Tag Archives: boulderer

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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Finnish-ed and Home

There was a part of me, on the last morning, that wanted to get another crag in. Simon, it seemed, was less enthusiastic. Three days and four crags is a tough ask for any climber, let alone one that is unaccustomed to day after day of intense climbing and another lacking in fitness to continually batter themselves. Simon, it turned out, was absolutely right.

We could’ve checked somewhere out and not climbed but there was no need; we were both more than happy with the week we’d had and i was happy to concede to his plan of checking out a flea market in the morning before leaving the apartment a little early and heading for the airport.

Flea markets, apparently, are very popular in Finland, selling new and old primarily on market stalls in a cross between a British market and a car boot sale. This one was sparse to say the least, with very few stalls and even fewer customers but the building it sat alongside was stunning on the outside and almost designed exactly as i would like inside. Cafes, boutique shops, the whole feel of the place was fantastic and the first served fantastic pastries – i’d been craving pastries since we got there, being in Scandinavia after all! – and a wide range of tea.

The Finns are the best country i’ve been for serving nice, decent tea and for once, there was little need for me to take a box of 80 tea bags. Good job, too, as i’d only taken a handful as we were “travelling light”. I say that, Simon travelled light, i failed miserably, realising as i packed up that half of my electronics hadn’t been used and could’ve easily been left at home and swapped for an extra t-shirt and a thin jumper. More lessons learned that could prove invaluable later in the year.

After finishing our tea and breakfast, i’d arranged to meet up with an old friend Tomi Lindroos. Tomi was one of those that started 27crags and we’d exchanged many emails and messages over the years but never actually met in person; a wonderful example of how modern social networking can be a fantastic thing. He’d seen my posts of being in Helsinki and got in touch to see about meeting. Granted, we hadn’t climbed but it was great to meet him for lunch and chat about climbing, 27crags, North Wales and the world in general.

We bid farewell, hopefully not for the last time, and headed back to the apartment to pack up. We had one last trip in the world’s most awesome lift that must’ve been 100 years old but had not lost any of it’s charm, before some tactical packing saw us leave nice and early. We now had around six hours before our flight left the tarmac.

It turned out we did go to Meilahti again after all, just to have a look really. There is a public park across the road so after craning our necks up and wondering who on earth would classify this as bouldering we sat outside a rather large building that seemed lovely but gave no indication of what it might be. Turned out there’s a reason: it was the parliamentary residence. Our last act in Helsinki was to have a picnic outside the president’s home. That sums the week up.

That wasn’t quite our last act, as we then walked a fair way out of pleasant parks and scenic city into more industrial settings to our train station. By this point, we had everything with us and i was dearly wishing i’d learnt those lessons about travelling light before i’d left home. As the traffic and the buildings grew, i eventually dragged my way onto the platform, grateful that carrying this unholy pile of stuff was nearly at an end.

It felt hot, as it had all week but that was suddenly put into perspective as we walked off the plane on the tarmac in Munich. Suddenly slapped in the face by a swell of hot air, we realised that we’d been the lucky ones all week to be so far north and away from these blistering conditions covering the entire continent. Some German food in a Bavarian airport finished us off, before i admired Birmingham from the air before landing back home.

It felt as if we’d been gone for weeks, not days, such was how much we packed into the trip. The whirlwind hasn’t stopped either, with two pieces since written on Helsinki, one published right here.

It was genuinely one of the best trips i’ve been on and will live long in the memory of the Birthday Tradition. I’ll forever be grateful to Simon, my future father-in-law, who was one of the best travelling companions i’ve ever had. I can only hope that this is the first of many.

“Just win the lottery”

As the rain falls on Helsinki for the first time since our arrival 48 hours ago, we face the prospect of not getting any climbing in tomorrow. Not that either of us will complain.

After another superb day at another spectacular crag – i’m running out of superlatives – i can’t help but wonder, yet again, why Finland isn’t on more people’s radar. I thought Nalle’s ascent of Burden of Dreams may have raised awareness of the area but after four crags visited, the total number of climbers we’ve met remains a paltry six, with at least five of them in their first year or two of outdoor climbing.

Granted, it has been in the middle of the day on a weekday and conditions have not favoured those with the luxury of being able to wait for better but nevertheless, the absence of anyone trying anything harder than 6b+ is slightly baffling. We have been to four fantastic venues and today has not lowered the average at all.

