Tag Archives: first ascents

Getting Out, Getting In, Getting Strong Again

Firstly, apologies for not posting for over a month; especially with so much going on that is worth writing about! At the end of August, i left my job at Plas y Brenin and decided to try and make it on my own as a self-employed climbing coach.

My business, Prowess Climbing Coaching, has technically been running for about a year now, although with a full schedule already, it was impossible to grow as there was no time for potential clients. Now i’ve taken the plunge, freelancing where i can and trying to build a client base. Where before i was busy, suddenly i became different busy and my diary became my bible.

Still, the initial onslaught has calmed down and this has given me the chance to catch up on being me a little more again. Better still is that all this time spent in the climbing walls – coupled with the sessions i’ve managed while conducting interviews for my masters degree – has left me in a really strong position now i’m back at the crag…

Wavelength Sends

After months of cleaning, Josh and myself were finally at a point where we were ready to attack our new boulder and were just waiting on a suitable weather window. Once my last day at the Brenin had come and gone, we headed up for one last cleaning session together (Josh put in a little more effort in the following week) before that first day of climbing finally came.

Alas, while my schedule had now freed up, Josh was still working five days a week and when we decided the rock would likely not be dry enough – coupled with the knowledge that my friend still has many classics to tick off before worrying about putting up more – we shifted plans to the Wavelength boulder to have a blast on King of Drunks 7a.

It’s such a classic line that anyone operating around that grade should really tick it off at some point; more so now that there is a stand up variation at 6c. Much as i don’t normally agree with splitting existing problems, this one does make sense, with the start being incredibly powerful while the top is very different in being more technical. Josh, i’m pleased to say, ticked off the stand ably and now has the sit to come back to.

While i personally have ticked most of the routes on that boulder, i was happy to support my friend and repeat problems for the day. King of Drunks fell quickly and, more pleasingly, the right hand variant also yielded with little effort once i remembered the foot beta. Promising indeed! One of the last outstanding lines for me is Wavelength itself, at 7c. I miraculously and luckily flashed the stand several years ago but the sit has always alluded me. While it did the same again, i was much closer than expected and left feeling buoyed by my efforts of the day.

The Heavy Week

More indoor sessions kept me topped up and feeling strong, not least the send of an Indy 7b+ in one night. On my first dedicated Masters study day, i found my mind racing and myself unable to concentrate, looking out the window at a glorious day. I long since learned that it is pointless to persevere in these situations, you’re better to go and clear your head with what is distracting you and come back fresh and ready to work. I looked at my out of date List and plumped for a spin on the Barrel, and Barrel Groove 7c.

I didn’t think i’d get very far with a climb that the guide describes as having “barely adequate holds” so, glancing another boulder on the circuit higher up, figured i’d start there. Couple of 6cs, a 7a+, a 7b, they seemed more attainable and it turned out i was right: Summit o Nothing 6c+ and Summer Telse 7a+ both flashed. Me surprised. Bag of Sticks 7b had nettles under the start and terrible feet so down to the Groove to see how it went.

Turns out it went very well. VERY well in fact and after a spot of video beta and a few burns, i’d got it wired and was linking moves together. By the time someone wandered up to join me, i was almost linking the whole climb and when i ran out of time and had to collect the kids, i had slapped the top hold twice, only not in enough control to stay on it.

Maximum Muppetry

Wednesday morning rolled around and despite the knowledge that the following day was earmarked for our first blast on the Birch Tree Boulder, i couldn’t help myself. Where i went wrong was my complete and total inability to self-coach. Worse than that, despite filming literally every single attempt in case it went, i didn’t even think to watch one of them back.

Two and a half fucking hours i spent with the wrong foot beta, using energy and wasting time i did not have. After you pull off the floor, you place a heel in the break to your left and reach up with the right hand. Once you’ve done this, the toe sneaks into the top of the break in a heel-toe cam and you reach up left. What you should not do is place the toe in the break early, as this prevents the hips from twisting in and means you can no longer easily reach the first right hand hold. And yet, despite the fact that from the outside i’d have seen this instantly and despite the fact a two minute scroll through the video of the previous day would’ve told me, every time i pulled off the floor, the toe went in and i came crashing back down.

By the time i realised it was too late and Josh had just text me to say the Birch Tree Boulder was dry. It’s one of the hardest things to do, to pull yourself away from a project that nearly yields. Not quite as hard as finishing the project though…

First Ascenting At Last

Delays the next day gave us an hour less than i’d intended but it couldn’t be helped and soon enough, at long last, we were sat on pads under our project boulder with rock boots in hands and smiles on faces. What we were facing was totally unknown, other than the fact we knew it would be satisfying. The face itself looks incredible and the idea of putting our own lines up, naming and grading them made us slightly giddy.

The climbing itself didn’t disappoint in terms of quality, although i’ve learned that with first ascents, they always feel much better on that first day than they do later. You’ve got a lot invested in this problem and i think you project that into the problem. Repeating them later often gives a better gauge. My Crane though, around 6b+ stand and 6c+ sit, will be as good next time as it was this time around. Named after Mike Raine, who informed us of this bloc back in the spring, i was glad to put this one up, with good moves on satisfying holds.

