Category Archives: Local Excursions

The Rosie Effect

Time seems to  be moving in ways it has never done before; a point realised when i read the last post and found out it’s been nearly five weeks since my last post. It is understandable though given absolutely nothing has happened worth posting about. I could almost leave this post at that!

Still, a blog is supposed to be a regularly updated record of one’s actions and feelings so leaving it to drift off simply because nothing of any note has happened seems a bit of a cop out. There are still things going on around here, still progress being made and still things to talk about

An Insight Into Motivations

What seems telling about this long lay off is how it doesn’t seem to have faltered my motivation to climb at all. Nine long weeks of abstinence and the desire to get out is just as strong as it was back when Boris came on the tele for what is surey the most watched national broadcast in decades.

Just picturing getting back out on rock again seems so normal, so natural and as if it’s only been a few days since the last time. I’ve got a crag in mind for that first time out again (although i’ll keep that close to my chest for fear of creating a crowd) and i can picture the feeling, the setting, the movement.

It almost seems to fit the old adage of absence making the heart grow fonder but at the same time, i think the drive to climb hasn’t actually changed at all.

Training? What Training?

Saturday morning, i came downstairs and before i even made it past the end of the stairs, Rosie appeared badgering to do some exercise with me. It’s what she’s been calling it when we get the gym rings out in the kitchen; me with 30 seconds of exercise, her playing around, spinning, dangling and laughing in my 2 minute rests. She loves it but sadly even the joy it brings hasn’t been enough to spur me. Nothing has.

The initial enthusiasm waned after a few weeks and as with so much of my training in the past, without a clear and specific goal, i lost that bit of interest. The same can be said of my biking, despite the enjoyment it brought that made me feel like a kid again (although to be fair, the mechanical issues that put me off those years ago contributed a lot). And again with running.

My latest run gave a time and speed that i really can’t be proud of, despite some progress several weeks ago. All those early runs coupled with a few bike rides have made no  gains as i’ve not kept it up.

Perhaps she will spur me on and with lockdown beginning to ease, it good be good timing to get my backside back in the groove.

An Elbow of Consolation

If there is a consolation it’s that i should probably have been taking this time off anyway. I realised earlier that i hadn’t even thought about the pain in my elbow for a little while and stretching now doesn’t hurt either. It seems this lay off might prove just what i needed.

I had thought it had turned chronic back when Boris put everyone on house arrest. Nothing seems to have made the difference: exercises, stretching, conditioning. Despite toying with the idea of getting further advice but typically – for me and for most climbers – i didn’t. However i’ve perhaps turned a corner.

Half way through Saturday’s exercises i realised it wasn’t hurting at all, although i did feel a bit of pain when waking in the morning. Only time will tell and that first session back on the wall will be the real acid test. Hopefully, i’ll pass with flying colours ; i’d hate to have to take another 8 weeks off again!

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.

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What a day! That's gotta be one of the best days in a trip ever. A late start pushed itself into the afternoon but after that, it's been all go. Firstly we headed to Koivusaari and the most impressive boulder in the most astounding scene. Right in the shore again, the lines were outstanding, even if I did leave with Peppu 7a+ agonisingly close. Then we shifted the focus and headed to Taivaskallio With a stack of Simon friendly problems. He blasted them out, one after another, flashing problem after problem. Taivaskallio is a very historical crag for Finnish bouldering too and it was great to experience such a fantastic crag. We're now back, battered and beaten by buoyed by a brilliant day off quality Finnish bouldering #Helsinki #Finland #helsinkibouldering #finnishbouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #grimpeur #rockclimbing #escalada #escalade #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #birthdaytradition #sunsoutgunsout

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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!

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I'm thrilled to announce that I am now adding outdoor bouldering to the Prowess Coaching repertoire! (once lockdown is lifted, obviously) I've been using this time to do the necessary research and have finally put the pieces in place to offer outdoor bouldering courses, just like this day with @kellymariehenry just before we were all kept away from the mountains. Now this will be part of my day job! Cannot wait to get going again, gonna use the next few weeks to set everything up so we're ready to go. Please get in touch for more information and spread the good word. . . . #worldclasswales #NorthWales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #rockclimbing #grimpeur #escalada #escalade #Climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #climbinglife #klettern #coaching #tryclimbing #prowesscoaching

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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.

