taken, it had been my main priority to get back there armed with pads and shoes ever since. But it would’ve been pointless to go when the holds were likely still seeping and this was my first chance to go since then.

Even more surprising on my arrival was that i was not alone; there were a couple already there, enjoying the bank holiday weekend by ticking off the classics of the area. Blessed with two extra pads and the knowledge that two people stood behind and below me, i managed to make the biggest hash of the top out on my way to ticking Supercrack 7a. Without them, i could have seen me backing off.

After the ignominy of missing half of Friday and Saturday to an unknown illness that resulted in me asleep for 24 hours and not #climbing as originally planned, I managed to get out yesterday evening. After a short heat wave, the chances of #Supercrack finally being dry – after a six month wait – were pretty high and sure enough, there it was, waiting to be climbed. I was half surprised not to be alone, as I was greeted by two very nice and kind climbers here for the bank holiday weekend. Here is @domybridge trying Dog Face 7c while my own dog face looks on on the background. I was incredibly glad they were there too, as I quickly found myself performing the worst and most graceless topout of my life, mere seconds away from beginning to blub that I was terrified and thanking anything I could think of that they were down there behind me. The most striking thing for me, as I continued to try Super Has 7b after they'd left, was how short my sessions are now before I'm too spent to compete properly any more. Still, as I watched my new friend nearly tick the entire crag after recovering from serious injury, I couldn't help but feel how nice it is just to get out and meet other climbers, no matter what we try. 7a or 8a, it's all relative really. #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #bouldering #boulderingisbetter #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #grimpeur #escalada #escalade #adventure #excitement

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Meanwhile my new friend worked hard but sadly fell one move short of the second ascent of Dogface 7c. Inspired me though! Once they’d departed, i continued to try Super Hans 7b and did almost complete the crux move but quickly ran out of juice.

What has struck me lately is how short my sessions have become; not necessarily by time constraints but i just don’t have the fitness to keep being so relentless any more. Quite simply, i’m lacking the conditioning and somehow i need to get it back.

Still, another week later and yet another free evening, continuing this brilliant run and, of course, it was back to Supercrack. This time with my friend Lewis in tow, i was focused to get back on Super Hans now knowing the beta and fresh. I was also keen for him to get on the namesake problem, as i was sure he would nail it.

I was right. Well, more importantly, Lewis was strong, savvy and more than up to the task. It took him a little while but sure enough, after unlocking the sequence, i watched through the lens of the camera from a distance as he applied a very committing heel hook above his head and, thankfully, topped out with ease.

Apologies for the poor quality video, I blame the midges – they were, after all, what drove us away! Not before @lil_lewis_climber nailed #Supercrack 7a with the most committing heel hook I've seen in years and inexplicably, I also ticked off the link in from the right, Dog Crack 7b. Shocked as that wasn't the line I wanted to try at all but I couldn't be bothered to keep shuffling the pads under Super Has 7b. Was far too hot for the crux sloper anyway. Then, quickly, on the way home, we stopped at the cromlech boulders and I got Leo's Dyno 7a+ on the second go! Not a bad evening, all told. #worldclasswales #northwales #snowdonia #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #boulderingisbetter #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #sport #rockclimbing #escalade #escalada #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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Not wanting to continually shuffle the pads around, i opted to try the link between Dog Face and Supercrack, a 7b called Dog Crack. First go, barely pull off the floor. By the time Lewis finished his own climb, i had finished my own, thoroughly shocking myself in the process. A second 7b of the year and one surprised but happy climber.

The midge chased us away before either the dark or an imposed curfew on Lewis and despite not feeling the look of Voie Normale by Llyn Dinas, we stopped briefly at the Cromlech Roadside for a quick effort on Leo’s Dyno 7a+. I’d tried it with Alice a few months back and figured i had time for a couple of efforts.

It was all that was needed. Miraculously, i remembered the footholds and for the second time that evening, shocked myself by finding myself suddenly hanging the familiar lip having skipped half the holds on the Edge Problem.

And thus brings us up to date. That top ten mentioned in the first paragraph currently consists of two 7b, one 7a+, four 7a, a 6c+ and the rest at 6c. As long as this good weather holds and my darling better half continues to be happy for me to get out, i can only see that average going one way.

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Regeneration

After our Font fun, it was back to work and nose to the grindstone. Almost literally, to be honest! Does anyone else find that the stress of coming back in to work and dealing with everything that happened while you were off almost negates the whole break in the first place? Nevertheless, it only lasted a week as the Thursday after we returned, Em headed to the Midlands for a gig and i was left with a few days to myself.

These days, that means one simple thing: climbing. From Thursday morning until she returned, there was only one period when i wasn’t either working, coaching or climbing and that was a rest period when i went to visit my parents!

My usual coaching session was shifted from Friday to Thursday, possibly due to it being Good Friday, and whenever it moves, the numbers are low. As such, i had a session working with my friend Rob on how to coach, rather than actually coaching myself – an unusual take on things and a good demonstration of my progression. I must admit, it’s quite nice to be doing well with it and being respected for it!

The downside: i brought Tess in for the last little while, the wall being very quiet, and somehow, unbeknownst to me, she managed to hurt her elbow and develop a limp. Not uncommon but certainly not ideal. She has now recovered but as with anyone, it was slow.

Friday, now free, was miraculously dry. Making the most of the lack of necessary doggy freedom and with time still being in short supply before the onset of darkness, the Cromlech boulders came calling and i decided to finally go and check out Sleep Deprivation 7b for the first time since i found out where it actually starts.

Turns out it’s still not much easier, was soggy and full of touristy rubbish underneath and didn’t float my boat. That was after i’d repeated the usual problems on the roadside face, and shown Alice from work some good ticks for herself. I think she surprised herself with some of her ascents and while i sat under the roof wondering what to do with myself, she scampered over some nice easy routes with Harry, her boyfriend. Eventually, i realised that actually, i’ve never actually given Leo’s Dyno 7a+ a real effort so why not now!

#whilethecatsaway… New year (see blog post linked in bio) and that means evenings outdoors again! Well, to be honest, normally it might not but being as my better half and my daughter are away for a few days and the rock was actually dry, coupled with my dog Tess being injured, there were no reasons not to head to the #cromlechboulders straight from work. With @alice__kerr in tow, here demonstrating her technical abilities on #pocketwall before I managed to find enough excuses not to try Sleep Deprivation 7b before repeatedly trying to find the right feet for Leo's Dyno 7a+. Didn't get it but got close and got out. #psyched! #worldclasswales #northwales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #grimpeur #escalade #8crags

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Leo’s Dyno is the eliminate version of the Edge Problem 7a; a trunk route that many a climber much stronger than i fail repeatedly on, but thanks to my small girly fingers, i am able to lap in trainers. The dyno was something i’d not particularly tried before but as darkness fell and my companions called it a day and left me to it, i felt myself drawing closer and closer. More daylight hours are needed to finish this off and soon, before i forget the correct footholds…

Saturday night was my rest night, seeing my parents and some visiting friends and generally allowing my skin and body to recover but Sunday morning arrived, with my trusty canine companion still being a limpy lump and the weather was almost perfect.

