Another hiatus (apologies) as life begins to return to normal, people go about their usual business and North Wales resumes the usual battle between locals and tourists. However returning to normal has been phased, with Em going back to work but children yet to go back to school and childminders, meaning my primary role as the summer draws to a close is primary child carer; putting the brakes on any return to climbing that had begun.
I did manage to get some climbing in on my birthday, but that wasn’t the first climbing i’d managed. In fact, that was the fourth time i’d been out since lockdown kicked in. In this third update, i’ll be looking at how i came back from a substantial break by getting back outdoors, some of the difficulties i faced, and some of the crags visited thus far.
Quickly, before getting into personal climbing, while i have been mainly at home, i’ve actually managed to get some work and am again looking at building my client base. With the walls shut, i had to turn my hand to outdoor coaching, and as a bouldering expert, made that my speciality. I’m still running outdoor courses and for this, i will unashamedly ask your help. This is my livelihood, the only way i’m currently earning, so if you know anyone who would be interested in guided outdoor bouldering and coaching sessions, please ask them to get in touch. You can do so by clicking here. You never know, it might just be the session that helps keep me in business. Indoor sessions are also now available too, if you prefer to head indoors instead. Book a course through the same channels.
And trust me, i know bouldering. I’ve climbed for twenty years, all over Europe, on crags of every aspect you can imagine. I’ve even developed boulders on my own. In fact, we’re right in the middle of developing some new ones now.
A Whole New Crag
Yup, we found an entire new crag. No established lines on that we can find anywhere. There’s much more to say about it but that’ll all be in Part Four. For now, let’s concentrate on the established climbing i’ve been getting in, between sticking up first ascents.
Post Lockdown Climbing
Instead, let’s get back to climbing we can talk about, and the places i’ve managed to get to in the past few months. There was always a nagging wonder in the back of my mind whether i could actually climb the whole time but for several points that stopped me:
- It was obviously morally wrong. As with most people, i knew that we were being asked to stay in for a very good reason – because it keeps people alive – and that was far more important than my selfish, personal desires to clamber round on small bits of rock.
- Solidarity. It seems everyone else in the area thought the same way and by and large, i haven’t heard of anyone who climbed in those first few months. We were all in it together and that seemed fair
- Peer pressure and curtain twitchers. I can’t say it didn’t cross my mind that i’d be publicly lambasted if i was spotted either at the crag or on the way to the crag and let’s face it, you can’t smuggle a bouldering mat out of the village under your jacket…
- Em. She’s been a staunch follower of the latest rules and me blatantly breaking them would not have gone down well.
Instead, i waited, like so many people, scouting options and waiting for the day when i could finally get out again. I remember that day, clear as anything, walking from the house to comply with the rules on daily exercise in Wales, over the Clegir road for that first play in a long time. A very long time.
At one point, i scrambled over the top of the boulder, hearing voices and wondering if someone wanted to share the crag with me, only to find two locals smoking a spliff and looking utterly shocked that some guy had just appeared over the rocks below them. We chatted briefly before happily leaving each other to it.
What i did notice that day was how utterly rusty i’d become. The first climb, a 6b, spat me off at least twice, before rendering me useless at the top. I downclimbed at least twice, bottling it, before taking some big jumps from the top. That worked a treat and regained the confidence i needed to actually get climbing again, but it did take quite a while.
By the next time i went climbing, the travel restriction meaning i must walk from home (i’m not cycling with a Petzl Cirro on my back!) had been lifted but the National Park was still partially closed. However i’d trawled the maps and found all the open crags, including to my surprise Clogwyn y Bustach, which appeared in a small anomaly on otherwise closed land. Much like before, i opted to stay off the hard stuff – namely the Fagin Bloc – and keep things under 7a, exploring various other problems in the woods instead; including the Beauty Sleep boulder. There are many more lines there to be climbed, i can assure you.
Shortly afterwards, i actually got some coaching work! A 1:1 with one of my regular clients and again, checked the map and opted for the RAC boulders. I often avoid them, as i think they’re wildly overused but it occurred that to deliberately avoid them purely because they’re overused is as bad as blindly going back over and over and it served the purpose wonderfully. As it turned out, we had the place to ourselves.
After the session had finished, i stayed for a play, again opting to stay off the obvious and explore the satellite problems, finding some gems in the process. As annoying as it was that the 6b arete was unnamed (name your first ascents people!) it was a bloody good problem that called me to repeat twice, and Violence 7a was equally enjoyable and my first 7 since Spain back in February.
That was it, until my birthday and the three retro flashes on the Pop Bloc. Three days later i managed to get back again too, in order to finish off Pop Art 7b+ as my hardest send of the year, soft as it seemed. I’ll blame my small girly fingers that fit in the shot holes to explain why i don’t think it’s anywhere near that hard.
However, since then, I’ve either been engrossed on developing our new crag (more on this in Part Four) or not been climbing and as such, my form has dipped. Conditions haven’t been ideal either, including some light drizzle on the one day at Pillbox Wall i managed to sneak in.
I’d been wanting to visit Pillbox for some time; one of the last crags in North Wales with a good selection of climbs for my ability level that i’ve yet to really visit. Granted, i’m not a limestone fan but nevertheless, i was confident that with 14 climbs at 7a or 7a+, and a further 12 7b/+ that i could come away with a reasonable haul of ascents to bulk out my yearly average.
I was so unbelievably wrong. I got totally spanked. My movement was disjointed and clunky, meaning i couldn’t rely on my technique to sneak my way through moves while i was also weak and out of shape, so couldn’t drag myself up some lower grade problems either. Throw in the fact my head wasn’t in the game and the higher moves often meant i failed to commit and, climbing wise, it was not a good session. I came away with a solitary tick of Pillbox Original 7a and even that i’m not sure if i used a hold out of bounds.
It does need perspective though and returning to climbing will be slow going and require a lot of hard work. Mileage is now the key and today i’m hopefully heading to the Beacon to do just that.
What’s odd, though, is that my tick list shows at least 50 more climbs completed in recent months, pushing my total number of recorded sends above 800. The context is that these have all been first or second ascents, rarely above 6c, put up in haste to hit a guidebook deadline.
The deadline is now passed and we passed the info on to the author, who sadly wasn’t as taken with our crag as we are. In Part Four, i’ll look at the process we went through to develop our crag, how it all went for us and at the end, i’ll do a big unveil to finally let everyone know where to find the latest addition to the North Wales bouldering scene.