Category Archives: General

For those posts which really are just updates!

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.

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😥 . . . . . Portraits by @_claytonboyd_

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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#startemyoung

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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.

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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

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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.

Ten Year Anniversary

I’m not normally one for celebrating anniversaries (cue rant about  the woefully inept base 10 counting system) but exceptions are often made and today feels like a particularly significant one: today is ten years to the day that i moved to North Wales.

It seems ironic, then, that my last post commented on the idea of grinding out results and being in it for the long haul. Given 27 crags – which plays host to my extensive and comprehensive ticklist of ascents – have recently begun a summary of the calendar year, i was initially thinking of this post being a quantitative breakdown of statistics from the last ten years, on grades, crags, countries etc. However, those stats only seem to work back to 2017. Instead, i’ll approach this in a more qualitative fashion.

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Almost

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If ten years seems like a long time when you’re looking forward, it is an eternity when you’re looking back. Most of my records, my instagram feed, indeed this blog! don’t actually go back that far. Instagram itself didn’t appear until a year later and i started the blog in 2010. The above is my very first Instagram post, at the Indy which has become my home away from home but wasn’t for a long time. When i moved here, it wasn’t a commercial wall in the typical sense and i certainly didn’t think myself strong enough to climb there; instead preferring what is now known as the old Beacon.

So much has changed in that respect. I’m now in the upper echelons of strong climbers at the strongest wall in the area (albeit near the bottom of that little group) and have progressed from V6 to V10. The Beacon has moved, the Indy become more inviting and even that old staple, the Brenin wall, is looking like it won’t remain the same for much longer.

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There's something very satisfying about stripping an entire climbing wall. Still, as we were starting, I thought I wanted to leave one route up until last, just to finish it off with a bang before the very last hols were removed. This has been one of my favourites since I set it: a fierce, dynamic 7a that doesn't actually need rock boots. It certainly didn't feel this smooth when I was climbing it though! Tiredness kicked in at the top and after watching it back I was tempted to do it again and sort the poor footwork out (matching that last hold has always been the crux) but two days of removing and cleaning holds has taken its toll. I've lived setting these problems, I just hope people have enjoyed climbing them too #video #climbing #beasty #7a #dyno #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #indoorclimbing

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The shops have changed too. I applied and was offered a job working for Joe Browns and that, too, has undergone many changes; the ownership has changed, the staff have come and gone and even the buildings are not as they were. For a while, Joe’s ran the corner shop but now that is under private hands as the Outdoor Shop and Crib Goch sports has developed more of a standing on the high street.

Along the way, there have been countless local friends made; some long standing, some fleeting, many people that have touched my soul and to whom i am eternally grateful both for their love and support and often, for not throttling me for being a dick. Many, no doubt, have thought about it. No one has so far tried.

Said friendships are too numerous to mention so i hope any of those that read this will not be disappointed and will more think back on the fun we’ve had. I can’t even remember the amount of weddings or other major social events i’ve attended, through connections made to some fantastic human beings.

That’s not to mention my own developments! The last three years, since finding the love of my life, seem to be even more accelerated. Not only have i got engaged but we’ve even managed to introduce two more people into the world. Because going abroad for new friendships wasn’t enough.

I can’t count the number of foreign adventures i’ve had over the last ten years. (Well, i could but i’m not going to, or this post will start Yesterday is ten years to the day…) It does seem slightly ironic that i moved from a city with a major international airport to a small backwater corner of the UK in order to start running off all over Europe and the World but that would be to oversimplify. It is because of the friendships and connections i’ve made here that i’ve been able to travel; because of the thrill for climbing that was reinvigorated once i settled here.

It’s not the only ironic aspect to the last ten years: i joined a swimming club and competed around the country in indoor pools – a fact little known about me. Before i moved, there was a long course pool within 20 miles of my house. Now, the nearest is nearly 90 miles. Nevertheless, i was introduced through that network of friends again and absolutely loved it. I still miss it.

I joined a mountain rescue team, played football weekly for a while, dabbled briefly with squash and various other activities that have fallen out of the long term memory and only occasionally come up due to Facebook’s memories feature. I even managed to remodel an entire house.

