Category Archives: General

For those posts which really are just updates!

Welcome to the Sport of Climbing

Sadly there are no photos to accompany this. There are witnesses though. 

This story has been a few weeks in the making but I’ve held off to surprise a few old friends before publishing it. After all, for both me and many people i climb with, this has been a big surprise. The fact is that after roughly twenty years of trying, and five years of dedicated bouldering, i have finally got my leading head on.

Granted, i’ve been in this situation before and have had bouts of being on the sharp end comfortably in the past but for some reason, this feels different. Now i’m taking lead falls, not clipping lower offs and pushing things harder and harder, dreaming bigger and bigger.

So what changed and why did it happen so suddenly? And after years of being so happy on the boulders, why am i suddenly even tying on in the first place?

A VERY Good Training Course

For a while now, in order to increase my employability and especially since i went self-employed, i’ve been trying to get on the Climbing Wall Development Award (the award that entitles the holder to teach indoor lead climbing). Eventually, almost by chance, i found one running and booked my place; run by the local legend, Andy Newton.

The morning involved a lot of chat and a lot of thinking about legislation and risk. It was interesting and to be honest, i wasn’t that disappointed given my nerves when it comes to lead climbing. After lunch, though, it was time to tie in.

I could’ve probably avoided leading but i knew that wouldn’t exactly help my cause, especially as this was likely my assessor for the same award! Moreover, though, i actually felt up for it for a change. I got on a simple 5 and led it fine, reminding myself it doesn’t actually feel that bad. Then came a phrase that before has sent a chill down my spine: fall practice. Only this time, i wasn’t worried…

I’ve no idea why but for some reason, it didn’t seem that bad. Andy made sure there was no pressure to try it and unlike all other talk of fall practice i’ve heard of before, he suggested starting with the clip by my eyes – something that didn’t actually seem like a lead fall at all. I tried it and for the first time in a long time, didn’t totally capitulate and freak out. Well, i kinda did but in a good way.

Back up, clip by my chest now and another plummet, again, all fine. By now i’m banging my hands against the wall with glee, cheering myself on. One more with the clip now below my waist and the whooping and hollering probably seemed weird to everyone but me. No one knew what i’d been through to get here, what it’s cost me in the past. It seems i had to be okay not getting what i wanted in order to get it.

And Then the Grades Tumble

The following night, i was at the Indy and decided to show off my new found skills to some friends who had rarely seen me put a harness on, let alone lead anything. They were more than a bit surprised when i clipped the fourth clip on a 6a, climbed to fifth and jumped off but not as surprised as later in the evening.

Knowing i needed to log some recent routes, i recruited a belayer and ticked off a 6a+, 6b and 6b+ before running out of 6s on the steep section of wall. I looked up at the 7a+, recognised the holds and thought they all looked like jugs so i figured i’d try it… and flashed it, with only one move that made me think at all.

These four were all back to back and when Lewis said he wanted to try the 7c black route, i was glad of the rest and told him i wanted to second it. When he didn’t make the top, i figured why not? and got on the lead. From 5+ to 7c in about 36 hours: pretty insane.

I ran out of juice, tiredness winning out four moves from the top. Still, it had whetted my appetite and i spent the next week thinking about it before my next shot. Annoyingly that chance came after a family walk that saw me carrying Rosie up to and down from Llyn Elsi and thus, pretty tired. Even warming up felt hard work.

Still, by the end of the evening, i felt recovered (enough) and sure as that 5+ at the Beacon the previous Thursday, it was done, 7c in the bag.

Keeping the Momentum Going

People seemed underwhelmed by my story, partly apparently because the grades at the Indy are renowned for being very soft. Then came an abrupt back-to-earth moment (figuratively thankfully, not literally) at the Beacon when i got shut down on the tall routes.

Falling foul of the DCBA Scale and ending up being too arrogant, i was looking at least at the mid 7s for my session and was even a little disappointed to be warming up on mid 6s. Ridiculous really, when i looked back on it, this was all about consolidation and this wall was almost twice the height of the Indy. I got tired on the first climb and totally shut down on an ungraded line that turned out to get 7b+.

Tail between my legs, we moved to the easier smaller walls around the back and ticked off line after line, low to mid 6s but to be honest, they felt easy, uninspiring and by the end of it, pretty boring. The last climb had me continuing our conversation all the way up. Yes, climbs needed to be logged but the balance had now swung back too far the other way.

Thankfully, i received another boost at the Boardroom shortly afterwards when i flashed a 7a that felt very easy. There was a 7c ish line there too, with no discernible chalk that had apparently eluded the finest regulars and looked attainable but given recent experiences, i decided to leave it alone. That day at the Boardroom was with the last person i planned to impress and he certainly seemed pretty taken aback. To be honest, i have been too!

Talk since has quickly moved to “does this mean you can start doing trad now?” from quite a few people but the answer (in the short term at least) is no. The current plan is to consolidate my newly-reacquired skills indoors over this season and see what happens in the Spring. Then, i might partake in some outdoor sport climbs. Either way i’ve learned my lesson about getting carried away and still keeping things interesting and i’m happy to be dabbling on the sharp end once again.

Substance or Style?

I’ve always been a climber with a very distinct style: put me on small holds on a near vertical face and i’m all over it. Give me compression or intense shouldery moves and all of a sudden my grade drops significantly.

I know what i have to do – the phrase “train your weaknesses” has been floating around for many years now – but doing it is an entirely different prospect. I’ve even come up with my own add on to the phrase that says: “Train your weaknesses, play to your strengths”. Of course, all this means is that i constantly define everything as playing and nothing is classed as training and i never actually work on anything that i’m crap at.

Two of my last three outdoor sessions have highlighted this beautifully; bringing to the forefront of my mind quite how style-dependent i am and (certainly in the case of our Peak day out) the inherent risks therein.

