Tag Archives: bouldering

Surprise, surprise

For all that New Years and Solstice posts are really useful for goal setting and the like, you can never really count on the weather around here. No matter what you’ve got in mind, there’s always a chance the weather will throw you a real curveball and knock your plan out of whack.

Throw in the uncertainty of the self employed, and the months of October and November have been a little bitty. Another national lockdown removed a load of work but didn’t seem to free up much time and before i knew it, it was early November before i stumbled on a rare day off with half decent weather.

Eyes on the Pies

I say half decent, it was still cold; much colder than i’d realised. I’d been at work on the Friday, cleaning out gutters in a factory (i’ve diversified quite a bit since the coronavirus threw the world into disarray) and looked over at my employer/colleague/friend and made a throwaway comment about sacking it all off and going climbing. It must’ve been a slow day as he was more than happy with the idea of our short day being that bit shorter, and was more than happy with my running off to go play. After a little deliberation, i ended the working week early.

At home, on the decking with the sunshine beating down, it felt pretty good as i waited through the day for the rock to dry out a little more. All seemed good and with time ticking away – and our new planter-bench now built and in place – i packed up quick and ran off up the pass. Back at the end of September, i’d climbed Plinth Eyed 7b/+ at the Pieshop boulder and felt the proper start shouldn’t be that much worse. I’d mentioned this to Dave Noden, only to find an interesting little video on his Instagram a few weeks later… [See below but scroll right]

Parking up, there was a small group of boulderers next to me, one of which, Felix, opted to join me under the giant Pieshop roof. He was keen for some Humble Pie Disorder 8a, the start of which actually turned out to be a great warm up for my intended target of Pie Eyed 7c/+. Felix quickly got engrossed on Love Pie 7c+ or the insane exit move to HPD but, with previous experience on that problem, i was more than happy to leave him to it. Instead, i kept placing the (very) high left heel, grasping the slopers and thrusting myself at the decent slot.

Eventually, after tiring of the one-move wonder he had been trying, Felix came to join me. Given the beta i’d acquired, it didn’t take him long to send and start a mini-send train. Next go, i walked it, finally getting my feet and body position right. It was my hardest send of the year, my first 7c since Nazgul’s Traverse at Rhiw Goch last October and in fact, technically the third hardest climb of my career. It didn’t feel it.

I alluded to the softness of the send on Instagram but Chris Davies – a local climber i have the utmost respect for – commented:

Easy when you get it done, tough when it doesn’t work – same old story!

As much respect as i have for Chris, it still felt overgraded for me. Nevertheless, i’ll take it.

Developing a Style

While Friday was an extra, the following Monday i’d been given day release to go playing and, especially given i’d been to Pieshop the week before, opted to go check out somewhere new; as in, i’m not finished developing it yet so i’m not telling you where.

After a family walk, i’d spotted a boulder that looked too good to be true and had half assumed it would be too good to be true. Turns out it was true and is very good indeed. The only downside is the walk in…

Tim Peck got in touch after i’d posted the video, recognising the boulder and correctly asking about it’s location. “Good effort walking up there with a pad!” was one comment. You see, i’d walked in with Rosie and wildly overestimated how much faster i’d be without her with me. After forty minutes, i arrived, puffing, panting, sweating and knackered.

To make matters worse, for the entirety of the walk, it had drizzled lightly on me; not enough to make me turn around but enough to make me question every step further forward. This is a proper mountain venue too and i had gone armed with headtorch, map and compass, so as to avoid any embarrassing issues if i ended up walking out in the dark and couldn’t see the path to follow (i did walk out in the dark but didn’t need the compass). Thankfully, the drizzle was very light, the rock cleaned up nicely and to my surprise, the route fell in one session, leaving me with another classic first ascent; one of my best to date: Unlocked 7a+.

Looking at it now, i can understand why Chris Sharma famously stopped grading his first ascents. While i still don’t agree that’s the right way to go, offering a grade on these sorts of climbs is frankly the hardest part and it has crossed my mind. However, i feel that first ascentionists have a responsibility to offer some indication of how hard their climbs are.

The problem is that you are naturally swayed towards overgrading. Finding holds is harder, and then they’ll need cleaning too, while finding the optimal beta is much harder when you don’t have any indicators already in place. Furthermore, first ascents take much longer than established climbs, giving more bias. Unlocked could be anything between 6c+ and 7b+, i really don’t know. It felt tougher for me than Pie Eyed but i don’t think it’s that hard. So i’ve plumped in the middle, happy to be corrected as and when the location gets released.

I would like to make a point to the keyboard warriors out there though: before you get deep into heavy discussions on whether something is 7a or 7a/+ sat at home on your laptop, spare a thought for the guy or gal who climbed it first. Get too obnoxious with your comments and you risk there being no grade at all (imagine not knowing if a climb was 6a or 8a) or worse, not finding out about them at all. I’ll not deny that some first ascentionists smell glory from their actions but many merely wish to develop new areas and climbs for people to repeat. So next time you’re slating them for getting their grade out, even by a long way, bear in mind it’s really not as easy as it seems.

Going International

Finally a quick bit of related news: late on Friday, my phone pinged with an Instagram message request from @innosantonagara:

Thanks for your article on bouldering in gripped

My article in Gripped? I submitted something this time last year that they said they were keen for but never got back to me… Where’s that Google app again…

Sure enough, there it was! Is it Highball Bouldering? Or shoulder we be calling it Free-Soloing. Other than the lack of question mark at the end of the headline, i was very pleasantly surprised! I genuinely didn’t expect this to ever make it to print and was pretty thrilled it had! The article uses the famous article Games Climbers Play by Lito Tejada-Flores to examine whether the Bishop highball ascents of Nina Williams in Reel Rock 14 should really be thought of as solo instead of highball.

It’s certainly generated much debate on the Facebook groups it’s been shared around [49 comments on Climb Smarter, Not Harder at time of writing] and has certainly been well received. I’m now hoping there’s a connection there and i can continue to write for them again.

merry Solstice: winter 2020

For those who don’t know, my new year runs from when the clocks go forward, giving a much better point of the year for resolutions and goal setting. There is also a Solstice when the clocks go back. For more information, click here.

