Category Archives: Days out

Reports from those days off when i’ve actually got out and done something interesting!

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.

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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.

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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.

Progress? What Progress?

Nearly three months since my last post – the longest gap in a few years – should’ve been enough to have something to report on! I had thought nothing much worth writing about had happened but then i started writing and it just got longer and longer… So it’s time for a recap and hopefully a resurgence of psyche. Looking back, some of this is pretty incredible (for me) with some life changing events thrown in for good measure.

We’ll start off with the solitary outdoor bouldering session since, possibly, Torridon back in September last year: a day out at Beddgelert forest at the end of November. An old friend, Ben, who has accompanied me on various trips to Font, got in touch keen to get outside for a boulder. Not wanting to disappoint, i accepted, saying we would decide on the venue at the last minute to pick decent conditions. It was a good shout, opting for Boss Cuvier; a crag i’d yet to explore more than a cursory glance on a wet afternoon.

I’d been deliberately neglecting outdoor climbing all winter, partly due to poor conditions and partly to spend time indoors getting my strength back but i’m very glad Ben talked me into it. It was a great little day with crisp air and gorgeous skies offering us a beautiful sunset as we climbed until dusk. Nothing of any note actually fell for us but the act of getting outside again for the first time in a long time, coupled with spending time with an old friend, were marvelous feelings.

While Gelert forest was catching up with old friends, heading to the Boardroom in Queensferry around Christmas marked new relationships with new people. Em’s brother and i have climbed together a couple of times over the past year but with aforementioned poor conditions, we’d arranged to go indoors while we were both off work.

With James working through their aggregate competition and myself a grade or two stronger, he’d already thought he could ask me on some of his projects although as the session wore on, that became less and less likely. James is indeed a strong boulderer and nailed a couple of problems he’d been trying for a while, one with my help and one without. However, during the warm up, my foot slipped from a hold it really shouldn’t and my knee careered into a ledge-like hold below it, causing me to limp around for the next couple of days. Meanwhile, James was suffering with a migraine and slowly deteriorated to the point where he simply couldn’t climb any more. We must’ve been quite the sight as we left and could imagine some young and impressionable youngster arriving to see James with his head in his hands and me with a major limp, wondering what they’ve signed up for!

Between us, though, we got some impressive ticks. We both climbed hard and admittedly had a great little session, the cost of which may or may not have added to it! More to the point though, spending a day with my girlfriend’s brother is always time well spent, especially as he really is a stand up guy and a joy to climb with.

While these have been a couple of exceptional outings, most of my winter has seen me trying to make the most of my six-month pass at the local Indy climbing wall. I’d signed up for the aggregate competition, as is customary these days and they’d decided to run a Massive Monday Series, as mentioned in my last post.

Last time, we’d just finished the Dyno Comp and two more have gone past since then:

  • Grooves vs. Aretes. This one was my own little suggestion, when they were looking for ideas and with three problems left untouched, i found myself looking at the maths and realising that flashing the last three problems would put me first or possibly second. As an almost direct consequence, i choked, dropped two points on a straightforward 6c and despite flashing a 7a+ failed to finish the remaining problem and finished a lowly fourth. It proved my poorest score and i should’ve done better.
  • Pump Up The Volumes. A comp more in keeping with modern competition climbing, involving involved climbing and some technical moves where outdoor experience counted tenfold. I did reasonably, despite feeling completely wiped of energy, ticking most climbs. Crucially though, one of my main competitors declined to hand in his sheet after what he felt was a poor performance, and that, coupled with double points for the last night, meant i took third and jumped up the leaderboard.

The final scores? After five flash contests, due predominantly to perseverance meant i finished the series in second place! An impressive return considering some of North Wales strongest climbers getting in the mix there.

More importantly, again, it was a stellar series that will hopefully run again in the same vein next year. The points system was, granted, a little complicated but for an inaugural winter series, it was certainly a huge success in my opinion. With time, it should develop into a staple of the North Wales winter climbing scene. I certainly hope so.

Meanwhile, the winter aggregate continues and i still occasionally astound myself by looking at the leaderboard. The next time it is released will be the last and i can only hope that i find myself in the same position i have held over the entire competition: namely sat right at the top.

I think it’s a bit Leicester City, as i’ve mentioned previously, but you can only turn up and climb, you can’t control anyone else and with the end so tantalisingly close, i’m desperately hoping that come the end, i can actually win the competition. Whether i’ve actually been top all season is unclear, as the scores have actually only been updated twice as opposed to monthly like usual, but nevertheless, i’m still up there. There’s not long to go now and while, in terms of training, it’s not had the required effect of getting me back to strength levels of this time last year, it’s been yet another fabulous comp that for once, i’m craving the end of.

To finish off this ever increasing post that started with me saying i had nothing to talk about, i’d like to quickly allude as to why this training hasn’t actually worked that well this winter.

Back in July last year, Emily and i discovered that she was pregnant. It was a bit of a shock but a very welcome one as we both spent the next seven months getting ready for the arrival of our first child. It’s meant less time spending evenings hanging from fingerboards and more time at home, with Em on the Mothercare website.

With a baby on the way, it became quite important to have a proper, finished and functional kitchen in the house. This building work had been earmarked for around this time for two years but it suddenly became more urgent. It was completed the week after Em’s baby shower…

And then, on the 10th February 2017, our beautiful baby girl was born. Rosemary Kirsten Edwards, our little Rosie, was finally here and i have never been more proud, of us or of Em. We’re both very proud parents, both very happy and both coping with the latest addition to our little family very well.