The Big Problem

We found ourselves in Birmingham for a week with my parents in between an awesome gig and an even awesomer weekend at Larmer Tree Festival. Music is probably the next big passion of mine and it was great to see some live sets from some bands that i truly love; Cat Empire, KT Tunstall, Gogo Penguin and Ezra Collective were just some of the bands that joined Bloc Party in our recent extravaganza.

However, that didn’t mean that i needed to totally neglect climbing while all this was going on and we were a bit further East, Cratcliffe seemed like a good option. I’d long thought i’d like to try Jerry’s Traverse 7b there, as well as possibly T Crack 7b if it wasn’t as scary as i remembered so now was the time. First though, i’d been recommended Razor Roof 6c+ as a nice line and a glance in my guidebook showed i’d not actually done it before. With Hannah hiding under the roof, i finally committed to the obvious sequence and sent what really is a fantastic line.

 

Then on to the main aim but I should’ve done my homework. I am not strong at the moment, relying on my technique and footwork to get me up climbs. The problem on Jerry’s is that there are no feet; it’s a campus fest. The hands felt plenty big enough but even then, campusing sideways is about as far from my abilities at the moment it was a fool’s errand that finished with the only likely

It got worse. Late that evening, a strong and deep pain in my chest developed, around my sternum, balanced out nicely with a similar pain in the middle of my back. Slowly through the day, it worsened until i spent the majority of the night awake through pain – something incredibly rare for me.

I spoke to my mum about it the next day, while still wincing and she suggested an intercostal strain. It made sense and thankfully subsided by the second evening after a long soak in a hot bath. Nevertheless, the whole day did highlight the importance of training antagonist muscles as it is a surefire way to hurt yourself very quickly.

Flash in the pan

Once back home and fully recovered, i took a trip to an esoteric little venue with no more than four established climbs; the top out for one a dirty, grimy mess. It goes without saying that Llyn y Gadar is not a popular venue, which was annoying as the problem obscured by lichen was the one that certainly seemed the more suited to me.

There are two 7a+ there: Freddie Kreuger and Freddie Welsh. On the same boulder, there was one more problem, Freddie Right Hand 6c acting as the warm up. I thought i’d flashed the easiest line, only to realise i’d started two moves in by mistake. Thankfully, i didn’t get it second go either (meaning i hadn’t wasted a flash) but it didn’t take long after that.

Then on to the next line: same start, move onto a rising slopey traverse. Granted i didn’t keep on it for that long but try as i might, i couldn’t find the body position that worked. Worse than that, when i found something that might’ve worked, i couldn’t manage it with my weak shoulder muscles. Again, this was a climb that simply didn’t suit me and as such, i struggled. A lot.

I wondered if perhaps i was off form; weak and underperforming. That was until i got onto Freddie Kreuger. Sat underneath, the right hand felt huge, the left ample and a super deep drop knee was ideal for me. Snatch up and i’m on the good crimp, shuffle feet and fly for the lip, bang! Slapped, stuck, swing the feet back on, go again with the right hand and i was onto easier terrain. Some tenuous moves later – top outs are often tenuous when you’re alone – and i was stood atop the bloc. One 7a+ miles beyond me, the other flashed.

I really need to work my weaknesses.

A Hat Trick

I didn’t climb again for another ten days, having been with the family in Cambridge for a friend’s wedding; a trip that included me camping alone with a two-year-old and a ten-month-old for the night… I don’t know how i ended up in that situation and all went fine, i was easily up to the challenge, but i don’t know many other people who would do that.

In a wonderful example of my occasional ineptitude at life, i had arranged to meet someone in Kendal the day after the wedding. Cambridge to Kendal then, plus a night sleeping rough in the back of the Land Rover – it was like old times again!

I left a little later than i’d hoped but as i crept towards Carnforth weighing up my options, i decided i would head to another old haunt and, much like our Lakes trip back in April, exorcise some more demons. I had a dinner date that sadly cancelled (totally understandably) so options were food or climbing. I picked climbing.

So straight to Trowbarrow: a regular haunt during my undergrad days and home to the imposing Shelter Stone. This monolithic bloc houses some incredibly tough lines, including the notorious Isla de Encanta 8b, climbed by the great John Gaskins. Some say he can’t have climbed it as it is simply too hard. For what it’s worth, i totally believe him, although looking at it, i’d love to have been there!

The Shelter Stone, much like the Bowderstone, was always something i longed to climb on but would never attempt as it was too hardcore. I didn’t stand a chance – largely through the fact i refused to even try – and even now, much of it is far out of my abilities. Still, there are some low and mid 7s and i wanted to plant my flag on the top just once.

If only it would stop raining. As i got there, i struggled to find the lines in the new and excellent Lakes Bouldering Guide, not through any fault of the book but because i was trying to keep the pages dry. Annoying but one of the best things about Trowbarrow is Red Wall, which stays dry when almost everywhere else for fifty miles does not. Ironically, i left the Shelter Stone in search of shelter.

A handful of 6s later and the sky was blue, the ground drying enough. Back to the Shelter Stone and i found a small and innocuous 7a+ two move wonder. Ideal! and with my types of moves and holds! After some quick conversation with visiting climbers, i sat on my pad, placed my limbs on the rock and less than a minute later, pulled over the top to stand atop this mighty boulder for the first time. Fifteen years after my last visit and i had finally climbed something: Funk Phenomena. Boom.

View this post on Instagram

It's been a very long time. Fourteen years, perhaps. I think that's what made going back to Trowbarrow on Sunday so special. The Shelter Stone is, for me, much like the Bowderstone: one of those crags I always dreamed of climbing on but felt inadequate to the point I wouldn't try. Half the battle of climbing harder is to get on it and give it a go. Again like the Bowderstone, even more it is a tough venue, with many of the problems still out of my abilities. But after all this time, I now finally have my tick. And now than that, I've had the chance to return to this fantastic, scenic spot and enjoy it once more. #lancashire #lancashirebouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #exorcisingdemons Huge thanks to @greg_lakesbloc for the excellent guidebook at gave me the chance to find something I could climb!