Being so far away, heading all the way from Caernarfon to the Ogwen valley was a risky business but that was the project i wanted to attack. In a recent post, i mentioned Gallt yr Ogof as a potential for some success and this was exactly the place that had piqued my interest. But that still left me with 25 miles to drive to get there.

It took me a few days to realise that this was what had put me in a foul mood to begin with but nevertheless, my day didn’t begin well. I called in at our house – still under a layer of plaster dust following some building work – to try in vain to find my bouldering guide, furthering pushing me into a deep grump. Then to top it all off, i drove over the pass on a Bank Holiday Sunday in typically slow traffic.

By the time i’d arrived in Capel, i was in a mood that could kill all on it’s own; the only bright side of my grump being an excuse to yell obscenities at unknowing innocent tourists. My favourite has to be “this isn’t a funeral, it’s a 60mph limit!!!”

I quickly pulled in to the Brenin and ran into stores to grab a replacement guide, but not before slipping under the canopy in front of a large group of clients and wrapping myself around the concrete stanchion in the corner.

All this began to clear as i pulled in to the campsite and unpacked my kit and by the time i made it to the crag, it had all been replaced by a sense of excitement. It had been a long time since i’d had conditions and opportunity this good and psyche levels were getting high.

With the limping dog in tow, i unpacked my pad under the warm up GyG Arete 6b+ and proceeded to struggle significantly more than that first time when i was stymied by a sheet of ice topping the entire boulder. Next, The Ramp 7a/+ fell much quicker, and was even repeated just to make sure i hadn’t dabbed the boulder behind

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

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To it’s right, though, the one problem i had borne in mind turned out to be truly nails. Smackhead goes at 7b (i think, still don’t have my guidebook!) and is only a couple of hard moves, right at the start. I couldn’t pull off the floor; and even when i skipped the first move, the position was so stupidly hard to hold, i decided to wander around the corner and check out some of the other problems.

And here we find Regeneration 7b: the most apt title for not only the ascent but the timing too. The first period of climbing in the New Year – a typical time for nature to begin to regenerate. A marker for me to try to claw back some form and begin to improve again. A nod towards the lovely little reason that’s so hard to do.

Holding the first position was certainly the toughest part for me, the second move needing precision that took time to find but after that, it was dynamic moves on reasonable crimps and a precise foothold. It was like it was set just for me and those three moves seemedto regenerate my spirit just in time for the next challenging season ahead.

Baby en Bleau: Part Two

Day Three

After the previous day, lengthy walk ins were off the table; in fact, our first port of call was to head in to Font and go shopping. I’d been trying to find a healthy blend of climbing and non-climbing activities for us to do and wandering around the town seemed a good option.

Our walk didn’t actually take us into the town proper but we did have a very pleasant and sunny walk around the gardens of the chateau. I’d only discovered them thanks to my friends Ben and Charlotte in 2014 or 2015, i forget and they are somewhere anyone visiting Font should go and explore.

The afternoon was then spent at Cul de Chien. We met Gabe and Marie, took only the large Petzl pad, cut out a lot of the unneeded crap and basked in the sunshine on la plage sans la mer as i like to call it.

More low-grade climbs succumbed, all thoroughly enjoyable and one rather terrifying top out, and while i went and glanced at l’Autre Toit it was not a sensible place to head. Instead, we made the short walk over to 91.1 to try another couple of projects from trips gone by.

Flipper sds 7a+ had been agonisingly close back in 2016 when i’d tried it last, had people on it this time and was there for the ticking. A few attempts brought the beta back, a fired up American completed the stand and then told me to fuck off when i suggested the sit start – not as bad as it sounds, but enough for it to stick in my mind – and i was on it, ready and determined.

But then i ran out of time again. One last go means three last gos and on the second, i slipped, dropping the first couple of moves and felt it would go on the next attempt until i looked at Em, shuffling her feet and looking at the way home. Then i glanced at my left hand and the large flap of skin hanging off my palm and knew i’d have to leave another one.

Day Four

By this point, i was pretty demoralised about the whole climbing thing. The goal had been a couple of 7as or 7a+ and hopefully a 7b during the week. So far, i’d managed none. With one climbing day to go and my standards evidently lacking, i was not feeling very good about myself.

Time for a change of tactics. If you can’t climb new and hard, just go for new and while ticking off easy stuff at somewhere i’ve been many times doesn’t do much for me, exploring a new crag certainly seemed like a productive use of the day! At least if i didn’t climb anything, i’d have somewhere else in the bank for the next trip.

Buoyed by this new strategy, i looked through the guidebook and selected JA Martin. While eating pizza on the previous evening, i’d noticed a signpost to local crags and smiled as i read through, audibly saying “been there” to almost every one. Suddenly i was keen to visit the missing ones.

The obligatory hour-and-a-half wait at the vets to allow Tess to come home killed early enthusiasm but after we were finally done, we headed off to investigate somewhere new. Gabe, Marie and Lorenzo were having a rest day so we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Straight away i cheered right up, thrilled by the look of the awesome roof Le Surplomb Pete-Couilles and it’s variations, ranging from 5- to 6b. All fell pretty quickly and were thoroughly enjoyable. Vent Couvert (racourci) and (droite) both 6a+ followed, were both enjoyed, before i wandered off looking for a good 7 to try.

I couldn’t find one within sensible walking distance so instead finished the climbing week on Signature 6a and Bille en Tete 6b, satisfied with the day’s efforts, if not entirely happy with the week’s climbing.

Day Five

With pads buried at the bottom of all of our other stuff, climbing on the last day was simply too much a trial. Frankly, it wasn’t worth it and after four days of dragging poor Em around the forest, having a day doing more conventional touristy activities was the least we could do.

We took a quick trip into Milly la Foret, getting a souvenir for Rosie from a fantastic little boutique that i frequent often – i had no idea they spoke English there and had been conversing with them in my poor French for years! Actually, i’m really grateful for them allowing me to try and for being patient and welcoming to me. It is called Derriere la Fenetre and is in the main square near the market stand. Please visit on your next trip, an ideal place for gifts for those back home.