The scene for today: Mellunmaki; a small cluster of outstanding blocs in the eastern suburbs. Once again, it was a short hop from the Metro station that would’ve been shorter had we taken a more sensible route in. Knowing our skin and energy levels were dwindling, and that this was potentially our last chance, we were a little tactical. We got it spot on.

A cluster of 6s fell quickly for me, with Simon ticking off Hantaaki 5+ with consumate ease. In truth, it was too easy for him, being a juggy yet delicate walk up the vertical face. Soon though, i was drawn to the awe inspiring line of Melankolia 7b+ despite the safe knowledge that it was likely a step too far for a single session.

So it proved but only just; the moves from standing falling very quickly after poor video beta that was soon disgarded. Annoyingly, it isn’t given a separate grade and i’m loathe to create one for an established area i am visiting for the first time. C’est la vie, i’ll enjoy the experience and take my tick on Mini Hueco 7a instead. Not that either were the highlight of the day.

That accolade falls to Simon who, despite my expectations, jumped on the big move of Reebus 6a: a dyno move that required power, timing and skills i’d not seen from him before. Yet again, as with everything this week, i watched in awe as he gainfully threw himself at this new form of climbing, glad to give it a go and take the fall. Our new friend, Tomi, climbing for only a few months and fresh from a crash course in heel hooking from yours truly, also admirably gave it a try, lacking a tiny bit of energy after what had already been a long session.

Simon fell twice while being filmed. I made him wait before his third effort, knowing if we didn’t capture this moment, i’d be kicking myself all the way back to Worcester. Much like the snippet of coaching that i’d offered, it proved worthwhile and like a pro, he leapt for the move and slapped the all important top hold. Job done and a superb effort from a man who can show us all how much we can achieve if only we try.

Granted he didn’t top it out, as i had and struggled slightly with a tricky one at best and advised it wasn’t worth either the effort of the hour of coaching needed to supply the skills to mantle an overhanging and blank top out over a slightly sketchy landing, but here is the lesson to be taken from the week. Yes, he didn’t technically finish the climb exactly but does that matter? Does that diminish his achievement? Absolutely not! In exactly the same way, i didn’t technically finish Melankolia today, or Peppu yesterday, or Meikun Pitkaveto at Meilahti the day before, it doesn’t mean i can’t enjoy the process and come away buoyed by the experience.

In a similar way, we spent the rest of the day revelling in a more typical experience of Helsinki; wandering the city and enjoying all the city has to offer: architecture, Moose sausage and reindeer meatballs by the sea shore, some gorgeous parks overlooking the city, a string quartet and some live music at Storyville. In what was one of the few disappoinments of the trip, we were expecting a jazz night but were instead treated to some covers from a lovely singer called Sanna Kukkonen. Even when it doesn’t work out for us here, it’s still pretty bloody good!

City Breaks

I’m not normally one for city breaks but if they were all like this, i’d gladly change my tune. Helsinki is a truly remarkable city. Well, for climbers at least.

This city is like no other i’ve ever been to before. Before we came, i’d heard Finland is more Russian than Scandi and possibly i was projecting but Helsinki certainly isn’t like any of the rest of Scandinavia i’ve been to before. The architecture, the language, the people in general, this feels very different.

It is also unusual to find so much climbing right in the midst of a city centre, let alone a capital city centre. This is our second night and we’ve yet to leave the city limits and yet we’ve already visited three quality venues: Meilahti, Koivusaari and Taivaskallio; and there are still 18 for us to chose from until we fly home on Wednesday afternoon. No car, no problem!

In fact, Meilahti is actually walking distance from our flat in town – an AirBnB for a few days – and once we’d checked in, checked it out and grabbed grub was where we headed yesterday afternoon. Much like Stockholm and countless other cities in these parts, Helsinki is built on the banks of the Baltic, the sea adorning the entire area and this is where many of the crags can be found. Including the very scenic Meilahti.

It seemed clear very quickly that these seaside crags aren’t only popular with climbers, as we interupted a young couple enjoying the intimate setting for their intimate moment. Sadly, we distrubed them, albeit temporarily, while we climbed on the sea shore, basking in the sun.

There is a level of irony that the guidebook i recieved from 27crags several years ago is far inferior to 27crags itself. Furthermore, i received the guide for taking out their premium membership and now that i’m finally here, the guide didn’t cut the muster and i was pushed into taking out premium membership once again.