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

Thank F*** For That

We are now knee-deep in June (as well as puddles but more on that later) and that means one thing: The Birthday Trip is nearly upon me.

It’s been a few years since i thought it might not happen but this year was definitely one where i thought i’d be home. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be going anywhere new and had planned to visit Fredrik in Gavle, thinking this was the year i changed “different country” to “foreign country”. That was until i got a text from Em’s dad…

“Here’s an idea that might, or might no work” put a look on my face to ask what on earth the rest of this message was going to say. I couldn’t have guessed it: a long weekend in Helsinki, bouldering in the daytime, Airbnb to stay, three nights in Finland! I pondered it but the decision was almost immediate and i was in. Ten years, ten countries, unbelievable. I can’t wait!

Training Tactics

After unexpectedly handing in an assignment early for my Masters, i was left this week with two free days. Feeling more than a little fried – as discussed in my last post – there was only one thing on my mind and ideally i’d be outside, chilling out and recovering from my recent exploits. Sadly the weather had other ideas.

Wanting to make more of a day of it, coupled with building works going on at the Indy, i opted to make a bit of a trek over to the Boardroom. Plans to take the train were benched once Lewis showed interest to join me and we drove through relentless weather that confirmed this was the right call over to Queensferry.

With the impending Finnish trip in the back of my mind, i realised i needed to do a bit of training; but not quite in the typical sense of the word. Granted, i do need to do more physical training lately and get my strength levels up but this wasn’t what i had in mind: here, i had a unique opportunity to go to somewhere with a great number of climbs i’d never seen in a style i wasn’t aware of and i had a limited time limit. This was a chance to train my tactics.

It may sound a bit odd to non-coaching types but tactics play an enormous part in your climbing. On my other website, dedicated to my coaching company, i talk about there being Four Facets to performance climbing, following a model known as TTPP. These facets are Technique, Tactics, Mentality and Strength and Conditioning. Each play their part and the explanation for Tacitcs states: “Are you applying yourself in the right way at the right time?”

It’s easy to lose sight of. Setting both outcome-goals and process-goals is important before getting into the nitty gritty of the grades of the climbs being tried, the volume of climbing you’re trying to achieve, the resting time and peaking at the right point.

So we walked into the Boardroom,  knowing we were aiming for about four hours of climbing and wanted a balance of mileage and some performance. Getting around three or four 7s was important with a max grade of around 7b. That was the plan. We scoped out the wall, decided to try the climbs downstairs for the first and last periods, with the middle of our session being on the mezzanine upstairs. The wall doesn’t grade their climbs (grr) and sets by colour, with grade boundaries, the top grades being V7-V8. Not ideal but it did mean we were down the climbing on two colours very quickly.

It went very well, all things considered, possibly with the 7b lacking but without tangible grades and with varying levels of tiredness it being close to impossible to tell. I did leave one hard line at the end which proved too hard but did push myself and came away pleased with my efforts. Got some good snaps too.

View this post on Instagram

With a deluge falling from the sky back home and a desire to get out to get away from life for the day, @curly_hair_climber and I headed across the top of the country to @boardroomclimb for a session. It was good! Man they like their toe hooks and big dynamic moves there and I tell you what, they do them well! We also took the opportunity to do some training too; but not typical strength training. With an upcoming long weekend in Helsinki approaching, I wanted to improve my tactical skills and it's something I'll be writing about in my blog very soon. Keep an eye on the link in the bio. Many thanks to @curly_hair_climber For grabbing the photos of me #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #indoorclimbing

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

Qualifying at Last

Attentions quickly turned to the next big thing: my Foundation Coach Assessment. After a very long time of trying to get an available evening, we’d finally managed to find a date that worked for all and everything was in place for the first of two very important assessments for me.

I’ve done my fair share of these now and there are certainly familiar feelings in the lead up. Anyone else who has been through a similar process will doubtless instantly know the signs: anxiety, nervousness, trying to get the plan sorted in your mind and hope that everything comes off smoothly. I had none of that.

Again, on the Prowess site there is a page about what i call the DCBA Scale which is all about optimum levels of mental attitude to perform. Doubt, Confidence, Belief and Arrogance are the steps along a sliding scale, with a bell curve situated right in the middle. This was a night where i sat right in the perfect spot and it genuinely couldn’t have gone much better. I’d primed the kids the week before so they knew what was coming and credit to them, i couldn’t have done it without them, it was a great session.

The feedback i’ve had, both on the night and today, has been absolutely glowing. I’d dreamed of getting great comments back and of my assessor singing my praises but i didn’t actually think it would happen! There were even a couple of pointers and critiques in there too, which is even better as it does give me somewhere to improve. And it’s not so much about boosting my ego, getting a response like this helps to reinforce to me that what i’m doing is right, that it’s working.

#babyatthecrag returns

And so, after months of turmoil and stress in almost every area of life, everything goes on the back burner at 5:30pm today for at least a month. No climbing wall stuff at work, in fact no work, no masters study (this is now “reading month” i told my supervisor) and certainly no coaching assessments. No, this is my baby leave with Hannah and i’ve not got long this time.

View this post on Instagram

In other news this week, I've had a piece published on the outstanding website @theprojectmagazine! Called little life lessons, it's all about how Rosie affected my life when she first made an appearance with us and about #sharedparentalleave. Ever since I first took time off to be with my #daughter I've been trying to champion and publicise the idea that dad's can be primary parents too and it's fantastic that the guys at The Project are helping to support me with it! Meanwhile, I've also been trying to demonstrate that being a parent doesn't stop you being you. This photo is of #ogwenjazz at #casegfraith in the #ogwenvalley on one of our first days out together. Now I'm back at work again, I realise quite how important this time together was. #daddydaughtertime #worldclasswales #northwales #snowdonia #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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

With a lack of other commitments and longer to share between us, Shared Parental Leave was very different with Rosie. Em took the first six months, i then took three months off and Em opted to take the last three months of unpaid leave that was on offer. This time, my Masters commitments don’t allow me to take that much time off and we no longer have the option of the final three months.