My project line Roohan proved to be exactly what i was hoping for, much to my dismay in a very Oscar Wilde fashion as i was hoping it would be mid-7s but also wanted to get it in one session. Given my week to this point, they were unlikely to align, especially as the slopers didn’t suit me at all.  Again, though, the moves were excellent and i am really hoping that when it finally falls, the route named after my two daughters will do them proud.

Meanwhile, In From The Cold

Very quickly, all this extra time indoors has seen me test myself against a variety of venues and their local strong boys. With the Masters dragging me across the country, i’ve visited three walls, getting a climb in at two of them (didn’t get time in Kendal). Plus, of course, normal service at the Indy.

However the Indy is one of the few walls these days that still grade their problems [insert rant about the ineptitude of top end setter-climbers to be able to offer a grade with enough confidence, even if it is over 7a and still with set-by-colour]. What that’s meant is that i’m pretty much first ascenting indoors again; walking through the door, looking at the grade boundaries, finding i can flash the bottom of the top boundary and so i’ve got one or two colours to challenge me.

That in itself isn’t a criticism, more another boost for my current levels. Both at Stronghold in London and at the Works in Sheffield, i was quickly trying some of the hardest routes in the wall and left feeling very good about myself. Things are looking good right now and i am growing in optimism for the Spring with every passing week. Goal: 8a is officially on.

Climbers and their Critics

I want to start this era with a quote from the great American figure Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Teddy Roosevelt

Given recent accomplishments that have appeared (quite rightly) at the top of the climbing news feeds, this seems particularly apt. However, as i’m currently learning with my studies, the critic has a place. The key is how the critic goes about it.

Second 9a

First, we need to give this some context and have a look at the story that grabbed the climbing headlines: rising French climber Charles Albert climbed No Kpote Only at Rocher Brule in Fontainebleau and has given it the grade of 9a. This is only the second boulder problem of this grade in the world, after Nalle Hukkataival climbed Burden of Dreams at Lappnor in Finland.

Below is a collection of some of the news reports from various sources across the world.

“But it’s barefoot!”

A lot of the focus of the internet commentary that inevitably ensued focused on the fact that Albert climbs barefoot; a rarity in the climbing fraternity at large, let alone among the elite. In truth, there would be similar comments if he differed from the norm in any other way too – if he climbed without chalk or had a disability for example – and this difference has led many to claim that he can’t use standard grading systems if he’s not going to participate in a standard way. One friend of mine last week even suggested a new grading system for barefoot ascents; something i personally think is more than a little unnecessary.

Another angle that people have looked from concerns Albert’s pedigree when it comes to hard boulder problems. While he has climbed five 8c problems – four of which in the forest and one in Rocklands – and two 8c+ problems – again both in Font – both of those V16s were first ascents, with both still awaiting a repeat. Even the magazines have been quick to point this out (see Climbing magazine link, paragraph three, above). It seems the community isn’t convinced of his ability to make such a bold statement.

Meanwhile, another intriguing question that has been posed is closely linked to how we grade boulder problems in the first place. Harder problems are obviously linked to effort and often, this comes from the number of sessions it takes to complete. Nalle spent around 60 climbing days (plus supplementary training including replica training) where Albert managed it in 20 (or so i’ve heard).

For many, grading new problems is as simple as that. Personally, i’m not as certain, and while it is a good gauge, Nalle himself states in The Lappnor Project that all the pieces need to fall into place at just the right time for a project at your limit to fall. Is it comprehensible that Albert found this perfect attempt earlier than Nalle with both finding the climbs equally as hard?

Either which way, the debate continues and the critics remain as vocal as ever:

The role of the critic in grounding the process

There are many examples of where critics have proven crucial to development. In academia, as i am learning now, once a paper is published it isn’t really taken as totally genuine unless it has peer review. In journals, responses to papers – and sometimes responses to these by the original author! – are included in the same journal. Unless someone has dissected what you’ve said, it seems it isn’t taken as seriously.

In terms of climbing, sometimes critics who have yet to even visit the climb can offer something to the community in a beneficial fashion. James Pearson learned this the hard way with Walk of Life, after suffering with over-grading with a few climbs in the past. Plenty saw fit to comment, passing judgement as they saw fit and the route was indeed downgraded substantially. It seems that in this case, the community at large was right to get involved and ground the decision.

Not that this made Pearson feel much better and following the furore of Walk of Life he moved to Austria, effectively shunned by the very same people who were calling him the next great climber not months before.

When critics go too far

Of course there comes a point where the critic can go too far; where they can believe they are equal in importance to the “doer of deeds” mentioned by Roosevelt. That is, after all, what started this piece off. The treatment James Pearson received certainly falls into this category.

Offering a distribution of importance between the doer and the critic will always remain impossible, although i would argue the climber (in this case) will always come out ahead: without the critic, the climber’s achievements remain but without the climber, the critic has no critique and fails to exist.

