Category Archives: General

For those posts which really are just updates!

2020 Summer Update: Part Four

Considering summer updates were supposed to bring everything back up to date, they seem to have fallen by the wayside slightly. To be honest, one reason it’s been so long since my last update was that i was reading. A lot. I mean, i’ve been reading pretty much constantly for the past two years but all of a sudden, i can read for pleasure again, without feeling i should be reading academic papers or textbooks. In the space of a couple of weeks, i churned through Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project and The Rosie Result and am now on with How England Made the English by Harry Mount. I remember something similar once i officially finished my undergrad degree (not that i actually did much reading during that time but i felt i should be) where in the days following my finals, i quickly read JD Sallinger’s Catcher in the Rye. 

It seems that once released from what we feel we should be doing, we’re free to turn our attention to other things instead; usually subtly different but definitely different. In a similar parallel, with the knowledge that several months of lockdown will have obvious consequences on my climbing level and top ten yearly average grade, once free to go playing, i decided to mostly foresake established climbs this year in favour of developing areas and putting up first ascents instead.

Becoming a Local Activist

Back when i started at Plas y Brenin in 2014, i started searching the woods of Bryn Engan to see if i could find anything new. I did, with Prowess 7b being the best of the bunch of around eight boulders cleaned and developed. That experience tickled my fancy and in an odd sort of way, announced to the local climbing fraternity that i am open to the idea of being an activist in the bouldering scene and apparently encouraged them to throw various new potential crags at me… 

I’ve had a handful of places to develop in the back of my mind for a while now but struggled to find time to go check them out properly. After starting to offer outdoor bouldering courses (please tell anyone who might be interested!) i bought myself a bespoke local 1:50 000 map of the area, mounted on a pin board, with locations of all local bouldering venues, both established and new. After taking down the map of the states in the office that was there for a planned trip that never took off, the map now sits with different coloured pins showing me where to head next. It now couldn’t be clearer.

Now i have no less than eight crags ready to be developed to one level or another. At the beginning of Wes Anderson’s amazing film Grand Budapest Hotel, Tom Wilkinson is describing how as an author, he doesn’t develop ideas out of nothing, that people proffer ideas to him once they know he’s a writer. It seems similar with crag development. Once people realise you’re happy to put up first ascents, they’re happy to tell you about all sorts of rock they find, here there and everywhere.

And it seems there’s a lot of them. I’m constantly reminded of a foolish conversation i had with my good friend Fredrik Niva back in 2012. He asked me how many first ascents i had done, to which i glibly replied “none, i’m British…” My argument at the time was that everything to be developed on our small island had been developed and you either had to be a) lucky b) extremely good or c) immensely tenacious to find any new lines in North Wales. Turns out i was incredibly wrong; not that i mind that much this time!

Finding Our Own Crag

On my birthday at the Pop Bloc, i looked up the road and saw a garrison of rock at the top of the pass with an enormous boulder field. Surely there had to be something on there, i figured. Turns out we were right.

And so, i am delighted to announce that our new crag is at:

Clogwyn y Garreg

We have spent many sessions climbing there, landscaping landings by shuffling the blocs around and putting up around fifty boulder problems. The grade range covers from the very easy right up to the low-7s with the stand out lines being Dr Collins 6c+ Deep Low Boom 6c (which has not been repeated since a broken hold but should still go, albeit a little harder) and the outstanding Roohan 7b; the hardest line currently there. 

There is also a glut of new rock waiting for someone with fresh eyes and maybe a different take on what constitutes an enjoyable boulder problem, with a host of scary and highball additions waiting to be added; which was not really our scene. 

There’s a topo attached below that is waiting for you to download. Please do download, go visit, let me know what you think. 

[Some caveats about the topo and boulder problems:

1. the grades are likely wrong and are given as an alternative to giving no grade at all. Sadly with Covid this year, we hadn’t really climbed anywhere else to calibrate our abilities. Please don’t hate us if they’re out by miles.

2. We may have been a little lovestruck with the crag after spending so many hours developing, so commenting on the quality of the crag is probably not our place. All we can say is we really enjoyed these climbs and we hope you do too.