We have to keep looking forward; especially right now

The Coronavirus continues. Yes, it’s not quite as drastic as it was back at the end of March for the New Years post but normal, things most certainly are not. As of the Friday before the Solstice, we’re back in a lockdown again; albeit one with a fortnight time frame. What is the same as back in March is that predicting the future is just as impossible now as it was then.

Much as for the entirety of the last season, we continue to play things by ear. The problem with that is that playing season goals by ear didn’t work for me before – hence the whole New Year tradition in the first place – and so some sort of structure is necessary to drive progress and continue to develop and improve.

And so the tradition must continue. The trick will be to be vague, and use the last season as a guide and as such, the first place to start is to look back at the last season to see how we got on.

Season Review

I would like to start with a statement: this post is largely about climbing during the summer that was disrupted by Covid-19. Much of this post may come across as a moan about the fact i couldn’t go out playing as much as i wanted. However i would like to point out that i totally understand and support protecting both public health and the NHS; there are many more things more important than climbing. 

New Years came shortly after lockdown was anounced and i took the approach that everything is an opportunity. I produced a series of At Home Exercise videos that were pretty well received and lasted for the majority of the lockdown. I hope they helped some people along the way.

Aside from that, of course, climbing was off the table. Even if i’d been so inclined, breaking the rules would not have gone down well at home and there was certainly a sense of solidarity among climbers in those early days. It seemed everyone was content to comply with the rules and stay home for the greater good. Instead, our GADE (Government Approved Daily Exercise) was spent with our kids; exploring the village and spending time watching them develop into miniature people. They really are turning out great.

Much as with everyone else, my personal training involved running and cycling, with some home training thrown in for good measure. Things continued in this fashion until early May, waxing and waning slightly but generally going pretty well until after three long months, we were finally allowed within five miles of the house, if not driving. Even with the National Park still off limits, around here that meant climbing was back.

It took a while to get my head back in gear, not ticking a 7a for three sessions back. That first session even involved struggling to top out at first (admittedly not the easiest but for the grade, wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem). Eventually, though, after sessions on the Clegir, Clogwyn y Bustach (oddly left open despite the rest of the Snowdon Massif being closed to all but livestock) and the RAC boulders following a coaching session, i got to my birthday; not abroad as the previous ten years but at a local crag. This year, it certainly felt like a relief.

While at the Pop Block, i looked up the valley at the head of the valley, to a garrison of rock. There must be stuff on there, i thought. Just this week, we released the location and topo of the first ascents we’ve since put up; around fifty in total. The feedback has been that leaving more independant lines would be better and perhaps we got a little carried away. Still, most of the summer was spent developing Clogwyn y Garreg (topo available here).

Developing came as a welcome relief following submssion of the thesis of my Master’s degree. While thoroughly enjoyable, the final stretch was more than a little epic and you can click here to read more of the redemptive effects that finishing my degree had on me. However, it is now over, and with the delivery of my qualification certificate, it’s all official: 18 years after first enrolling in University education, i finally have a degree.

Once life resumed a fairly familiar version of normal in early September, things began to settle. A wildly unsuccessful trip to Pillbox Wall was followed by a much better day down at Tanygrisiau, including Cashmere 7b and a flash of Geoff’s Roof 7a. Then worked started to pick up…

Sadly not much coaching work, more labouring, some weekly instruction and a little shop work. A stretch of around 30 days ensued of consecutive days of work – granted not full days, maybe an hour and a half on some but eight hours on most – curtailing any hopes of outdoor climbing. Still, after a summer of mostly sitting, it’s been important to get back out and earn my keep.

Previous Season Goals

  • Goal: 8a
  • Conduct Home Training
  • Let elbow heal
  • Finish master’s degree
  • Publish articles and find online consultancy work
  • Continue to offer climbing to the kids

How Did It Go?

Somewhat interestingly. We’ll ignore Goal: 8a for now, as for the majority of the (available) season, it was impossible to get there with the land being closed. Granted i could’ve trained at home better but that’s the next point.

Despite the picture and early enthusiasm, home training has fallen back to it’s natural state: pretty much non-existent. To be honest, i simply don’t have the time (there’s a three-year-old and a two-year-old living here remember) and even when i do, i don’t have the motivation to train at home. I either need to find a way to get motivated or i need to stop putting this as a goal.

Even doing the necessary exercises to allow my elbow to heal have fallen by the wayside; something far worse than not training. The tendonitis in my left elbow was caused by a session back in January and even now, it often hurts, whether climbing, working or just doing day to day things like cooking. It’s not bad enough to stop me working but is bad enough that it really needs dealing with. And soon.

I have managed to have a couple of articles published, notably for Professional Mountaineer but sadly not paid and not what i had intended by the goal. The online consultancy work failed to come, as i stuggled to find the right place to advertise. With work being so insanely busy, it’s proving even harder to make any progress with Prowess but the next plan is to generate some online coaching videos. Any recommendations very welcome.

As far as the kids were concerned, while it could’ve been possible to offer them climbing, given the restrictions it would’ve been very difficult. We’ve made sure they’re happy being outside, spent three months exploring the village like i hadn’t in ten years prior and give them the opportunity to keep exploring and being happy. Climbing will come soon.

Next Season Goals

We have to keep looking forward; especially right now. Granted none of us knows what even the short term future holds but we each have two options: wallow in self-pity that the world has changed in ways that stop us doing what we want or adapt and continue as best we can.

What i have found is that – following the development of the Garreg – i’m very interested in putting up first ascents; especially as i have a little collection of hitherto unclimbed venues. The surge of climbs at the Garreg, as well as visits of venues like Tanygrisiau where i’d not really been before, has also seen me hit 832 recorded ascents at time of writing.

My Top Ten Yearly Average grade currently sits at 7b and while it would be nice to push that up to 7b+, i think doing that in the next two months might be a stretch; especially when that involves at least five 7b+. I’ll still put Goal: 8a in there, as i still want to climb 8a one day but i think i’d rather concentrate on mileage and seeing if i can get to 1000 recorded problems.