With the anonymity of the modern commentator, there is an ability to comment without risking one’s reputation in the same way as we would in face-to-face conversation. The term Keyboard Warrior is now standard fare, referring to people who don’t actually participate but are quick to judge; the very same that i’m sure Roosevelt was referring to in his original quote.

There is, of course, an irony in me creating a comment on the commentators and thus judging them. I guess the only real difference is the fact that i’m not passing judgement on an individual or a single achievement, more that i’m looking at a practice instead.

For all the criticism that Pearson and Albert have both received in making their bold statements at the time they did, one thing must be said: in researching this post, i have noticed that those repeating the routes are normally very praiseworthy of the initial climber, even if they do disagree with one aspect. And i think that must be remembered.

Criticism is important and the critic has their place in grounding anyone’s achievements. But they must always remember that their very existence relies entirely on the “doer of deeds” and as such, they should always show respect. Charles Albert will always have mine, both for his climb and for his bravery in the face of criticism.

Life Is Rosie

Well, that’s it: it’s done, i can do no more. Literally, as if i were to climb any of the outstanding lines, they wouldn’t count. The Indy Winter Aggregate has finished.

So, despite the nicest weather we’ve had in North Wales this year on Wednesday, my evening was spent back at the Indy scrabbling for just one more point. After all, with scores tight at the top, it might make the crucial difference. As far as i was aware, there were only three outstanding lines left to try.

That was until i got there. Tim had set a couple of new lines the other day but had informed me they wouldn’t be numbered, being so close to the end. Turns out he was mistaken and i walked in to fifteen more climbs left to accomplish. On the bright side, that would definitely tip me over the 300 climbs mark for the season…

Irritatingly, despite only three graded 7a or harder, they were nearly all quite tough! Normally 6s fall very quickly for me, normally on the first effort, but every one, save the occasional 3 or 4, made me put some effort in and got me thinking. I think there were at least six climbs that didn’t get flashed.

Still, they all got done – including the 7b+ black route that captured most of my attention for the session – and thus concluded another fantastic winter climbing aggregate.

A couple of years ago, i posted a big thank you for the end of the aggregate and it’s been interesting to find it and read it again. The same is as true now as it was then; the only difference that perhaps i’ve started to take it for granted a little more.

Every year there are ups and downs with the aggregate and this year has been no exception. That said, the ups have far outweighed the downs: faces have mostly been stripped and set as a whole, eliminating a route being taken down prematurely or getting in the way of the new set, the weekly setting has returned and the grade range has been excellent as always. Most importantly of all, the routes have been 98% awesome.

It is tough to set good lines, especially consistently week after week, but the Indy do this very well indeed. Other walls – the Boardroom, so i hear – do a big reset of the whole wall but the graduated approach always gives you something fresh to tick off and something hard to project. This year, they nailed it.

The downs have mainly been to do with grading, where it has been a bit erratic this season. While it’s not the end of the world, it can get a little frustrating to sail up a 7b within a couple of attempts and then fail abjectly on a 7a+. Nevertheless, they are one of the few remaining walls that grade their climbs with actual outdoor grades, not colour grade boundaries and if the price to pay for that is some iffy numbers occasionally, i’ll take that every time.

My only other complaint would be the regularity with which the scores have been updated but again, it’s not a serious problem and considering i sat in top spot for five months as a consequence, it kinda worked out in my favour! Yes, this is normally a monthly update and it would be nice but knowing the lads as i do and knowing how this season has gone for them, it is understandable, in exactly the same way as routes not being immediately numbered all the time. Given the circumstances and what they’re actually trying to achieve, they’ve yet again done a stonking job.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the atmosphere, vibe of the place; yet again, it’s a real local hub. Part of the reason for my pseudo-supremacy is the lack of regulars out playing this year but there is new blood – there to make me feel old – coming in all the time and really grasping the ethos of the wall. No elitism, no snobbery, just climbers, there to climb and socialise and happy to help each other out.

All in all, win lose or draw, it’s been another great series. The Massive Monday Series has added an extra element of competition and was another storming success and from a personal perspective, it’s done for me exactly what i needed it to: it’s got me strong again. Not back to the levels of this time last year, ticking off the hardest lines of my life but back to some sort of form; something i can now go and build on. And that is exactly what i wanted.

With outdoor sessions now firmly on my mind, I did manage to make the most of the good weather during the day – nipping out into the forest to snag two more first ascents in Bryn Engan. Life is Rosie 6a and Slabadabadoo 6c won’t be turning any heads any time soon but are worthwhile lines to add to a growing circuit. And besides, i’ve now got a climb named after my daughter, which makes it all okay.

The days are getting noticably longer and the weather beginning to show signs of turning. The end of the month brings with it the changing of the clocks and the turning of the Climbing Year. What happens now remains to be seen but at least i feel primed to give it my best shot. With my new family for company this year.