3. While we’ve made every effort to make sure there is no loose rock and that everything is secure, new crags always have a risk of being brittle in places. Obviously the Garreg has yet to have the traffic to weedle out the loose bits so it is possible that you might pull something off.

4. Any new climbs are fair game and up for grabs now, although please do let us know if you put up something new so we can update the topo. A permanent page is available here for you to be able to check back in and download the latest version.]

#saveoutdoored

This post relates to the need to support outdoor education in the current climate of Covid-19. Please read on to understand the wider issue at hand and to help the cause, consider:

  • Using your social media platform by showing the hashtag #saveoutdoored
  • If you live in a city, write to your local MP to show support of outdoor education for city children. If you are in a rural area, consider not only your local MP but also those in areas whose children come to visit your local centres.
  • Like and Follow the Save Outdoor Ed Facebook page, @saveoutdoored on Facebook.
  • Sign the petition to “Change DfE school guidance to allow overnight educational visits”. This is the big one and will make the biggest difference.
  • Share your experiences of outdoor education.

Why Outdoor Ed Matters to Me

I think I’d have been 17 when I stood in the office of the head of Ogwen Cottage Outdoor Centre. In front of me was a man I had yet to fully appreciate: Davey Jones, local legend in North Wales. Being a school child from Birmingham, I had no idea of his significance to rock climbing, locally and further afield. All I knew was the question i had to ask: how do I make climbing the focal point of my life?

Ogwen Cottage was then known as an LEA Centre; a property owned by Birmingham City Council and run exclusively (to the best of my knowledge) for the benefit of youngsters from the urban sprawl to expose them to the outdoors and the opportunities one can find there. For me, I already had a rich experience of climbing, mountaineering and various outdoor activities but even then, I was fortunate enough to visit three times during my school years and it gave me the opportunity to dream of what might be. 

For me, I knew even then that climbing was already offering me something i couldn’t find anywhere else. What I lacked was the ability to explore them further and speak to outdoor professionals. I could see them in action, look up to them, speak to them and learn to emulate them in my attempt to make climbing my life. It worked and entirely changed my life.

One such instructor that I keenly remembered was Jamie Holding. If memory serves, he took me climbing on Holyhead mountain, although I can’t be sure of that. I distinctly remember going climbing with him though. 

Fast forward fifteen years and i found myself in my local wall introducing myself to a mountain guide who runs a local kids club, asking to volunteer to hone my newfound climbing coaching skills. The instructor: Jamie Holding. I had come full circle, having completed the route that i had originally asked Davey Jones about all those years before.

My path from LEA to Pro

Those trips to Ogwen Cottage cemented a desire in me that was already in place. My parents had been taking me to North Wales and other outdoor areas all my life and i’d been heavily involved in scouting for a long time at this point. For me, the LEA centres gave me the realisation that there was a potential career path here, if i chose it.

It just so happened for me to follow that path. I climbed extensively at University, worked at a local climbing wall once coming home afterwards, later moved on to a Birmingham climbing shop and then to a climbing shop and later a mountaineering centre in North Wales but the importance of those trips to Ogwen in my formative years – and that conversation with Davey Jones that became quite prophetic – cannot be understated.

I know many other outdoor professionals locally that, once their journey into becoming instructors has begun, turn to the very same centres to further their skills, gain experience and crucially, earn their keep. The same centres they visited when young become their workplaces later on and are a crucial step to greater things. Almost any instructor in North Wales that i can think of will have worked in a centre at some point, teaching children who typically come from much further afield and are experiencing the wonders of the natural world for the first time.

I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the outdoors from pretty early on. Most city children don’t have that opportunity and visits to outdoor education centres are the only chance they have to experience mountaineering and paddlesports in natural environments

Those without the introduction to the outdoors from home

My introduction actually came from elsewhere, with the various centres giving me a more rounded view of outdoor education. For many – most in fact – this is surely not the case. Children living in suburbia simply do not typically have access to anything outside the city limits; and don’t forget, that equates to about 80% of the population of the UK living in cities.

