Category Archives: Local Excursions

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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Not Better or Worse, They’re Different

My second time on Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and we’re off to a rocky start, in so many ways.

I’m very conscious of mentioning Rosie every time i talk about Hannah – it can’t be nice to be continually compared to your older sibling. In this case, though, i drew inspiration from the first time around and built on previous experience. Makes sense really.

Thus, on day two of SPL 2.0, i packed up the child and the pads and headed off to the very same crag from two years ago: Caseg Ffraith in the Ogwen Valley.

I’ve looked up the first photo from that first time (see below) and Roo doesn’t look happy. It obviously didn’t last as i remember that being a pretty good session, with the caption confirming that somewhat. And that is where the parallels end. The setting may have been the same but the reaction certainly was not. These two are, after all, totally individual.

Today has made me realise quite how little i’ve developed a relationship with Hannah thus far in her life. This is, of course, the reason for SPL in the first place and again, i do wish more people would take advantage of it. Hannah is not a fan of being left alone, and cried as soon as i topped out the first climb and disappeared over the top of the crag. Distraction didn’t work that well and putting her in the ball pit taken to contain the beast resulted in more screaming.

I’d managed a pitiful warm up before i realised time was of the essence today and need to step it up quick. I’m not one for long warm ups, having conditioned myself over years of poor starts at places lacking in easy options, but even by my loose standards, performing to any sort of level after this was unlikely. The more i tried, the more she cried and i was trying anything i could think of to keep her occupied.

Back in the car seat, now she had some finger food which allowed me a short while to have a blast. Crucially i managed to recreate the old photo of myself and Rosie that appeared on The Project Magazine for an article i’d written on just this topic. Alas, it didn’t last and soon enough her attention waned and we ran out of puffs…

Giving her the packet – a popular and noisy toy for this little terror – bought me enough time for three or four attempts at Boneyard 7b. It’s a tough beast, this climb, sapping energy and requiring the climber to complete what is a difficult dyno in itself after seven snappy moves. With such poor tactics (enforced by baby, granted) i had little chance and soon enough realised that a crinkly packet wouldn’t cut it any more and time was up.

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There's a nice parallel here: this was the first crag I took Rosie and today, I introduced this stunning valley to Hannah and continued with #babyatthecrag. It is always important to remember how every child is different though. The irony is that in the first incarnation of this shot, Rosie didn't look happy but allowed me to climb. Hannah looks like she's loving it here. It didn't last. Every baby, like every person, is individual and requires you to interact with them on their own terms. Where Rosie was independent, Hannah prefers to be held and comforted. It'll be interesting to see how this month ahead goes. #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #mountains #scenery

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Hannah has been exclusively breast fed right the way up to beginning weaning and even now, getting liquid into her is a challenge. What this has potentially meant is that she likes the closeness and comfort of being held. Meanwhile, she hasn’t had much exposure to the outdoors at this stage, unlike but primarily because of her sister. While #babyatthecrag is feasible, toddler at the crag is a totally different proposition with significantly bigger consequences. Once they start crawling, the goalposts move drastically and you’re in a totally different game.

This may contribute to the poor day, or it may be something else. Maybe this is an off day, maybe my standards and expectations are too high after being so successful last time. I don’t know but i do know if i’d persevered more, tempers would’ve flared. Now is time to calm down, regroup, learn the lessons and get ready for the next time out.

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.

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

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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.

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

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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…

Flying High

Now that our fantastic family trip is done and dusted, it’s time to turn my attention back to climbing; this is primarily a climbing blog anyway. More to the point, i have exciting climbing related news.

Exorcising Lake Demons

My last five posts related to our family holiday to the Lakes, which was awesome. One day was dedicated to climbing for me, with the tribe chilling around the base of the Bowderstone and while i did talk about it in Restoring Parityi wanted to quickly revisit this as that day has turned out to be quite a turning point for me this year.

The plan was always the Bowderstone; after all, this was somewhere that potentially could’ve transformed my climbing when i lived in the north west, if only i’d actually tried. However, the reputation of this mammoth boulder is well established and i was conscious that if i didn’t play this right, i could easily end up leaving with nothing.

Eagerly anticipating this once in a long time chance, i’d spent substantial time before we left watching videos of ascents on the stone and knew what i was heading for: Picnic Sarcastic 7a+. It was about the right grade for a session with a 7b sit start to go with it. I honestly didn’t think they’d both go but it seemed like the most tactical approach i could take.