I’ve just said to Em that i may not be at the level i had reached this time last year but to be honest, if i was i think i would’ve failed them both. There’s no way you can support a pregnant lady, a newborn baby, get the environment ready for them and maintain those levels of fitness, especially with a full time job and my priorities have definitely changed dramatically now. Em and Rosie are now firmly the most important things in my life, along with Tess who has coped wonderfully and has definitely not been forgotten.

The challenge now is to balance life between all these aspects of my life. I certainly don’t want to give up bouldering – it is simply another love of my life, to go with these girls here. It’s just dropped down the pecking order in the last year or so…

Tumultuity: Part Two

We finished the last post about to depart on a week long trip to Scotland, although the circumstances before departure were less than pleasant.

A Good Man Gone

The week before we left, on the Tuesday, i came to work expecting my colleague to already be in waiting for me. He wasn’t there, hadn’t come in by 9am and as time ticked on, stories began to appear in my head as to what had happened. I jokingly said that maybe he was dead, only to find out early in the afternoon that, very sadly, he had actually passed away that very morning.

It was very sad indeed, being a tragic accident where he had fallen down the stairs and succumbed to his injuries three days later. I’m not going to go into a large obituary or eulogy but he does deserve a mention. He wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and had a tendency to be a little curt and rude with people but he was my friend, a good, honest and true man who you know would be there for you if you needed him. Life here hasn’t been the same since and he will be missed. Rest in peace, Pete Wright.

Bonnie Bonnie Banks

The following Saturday morning, on Em’s birthday no less, we set off from home bound for Edinburgh. Adopting my tradition of getting away for your birthday, we’d both long since wanted to visit this fantastic city and, after a mildly long drive (it’s not Stockholm, after all…) we had a great couple of nights in the Scottish capital, finding two fantastic eateries and enjoying wandering the historic city. It was definitely nice to do something a little different to our usual wilderness excursions.

The next leg took us much further north, up to Torridon, where i had heard the bouldering was some of the best in Britain. Not wanting to pass that up lightly, the opportunity to have a blast on the blocs there whetted the appetite nicely.

Whatever the bouldering was going to be like, it was impossible to argue with the scenery! Huge mountains surrounded us on all sides with the nearby Loch leading out to sea not far from our free campsite. It definitely helped that we were blessed with some stunning weather to boot.

Sadly, though, the weather is never a sure thing in Scotland and we only managed a mere single day on the boulders. The fact we split it into two sessions did mean we made the most of it, though a second day (as had been planned) would’ve been much better, had we not been driven from the campsite, let alone the crag, by more midge than I ever could’ve anticipated.

They are the scourge of the area and the main reason the country will never feature higher on the international climbing scene. It certainly rivaled the summer in Sweden and sadly cut the climbing experience short –  a travesty considering how much quality rock is there. This, dear reader, is one of those crags that is a must to return to. Once it’s cold enough to kill off the flying beasties…

A full report on the bouldering in Torridon can be read here.

With the wet weather slowly on it’s way, we opted to move on and it turned out to be a good decision. The rain began the night we left, meaning we were forced to pack up a wet tent and spent a reasonable amount of effort trying to find some solid lodgings for the Thursday night, further south near Glen Coe.

We managed to find somewhere for the Thursday but with Friday fully booked: the Glencoe Independent Hostel; a nice small hostel where all of the inhabitants seemed reluctant to talk to anyone else. It was all a little surreal really. After a week of cooking, scrabbling around on the floor, we reveled in a proper kitchen and cooked, well, exactly the same as we’d been having. At least we got to stand up to cook it…

Friday came and the weather was not only refusing to relent, it was worsening. Further south we ventured, in search of respite and with the target being the southern munro, Ben Lomond.

As we drove along the shoreline of this famous lake, i pulled out the laptop and played Benny Goodman’s 1938 version of Loch Lomond. It may sound silly but as the weather once again turned dour, anything to keep up spirits was welcome!

By the time we set off from the car, the drizzle was setting in, and it wasn’t long before we were engulfed in cloud, slowly getting wetter and wetter. We must have made it about half way before a wet crotch made me lose the will to continue and to my relief, i wasn’t alone. Dripping wet, we turned around and headed back down.

Back at the car, it got worse, with many other bedraggled walkers coming past and finding Tess very amusing as she jumped to try and catch the deluge falling from the drain. The forecast wasn’t looking to improve much and so, reluctantly, we opted to sack off the ominous task of finding somewhere to stay and pitch a wet tent and instead, packed and headed home.

It was a bit of a disappointing end to an otherwise good trip but it was the right decision. The fact we awoke to glorious sunshine the following day proved that point nicely! We both agreed it won’t go down as a classic trip but it was certainly a good one and nice to get away somewhere new. More to the point, it’s always good to have more places in mind for the next trip…

Welsh Fun

Since then it’s been business as usual: talk about baby things, try desperately to stay on top of the mess at home, think about trying to get out and climb again and lose the summer podge that seems to have developed around my midriff.

To date, the only excursion of any note is some work on an old cleaned boulder just by work: the Bryn Engan boulder.

It’s an old one, climbed many moons ago and thus almost certainly not first ascents. However, i’m claiming them as First Recorded Ascents. Either which way, with nothing properly established there, i’m naming and grading them.