For most of my peers on those trips, outdoor education centres are the ONLY way they are ever likely to experience adventure sports at all. More than that, for many of them, these trips during their school years will potentially be the only time they will ever VISIT the mountains and National Parks of the UK. It would be an interesting study but i dare say that if you surveyed most visitors to Snowdonia, they will have attended a school trip to a centre during their school years. This is that important as a pathway.

And for all that Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough have made huge inroads into environmental awareness, i can tell you flat out that as a child growing up in a city environment, most of it will be as fanciful as the Avengers. When the only nature you experience is your local park, it is difficult to empathise with the issues being presented to you.

A week might not seem like long but it is enough to make these issues very real. Activities on these weeks often include not only climbing and mountaineering but also paddlesports and coasteering; activities very relatable to the surge in action towards reduced plastic consumption and ocean waste. It may seem a bit of a stretch but a week in the mountains has the potential to completely change a youngsters attitude towards the environment

The Importance of Outdoor Education

Environmental influences aside, there are huge benefits to be found in outdoor education. This isn’t my opinion, there are many academic studies and reports that have investigated the importance of outdoor education.

Sport England commisioned a report into Getting Active Outdoors, finding the benefits of participation in outdoor activities can have lifelong effects on physical health, mental wellbeing and many other aspects of life. As mentioned, a popular pathway into the outdoors is through outdoor education in schools. Take this away and many hundreds of thousands of people lose the potential to benefit.

The benefits of outdoor education aren’t exactly new either. Neill and Richards (1998) wrote a paper entitled “Does Outdoor Education Really Work?” conducting analysis of 12,000 participants, with such strong statements as “Does outdoor education work? It’s a big and complex question but the answer from the three meta-analyses is that, yes, outdoor education does ‘work’.” and “this evidence suggests that
participants experience additional growth on returning to their home environments”.

More recently, James and Williams (2017) state that in their paper entitled School-Based Experiential Outdoor Education: A Neglected Necessity, “This research addresses the question, “Is experiential outdoor education for middle school–aged students a valuable use of school time?” The answer is a resounding “YES!” School-based experiential outdoor education, although often neglected as a part of the curriculum in our current era of high-stakes test-based accountability, is definitely a necessity”

I could go on. Indeed, one could probably write a paper on the subject, based on the return of 583,000 results in Google Scholar when searching for “benefits of outdoor education” alone. It seems clear from the research that outdoor education is vitally important, to countless young people around the country.

And yet, the sector is struggling; partially as a result of decisions made regarding the coronavirus outbreak but also dating back much further to the disillusionment of the LEA centres. Wolverhampton City Council not long ago closed their site in Capel Curig, the Towers, while the very same Birmingham City Council facility i visited that started me on this path all those years ago was sold since i moved to North Wales through a lack of funding for local education. The neglect has been there for a long time and now, even private centres that run based on visits from school groups are now also facing closure.

Why is Outdoor Ed at Risk and What Can YOU do to Help?

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"The worst crisis we have faced" #saveoutdoored

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Two things really: funding cuts and Covid-19. However, while schools themselves are allowed to reopen, outdoor education centres are having their hands tied and receiving a distinct lack of guidance as the country begins to reopen after the national lockdown this summer.

It is vitally important, for the sake of the education of children nationally and for the centres themselves, that we implore the government not to allow these centres to survive this difficult period and that they begin to understand the significance and importance to so many people; not just now but for decades to come. If they close, they won’t be reopening any time soon so this issue isn’t just about our children but also our grandchildren and generations to come.

To help the cause, consider:

  • Using your social media platform by showing the hashtag #saveoutdoored
  • If you live in a city, write to your local MP to show support of outdoor education for city children. If you are in a rural area, consider not only your local MP but also those in areas whose children come to visit your local centres.
  • Like and Follow the Save Outdoor Ed Facebook page, @saveoutdoored on Facebook.
  • Sign the petition to “Change DfE school guidance to allow overnight educational visits”. This is the big one and will make the biggest difference.
  • Share your experiences of outdoor education.

If everyone who has ever benefited from outdoor education lends their voice to this cause, there is no way it can be ignored. And it is certainly a cause that deserves our support.

