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A Single Session Send

After going on in my last post about success not being measured by sending problems, i only went and had a super sesh in the pass on Sunday!

Lizard King is a north walean classic 7c, much sought after and on many a climbers to-do list. I’d first had a look in July 2011 – and to be honest, i had didn’trealise it was that long ago until i literally just looked it up to type that! That would certainly explain why i’d not really given it much thought at the time; my hardest tick back then was a solitary 7b in Parisella’s Cave.

It does look a bit intimidating too, or would have then of course. After my scouting mission, it had seemed much more likely but as mentioned, the landing was worrying me slightly. So i’d opted to chuck the low version on the List at V8. After a day out at the beach with my family and the inlaws, it was the perfect venue for a quick blast.

To be true, i wasn’t that keen as i drove up there; sluggish and not entirely stoked for it. Then, as i was at the Cromlech boulders, i watched two pads walk their way along the bottom of the Pont y Cromlech slabs and reasoned they had to be  heading for the same spot. After all, there’s not much else there.

Turned out that they were actually heading for Emyr’s Arete 7a+, the climb i’d done when there all those years ago. They’d had a mammoth day, at the Milestone boulders, the RAC boulders, the Roadkill Block in the Gwynant valley and now here. Not bad for two climbers with only three legs between them!

They were the nicest guys – slightly unhinged in that brilliant way you often find with climbers. They were so enthusiastic and down to earth, it made me pretty glad to have made the short walk up.

They ticked off Emyr’s pretty quick only to look up at a hopeful me pointing at Lizard King Low. If truth be told, i’d only taken one pad with with me and the prospect of two more for a tenuous low traverse made me feel a little better. Moreover, these boys were barrels of fun.

Sadly, i hadn’t warmed up anywhere near enough and the tendons in my fingers were only just beginning to calm down their powerful screams as my companions decided to call it a (hugely successful) day, leaving me with some hard moves and a slightly grassy landing. Fair play to them though for joining me in the first place; they’d already bagged two V5, a V6 and two V7 at this stage! Now i’d persuaded them onto a V8 too. The call of an Indian takeaway was always going to be stronger than mine.

Not quite knowing what to do but only just being warm now, i figured i’d just work the moves and as the first was the toughest, i’d get that nailed. A tactical shoe change and a subtly different left foot hold and suddenly i was latching the first move.

Then, wanting to get it dialled in, i gave it another blast and suddenly found myself hanging the finger jug rail. Now i was no longer over the pad and pondered very quickly what to do. At one point i swung a foot out to try and drag the pad under me but thankfully missed as i’m sure that would’ve classified as a dab. It was decision time: step up or step off. I continued upwards.

Now anyone that knows this climb will be wondering what the hell i’m fussing about; it’s not high and not hard. But that landing had been (mistakenly playing on my mind. Plus, my confidence hasn’t been sky high lately. That and i’m a massive wuss.

I scrabbled over the horn feature like a first timer topping out. Seriously, even though no one else was there, it was embarrassing. Nevertheless, i didn’t touch the ground, didn’t go off route and had actually done it: V8 in a session!

In fact, i’d done more than that. I’d nailed a reasonably hard problem very quickly, true, but my mood had erupted after a somewhat sluggish start. I’d also found some much needed confidence and as daft as it sounds, just walking down to the car i felt so much more comfortable on my feet on rock. On the way up, i skirted carefully round the little rocky section of path. Now i danced my way purposefully through it. All of a sudden, i felt on top of the world. The only thing that could bring me down now was some sort of abominable and debilitating headache or something…

Sorry for the lack of pictures: my phone broke at the back end of last week so Instagram posts were out. I’ve also lost some of the old pictures from the scouting mission and being as i was expecting to be alone, hadn’t bothered with a camera proper. Fixed now, should have some snaps to brighten the next post. 

Final Score

I’m going to avoid the line, “i never win anything!”- it’s a tired old cliche and quite honestly, it’s almost never true. At least if it is, it’s most likely through a lack of effort!