After grabbing some food, we headed back to Fontainebleau, said a quick hello and goodbye to Gabe and Marie, wandered the town searching for a sticker and a pin (the latter of which we didn’t find so if anyone can send me one, i’ll be phenomenally grateful) and eventually headed off for Barbizon and a quick walk before our long drive home.

Barbizon is a lovely, tranquil village, steeped in art history and worth an afternoon of anyone’s time. It is also very close to some lovely walking which Tess was doubtless very glad of before being cooped up for such a long time.

After a pleasant walk finished under a mild shower, we bid farewell to the Forest, stopped briefly at the large Carrefour for supplies and then began our long journey home.

The Inevitable Question

Once home and back at work, i faced the inevitable question: how was Font? With a paltry list of ascents, i must admit, i was a tiny bit despondent. How was Font? In climbing terms, pretty shitty to be honest.

7a is what i regard as my bread and butter these days, rightly or wrongly. Any less than that and to be honest, it doesn’t even register. Whether i should be like that or not, that’s just how i think, given the standards i’ve achieved and currently operate at.

Font fun 😄 . . #fontainebleau #bestfriends #familyholiday

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BUT, and this is the crucial thing, as a family trip, time away from home, time spent with the love of my life and my absolutely wonderful daughter, the perfect opportunity for Tess to get some time, experiences and stories, it was brilliant. I didn’t get any hard climbing done but i did get climbing done and, as i’ve said several times now, with an infant in tow, that’s an achievement in itself.

Em also reliably told me she really enjoyed being in the forest and is keen to go back. At first, after getting home, i was a bit head down, fed up, desperate to go again and perform as i know i can. Then i got chatting to Jam; the same friend who had been there when we were but who’s path we hadn’t managed to cross. We got chatting about things, about how it had gone and over the course of the 45 minute conversation, i realised that grades aren’t everything. That indeed the whole week was one big win.

Baby en Bleau: Part One

After our brief break in our scheduled posts to deal with New Years, we can now return to recent excursions and our family trip to Font! Planned months in advance, we had organised ourselves for four nights in the forest, Tess making her triumphant return to one of her favourite places, Em returning under much better circumstances than last time and Rosie making her debut at the world’s greatest bouldering venue.

I have, of course, been for a springtime week many years before and found this time of year totally reliable. Still, despite my staunchest protestations that it’s normally fine and t-shirt weather in the daytime, there was a worry from a certain someone that we were in for a chilly one. Turns out, she was right to worry.

From our home in North Wales, down through the Midlands and on to Dover, we battled through snowy roads and full on winter driving conditions such as i’ve never seen in England. Better still, once we were in Calais, it continued and didn’t relent over the next four hours as we continued down the motorway and past Paris. In fact, as far South as Melun there was snow covering the trees and verges by the side of the road and i was starting to think i would need to go buy a broom in order to climb anything at all.

Miraculously, it cleared at the last minute and we pulled into the familiar site at La Musadiere totally clear of snow. It was, though, bitterly cold and while i wasn’t that phased in terms of climbing conditions – i’ve climbed in sub-zero conditions plenty and the friction would be good – i was a bit worried about the effect it would have on our one-year-old daughter. I’ll let you imagine what her mother was thinking…

Day One

Having driven through the night, none of us had had a particularly restful night, not least myself having been restricted to an hour and a half of sleep on the ferry, so once we were unpacked and organised, we opted for a simple day. I’d noticed a nearby crag on the map that i’d not been to before; Chateauveau, so we opted to walk in and have a look.

As is typical for the forest, finding the correct path can be tricksome and after a period of bushwacking, we finally found some painted lines and then numbers on the rocks and began to find our way around. It wasn’t a large venue, nor did any of the lines seem especially outstanding but for it’s proximity, it was worth a look. A handful of problems were inspected but only a couple climbed: Chaleur and Triangle Rouge both 6a. By this time, we were all flagging and heading back for a nice early night.

Day Two

“Let’s walk in to the crag today” says me, thinking a walk and a climb would be a good combo! I’ll take the baby, the big pad and the climbing stuff, Em can take the other pad and the baby bag. Simple!

Simple idiot maybe.

That many pads, in Fontainebleau, was quite frankly absurd and unnecessary and meant that my poor, suffering better half slogged all the way from the campsite to 95.2 with far more weight than she needed to. Granted, i took more of the weight from her on the way back, estimating (probably over-estimating but not by much) to have about 30kg attached to me, but being as it was my stupid idea in the first place, i got what i deserved.

First full day in the #forest with #babyatthecrag and we walked in to #ninetyfivepointtwo from the campsite; a long walk, when we had a stack of pads on our backs, a #baby on my front, a bag of #climbing crap and a changing bag but totally worth it! Rosie had an awesome time, playing and crawling in the sand, @emks93 took some awesome #climbing_pictures_of_instagram (including this one) but sadly I didn't quite get the #bouldering done that I was hoping for. While I got a stack of ticks for my #7+8 guide, I failed on a 7a that I thought would go (and very nearly did, my hand slapping the rock as my feet disappeared beneath me and I plummeted back to earth) and this: Miss KGB 7b. I'd tried it two years ago on my trip here with @simoncfr but even with new beta, it refused to relent. The disappointment was offset by having my #daughter, my trusty #dog and the love of my life join me on a beautiful day in #Fontainebleau. #fontbouldering #rockclimbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_worldwide @parentsthatrock

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The original plan was to hit 95.2 first and then head down to Cul de Chien to meet up with a friend from work, also in the forest that week. Much as with our kit choices, i should’ve known better and we spent the day at the former. The consolation was the Jam never made it to Cul de Chien either.

The bright side was, well, the bright weather! 95.2 is, i believe, it’s altitude, being the highest point in the area and as such, the crag dries quickly and catches the nicer weather. While it wasn’t the t-shirt weather i had sold Em with, it was certainly much nicer and where we met Gabe, Marie and their little boy, Lorenzo. We would spend every day of the week catching up with them from here on.

Climbing wise, i stack of ticks for my 5+6 guide were collected before i decided to try some 7s and try a couple i’d left last time i was there. First on the list: Miss KGB 7b.

After our attempts last time, we’d returned home and found a video of someone completing it. Now, i was keen to try his beta but quickly realised this guy is about 7′ tall with a positive ape index! I tried relentlessly to use his beta before sacking it off in search for something easier.

Le Mur de la Fosse aux Ours only gets 7a and last time, i’d looked and thought it would go pretty quick. The moves suited me, and grade was certainly within my limit and there it was, marked clearly in my guide. Ideal!