The Bryn Engan Boulder
The Bryn Engan Boulder

It took a solitary session to get the first few lines (the straight ups) on the Saturday that Pete actually took his fateful fall. This was on the way to the CA leaving party, meaning two of the lines are now Fond Farewell 5 and The Wright Stuff 6c, with the two aretes being Right and Left Arete at 3 and 6a respectively; the quality of them not really warranting any real thought on suitable names, despite my naming practices to date. This left the last link up line.

This one took a good three sessions in total. First was there with new CA, Jack. In truth, the conditions really weren’t ideal with the unusual mix of midge and drizzle, with the temperature quite warm. Nevertheless, the face is slightly overhanging so climbing remained possible and we persevered, anxiously trying the moves and fathoming the sequence. Heels and toes were heartily employed but to little avail as we both ended up stuck, horizontally across the face.

My next session was solo and in very similar conditions, although the rain was fractionally less. Suddenly, when trying the moves from half-way across the traverse, a new, simpler sequence presented itself, neglecting hooking of any kind. By bypassing this, it made it substantially easier (doable in fact) and before i knew it, i was clinging onto the holds at the bottom of Fond Farewell wishing i’d placed the pads better…

Nevertheless i topped out and immediately phoned Jack at work to share the new sequence and success. With the imminent(ish) arrival of what we reckon is my son, the hardest line and best on the boulder is now Awaiting Arthur’s Arrival 7a+.

The next step?

The prospect of increasing my top-ten yearly average for 2016 from it’s current level of 7b+ is rapidly dwindling. While Awaiting Arthur’s Arrival was a real coup, it was by no means a tough test and is not a sign of improvement per ce.

However, the good old Indy Aggregate starts again in the next few weeks and while my final position last year of 4th was far more likely to be a little bit like Leicester winning the Premier League, i am determined to get back in there and start training again. Meanwhile, there remains my membership at the Mill that has largely gone unused and of course my ability to set new problems in the climbing wall at work.

Meanwhile, the North Wales Bouldering Guide is nearing completion and should, in theory, be ready for the start of my new year. I’ve seen a handful of sections now and am thrilled that my little name appears in there! Prowess among most of my other lines, made it in! Result!

Of course, as soon as the new guide arrives, it will offer a host of new problems and a world of new psyche. My main hope now is that i’m fit and strong enough to make the most of it.

There’s still a month left before my mid-season solstice (when the clocks go back) and then it’s training time. The lantern is out and ready to be charged up – i need to find the charger first though – and then it’ll be time to do a bit of a review. Given the way the year has gone, it should be pretty positive!

Lulls and The Battle Against Sweat

I’d been meaning on writing a moaning piece; a wingeing, complaining feel-sorry-for-me diatribe on roasting heat, failing standards and an inability to do what i wanted.

Then i finished work on Tuesday night and left for home. Not thirty seconds out of the drive, i took in the view – one i see daily but rarely stop to appreciate. I saw the green of the grass, the still water of the lake, the crags on the hill above me, even the rust on the barbed wire of the fence that often fails to pen the sheep successfully and thought next week, this will be Sweden. Then just as suddenly, and? What’s wrong with this?

Now Thursday, and i’m a bit lost as to what to write about!

The Negative

I can’t deny that my standards have dropped significantly recently – not three months ago, i ticked my first V10 and now struggle on 7b+ – and, with climbing being my underlying reason for being, have been a little down of late. The problem with all your eggs in one basket is when that basket gets a whole, you’ve lost all your eggs.

Part of the issue is evidently in my head. I’m lacking psyche and commitment; something i alluded to in my last post. This hasn’t changed since then, although i am now a lot more aware of it.

And while i’m not normally one for blaming conditions for poor performance, it has been so ludicrously hot lately that even sitting around at work means bathing in clothes soaked with your own sweat! When even walking in to the crag is a feat of human endeavour, it’s not really a surprise i’m not climbing at my peak lately!

This has also led to a drop in strength and if i’m honest, the idea of mid-summer training in the wall is almost soul destroying. I don’t remember the last time it rained, i should be outside! Making the most of it! Which then leads to feelings of guilt. And this has led me on to a mild epiphany.

The Positive

Truth be told, i took a few weeks off climbing. At first, this was due to a weird niggle in my right arm but then developed into not particularly wanting to go out! And do you know what? The world didn’t end, i didn’t spontaneously combust, nothing happened! In fact, i just found myself enjoying being alive in weather that wasn’t soaking me from above on a daily basis.

I spent more time with Emily, just living (and moving her into the house, progressively) and walking the dog, teaching her to swim. I’ve detached myself so much from climbing these past few weeks, i voluntarily gave up a spare evening alone to faff around the house and take Tess down to the lagoons for some swimming. And it felt great!

Not that i’ve stopped entirely, with two notable sessions. An old friend, Glyn, got in touch to see if i was keen for a blast on Corridors of Power 7c+/8a. With it now being on the list, i thought i’d give it a blast, scout it out, see what it’s like. It was also nice to support a friend on a project.

It went well, although i’m still not strong or confident. Maybe that’s the key for now – find out the beta on climbs while i’m struggling? Or perhaps sticking to focusing on a few is a better idea? Not sure. I do know we had a great evening before being chased away by midge – another issue with summer bouldering in North Wales.

The other excellent session was with Emily. We’d talked about doing more with ourselves and it occurred that a prolonged dry spell like this opens up the mountain crag, Cwm Dyli. It’s not so much the rock that needs to dry out, it’s the approach and as we romped across the hillside, I reveled in the fact the ground was bone dry.