Continue reading #saveoutdoored

Continuing on the Unknown Route

Now deep into week four of UK Lockdown, psyche is starting to drain, motivation to train is starting to wane and a slightly monotonous routine is beginning to set in. For me personally, there is also a real and upsetting realisation that the great liklihood is that – just like so many other people and events – my dream may be about to die after 11 long years.

There are some bright sides to this downtime (many mentioned in the last post still apply) including injury rehab but even that isn’t going as smoothly as i was hoping and the concern now is that once this is over, i’ll still have this niggling issue that will hold me back.

While the last post was filled with optimism, this one is less so and more centres on some very real feelings of worry and sadness. Sorry if i bring you down.

Note: i’ll try and finish on a happier note so if this post does get a bit maudlin, keep reading to the end. 

End of the Birthday Tradition?

With events such as Glastonbury and the Tour de France now being cancelled or postponed – which usually take place around the end of June – the very real probability, not possibility, is now starting to dawn on me that the VERY long standing Birthday Tradition may be finally coming to an end.

To recap very briefly, back in 2010 i spent my birthday in Val Daone: a beautiful Italian valley in the Dolomites. Every year since then has been a different country: Canada, France, Austria, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Ireland, Germany and Finland, last year. This year had yet to be planned.

The fact is it was always going to end one day. Granted there may be 195 countries in the world and i’m certainly not going to live that long but let’s face it, a two week jaunt to Kiribati isn’t gonna happen; there are a finite and much smaller number of suitable countries. Throw in the fact that they need climbing (ideally) and that number reduces further. If we assume i live to 85, that’s 60 countries that fit the criteria of affordable, logistically possible, with boulders, and decent conditions in June. It would appear that 10 might be the max.

I do have the consolation that at least this tradition was halted by a worldwide pandemic, totally out of my control, and not due to lack of funds or friends or by family constraints. There is also the point that i could easily pick it up again next year instead, with a small gap.

However my little jaunts were all well and good when i was young, free and single but now are significantly less popular at home and a rather frank conversation suggested this was not expected to be rekindled later. Either which way, i know first hand time and again that once a tradition is broken, it will most likely die.

It’s not over yet and many of these trips have been pulled out of the bag at the last minute but i must start facing the reality that after ten long years and some phenomenal experiences – some of which i have no desire to repeat – this year i might be at home in Wales.

Not Turning the Corner with My Elbow

Fun pun aside, this is a bit of a worry: the tendinitis in my left elbow is not improving. Rehab exercises have only yielded more discomfort, bordering on pain, while resting hasn’t helped and sees me wake every morning feeling sore. I need to keep going with something but its difficult to know what when everything seems to make it worse. The only thing that’s helped it lately: climbing. And i can’t exactly do that right now.

I’d almost be tempted to go and get it checked out but the LAST thing the NHS needs right now is some dickhead with a self-inflicted and non-serious injury whinging about his hurty elbow.

What i do need to do is figure out how to fix this. I have several very good physios and medical professionals that i could contact and need to get on it before the lockdown lifts and i’m free to play again but left unable. Either which way, lethargy just won’t cut it any more.

Starting to Drain

My lack of action to deal with my epichondilytis isn’t the only thing lacking. Despite the initial enthusiasm after putting up the gym rings in the kitchen, i’ve not been using them and not been doing much else either.

The exception is running. After a couple of weeks without dusting off the running shoes, i’ve been working hard and getting the mileage in and have been enjoying it, to be fair, but the SAID principle does suggest this will only go so far.

The previous section demonstrates how any use of fingerboards is totally out right now – especially given there’s not exactly any nice comfy holds i can use on the two here – so it’s conditioning work or bust. Yet despite the fact i was actually enjoying the rings, i can’t seem to fit it in. It seems the Groundhog Sunday is starting to get to me a little and motivation is waning.

Some Good News To Finish

We’ll finish on a lighter note, as promised. I’ve been using my time well (something to be happy about at least) and have lined up insurance for the business to be able to run outdoor bouldering courses with Prowess Coaching!