Suboptimal Preperations

These past fortnight have seen that rarest of rare phenomena: a dry day with me being free and able to climb. Only i couldn’t, i was forced to rest; my elbow tendons screaming at me that they could take no more. Tweaked simply by overuse from competing on too many levels, i was forced to down tools (or rock shoes) and stare at some of the first dry days from the kitchen window. It sucks.

Things are looking up since last Friday on the elbow front but then earlier this week got a bit harder again. With a few days to go before i fly off to Spain, being fighting fit is looking hit or miss. Not exactly ideal preparations.

Elbows

Where my last post held such promise and excitement, shortly afterwards i tried to catch up on the aggregate competitions after a Christmas break. I’m working on a post about competing on two fronts this winter to be published once they’re done but for now, let’s say that an endurance session on the Monday followed by 85 problems at the Beacon two days later was not good for me. That is, in essence, how i hurt my elbow.

Since then, i’ve been trying my best to rest but with being at the wall most of the time, it’s been tough. Throw in some manual labour as well and it’s been perpetually tweaky ever since.

That is until Friday gone when i bumped into one of the parents of the kids i coach. He suggested the latest thinking is to work it slightly and he gave me some exercises and some conditions on climbing; something Tim had also suggested previously which i’d discounted in favour of full rest. It seems to have done the trick and save for some aching from sweeping moss and dirt off a flat roof yesterday (cleaning is bad for you people!) my arm is starting to feel back to normal.

Dealing with injuries is something i’ve not had much experience with, thankfully and so i’m not the best when it happens. Having a good support network – either for myself or for clients when they get tweaks – will prove invaluable in the future. I think i’ve hit on someone well worth working with!

Suboptimal Preparations

The timing of this is not ideal, given that on Monday i fly off to Spain for a week in Albarracin. Ideally, i’d be tailoring my training to be at peak for a trip like this but such is life, and now i’m just hoping i can get some good routes in. Annoyingly, i’ve not been able to do much climbing this week either and my only session really will be tonight in Worcester.

I’m actually coaching here this week and don’t want to walk in to work in the wall blind. It’ll give me an opportunity to climb with my father in law too, which i’m really looking forward to, and to have a mild training session. I’m expecting to get on the lead, which should lower the intensity slightly too and give a different type of climbing to get ready. Not that i’ve ever prepared for a bouldering trip by sport climbing before but we’ll see if it works!

It’ll also be a chance to see how much these cuts on my fingers hurt too. While cutting wood Monday gone, i threw a piece towards a pile and, just as she often does, Tess went to catch it. Unfortunately, she got a bit too close and her teeth badly scratched my middle finger and cut deep into my index. It was a total accident and you’ve never seen a dog look so humble and apologetic but that didn’t make it hurt any less. I managed to squash it back into place and so far, it’s healing very well so hopefully it won’t hold me back and Tess can be forgiven for her over-enthusiasm.

Coaching Building

While out in Spain, i’ll be working with a friend on mine as she quests towards her first climb at a milestone grade. It’ll be great to be working with someone for a few days on real rock and i’m super psyched to get out there and get started. Her attitude is amazing and she’s a credit to herself in her approach to getting her project done.

For me as well, this is why i wanted this job in the first place. For the vast majority of sessions, it doesn’t feel like work. I love watching people climbing, see them improve and develop and it’s an amazing thing to behold when they tell you they’ve achieved a new grade; something that happens a lot to me!

Working in Worcester this weekend will be similarly great experience. This will be my first new wall in quite some time and new clients are great to work with. Stoked to have the business building.

The present might be frustrating and the immediate past hasn’t been great but the future is looking very promising. Now to see what happens when i get there!

Waiting for the Click

Many climbers really don’t like football. Often, they don’t see the point of it, the appeal, or why there is so much hype and money in the sport (and i can hear many of you nodding at your screens right now…). I do, though, ever since i was a child, and have always supported Liverpool Football Club. And they are currently going through one of the best and most successful periods in their history; which if you know anything of the club is an unimaginable achievement.

Now, for this next bit i need to explain a little about why they’re doing so well, but bearing in mind the above paragraph, i will keep this simple and brief so please bear with me. Liverpool haven’t won a league title since 1990 and are currently 13 points clear at the top of the table. That means they need to lose five matches that their nearest competitors win in the next 17 games to throw away this winning margin. So far in the league this season, they’ve won 17 and drawn 1 of their 18 games. In June, they won the European title for the sixth time and for context, only two other clubs can match or better that, anywhere on the continent. Just before Christmas, they even world the title for the best club in the world; competing against the best clubs from each continent. In short, they are beating everyone and destroying records that have stood for decades.