Solstice: Goal Setting Time Again

A whole month since my last post just goes to highlight quite how little has been going on for me lately, although there have been a few notable climbing-related activities – most notably on the coaching front.

After a break from coaching over the summer (due to distractions like baby-related fussing and DIY) i’ve got back into it recently, slowly remembering what to do and culminating last weekend on attending the BMC Coaching Symposium in Manchester. It was a fantastic experience, from Kris Peters talking about strength and conditioning training to Udo Neumann and his movement workshops, with plenty more as well. It has relit the fire that had burned very brightly to begin with to progress as a coach rather than a climber and has led to some deeper thinking and understanding of climbing since then. I will look to write up some of these ideas and publish them soon.

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"We always think the questions that surround us are the most important" It's quite common to meet your #heroes in the #climbing world but it's pretty rare to meet someone who instantly becomes one. This is Udo Neumann: he's coached the German national team and is one of the front runners in current #coaching theory. Here he's giving the keynote speech at the @teambmc Coaching Symposium at the Depot in Manchester yesterday. His thinking on movement in coaching is amazing, his methods incredible and he has the personality to boot. Such an amazing guy, I hope, as with all the others presenting on this awesome weekend, that our paths cross again very soon #bouldering #climbing_is_my_passion

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Other than that, my focus has been on getting back to vaguely the levels of strength i held back in March on that cold day at Sheep Pen and my career-high tick of 7c+. As such, any advances on outside climbing (despite the potentially dry conditions) have been ignored in favour of indoor cranking and a focus on training. A six-month pass at the Indy has helped drag me down more often and the advent of the aggregate has given me some much needed structure.

Where the List had acted as an inspiration, once my strength had dropped a little, i found that even the easiest lines on there had become too dificult and actually, it was becoming more detrimental than helpful. The best way to get back on track: get strong again.

The main issue, that i am sure most climbers can empathise with, is a niggling feeling in my right arm, from my elbow to to midriff. At the moment, i’m persevering carefully and praying it isn’t anything too serious.

Of course, this all leads nicely to today’s significant date: it’s the mid-season solstice!

Some Highlights

First though, it would be unfair to mention some of the highlights from the last six months. After all, there have been some huge ones!

On the climbing front, the Great Swedish Bouldering Tour will certainly sit as one of the greatest trips of all time. While there wasn’t too much in the way of actual climbing, the number of crags and variety of climbing was unprecedented and will live long in the memory  – there is too much to think of quickly here.

Meanwhile, while the week in Scotland again yielded a meagre amount of time on rock proper, a taste of Torridon was enough to remind me that while you don’t have to get on a boat or a plane to get to Scotland, it does not reduce it’s appeal at all – we need to go back. Emily will not complain.

And of course, the biggest news of all: the onset of fatherhood come late February. I’m not sure what to say about it, other than i cannot wait. This is something i’ve wanted for many years and i’m thrilled that not only is it now actually going to happen, i’ve found the perfect person for it to happen with. Even if becoming a father meant an end to my climbing career, it would be worth it but i don’t think anyone would put money on that outcome happening. Far more likely is for me to have a willing and budding apprentice… Only time will tell what will happen but whatever that is, it’s going to be amazing.

Clocks Fall Back

This weekend, the clocks have gone back an hour, meaning several things: firstly, any ideas of daylight after-work sessions are now firmly out for the next few months and of course meaning we are now exactly half-way through the yearly cycle.

That means it’s time to review the last goals, find out how well (or poorly) i’ve done and set some more for the next season. Of course, with this being only the solstice and not the New Year, there are still some outstanding, which is ideal, giving me some continuity. So let’s start by looking at the goals set for Summer 2016

Last Season’s Goals:
  • Three 8a climbs
  • At least 7c abroad
  • More first ascents and a comprehensive topo
  • SPA Assessment
And how did it go?

Erm, yeah, not great, reading that little list! but not that bad either.

Three problems at 8a was always going to be an impossible ask but i knew that when i wrote it; it was more a case of trying to spur myself on. To be honest though, psyche levels fell dramatically mid-season and unless i’d maintained the improvment i’d seen over the previous 18 months, it was never going to happen.

Psyche levels wax and wane regularly with climbing and continually being completely keen to get out all the time is not sustainable. The trick with these things is to accept that sometimes, you just need a break from it all and running with that. Getting the news that i’m having a baby probably affected me too (not that i’d change that for the world but you know what i mean).

Likewise, even booking onto an SPA Assessment proved a step too far, although i think i underestimated quite how difficult a step this would be for me. The true fact is that once i’ve ticked that box, my rack and my ropes will doubtless be going deep into the back of the loft – such is my dislike of trad climbing. Don’t get me wrong, i see the appeal but for me, it is something i no longer wish to pursue and thankfully, these days i don’t have to. This one is going to be a much tougher task that i’d thought.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. 7c abroad did indeed go this season, with success on Carnage assis 7c of all things. It was slightly tactical but almost didn’t pay off and did cost me far more of my week than i had intended. Nevetheless, by picking the extended version of a line i know so intimately, i gave myself a real fighting chance and did indeed manage to tick off this particular milestone.

