Category Archives: Mymbyr and Bull’s Eye Boulders

Dampened Expectations

When you go on a bad trip, it’s a travesty. When you play host to people and it’s a bad trip, it feels even worse.

We’ve all been there: hounded by bad weather or a lack of suitable options, or any of a multitude of factors that can mean your rare week off can not quite match your expectations. I’ve had my fair share – frozen to death in Magic Wood, boiled and lost in Frankenjura, rained on for a week in Daone, overwhelmed in Font and of course, the Ill Fated summer of 2013 with Fredrik.

Well the man in question came for his biannual visit last week, this time with his brother in tow. After months of planning and discussion, he finally arrived at Bangor station late into the night and was collected in the Green Machine ready for a week of sending.

While the weather was typically session killing, every morning of the week, we awoke to a wet outside that was painstakingly drying out. Yes, it meant we could still get out but it severely limited our options.

Not for day one, though, as Sheep Pen was on the cards one way or another – only a week of driving hell would prevent a day to one of North Wales greatest bouldering crags. In truth, it was a great session too, with sends galore including The Pinch 7a+ for Fredrik and Toe Dragon 6c+ for Tobias; the first of that grade for him and a prompt for a bottle of champagne for dinner. I even made some progress on Jerry’s Problem 7c+, although not much, and we had a visit from Emily.

Alas, though, as the days are now quite short, the success was all too brief; the downside of coming over so late in the year. The up side to that was it gave us plenty of down time, so back home and into the kitchen to cook up some hearty British meals.

I had planned to make sure we were well fed throughout the week and didn’t disappoint. The menu for the week included pan haggerty, bangers and mash, Welsh rarebit, fish and chips, shepherd’s pie and of course, bacon butties. And that doesn’t include the large bag of pies and pastries for lunches.

On to the second day and on to Rhiw Goch, with a personal aim this time: a correct ascent of Badgers In The Mist 7c. With my success on the direct variation, i was hoping that the ground work had been laid. I was wrong. It turns out that direct is as different a problem as you could get and my abject effort means i’m resigned to starting again on a problem i’d already had on my ticklist a week before. The frustration from that was carried through to the next day. Where the sun had basked us and dried the boulders of the previous days, Friday was no such luck. Wild and windy meant that when we headed out to the open boulders in search of dry rock, we were blasted from all sides. By the time we got home, with ascents of Utopia Left Hand 6c and King of Drunks 7a in the bag, we were windburned and wiped out.

With a promising forecast for Saturday, we were hoping that it would be the crowning day of a mediocre week. Supposedly dry, sunny and with a light breeze, the plan was Crafnant: a new crag for me meaning plenty to tick off. The downside? Quite a drive and a twenty minute walk in up a steep hill. It was also an unknown quantity, a risk, and it was probably this that led to our downfall.

Around two o’clock, we arrived only to find the air heavy with humidity, the sun hiding away behind a blanket of cloud and every single rock covered in what felt like fairy liquid. Even moving around felt nigh on impossible and the vast majority of problems unclimbable.

We looked and after some indecision, we reluctantly retreated. It was a tough choice as it meant we were restricting ourselves to a headtorch session somewhere but even in hindsight, i’d say it was the right one. Where we went wrong was gambling it would be in nick in the first place.

The evening session on the Cromlech wasn’t that bad though, with Tobias (undoubtedly the most succesful of our troupe throughout the week) getting yet more bits done before Fredrik had a semi-triumphant blast on Bus Stop 7b+. My poor showing on Diesel Power 8a highlighted my level of exhaustion after a summer of sends.

The Swedes’ flight wasn’t until the evening and with the best weather of the week so far, it seemed churlish not to get out. One last effort meant time to pick a project and Fredrik was keen to try Prowess – my three-star 7b line in a north facing forest that won’t catch the sun until March… In short, one of the few places i was pretty certain wouldn’t be in nick.

But projects are projects and i was very keen for my friend to try my super line. Armed with brushes and chalk, we trudged in and got to cleaning but sadly to no avail. Tobias tweaked his shoulder on Bull’s Eye 7a and Fredrik failed to nail the first crux, albeit getting the standing start 6b+ as a consolation.

At Crafnant, Fredrik squeezed in another new line and named it Dampened Expectations. It’s an apt description of the week, for while we all hoped it would be the trip of a lifetime, i don’t think it’s one that will sit in the upper echelons of experiences. The one consolation: it was fun to see my friend for the week.