Housemates came and went in much the same way as other friendships and every time, my old house on Goodman Street underwent some new transformation. Em asked me just a couple of days ago what my favourite house has been and the answer was instant: Goodman Street. I learnt so much, worked so hard for such a long time and despite my best efforts outdoors, have never been as physically filthy as i did there.

And of course, that was where Tess came at the end of October 2012. I still don’t quite know what possessed me to get a dog and i can thank Ian for the rest of my days for nudging me into it. I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like without her in it; she’s been my travelling companion and best friend. I still say she doesn’t belong to me, she is her own dog, she just likes me best and i know she didn’t have much say in the matter but i hope she’s enjoyed being around me as much as i have.

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#daftdog #icky #cwtch

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I tied down a reasonably long term job, moved into another that is still going and managed to get myself into a postgraduate degree. None of this would’ve been possible without that networking and those people again. I’m now a small business owner, based primarily on my experiences over the last ten years.

The draw to the area remains the same. Recounting the tale of the move, i tell people i had a choice: big buildings or big mountains. It was obvious and it still is; the appeal then is still the appeal now. I’m still out climbing, juggling it with my many other commitments that we all obtain as we get older. Give me half a chance though and that’s where you’ll find me.

I said i’d stay until i took the place for granted. Ten years later and i’ve still got a long way to go.

 

I am very sorry if i’ve forgotten anyone in particular who deserves special mention or if i have forgotten anything specific that deserves to go in – keeping the post to a manageable and readable length was difficult. Captioning ten years of life (and nearly nine years of blog posts!) into one article certainly was not easy. I wish to end by thanking each and every person that has made my life here – even just one single day – better a heartfelt thank you. 

Christmas, Competitions and Happiness Points

If there’s one thing guaranteed to change the way you think about Christmas, it’s having children. That first year, when they’re not yet cresting the age of 1, isn’t too bad as they generally have no idea what’s going on. My eldest was 10 months old last year but this year, she’s more switched on and a bit more aware. Not aware enough to get excited but knowledgeable to understand the hullabaloo.

Everything is different. For example, in days before kids (DBK) i would actively want to go to work, as my holidays were generally saved for climbing trips and Christmas made that largely impossible, with non-climbing related commitments. Now, as i work the gap between Christmas and New Year alone to allow others to spend time away, i find myself missing my kids and longing to be back home.

It’s not just wanting to be home: the way i think about things has altered too. I spent yesterday lamenting the way we treat our young children at Christmas, especially when it comes to presents: here, take this and open it. Seen it? Got all excited? Great, now let me take it away from you and give you the next thing. No wonder our kids struggle with attention span!

From a really young age, we’re effectively teaching them to crave something new and exciting all the time, not to sit and savour things properly. The interesting thing is that perhaps this is a neat little parallel with indoor climbing walls…

Regularly set routes is a pre-requisite of the modern climbing wall; something new to go at, something new to try and some new achievement to give us that immediate sense of satisfaction. We want new challenges but also new gratification to boost our own ego. Without a glut of new climbs, how can we continually convince ourselves of our own abilities?

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There's something very satisfying about stripping an entire climbing wall. Still, as we were starting, I thought I wanted to leave one route up until last, just to finish it off with a bang before the very last hols were removed. This has been one of my favourites since I set it: a fierce, dynamic 7a that doesn't actually need rock boots. It certainly didn't feel this smooth when I was climbing it though! Tiredness kicked in at the top and after watching it back I was tempted to do it again and sort the poor footwork out (matching that last hold has always been the crux) but two days of removing and cleaning holds has taken its toll. I've lived setting these problems, I just hope people have enjoyed climbing them too #video #climbing #beasty #7a #dyno #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #indoorclimbing

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It is totally at odds with climbing outside on real rock; a medium that, for the most part, refuses to change, millenia upon millenia. New outdoor sends and climbs – and even areas – appear all the time, granted, but for the most part the first editions of old guidebooks predominantly contain the same lines on the same crags as their current versions. You want to keep ticking stuff off? Better get your project on lad!