It has been worth it, though. Where the guide showed us the location and bare bones, 27crags is comprehensive, including climbs that were surely there when the book was published (i’ll stop moaning about it now). Meilahti had a decent spread and both of us topped out more than once; me nearly ticking off Meikun pitkaveto 7a+ before heading out for a birthday pizza at the fantastic Putte’s Bar and Pizza.

Today was always set out to be a two crag day and there must be few boulders as magnificent anywhere as Koivusaari . Not only does it again sit on the shoreline but it’s a massive piece of granite, just the right height, just the right routes; and we managed to disturb another young couple… Platoon 6c is the standout line but there are plenty others and it was one of the versions of Peppu 7a+ that caught my eye. Sadly, once again, i left without the tick but this time, with some consolation in the form of Long John 7a.

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What a day! That's gotta be one of the best days in a trip ever. A late start pushed itself into the afternoon but after that, it's been all go. Firstly we headed to Koivusaari and the most impressive boulder in the most astounding scene. Right in the shore again, the lines were outstanding, even if I did leave with Peppu 7a+ agonisingly close. Then we shifted the focus and headed to Taivaskallio With a stack of Simon friendly problems. He blasted them out, one after another, flashing problem after problem. Taivaskallio is a very historical crag for Finnish bouldering too and it was great to experience such a fantastic crag. We're now back, battered and beaten by buoyed by a brilliant day off quality Finnish bouldering #Helsinki #Finland #helsinkibouldering #finnishbouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #grimpeur #rockclimbing #escalada #escalade #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #birthdaytradition #sunsoutgunsout

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Once it became apparent i was spent, it was time to move on and this time to a venue more suited to my companion. With a two day ticket for the entire public transport network, we hot footed it over to Taivaskallio: a historic place for Finnish bouldering, with climbs dating back to 1955 and crucially, a five minute walk from the train station.

Taivaskallio also seems to be a popular beginners venue, where we met four other local climbers all in their first year of outdoor climbing. In some ways it felt good to be showing them how international our sport can be.

Simon cruised climb after climb, having a whale of a time. It was the perfect place for him, as much as Meilahti was for me. Two days in and this trip is ranking right up there.

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…

Bouldering and Mental Health

Anyone who has met me in the last twelve months knows i’m busy. That’s not an exaggeration, and i apologise to any close friends who have heard this sob story many times: i have two young daughters, one a toddler and the other an infant; i have a part time job working at Plas y Brenin as a Storeman while also helping to get the revamped climbing wall going and running our successful retail outlet; i coach part time, either private clients and a weekly, voluntary session; i am also doing a part-time Masters degree related to climbing coaching, taking roughly two days a week; and i’m climbing for myself every now and again.

Please do not mistake this description of my life as a complaint. It really is not. Every aspect of my life was a conscious choice, a decision i made (or made with my very supportive partner) to take something else on and develop my life further. I do not regret any of these decisions – most of the time at least – and wouldn’t have things any other way. What it has meant, though, is there is an enormous strain on my life that can deeply affect my mental health; and that is what i wanted to talk about here.

First impressions would suggest that personal climbing isn’t exactly high on my list of priorities, given everything else and the deadlines i hit on an hourly basis – anything from Masters assignments to nappy changes, they’re all deadlines and jobs that need to be done.  Surely going bouldering for an afternoon isn’t really that crucial? Only, for me and for my state of being, it remains the critical factor that keeps everything else together.

You can think of my life as a guitar string. Every other job puts a little more strain on the string. As things stand now, the string is tight but that creates a sweet sound, a nice harmonic where everything works in harmony and goes smoothly. The stress actually makes everything work better, keeps that sound nice and in tune. As the stress mounts, the strings tightens and the sound becomes higher pitched, tinny, not quite right. Too much stress and the string is going to snap. That’s where the climbing comes in, it eases the tension.

This happened to me a couple of weeks back. I’d employed the “study at the crag” approach and sacked off everything for the Wednesday afternoon on a glorious day to head to the Gwynant valley and an old project perfectly suited to my situation. It had been a little while since my last climbing session – no, squeezing in a few routes around a coaching session doesn’t really do it – and that string was feeling pretty damn tight. Everything seemed to be overwhelming me, i was struggling in almost every aspect of life and i was becoming worried of burnout. Even the walk in had stressed me, as the sketchiest approach in North Wales has become even sketchier thanks to a fallen tree.

I got there and dropped the pad and it was almost as if all my troubles, all my worries, all that stress was balanced precariously on the top. Instantly, it went away and i could literally feel the tension in my muscles ease. The string relaxed and the sound was sweet, a perfectly tuned note once again.