One thing that you cannot claim with anyone reaching the end of an aggregate competition is a lack of effort! Make it to the end of six months of the same competition and you must have been doing something somewhere down the line.

With a total of around 350 problems set since the start of October, i managed a total of 318 and to be honest, there weren’t that many more i could’ve nailed without projecting for session after session. I date my sheet for every ascent and know that this year, there were at least three sessions where nothing fell. Without substantial effort, i’d hesitate that 320 might have been my max total.

It was enough to get me second place, beaten only by the local beast Wolf – fair play to you sir. That being said, as we chatted between ourselves the other day, we both said there are plenty of strong boys around North Wales who haven’t been playing this year; naming a handful that would’ve beaten us both with relative ease. Some just couldn’t commit the time, some not really that bothered, some struggling with injury but all better and stronger than us. But you can only compete against who is there and i’ll take second; a new high position.

I must admit, given my current circumstances, if i had gained that extra place, it would’ve said more about the current state of affairs on the Indy Aggregate than of my own abilities. This time last year, i hit new heights in climbing Jerry’s Problem – my first V10/7c+. This year, i am nowhere near those standards, as demonstrated yesterday during a day out at Parisella’s Cave.

Notoriously hard, the Cave of Justice takes no prisoners and gives little away for nothing. Brutally overhanging and polished to a high sheen, you earn your ticks there. It’s not somewhere that often grabs me as a destination (apart from anything else, Tess needs to be tied up due to the proximity of the road) but occasionally i’ll take a trip there and when James text me keen to climb on a day with an horrendous forecast, this was about our only decent option.

My high point (grade wise) in the cave remains my first V9, Rock Attrocity. After many sessions, i was there with a friend, Andy Marshall, and an inspired effort from him meant i kept my feet on and nailed it. On watching me sail through a line i’d been trying intensely for weeks, he showed me the Wobbly Block start which adds a grade but only two more moves that aren’t that hard. He showed me some sneaky beta – that i’ve now annoyingly forgotten – and i gave it a blast. A dab on the first move and fluffing the last match meant i couldn’t add the harder version to my ticklist but it felt good and i vowed to come back. The week later i got injured and then never went back.

An old shot from 2014 – around the time Rock Atrocity fell for me

Now it became the focus of my attention again. Driving over, i ran through the moves in my head, optimistic that it might actually go, buoyed by my recent successes in the aggregate.

It didn’t. Almost every move felt brutal, almost to the point of impossible and i found myself working moves long ago ingrained in my mind. Even the end sequence – usually not too taxing when attempted in isolation – felt desperate and wasn’t linked. In essence, it chewed me up and spat me out, cackling at me for good measure.

There are mitigating circumstances to this, in my defence as the conditions couldn’t be much worse for the cave. Rock Attrocity is an artificial line, with drilled pockets and a glued-on flake and even that was seeping in places. The polished holds held a fine drizzle  that skipped the famous sticky-damp and went straight to plain wet and outside the cave’s vast entrance, for the most part, water fell from the sky making everything just that little bit harder.

It wasn’t a complete waste, as Pillar Finish V6 nearly fell and i found some sneaky beta to tick off Parisella’s Roof V6/7. There are many lines in the cave i’ve not really tried much before, with Pillar Finish being one i’d simply missed and Parisella’s Roof having a heinous and committing finger lock half way through. Instead, i crimped the edge of it and found it fine. The aggregate had managed to get me up to some standard at least!

And of course there have been mitigating circumstances for the aggregate too. I have commented recently that getting together with Emily directly related to the downfall in my ability to climb boulders but i have also pointed out that before she came into my life, that i had nothing better to do than climb and train. Would i trade my life with her to be back to those levels? Not in a million years.

And of course it can’t be ignored that when the competition started in early October, Em was five months pregnant and needed my help and support. When it drew to an end, my beautiful and wonderful daughter was already five weeks old.

When talking about climbing, it’s common for me to say, “Life gets in the way” and this has never been more true now. With that comes a reassessment of what truly matters in life and finally having the family i’ve craved for over a decade will always far outweigh any desire to climb hard. The fact i’ve managed to juggle both to achieve what i have certainly makes me take a step back and smile to myself slightly.