While it’s fantastic that i’m working so much – i do like eating and not being in debt – it is important to remember why i went self-employed in the first place. I want to be a climbing coach, that’s what i really enjoy, helping people develop. I’m enjoying the work i am doing, very much, but i still want to get back to coaching somehow. Using the master’s certificate might help.

And for now, i’ll leave the kids to whatever they’re up to. They’re happy, they’re developing very well and we can come back to climbing when the time is right.

  • Train for Goal: 8a
  • 1000 recorded boulder problems
  • Continue to develop new venues, ideally at least two by New Year
  • Bring work back towards coaching and Prowess
  • Continue to develop climbing movement theory
  • At least one weekend out of North Wales

“These are unprecendented times” and “this is the new normal” are now stock phrases, among many others. But that shouldn’t be an excuse to let everything slide. I’ve had a fantastic season, under the circumstances, and it’s up to each of us to decide how to move next. I hope your next seasson is ass succesful as you can make it.

Merry Solstice!

2020 Summer Update: Part Four

Considering summer updates were supposed to bring everything back up to date, they seem to have fallen by the wayside slightly. To be honest, one reason it’s been so long since my last update was that i was reading. A lot. I mean, i’ve been reading pretty much constantly for the past two years but all of a sudden, i can read for pleasure again, without feeling i should be reading academic papers or textbooks. In the space of a couple of weeks, i churned through Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project and The Rosie Result and am now on with How England Made the English by Harry Mount. I remember something similar once i officially finished my undergrad degree (not that i actually did much reading during that time but i felt i should be) where in the days following my finals, i quickly read JD Sallinger’s Catcher in the Rye. 

It seems that once released from what we feel we should be doing, we’re free to turn our attention to other things instead; usually subtly different but definitely different. In a similar parallel, with the knowledge that several months of lockdown will have obvious consequences on my climbing level and top ten yearly average grade, once free to go playing, i decided to mostly foresake established climbs this year in favour of developing areas and putting up first ascents instead.

Becoming a Local Activist

Back when i started at Plas y Brenin in 2014, i started searching the woods of Bryn Engan to see if i could find anything new. I did, with Prowess 7b being the best of the bunch of around eight boulders cleaned and developed. That experience tickled my fancy and in an odd sort of way, announced to the local climbing fraternity that i am open to the idea of being an activist in the bouldering scene and apparently encouraged them to throw various new potential crags at me… 

I’ve had a handful of places to develop in the back of my mind for a while now but struggled to find time to go check them out properly. After starting to offer outdoor bouldering courses (please tell anyone who might be interested!) i bought myself a bespoke local 1:50 000 map of the area, mounted on a pin board, with locations of all local bouldering venues, both established and new. After taking down the map of the states in the office that was there for a planned trip that never took off, the map now sits with different coloured pins showing me where to head next. It now couldn’t be clearer.

Now i have no less than eight crags ready to be developed to one level or another. At the beginning of Wes Anderson’s amazing film Grand Budapest Hotel, Tom Wilkinson is describing how as an author, he doesn’t develop ideas out of nothing, that people proffer ideas to him once they know he’s a writer. It seems similar with crag development. Once people realise you’re happy to put up first ascents, they’re happy to tell you about all sorts of rock they find, here there and everywhere.

And it seems there’s a lot of them. I’m constantly reminded of a foolish conversation i had with my good friend Fredrik Niva back in 2012. He asked me how many first ascents i had done, to which i glibly replied “none, i’m British…” My argument at the time was that everything to be developed on our small island had been developed and you either had to be a) lucky b) extremely good or c) immensely tenacious to find any new lines in North Wales. Turns out i was incredibly wrong; not that i mind that much this time!

Finding Our Own Crag

On my birthday at the Pop Bloc, i looked up the road and saw a garrison of rock at the top of the pass with an enormous boulder field. Surely there had to be something on there, i figured. Turns out we were right.

And so, i am delighted to announce that our new crag is at:

Clogwyn y Garreg

We have spent many sessions climbing there, landscaping landings by shuffling the blocs around and putting up around fifty boulder problems. The grade range covers from the very easy right up to the low-7s with the stand out lines being Dr Collins 6c+ Deep Low Boom 6c (which has not been repeated since a broken hold but should still go, albeit a little harder) and the outstanding Roohan 7b; the hardest line currently there. 

There is also a glut of new rock waiting for someone with fresh eyes and maybe a different take on what constitutes an enjoyable boulder problem, with a host of scary and highball additions waiting to be added; which was not really our scene. 

There’s a topo attached below that is waiting for you to download. Please do download, go visit, let me know what you think. 

[Some caveats about the topo and boulder problems:

1. the grades are likely wrong and are given as an alternative to giving no grade at all. Sadly with Covid this year, we hadn’t really climbed anywhere else to calibrate our abilities. Please don’t hate us if they’re out by miles.

2. We may have been a little lovestruck with the crag after spending so many hours developing, so commenting on the quality of the crag is probably not our place. All we can say is we really enjoyed these climbs and we hope you do too.

3. While we’ve made every effort to make sure there is no loose rock and that everything is secure, new crags always have a risk of being brittle in places. Obviously the Garreg has yet to have the traffic to weedle out the loose bits so it is possible that you might pull something off.

4. Any new climbs are fair game and up for grabs now, although please do let us know if you put up something new so we can update the topo. A permanent page is available here for you to be able to check back in and download the latest version.]

2020 Summer Update: Part Three

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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…
  4. 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.

2020 Summer Update: Part Two

The last post about my degree was a little longer and more in depth than i had intended. I was going to tie it in with something else that’s been going on but it got away with me and i thought it best to leave it on its own. Who’d have thought finishing a postgraduate degree would be such a thing?

Anyway, for Part Two, i’m going to discuss something more usual: climbing. Obviously going climbing was tricky over the past few months and only really possible with the right ethical standpoint. That said, as lockdown has slowly eased, people have slowly been getting back out to the crags – even in Wales – to the point where from Monday coming, it’s all fair game again. Within reason, you know.

For me personally, the biggest disappointment has been that the hiatus has crossed over my birthday: a time when for the past ten years, i’ve managed to find a different country. Ten years, ten countries. Until now.