I didn’t actually get much done, and nothing new – the intended V8 being a lot harder to fathom than i’d expected. Far more importantly though was the success Em enjoyed! She flashed her first V1 with relative ease, after some demo and beta from me and then, just as importantly, tried something harder and experimented with different positions and grips. What’s crucial is after failing, she got back up and tried it again.

If you asked her, Emily would say she’s not much of a climber but she does get out there and try things, and is willing to give it a blast every now and again. We’ve only climbed a couple of times together a couple of times but i have been taken by how technically good she is – honestly. I’ve seen much more dedicated climbers struggle to grasp concepts she just does naturally. On our little session, I was very impressed and proud of her and thrilled she’s coming out and joining me at the crag. Even more importantly, she wants to join in and that makes all the difference.

Most importantly of all, i’ve learned over the last few weeks that when the weather is nice, it’s good to be alive. It doesn’t matter that i’m not climbing hard things, it’s just pleasant being here. This is why we live here after all! So that when the weather is nice like this, we’re already here. Going back to our opening sentence, why would you want to be anywhere else?

Upcoming

Not that any of this recent zest for life in North Wales has quelled any of my longstanding wanderlust. My ferry is now booked for Monday morning, 00:50 and from there the adventure begins. It’s a tale of foreign friends and familiar faces, of miles of driving and bouldering all over Southern Sweden.

I’m past the point of nervousness now and am itching to get going. Granted, i have a long and lonesome first stage – driving to Kobnhavn alone to meet Simon – but from there, i shouldn’t be alone much.

There’s a host of venues i’m hoping to hit, for at least a day or two: Kjugekull, Vastervik, Gavle, Stockholm, Hono, it’s gonna be a proper little road trip! But with standards being what they are, and my annual goal of a foreign 7c being done and dusted, i’m going to put a cap on projects for this one at 7b+ to try and stop me wasting time on things i’m unlikely to succeed on. If i can get a brace of 7b, it’ll push my annual average up as it is, and a few 7b+ will push that still further.

But that isn’t the goal for this one. It’s a fact finding tour, a chance to experience some new and cool places, to see some old friends and to generally chill out, recover a bit and have a good time. That starts Sunday night. In the meantime, just rest it out i guess. Oh and pack at some point…

Admitted

Sometimes, the hardest part about injuries is admitting you’re injured. I mean, most of the time it’s not – you’re in pain and you can feel it but every now and again, it’s subtle enough that denial can overwhelm the issue and you carry on regardless.

After last week’s nasty fall, i ended up having a few days off (thanks to working, to be fair) before heading out again on Friday night. To be true, it felt fine, almost entirely healed and i was scratching at the door to get out of work and climb something. Diesel Power was the obvious aim but when i found out Em was heading in the opposite direction to help out a friend, i opted to follow and stop off to try the modern classic Roof of a Baby Buddha 7c+ instead.

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In the woods near #betwsycoed is a lone #boulder with a problem of such majesty, it cannot be ignored. #roofofababybuddha is it's name, 7c+ it's grade, around ten moves that are simply stunning. What's odd is that only today I was looking at @shaunacoxsey on instagram and thinking I'd like to see more outdoor pics (then I realised it's comp season and I was being stupid). Then, when searching online for video beta, I found a vid of her on this very same #climb. Strangely, sat here while it gets slowly darker, feel a bit honoured to be getting on the same problems as one of Britain's best. Might have to watch it again to try and nail the sequence… #worldclasswales #northwales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #meclimbing

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It’s one of the few remaining from the original list (one of four in fact) but a touch more conditions dependent, being hidden away in the forest and being quite porous rock. Found by local beast and super nice guy Dave Noden while out for a walk with his son and subsequently one of North Wales best grade 7 lines. It’s been on my radar since i first saw it a couple of years ago.

So, with everything falling into place, i sprinted from work, drove up the forest track to drop off the large pile of stuff, then back down to leave the car at the bottom of the hill. There was a touch of a contentious issue about parking here for a little while so i would strongly emplore people to park at the bottom of the hill and walk up. It might seem odd, with plenty of suitable parking spots along that track but this is what has been requested by the locals so please abide the requests and don’t jeopardise access for this stunning boulder. Besides, you’d be surprised how much traffic i saw drive past while i was there.

So, warmed up by running back up the hill, i quickly blasted through the “standing start” (there isn’t a separate climb as a standing start, just so you know) following lots of video beta. Then it was on to the business end of getting the tough moves through the roof wired.

The night’s are still creeping in too early at the moment so i armed myself with my new lantern right from the off, getting a bit more light in the shady roof straight away. It was a good session, getting most of the moves wired and feeling good with just the awkward foot swap to negotiate. And what’s more is that it didn’t hurt me at all.

But the next day was a different matter. All day, i felt stiff and achy and was torn with indecision whether to get out or not. Even as i began the descent down the road from Pen y Pass, i still couldn’t make up my mind so when i reached the Cromlech boulders and saw two lads finishing off the Edge Problem i opted to stop and have a chat.

It wasn’t long before i realised i wouldn’t make any progress on Diesel Power. While it might sound shallow, it kinda meant i didn’t want to bother climbing. I never like repeating climbs i’ve done before and at the Cromlech, there’s not much that’s easy and workable left. Still, the two lads i met were keen so i offered to show them the Cromlech Roof Crack V6/7 around the back, and maybe have a play on Sleep Deprivation V8.