And so, at 5:30pm this evening, i leave work for one month, taking over from my significantly better other after her eight long months away from work. On Monday, she returns to work and i try and figure out how exactly to deal with two children – one a little over 2 and the other eight months old – on my own.

With the busyness mentioned earlier, i’ve not been as involved this time as i was with Rosie, so this is a little more daunting than the first time round. Still, Rosie spends three-days a week with the child minder, giving me plenty of opportunity to bond with Hannah and create a similar connection that i did with our first child.

Part of this bond will hopefully be at the crags. #babyatthecrag worked very well eighteen months ago and all being well, can be another success this time around. If only she can hold off on crawling for a little while longer…

Bouldering and Mental Health

Anyone who has met me in the last twelve months knows i’m busy. That’s not an exaggeration, and i apologise to any close friends who have heard this sob story many times: i have two young daughters, one a toddler and the other an infant; i have a part time job working at Plas y Brenin as a Storeman while also helping to get the revamped climbing wall going and running our successful retail outlet; i coach part time, either private clients and a weekly, voluntary session; i am also doing a part-time Masters degree related to climbing coaching, taking roughly two days a week; and i’m climbing for myself every now and again.

Please do not mistake this description of my life as a complaint. It really is not. Every aspect of my life was a conscious choice, a decision i made (or made with my very supportive partner) to take something else on and develop my life further. I do not regret any of these decisions – most of the time at least – and wouldn’t have things any other way. What it has meant, though, is there is an enormous strain on my life that can deeply affect my mental health; and that is what i wanted to talk about here.

First impressions would suggest that personal climbing isn’t exactly high on my list of priorities, given everything else and the deadlines i hit on an hourly basis – anything from Masters assignments to nappy changes, they’re all deadlines and jobs that need to be done.  Surely going bouldering for an afternoon isn’t really that crucial? Only, for me and for my state of being, it remains the critical factor that keeps everything else together.

You can think of my life as a guitar string. Every other job puts a little more strain on the string. As things stand now, the string is tight but that creates a sweet sound, a nice harmonic where everything works in harmony and goes smoothly. The stress actually makes everything work better, keeps that sound nice and in tune. As the stress mounts, the strings tightens and the sound becomes higher pitched, tinny, not quite right. Too much stress and the string is going to snap. That’s where the climbing comes in, it eases the tension.

This happened to me a couple of weeks back. I’d employed the “study at the crag” approach and sacked off everything for the Wednesday afternoon on a glorious day to head to the Gwynant valley and an old project perfectly suited to my situation. It had been a little while since my last climbing session – no, squeezing in a few routes around a coaching session doesn’t really do it – and that string was feeling pretty damn tight. Everything seemed to be overwhelming me, i was struggling in almost every aspect of life and i was becoming worried of burnout. Even the walk in had stressed me, as the sketchiest approach in North Wales has become even sketchier thanks to a fallen tree.

I got there and dropped the pad and it was almost as if all my troubles, all my worries, all that stress was balanced precariously on the top. Instantly, it went away and i could literally feel the tension in my muscles ease. The string relaxed and the sound was sweet, a perfectly tuned note once again.

Rewind three and a half years and none of this was the case. I was quite a typical guy in my early-thirties: single, i worked five days a week. That was pretty much it, it gave me plenty of time to go climbing and i was happy with that, for the most part. I wouldn’t say it was a fulfilling existence and looking back, i wasn’t getting much stimulation from work or anywhere else really and that string must’ve been pretty slack. I tightened it up with projects, finding and developing new boulders or training but again, this didn’t really fulfill me.

In hindsight, perhaps my mental health wasn’t actually that good back then. I wouldn’t exactly class it as bad but i wasn’t achieving anything, i wasn’t working towards anything, i was coasting and to be honest, probably bored. However from the outside, going climbing wasn’t exactly a problem as i didn’t exactly have anything else to do.

Now of course, things are different and again, from the outside, it is easy to think that there simply isn’t the time to climb. How can i spend my time out playing when i have so much work to do?!

That is from the outside but believe me, from inside my head, those climbing days are what hold everything else together. Without that release of tension, the string is going to snap. Leave it too long and i can feel it. It’s not an excuse, it is my release, my way of grounding myself, of earthing the circuit. And climbing is the only thing i’ve found that does that for me.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the only thing i do, and swimming or running help to delay the need for a good climb but they don’t replace it. It has to be climbing, preferably outside in the mountains, with or without others doesn’t matter. I seem to have developed to a point where bouldering is directly linked to my mental health.

So why am i telling you this? Am i trying to speak to others who may struggle to find an outlet for their busy lives? Or am i just trying to justify to myself, and others close to me, sacking off my responsibilities for an afternoon? In part, i’m guessing it’s a little bit of both.

Mental health has become a popular talking point these days and i am quite aware of my own state. I’ve had dark spells in the past that i didn’t seek professional help for it as i wanted to deal with it in my own way and i think i did. Now i let things get to me but only when i decide, i choose when to get overwhelmed and to let it out. I’ve found my release, found my way of releasing the tension in the string and it works for me.

We all need that. Every one of us needs some way of relaxing and releasing for a while and what works for one may not work for another. Some sit and relax, others lose themselves in a book or TV, many choose exercise. For me, the only thing that does it is bouldering.

I once appeared on ITV talking about climbing and am oft mocked for saying it’s not so much a sport as a lifestyle. I guess for me it’s almost more than that: it is what keeps me sane.

“Oh Hello Square One, Fancy Seeing You Again”

Warning: the following post contains a large number of expletives. It is deliberately not censored to caption the emotion of the moment. Those of a sensative disposition are advised to proceed with caution. 