The Birthday Tradition Finally Ends?

First and foremost, please do not misunderstand me: there are myriad of more important things in the world right now than the fact i can’t take my annual holiday. It does not matter how important this trip is to me, or how long the tradition has been going, measured against even a single death and any personal gratification is nothing. And we have not seen just a single death. I have stayed home because it is the right thing to do, in every possible way.

But doing the right thing doesn’t mean you have to like it and it doesn’t mean you can’t be sad that this is the way it has to be. And that is what i am: sad, melancholy and disappointed.

I specifically asked for there to be no hoopla for my birthday this year, knowing it would just remind me what i’m missing out on. I also knew that no matter how much work needed doing on my thesis, i was taking the 23rd June off. Ten years is a long time and this was a real shock to the system. I was 24 the last time i had a “normal” birthday, at home with the same old routine, so i was determined to try and make it at least slightly special.

The bright side is, as i said to a friend on text in the evening, if i dind’t live in North Wales, it would most definitely be right up there on my list of places to be. The climbing is superb, the area is stunning and there is a sure fire reason i live here. The only reason i don’t want to be here for my birthday is that i’m here most of the rest of the year and i want a bit of a change. Otherwise, there are not many better places to be anywhere.

But here i was and the one thing that is missing every other year is family. Last year i was in Finland with my father-in-law, the year before in Germany with Em. In fact, since Rosie was born, i’ve only spent any birthday with one of our girls on one occasion. And even then she was four months old. It’s been something like fifteen years since i’ve seen my parents. So it seemed like a good way to spend the day. Everything being an opportunity and all that.

Family breakfast of pancakes and playing and an afternoon seeing my folks, watching the stone walls outside to see them dry was the order of the day. The plan was always to try and get a climb in somehow, preferably outside, so a few options had been planned to see how things went. I make it sound like climbing was all i had in mind but actually that time with family made the day really. The climbing topped it off nicely.

Around half four, i figured it wasn’t getting any drier and i better head out and hope for the best. Some deluded part of my brain totally misjudged the aspect of my target crag, thinking the Boss Cuvier area of Gelert Forest was open enough to have dried, depsite it still raining at noon. Thankfully, i had a backup plan at a roadside venue (and Tess loved the walk in and out).

Twenty minutes of setting up and walking in, fifteen minutes back and i should’ve felt slightly defeated but even before i set off, i knew it might not (massive understatement in hindsight) be dry and almost went straight to the Pop Bloc first time around. I’d been years ago, on the way to see my folks one evening, and have noticed a resurgence in recent months. Keen for another look, i took the short trip up to Rhyd Ddu, took the road over to Nantlle and found myself with bone dry rock in a sunny setting, as good as any other year thus far.

The climbing went pretty well too, albeit lines that were retro flashes rather than flashes. Not that i remembered them in the slightest. I noticed Alex Megos posted a caption on Instagram claiming a “retro onsight” which seems the most stupid thing ever but i genuinely couldn’t remember anything about these climbs. I didn’t even realise i’d done one of them until i went to tick it on 27crags.

Last time, i vaguely recalled – after finishing the climbs, memories slowly eeked out of the depths of my memory – the last session and looking at the other lines, thinking them too brutal and difficult for me. It’s called the Pop Bloc for a reason: the effect it can have on one’s tendons/pulleys. This time, though, i’m fitter, stronger and frankly, didn’t want to go home so i started to work on the next appealing line: Pop Art 7b+.

By the end of the session, by which point the shot hole had cut a nice round hole in my ring finger, i’d managed all the moves in two halves, not quite linking it together thus avoiding the slightly nerving top out with no one around but a sleeping dog. Nevertheless, it felt a very successful session, a very enjoyable evening and on the whole, a great day.

I’m still sad i couldn’t get away, no matter how substantial the reasons. 2020 will have an asterisk over it for so many of us for so many reasons and i’ll always be a little sad about mine. But the reasons were sound and you know what, it turned out to be a pretty damned good day after all.

The Rosie Effect

Time seems to  be moving in ways it has never done before; a point realised when i read the last post and found out it’s been nearly five weeks since my last post. It is understandable though given absolutely nothing has happened worth posting about. I could almost leave this post at that!

Still, a blog is supposed to be a regularly updated record of one’s actions and feelings so leaving it to drift off simply because nothing of any note has happened seems a bit of a cop out. There are still things going on around here, still progress being made and still things to talk about

An Insight Into Motivations

What seems telling about this long lay off is how it doesn’t seem to have faltered my motivation to climb at all. Nine long weeks of abstinence and the desire to get out is just as strong as it was back when Boris came on the tele for what is surey the most watched national broadcast in decades.

Just picturing getting back out on rock again seems so normal, so natural and as if it’s only been a few days since the last time. I’ve got a crag in mind for that first time out again (although i’ll keep that close to my chest for fear of creating a crowd) and i can picture the feeling, the setting, the movement.

It almost seems to fit the old adage of absence making the heart grow fonder but at the same time, i think the drive to climb hasn’t actually changed at all.

Training? What Training?

Saturday morning, i came downstairs and before i even made it past the end of the stairs, Rosie appeared badgering to do some exercise with me. It’s what she’s been calling it when we get the gym rings out in the kitchen; me with 30 seconds of exercise, her playing around, spinning, dangling and laughing in my 2 minute rests. She loves it but sadly even the joy it brings hasn’t been enough to spur me. Nothing has.

The initial enthusiasm waned after a few weeks and as with so much of my training in the past, without a clear and specific goal, i lost that bit of interest. The same can be said of my biking, despite the enjoyment it brought that made me feel like a kid again (although to be fair, the mechanical issues that put me off those years ago contributed a lot). And again with running.

My latest run gave a time and speed that i really can’t be proud of, despite some progress several weeks ago. All those early runs coupled with a few bike rides have made no  gains as i’ve not kept it up.

Perhaps she will spur me on and with lockdown beginning to ease, it good be good timing to get my backside back in the groove.