I genuinely couldn’t be much closer. On my best attempt, as my hand reached to grab the top, my left foot pinged off, my palm slapped the rock loudly and i landed in a heap on the floor.

Not for the last time this week, i simply ran out of time. When you’re there with your climbing bum mates, you can push dinner back a bit, you can stay for a little bit longer, you can keep trying. Take a baby and that flexibility disappears. Push her dinnertime back and you screw up her bedtime, which while flexible, can’t be messed with too much. Aching to finish what i’d started, i did the agonising pad pack up leaving the problem unclimbed.

 

 

To be continued…

New Year: March 2018

Happy New Year! A couple of days late but we’ll get to that. This is a bit of an interesting one this year, with lots having happened and lots about to kick off. Time to take stock and figure out where we’re going from here.

Some Highlights

Well, we always knew this was going to be a funny old year and it has definitely been the year of #babyatthecrag. More than anything, i’ve wanted to promote and champion the idea that having a child doesn’t finish your passions and judging from several conversations about my various social media accounts, it would appear i’ve been at the very least a mild success.

This post is normally a tricky one to write – after all, thinking back over an entire year is not easy. Of course, this time last year i had not long become a father and as expected, that has drawn my focus away from climbing. Juggling the two has been a tremendous strain and to be honest, i think, looking back, i’ve done admirably. Many people give up their hobbies with the onset of a family so the fact i’m still going, at any level, speaks volumes. Showing this to people has been just a much a goal as actually getting out. I’ve even managed to have pieces published on the subject, including one at The Project Magazine and have another couple lined up too.

A large part of this ability to carry on has been my fantastic partner, Emily. She has encouraged and supported me throughout this past year and deserves great thanks for that and no better has that been highlighted than by continuing the Birthday Tradition last June in Ireland. While not a resounding climbing success, it was indeed a climbing trip and a great family adventure.

Moving house in the autumn put paid to any trips then but again, thanks to Em’s encouragement and support, last week saw one of my lifelong dreams come true: to take my family to Fontainebleau.

What i have found is that it is nigh on impossible to perform to a high standard in these conditions. Climbing is never a priority with young children in tow and on both occasions, i failed to climb even a single 7a – a grade that has become my bread and butter now. An inability to complete just one shows just how hard it can be.

Still, i have been getting out and have indeed been climbing, predominantly indoors and have managed to compete at this winter’s Indy Aggregate Competition. Last count saw me at the unexpected standing of third in my category, or sixth overall. While the final results haven’t been published at time of writing, i don’t expect this to be any different and, save for February where i dropped nine points, i don’t think i could’ve done much better. I’ll take that for sure.

A large proportion of my Indy time has been thanks to my coaching and this is itself has been going incredibly well. My private coaching sessions have continued steadily, leading me to wonder about pursuing this with other clients, while my regular Friday night sessions with the Anglesey Adventure Club have managed to get me the respect and admiration of my peers. A few weeks ago i was shadowed by another volunteer, such is the desire of others to learn about what i do. I’ve certainly found that an honour and hope to inspire coaches and climbers alike.

This has, in turn, led me to think more about coaching proper. I’ve developed more theories (to be published on here in due course), restructured the blog to accommodate new ideas and, astoundingly, am hopefully soon to be embarking on a Professional Masters in Elite Performance with the University of Central Lancashire, focusing on coaching in rock climbing. Now there’s something i didn’t foresee last spring!

Last Season’s Goals:
  • Find out how to climb with Rosie around
  • Go climbing and make the most of the chances
  • Reset the list and get rid of the dross
  • 7c outside – most likely Nazgul’s Traverse
  • SPA Assessment
  • Another 7c+
  • Top ten yearly average around 7b/+
  • Continue the birthday tradition
  • Get to Font
  • Start to develop the coaching into something more
  • Don’t jeopardise your relationship for climbing…
Solstice Goals:
  • Top 5 Aggregate finish
  • 6 outdoor sessions with at least a new 7a completed
  • A weekend climbing out of Wales
  • Continue to develop coaching and formalise what i offer
  • Plan trips to Font and Germany
And how did it go?

Again, we always knew this was going to be tough and that these goals may or may not be sensible. With a baby now in the picture, it was impossible to know which way it could go. The list above is of all the goals, short and long term, from last March and October so let’s start with the easy ones.

The first four points were addressed in the Autumn but have left them there to add two points: one The List is done but needs a new home in the new house. The kitchen is no longer suitable but we really aren’t settled yet and this needs addressing. Two, figuring out how to climb with Rosie around me is all well and good but as any parent will tell you, the little blighters keep changing so you have to constantly change how you do that. Think that just shows my naivety there; it’s an ongoing challenge.

Completing my SPA was discussed previously and is on hold for longer days and better weather. 7c+ is permanently on hold until, well, quite frankly until i come to my senses and realise it won’t happen for a few years. Not until i get my act together. We’ll look at this another time.

Continuing the birthday tradition and getting to Font both happened and i’m so pleased about both. I need to figure out how to climb harder when i’m away but at least we’re getting away so that’s the first major hurdle done. Keep it going.

6 outdoor sessions since October simply wasn’t feasible as i don’t think there have been six dry days since October… As such, 7c outside was also never going to happen. Likewise for 7b Top Ten Yearly Average. There was nothing i could do about this, it hasn’t been my fault and there’s been nothing i could do about it. Keep it going for next year.

Frankly i’m amazed i ticked off the Aggregate goal, although this year has made me realise it is entirely dependant on who else shows up. So i think i’ll change this for next winter and say “don’t drop any problems you think you might get” or something like that. After all competing against myself means more than competing against factors i can’t control.

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

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A weekend away is something i’d forgotten and as life ticks along slowly, i think it’s more and more important. I’ll be discussing this with Em very soon. Time to yourself is important in any relationship and even more so with children. I just want to make sure it’s done the right way.

Finally the coaching and i don’t think anyone could argue with the progress i’ve made there. This masters degree could be huge for me and while i’ve fallen foul to my own hype in the past, i feel strong and determined about this and i cannot wait to get started – so much so i’ve begun already. Even if i don’t end up on the course, it’s already making me a better coach.

2018 Spring/Summer Goals

Climb? Study? Coach? Parent? All of the above? Of course but to go into more detail is much more difficult. I really have no idea what i want any more as my inability to climb at my limit for the first time in many years and begun to make me question my motivation.

So this could well be a period of transition or a stagnant period, where all i’m trying to do is maintain my current standards until such time as i’m able to start pushing myself again. Or it could be that as a consequence of coaching more, i find myself improving again. Or it could be the start of a slow and steady decline. Who knows, place your bets now.