Rewind three and a half years and none of this was the case. I was quite a typical guy in my early-thirties: single, i worked five days a week. That was pretty much it, it gave me plenty of time to go climbing and i was happy with that, for the most part. I wouldn’t say it was a fulfilling existence and looking back, i wasn’t getting much stimulation from work or anywhere else really and that string must’ve been pretty slack. I tightened it up with projects, finding and developing new boulders or training but again, this didn’t really fulfill me.

In hindsight, perhaps my mental health wasn’t actually that good back then. I wouldn’t exactly class it as bad but i wasn’t achieving anything, i wasn’t working towards anything, i was coasting and to be honest, probably bored. However from the outside, going climbing wasn’t exactly a problem as i didn’t exactly have anything else to do.

Now of course, things are different and again, from the outside, it is easy to think that there simply isn’t the time to climb. How can i spend my time out playing when i have so much work to do?!

That is from the outside but believe me, from inside my head, those climbing days are what hold everything else together. Without that release of tension, the string is going to snap. Leave it too long and i can feel it. It’s not an excuse, it is my release, my way of grounding myself, of earthing the circuit. And climbing is the only thing i’ve found that does that for me.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the only thing i do, and swimming or running help to delay the need for a good climb but they don’t replace it. It has to be climbing, preferably outside in the mountains, with or without others doesn’t matter. I seem to have developed to a point where bouldering is directly linked to my mental health.

So why am i telling you this? Am i trying to speak to others who may struggle to find an outlet for their busy lives? Or am i just trying to justify to myself, and others close to me, sacking off my responsibilities for an afternoon? In part, i’m guessing it’s a little bit of both.

Mental health has become a popular talking point these days and i am quite aware of my own state. I’ve had dark spells in the past that i didn’t seek professional help for it as i wanted to deal with it in my own way and i think i did. Now i let things get to me but only when i decide, i choose when to get overwhelmed and to let it out. I’ve found my release, found my way of releasing the tension in the string and it works for me.

We all need that. Every one of us needs some way of relaxing and releasing for a while and what works for one may not work for another. Some sit and relax, others lose themselves in a book or TV, many choose exercise. For me, the only thing that does it is bouldering.

I once appeared on ITV talking about climbing and am oft mocked for saying it’s not so much a sport as a lifestyle. I guess for me it’s almost more than that: it is what keeps me sane.

“Oh Hello Square One, Fancy Seeing You Again”

Warning: the following post contains a large number of expletives. It is deliberately not censored to caption the emotion of the moment. Those of a sensative disposition are advised to proceed with caution. 

Fucking stupid fucking shoulder, i can’t fucking believe it. These swimming sessions were supposed to help conditioning and now i’ve fucked myself twice in three months, all in the pool.

Let me explain. A little under ten years ago, i was introduced to the Arfon Masters Swimming Club and i started swimming competitively. I wasn’t bad, nothing special, but i enjoyed it. However around five years ago, it became a bit stale and i stopped. This February, i started taking it up again. It fits nicely with my family life and is fantastic cross training. Usually.

With one eye on a climbing session tomorrow, i managed to bait our coach at this evening’s session into a breast stroke set; my strongest stroke by far meaning it would work me enough but wouldn’t tire me out too much. It was all going swimmingly until the warm down. A single stroke of front crawl and i heard a pop in my left shoulder; the same pop it made back in February. That time it  took me at least three weeks to make a full recovery.

What makes this so much worse is that this week had been planned. After the spate of recent successes, i’d opted to crank it up a notch and since my last update, i’ve had a hopeful-at-best session on the Roof of a Baby Buddha boulder and a back-to-earth session on Lotus Direct 7c. Throw in a hugely successful Indy session – 7b in a session, cruised another, completed another that had been beating me for weeks and flashed 7a+ – and i was fired up to have another go at Lotus Direct 7c tomorrow.

The weather had conspired to restrict any outdoor action but even then, i’ve had lunch break training sessions in the gym at work that have gone surprisingly well. Part of that is the circuit training structure put in place to keep things fresh but you can’t underestimate enthusiasm when things are going well.

There’s a naive or hopeful part of me that thinks maybe this injury is not as bad as first thought but i am totally aware that is utter bollocks. This is gonna hurt more come morning than it does now. Driving back from the pool, i wanted some music to match my mood: Alabama Shakes Hold On seemed apt but also slightly depressing, reminding me of how far i’ve come this year and how hard it’s going to be to get back here after another three or four weeks off.