For me, having recently hit the form of my life and trying unprecedented grades, i take great inspiration from this. I’ve supported this club through some really fallow years where nothing really that noteworthy was achieved and to know that they can pull it all together and really go for it, really push the boundaries of what the club can do reminds me that i too can do the same.

We often hear of sportpeople being referred to as heroes or inspirations and sometimes i hear people scoff: how can they be an inspiration when they’re on hundreds of thousands of pounds a week? How are they heroes for kicking a ball around? How is it relevant to us anyway?

We go again

As i drove up the Llanberis Pass yesterday, on my way to try the project yet again and hopefully for the last time, the prosperity of my chosen football team wafted through my mind. The standards they are currently at are, quite frankly, absurd and they are at a point where they could push the limits of possibility on to new levels. Granted, they’re in a multi-billion pound industry and i’m some bloke on a bit of rock most people will never even know existed but on a personal level, that’s what i felt i’m doing: pushing my own limits to levels that only a couple of years ago would’ve sounded ridiculous.

To climb 8a these days isn’t nearly as impressive as it once was but climbing isn’t about measuring yourself against other people. It can be, if that’s what you want, but it doesn’t have to be; it is one of those pursuits that allows you to be the very best you possibly can without needing anyone else to compete against. For me, to achieve this would be to show myself there are no limits to my abilities and that i can be my own Liverpool Football Club and can do things i never dreamed possible. If they can, i can, as daft as that sounds.

And yet the reason for the success of LFC is that all the parts have come together and are working in perfect synchronicity. No part of their system isn’t working, they are all gelling in perfection. That’s why it is working. And that’s exactly why i did not end my year with the climb of my life.

Something needs to click

The conditions yesterday were, with no exaggeration at all, absolutely perfect. The temperature was right, the wind was right, the holds felt good and i was fresh and well warmed up. The stage was set for me and even though i was thrown not to find the boulder to myself, my fellow climbers left me to it after a while in favour of other nearby climbs.

And yet something is not quite clicking with it. This climb is notoriously hard and people are quick to remind me of that but i don’t think that’s it, i think there is something else holding me back that i cannot quite place.

While coaching others, i use something called the TTPP model: four attributes to performance sport to break down areas that are holding someone back: technical, tactical, physical and psychological. Well i certainly have the technical skills so that’s probably not the right area to worry about. My tactics could possibly be better, perhaps with timed rests or paying more attention to when my body feels right to try again but i felt yesterday that wasn’t the problem and that i was suitably prepared for each attempt.

The temptation is usually to focus on the physical and suggest that i need to get stronger. It’s also an easy cheat, as by getting stronger than you need to be, you can compensate for something lacking in another area, not to mention strength typically being the most straightforward to improve. The thing is with Sway On, i’m pulling on fine, i’m hitting the hold fine, and i can do all the other moves. I can get to the hold and hold it, i’m just not engaging when i get there. The problem is in my mind.

The last time i was there, i remember thinking i’m not invested enough in this climb yet to do it, it doesn’t matter enough to me; which is frankly ridiculous as it will be my first 8a and i’ve had it lined up since August 2018! Nevertheless, there’s something missing, something lacking. Yesterday was the same, something wasn’t quite clicking in my head and i don’t know what it is.

The problem now is that to clear my mind, i usually go climbing. But how to clear my mind to be able to climb? Two seasons ago, you could feel the same thing with Liverpool. They were almost there, just not quite clicking yet. Now they have, they’re flying. If it can click for me, it may just unlock the next level.

It’s All About Feel

Climbing is all about eliciting feelings: physical feelings, psychological feelings, social feelings, ethical, emotional, even spiritual at times.

That’s certainly why i climb: to feel something. I want to feel my body moving, i want to feel my mind at work, trying to process this complex sequence or control the small variables to be able to work, and so on. What i am less inclined to try and feel is the cold. Especially when that cold is so utterly baltic and freezing that it totally stops me in my tracks.

Trapped in a Paradox

That’s the situation that i found myself in last Thursday gone: just cold. There’s no reason to elaborate on it really, i was simply cold. And it was not fun.