Fucking stupid fucking shoulder, i can’t fucking believe it. These swimming sessions were supposed to help conditioning and now i’ve fucked myself twice in three months, all in the pool.

Let me explain. A little under ten years ago, i was introduced to the Arfon Masters Swimming Club and i started swimming competitively. I wasn’t bad, nothing special, but i enjoyed it. However around five years ago, it became a bit stale and i stopped. This February, i started taking it up again. It fits nicely with my family life and is fantastic cross training. Usually.

With one eye on a climbing session tomorrow, i managed to bait our coach at this evening’s session into a breast stroke set; my strongest stroke by far meaning it would work me enough but wouldn’t tire me out too much. It was all going swimmingly until the warm down. A single stroke of front crawl and i heard a pop in my left shoulder; the same pop it made back in February. That time it  took me at least three weeks to make a full recovery.

What makes this so much worse is that this week had been planned. After the spate of recent successes, i’d opted to crank it up a notch and since my last update, i’ve had a hopeful-at-best session on the Roof of a Baby Buddha boulder and a back-to-earth session on Lotus Direct 7c. Throw in a hugely successful Indy session – 7b in a session, cruised another, completed another that had been beating me for weeks and flashed 7a+ – and i was fired up to have another go at Lotus Direct 7c tomorrow.

The weather had conspired to restrict any outdoor action but even then, i’ve had lunch break training sessions in the gym at work that have gone surprisingly well. Part of that is the circuit training structure put in place to keep things fresh but you can’t underestimate enthusiasm when things are going well.

There’s a naive or hopeful part of me that thinks maybe this injury is not as bad as first thought but i am totally aware that is utter bollocks. This is gonna hurt more come morning than it does now. Driving back from the pool, i wanted some music to match my mood: Alabama Shakes Hold On seemed apt but also slightly depressing, reminding me of how far i’ve come this year and how hard it’s going to be to get back here after another three or four weeks off.

I’m normally pretty tough but tonight, on my way home, i wanted to cry. Not ball my eyes out or anything over the top, just weep slightly for a moment. And it wasn’t because of the pain. This year has been hard work and has given me huge rewards. The idea of doing it all again to get back here is just a bit too much to take right now.

Another Sad Day For Climbers Worldwide

Social media algorithms can really slap you in the face sometimes. This afternoon, I pulled up Instagram and the first picture on my feed was one from David Lama. Earlier this morning I had awoken to the news Lama had likely perished in an avalanche.

Climbing is synonymous with danger, risk and the potential for death but as a boulderer, I’m largely removed from this. Many of those I climb with, or follow the exploits of, needn’t consider their sport as a significant risk to their life. However we all still fall into the category of “climbers” and next to none of us will go through our career without losing someone to the sport we love.

While I don’t know of Hansjörg Auer or Jess Roskelley, there is a kinship that means their loss is still keenly felt and my deepest condolences go out to those who knew and loved these athletes. David Lama, though, I knew much more of.

I first came across him as a very young climbing prodigy in a climbing film. He was cross discipline, winning competitions and bouldering hard from very early on. His focus moved to alpinism and despite the occasional controversy, I always admired him and wished him all the success many thought he would have.

View this post on Instagram

😥 . . . . . Portraits by @_claytonboyd_

A post shared by Conrad Anker (@conrad_anker) on

It is apt, really, that social media has been the catalyst for this reflection. The ability to publicise one’s achievements has meant we can feel closer to people we have never met than ever before. A tragedy such as this reminds us of those close friends we have lost over the years and can make us question our own mortality.

Whenever there is a death in climbing, it will always bring some to question our motives and the potential cost that comes with our efforts. The game Auer, Roskelley and Lama were playing may be so different to the one I play but that does nothing to reduce the sadness that three more of our climbing fraternity have been taken by the very same mountains that give us all so much joy. May they be remembered fondly and with the respect they deserve forever more.

Again, my deepest condolences go out to the friends, families and climbing partners of these great men.

View this post on Instagram

David lebte für die Berge und seine Leidenschaft für das Klettern und Bergsteigen hat uns als Familie geprägt und begleitet. Er folgte stets seinem Weg und lebte seinen Traum. Das nun Geschehene werden wir als Teil davon akzeptieren.⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ Wir bedanken uns für die zahlreichen positiven Worte und Gedanken von nah und fern, und bitten um Verständnis, dass es keine weitere Stellungnahme von uns geben wird. Vielmehr bitten wir David mit seiner Lebensfreude, seiner Tatkräftigkeit und mit Blick Richtung seiner geliebten Berge in Erinnerung zu behalten. ⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ Die Familien von Hansjörg und Jess schließen wir in unsere Gedanken ein⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ Claudia & Rinzi Lama⁣⠀ ____________________________________⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ David dedicated his life to the mountains and his passion for climbing and alpinism shaped and accompanied our family. He always followed his own path and lived his dream. We will accept what now happened as a part of that.⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ We appreciate the numerous positive words and thoughts from near and far. Please understand that there will be no further comments from our side. We ask you to remember David for his zest for life, his enthusiasm and with a view towards his beloved mountains. ⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ Our thoughts are with Hansjörg’s and Jess‘ family⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ Claudia & Rinzi Lama

A post shared by David Lama (@davidlama_official) on

In It To Win It?

I awoke this morning, reeling from the most incredible day of sport i can remember, reading page after page about yesterday’s various results, accomplishments and achievments. England saving their blushes with a last ditch try against Scotland to finish with the highest scoring draw in international rugby, Wolves throwing back to their good old days to knock Man United out of the FA Cup, Valterri Bottas pipping teammate Lewis Hamilton in the first Grand Prix of the year. And of course, the Welsh rugby giants humbling the Irish to secure a historic Grand Slam.

And yet, in the farthest corner of Wales, a different competition was taking place – one which made the mathematical permutations of the six nations seem infinitely simple – that caps the end of the winter season for many of the local climbers: yesterday was the Indy Open.