For the next few months, i think the climbing focus must be on maintaining. Anything other than that is a bonus. The area to push my standards is most probably with my coaching. And of course, it will be crucial not to allow this to get in the way of being the best father and partner i can be.

Most importantly of all, now is the time to begin to be more intelligent with my time. Every minute counts now and that lunch break you never used to take is now precious time i can’t afford to waste. It’s time to start using that brain to coach myself and make the most of what i have. If i’d never say to a client they need to put more time in to climbing in order to improve, i need to start saying the same to myself.

  • Go to Germany
  • Start the Masters degree and REALLY work at it
  • Be more productive with my time
  • Actually train, don’t just boulder. 1 in 5 sessions
  • At least one weekend away climbing without the family

2018 Year-long goals

This is even harder than my short term goals! After all, the rate things are changing around here, who could possibly guess what situation i’ll be in this time next year!

  • SPA completed (yet again)
  • Try and match Top Ten Yearly Average of 7a+
  • Make big strides into Masters Degree
  • Don’t drop any potential climbs during the Aggregate

Will it all happen? Will it all fall apart? I choose my words carefully when i say: fuck knows. What i do know is that there’s a lot at stake this year; my family, my career, my chance at redemption for past failures, my entire lifestyle. All i can do is line everything up and give it my best shot. But then, i guess that’s just life. Let’s see what happens next.

Happy New Year!

 

The Dream Is Coming True

I think it was on my last trip to the forest, myself and good friend Simon chilling on the campsite and, though i’m not entirely sure how this came about, i found myself talking to a nearby family with a young baby. They were English – unusual at La Musadiere – and their baby was tiny. With my current knowledge, i’d guess about four to six months.

It’s something i’d seen many times over the years: families from all over Europe descending on the forest with their youngsters, letting them roam and explore and enjoying the boulders at the same time. Despite most of my trips to Font occurring while i’ve been single, it is something i’ve often seen, admired and if i’m honest, pined for ever so slightly. Well, quite a lot actually.

Fast forward a few years to the present day and within a week, i’ll be arriving at the very same campsite, my almost-wife, my one-year-old daughter and my faithful and familiar hound, ready to turn that long held dream into a reality.

With every aspect of my life totally hectic at the moment (work, home life, even my climbing has been sudden and reactionary) this has totally crept up on me. Nevertheless, as the day of departure rapidly comes to the fore, it dawns on me that this is what i’ve always wanted and that it is actually going to happen.

Less than a week to go and all I can think about is the first family trip to #Fontainebleau! It's crept up on me this time but as we pack and finalise details, I'm getting so excited! Last year I missed out on the usual spring trip – when Instagram feeds are flooded with #climbing_pictures_of_instagram of the #forest – thanks to the arrival of our first little one but it's been totally worth it. And the idea of taking her and @emks93 is so amazing, I nearly packed my clothes this morning… This picture is actually in #bascuvier of @simoncfr who sadly won't be joining me this time and it's a crag we definitely won't be going to. It's reputation will doubtless put many families off but more than that, I've spent more than enough of my life here, achieved plenty and need new pastures. As pleased as I am to have explored this crag so much, new people means new venues. I really can't wait. #fontbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion

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It is, admittedly, a slightly shorter trip than usual; required through expanded costs and worries about how various people will take to it, not to mention travel logistics being more than a touch harder. Meanwhile, i’m now thinking hard about where we’ll be heading each day. Somewhere like Cuvier, famed for it’s hookers and used discarded condoms around the car park is no longer a viable option. It could be, as the litter and problems stop a few yards from the car park, but with so many other places to head, it scarcely seems worth trying. Besides, i’m done at Cuvier for quite a while.

So i’m racking my brains. Some i know well and are obvious: Rocher aux Sabots or Cul de Chien are popular family-friendly destinations. Others that come to mind are definitely out: Bois Rond and Rocher d’Avon don’t really offer our crawling, sprawling youngster the ideal place to play. Then there are some that i’ve not really explored but do know of: Canche aux Merciers for example, where i remember bumping into a school group many years back. Granted they were much older but it did seem a suitable destination.

Tradition normally suggests that i spend a day at a venue i’ve not been before but this time, that seems risky. Without a glut of research – which i scarcely have time to do in half a busy week – i do run the risk of ending up somewhere that simply doesn’t work. With only four or five climbing days, that doesn’t sound very appealing. That being said, i’ll not be ruling it out and will be in the back of my mind if we encounter a wet day.

Wherever we head, it’ll be awesome. The local logistics aren’t an issue with my knowledge of the forest, and emergency facilities are well known – it’s been more than ten years since Terry’s infamous leg break when we tried to sleep in the waiting room of the hospital. I’m hoping (and assuming if i’m honest) that we won’t have any repeats of anything like that.

Other attractions are also swimming around my mind. The gardens around the palace? Ideal, great place to go and spend a few hours. Wandering the streets of Fontainebleau? Probably not a great idea. But where else to check out? I think this may come down to a more ad-lib approach.

Whatever we do though and wherever we go, we’ll still be away from our trials and tribulations back home, we’ll still be in Font and we’ll still doubtless have a great time. Cannot wait to be there.

Spring Forward

As the days begin to lengthen, the weather slowly improves – after the shortest and fiercest of winters, where EVERYTHING froze for a week and then suddenly thawed – and i gradually drift down the rankings of this year’s Indy Aggregate competition, my thoughts have drifted from indoors to outdoors and the crags and climbs on the radar for the coming season.

It’s a little early, granted, as my New Year doesn’t actually start until the 25th March and my bi-annual goal setting, but it has certainly been prompted by recent events; namely actually getting out on rock!

So below are some crags that have come to mind recently, either new or hitherto neglected, and the reasons of their appeal. with a caution never to completely neglect somewhere.

The Pit at the Milestone Buttress

More specific than a particular crag, this is a particular boulder at a particular crag. The boulders at the Milestone Buttress are often overlooked – epitomised by their absence in the Boulder Britain guidebook, which did include the locals venue of The Tubes instead – yet have some outstanding and classic lines. It has been many years since i ticked off Marilyn Monroe 7a and Bombshell 6c+ but an inspection of the Pit area around that time, with encroaching boulders right behind you and a not-ideal landing, put me off enough to consider myself done at this site.

After some inspiring videos, including the always excellent Girl Crush series, i opted to go and take a fresh look this January and was suddenly quite surprised. What i remembered as absolute death previously suddenly seemed, if not reasonable then acceptable and a glance at the grades made me reconsider my original assessment. Sure, plenty of pads and preferably a spotter will undoubtedly be required but for lines ranging from 6c+ to 7c+ it is certainly worth a go! What’s more are the nineteen stars to accompany those climbs.