Second place, whatever the circumstances, is still a great achievement! 40 people are on the list in my category alone and my score beats any in any other category as well. But of course, i never win anything. Oh, damn it….

Mixed Fortunes

When it’s not your week, it’s not your week and this week has been absolutely abject.

As was mentioned in a previous post, A Break From the Norm, i needed a weekend away from North Wales to recharge the batteries and revitalise my love of the place. In truth, it worked a treat and coincided nicely with a nasty cold i had contracted, rendering me almost useless.

I came back Monday night and pretty much headed straight to bed before going back to work on Tuesday. That evening, i was determined that i’d shaken off the worst of it and was keen to get back on it and, now that the Indy Aggregate had begun again, i was heading down to tick some problems.

It would be difficult to argue with 46 problems in a session, including a healthy number of 7s if i had felt anything close to healthy. Looking back, the coughing and spluttering rendered the session unwise. Fully fit it might have worked but considering i was struggling to breathe, it did take it’s toll.

What’s more, i managed to pump myself out to such an extent that it took until Saturday for the pain in my left forearm to subside. Wednesday i had a session in the wall at work, mainly coaching but that soon gave way to having a play on my outstanding project and discovering a hold had changed. It has now been substituted with another of a different colour, although this has now made the barely-possible dyno at the end even harder. I doubt i’ll be able to convince anyone else to try it again.

This session, of course, didn’t help my recovery in the slightest and Thursday, clenching my left fist caused large pain in my forearm. Nevertheless, desperate to get back to the form i’ve been in all summer, i opted to head out to the remaining unclimbed project, called Hiding in Plain Sight (with a sit down start to be named Planing in Hindsight).

Once again, this turned out to be an error and despite not starting until nearly 6, i was done before nightfall at 7:30, my forearm still giving me grief and my energy levels still very low. Whether i wanted to or not, i had to rest.

An evening with Ruth and Ffion on Friday came as a welcome distraction and meant i was pretty much back to normal after just over a week. The clincher was Saturday night, following Wales agonising defeat to the Aussies in the rugby, i headed back to the Indy to try and get a few more off the sheet.

Of the 70 problems to have gone up, i’ve now done 58, with two that could be flashable left to do and a couple of others just waiting to be finished. And then tonight, i’ve been back in the Pass.

On a first aid course this weekend, i’ve enjoyed finishing an hour-and-a-half early today and went to check out Love Pie 7c on the Pieshop boulder. A one-move wonder, i was achingly close in just a short single session and now have the beta wired for the next one. Sadly, it’s all on that left forearm again…

So things have started to look up, with a bonus this week: two days ago, i posted an article called The Teaching Conundrum, on the merits of teaching youngsters do jump from the top or climb down. I posted it on my Facebook profile and was astounded as the view count went through the roof. By midnight, the page alone had seen nearly 150 views – 30 more than any page on any day on my entire site.

While there were some comments disagreeing afterwards (and justly so) it did get a lot of traffic onto my site and did get people thinking. And i guess those are the two things the site is for! I hope you enjoy it or that. And thanks for reading.

Milestones: Leaving The Rescue Team

This is part seven 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. 

Due to the delicate nature of Rescue, i have very few photos and those i do have i’d prefer not to add. As such, this is going to be an exclusively text based post. If you want to see the type of thing the Ogwen team get up to, check out their Facebook page

Leaving the Rescue Team

I’d always said i wanted to join a rescue team one day and when Ken Dwyer, a stalwart of the Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Team and good friend and colleague, sadly passed away, there was no voice left to dissuade me.  Instead, words of encouragement could be found in regulars and team members coming into the shop. With the words of an ex ringing in my ears regarding giving something back to the community, i filled in my blue form and applied.

There was scepticism, not least from myself with my prowess on trad climbs less than impressive, but i was rightly told if i don’t try, i’ll never know. So try it i did.