It is the rugby that meant i had a rare day off; recalling the day i’d worked for Josh so i could watch what i’d hoped would be a match half as good as it turned out. That was the plan but as soon as i realised i was free for the Indy Open for the first time ever, i had to go. Every year, i’ve been working on the day of the competition and have never been driven by it enough to take it as holiday. Now, i had chance to experience this event first hand.

The problem for me was that i had other things on my mind. I’d said to a few people, such has been the relentless drive i’ve found to get to the Milestone Buttress to finish the sit start to Harvey Oswald, i’ve only been able to properly relax once it gets dark. So when i managed to escape early on Friday evening, with a few spare hours and dry rock, an ill-advised session on the fiercest of crimps commenced.

It was worth it to be fair, with Josh ticking his first 7a and me a few inches from success but as i arrived on Saturday morning, my fingertips sore before i’d even started on the brand new holds, i did question whether some patience and tactical nous would’ve been a good idea. Age, it seems, doesn’t always bring wisdom.

I managed two hours of climbing, from the four i’d allotted myself before i needed to run away for the match, but with 78 problems to complete, there were warm up lines i’d not done by the time i conceded defeat at midday.

In fairness, i’m absolutely shite at climbing competitions. It took me a while to come to terms with this, and another to realise i didn’t actually care. What it means now is that the pressure i put on myself is reduced, not expecting to actually beat many other people but certainly wanting to do myself proud.

This time i did neither, although such was the scene there yesterday, i cared little. I consoled myself by looking around and seeing at least ten strong local wads who would kick my arse even if i was on form and at my peak. I caught up with old friends i’d not seen all season, chatted with others i’d been climbing with all winter and generally enjoyed a fantastic day. This was my first Indy Open but i am certain it will not be my last.

Aggregate

The Indy Open generally marks the end of the Aggregate competition, and my name sits surprisingly high on the list of competitors. However, as i wonder where i sit in the upper echelons of the Indy elite (not high, those wads mentioned before haven’t been playing this year), i think back to the start of the competition and the goals i set myself all those months ago and how i tried to convince everyone i wasn’t competing as such this year.

Of course, that changes when you suddenly find yourself winning. Nevertheless, this wasn’t the intention, possibly in anticipation of both injuries and time constraints. The goal at the start of the season was to tick 85% of the problems.

Of course, this goal hinged on how many problems were set. The first round got me worried, with three climbs graded 8a or harder making me wonder if my idea was in fact ill conceived. After all, when you’re all competing against each other, it doesn’t matter if you don’t tick something as long as no-one else does either.

Come the end of the season and 354 problems had been set and numbered, meaning 85% is 301 problems. While the final scores have yet to be compiled, i did count up on my last visit and realised i have hit that total, and exceeeded it slightly. A good goal, it seems, and maybe next winter, it should be 90%. Goal setting is an interesting topic and in this context – where the goal is always to climb as much as i can – needs some thought. Still, it’s always nice to hit your targets.

The Indy for the Win Yet Again

The last word has to be to the staff at the Indy. I’ve written before about the aggregate, the staff and this fabulous wall that i am always proud to call my local haunt and yet again, they’ve delivered with aplomb. After a late and slightly rocky start, where i publicly questioned if there would be an aggregate – justifiable considering two of the three full time had recently been away – setting was regular, consistent and of the quality that we have all come to expect.

I’m not a fan of gimmick climbs and in general, these haven’t appeared this season; much to my delight. This is, after all, an aggregate primarily for outdoor climbers training while the days are short and the weather shite. The problems, as usual, match that nicely. I did notice a slight dearth in some grades (mainly 7c) but with me climbing at a different level to normal this year, i’m assuming that’s more me looking rather than them not existing.

And of course, i’ve been taking my kids to the wall too now, or Hannah at least while she’s still small enough not to cause the chaos that Rosie would. It’s impressive how accomodating they’ve been to that too.

So a heartfelt well done and thank you, not only for six months of relentless route setting and putting up with me badgering you and chatting shit but also for a great comp day yesterday. I hope your party was cool and your hangover short lived.

Entering the Age of Aching

I often joke about getting old. I’m 34 and while, if i was a professional footballer, that would be time to start thinking about moving to a lower league club, slowing it down a bit and having one eye on retirement, the fact is i’m not a proffesional footballer. I’m a slightly-above-average participant in a specialist discipline of a niche adventure sport. Even calling myself an athlete is a bit of a stretch.

Nevertheless, youthful exuberance is starting to wane. Where i used to do six sessions a week, now six hours a week is pushing my luck a little bit and after every session, i do feel a bit creaky and achy. I’ve even started showering much more regularly; not because i’m more conscious of my appearance but simply because it helps my muscles relax and recover.

Aging has doubtless been written about ever since people started getting old enough to realise they’ve gotten old. It happens to everyone but for some reason, it seems to feel different when you suddenly realise it’s happening to you.

For me, it’s been a case of tempering expectations and realising new limitations. The overuse injury of several weeks ago was a timely reminder. Having children has had a similar effect too and with New Years a couple of weeks away, coming to grips with my age is especially pertinent.

Not Totally Down and Out Yet

As ascents become harder to come by – either thanks to my failing body or the lack of available time to play – they seem to gather a touch of extra satisfaction. Well, maybe not satisfaction as much, more shock i guess. Either which way, when i do get out and send something, or even have a good indoor session, i end up pulling the same face many of us pulled when faced with a bus claiming £350 million for the NHS. Only without the angry afterthoughts.

Instead, i found myself stood atop the Pit at the Milestone Buttress, utterly shocked at myself. “Hang on, that was 7a+!” was my first thought, closely followed by the popular “i did actually do it, didn’t i?” Yes i had.

What’s more is that despite my earlier reservations about the imposing bloc behind you when you try Harvey Oswald that not only had i overcome my fear but i’d even managed the top out without much concern at all. I’d planned to bail, i’d gone up anyway, which logically was actually the safer option. Nevertheless, logic doesn’t normally come into it with me and scary situations, so i was pretty chuffed to have it finished.