Meanwhile, a late-season surge on the boulders in Bryn Engan meant that more first ascents did arrive… sort of. To be honest, the problems on the Bryn Engan boulder were all probably climbed many moons ago but not recorded, meaning i’m not actually thinking they’re first ascents proper. Instead, i’m claiming first recorded ascent of five lines; the pick of the bunch being Awaiting Arthur’s Arrival 7a+ – a sligtly convoluted link up line but a good one nonetheless.

The comprehensive topo hasn’t happened though. Decent photographs are certainly needed, with time to actually create and edit something that will stand up to the rigours of the navigation of boulderers. Still, i’ve seen and heard of Prowess and the lines of the Mymbyr Boulder going in the new guide. To be honest, that’s far more of a coup than my own little scribblings!

So, about fifty per cent of the objectives done probably gives a fair assessment of my levels of success. Given the dip in psyche and ability during the latter half of the season, i’m not going to complain!

2016 Winter Goals

At the “turn of the year” i’d even set some Winter goals: train weaknesses, harness strengths and create a training plan. Hmm.

These are all worthy goals but i suspect possibly don’t quite go far enough. True they are excellent focal points but more is needed if i’m to get back to ticking the goals i’ve missed to date.

8a is still atainable, if i can find the right one. An SPA is again achieveable, despite it being winter. A topo will take a few days at a computer. Still, more things are needed and life has certainly changed substantially since that post in the latter days of March.

2016 Autumn/Winter Goals – short term

Get strong. Get back in training. Get the psyche back! That has to be the key and is already on the cards as i continue to tick off the problems at the Indy on my little sheet. My focus at the moment has to get to a point where the List is inspirational and not demoralising and if i can’t do that, it needs redrawing – it is currently detrimental.

Getting back into coaching is a must too. Granted, three sessions a week may have represented an incessent and unsustainable surge of enthusiasm – and possibly a hint that i was more single than i’d realised – but getting back in the wall with that different head on is now just as important to me as a climber.

  • Get strong and create that training plan.
  • Coach regularly
  • Keep on top of the aggregate
  • 7c outside – most likely Nazgul’s Traverse

2016 Autumn/Winter goals – season long

That SPA Assessment needs to happen; i’m gonna have to suck it up at some point, although don’t be surprised to see this one on my to-do list at the end of next March too.

Meanwhile, the aggregate remains a strong priority for me. I have mentioned in a previous post that my final standing of fourth last year may have been akin to Leicester winning the Premier league so a reasonable aim may be to finish top-5 this time around. This should do it, as long as i’m not too upset if it doesn’t happen.

As mentioned above, leaving 8a on there isn’t beyond the realms of possibility but reigning it in from three to one is probably wise given the dip i’ve had. I’ll come back just as strong, if i truly want to, but there’s no point getting carried away and if i do tick off one, i’m not going to suddenly stop because i’ve achieved that goal.

Finally, my coaching needs to develop a little more into a structured activity if i’m to continue heading in the direction i want it to. I’ve been reading lots about coaching in other sports and this is not bad thing. Next is to consolidate my thinking, come up with some tangible points and create a coaching philosophy. Do this, and i’ll be setting myself up nicely for the future.

  • SPA Assessment
  • Top Five in the Indy Aggregate
  • At least one 8a climb
  • Create a coaching philosophy

Awaiting Athur’s Arrival wasn’t just a route name plucked out of the back of my mind because it sounds good. At the back end of the coming season, my first offspring will be here and everything WILL change. While this isn’t necessarily the end, or indeed a bad thing at all, it does mean this is possibly my last chance to climb and train as i’ve known it in the past. It’s important to make the most of it – and enjoy it too!

Perhaps there’s a lesson in there for all of us? Whatever you’re up to this Winter, have a great time and the Very Best of Psyche To You!

Merry Solstice!

Tumultuity: Part Two

We finished the last post about to depart on a week long trip to Scotland, although the circumstances before departure were less than pleasant.

A Good Man Gone

The week before we left, on the Tuesday, i came to work expecting my colleague to already be in waiting for me. He wasn’t there, hadn’t come in by 9am and as time ticked on, stories began to appear in my head as to what had happened. I jokingly said that maybe he was dead, only to find out early in the afternoon that, very sadly, he had actually passed away that very morning.

It was very sad indeed, being a tragic accident where he had fallen down the stairs and succumbed to his injuries three days later. I’m not going to go into a large obituary or eulogy but he does deserve a mention. He wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and had a tendency to be a little curt and rude with people but he was my friend, a good, honest and true man who you know would be there for you if you needed him. Life here hasn’t been the same since and he will be missed. Rest in peace, Pete Wright.

Bonnie Bonnie Banks

The following Saturday morning, on Em’s birthday no less, we set off from home bound for Edinburgh. Adopting my tradition of getting away for your birthday, we’d both long since wanted to visit this fantastic city and, after a mildly long drive (it’s not Stockholm, after all…) we had a great couple of nights in the Scottish capital, finding two fantastic eateries and enjoying wandering the historic city. It was definitely nice to do something a little different to our usual wilderness excursions.