My expertise is extensive and well established but a quirk of the qualification system says that in order to teach outdoor bouldering, i need to be proficient at trad climbing (proof of proficiency isn’t actually a condition by the way). Being as i’ve not managed to finish that off, i’ve been stuck. Until now.

This downtime has meant i could do some research and have found an insurer that doesn’t look solely at qualification. As such, once the lockdown lifts, i’ll be expanding the repertoire out into the mountains that got me climbing in the first place. And i’ll be paid to do it!

I love my job, i really do, to the point where it rarely actually feels like work. It is truly my dream and this addition means i am now in heaven with it. The plan now is to use this to spur me on to get my act together, get the injury sorted, get strong and fit and stop feeling sorry for myself.

Yes, i’ll likely be here for my birthday. I might even be working. But if i imagine that that i’ll be working in the place i love doing what i love in a job that isn’t work, what more could i possibly ask for.

Coping Around Covid: How I’m Trying To Make the Best of It

We all know the current global situation and it is not worth me even offering a summary; this has affected you, me and everyone around us. Despite it all, though, i’m actually feeling fairly optimistic and am definitely having a damn good stab of making this work for me. I thought i’d share how.

How the situation has affected me

As a professional climbing coach, once the walls shut, i effectively had no clients. I don’t currently offer outdoor work as part of my courses and while exceptions can – and indeed were – made, we all know this didn’t last long; the hordes coming to my local area not exactly helping the situation.

In an attempt to keep going, i have and continue to to offer online consultations (click here for more information), but this has had very little take up. It seems there is currently next to no work for a climbing coach in the early stages of building a business.

Those early stages have also negated any government help in terms of self-employed schemes. I’ll be honest and say i have been very impressed with the various methods the government has tried to protect it’s citizens incomes and there are so many different types of earner out there, it was always going to be an impossible task to cover EVERYONE. I’m just one of those that has fallen through the cracks.

Still, as above, time at home to work on the business is certainly a good thing, if done the right way and as long as i don’t make a substantial loss, i should be in a good position to come back pretty much where i left off – hopefully even stronger – once life returns to normal.

Caring About My Clients

This is based on a core client base who are all great people and will likely come back when they can. They have all worked with me for a while and all deserve some attention right now. Looking after my regular clients as best i can isn’t just good business sense, it’s the decent thing to do and something i didn’t think twice about.

It needn’t be much and i’m cautious of badgering people; more just to inform them i’m around if they need me. Occasional check ins and some snippets of useful information, such as the New Years concept, are all that’s needed. For small businesses, this really is the bread and butter of customer service and one of the big advantages. It should not be overlooked

Building Online Presence

While my core clients are highly valued, the fact is i need more in the future to sustain the business. This downtime, with most people trawling the internet, is a great time to reach out to new climbers.

My business mainly relies on two things: a website (click here) and a Facebook page (click here). I’ve also utilised my own personal Vimeo page but am considering changing to YouTube for more traffic, opinions welcome on this. So as long as i’ve got good and useful things to say, this is a great opportunity to plug my services far and wide.

Cue the At Home Exercises series of videos, dotted up and down the page. These have been shared pretty much everywhere that is appropriate and the Facebook likes have leapt up with 44 new likes in the last 28 days, a 4300% rise. Turning this into actual paid work will have to wait – obviously – but for now, the more i can build this, the better i’ll be using my time. Please do help and share videos and posts as much as possible.

27 Crags

One job i have that i’ve put on the back burner has been creating online topos for 27 crags; the Finnish website that covers crags all over the world who got in touch with me to work on the North Wales section of their site.

In the last few days before total lockdown was announced, i quickly went out and got some photos of one of the local crags in Beddgelert on a walk with the kids, ready to spend time working on this once we were locked in. Annoyingly, i didn’t work hard enough at this and wish now that i’d gone out to every crag i could and got as many photos as possible. Alas, this can’t be helped and i’ve had to make do trawling the archives for suitable images.

It’s worked though, including my forethought way back in 2011 when i was at Cwm Dyli and got photos ready to do just this. There are now 11 Premium crags maintained by my group with more to come in the next few days.