An Elbow of Consolation

If there is a consolation it’s that i should probably have been taking this time off anyway. I realised earlier that i hadn’t even thought about the pain in my elbow for a little while and stretching now doesn’t hurt either. It seems this lay off might prove just what i needed.

I had thought it had turned chronic back when Boris put everyone on house arrest. Nothing seems to have made the difference: exercises, stretching, conditioning. Despite toying with the idea of getting further advice but typically – for me and for most climbers – i didn’t. However i’ve perhaps turned a corner.

Half way through Saturday’s exercises i realised it wasn’t hurting at all, although i did feel a bit of pain when waking in the morning. Only time will tell and that first session back on the wall will be the real acid test. Hopefully, i’ll pass with flying colours ; i’d hate to have to take another 8 weeks off again!

Continuing on the Unknown Route

Now deep into week four of UK Lockdown, psyche is starting to drain, motivation to train is starting to wane and a slightly monotonous routine is beginning to set in. For me personally, there is also a real and upsetting realisation that the great liklihood is that – just like so many other people and events – my dream may be about to die after 11 long years.

There are some bright sides to this downtime (many mentioned in the last post still apply) including injury rehab but even that isn’t going as smoothly as i was hoping and the concern now is that once this is over, i’ll still have this niggling issue that will hold me back.

While the last post was filled with optimism, this one is less so and more centres on some very real feelings of worry and sadness. Sorry if i bring you down.

Note: i’ll try and finish on a happier note so if this post does get a bit maudlin, keep reading to the end. 

End of the Birthday Tradition?

With events such as Glastonbury and the Tour de France now being cancelled or postponed – which usually take place around the end of June – the very real probability, not possibility, is now starting to dawn on me that the VERY long standing Birthday Tradition may be finally coming to an end.

To recap very briefly, back in 2010 i spent my birthday in Val Daone: a beautiful Italian valley in the Dolomites. Every year since then has been a different country: Canada, France, Austria, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Ireland, Germany and Finland, last year. This year had yet to be planned.

The fact is it was always going to end one day. Granted there may be 195 countries in the world and i’m certainly not going to live that long but let’s face it, a two week jaunt to Kiribati isn’t gonna happen; there are a finite and much smaller number of suitable countries. Throw in the fact that they need climbing (ideally) and that number reduces further. If we assume i live to 85, that’s 60 countries that fit the criteria of affordable, logistically possible, with boulders, and decent conditions in June. It would appear that 10 might be the max.

I do have the consolation that at least this tradition was halted by a worldwide pandemic, totally out of my control, and not due to lack of funds or friends or by family constraints. There is also the point that i could easily pick it up again next year instead, with a small gap.

However my little jaunts were all well and good when i was young, free and single but now are significantly less popular at home and a rather frank conversation suggested this was not expected to be rekindled later. Either which way, i know first hand time and again that once a tradition is broken, it will most likely die.

It’s not over yet and many of these trips have been pulled out of the bag at the last minute but i must start facing the reality that after ten long years and some phenomenal experiences – some of which i have no desire to repeat – this year i might be at home in Wales.

Not Turning the Corner with My Elbow

Fun pun aside, this is a bit of a worry: the tendinitis in my left elbow is not improving. Rehab exercises have only yielded more discomfort, bordering on pain, while resting hasn’t helped and sees me wake every morning feeling sore. I need to keep going with something but its difficult to know what when everything seems to make it worse. The only thing that’s helped it lately: climbing. And i can’t exactly do that right now.

I’d almost be tempted to go and get it checked out but the LAST thing the NHS needs right now is some dickhead with a self-inflicted and non-serious injury whinging about his hurty elbow.

What i do need to do is figure out how to fix this. I have several very good physios and medical professionals that i could contact and need to get on it before the lockdown lifts and i’m free to play again but left unable. Either which way, lethargy just won’t cut it any more.

Starting to Drain

My lack of action to deal with my epichondilytis isn’t the only thing lacking. Despite the initial enthusiasm after putting up the gym rings in the kitchen, i’ve not been using them and not been doing much else either.

The exception is running. After a couple of weeks without dusting off the running shoes, i’ve been working hard and getting the mileage in and have been enjoying it, to be fair, but the SAID principle does suggest this will only go so far.

The previous section demonstrates how any use of fingerboards is totally out right now – especially given there’s not exactly any nice comfy holds i can use on the two here – so it’s conditioning work or bust. Yet despite the fact i was actually enjoying the rings, i can’t seem to fit it in. It seems the Groundhog Sunday is starting to get to me a little and motivation is waning.

Some Good News To Finish

We’ll finish on a lighter note, as promised. I’ve been using my time well (something to be happy about at least) and have lined up insurance for the business to be able to run outdoor bouldering courses with Prowess Coaching!

My expertise is extensive and well established but a quirk of the qualification system says that in order to teach outdoor bouldering, i need to be proficient at trad climbing (proof of proficiency isn’t actually a condition by the way). Being as i’ve not managed to finish that off, i’ve been stuck. Until now.

This downtime has meant i could do some research and have found an insurer that doesn’t look solely at qualification. As such, once the lockdown lifts, i’ll be expanding the repertoire out into the mountains that got me climbing in the first place. And i’ll be paid to do it!

I love my job, i really do, to the point where it rarely actually feels like work. It is truly my dream and this addition means i am now in heaven with it. The plan now is to use this to spur me on to get my act together, get the injury sorted, get strong and fit and stop feeling sorry for myself.

Yes, i’ll likely be here for my birthday. I might even be working. But if i imagine that that i’ll be working in the place i love doing what i love in a job that isn’t work, what more could i possibly ask for.

Coping Around Covid: How I’m Trying To Make the Best of It

We all know the current global situation and it is not worth me even offering a summary; this has affected you, me and everyone around us. Despite it all, though, i’m actually feeling fairly optimistic and am definitely having a damn good stab of making this work for me. I thought i’d share how.

How the situation has affected me

As a professional climbing coach, once the walls shut, i effectively had no clients. I don’t currently offer outdoor work as part of my courses and while exceptions can – and indeed were – made, we all know this didn’t last long; the hordes coming to my local area not exactly helping the situation.