It ate my time but please don’t take that as a complaint. As well as attending some 45 callouts during my time on the team, i was present at almost every Wednesday night training session over the eighteen months of my trainee-ship and could often be found at base on weekends, training, learning and trying to learn the ropes. However, as time went by, my lack of exposure to exposure was exposed as the problem it was.

Technical climbing wasn’t a problem and i worked well as a packhorse – able to lug heavy loads quickly up the hill. The problem came on the bit in between: the loose, scrambley ground with low risk of problem but high consequence if i did have a slip. With bouldering, the consequence is normally minimal but the risk of failure and falling incredibly high – that’s kinda the point! Yet i couldn’t shake this when up on the mountains and accept that while the drop was huge, nothing was going to go wrong.

I tried. I enjoyed being a team member so much, i wasn’t going to walk away that easily, and i started going on multi-pitch mountain routes fairly regularly. I hated it but i had no choice: don’t go and i’m off the team. Those i climbed with were understanding and supportive like you couldn’t believe and i thank every one of them for their help. The hard fact is, though, that it didn’t work.

I reached a crossroads. At a meeting some six months after my inadequacies were brought to light, i was in a meeting to assess how it was going. I could have bluffed my way through, blamed extenuating circumstances and kidded not only them but myself that i could carry on but i knew it would only be a matter of time before it all came back to haunt me. One exposed scramble could put me in a very tight spot.

I reluctantly left the team, although on very good terms and with nothing but friends. Again, the support was immense and the door has been left for my potential return in years to come.

It was then, in November 2014, that i decided to finally give up on trad climbing. Something finally dawned on me that should’ve been obvious as far back as 2003: if you don’t like it, don’t do it. With that epiphany, and a sudden surge of available time, i threw my focus entirely on the discipline i truly love.

The timing worked well, right at the start of the aggregate, and i began to get much stronger. Other factors played a part but the weight off my mind from forsaking ropes and racks was key. Suddenly, i began to perform.

I do think that has led to a spike in my grade-graph since then. I loved my time on the rescue team and if i had my time again, would do exactly the same. I also plan to return one day but for now, i’m doing what i want to do. And it feels so good.

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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Bookends

So i said in my last post, I’m taking a break from climbing for a few months, concentrating on getting my general fitness back on track before beginning a winter of hard training. So far so good, I’m swimming twice a week, looking good, feeling good and am looking like I’ll be well at up to get back on the campus boards and fingerboards come November time. The issue at hand: what an i going to be training for?
So I got in touch with the crew from back in March, see if they’re keen for a repeat, somewhere new and i’m psyched to check out some German rock, maybe Pfalz, in the West. The response: “I’d be well up for another font trip”…
Ugh, i thought, I’ve done font to death over the last decade, i want somewhere new! Still, considering that trip was the best I’ve had, and the subsequent Spanish trip in June was similarly good because of the people there, I put on a brave face and agreed.
As I thought about it more, I realised this could be a new beginning for a more familiar place. Assuming a similar crop of chaps, there would be little need to revisit tourist hotspots and i could check out new crags, new places, new adventures without having to spend a day wasted at L’elephant again. There is so much there, so many classics that I’ve never seen, it could still present a trip to somewhere new while having an air of familiarity to make life easier.
My parents are having a similar conundrum. They’ve been hesitant to cross the channel on recent years and have suddenly decided to go for it, with my mum asking my advice. I remarked it would be perfect – the three of us toured France annually when I was young and a trip to Brittany would have the good balance of adventure and experience for them. Maybe I’m in the same boat, so to speak.
And it gives me something to aim at, which I’ve found is crucial to my sanity. A short term break is fine but I need things in my future to aim at. And I’ve just bought another guidebook too…

100 posts

WordPress flagged up to me that i’ve managed to get to the milestone of 100 blog posts during the last few weeks, although i was in the middle of publishing tales of my Spanish exploits at the time so instead of doing a big thing on the actual 100th post proper, here it is: this is my 104th blog post!