You can see this with the old hands at the climbing wall. The old boys, often with beards adorning their aging faces, will tick off all the “easy” stuff when a new set goes up but will then bed in for the long haul to sit under the same problems, slowly working them out and building the right strength, before success eventually comes. It’s like the antithesis of modern instant gratification.

I would say this is the joy of something like an aggregate competition but i’d be wrong: the mentality defines how you approach something like an aggregate. If you crave instant success all the time, you’ll finish off your available lines and then mill around, waiting for the next set of new problems. If you’re open to the idea of projecting, the aggregate forces you to try all of the easier stuff but hopefully allows you time to project and improve.

For me, lately, it is this combination that has spurred me back to nearly-full strength. I came into this year’s competition off the back of a newborn daughter, our second, and not in anywhere near form. I was weak, my technique poor and my mentality not conducive to grinding out results. Regular readers will remember this admission with my Solstice post in late October where i put a goal of 85% success during this winter’s competition.

Several months later and not only am i back up to scratch, i’m thriving in the comp and currently sit a whopping 53 points above second place in my category. Even across everyone, i’m still 24 points in the lead.

This needs to be tempered with the knowledge that many of those climbers will not yet have ticked their sheet and those margins will shrink. However, i keep reminding myself that this year, it does not matter about anyone else, i’m just aiming for that percentage.

Either which way, the aggregate has brought it back to me that i need to put effort in to reap the greater rewards. Flashing a 7a is  nice but working a 7c is amazing and that’s where i need to be looking now.

I have recently described a similar phenomenon as like spending happiness points. In a conversation about money and how we use that money, Em and myself were talking about how we should buy less small sundry expenses – DVDs, bits of unneeded clothing, etc – in order to be able to afford a bigger annual trip somewhere super cool. While the Lakes is cool, for us, a trip to Norway will be infinitely cooler and much more memorable.

This is where the Happiness Points come in. Every time you buy yourself a new film or a nice coffee, you’re spending a Happiness Point and it feels nice. However, if you save them up and spend them in one big go, the return is much greater. The problem is that if you’re not spending your Happiness Points in the mean time, you’re not going to be as happy in the meantime; think living for the weekend.

Now that’s not to say we should be blowing it all in tiny increments to maintain a level of happiness forevermore, it’s to say there is a balance to be found between them. The ideal is to find a way to spend Happiness Points without spending actual money but as we all know, in modern society, this is increasingly hard.

And this brings us back to our metaphors from earlier: the Christmas Present Attention Deficit and the Aggregate. There is a balance to be struck somewhere along the line between instant gratification and putting effort in to reap a reward. With both, we only have a certain number of Happiness Points; spend them wisely.

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March 2017. I can't even comprehend what has happened to me since then! So many massive moments – had more children, moved house, started a masters degree, got engaged! – and yet in all that time, I have been using the very same pair of #climbingshoes Considering a pair of rock boots would last me a season, I'm staggered. And yet with the rubber almost worn through and the knuckle on my toe peeking out, the everlasting boostic has nearly reached the end of its life. Weirdly, it's not actually the holes and wear that have sealed their fate, more the rotation standing on a hold this Friday. Still, every session feels like it may be their last. I've had replacements since September but can't bring myself to part with these comfy machines! They've managed four countries on their own. I don't really have a point, this isn't a metaphor for anything, I was actually hoping to be a little more artistic with my photos. Alas, I'm more about the words so I'll finish with a huge thanks to @scarpa_uk and a heartfelt well done for supplying me with one of the longest serving pairs of stickies I think I have ever known. #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #indoorclimbing

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About to Pop

The storm that grabbed the headlines at the back end of last week certainly affected us here in North Wales. Friday night saw a landslide in the Ogwen valley just below Bochlwyd Buttress, what must’ve been shortly before i drove past en route to the Indy. Standing water aplenty and flooding, it was a grim night and the chaos got worse when a tree came down in Nant Peris, closing the pass. For anyone that knows the area, you’ll understand quite how difficult that makes it to get anywhere around here!

With the Brittania bridge likely closed, i inadvertently joined the traffic in Bangor and soon decided by the time i got to the Indy, it would time to go home so sacked it off instead.