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Sometimes the mind says go but the body says no. It can be hard to ignore though, as I found when I stopped at the #cromlechboulders on the way home. Torn with indecision, I bumped into two young lads experiencing their first time at the roadside face, so I dragged them round the back to try the #cromlechroofcrack. Thankfully for me, they didn't last long, as I found I was broken from last night's exploits, and #sleepdeprivation turns out to be utterly brutal. Short #session then, rest up. Maybe for tomorrow… #worldclasswales #northwales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #meclimbing

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I don’t regret the decision to try Buddha Roof on Friday but my choice to stop at the Cromlech was a poor one; driven by excessive keenness that clouded my judgement. It meant a regression in my recovery which was, in hindsight, idiotic – especially given i knew it was a bad idea at the time and did it anyway.

Sunday compounded the issue. I’ve spent the weekend not technically working but on a Development Coach Training course at work. While it was a good course, and much more relevant to the sessions i’m currently running than the Foundation Coach Training from last year, there was quite a lot of time in the climbing wall and at one point, i was asked to perform a drop knee as part of an exercise. As i did, my face screwed up in pain and i started making silly noises. It was so obvious that Dave Rudkin even came up to me afterwards and asked if i was okay, given i “looked in a lot of pain”.

That was the point i announced to myself that i am now injured; something that was far from easy to admit. I’ve always been pretty good at injuries, stopping as soon as i get any sort of tweak at all but this time, i feel i’ve pushed my luck a little. Even the belt of my trousers is making me feel sore. So, i’ve filled my evenings this week with other stuff, and am sacking off everything (even tonight’s coaching session) until Sunday. Even then, i’ll be playing it by ear and potentially just resorting to a beastmaker/campus session. In the mean time, i’ll be praying that’s enough.

Power Down

The bit now firmly between my teeth, and Emily busy for the evening, i stopped for an after-work session at the Cromlech boulders on the way home for an hour or so of torch-lit blasting up the next project: Diesel Power V11/8a. It might seem absurd and i’ve long since extolled the fact that it is one of the worst possible crags for me to gain a long term project (roadside is REALLY not dog-condusive) but if i’m honest, and probably a little bit arrogant to be fair, it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be that long a wait…

That might be me underestimating the climb slightly. I’ve lost count of the number of sessions on it to date – not because there have been that many, i’m just not good at keeping count – and have already done all the moves. It’s an iconic North Wales classic line; a must for anyone operating in that grade range and a good solid one for a first 8a that isn’t brutally hard for the grade. And it suits me very well indeed.

So with Jerry’s done, this is the next hard one on my radar. That’s not to say i’m only going to get on this for the next few months, but it is a priority, especially when i’ve only got a short while. Being roadside certainly does lend itself to torch-lit sessions on the way home so why not i guessed.

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In the shadow of the great and imposing #dinascromlech tonight lay a torch lit #boulder and an 8a project: #dieselpower – the next big thing on my agenda. Layered up to the gills to try and ease the cold brought by the fierce wind, it turned out the temperature wasn't the way the wind had in mind to punish me. Bumping my hand on the third move, the pad, shuffled relentless by gusts, slid down from under me and a split second later, my left hand blew hard from the hold. With nothing now holding me up and momentum from that hand throwing me downwards rapidly, I hit bare rock. Hard. Hip first, then shoulders. I lay there for a second, wincing and gasping, checking how everything felt. A little over half an hour later, it's okay but REALLY hurts, right up into my lower back. I'll find out in the morning how bad it is. Shame really as I was linking the first four moves well with only one more really hard one to go! The lantern from #screwfix Was ace though, I'm sure you'll agree! #llanberispass #snowdonia #northwales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #headtorchsession #night #nightsession

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Anyway, after faffing far too much at work on the way out the door, eventually i rocked up at the layby next to the boulders keen as mustard and ready to give it a token gesture warm up before seeing if i had the Power. Turns out i wasn’t the only one from the Brenin with that idea; local all round beast Dave Evans was there also having a quick effort on the way home, and new Assistant Instructor Kris McCooey spotted us on the way to the Beacon and stopped off too.

It’s worth giving Kris a bit of a mention at this point. On the roadside face is a climb called The Edge Problem. Originally given V5 from the two horizontal slots, the ground has now eroded to the extent that even with stacked pads, this is out of reach for all but the unnaturally tall. These days, you’re far more likely to do the sit start – one where your backside simply cannot reach the floor.

Wherever you start, the problem is notorious. The slots for the stand start are fiercely small, as is the next hold for the left hand and many a strong climber has repeatedly been spat off this climb, often to the point of never going back. Two old friends who are both substantially stronger than myself have long since given up on it, finding their strong sausage fingers simply too big to get in the slots.

For those of us with small girly fingers, like me, he says smiling wryly to himself, the tiny slots soon become little finger jugs but nevertheless, The Edge Problem is still a fierce little boulder problem that bites back all those who don’t take the time to woo her correctly.

All except Kris, it seems. Kris arrived at the face, never having been and asked us what was there, starting with The Ramp V1 and then ticking off Pocket Wall V4, both slowly and carefully. By this point, i was getting impatient and had moved a pad under The Edge to warm up my fingers for my attempt on Diesel Power. Much to my surprise, he decided to join me and then did something i’m not sure i’ve ever seen before: he flashed it.