In an attempt to keep going, i have and continue to to offer online consultations (click here for more information), but this has had very little take up. It seems there is currently next to no work for a climbing coach in the early stages of building a business.

Those early stages have also negated any government help in terms of self-employed schemes. I’ll be honest and say i have been very impressed with the various methods the government has tried to protect it’s citizens incomes and there are so many different types of earner out there, it was always going to be an impossible task to cover EVERYONE. I’m just one of those that has fallen through the cracks.

Still, as above, time at home to work on the business is certainly a good thing, if done the right way and as long as i don’t make a substantial loss, i should be in a good position to come back pretty much where i left off – hopefully even stronger – once life returns to normal.

Caring About My Clients

This is based on a core client base who are all great people and will likely come back when they can. They have all worked with me for a while and all deserve some attention right now. Looking after my regular clients as best i can isn’t just good business sense, it’s the decent thing to do and something i didn’t think twice about.

It needn’t be much and i’m cautious of badgering people; more just to inform them i’m around if they need me. Occasional check ins and some snippets of useful information, such as the New Years concept, are all that’s needed. For small businesses, this really is the bread and butter of customer service and one of the big advantages. It should not be overlooked

Building Online Presence

While my core clients are highly valued, the fact is i need more in the future to sustain the business. This downtime, with most people trawling the internet, is a great time to reach out to new climbers.

My business mainly relies on two things: a website (click here) and a Facebook page (click here). I’ve also utilised my own personal Vimeo page but am considering changing to YouTube for more traffic, opinions welcome on this. So as long as i’ve got good and useful things to say, this is a great opportunity to plug my services far and wide.

Cue the At Home Exercises series of videos, dotted up and down the page. These have been shared pretty much everywhere that is appropriate and the Facebook likes have leapt up with 44 new likes in the last 28 days, a 4300% rise. Turning this into actual paid work will have to wait – obviously – but for now, the more i can build this, the better i’ll be using my time. Please do help and share videos and posts as much as possible.

27 Crags

One job i have that i’ve put on the back burner has been creating online topos for 27 crags; the Finnish website that covers crags all over the world who got in touch with me to work on the North Wales section of their site.

In the last few days before total lockdown was announced, i quickly went out and got some photos of one of the local crags in Beddgelert on a walk with the kids, ready to spend time working on this once we were locked in. Annoyingly, i didn’t work hard enough at this and wish now that i’d gone out to every crag i could and got as many photos as possible. Alas, this can’t be helped and i’ve had to make do trawling the archives for suitable images.

It’s worked though, including my forethought way back in 2011 when i was at Cwm Dyli and got photos ready to do just this. There are now 11 Premium crags maintained by my group with more to come in the next few days.

Writing More

Despite my lack of posts on here, i have been writing feverishly whenever there is a lull in the crying around the house (more on that in a minute). So far, i have articles queued up with Chalkbloc, the Professional Mountaineer and possibly ukclimbing, with more still to come.

There will be more on the Prowess website too, assuming i get the chance. Weirdly, articles for the website have taken a back seat in favour of spreading the word elsewhere and desperately trying to find some paid articles. Still, anything published is a good thing for sure and it’s great to develop these channels further. Publishers welcome for my upcoming pieces.

Time With the Kids and Job on the House

In a normal week, there’s only so much time i get to spend with the kids, especially with tying this in with work and jobs on the house. This is a golden opportunity to make the most of this time to do both.

Almost immediately, i got to work: i cut and split to massive pile of wood in the garden that’s been there for months; i emptied, organised and lined the walls of the shed, that’s again been waiting for weeks for some free time; and i painted the outside of the kitchen, recruiting Rosie to help me out along the way.

We are allowed one GADE (Government Approved Daily Exercise) per day and spending that exploring different parts of the village with Rosie and Hannah has actually been really nice. Granted, it would be nice to be able to travel a little further but actually, given where we live, it’s been nice to stay local and remove the stresses and logistics that come with packing everything into the car that every parent will know only too well.

Finishing Study

This hasn’t really taken off yet but it will very soon i’m sure. My masters degree was due to finish in June and being forced back inside has removed the temptation to go climbing instead of studying. I’m on the final module now, the thesis, and it will be crucial to now crack on and get this done and finished.

I still can’t quite believe that i’m so close to achieving this and whatever happens with graduation, will be thrilled when it is done. Anyone who knows my past will know i did not do well with my undergrad degree, failing the finals, and this Professional degree has offered me a chance of redemption. Granted, trying to do this while having a young family and starting my own business has not been ideal but i’ve passed every hurdle along the way with aplomb and am so close to finally having letters after my name.

As time ticks along, this will become a greater priority and in a funny sort of way, i could do with the lockdown actually lasting longer to get this done. Not that i’m wishing for that in any possible way; i’d rather rely on self-control than curfew to get my thesis finished.

Learning More About My Weak Points

As much as i am a movement specialist and professional climbing coach, my knowledge in the strength and conditioning side of coaching isn’t as good as it could – or possibly should – be. That is until now.

I’ve got the books, just haven’t had the time or the inclination to read them, digest them and learn what i need to know. Now, i have no excuses and have been using this time to learn about agonists, ATP, fast twitch muscle fibres, disinhibition and so much more.

What’s more, with my academic connections, i have the unusual ability to be able to really dig deep into the science of training and develop a much deeper understanding of principles. Watch this space.

Getting Strong and Working Antagonists

Of course, i’m working on my own weaknesses too, having found and installed the gym rings i’ve owned for years in the kitchen ceiling. Today, i’m still aching from the Covid 100 challenge (100 press ups, pull ups, sit ups and squats) two days ago. The plan is to build muscle mass not only where i need it but also the antagonists to prevent further injury.

I’m also hoping this extended break will calm the tendon injury in my elbow that has plagued me all year. More research will be needed and more exercises completed as it is not improving (and not helped by the aforementioned work on the house) but hopefully, i can get it nice and strong again ready for the open door later in the year.

Summary: Making the Most Of This Time

I have certainly had itchy feet and a bit of cabin fever over the past week or so but writing this post has helped to make me realise quite how much i’ve actually done, less than two weeks into lockdown. I keep being told to pace myself and not go too mad but this pace is working, and working incredibly well.