I’ve realised that despite all this “optimum friction” malarkey at low temperatures, my body just refuses to function in the way i want it to once my tempterature drops too low. Many a wasted day has been spent thinking the friction would be top only to realise that it makes little difference when i can’t get my body firing.

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Another day off #goal8a today but absolutely bitter, I got stuck between needing to rest and needing to keep my fingers firing. In the end I lacked time and the necessary sticktuiteveness to get anywhere. @curly_hair_climber on the other and had an awesome day! A stack of ticks in the 7s ended with a flapper but a great day nonetheless. His success far outweighed my poor session and had me leaving with a smile. My worry now is that I'll have to wait until spring for the right conditions. But that probably won't stop me going back in the meantime #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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It doesn’t help when my body shape is so slight that i lack any discernible body fat and with it, any natural insulation; and while i can make up for this with layers – cold weather now instantly brings out the “double legs” approach – i cannot do anything about my fingers. If the rock is cold and the weather biting, i’m stuffed before i even start.

So, there i was, underneath Sway On yet again, optimistic that this time, it could go and i could change my climbing career forever. Yet i was stuck in this paradox: pull on a couple of times to warm the digits but then need to rest; rest and the fingers go cold again. If i keep climbing, my fingers tire and i risk injury but if i stop, i chill off and am back to square one.

Gloves and various other things taken along didn’t help and within a short while, i realised it was fruitless and that i would need to wait for another day. I much prefer cold days to hot days but there is a point where you simply need to admit defeat and call it a day. The wait continues.

How Are You Feeling?

Learning to harness feelings like those experienced that day is the key to climbing at your limit, both tactically, psychologically and physically. When is my body rested enough to go again? When am i tuned in enough to give it enough effort? It comes down to listening to yourself and reacting to those feelings to get out what you have put in. Sometimes that results in learning to deal with the disappointment of a bad day.

My morning was filled with emotion and nerves, almost to the point i didn’t want to go. The session itself held so much frustration, not to mention cold (did i say it was cold that day?) and of course the reason i didn’t have that many attempts was simply because i didn’t feel like i was able to pull on properly.

Listening to your body and mind comes through heavily in my coaching and it’s really hard to teach, especially with youngsters who are used to being told what to do and when. Nevertheless it’s one of the most crucial aspects of developing our skills whether in the wall or at the crag. If you want to improve, you have to listen to yourself and what your body is telling you.

For me, the long battle i’m engrossed in continues for at least another week. I’m not actually planning another session there any time soon, with indoor training and conditioning taking centre stage while it rains before a planned day on the limestone crags of the Great Orme on Friday. I’m hoping i’m feeling better then.

The Calm Before The Storm

I am quite used to constant, mild pain; it’s part and parcel of exercising hard i think. Running normally does it to me more than anything, primarily because i don’t do it very often and whenever i do, i go too hard too quick and can’t walk properly for about four days.

Dealing with the pain is fine but there does come a point where you start to need to listen to your body and that’s exactly the point i got to a fortnight ago. Despite all the recent success and the obvious form, it was a case of rest or ruin and i really didn’t fancy several weeks off injured (at best, i imagine).

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If you're going to push your limits, sooner or later you'll have to do some conditioning work. If you don't, you'll either plateau or worse, get injured. Recently I've been walking that line pretty close and I'm now on an enforced rest week. Part of this involves trying these smart bits of kit from @the_powerfingers. They come recommended by @neil.gresham and help to area the imbalance in the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the hands and wrists. I think, I'm not 100% sure yet as I'm still getting to grips with them and have some reading to do. Considering I'm struggling to open my fingers fully now though, I'm certainly hoping they'll help! #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #grimpeur #escalada #escalade #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #training #conditioning #stayingfit #avoidinginjury

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Enforced Rest Week

And so it came to pass – coinciding nicely with a bout of wet weather – that i forced myself to have an enforced rest week. No climbing, more than necessary at least what with me now working in the climbing walls, and nuts to the various aggregate competitions.

In fairness it worked well and allowed my body to settle and recover enough that those niggly pains had just about gone. But there are still some tweaks in my shoulders and neck, my back still doesn’t feel great and i still can’t sleep in the position i have for years as the pain becomes too much to let me drift off. I’ve realised i need to pay more attention to my antagonist muscles and do more conditioning on a regular basis, not just driven by the pain but also by the fact i know i’m climbing hard and becoming imbalanced.