So last night’s Mill session was my first in nearly a week and truth be told, i couldn’t get going. I am finding it hard to dig up that usual enthusiasm lately, especially as the Indy seems to have at least delayed the start of the annual Aggregate competition or at worst, decided to take a year off.

If they have opted for a break, i can certainly empathise. Two-and-a-half years ago, i hit my peak (to date at least) by climbing Jerry’s Problem 7c+ at Sheep Pen and my grade has slowly dropped ever since. My focus has simply shifted and my dedication waned.

It is nigh on impossible to keep up that motivation year after year. I’ve had lulls in the past and always come back stronger. Perhaps it is the same for the Indy, who have got plenty going on. One of their full time members of staff is off for a prolonged climbing tour around the States, they’ve only just finished remodelling a large section of the wall. It is totally understandable.

And it is much the same for me. There is plenty going on for me at the moment.

In Other News

I am now officially a small business owner! After finally completing a group-management style Instructor Award with Mountain Training UK, i can now officially start up my own coaching business proper.

It took quite a lot of thought to come up with a name but eventually i took inspiration from my landmark first ascent, Prowess and called the business Prowess Climbing Coaching. Certificates and insurance and in the pipeline and then i’ll be on the lookout for clients.

It is a dream job for me; a combination of the best of my skills and abilities (including tea drinking) and a natural extension of my Masters. I have had a lot of positive feedback in the few years i’ve been coaching and thoroughly enjoy it like no other job i’ve ever had.

Progress will likely be slow going to begin with, so i ask any reader: if you know anyone who would be interested in rock climbing coaching, please pass them my details. All sessions are currently bespoke to the requirements of the client and while i’m based in North Wales, i am happy to travel (subject to conditions, obviously).

About to Pop

If all that wasn’t enough, our second child is expected any day now. Literally every phone call and every text message when we’re apart widens my eyes that this might be it. Mornings and evenings are spent wondering whether this will be the day and the last thought that goes through my head before i sleep every night is whether i’ll be woken before morning.

People have asked me whether i’m excited and i reply: i switch between utterly terrified and mildly nervous. It’s a weird paradox too, between wanting to have the baby soon and wanting to eek out the last little bit of “normal” time we have before true chaos ensues. I’m pretty sure that goes for both of us.

For me, the worry comes when thinking about Rosie. Our first daughter has, so far, been tantamount to the perfect child – or as close as i could reasonably hope to get – and remains utterly wonderful. She’s happy, bubbly, playful and friendly, sleeps and eats well, everything you could hope for as a parent. The idea of throwing a newborn into that mix is more nerving than attempting a trad climb; and it’s not as if i can take off the harness and walk away this time.

Last time i could hide behind the countless people telling us we had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. Now, i have no such refuge; i know exactly how harrowing childbirth is (again, for both of us) and know exactly what it’s like once mother and baby are home.

I make this sound a lot worse than it is. Having Rosie is undoubtedly one of the best things that has ever happened to me, infinitely more important than any rock climb. Having a second was something we both always wanted and i know, in my head and in my heart, that in a few years time, once the initial insanity of babies has settled, we will have a gorgeous little family. After all, give it a while and Rosie will need a spotter…

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I came across this picture from many moons back, taken by good friend Mike Pinches on our way to #fontainebleau on the French motorways. It seemed the perfect #metaphor for our lives at the moment: the #anticipation of something utterly #beautiful and amazing, with such beauty in of itself, about to spark into such #life and #promise. You #marvel in the moment, #eager to see what is about to become but nervous it might not turn out as expected or hoped. Our second child is due any day now and much like a sunrise on a beautiful day, anything could happen. This #sunrise began a spectacular trip that would change my life forever. The sunrise we're about to #experience will be much the same.

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Finding the Fight

It is no secret that i am out of shape and this weekend gone certainly confirmed it. Friday night at the Indy saw me just scrape what i would class as par but then a Saturday afternoon in the wall at work saw me dramatically under-performing. What was significant was why i was under-performing.

At the Indy, i did feel weak and wasn’t shy in exclaiming such. Tim heard it from his captive position behind the counter (sorry dude) and Em certainly got it once i got home: “I’m old, weak, fat and ugly”.

