The Birthday Tradition

I often forget the origins of this tradition but when i remember them, it’s a beautiful story that highlights one of the wonders of rock climbing on an international level.

You could trace the beginnings back further and further but to be honest, a logical place to start is Spain in September 2009. Our international rag tag band of reprobates included myself, my German companion Steffi and my good friend Canadian Stu. One week in Albarracin, camping, climbing and loving life.

In true fashion, we met a couple of other climbers who were from Northern Italy. If i recall, they were Stef and Super Paolo – oft heard remarking “Super line!” when pointing out a climb – and hailed from Trentino. In typical fashion, we all regaled each other with stories of home towns and local climbing areas and they told us about Val Daone. We simply had to visit.

This led  to a series of trips and what is now The Birthday Tradition which simply says:

Spend your birthday in a different country every year

In one way, it’s as simple as that. In another, it’s so much more. What it does mean is that now, every birthday has a special place in my heart, every one is remembered and every year i either find somewhere new to explore or revisit an old haunt with fresh eyes. It is thoroughly recommended.

Here are the brief highlights from (most of) the birthdays to date.

2010: Val Daone, Italy

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Still not much going on in North Wales other than more drizzle so here's another #throwback to happier times! In fact this is an apt one. It's from the inaugural #birthdaytradition trip (spend my birthday in a different country every year) in 2010: two weeks in #valdaone, the first of which was a total washout! This picture was taken on the first dry day when we finally emerged from the tents and got some #climbing done! In some ways, that first week made us #appreciate the quality climbing a bit more. In others, it meant we got a lot less done… I've often said the same of round here: having to make the most of the rare dry days makes them all the sweeter. After three months of rain and counting, I'm tempted to change my mind #Italy #italianbouldering #bouldering #guitar #mountains #scenery #rockclimbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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Some nine months after our Spanish trip, the band was back together, travelling overland to reach a forgotten valley in Northern Italy. A week of rain and making the most of it finally reliquished to give us a week of absolutely glorious sunshine and stunning conditions and i awoke on my 26th birthday on the penultimate day to the most incredible sun soaked vista of a stunning Alpine valley.

This is where the seed was firmly planted in my head. Many years later i can tell you we had authentic but disappointing spaghetti bolognese for dinner on the 23rd June 2010, that the evening was spent sat around the campfire around 10ft tall and that the weather was blue skies sprinkled with a little white fluffy cloud.

But it was the next year that it actually began to become a tradition.

2011: Vancouver, Canada

The passing of my grandmother had inadvertantly led to a coming together of distant family. Having met my Uncle Andrew for the first time in the UK, it was now time to meet my wonderful Aunty Helen and my Canadian cousins too. So in 2011, a debut trip out of Europe to North America became a reality. When we were looking at dates, June seemed as good a time as any.

My old friend Simon had offered one of those open invitations to visit – always be cautious doing that with me – and it was arranged to spend two weeks sleeping on his sofa and climbing daily a couple of hours north at the world famous Squamish. Then, on my birthday proper, i’d head East to Thunder Bay for a few days with my family.

My bithday proper was actually mostly spent in the air or waiting to be in the air but if you’re a bit more liberal with the definition of “birthday” then it lasted soooo long. The night of the 22nd was me drinking with my newfound Canadian friends on the West coast and the evening of the 24th was a birthday party hosted by my Uncle and Aunt.

Most important as always are the memories: perfect granite on the west coast, a night in Seattle and a fantastic States day, two weeks with my great friend Simon and meeting some fabulous people for the first time that happen to be related to me. This one is one of the really special ones.

2012: Fontainebleau, France

By this point, it was becoming a tradition but money was running short. I’d been to Font in June three years previous and knew it was okay, especially if you took a relaxed start to the day – maybe about 4pm…

Teamed up this time with my old Uni friend Mad Jim, we made the short trip to Paris with the world’s most enormous tent and made friends with a few others on the old familiar campsite: Yudai, a Japanese-Canadian and Tommy, a young lad from the UK.