It would appear i may be looking to the Wales of the past in 2018 as i begin working in the Pit. If that doesn’t work, the massive circuit of satellite problems in the new guide will get a look in.

Gallt yr Ogof

This is another crag that i had visited a couple of times and neglected based on it’s landings and overgrading  – primarily on the advice of a friend – and another that i had found inspiration for from videos online.

I’m not sure what made me ignore this on one day in January this year, a combination of time constraints and conditions meaning there weren’t any better options. Couple a vague video i had watched on Facebook (and now cannot find for the life of me) of successes and it made sense to have another look.

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

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Boy was i glad i did and while the day itself didn’t yield any actual successes in terms of ascents, it did get me past the idea of never going back and did yield a good story about being chased away by a large sheet of ice. The fact that i now have a guidebook with photo topos to show exactly where the lines are is significantly better than ever before and doubtless has made a massive difference.

From 7a to 8a, Gallt yr Ogof is, in the short term at least, worthy of a bit of Spring attention. Watch this space.

Supercrack

It was mid-August last year that myself, my wonderful other half, our (then very) little daughter and the mad hound went to scout out Supercrack on a very wet and soggy day but it feels like an age ago. Ever since then it has been on my agenda, high up and waiting for a dry enough spell to get back there. There just hasn’t been one!

I am desperately hoping that come Spring, we will get a few days of sunshine and mild breeze that will dry it off for me and that, considering i’ve yet to actually pull onto the rock here, that it lives up to the high hopes i have. A collection of grades including warm ups in the 6s through to a 7a, two 7b and a 7c .

Rhiw Goch

Craig Pont y Pant, as it is also known, has been a firm favourite of mine since i first obtained the section of the then new guide and ventured to the far side of Betws y Coed. It has a peculiar grade range, with one 6c, 7a, 7a+, 7b, two 7c, a 7c+, 8a and 8a+… or so i thought at the time. I have slowly been ticking off the next grade with every visit and reaching an impass.

That is until i looked anew at the guidebook and realised not only had some grades changed, there were other lines there too. The main face is the only one that (still) grabs my attention but now houses 50% more climbing than before. It transpires i’ve even done one of the lines already, Badgers In The Mist correctly splitting into two problems, with a new 7b+ and 6c to keep me busy while i fall off Nazgul’s Traverse again and again. There’s even a 6b and 7b that don’t have a photo topo too – loads to do!

Clogwyn y Bustach

At first, i got very excited about this one, until my recent visit, when it dawned on me that some of the new lines weren’t where i had thought and that, actually, they didn’t look as appealing as i was expecting. Nevertheless, i didn’t check out the other satellite problems and the draw to Bustach was and always will be, the main face.

Much as with Rhiw Goch, Clogwyn y Bustach has one main, steep face that houses a number of 7s. Again, i’ve slowly been ticking off the lines but had reached an impasse, with Bustach Prow 7b+ and Sick Happy sds (formerly 7c+, now 7c) next on the hit list. While only one line, the new Rudder’s Wall 7a+/b has given me added impetus to get back there and give it another good go.

I dare say with some searching around the mess of fallen trees, many of the other new lines will be worthwhile but the focal point is now Rudder’s Wall and then on to the Prow.

Pac Man

Lastly, as i’m aware the word count is rising rapidly, are the Pac Man boulders. The grade range here is slightly unusual, in that there are a number of high-6s and low-7s and then a big jump up to 7c+. As such, i thought i’d ticked off the crag sufficiently, until a couple of years ago when i went for another look. Spoon Machine 7c+ still looks nails but given enough time it could possibly go.

But that’s not the reason i’d be making the 30 minute walk in. The new guide – yeah, that bible again – has yielded more new boulders and problems stemming that gap. Thonz LH 7a and Thonz 7b+ both look like my cup of tea, while come of the problems on the Prisoners of the Sun bloc also look interesting. The latter are a little high, granted, but all look worth a session. While i’m there, might as well give Spoon Machine a look too; you never know.

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

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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

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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.

Shared Parental Leave: Worthwhile?

So as i mentioned in my last post, i am back to work and am looking at a bit of retrospection on three months of time off on Shared Parental Leave. Was it worth it? Did it make a difference to our relationship? Would i do it again?

I’ll be looking at it in two minds: from a climbing point of view (being as this is indeed a climbing website) and from the view of parenting in general. Throughout i’ve been trying very hard to champion the idea that you can still get out and stay active and debunk the myth that children kill your interests so it’ll be interesting to see how well i’ve succeeded.

First, What Is Shared Parental Leave?

It’s not a daft question as Shared Parental Leave (SPL) is something that nowhere near enough people in the UK know about. Typically, the mother of a newborn will get a year off work, on varying levels of pay. Fathers meanwhile generally get a fortnight.

To even things up slightly, SPL allows parents to, in a nutshell, move the mothers leave onto the father. There are various caveats and conditions to this but in essence, since my daughter was born, i’ve found it easiest to explain it to people by saying i’ve stolen some maternity leave. It’s not 100% accurate but people understand.

In our particular case, we decided that Emily, my partner, would take the first six months off work and then i would take over and take three months before we looked for childcare. The final three months on offer were unpaid so originally we opted not to take them but then, once i was off, we decided to go for it and so Em took the last three months, meaning i got a bit in the middle.

There are many different ways you can arrange the time off to suit your circumstances and it is possible even for the self employed. This has been one of my missions over the course of Rosie’s first year: to raise awareness of this as an option. For more information, there is a dedicated government website on Shared Parental Leave that i emplore you to read.

The Plan At Six Months

As we reached the Great Work Switch mid-way through SPL, i started to get some ideas of what i wanted to do with my daughter on our time off and what i wanted to achieve. For me as a climber, and even more so as a boulderer, and with Rosie not crawling yet, i had the #babyatthecrag circling around my mind: baby play mat for her to lie on and play while i dabble on boulder problems nearby, stopping often to check on her.

The timing was good too, with the release of the highly anticipated North Wales Bouldering guidebook at roughly the same time that we swapped over. Ideal! So much more to go searching for! Still, with so many variables and not much certainty this was going to go well, i opted to stick with places i knew well that would fit what i was looking for.

Company would’ve been great but hard to come by a lot of the time so i figured i’d need to be self sufficient. Sessions would need to be short too, or at least planned to be. An hour or two might be all we could muster between us!