I repeated this, much as i have been for a few weeks now but perhaps i was saying it a bit too much; over-compensating? making excuses? Who exactly was i trying to convince?

At the Brenin, i struggled badly. Climbs that i should be able to walk up spat me off. Indeed, climbs that i set threw me. After failing on a trunk-route 7a, i opted to change tact and try a bit of campus movement. A yellow route would suffice, nice easy jugs, certainly doable.

The first move didn’t exactly turn into a campus move. I’d got a right foot on to get going, the starting jugs being a bit low, but as i tried the move, my foot stayed pinned to the hold. Odd, i should’ve cut loose. Oh well, carry on, campus the next few moves, up to the penultimate hold. Matched, as the last move is far, i pulled up and didn’t even throw a hand in it’s direction, i just came back down to the ground.

Now this is odd: it is not common for me not to commit to a move, certainly not indoors and CERTAINLY not on a route like this. I didn’t even try the move! I eyed it up, decided it was too far before i’d even tried, did a token gesture and came back down. This is not normal.

Was it a fear of failure? Don’t try, don’t fail, don’t look so stupid? And then it hit me, an epiphany that slapped me in the face harder than the ground when i jumped off: i’ve slipped down the DCBA Scale and i’ve managed to convince MYSELF that i’m not strong enough. I’ve actually managed to talk myself out of being able to do anything.

There are Four Facets of Rock Climbing Performance: Technique, Strength and Conditioning, Tactics and Mentality. These are the four areas that encompass all climbing performance and any area of weakness can be traced back to at least one of these Facets. What i’d suddenly realised was that where i thought the problem was (S&C) had actually shifted without my realising and now manifested itself in a problem with my Mentality. That didn’t mean i was suddenly stronger than before but it meant there were more problems too.

I kept on with the analysis and realised i’d talked myself into having problems with ALL of the Facets. I wasn’t really trying and when i was, i was trying the wrong things at the wrong time and lacked the necessary structure. Even my technique was failing as my mind continually worried i couldn’t hold on – ironically putting more pressure on the muscles that weren’t up to it in the first place! It was a vicious cycle. But suddenly, with this epiphany, the cycle had been broken. In that instant, the problem had shifted significantly.

I could still feel the pain and the ache in my body so i knew the S&C issues were still there but now i understood the problem, i could begin to address it. For a while i’d been suggesting my next move is mileage on the wall and now it is even more true. I can’t afford to wait for the start of the winter aggregate, training starts now. And it needs to be much more purposeful.

The one bright side to this is it could help my career and demonstrates wonderfully the need both for coaching in rock climbing and self-assessment and self-coaching. It has also given me a nice little case study to help cement the theories i’ve been working on over the last few months.

I am now fully immersed in my Masters degree; a Professional Masters in Elite Performance with the University of Central Lancashire. Basically i’m looking at coaching in rock climbing and as such, at the moment i’m reading loads about the Adventure Sports Coach. It seems this is a new role in the outdoor industry and is facing some opposition.

Certainly, the coaching qualifications with the Mountain Training Association faced some mild backlash as many of the old guard failed to see the need for formalised coaching in rock climbing. While this is one isolated incident, it demonstrated to me at least that there really is a need for a coach, and an educated and reflective one, in this sport; competitive or otherwise.

Something had twigged in my head. I hit the ground and swore very loudly, thankfully in an empty room. The realisation that my mentality or worse, my technique may not be at their best had got under my skin and pissed me off. I’ve always prided myself on these two aspects of my climbing and the idea that they weren’t working properly got me angry.

I caught a glimpse of my reflection and there i was: clenched jaw, furrowed brow, there was fire in my belly again. The hunched body language of earlier was gone, now i was up for a fight.

I walked back over to the yellow and tried again. First move, second move a big squeeze and i could feel my shoulders tensing as i felt better about myself. Carry on, move after move, giving my all. I’d done it, i’d changed that mindset and i’d completed it. All bar the last move. I was too tired.

Spring Forward

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

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

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

The Pit at the Milestone Buttress

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

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

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

Gallt yr Ogof

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

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

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

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

Supercrack

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

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

Rhiw Goch

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

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

Clogwyn y Bustach

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

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

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

Pac Man

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

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