We never know what is around the corner, what might happen with life in the next phase. The old TV show Stingray was actually remarkably on point: anything can happen in the next half hour.

We have a choice: mope or adapt. We could sit here and lament what is missing in our lives or we can make an assessment and see how we can use this situation to our advantage. This isn’t house arrest, this is an opportunity and only the strongest of us will use the next few months and weeks to put ourselves in a better position than we were before. The question now is which choice will you make.

 

Please remember to follow government advice/requests to help combat the coronavirus and save lives. The hills will still be there when all this is done. Stay home and stay safe. 

 

Happy New Year: March 2020

For those who don’t know, my new year runs from when the clocks go forward, giving a much better point of the year for resolutions and goal setting. There is also a Solstice when the clocks go back. For more information, click here.

Well this is going to be a weird one… Let’s point out that these sorts of posts now appear on “memories” often so in the interest of our future selves looking back on this, let us set the scene of the current situation.

We’re locked down. Basically, thanks to the global pandemic of Covid-19 (commonly referred to as Coronavirus) we have all been instructed by our various governments to stay in our homes, only to leave for essentials and one GADE (or Government Approved Daily Exercise; an acronym of my own devising). This last point has proven some consternation but due to the closure of various different outdoor spaces – as well as not wanting to be that guy – all climbing, indoor or outdoor, has ceased. Indefinitely at this point.

Which basically makes setting ANY goals for this season nigh on impossible, as no one has any idea how long this is going to last or what is going to happen when it does finally end.

It has been a totally suppressing end to a slightly dour season that started so well before it all came crashing down.

Season Review

The end of last season held so much promise and the outstanding form continued unabated into the winter, although this was primarily indoors. The winter rains came in and my logbook shows only two outdoor climbs between Solstice 2019 and the end of the year; and even these were repeat entries from Sheep Pen.

Nevertheless, whether it was indoors or out, this winter has seen me crushing like a machine, climbing any and all in sight. Given my new job – Prowess Climbing Coaching remember – i found myself at the climbing walls every other day and decided to try and take on not just the annual Indy Aggregate but the Beacon bouldering aggregate too.

I have written a post on this slightly foolish endeavour that will be posted soon but in short, the pure volume of climbing got me in the end, after a mammoth 85-problem session, and damaged a tendon in my left elbow that is still giving me grief.

Before this setback, though, i’d managed several impressive climbs in one wall or the other, including at least two 7c+ and my first 8a at the Indy as well as several gold grade climbs at the Beacon.

There was another unexpected highlight this season. What feels like an eternity ago now – in a different world, with the way it feels right now – i was given the chance, by my wonderful partner, the go to Spain for a week to get some climbing in. My good friend Sally was already out there and had asked me to go and Em actually encouraged me, rearranged her shifts and sorted out cover with the kids; all so i could have a few days playing in Albarracin.

It was a mixed trip with various different problems that probably added to the experience but one that yielded some great ascents (El Plus de Autobus 7b, Eclipse 7b and El Rompededos 7a+) and a fantastic, albeit exhausting, trip.

This was my third trip to Spain’s bouldering jewel in a burgeoning crown and one that brought back many memories and showed new haunts to explore with new friends. It also reminded me of the enjoyment to be had on a good climbing trip and has made me long for more again; or at least reminisce for the great trips i’ve had in the past.

And of course there’s business, which i’m glad to say is still going (albeit temporarily halted, as with everyone else). I have a strong, if small, core of clients which will hopefully grow as soon as i’m able to get back on it.

This season has seen me consolidate the business substantially, with the acquisition of both my Development Coach Award and my Climbing Wall Development Instructor Award meaning i am now a fully qualified climbing coach that can add lead climbing in to my repertoire. The next step is outdoor top ropes and (far more importantly) outdoor bouldering before the tickets end with outdoor leading, although that seems a little fanciful. So far though, so good. Very good from the reviews i have read.

Previous Season Goals

  • Goal: 8a
  • Between 85-90% completion in both aggregate competitions
  • Complete the vast majority of the Masters work
  • Still be in business at the end of the season
  • Take Rosie climbing semi-regularly (including once on rock if possible)

How Did It Go?

Goal: 8a was going very well and the last session i had on Sway On saw me complete the route from one move in, even stroking the hold of the first move. I was soooo close… and then got crocked. Granted, i was six months ahead of schedule but was still a kick in the teeth. This will go on for at least another season.

The results of both aggregate competitions have yet to be released (i know i keep going on about the disruptions but it’s hard to convey quite how much the world is on it’s knees right now) but i do know that the Indy comp was pretty much done and i’d managed a completion of 94.1% with 373 completed climbs out of 393. The Beacon had been less successful, given i still had an entire room to complete when they closed, but if you eliminate that, completion was at – i gasped when i saw this – 86.4% with 476 from 551. Average between them sits around 90%. A win, if only just; a good goal after all!

What’s more astounding is this means a mammoth 849 completed boulder problems since the start of October. To give this perspective, my entire climbing career has yielded 739 outdoor boulder problems over the last 14 years. It is a ludicrous amount and one i shall think very carefully before attempting again. Oh and a dozen Spanish routes were this season too.

As for the Masters work, i am now writing up my thesis and look to complete that very soon, hopefully even before the original deadline. I’m now reliant on supervisors – which was already complicated before coronavirus as my supervisor of the last two years has left the university – but hopefully, this will all be completed very soon.

And i am still in business! which brings a huge smile to my face. As above, i have a strong client base and hope that once i can back to work, things will start to get rolling quickly. In the meantime, i continue to try and continue as best i can, making training videos and building exposure to the business with the public.

Sadly the last goal has not come to fruition. We have taken Rosie once or twice but she hasn’t taken to it much. We will continue to offer her climbing and will try and take her again as soon as is possible. However i’ve always said that i’ll not push either her or Hannah to take up climbing; we’ll simply put it on the plate for her and see if they take it. The choice, as with everything in life, will be entirely theirs.