Writing More

Despite my lack of posts on here, i have been writing feverishly whenever there is a lull in the crying around the house (more on that in a minute). So far, i have articles queued up with Chalkbloc, the Professional Mountaineer and possibly ukclimbing, with more still to come.

There will be more on the Prowess website too, assuming i get the chance. Weirdly, articles for the website have taken a back seat in favour of spreading the word elsewhere and desperately trying to find some paid articles. Still, anything published is a good thing for sure and it’s great to develop these channels further. Publishers welcome for my upcoming pieces.

Time With the Kids and Job on the House

In a normal week, there’s only so much time i get to spend with the kids, especially with tying this in with work and jobs on the house. This is a golden opportunity to make the most of this time to do both.

Almost immediately, i got to work: i cut and split to massive pile of wood in the garden that’s been there for months; i emptied, organised and lined the walls of the shed, that’s again been waiting for weeks for some free time; and i painted the outside of the kitchen, recruiting Rosie to help me out along the way.

We are allowed one GADE (Government Approved Daily Exercise) per day and spending that exploring different parts of the village with Rosie and Hannah has actually been really nice. Granted, it would be nice to be able to travel a little further but actually, given where we live, it’s been nice to stay local and remove the stresses and logistics that come with packing everything into the car that every parent will know only too well.

Finishing Study

This hasn’t really taken off yet but it will very soon i’m sure. My masters degree was due to finish in June and being forced back inside has removed the temptation to go climbing instead of studying. I’m on the final module now, the thesis, and it will be crucial to now crack on and get this done and finished.

I still can’t quite believe that i’m so close to achieving this and whatever happens with graduation, will be thrilled when it is done. Anyone who knows my past will know i did not do well with my undergrad degree, failing the finals, and this Professional degree has offered me a chance of redemption. Granted, trying to do this while having a young family and starting my own business has not been ideal but i’ve passed every hurdle along the way with aplomb and am so close to finally having letters after my name.

As time ticks along, this will become a greater priority and in a funny sort of way, i could do with the lockdown actually lasting longer to get this done. Not that i’m wishing for that in any possible way; i’d rather rely on self-control than curfew to get my thesis finished.

Learning More About My Weak Points

As much as i am a movement specialist and professional climbing coach, my knowledge in the strength and conditioning side of coaching isn’t as good as it could – or possibly should – be. That is until now.

I’ve got the books, just haven’t had the time or the inclination to read them, digest them and learn what i need to know. Now, i have no excuses and have been using this time to learn about agonists, ATP, fast twitch muscle fibres, disinhibition and so much more.

What’s more, with my academic connections, i have the unusual ability to be able to really dig deep into the science of training and develop a much deeper understanding of principles. Watch this space.

Getting Strong and Working Antagonists

Of course, i’m working on my own weaknesses too, having found and installed the gym rings i’ve owned for years in the kitchen ceiling. Today, i’m still aching from the Covid 100 challenge (100 press ups, pull ups, sit ups and squats) two days ago. The plan is to build muscle mass not only where i need it but also the antagonists to prevent further injury.

I’m also hoping this extended break will calm the tendon injury in my elbow that has plagued me all year. More research will be needed and more exercises completed as it is not improving (and not helped by the aforementioned work on the house) but hopefully, i can get it nice and strong again ready for the open door later in the year.

Summary: Making the Most Of This Time

I have certainly had itchy feet and a bit of cabin fever over the past week or so but writing this post has helped to make me realise quite how much i’ve actually done, less than two weeks into lockdown. I keep being told to pace myself and not go too mad but this pace is working, and working incredibly well.

We never know what is around the corner, what might happen with life in the next phase. The old TV show Stingray was actually remarkably on point: anything can happen in the next half hour.

We have a choice: mope or adapt. We could sit here and lament what is missing in our lives or we can make an assessment and see how we can use this situation to our advantage. This isn’t house arrest, this is an opportunity and only the strongest of us will use the next few months and weeks to put ourselves in a better position than we were before. The question now is which choice will you make.

 

Please remember to follow government advice/requests to help combat the coronavirus and save lives. The hills will still be there when all this is done. Stay home and stay safe. 

 

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.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bz_YuL_D5i5/

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.