Not only did he flash it, he did it with such ease that as he rocked over the top, i was left feeling that he might pip me to Diesel Power, were he to stay and join me. While i continued to smoke as a post-warm up rest, he then got on the equally brutal Johnny’s Problem V7 next to it and dropped the last move. It was some of the most impressive climbing i have seen in a very long time.

Kris, Dave and Jack Rattenbury (another local who had rocked up for a quick session and headed to Jerry’s Roof with Dave) all departed and left me in the company of my lantern and self, underneath Diesel Power thinking “what if?”. Meanwhile, the wind continued to batter me and remind me that despite the nice weather, North Wales can often still have a bit of a kick to her sometimes; chilling my hands and blowing the pads out of position.

The problem is a fierce crimp fest that requires substantial body tension. Yet, the first move, for me at the moment, feels remarkably straightforward. The second follows suit and then i’m left with a choice: follow the normal beta and bump right hand up or go left hand onwards instead. Both moves feel equally fine and both will be followed by another brutal one so i’m trying to make my mind up. On my last effort, i opted to bump the right hand.

But as i did, possibly slightly distracted or maybe simply through too much sweat, my left hand exploded from the fine crimp. My right hand mid move, i was suddenly catapulted downwards with great force, unable to do anything about it. While this is not an uncommon occurence, on this occasion, it almost caused me substantial problems.

What had distracted me was my pad. The wind, as i’ve mentioned, had been lifting them and shuffling them around since i had placed them on the rock beneath the climb and while i was setting up to thrust upwards, i had heard it slide down the rock slightly.

Only it wasn’t a slight movement: it had completely moved from underneath me. So when i departed downwards with excessive force, there was nothing between by bony hip and the rock beneath.

I hit it with a thud, hard. The one consolation was that the force of my left hand had twisted me round in the air, meaning i didn’t fall straight back onto my back but instead landed entirely on my left hip, my shoulders falling back on the rock but the hip had taken the brunt of the force by this point. It was as bad as i’ve had for a long time.

I lay there trying to assess the damage. I often carry my phone on me while i climb, just in case and lying there, alone, in the dark, i wondered if this was one of those times i would be glad i had. This could be really bad, if i’ve broken something or cracked my pelvis but with no signs of nausea, i tentatively decided to try and get up.

Lots of groaning and moaning followed but thankfully, the pain wasn’t that bad and i seemed to be in tact. Such is the level of my enthusiasm at the moment, i considered trying again but being as i was struggling to walk, i opted to call it a night. Packing up was slow but eventually i got everything together, arrived home and proceeded to limp my way around and eventually have a rather uncomfortable nights sleep.

Today, i’ve been hobbling around Plas y Brenin, explaining with simply i “fell off” whenever quizzed. Nevertheless, given half a chance, i’d be there again tonight, after my shift finishes at 9pm and i’ve been home to collect stuff. Sometimes, the psyche is that high. It is purely from my better judgement that i’ve opted not to. Helps i’ve got an Em to keep me company.

Feeling Lucky, Punk?

Thursday wasn’t just the day that Jerry’s Problem fell, it was also the first of four days off i had coming in the space of five. And with the weather maintaining it’s gloriousity, there was only one thing on my mind: to get out and keep this streak going.

So, with Friday being a couple day with Emily and Saturday conveniently being the one work day (being as that was the only day it rained…) Sunday soon came around and i was looking pointedly at the List to see where i was keen for. If truth be told, it would’ve probably been up to Rhiw Goch to try and finally swallow the bitter taste from the Badgers In The Mist saga.

[ASIDE. Badgers In The Mist 7c is a problem at Rhiw Goch near Dolwyddelan put up by one of the friendliest and nicest guys in North Wales, Joe Sterling. Here's a video of the first ascent
And that is THE first ascent, so no one can really argue with how he did it. The problem is, it's not how others have done it - after someone found a strong-man sequence that starts matched on the underclings and throws straight up the face. That, more direct, version can be seen here:
Now, you'll notice that in the second video, there is no bum-floor contact. So when i rocked up and beared down on the direct version, believing this to be the problem proper and sending with a cheer, i thought that was another quality 7c tick. Turns out, apparently, i was wrong.
No one has an issue with the sequence but bouldering ethics are fairly strict (they have to be) and if it says "start sitting on the floor" then you have to start sitting on the floor. And i didn't. So i haven't done the problem.
This whole saga has left me sucking my lips a bit, having a bit of a sulk for several months now. After several sessions trying that sequence, i'm now back to square one. What's more, the correct sequence (the only way to realistically get off the floor) feels like a completely different problem, meaning there would be grounds for having a direct problem with a different name, perhaps Collies In The Fog or whatever.
No dice; i've asked around and i'm in a minority of one. To be fair, i'm fully aware it's me being a bit pathetic but i can't seem to get over it. To be honest, think this one is going to linger even after i've ticked the problem proper! Nevertheless, it means it remains on the list for another day.]

In trying to find some company for the day, i got in touch with all-round nice guy and old colleague and friend, Tim Peck to see if he was keen. He offered suggestions of Sheep Pen or Clogwyn y Tarw – the former for him to try Jerry’s which obviously didn’t appeal. If i’m honest, Clogwyn y Tarw didn’t appeal either as i’d been to scout it out once before and wasn’t convinced at it’s quality at all.

But a day with Tim, even somewhere i really want to go, sounded very appealing so we opted for Tarw and met early afternoon to head out. And to be fair, as much i wasn’t that keen for something that didn’t appear on the List, it’s something i should do more often.