After getting back on the wall and having an outstanding and epic session at the Indy – reducing my remaining climbs down to only 2 from 145 – i realised i need help. None of us know it all, there are always gaps in our knowledge and Tim Peck knows far more than i about anatomy of climbers, injuries and conditioning to help them. So i recruited him to help me come up with a routine to follow. I’ve yet to get into it but i was really impressed with the way the session was tailored to the parts of me that needed it most and how informal it became, lacking any judgement.

So conditioning and rest week all in hand. They say you get stronger on your rest days so i’m hoping a whole week off will serve me well for what comes next…

It All Builds To This

The preparation for this afternoon started back at the weekend gone, when i aligned the diary with the forecast and realised there was the ideal gap for the next episode in my Sway On saga. After my break, it’s now time to crank up Goal: 8a and get this thing done! Before the snow comes proper…

I’ve long advocated that a project session starts long before you arrive at the bottom of it and this is my own little proof. Every now and again, every day for the past week, i’ve been pondering this problem, running through the moves in my mind, imagining success. I’ve been putting things in place, asking friends if they want to join me and generally psyching myself up for the climb of my life.

It makes a difference. Last time i was there, i was close but felt like if it had gone, like i’d have missed part of the process. I hadn’t invested enough in the climb yet and don’t think i would’ve experienced the euphoria i have on other long term projects; which sounds insane considering i’ve had this in the back of my plans for well over a year!

Now that we’re on the day of, waiting for the weather to warm up slightly, all i can feel is nervous. The niggles in my body mentioned earlier have cranked up the volume, i can feel doubt in my mind and i’m looking for excuses, wondering whether to go out at all. Oh, i’m tired; oh, my back is sore; oh, i’ve got too much work to do. All this plays it’s part in making this morning slightly unpleasant.

The fact is, there’s no reason i can’t do this today and those nerves are actually a good thing. The conditions are perfect, i’m in the form of my life, recently rested and have recruited a friend to come along. Everything is set up and perhaps that’s why i’m jittery: the weight of expectation. Today has the potential to be momentous for me. The trick is going to be to take a deep breath and enjoy it as much as i can.

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.

Getting Into The Groove

1258 days. That’s 3 years, 5 months and 10 days. In that time, we’ve moved house, changed Land Rovers, got engaged. Two children have been born! Seven countries visited over at least six trips away, including dozens of crags with countless ascents, not to mention all the non-climbing specific adventures we’ve done.

There have been two new prime ministers, a new American president, several leading political figures have died. England have won a world cup (of ANY kind), that’s how long it’s been.

All that since the last time i climbed 7c. Until this week.

Getting the Groove Back

In my last post, i mentioned about spending two sessions on Barrel Groove 7c as it almost relented before i got distracted with another, more urgent, climb. Ever since then, the weather has been poor at best and while i don’t normally keep even a vague eye on the weather, recently i’ve been checking relentlessly to keep my diary free for the next window of opportunity. There have to be some perks to being self employed after all.

Wednesday was that day and i rose to find myself oddly nervous. All of a sudden, this started to matter to me. I walked poor Rosie to school running through the moves in my head, over and over, largely ignoring her as i was busy visualising. Moving on to drop Hannah off with the childminder, i rehearsed the moves again (she’s less bothered if i talk to her or not). Walking home i was even worse; waving my arms around while walking down church road.

What i didn’t expect were the nerves. I got home and while all common sense said to pack up quick and get out there, i found myself faffing and busying myself, almost deliberately delaying myself from leaving the house. I can’t figure out why but i know i was very trepidatious. It took a couple of hours before i pulled myself together and dragged myself up the Pass. I think Tess’s looks of longing to leave helped me a bit.

Even at the roadside, the nerves remained. A quick blast up and down The Ramp 5+and up Ramp Central 5+ before five turns on my old favourite The Edge Problem 7a – a trunk route for me that i regularly complete in approach shoes – to warm up the fingers sufficiently. In between each burn on the wall, i’d stand, arms folded, staring up at the Barrel and what was about to come.

When the time came to walk up, i didn’t think anything of it at all. Pack up, grab Tess, slog up there and set up. It was unpacking the pads and setting up the camera that i started to get those butterflies back. I’ve no idea why, there is little risk to this problem, so it was all performance anxiety. Even then, failure wasn’t exactly a problem. I suppose the weight of expectation to finally succeed on something i classed as hard after all that time was hunching my shoulders.