Milestones: Storeman’s Legacy 7a+ and Prowess 7b

This is part one of a series of posts all about the turning points in my climbing career. From single moves to huge time spans, these are the events that shaped me into the climber and person i am today. 

I’ll be posting a new one every few days so keep an eye on the blog for the latest or, if not, they will appear in one beast of an article at the end of the series. Feel free to comment and let me know of some of your own highlights, i’d greatly enjoy hearing some of your own. 

Storeman’s Legacy 7a+ and Prowess 7b

I dare say, every climber that develops past a certain point dreams of a first ascent. It’s drummed into us through film and article that it’s the pinnacle of climbing achievement. Just look at Chris Sharma: granted he was one of the strongest climbers of any time when he rose to fame, leagues ahead of his peers, but it was only when he began putting up his own lines that people really started to think he was up there in the pantheon of the best.

If you can’t put up new lines at the cutting edge, putting up any new lines is a close second. The vast majority of people won’t climb the hardest routes in the world (almost by definition) but to put something new into the sport is equally as sought-after.

For me, i would say it was half luck and half perseverance. Many had searched the woods of Bryn Engan, opposite Plas y Brenin in Capel Curig over the years in an attempt to find more lines to go with the long-established Brenin Boulder but to no avail. All that sat along the six established lines was Chris Davies hard highball.

The fact that i succeeded owes as much to available time to search as anything else. Once i started work at the Brenin, hour long lunches meant i had little else to do. Walking through the woods, off the beaten track, would reveal something eventually.

That said, it’s only half luck. My first find, the Mymbyr Boulder, had also been found by local activist Jon Ratcliffe years before, and dismissed. I saw potential and again, with a lack of suitable alternative activities, began brushing.

Slapping up the first few hard moves of Prowess
Slapping up the first few hard moves of Prowess

Neither of the mentioned problems were my first, that was Christmas Comes Early 4+, and even that wasn’t my first first – that is to be found in Sweden and is called Call It A Four 5+. But Storeman’s was the first on that block that taxed me, the one i will always think of (rightly or wrongly) as my first proper first.

Prowess meanwhile was my first hard first. Now given 7b, it’s not easy by most people’s standards and when done, was right near the top of the graph, only half a grade off my hardest accomplishments at the time. It’s changed the way i see the world, looking for new lines where before i saw nothing and the effort and multiple sessions, as well as hours of brushing, all added to make me feel i had left something substantial there for others.

Prowess Success

The following post follows on from The Almost Sector and not The Almost Problem, as i didn’t realise i had an unpublished piece when i wrote this. It’s still good though so i decided not to change it. Things will hopefully go back to normal next time. 

I’ve just logged in to make the latest post and realised how much had happened since my last one!

So we’ll go through things chronologically. The Monday following our unplanned evening walk around the Gelert forest, i returned for a planned wander, determined to figure out where the hell these rocks are, even if i didn’t pull off the floor. Armed with dog and Ruth, after a look online at UKclimbing and a chat with Tim Peck, i realised what we’d done wrong and was kicking myself for not getting there the first time.

The Beddgelert forest has been reasonably popular for decades; a spot i remember my folks taking me on the mountain bike when i was knee high to a grasshopper. However, in the last three or four years, it has had a surge in upkeep – a new car park, new and improved paths. And Si’s approach was from back in 2009, before the big tidy. As such, it turns out we parked in entirely the wrong place. For anyone visiting, i would suggest parking immediately once you have left the main road and cross the railway here. From here, Si’s directions are spot on, and can be found here on the original post. I’ve also taken a GPS reading at the site, and logged it on 27crags.

This doesn’t distract that, while a reasonable place to go, the area lacked the wow factor one would hope for – a fact eluded to by Charlie before we set off. She had said that Shocker is a much better area, and i quite agree – the namesake line grabs the eye from a jumbled collection of stunning boulders perched in the woodland. It’s Shocker that i’m now determined to visit and tick.

Anyway, all that was on the Monday and while i was working late on the Tuesday, i was away on Thursday for five days; visiting family and friends, working on the Land Rover and maybe climbing some grit. This left Wednesday night.

Prowess had been playing on my mind, after coming so close on the last visit. Progress had been remarkably swift and all i now needed, i thought, was a spotter and a brief weather window. I peered out the window from the minute i arrived at work to around 4 o’clock when, to my dismay, it began to rain.