Next Season Goals

This is where things get really difficult. The lock down is supposed to be reviewed after three-weeks but Wuhan province in China is due to come out of it’s own lock down in early April; several months after it began. If that continues here, we’re looking at early June before we’re even allowed out of the village.

For context, the Premier League and Football Association don’t even know when, and even if, the football season will complete. The whole world waits to see how this will turn out and so making any sort of goals at all hinges on, well, no one knows.

That being said, i am supposed to be a professional climbing coach and making the best of things seems to be my bread and butter for the foreseeable. So that is what i shall do.

Goal: 8a hasn’t really changed that much, apart from being able to actually try the route, as training will still be tailored to attack Sway On at the earliest opportunity. Training can continue at home quite easily, especially due to the two bolt hangers now installed in our rather high kitchen from which gymnastics rings, a pull up bar or pinch grips can easily be attached to compliment to two fingerboards in the house already. And this will all rely on my golfer’s elbow subsiding; something which the current situation may actually help with.

Finishing the master’s will be crucial, although staying in business will continue from wherever i’ve left off as finances should theoretically remain there to be used once i go back to work, hopefully with some top ups either from online coaching (book a consultation please) or online articles in the interim.

  • Goal: 8a
  • Conduct Home Training
  • Let elbow heal
  • Finish master’s degree
  • Publish articles and find online consultancy work
  • Continue to offer climbing to the kids

Sadly the idea of takings the kids more than two miles from home is currently fanciful but as and when we can, i will offer climbing to them as before and as such, it can go on the list. They are both still so young but are becoming such wonderful human beings that it really matters not. Now more than ever, they are there to remind us what classifies as “the least important things”.

Happy New Year!

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I once told a close friend that there is no reason for having children. Today, I think I might be right: there is no single reason I've found, no one enlightening experience that explains it all, no single moment that I've had that makes it all make sense. I don't think you suddenly realise how much you could love someone, I haven't found it's suddenly given my life meaning and I don't feel my kids complete me; not as a single part. It's not about looking for that one defining quality. It's about the look in her face when she says "check it out this!" because she wants to show me something. Its the look on her face when she tells me off for not finishing my dinner. It's about her hand on my shoulder, comforting me because her infant sister won't stop crying. It's about the way she finds comfort in me when she's hurt, just by holding me. It's the way we make each other laugh, simply by staring at each other across the kitchen table and giggling hysterically for absolutely no reason. It's the way she almost instantly forgives me when I've shouted at her wrongfully. It's three years of these moments that you could forget in an instant but you don't because these that are the reason you so desperately care for and love your children; moments that are impossible to explain to anyone that doesn't instantly understand first hand. Three years that I could never have imagined that have been, and continue to be, wonderful. Happy birthday Rosie and thank you. I hope this never ends. Photo, as usual, by @emks93 who captures the pictures so much better than I

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Stress, Excitement and Climbing

“Tomorrow” in the last post was now several days ago and i’m back in damp, cold, blustery North Wales. This trip was a whirlwind of stress, excitement and climbing that both seemed to last for a long time and fly past in an instant. In the end, there were a total of two full days and an hour on the third in which to send something. That something didn’t disapoint.

Two in Two

The only problem i had in mind in the build up to this trip was the one that got away last time: El Orgasmo 7a+ at La Fuente. In a nice twist of fate, it turned out Sally’s other project was also in La Fuente and i was definitely psyched to head back up there.

El Plus de Autobus 7b is another roof problem for which Albarracin is famed. Thankfully, with giant holes in the roof, it was exactly the type of problem that wasn’t aggrevating my injured elbow; especially with tape around my arm both above and below the joint. The top, however, was slightly crimpy and more technical but did have the benefit of being a separate stand up problem at 6c+, meaning i’d likely leave with something for my efforts. While i’m not a huge fan of splitting a problem in half to create two climbs, it does have it’s benefits and for someone operating at (in this case) 7a, would give them the chance to complete at least one climb.

What made it all the better was that my ascent of the stand start actually came from the theory i’ve been developing on climbing movement. My left hand was a sidepull pulling towards three o’clock, my left heel holding me up and i realised i needed a right foot on something to comply with my ideas of opposing forces and stable positions (blatant self promotion: book a session to find out what the hell i’m talking about here…). The second i realised this, i found the perfect place for my right foot and a move that would’ve been insanely powerful on an injured arm suddenly became a simple step up. It seems the ideas i’m peddling hold water!

My goal was most definitely the sit start though and i was now fighting with my poor fitness levels after weeks of resting my poorly arm. Getting the resting periods just right proved a struggle, just as on the day before but soon enough, i clutched on to the higher holds and pulled through the same (now easy) move to reach the top and the blank walrus-style top out.

Now time for El Orgasmo and i was optimistic. Surely with my increased levels of climbing and my heightened tactics, it would likely go? One less project left lying around Europe somewhere, that would be nice. Only those poor fitness levels seemed to rear their ugly heads once again and the grapple with the lip on the problem proved to be my undoing. Perhaps i could’ve fought my way through it with sheer belligerence but it would’ve killed me and probably not gone anyway. Besides, the theory wasn’t really working as well this time and i’ve got some more thinking to do once the feet get high up in the air.

I was right to leave it alone as i tried pulling on a couple of other nearby problems only to find myself exhausted the second i stepped off the floor. It seems i was done for the day, not that i was complaining! Two 7bs and a 7a+ in two days was much more than i expected this week and ensured i made the long drive home with a smile on my face.

Friday morning, i awoke early, showered and packed quickly (i didn’t exactly have a lot with me for a week in a hostel!) and headed for one quick last blast. But with aching shoulders, i was never going to do much, especially in that last hour before my time was up. Nevertheless, it was nice to stretch the muscles and say goodbye to Sally. I owe her an enormous thanks for getting me out there for what was a stunning week; one i’d dearly love to repeat!

I’ve grown accustomed to the idea of staying local for the foreseeable and this week reminded me of the joys and excitement that can come from visiting foreign fields. Granted, that comes with it’s fair share of stress but in the end, these are the experiences we can’t buy and ones that remind us of the millions of fantastic people all over the world. I am so grateful to Sally for reminding me of this, no matter how brief it may have been.