The next leg took us much further north, up to Torridon, where i had heard the bouldering was some of the best in Britain. Not wanting to pass that up lightly, the opportunity to have a blast on the blocs there whetted the appetite nicely.

Whatever the bouldering was going to be like, it was impossible to argue with the scenery! Huge mountains surrounded us on all sides with the nearby Loch leading out to sea not far from our free campsite. It definitely helped that we were blessed with some stunning weather to boot.

Sadly, though, the weather is never a sure thing in Scotland and we only managed a mere single day on the boulders. The fact we split it into two sessions did mean we made the most of it, though a second day (as had been planned) would’ve been much better, had we not been driven from the campsite, let alone the crag, by more midge than I ever could’ve anticipated.

They are the scourge of the area and the main reason the country will never feature higher on the international climbing scene. It certainly rivaled the summer in Sweden and sadly cut the climbing experience short –  a travesty considering how much quality rock is there. This, dear reader, is one of those crags that is a must to return to. Once it’s cold enough to kill off the flying beasties…

A full report on the bouldering in Torridon can be read here.

With the wet weather slowly on it’s way, we opted to move on and it turned out to be a good decision. The rain began the night we left, meaning we were forced to pack up a wet tent and spent a reasonable amount of effort trying to find some solid lodgings for the Thursday night, further south near Glen Coe.

We managed to find somewhere for the Thursday but with Friday fully booked: the Glencoe Independent Hostel; a nice small hostel where all of the inhabitants seemed reluctant to talk to anyone else. It was all a little surreal really. After a week of cooking, scrabbling around on the floor, we reveled in a proper kitchen and cooked, well, exactly the same as we’d been having. At least we got to stand up to cook it…

Friday came and the weather was not only refusing to relent, it was worsening. Further south we ventured, in search of respite and with the target being the southern munro, Ben Lomond.

As we drove along the shoreline of this famous lake, i pulled out the laptop and played Benny Goodman’s 1938 version of Loch Lomond. It may sound silly but as the weather once again turned dour, anything to keep up spirits was welcome!

By the time we set off from the car, the drizzle was setting in, and it wasn’t long before we were engulfed in cloud, slowly getting wetter and wetter. We must have made it about half way before a wet crotch made me lose the will to continue and to my relief, i wasn’t alone. Dripping wet, we turned around and headed back down.

Back at the car, it got worse, with many other bedraggled walkers coming past and finding Tess very amusing as she jumped to try and catch the deluge falling from the drain. The forecast wasn’t looking to improve much and so, reluctantly, we opted to sack off the ominous task of finding somewhere to stay and pitch a wet tent and instead, packed and headed home.

It was a bit of a disappointing end to an otherwise good trip but it was the right decision. The fact we awoke to glorious sunshine the following day proved that point nicely! We both agreed it won’t go down as a classic trip but it was certainly a good one and nice to get away somewhere new. More to the point, it’s always good to have more places in mind for the next trip…

Welsh Fun

Since then it’s been business as usual: talk about baby things, try desperately to stay on top of the mess at home, think about trying to get out and climb again and lose the summer podge that seems to have developed around my midriff.

To date, the only excursion of any note is some work on an old cleaned boulder just by work: the Bryn Engan boulder.

It’s an old one, climbed many moons ago and thus almost certainly not first ascents. However, i’m claiming them as First Recorded Ascents. Either which way, with nothing properly established there, i’m naming and grading them.

The Bryn Engan Boulder
The Bryn Engan Boulder

It took a solitary session to get the first few lines (the straight ups) on the Saturday that Pete actually took his fateful fall. This was on the way to the CA leaving party, meaning two of the lines are now Fond Farewell 5 and The Wright Stuff 6c, with the two aretes being Right and Left Arete at 3 and 6a respectively; the quality of them not really warranting any real thought on suitable names, despite my naming practices to date. This left the last link up line.

This one took a good three sessions in total. First was there with new CA, Jack. In truth, the conditions really weren’t ideal with the unusual mix of midge and drizzle, with the temperature quite warm. Nevertheless, the face is slightly overhanging so climbing remained possible and we persevered, anxiously trying the moves and fathoming the sequence. Heels and toes were heartily employed but to little avail as we both ended up stuck, horizontally across the face.

My next session was solo and in very similar conditions, although the rain was fractionally less. Suddenly, when trying the moves from half-way across the traverse, a new, simpler sequence presented itself, neglecting hooking of any kind. By bypassing this, it made it substantially easier (doable in fact) and before i knew it, i was clinging onto the holds at the bottom of Fond Farewell wishing i’d placed the pads better…

Nevertheless i topped out and immediately phoned Jack at work to share the new sequence and success. With the imminent(ish) arrival of what we reckon is my son, the hardest line and best on the boulder is now Awaiting Arthur’s Arrival 7a+.