Big, dense, heavy drops fell from the sky, soaking every inch below. Just as i began to admit defeat, about ten minutes in, it stopped and one eyebrow raised. Could it go? It was dry at lunch when i wandered up to check, it’s clean and dries pretty quick, could it still go?

We went for it: myself, Niels, Karen and Jimbob trudging up the hillside to my hidden little spot. It was dry and there was enthusiasm from my compadres at how the problems looked, with Prowess unsurprisingly taking the limelight.

Bull’s Arse served as the first warm up, being reasonable and fairly easy graded. A quick blast on Bull’s Eye followed although Niels didn’t quite feel it and opted to skip the Protrusion due to it’s bollock-crushing potential. Instead, right to the point.

We chucked the pads under the project line, me confident that it would go very soon. Niels was keen, Jimbob confirmed it (probably) hadn’t been done before and i was stoked. Sit down, grab undercling with left, ledge with the right, pounce for the exposed sloper wondering if it would be dry enough. Niels and Jimbob had inspected and given a poor verdict, Niels had tried a few moves and thought the sloper damp. I hit it and, for some reason, possibly sheer obstinance, thought it was fine.

A few tries, some better than others, and suddenly i found myself high up, at the point i had refused to commit on my previous session. Three voices spurred me on, the heel went around the arete and i put my trust in the trio stood below me. Reach up slowly with the right hand, grab the arete and go; it’s easier and safer to go up than down now. Left hand hit the mini jug, right found the thank god jug and it was there, i’d done it.

Niels tried a bit more but decided another session or more was needed. He was obviously excited though, which meant as much as getting the thing done. I’ll happily go and spot him in return and am thoroughly indebted to my friends for their help and support. He might appreciate that, considering he noticed that half the entire face was a bit hollow… So be warned if you head up there!

The one sour point of the session was the toll it took on my shoulder. I knew it was saw as we walked up but ignored it in the knowledge this would be my last chance for a few weeks. Now it’s a bit knackered, and the recovery is proving tough. C’est la vie.

I neglected to ask anyone to take any photos or video of the actual first ascent but did have half a flick from a previous attempt. Below are some stills taken from said video. If you’d like to go up there, let me know, i’ll gladly take anyone up to explore and see what you think.

In the mean time, it’s back to searching and i may well have found another peach of a spot…

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The Almost Problem

This post was originally written some time ago but for some reason was not published. So it’s being published now, retrospectively, as often happens with trip reports. 

What do you do when you can’t find anyone to climb with but still want the company? You go somewhere you wouldn’t have taken anyone anyway.

Today was unexpectedly stunning; it was supposed to be dry granted, but i wasn’t anticipating it being as good as it has been for the past week again. The gloriouscity was just too good to pass up and after fruitless texts, washing up done and Cerys Matthews fabulous radio show over, I figured I’d go and have a good go at Prowess again.

Yesterday was a deluge: relentless rain that soaked tess on her lunchtime walk so much so everything in the landy was still wet from condensation today. As such, logic told me to head somewhere open and had someone replied, i’d have probably gone to Sheep Pen or the Caseg boulders, to try The Pinch V7 or The Gimp V8. Nevertheless, it was so sunny and pleasant from the moment i woke that i was pretty sure i’d be okay.

Turns out i was spot on – my forest boulders drying surprisingly quickly. I’d been similarly shocked previously on the Mymbyr Boulder; another i need to return to and finish off. I drove as close as i could, the forest tracks proving very useful, and dragged my three best pads up the hillside. As a warm up, i moved the growing cairn to a more suitable location, repeated King Arthur’s Allowance ad Fluffion before adding another new line, OGYDd 6c+. Then, at a rather relaxed pace, i started on Prowess again.

By the time i’d finished, the palms of my hands were hurting as the tendons strained, and i could no longer grab the holds with any conviction. Considering the exposed nature of prows and the two adjacent blocks making it a small corridor, i was forced to make a tactical retreat. It was frustrating, knowing that i was once again so close but every hard session confirms my suspicion that this is indeed a hard line.

I’d be a very bold man indeed to give it V10, especially as i’ve not climbed one before. It’s bold enough to give it V9, as i find it as taxing as both Rock Attrocity and Bus Stop and it may still get V8+ (or 7b+). It is impossible to know, to be certain, and i’m desperate for someone else to come try it. It just means i have to finish it first. At those grades, that won’t be any time soon; more so with a week of bad weather coming. At least i know when it dries next, i won’t have to wait much longer. I hope.