We started at the Raging Bull Area, ticking off the awkward El Gringo V4 before moving on to the problem Raging Bull V6 with Tim, to his enormous credit, flashing the problem, albeit with a touch of flash pump. A long traverse rail really doesn’t suit me that well and rather worryingly, while moving innocuously down to match hands, i slowly moved my right leg inwards and suddenly felt like i’d been jabbed in my right hip with a knife.

It was so bad, i squealed – something very rare for me. Tim thought it was as i’d impacted the floor but i corrected him; it was literally the movement of bringing my leg to hang underneath me. Still now, i have no idea what i’ve done and it is still twingey and almost feels bruised. If you’re reading this and you know what it is, PLEASE do tell me!

So with me slightly crocked and Tim all done on Raging Bull we packed up and walked over to The Punk V9. It’s a problem that i’d never heard of, so much so that when Tim suggested it, i assumed it was yet another new addition to North Wales growing stock of hard boulder problems. So i was surprised to find it listed in the old guide – neglected by myself on that day when i’d been to investigate Clogwyn y Tarw a couple of years ago. More fool me! as it turns out it’s a superb quality line, ideally suited to my skill set.

Now, as mentioned in the comment on the photo above, i often feel that people use “height” as an excuse far more than they should really but on this one, i couldn’t help but empathise with poor Tim. He has climbed much harder than i, and is undoubtedly a lot stronger but on this climb, with a large deadpoint to a sloping hold, me being able to keep my feet on meant that on my first go, i was right over the hold while after over an hour or solid effort, Tim at 5’9″ to my 5’11” was still finding it tough to make the distance with any control. It’s entirely circumstantial but didn’t stop me feeling a little bit guilty.

Nearing the end of the session, i threw myself upwards from the opposing starting holds and stuck the move, completing the easier exit moves and rocking over the top. I shouted an apology, receiving the response “What for?”

“For being tall…” i replied.

He laughed. I forget his response but he certainly saw the funny side. Outwardly at least. We sacked it off shortly after that, me too tired to get anywhere on the sit start and Tim’s skin leaking slightly from repeated efforts on the same first move. Another tick in the book done but more than that, it felt so good to be out in the mountains again, weather beautiful in a way that reminds you why you live here, catching up with a man who has rightly been described as the nicest guy in North Wales and someone i miss from my time in the shop.

Life continues to be good and i’m starting to think that par might have changed slightly. I now have two goals, long and short term: three 8a climbs by the end of the year, and to keep ticking things off the List. I may keep going on about it, but it’s given me focus like never before. Hopefully, tonight, in the first after work session of the year, another one will fall.

Reasons to be Cheerful, One to Ten

So initially this post was going to be Ten Reasons Life is Good but when i started to write it, i found it wasn’t right. Granted, i can easily find ten things about my life that mean things are good right now but it’s not what i want to talk about; they’re things that have been around for a while and aren’t what’s made my ears hurt from smiling. No, in all truth and honesty, there are merely two reasons that there is currently a (literal) skip in my step.

In my first draft of this, i started with the weather and it is true, the weather seems to have turned and now i’m getting out regularly. But this isn’t really the cause of my recent happiness, it’s just a trigger. It’s meant that after a long nine-day stretch in work, on Thursday gone, i was finally off with fine conditions and there was only one place on my radar: Sheep Pen.

Pads packed in the Landy (another one on the aforementioned list that, granted, does make me smile every time i get in) and we were off, a relaxed start a must. Turns out the conditions were too good – sunny meant warm and after a poor warm up that did little to inspire confidence, i could feel my fingers sliding off the gaston hold. Last time i was there, i was wearing everything i had. This time, less than a fortnight later, i’m down to skin and i’m still too warm!

[It is worth noting that normally, i am not a climber known for complaints about conditions and will generally try anything any time. I’m currently planning an article on this subject for the near future]

But this does lead me into one of the reasons i am currently walking with a spring in my step: my companion for the day, for i was not alone this time. My girlfriend was with me.

I’ve always tried to avoid talking about my personal life on here, it’s not relevant or appropriate. But Emily is entirely relevant to this story, crucial in fact as she followed me up the steep gully approach, carrying a pad for me, fully ready to spend the day sat on a rock watching me repeatedly fall off the first move of Jerry’s Problem V10. Or at least, i hope she was as that’s exactly what happened!

For an outsider, bouldering like this must seem more than a little obscure, and i was struggling to think of another sport like it: you do the same movement, time and time and time again, over and over, until you finally do it right and then move onto another equally unique move. With gymnastics, for example, there is a limit to the number of said movements but not with climbing, it is infinite and no two moves are identical. But compared to something else, you repeat the same thing dozens of times to get it just right. It must seem a bit weird.

And yet, there she sat, taking photos, offering whatever help she could, consoling me and hugging me when i needed it and giving me hope when it started to wane. She was the perfect person to have there that day and i hope more than any climbing aspirations that she is there for a lot more of them. And the few words of encouragement she did offer out loud while i was on the wall were equally perfect, both in what she said and when she said it.

For as the sun dipped behind Foel Goch, the temperature dropped several degrees. I began to shiver slightly and felt the holds. No grease! Now is the time, now is when it shall fall.