The next step?

The prospect of increasing my top-ten yearly average for 2016 from it’s current level of 7b+ is rapidly dwindling. While Awaiting Arthur’s Arrival was a real coup, it was by no means a tough test and is not a sign of improvement per ce.

However, the good old Indy Aggregate starts again in the next few weeks and while my final position last year of 4th was far more likely to be a little bit like Leicester winning the Premier League, i am determined to get back in there and start training again. Meanwhile, there remains my membership at the Mill that has largely gone unused and of course my ability to set new problems in the climbing wall at work.

Meanwhile, the North Wales Bouldering Guide is nearing completion and should, in theory, be ready for the start of my new year. I’ve seen a handful of sections now and am thrilled that my little name appears in there! Prowess among most of my other lines, made it in! Result!

Of course, as soon as the new guide arrives, it will offer a host of new problems and a world of new psyche. My main hope now is that i’m fit and strong enough to make the most of it.

There’s still a month left before my mid-season solstice (when the clocks go back) and then it’s training time. The lantern is out and ready to be charged up – i need to find the charger first though – and then it’ll be time to do a bit of a review. Given the way the year has gone, it should be pretty positive!

Happy New Year!

I cannot find exactly where i first said about it but somewhere on here, i mentioned about the 1st January being poor as a climbers New Year. It’s right in the middle of the mid-winter season and your goals and objectives should be squarely in place and on the go by then. Maybe a quick review but resolutions for the year ahead? No, not now, just keep training.

The time to set your next goals and objectives is now: the weekend the clocks change. Twice annually, it’s the right time to assess where you’re at and plan for what’s coming. So in that spirit, here goes:

2015 Assessment

Since this time last year, so much has changed it’s hard to imagine! Having just returned from a frankly poor trip to Font, the first ascents continued to come with Fluffion 6a+, OGYDd 6c+ and culminating in my crowning achievement: Prowess 7b. Around that time i’d also managed to step my game up a bit with an ascent of Bus Stop 7b+ in the Llanberis Pass. This was also quickly followed by Ultimate Retro Party 7b to keep the trend coming.

Then followed the best trip to date: Magic Wood 2015. Perfect conditions, vibrant scene and some hard ticks! Intermezzo 7c, Dinos Don’t Dyno 7b and Bosna Genial 7a flash to name a couple of highlights marked my most successful trip since Font 2014 and my Carnage tick. I came back buoyed and psyched.

And that kicked off a summer of relentless success: Fish Skin Wall 7a+, The Pinch 7a+, Original Traverse 7b on the Brenin Boulder, The Gimp 7b even a flash of Wavelength (stand start) 7b+ as now graded in the new guide. The introduction of The List this time last year inspired me to get out at every opportunity and gave me the focus and autonomy to be able to narrow it down to the best possible option, with the last hard tick of the year being Love Pie 7c.

A dry spell followed Fredrik’s visit at the end of October (while it rained relentlessly) and so i got training in the wall, competing in the Indy Aggregate once again but not wholeheartedly as i was also training in the Mill and at Work. Oddly, the host of potential venues meant i actually did a lot less than i otherwise would but that didn’t seem to matter once i finally got out again.

February came and with it dry rock and fresh enthusiasm. Save for the occasional day (to tick Popcorn Party 7a mainly after many years) i hadn’t really been out since October so when i finally could, the List took a big hit. Johnny’s Problem 7b in the Pass, the Witches Knickers 7b and Toe Dragon into Kingdom of Rain 7b all fell within the month but the best was yet to come. Nearly two years after my first 7c, and five mixed sessions, i cracked the next grade: Jerry’s Problem V10 at Sheep Pen.

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Giving it beans yesterday on #jerrysproblem at #sheeppen. Session 3 on this one and I stuck the first two hard moves fairly quickly, much to the surprise of the excellent crew surrounding me. Sadly it didn't go and despite dry #rock this morning, and a repeat to try and keep the momentum going, it again eluded me. With rain falling this afternoon and another day off not until a week Thursday, it's not looking likely to be going any time soon. Still, it's not going anywhere and the weather is starting to turn… Photo credit to @michelle.l.wardle and top marks for capturing a great move with a great shot #northwales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_photos_of_instagram

A post shared by Chez de la Bloc (@edwards.pete) on

Until i just wrote that, i didn’t realise how long i’d been on 7c as a top achievement and now, it seems silly as i’ve already been working on my first 8a! Which brings us to the next section.

2016 Spring/Summer Goals – short term

Put simply, it’s carry on as before and try to keep ticking them off The List… although thinking about it, adding the goal of “try and stop going on about the List” may not be a bad one too!

I’d quite like to concentrate on the four that remain from the inaugural version: Shocker 7b in Beddgelert Forest, Going Down On An Elephant 7b at Elephantitus Cave, Animal Magnetism V8 high above Caseg Fraith and Roof of a Baby Buddha 7c+. The latter has been the last to receive some serious attention and it’s gone well! Just need to bear them in mind during a dry spell.