While i was a touch distracted with girl worries at the time, it was more than made up for by being a spot on two weeks. The first saw me get my ear for French again but the second was when it actually started to improve and by the end, i could have (admittedly weirdly awful) conversations in French. And to be fair, we got so much climbing in, by the end, i was ready to come home. Font is always cool. Font on your birthday is even better.

2013: Zillertal, Austria

Ah yes, the ill-fated trip of 2013. Oft talked about, utter dismay at the time with one disaster after another, almost everything went wrong on a trip that is now fondly looked back upon.

Ridiculous heat in Frankenjura with no climbers or guidebook where the car broke down followed by relentless rain, an exploding stove, an infected ankle, a broken tent and the car breaking down again. How Fredrik still talks to me, let alone climbs with me is a mystery. But that’s travelling for you!

At the time, it got so absurd we genuinely could do nothing but laugh. Now, looking back, you realise how resilient and resourceful you can be when the chips are down. Even dinner on my birthday – the solitary good climbing day of the fortnight – was disappointing but memorable, being a bit of a mixed grill. And i can still remember stepping out of the pub to see the rain absolutely lashing it down.

The type of trip you’re glad you’ve experienced but NEVER want to do again. Ever.

2014: Albarracin, Spain

A year after it all went so wrong in Austria was almost exactly the opposite. Five of us in total, arriving at different times: John meeting me in Madrid, Jim arriving three days later, Ryan and my cousin Rich coming to join us for the final week. It actually went incredibly well, for the first week at least.

It turned out that despite the high-ish altitude, Spain in June is hot. Who knew!? Nevertheless, with adaptable lads, we switched our big meal of the day to lunchtime and made the best of it with a good old evening blast.

Turning 30 saw the advent of injury and something like 15 sessions in two weeks goes a little way to understanding why. Even better though was my journey there.

The weekend before the trip was supposed to begin, Fredrik got married and invited me. Not wanting to turn him down, i flew Birmingham to Stockholm and two days later, on to Madrid. That was as good an experience as Spain and the tradition continued to roll on.

2015: Magic Wood, Switzerland

Pick of the bunch, in climbing terms at least. After being baked alive in Spain the year before and having frozen my nuts off in Magic Wood in November three years previous, it started to dawn on me that maybe i should be better at picking destinations…

So after a week bumming around alone in Font and not getting much done, i picked up that old friend Simon again, now living in Bonn, and drove south through Germany. From there, we had the most unbelieveable week of climbing, making a dozen new friends and getting some really hard and good climbing in.

For all that those climbs still do hold dear to me, the vibe in the campsite and around the crag is like nothing i’ve experienced before. Magic Wood is one of those places that really builds a community and for once, we got this absolutely spot on.

2016: Stockholm (kinda), Sweden

i write Sweden purely because that’s where we were on the 23rd but that’s not really where this trip was to. The Great Swedish Bouldering Tour took in many friends and so many crags as myself and Simon (again, poor fool) toured the east coast from Kjugekull up to Stockholm. From there, he departed and i spent another week in and around Gavle with Fredrik before Em joined us and we headed across the country to Goteborg.

What a tour, it was unreal. Perhaps there may have been a little too much driving involved but with a sensible time frame, we did get plenty in. It would’ve been a bit better with nicer weather too.

The birthday itself was marred slightly for me by the Brexit vote the morning after but if we are to leave the EU, this is one fabulous way to see it before we do! Kobnhavn was visited, along with some family, we stopped in Amsterdam and Brugge before an administrative cock up forced us back into France and on to Font before swapping Tess for my Mum and heading home two days later than planned. One of those trips to remember forever.