View this post on Instagram

Well that was unexpected! Finishing my uni work yesterday freed up my afternoon and after a morning meeting, and dry rock, I found myself in the pit (not the pit of despair, the Pit at the Milestone Boulders). After years of putting this off through fear of the imposing bloc behind – if you've ever been concerned, every effort saw me fall straight down – and despite my spotter bailing on me just as I arrived, I got on Harvey Oswald. Apparently there are two starts: one from the good high hold at 7a and another from head high gastons at 7a+, plus the sit which is much harder. I effectively coached myself up there; pulling on the holds to start, then jump up, then wave at the hold, and so on. Quickly enough, I slapped and stuck the finish! Phil and Chris from @boulderhut arrived in time to film me complete the "locals" start, shown here. And I've got a project to go back for! Great day. #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion

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

Drawing Inspiration

This idea of aging, (echoed by a recent post by Mina Leslie-Wujastyk which is definitely worth a read, very funny) is reflected in a recent article regarding Inspirational Figures, although that wasn’t what got me writing initially.

We have recently had International Women’s Day and anyone that knows me well won’t be surprised how it got me into a big feminist/women’s rights/equal rights debate in various quarters. This year did change my outlook slightly though, as i realised IWD to be a day to highlight issues related to women, in exactly the same way as International Men’s Day does in November. After all, we all have our struggles, regardless of anything.

However, as much as IWD highlighted some amazing achievements by women in the last year, the next day they were gone. This just doesn’t seem right and i feel people that inspire should be celebrated all the time. So take a look at my article about Inspirational Figures – Females.

View this post on Instagram

It's #internationalwomensday today and while anyone who knows me knows I'm definitely no fan, the simple fact is I have a lot of girls in my life; females whose lives I help to shape. Irrespective of gender, the stories I've read today have indeed been inspirational. We're teaching our girls to be smart, independent and active, especially outdoors – and that goes for Tess as well. I'll encourage them to treat people as people, not to label them, and to give everyone a level of respect (until they open their mouth at least). And if days like today help to provide motivation for our girls to get out there and achieve something, I'll put aside my gripes and help them as much as I can. #girls #baby #getactive #startemyoung #getout Second photo by @emks93

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

The topic of aging appears with the first man mentioned in the Inspirational Firgures – Males article, written to offer balance. Tommy Caldwell was the same age i am now when he climbed the Dawn Wall, and if that doesn’t spur me on, i don’t know what will.

Please do take a look at both articles, via the links in green above.

Raise Your Arms, Say Ow

The last couple of posts on here have been largely philosophical, looking at subjects such as criticism and reflection. However, what i haven’t posted for some time is actually what i’ve been up to!

There’s a reason for that: i haven’t actually been up to much; well not much noteworthy at least. The winter has slowly been plodding along – until you look back and then it’s suddenly flown by – and as we now find ourselves getting into March, i’ve suddenly realised New Years is right around the corner and the aggregate is due to end in a fortnight. In an instant, i’ve had this slap in the face that i need to start thinking about my climbing, and quick before the summer comes and goes before i know it.

The last three weeks have largely been a write off so let’s start with that. Em decided to utilise some of her maternity leave to take a week to visit old friends and family down in the Midlands. To me, that read, “I’m away for a week so you can spend your evenings and daytimes going out playing”. Which i did. A lot.

View this post on Instagram

#startemyoung

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

After what i guessed at about five years absence, i got back in the pool with the Arfon swimming club but shit me, did i pick a bad week to start up again! During what felt like endless lengths of front crawl at full tilt, i calculated 2.2km with about 6 minutes rest in an hour. By the time i got out i was battered. Three climbing sessions were thrown into that quick week too, as well as a run on my rest day. Come Tuesday, i was back in the pool again, for a slightly more sedate drill session, only to hear a pop in my left shoulder and a chronic pain. I didn’t last the set.

Next morning and i was in agony, unable to lift my arm above shoulder height; a classic overuse injury. After a conflab with Tim at the Indy – a well of knowledge on all things strength and conditioning – we reasoned i’d inflamed a tendon in my left shoulder. There’s a big lesson in there that while i used to be conditioned to do day after day either climbing, swimming or something, that ability quickly wanes if not maintained. I’ll try and remember that next time she goes away…

Am i recovered yet?

That was three weeks ago and i have largely been trying to avoid using that shoulder for anything, from climbing to raising my hand in the air. The problem was: how do i know when i’m good to go again?

Thankfully, i’m already at the climbing wall every Friday for a coaching session anyway, and that includes free entry, so it didn’t cost me anything to test it out and see. Well, didn’t cost me any money at least, and i was acutely aware that if i got this wrong, i could be back to square one.

Equally thankfully, in a weird twist of fate, most of the wall was closed off last Friday in preparation for a competition, meaning there was little chance of me overdoing it too much by getting distracted with the aggregate comp.

I tried a few lines, slightly nervously and while it felt a bit tender and stiff, there was no pain. Given a fortnight of nothing, stiffness was to be expected and i was pretty pleased with that.

Moving Out

So while North Wales and much of the rest of the country were basking in a heat wave and ludicrously dry conditions, i was distracted with Masters work, children and of course, resting my shoulder. Eventually, though, a window was found, as was a healthy dose of psyche from resident puppy at PYB, Josh. He’d suggested a Brenin boulder session but i’d preferred to try some projects in the pass instead and once he got time off stores for good behaviour, we had enough time left to head a tiny bit more off the beaten track.