I’m normally pretty tough but tonight, on my way home, i wanted to cry. Not ball my eyes out or anything over the top, just weep slightly for a moment. And it wasn’t because of the pain. This year has been hard work and has given me huge rewards. The idea of doing it all again to get back here is just a bit too much to take right now.

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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“Ducks are in the water, round and round and round”

Firstly, sorry for the formatting issues in the last post. I’d been using the WordPress app on my phone for these holiday posts and something must’ve gone a bit wrong. Oh well, it was the text that was most important and now, back in North Wales, it’s time to round up the trip, fill in the last few events and have a quick look at how it went in general.

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These guys 😍

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Finding the Gruffalo

At the end of my last post, we’d discovered a neat Gruffalo Trail in Winlatter Forest and followed it through with ear-splitting exclamations from our eldest as she saw each character appear on the track ahead. However we didn’t actually see a Gruffalo statue.

Not ones to leave disappointed, we packed up on the Sunday and went straight back to try and find it. We’d missed the shop and cafe on the Friday too so breakfast was eaten out before we traipsed up the trail again. We ran it in reverse this time and after asking a staff member, crested over a hill and realised why we’d missed it the first time round. If we’d only turned around when we stopped briefly, we’d have seen it clear as day. Oh well, Tess deserved a walk before the long drive back and it offered some closure.

The rest of the day was spent bouncing from place to place, stopping at Booths (yes, again) before taking the A-roads south. Soon enough we found ourselves approaching Carnforth and i swung a sneaky right into Silverdale.

A bit of local knowledge goes a long way sometimes and this was a stomping ground of mine way back when. Mixed with some ducious navigation and arm waving as i suddenly recalled a crag we were driving past, we found ourselves on the edge of Morecambe bay on the most glorious day. The girls even enjoyed lunch on the bonnet of the Land Rover.

The Week in Review

It was a fitting end to a great week that got better and better. I maintain that i can’t be blamed for the weather conditions we encountered but it did make camping just that bit too hard. Don’t get me wrong, if we’d had no choice we’d have stuck it out and would’ve reaped the reward when the weather turned nicer again later in the week. Nevertheless, it just goes to show how you really shouldn’t underestimate how hard camping with kids actually is.

I’ll be honest here and say times were tense, especially in the evenings. Bad weather is always a blight on a camping trip, always a risk you run and can never be predicted. Truth be told we were lucky it didn’t rain on us more as i imagine that would’ve pushed us just that touch too far and sent us home.

From my point of view, the week heralded only one climbing day, albeit an astounding one. That was down to me and i think it was the right thing to do. Having a family forces a lot more compromise and that is exactly what we had and i think it was a fair balance. It was great to climb but to force another day in there would’ve been unfair; the week worked out nicely as it was.

Children have also seen my shoes wear down much quicker, given the amount of walking we end up doing. We did have several good days – walking into Keswick as a bit of a road walk, up Cat Bells, around Derwentwater and around Winlatter Forest – which offer some quality family time. Rosie usually gets to walk large stretches, Hannah rests nicely while we’re out in Happy Mode and of course, it keeps Tess happy and trim. In the the coming years i can envisage us taking bikes too but for now, i’m more than happy trudging for the day.

One major downside is the effect spending a week in the fantastic Lake District has had on my outlook for Snowdonia. They do so much right that we really don’t here; their towns are bustling and thriving while ours are bleak and empty; they have networks of perfectly reasonable paths absolutely everywhere, off the roads while we spend more and more improving the single track in the village while ignoring the bigger picture. I love North Wales dearly, it’s where i’ve chosen to raise my family after all but i really wish the powers that be would open their eyes and look to other areas of the country to learn their lessons.

The mood certainly relaxed too as the week wore on and highlighted to me quite how hard life is at the moment. It was tough with one young child, two is more than double the effort. When camping, that is accentuated and i think it took us a while to relax into the situation. This isn’t me complaining or criticising, it is me pointing things out both for us on the next trip or for others foolish enough to follow our insane example.

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Just the way it should be.

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All told, it was a fantastic family week away and that was entirely the point of the trip. It wasn’t a climbing trip, it was a chance for us to bond and i think our relationship has grown because of it. That said, i’m not itching to do it again that soon. Instead, i might head back up on my own to tick off a few more routes…