I needn’t have worried. The first few blasts threw me back to the floor but i knew instantly that was because of the poor condition of the holds and that once they had chalk embedded, they’d be good to go. I was right too, and within an hour, i’d slapped the top again.

Now was the time to learn lessons. Self coaching (i’m supposed to be quite good at the whole coaching thing) was what let me down last time and i was damned if i’d make that mistake again. I looked and instantly realised a right foot on the hold out left would leave me much more in balance, even if it felt more committing and slightly more scary. I forced myself to try it.

Scary didn’t matter. The first fall was fine, the second attempt and i latched the hold. I’d started the climb trying to touch on Flow State by sequencing the moves on the floor and now knew i was past the crux and stable. This was it, one more move and a top out.

Someone asked me later that evening, how many attempts i’d had. “Three sessions” i told him. “Three sessions?!” he replied, slightly aghast. I nodded. This is hard climbing, this is where i want to be again, and it doesn’t come easy.

Only on the send, it does. On that final go when you find yourself screaming the word YES!!! as you top out over the top of the climb, it does come easy. Everything clicks into place. It all comes together.

That wasn’t why i was shouting though, and apologies to anyone who heard me. It is hard to explain the emotion that comes from succeeding after a project like that, even one that hasn’t lasted that long. We, as people, put meaning into all sorts of things (just look at horoscopes) and for us boulderers, climbing a handful of moves in one go without falling off can feel like the whole world has opened up in front of you. I’d done it, i’d climbed 7c again. Much like Liverpool FC chief executive Peter Moore said this week about my beloved football team, i feel back on my perch. And it is sooooo good.

Seven 7s: coming soon

You’ll notice there are no photos with this post and that is because i did not take any. It is hard work taking photos of yourself when you’re climbing alone and Tess is USELESS at taking photos…

What i have been doing is videoing my ascents with a view to compiling them into a film. The name of said film with be Seven 7s and they will all be from the local area. I currently have six recorded that are suitable (plus a couple that are poor) so only one more to go. Watch this space.

In the meantime, have a picture of the dog to keep you sated.

Getting Out, Getting In, Getting Strong Again

Firstly, apologies for not posting for over a month; especially with so much going on that is worth writing about! At the end of August, i left my job at Plas y Brenin and decided to try and make it on my own as a self-employed climbing coach.

My business, Prowess Climbing Coaching, has technically been running for about a year now, although with a full schedule already, it was impossible to grow as there was no time for potential clients. Now i’ve taken the plunge, freelancing where i can and trying to build a client base. Where before i was busy, suddenly i became different busy and my diary became my bible.

Still, the initial onslaught has calmed down and this has given me the chance to catch up on being me a little more again. Better still is that all this time spent in the climbing walls – coupled with the sessions i’ve managed while conducting interviews for my masters degree – has left me in a really strong position now i’m back at the crag…

Wavelength Sends

After months of cleaning, Josh and myself were finally at a point where we were ready to attack our new boulder and were just waiting on a suitable weather window. Once my last day at the Brenin had come and gone, we headed up for one last cleaning session together (Josh put in a little more effort in the following week) before that first day of climbing finally came.

Alas, while my schedule had now freed up, Josh was still working five days a week and when we decided the rock would likely not be dry enough – coupled with the knowledge that my friend still has many classics to tick off before worrying about putting up more – we shifted plans to the Wavelength boulder to have a blast on King of Drunks 7a.

It’s such a classic line that anyone operating around that grade should really tick it off at some point; more so now that there is a stand up variation at 6c. Much as i don’t normally agree with splitting existing problems, this one does make sense, with the start being incredibly powerful while the top is very different in being more technical. Josh, i’m pleased to say, ticked off the stand ably and now has the sit to come back to.

While i personally have ticked most of the routes on that boulder, i was happy to support my friend and repeat problems for the day. King of Drunks fell quickly and, more pleasingly, the right hand variant also yielded with little effort once i remembered the foot beta. Promising indeed! One of the last outstanding lines for me is Wavelength itself, at 7c. I miraculously and luckily flashed the stand several years ago but the sit has always alluded me. While it did the same again, i was much closer than expected and left feeling buoyed by my efforts of the day.