As we were ahead of the new guide, i was conscious of struggling to find the right climbs too. Thankfully, i made a friend who pointed out much beta, as well as where lines started and finished. He even offered a crucial spot too as i soon found myself matched on the last hold, my mission accomplished. From here, it was almost as if the pressure was off and before i knew it, the sit had fallen quickly and i was looking for something else. Still wanting to be tactical, i opted for another 7a+ (or so i thought, it turned out to be 7a) Statstick and promptly flashed it. I finished off with a questionable tick of Power Pinch 7b to fire me into sheer bliss, even if the finish could’ve been cleaner.

It just goes to show the importance of tactics, even in a non-competitive activity. It really did make a crucial difference and this whole experience has even spurred me into writing an article for my sister-site Prowess Coaching, which will hopefully appear very soon.

Finding Form and New Lines Back Home

As i said in my recent posts, this was our only climbing of the trip so once we got back and i was supposed to be back on study days, i used the “holiday” excuse and headed out again. Well, i say that, i wanted to but Tuesday fell by the wayside, due to last minute changes of plan and visiting friends, so i ended up tidying my desk, the house and then having a late night swim.

I’ve been back in the pool a bit more recently, especially when Em was away and i’m finding not only is it great cross training, because it’s so intense for an hour, it works out quite nicely with the family. What i didn’t anticipate this Tuesday – as much as the sessions are normally quite tough – was the brutal hour of medley i had in store. That meant that when i went to go out on Wednesday morning, the ache was a bit worse than i would’ve wanted.

It turned out not to matter. Indecision reigned supreme but there’s always logic if you look hard enough and given the recent dry spell, and the cool conditions, i figured i’d check out Super Hans 7b in the Aberglaslyn while it was likely in good nick.

It seems my Lakeland form is continuing and Super Hans fell quickly. After my sluggish start and slow walk in, i didn’t have that long but it was plenty enough to tick off this project from last year. Chuffed, i started looking for what to try next…

Dogface 7c looks much more likely than i’d thought before but i wasn’t in the mood to start working that, especially considering what i’d spotted to the left: to the left of the sloper of Super Hans is an enormous sidepull and left of this is L’Edge. It seemed logical to link them.

To my surprise, it worked! Feet are scant and i ended up doing a ludicrously awesome Egyptian in the middle of the climb before a very tentative snatched match of the sloper. I filmed the first ascent in poor quality and tried three more times to repeat it. I couldn’t get it a second time but i did get enough to splice together a rather nice little video of Doggle 7b (first ascent).

New Years Resolutions?

That first ascent of Doggle was my fourth 7b of the season to sit alongside two 7b+. Combined with a stack of 7a+ this has pushed my yearly average up to 7b by the middle of April. That was actually my goal for the season…

I’m not criticising my goal setting, as again there was no way to anticipate such success in such a short amount of time. The problem i have now is that to push this average up to 7b+ is no easy task. In 2016, the year i ticked Jerry’s Problem 7c+, my hardest ascent to date, my average for the year was 7b+. So this is gonna be tough.

In the Lakes last week, knowing this goal might go sooner than the end of the season, i scribbled some maths to work out how to push it to the next level. Simple answer is it’s tough. Realistically, it would involve climbing two 7c at least and that is no mean feat. Four 7b+ could work, and would be more logical but tracking them down won’t be easy and 7c is far more likely, as weird as that sounds.

Travelling may be key here and as long as i’m climbing at or above that average, it’ll carry on going up. It is also important not to get too engrossed in this either, maintaining a process-focus rather than an outcome-focus (for more information on this, read this but be warned: it seems very biased towards one system and both have their merits).

In the interests of that, and safe in the knowledge that come end of season this will be a success, i’m going to make the unprecedented step of adjusting my season goal. Staying process-focused is important but all those years without these seasonal goals and a little bit of outcome-focus only got me so far.  7b+ is likely unachievable but if the Bowderstone taught me anything it’s that you’ll never achieve any goal if you don’t try. Let’s see how we get on!

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A pad for me to carry, a pad for @emks93… And I'm still very grateful that she carries anything at all. I get a lot of support for my fun and games from my better half and it does not go unnoticed. I'm having my best climbing season in years right now and she deserves a lot of the credit; not only lugging some of my crap around and bringing the family to enjoy the time with me but allowing me the time to go and do my thing alone, congratulating me after a hard ascent and consoling me when things don't go to plan. I can't thank her enough. #lakesbouldering #lakedistrict #lakestrip #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion

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