It took another hour (or thereabouts, i have no idea on time scales) of repeatedly falling and i’d completed the route from one move in twice now. I lowered onto the starting hold, looked up as i have so many times i struggle to comprehend, and sprung upwards to the left gaston. I hit it and stayed on the wall, clawing my fingers around the hold to desperately try and get as much possible purchase from the hold as i could. I threw my right hand up and hit the crozzly pocket, also not perfect but enough to keep me on for a second to readjust. On previous efforts, my right foot had popped off the small hold but not this time and i lifted my left foot onto the rail my fingers had started on.

Now the right foot came to join it and the left was left to dangle. I looked up again and saw the juggy rail i was aiming for. From behind me, a voice said, with mild surprise, “Go on, Pete!” in such a way as to imply that, after so many times falling off, this might just be it, maybe. I almost imagined that Em was actually looking away during those first two moves and had suddenly turned around and realised i was still on. It was just what i needed, at just the right time and i thrusted upwards to hit the good hold.

I was still on and moved my left up to the sanctuary of the finger jug for my left hand. Just one more move and a top out now, it’s easy but i was nervous. Drop off here and i might not get back, certainly not today! As i looked for the exit jug, i thought to myself “Don’t drop it” but just at that point, the voice behind gently said “Come on,”

It gave me that added little edge of confidence. It’s an easy move, and i knew it but it was almost as if Em’s voice had released me from my nervous tension and as she said it, i flew upwards and hit the jug. I hung there for a second, savouring the moment before realising if i dropped it here, i’d never forgive myself. Come on, get on with it, get it done and with that, i threw the left heel on top of the boulder and rolled around to be safely stood atop the block.

The whooping and hollering started even before i’d finished – a normally reserved climber unable to contain his excitement. Another hard problem, a new grade! my first V10! and the perfect one in the perfect setting with the perfect companion! And there, with that, i moved into the next grade boundary. V10. 7c+. Something i never thought would happen.

Hard bouldering is a strange game, as i mention regularly but more specifically, right at the top of  you ability, i find there’s something specific. Stood on top of the boulder, cheering and whooping to my hearts content, looking down at Tess and Em, i suddenly started to question what i’d done. Did i really just do that? I had to ask her! It doesn’t feel like it just happened, such is the extent that you’re engrossed in the movement at the time. I’ve had this plenty, where it doesn’t feel real and you have no recollection of what you’ve just done. Jerry’s Problem is five moves and a top out, not exactly much to remember! But it’s gone from your mind in the immediate aftermath of success, the exhaustion and exhilaration pushing it all away to the point where you question if you’d actually floated up the wall instead. Or more likely cheated and not noticed, with a sneaky dab for example. I asked, did i really do that? The smile said it all but Em said it anyway: “Yeah! You did it!”

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Not the actual #sequence (not the sudden disappearance of the hat…) but these are the moves that I somehow managed to link together. A brutal first few moves of utter delight, a few beautiful moves where you have to keep it together and not get too excited and then pure delight. #jerrysproblem V10/7c+ First problems of each grade for me are often forgotten but I wanted this one to be perfect and it was: the crag is my favourite in #northwales, the moves flowing while making you burst with effort, the day glorious and the company (and the words of encouragement) couldn't have been better from @emks93. This one will live long in the memory and rightly so. What a day. Thanks to all those who contributed. #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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I came back down and we hugged and kissed, Em just as excited at my success as me. I couldn’t believe myself. Andy Marshall, my old friend and colleague, has long since accused me of not truly trying with my climbing. Perhaps he is right. But only up to now. I know the feeling when i’m giving it my all and now, the goal posts now forcibly moved by completing my annual goal in mid-March! i’ll be finding the right climb and going for it. For the greater the effort, the sweeter the reward. And right now, thirty years of effort have given me the greatest reward i ever could’ve asked for.

Almost Perfection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Windy briefs

Rain falls and it makes the rock wet. Then it stops raining and the rock stars to dry out. Seems obvious and that’s mainly because it is; it’s just one of those things you know and probably don’t know where you learnt it. What’s less obvious is how it dries more effectively.

There are two main ways that speed up that drying process: firstly, sunshine. The sun heats the rock, the liquid evaporates and low and behold, you’ve got dry rock to climb on. It also has the added bonus of meaning you get to climb in nice sunny weather. But while we have enough dry days in North Wales, sunny ones are pretty rare and if you spend too long waiting for the sun to come out, you’ll probably find the rain has come back… Especially in the winter.

The other way you can find dry rock quickly after rain is to find a crag that gets battered by the wind. Effectively, the wind is picking up the water and moving it out of your way, again meaning nice dry rock to play on. The downside? That wind can be fucking cold…

And so it came to pass that Monday, I came to the Pass, having selected a problem in full view of the biting wind. Frustrated by a problem called The Witch 7a+, I opted for another problem that comes straight in half way through, called The Witches Knickers 7b. While half a grade harder, it bypasses the bit of The Witch that is frustrating me and is good enough for me to be able to rub it off the list.

In my usual way, I didn’t worry too much about a warm up, and got straight on it. If the flash were possible, I might have tried some easier problems first but I’d tried every move on The Witch so much, the flash had long since departed. Besides, I’ve spent years going to venues to project the easiest thing there so it’s not exactly uncommon.

The shock came fairly soon – easily within an hour but I didn’t look at the time. After completing the problem from one move in, a handful more efforts meant I latched the first move and was soon on top of the boulder! Another speedy 7b tick and yet another thing in my life lately to make me smile.
After that, I sat down, rolled a smoke and, well, began writing this blog post… The wind is now making my fingers numb so I’ll keep this a short one, before heading up the hill a little more in search of more success. And shelter…