When we couldn’t climb, i was still keen to get out and make the most of being off work with my little one. I was very determined not to spend three months sat in the house, staring out the window, pining to be out and moping as a consequence. So for those wet days, scouting missions to new crags would be the next objective. For this, we could go almost anywhere, within reason.

Did It Work?

Yes, no and kinda.

I’d figured out i needed somewhere with a relatively short walk in, due to the excessive amount of kit i’d need to be carting in there, and somewhere with a decent flat area to leave Rosie while i was on the wall. With me happy to repeat old lines again, our first three targets were Caseg Ffraith, the Braichmelyn and the RAC boulders. All three would be dog friendly crags too.

They all worked a treat, with a steep learning curve. That first session at Caseg Ffraith and i’d opted to leave the baby bag in the car; a mistake i did not repeat! Even so, i had a good climb, got some awesome photos and Rosie had fun being out in the mountains. Tess had a whale of a time too, as she always does when we go bouldering together.

The Braichmelyn was similar although better planned and better executed. Conditions weren’t great for climbing but i couldn’t ask any more from the structure of the session and the whole day was exactly what i wanted.

The RAC was similarly a great little session and a long one at that! Still, Rosie did catch the sun a bit and i learned another important lesson about parenting!

The imposing figure of the RAC boulders – imposing to those that don't know the #climbs they hold. This is #northwales premier beginner venue, with a plethora of low grade lines ideal for those just finding their feet in this #sport – now with all documented on 27crags.com For those of us with more experience, these days, there are a handful of harder lines to be searched out or, thanks to my No Retro Ticks rule and the challenge of repeating everything in the area, a chance to get some mileage in. Despite not doing anything over 6b+ today, 29 problems actually worked as reasonable training on another glorious day in #snowdonia. #babyleave is rapidly becoming #bouldering leave… #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #Bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram @27cragsofficial

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But then the rain came and it honestly hasn’t really gone away enough since for me to have any success taking her out. Where alone you can risk it on those iffy days and bail if the weather turns, i couldn’t take that chance with a baby and all the associated crap in tow – it just isn’t possible to run away in a hurry and keep the offspring safe. I might be determined but i’m not that mad.

It started to get to me a little after a month of outdoor inactivity, culminating in a moan on the blog and a mid-point retrospection following a Facebook debate with an old friend.

I never really recovered, as neither did the weather. From then on, it became solo missions on the occasional baby free day or indoor sessions – for which i can’t thank the Indy wall enough. Without that, i probably would’ve been substantially more surly.

Then came a rash of non-climbing interruptions that were far more important. In short, we moved house and climbing took very much a back seat, albeit for a very good reason. Sadly, #babyatthecrag lasted about a month, although not for lack of trying. And in that time, we honestly made the best of a damp situation.

We snagged one final day out, in great company with Dan Webb and Pete Fagan, at Upper Tier Tremadog which gave the whole time off and out some closure. All told, considering the stories i’d been fed before we started, we’d done bloody well.

What About Time Off With Rosie In General?

I have said before and reiterate now, having this time off with my daughter has developed our relationship so much. I don’t know, obviously, but i imagine it would’ve taken years to get to this point without this dedicated time together.

It’s given me some perspective as to what Em had to do while she was off the first time around and given me empathy as to what she’s doing now. Now i walk through the door after a long day at work with a totally different mindset and i’m happy to grab Rosie straight away and catch up immediately, where before i often just wanted to sit down for a few minutes.

Mostly though, and this may sound bad but hopefully makes sense, i think i love her more now than i would do otherwise. I’ve seen her grow every day into a wonderful little human, as she develops more personality, more emotion and she learns about the world around her.

I’m so glad that, climbing aside, i’ve been able to show her more of the world than the four walls inside the house and i desperately emplore any new parents to do likewise. Please get out with your kids, take them and show them the world as it’s been a wonderful experience that i wouldn’t change for the world.

I’m glad to be back at work now and have some normality back in my life – i don’t think being a stay-at-home dad would suit me that well. But if you took me back to that point at the start of the summer again and asked if i would do the same, there is not a second i would change. Now we can take this experience and grow even more and i can’t wait for the rest of our lives.

Solstice: October 2017

The first thing you need to do with these New Years or Solstice posts is find the last one and have a very good read. Penultimate paragraph: “if something crazy does happen”. Like moving house…? It appears i managed to foresee something coming at least!

The last six months have been super fun and to be honest, i’ll most likely be doing another reflective post in a couple more weeks when i go back to work. For both of these periods, i don’t think there’s any way we could think of my use of time as anything other than an outstanding success.

Going right back to the end of March could be tricky as to be honest, i don’t really remember that well! I do know that i missed out on my annual Spring trip to Font because having a baby is monumentally more important to life than going back to France for the umpteenth time. One would suspect this would be the pattern to follow for a long time to come but that wouldn’t count on one Miss Emily Slater.

To be honest, i think those first few months were us just being new parents and finding out feet with our new little one. Evidently, it didn’t take us that long. Rosie was four-months old when my birthday rolling around again, and we packed the baby and the dog, pads and pushchair and headed off to Ireland for a week. The tradition survived another year. (What’s more, Em is already helping me plan next June!)

We returned home after the week and i described it as “unadventurous and unproblematic – with a four-month old baby, it was perfect”. What’s more is that it gave me my first new country since 2011 (i think) and Rosie a phenomenal start to what i hope will be a lifetime of adventures.

Closer to home was the release of what is now known as the New Testament. Yes, the North Wales Bouldering Guidebook finally hit the shelves, with particular timeliness for us as it was almost exactly as my time off work began. The No Retro Ticks rule saw a surge of outdoor activity, albeit with little not done before. However, there were some lines that remained unclimbed from the old guide, proving that the system can sometimes have it’s benefits.

When the guide came out, and i first laid my hands on one, there was one page i was desperate to see. I checked the index, flicked through and there, on page 282 it is: Prowess 7b and my name in square brackets underneath. That double page is mostly credited to me and i will always be immensely proud to be featured in my local guidebook. Of all my achievements, i am incredibly proud of this one.

Shared Parental Leave kicked in early-mid August and Em went back to work while i took my place at home with Little Miss; well, maybe not entirely at home. Within the first couple of weeks, we were out, getting into #activeparenting and while the middle month was a washout, i still feel the two of us really made the most of our time together. It’s taken a lot of effort and determination but it’s come back a thousand-fold and the experiences have changed our relationship forever.

We’re also now a little over a month into this year’s Indy Aggregate and to try and encourage me there more, i’m a month into a three month pass too. What’s all the better is how happy they are there for me to take Rosie, so baby-accompanied sessions have been on and so far, the aggregate score sits pretty high.