The Heavy Week

More indoor sessions kept me topped up and feeling strong, not least the send of an Indy 7b+ in one night. On my first dedicated Masters study day, i found my mind racing and myself unable to concentrate, looking out the window at a glorious day. I long since learned that it is pointless to persevere in these situations, you’re better to go and clear your head with what is distracting you and come back fresh and ready to work. I looked at my out of date List and plumped for a spin on the Barrel, and Barrel Groove 7c.

I didn’t think i’d get very far with a climb that the guide describes as having “barely adequate holds” so, glancing another boulder on the circuit higher up, figured i’d start there. Couple of 6cs, a 7a+, a 7b, they seemed more attainable and it turned out i was right: Summit o Nothing 6c+ and Summer Telse 7a+ both flashed. Me surprised. Bag of Sticks 7b had nettles under the start and terrible feet so down to the Groove to see how it went.

Turns out it went very well. VERY well in fact and after a spot of video beta and a few burns, i’d got it wired and was linking moves together. By the time someone wandered up to join me, i was almost linking the whole climb and when i ran out of time and had to collect the kids, i had slapped the top hold twice, only not in enough control to stay on it.

Maximum Muppetry

Wednesday morning rolled around and despite the knowledge that the following day was earmarked for our first blast on the Birch Tree Boulder, i couldn’t help myself. Where i went wrong was my complete and total inability to self-coach. Worse than that, despite filming literally every single attempt in case it went, i didn’t even think to watch one of them back.

Two and a half fucking hours i spent with the wrong foot beta, using energy and wasting time i did not have. After you pull off the floor, you place a heel in the break to your left and reach up with the right hand. Once you’ve done this, the toe sneaks into the top of the break in a heel-toe cam and you reach up left. What you should not do is place the toe in the break early, as this prevents the hips from twisting in and means you can no longer easily reach the first right hand hold. And yet, despite the fact that from the outside i’d have seen this instantly and despite the fact a two minute scroll through the video of the previous day would’ve told me, every time i pulled off the floor, the toe went in and i came crashing back down.

By the time i realised it was too late and Josh had just text me to say the Birch Tree Boulder was dry. It’s one of the hardest things to do, to pull yourself away from a project that nearly yields. Not quite as hard as finishing the project though…

First Ascenting At Last

Delays the next day gave us an hour less than i’d intended but it couldn’t be helped and soon enough, at long last, we were sat on pads under our project boulder with rock boots in hands and smiles on faces. What we were facing was totally unknown, other than the fact we knew it would be satisfying. The face itself looks incredible and the idea of putting our own lines up, naming and grading them made us slightly giddy.

The climbing itself didn’t disappoint in terms of quality, although i’ve learned that with first ascents, they always feel much better on that first day than they do later. You’ve got a lot invested in this problem and i think you project that into the problem. Repeating them later often gives a better gauge. My Crane though, around 6b+ stand and 6c+ sit, will be as good next time as it was this time around. Named after Mike Raine, who informed us of this bloc back in the spring, i was glad to put this one up, with good moves on satisfying holds.

My project line Roohan proved to be exactly what i was hoping for, much to my dismay in a very Oscar Wilde fashion as i was hoping it would be mid-7s but also wanted to get it in one session. Given my week to this point, they were unlikely to align, especially as the slopers didn’t suit me at all.  Again, though, the moves were excellent and i am really hoping that when it finally falls, the route named after my two daughters will do them proud.

Meanwhile, In From The Cold

Very quickly, all this extra time indoors has seen me test myself against a variety of venues and their local strong boys. With the Masters dragging me across the country, i’ve visited three walls, getting a climb in at two of them (didn’t get time in Kendal). Plus, of course, normal service at the Indy.

However the Indy is one of the few walls these days that still grade their problems [insert rant about the ineptitude of top end setter-climbers to be able to offer a grade with enough confidence, even if it is over 7a and still with set-by-colour]. What that’s meant is that i’m pretty much first ascenting indoors again; walking through the door, looking at the grade boundaries, finding i can flash the bottom of the top boundary and so i’ve got one or two colours to challenge me.

That in itself isn’t a criticism, more another boost for my current levels. Both at Stronghold in London and at the Works in Sheffield, i was quickly trying some of the hardest routes in the wall and left feeling very good about myself. Things are looking good right now and i am growing in optimism for the Spring with every passing week. Goal: 8a is officially on.

Substance or Style?

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

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

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

The Big Problem

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

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

 

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

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

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

Flash in the pan

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

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

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

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

I really need to work my weaknesses.

A Hat Trick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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