For anyone who has read them all: i do worry about you sometimes! But i do feel i owe you, and indeed any reader, regular or otherwise, a gesture of thanks. There is a satisfying feeling when you look at the statistics and find that you have a bit of a peak of readers, and without you, it would be pretty pointless writing anything. Thanks also go to those few who have commented over the years and i hope more of you comment in future to add direction and tell me where i’m going wrong (and preferably, where i’m going right!).

The original idea stemmed from working in the shop and offering advice on Fontainebleau. After writing the same information time and again on scraps of paper, i decided to make life easier and get a website to give them instead. It then occurred that i could carry this on for all the foreign destinations i’ve visited. Some four years later and it’s improved a bit, there are more destinations, a links page, the occasional article – you can see it all for yourself really but it’s a LONG way off from being the finished article. The format needs to change, more photos need to go up and i need to keep writing the content. In fact, if you can think of any suggestions or have any feedback, i’d love to hear it. Post below or e-mail me at chezdelabloc@gmail.com

In the mean time i’m writing more content, improving the destinations pages, adding and adjusting as i can and most importantly, getting away as much as i can! Thanks again for reading, please post a comment below to let me know how i’m getting on (and that i’m not just talking to myself) and here’s to the next milestone!

 

(Temporarily) Absent Friends

This week’s post is dedicated to my friends and colleagues, Andy and Tim (not of Stefan and Cherry fame). They currently find themselves in the Italian area of Switzerland, on a bouldering trip to the world class area, Ticino and to the best of my knowledge, it’s Andy’s first foreign climbing trip. We’ve been trying to talk him into it for ages when Tim finally achieved it and they left last Sunday with two friends, ten pairs of shoes and as many pads as they could cram into the car with them.

I’m quite jealous as i find myself in an unusual situation too: i’m rarely privy to mates going off on a trip to boulder in Europe before. I’ve had plenty who’ve gone sport climbing, Alpine ascenting or even off to the big walls, but never on a trip to the blocs. I think i probably owe them an apology, for all the unwanted advice i dispensed before they left but they’re there now. free from the sounds of my incessant ramblings and hopefully getting plenty done; i know they had plenty in mind and a little ticklist.

I’m also jealous of their chosen venue. Ticino has been on my ticklist since back in 2006 with the ill-fated three-day stint in Cresciano and my jaunt to Magic Wood in November 2012 has added to my desire to go and explore this world-famous area. Don’t get me wrong though, the green eyed monster doesn’t mean i don’t hope they have a stunning trip and i’m really keen to see their photos once they’re back next week. Chances are though it’ll be more video footage than stills though, as is the norm with Andy, and in keeping with the last couple of weeks, i’ve found a video online that gives you an idea as to what they’re up to. It’s not them but to be honest, it would be exactly what i’d have thought they’d be up to.

Either which way, i really do hope they all have a good trip, with good conditions. Check out the vid, see what you think.

 

what’s “dog” in German again?

So,  no posts since March? There could only be two explanations: either i’ve been so busy that i had no time to blog or i’ve not done owt worth talking about. Oddly, considering this has been the best year since i moved to Cymru (Wales for the uninitiated), it’s the latter.

There was even a week off in April when plans to Spain and then Ireland both fell through and i spent a week at home doing bugger all. There have been a handful of days along the way, such as last week at the Caseg boulders where we were chased out by midge after half an hour, all following a similar pattern. And, i’ve been going through one of those slumps in psyche.

Well, all is about to change, with any luck; i’m yet again in Birmingham, waiting for a midday ferry (for a change) to take the dog South to Germany and both Ettringen then Frankenjura before meeting my old international friends from Sweden, Fredrik, and going to Zillertal – it’s all very international.

Psyche levels weren’t particularly high, possibly hidden behind nerves of taking my animal abroad for the first time, until i realised i’d be driving past Frankenjura on the way, where they flew through the roof. They’ve subsequently gone back to nervous but still, it will be good to explore some new venues en route. I’m also a bit concerned about being alone with the closest thing to English conversation being my Welsh dog, but i’m sure that’s just paranoia.

Anyway, we shall see what happens and keep you posted. If you don’t hear anything, it could be one of two reasons…