You have to love a local #climbing wall that will let you do this. The #indy are absolutely awesome and me and Rosie spent a good four hours plus there this afternoon; me #bouldering away, my #daughter either chilling in her car seat or enjoying some space on the mat. Credit to the other customers too, who weren't phased by the site of a #baby on the pads. That said, there weren't many of them as we deliberately went during a quiet afternoon. I've got to give them huge credit. The Indy are always welcoming and friendly, set good problems and provide tea at a good price. There's not much more you could ask really. #worldclasswales #northwales #northwalesbouldering #rockclimbing #climbing_is_my_passion #activeparenting #startemyoung #sharedparentalleave #daddydaughtertime

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What’s equally important for me is that i was able to show that it is possible to get out climbing with a baby along for the fun. My Instagram feed has been awash with pictures of me and Rosie getting out to the crag or the wall, we’ve been out walking if not just climbing and i’ve penned a few articles that will hopefully find somewhere for publication soon. Hopefully, i’ve inspired at least some people to get out with their youngsters and not hide behind them as a reason to stop doing what they love. [For other inspiration, check out the aptly named INSPIRE group on Facebook.]

More recent times (as in the last few weeks) have been the most trying, with the house move reaching it’s conclusion. Days are often spent taking and waiting for phone calls but it’s all necessary and will be better in the long run. Sometimes life gets in the way.

Last Season’s Goals

  • SPA Assessment
  • Another 7c+
  • Top ten yearly average around 7b/+
  • Continue the birthday tradition
  • Get to Font
  • Start to develop the coaching into something more
  • Don’t jeopardise your relationship for climbing…

Okay so first things first, and i’m sorry for this but this fucking SPA. The bain of my climbing career for many a year now and certainly a necessity to actually continue my career as a climbing coach (in any particular guise).

The goals stated, “If I’ve not at least had an SPA Assessment by the end of the summer, there needs to be a good explanation” and the good news is i have had an SPA Assessment – i just didn’t pass… The other good news is that it was only the personal climbing that let me down and as such, it’s only that small part that needs repeating.

The bad news is the warmer weather has come and gone and it’ll be Spring before i can even start to address this. Still, there has been progress, albeit not complete.

Another 7c+? No chance, that was never gonna happen and to be honest, from what i’ve heard, getting anywhere near that has been an achievement in itself! In reality, it soon became trying to maintain strength levels as of Rosie’s birth, not improve them and in that respect, i’ve not actually done that badly. But the idea of climbing another 7c+ right now seems so unlikely, it doesn’t warrant further conversation.

Top ten yearly average of 7b is possible, even now, although as i’m now restricted to days off and i’ll soon be back at work, getting the remaining four needed to tip the balance above 7a+ again looks unlikely. Close, but unlikely. It might have happened, with the New Testament and plenty more projects to go at but i’m blaming the shitty weather on this one – i’m certainly not the only one to be complaining about the insatiable drizzle we’ve suffered from lately.

Andy's Arete in #glendalough is one of the best climbs I've tried anywhere, not to mention in #Wicklow. It is immense, and a testament to the #quality of #irishbouldering. It is not 6c. The problems with grading here were huge in all of the climbs I came across and it was something I have gone into depth about (slightly more than I intended) in my latest blog post, link in bio. It shouldn't matter but sadly it does, it puts people off and makes a mockery of the system. And considering how amazing the rock and the #climbing are, it is nothing short of a travesty that needs to be addressed if they ever want to attract people to this wonderful country. #Ireland #wicklowbouldering #glendaloughbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing-pictures-of-instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #meclimbing

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Continue the birthday tradition: check! and getting to Font has been delayed after selling a buying a house. There will certainly be no complaints here, it’s just one of those things and i was always going to move one day, and that was always going to affect everything. That’s just part of growing up.

As for the coaching, it is certainly moving in the right direction and may be approaching a critical point where it needs to become something official. I now have a growing portfolio of impressed clients of various levels, a series of articles and writings to accompany my work and a growing sense that what i’m doing is working. For now, it’s a case of keep ticking along and see how it goes but come Spring, it’s going to be crucial to get the SPA finished so i can formalise myself into something more professional.

Now the big question: have i jeopardised my relationship during the last six months for climbing? Truthfully, i don’t know for certain but i’m pretty certain the answer is no. In fact, being totally honest, my relationship has almost quashed my climbing at times but that would be to ignore the monumental factors such as having a baby and moving house, and thus would be unfair.

The fact is it’s a balancing act and never an easy one for any couple but whatever you’re using it for, personal space is important for any relationship and finding that balance is crucial to it’s success. So far, i think we’re doing pretty well, all things considered. Em’s certainly stoked for us to get away next year! But then i knew she was a keeper almost from the first moment i met her.

2017 Autumn/Winter goals

I’m not going to break these down into short- and long-term, i’m just going to quickly set some things to keep me ticking along.

The aggregate remains my most likely source of action and while the strong climbers are back for this edition this winter and there are a lot of upcoming good climbers nipping at my heels already, i still think top-10 is a minimum. I’ll go out on a limb and say the goal should be top 5, as well as a score to beat every other category other than my own.

Meanwhile, some outdoor sessions would be nice and given there is a HUGE new guidebook to go at, climbing, say, half a dozen new lines of 7a or above should be perfectly feasible. Either that or insanely hard, who knows, but it should give me something to aim for.

Climbing somewhere that isn’t in North Wales would be really nice too, especially as i know Em is keen to get away a bit more and it would be great for Rosie to see new places. One weekend, again, shouldn’t be too much to ask.

Coaching? Well, just carry on really! More time coaching, more articles, more testimonies and hopefully more professionalism. It’s crossed my mind lately that quickly getting through a CWA wouldn’t be that bad an idea, if i could do it, and would mean i’d actually be a qualified coach. The SPA could follow afterwards.

And finally, start to plan the next two expeditions: Font in the Spring and hopefully Germany in the summer. Both seem fairly realistic and cost-effective for what we’re looking to achieve but will need some forethought and planning. The sooner this is done, the more likely they are to happen.

  • Top 5 Aggregate finish
  • 6 outdoor sessions with at least a new 7a completed
  • A weekend climbing out of Wales
  • Continue to develop coaching and formalise what i offer
  • Plan trips to Font and Germany

There, those are the next goals. Given how up in the air life is right now and how much i’m struggling to get my brain to work in a straight line, i think they’re attainable. This winter is going to be focused on maintaining my current abilities, rather than developing them. Only time will tell how successful we’ll be but i tell you what: so far, so good.

Merry Solstice!