2017: Wicklow, Ireland

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Andy's Arete in #glendalough is one of the best climbs I've tried anywhere, not to mention in #Wicklow. It is immense, and a testament to the #quality of #irishbouldering. It is not 6c. The problems with grading here were huge in all of the climbs I came across and it was something I have gone into depth about (slightly more than I intended) in my latest blog post, link in bio. It shouldn't matter but sadly it does, it puts people off and makes a mockery of the system. And considering how amazing the rock and the #climbing are, it is nothing short of a travesty that needs to be addressed if they ever want to attract people to this wonderful country. #Ireland #wicklowbouldering #glendaloughbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing-pictures-of-instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #meclimbing

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What do you do four months having a baby? Take her abroad on a camping/bouldering trip of course! Rosie was born  in the February of this year and there was much debate about whether the trip would happen and how it would work. Despite being so geographically close, i’d never actually been to Ireland and both Em and myself have always said we’re keen to take our girls out to experience the parts of life we love so much. Everything fell into place.

Wicklow is about an hour south of Dublin and is oft cited as one of the best bouldering venues in the country. An overnight ferry half worked and we found ourselves at a lovely campsite in Roundwood. The approach was semi-buggy friendly and the climbing immense but more than that, having my family along to share the experience made it oh so much better.

2018: Garmisch, Germany

All that being said, in 2018 we opted not to take Rosie, or my long-term travelling pooch Tess, as Em and myself headed off on our own. With Hannah on the way, due in October, this was classed as a “baby moon” and would be the last trip we were likely to take child-free for many years. Now was the time to make the most.

After some research, we’d decided to head to the Alpine town of Gamisch-Partenkirchen near the Austrian border, taking in a stop over in Odenwald on the way South. While there is no real bouldering around Garmisch itself, i could get my fix in Felsenmeer on the way out and Vils on the way back.

Any lack of climbing for my birthday proper was totally forgotten by the events of the day. During a walk in the woods, knowing this was the best chance i would ever get, i picked my spot and proposed. We finished my 34th birthday a betrothed couple.

2019: Helsinki, Finland

Once again, this looked like it would be the year this long tradition finally ended but up stepped my future father-in-law with a suggestion: three nights in the Finnish capital, bouldering around the urban crags to be found within touching distance of our accommodation and all accessible by public transport.

It came to rival many other trips, let alone birthday trips, it was that good. Too often, birthday trips can have attrocious conditions (Font, Albarracin, etc) but with the latitude here, it was ideal. The crags were plentiful and quality was great, combined with a new mentality that took the focus away from ticks in books and simply enjoyed the experience.

The climbing highlights for me weren’t actually problems i’d completed and were instead climbs that Simon got done. Managing to combine our two very different levels and watching him throw himself at new grades was a joy to behold. Watching him complete them even better. Three nights felt like three weeks, it was that good a trip.

2020: North Wales, UK

Tradition interupted by Covid-19

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#itsadogslife a quick snap from my birthday playing yesterday evening. 2010: Val Daone, Italy 2011: Squamish, Canada 2012: Fontainebleau, France 2013: Zillertal, Austria 2014: Albarracin, Spain 2015: Magic Wood, Switzerland 2016: Stockholm, Sweden 2017: Glendalough, Ireland 2018: Garmisch, Germany 2019: Helsinki, Finland 2020: … I love where I live but at the end of the day, I live here and the 23rd June is a day, for me, to explore somewhere different. But not this year, for obvious reasons that are far more important than my summer trip. Nevertheless, and despite a lovely day yesterday, still a little melancholy. We'll see what happens next year . . . #worldclasswales #NorthWales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #rockclimbing #grimpeur #escalada #escalade #Climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #climbinglife

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As the world came to grips with words hitherto unknown such as lockdown, social distancing and coronavirus, and made extensive use of others like pandemic, unprecedented and virus, suspending the Birthday Tradition was not just the only thing i could do but the moral thing to do. There were far more important things to worry about that summer than my annual holiday.

The consolation is in where i live and i commented to a friend that if i didn’t live here, North Wales would definitely be on the list of destinations.  Morning rain subsided enough to let me get some bouldering in, on the Pop Bloc during the evening, almost including my first 7b+ of the year. What’s more, i got to spend my birthday with my entire immediate family for the first time ever. So not all bad.


That’s it… so far. Every year there is the same worry that the last one was, well, the last but every year, it all comes good and i get to go somewhere. There are a list of potential destinations on the back burner, and long may this fabulous tradition continue.

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