View this post on Instagram

While north wales has been basking in a spell of unbelievable good weather, I've been preoccupied with study, work and other non climbing related activities. Still, given I was forced to take three weeks off to recover from an overuse injury on my shoulder, staying busy has been the best antidote. Until tonight that is. Armed with a dose of psyche from @_josh_butler we hit the llanberis pass to check out NASA 7a. Either I'm rusty or its nails. It didn't go but crucially, we did and that was success enough for tonight. Here, josh battles with the moves we couldn't quite muster while Tess watches on. #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion @plasybreninstaff #dog #dogsofinstagram #collie #colliesofinstagram

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

Originally, i’d been keen for Mr, You’re On Fire, Mr 7b at Craig y Llywfan; a great little venue with a couple of classics and a name that is incredibly difficult to pronounce. (Google Translate does it’s usual bang up job of making Welsh words sound utterly shit.) The warm up was intended to be a 7a lower down called NASA that turned out to be absolute nails! In the twilight, we both walked away with a lonely 5c each. Still, it was good to get out.

Not content with even the offerings of the fringes of the guidebook, Josh has also been scoping out some new boulders too and yesterday provided a rare opportunity for the two of us to head up and check them out.

I’ve looked at them several years ago and deemed them lacking for the effort of getting there but then Josh had spotted another boulder nearby. I figured it was worth another look. Turns out that was the right call.

I was almost instantly enthused by two lines on that first bloc when we quickly spotted something else. After a mini fight with a mountainside of heather, felled trees and hidden holes, we found ourselves under what i can only describe as a menhir that Obelix would be proud of.

We didn’t even get to the farthest boulder before we’d found enough to warrant a return. When is unknown but it’ll be soon, i’m certain of that.

 

Climbers and their Critics

I want to start this era with a quote from the great American figure Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Teddy Roosevelt

Given recent accomplishments that have appeared (quite rightly) at the top of the climbing news feeds, this seems particularly apt. However, as i’m currently learning with my studies, the critic has a place. The key is how the critic goes about it.

Second 9a

First, we need to give this some context and have a look at the story that grabbed the climbing headlines: rising French climber Charles Albert climbed No Kpote Only at Rocher Brule in Fontainebleau and has given it the grade of 9a. This is only the second boulder problem of this grade in the world, after Nalle Hukkataival climbed Burden of Dreams at Lappnor in Finland.

Below is a collection of some of the news reports from various sources across the world.

“But it’s barefoot!”

A lot of the focus of the internet commentary that inevitably ensued focused on the fact that Albert climbs barefoot; a rarity in the climbing fraternity at large, let alone among the elite. In truth, there would be similar comments if he differed from the norm in any other way too – if he climbed without chalk or had a disability for example – and this difference has led many to claim that he can’t use standard grading systems if he’s not going to participate in a standard way. One friend of mine last week even suggested a new grading system for barefoot ascents; something i personally think is more than a little unnecessary.

Another angle that people have looked from concerns Albert’s pedigree when it comes to hard boulder problems. While he has climbed five 8c problems – four of which in the forest and one in Rocklands – and two 8c+ problems – again both in Font – both of those V16s were first ascents, with both still awaiting a repeat. Even the magazines have been quick to point this out (see Climbing magazine link, paragraph three, above). It seems the community isn’t convinced of his ability to make such a bold statement.

Meanwhile, another intriguing question that has been posed is closely linked to how we grade boulder problems in the first place. Harder problems are obviously linked to effort and often, this comes from the number of sessions it takes to complete. Nalle spent around 60 climbing days (plus supplementary training including replica training) where Albert managed it in 20 (or so i’ve heard).

For many, grading new problems is as simple as that. Personally, i’m not as certain, and while it is a good gauge, Nalle himself states in The Lappnor Project that all the pieces need to fall into place at just the right time for a project at your limit to fall. Is it comprehensible that Albert found this perfect attempt earlier than Nalle with both finding the climbs equally as hard?

Either which way, the debate continues and the critics remain as vocal as ever:

The role of the critic in grounding the process

There are many examples of where critics have proven crucial to development. In academia, as i am learning now, once a paper is published it isn’t really taken as totally genuine unless it has peer review. In journals, responses to papers – and sometimes responses to these by the original author! – are included in the same journal. Unless someone has dissected what you’ve said, it seems it isn’t taken as seriously.

In terms of climbing, sometimes critics who have yet to even visit the climb can offer something to the community in a beneficial fashion. James Pearson learned this the hard way with Walk of Life, after suffering with over-grading with a few climbs in the past. Plenty saw fit to comment, passing judgement as they saw fit and the route was indeed downgraded substantially. It seems that in this case, the community at large was right to get involved and ground the decision.

Not that this made Pearson feel much better and following the furore of Walk of Life he moved to Austria, effectively shunned by the very same people who were calling him the next great climber not months before.

When critics go too far

Of course there comes a point where the critic can go too far; where they can believe they are equal in importance to the “doer of deeds” mentioned by Roosevelt. That is, after all, what started this piece off. The treatment James Pearson received certainly falls into this category.

Offering a distribution of importance between the doer and the critic will always remain impossible, although i would argue the climber (in this case) will always come out ahead: without the critic, the climber’s achievements remain but without the climber, the critic has no critique and fails to exist.

With the anonymity of the modern commentator, there is an ability to comment without risking one’s reputation in the same way as we would in face-to-face conversation. The term Keyboard Warrior is now standard fare, referring to people who don’t actually participate but are quick to judge; the very same that i’m sure Roosevelt was referring to in his original quote.

There is, of course, an irony in me creating a comment on the commentators and thus judging them. I guess the only real difference is the fact that i’m not passing judgement on an individual or a single achievement, more that i’m looking at a practice instead.

For all the criticism that Pearson and Albert have both received in making their bold statements at the time they did, one thing must be said: in researching this post, i have noticed that those repeating the routes are normally very praiseworthy of the initial climber, even if they do disagree with one aspect. And i think that must be remembered.

Criticism is important and the critic has their place in grounding anyone’s achievements. But they must always remember that their very existence relies entirely on the “doer of deeds” and as such, they should always show respect. Charles Albert will always have mine, both for his climb and for his bravery in the face of criticism.