In summary:

  • Keep ticking off the List
  • …but stop talking about the List as much
  • concentrate on the oldest four.

2016 Spring/Summer Goals – season long

Obviously knowing this was coming, i’ve been pondering this and a few weeks ago, i was hoping for my first 7c+ and maybe 8a. With recent developments, this has now changed and now sits at three 8a climbs this season/year.

I’d also quite like to get a 7c abroad. With plenty of opportunities to do this lined up for this year, it should be a distinct possibility, even though it can often take multiple sessions. It’ll take some attention to pick the right one(s) but it’s certainly attainable. If it goes quick enough, maybe 7c+ is also achievable but only time will tell on this.

Finally, i’d like to keep going on the first ascents in Bryn Engan and create a proper topo for everything in the forest. The new guide is looking closer all the time and i’m really hoping that my lines will make the cut. Getting a sufficient circuit may be the key and there’s plenty of projects currently waiting to be cleaned and climbed.

Oh, one more thing. As my coaching develops, i’d like to take this to the next level and the next hurdle will be to obtain my SPA proper. Assessments for the Foundation and Development coach can’t happen until i have a “group management” style award and that’s the most sensible and obvious one to do.

  • Three 8a climbs
  • At least 7c abroad
  • More first ascents and a comprehensive topo
  • SPA assessment

2016 Autumn/Winter Goals

Now that i’ve got into training a bit more and have some substantial facilities, it’s time i actually made proper use of them. Following an end-of-season review of course, the goal would be to train my weaknesses properly, develop my strengths a bit more (something i feel people should probably do a bit more – they’re the bits you’re good at, harness that!) and put some structure in place to be able to do this. It’s something i’ve never done and something that would benefit not only me personally but would be crucial to my development as a coach.

  • Train weaknesses
  • Develop strengths
  • Create a proper training plan and stick to it!

All of these should be perfectly sensible objectives and will push me on the way to being actually quite good. I have ideas in mind for longer term but to put them in place now would be folly – this is enough to be going at for now and thinking too far into the future risks losing sight of the short term goals.

So i’ll leave you with a Best of Psyche! greeting and wishing you all…

Happy New Year!!!

Mixed Fortunes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milestones: Plas y Brenin

This is part ten of a series of posts all about the turning points in my climbing career. From single moves to huge time spans, these are the events that shaped me into the climber and person i am today. 

I’ll be posting a new one every few days so keep an eye on the blog for the latest or, if not, they will appear in one beast of an article at the end of the series. Feel free to comment and let me know of some of your own highlights, i’d greatly enjoy hearing some of your own. 

Getting the Job at Plas y Brenin

The Bull's Eye Boulder - one of many i would not have discovered if not for my time at PYB
The Bull’s Eye Boulder – one of many i would not have discovered if not for my time at PYB

After six years at Joe Brown’s, it had long been time to move on but North Wales being as it is, there was nowhere to go. I’d tried for countless reps jobs with most manufacturers, was reluctant to take a sideways step to another shop (none of which suited me as well) and even tried applying for the police force, again to no avail. Stuck in a rut, feeling low and depressed, i was in need of a change.

I’d met lots of people through my time in the shop and had been putting the feelers out for quite some time to try and find the next thing. I’m not sure if it was irony that it was Ann Dwyer – wife of Ken, a good friend and colleague at the shop before he sadly passed away – who told me of a storemans job going at the nearby Plas y Brenin.

Joe’s had moved me out of my beloved shop in Capel Curig and down in Llanberis to take care of the web orders. The Brenin would take me back to Capel and return my commute; the best commute in the world. It fit the bill perfectly and i’d known the storemen there for years, as well as plenty of the staff.

An early attempt on Going Down On An Elephant, with poor foot beta
An early attempt on Going Down On An Elephant, with poor foot beta

In hindsight, i was lucky: Rob Spencer called me in for a chat and i was expecting info about the job, rather than an interview. At one point, he asked about my outdoor experience and i waved, sniffed and said, “yeah, don’t worry about it”! The look he gave was great and i certainly wouldn’t have done that if i’d known this was make or break! Even less so if i realised what i might be missing out on.

Thankfully, he offered me the job. I began at the end of November 2014 and settled in quickly. I started setting routes in the wall, started getting out more, even started searching the forest opposite for new lines.

Looking at the best commute in the world
Looking at the best commute in the world

Suddenly the whole scene around me changed. I’d found somewhere i fit in, found somewhere i was more myself and it started to show in my psyche levels. I was in the wall more, in the gym, training indoors, out on the boulders whenever i could. The grades began to tumble as the psyche got higher and higher.

I’ve always said you spend more time at work than you do anywhere else so you have a choice: try and be there as little as possible (and accept potentially being miserable when you are) or make sure you find a job where you’re happy to be. I’ve managed to find the latter.

I’ll not stay forever, i’m sure, no-one will and 40 years in stores might lose it’s edge along the way. But when i do leave, to go and do whatever and look back at my time it will undoubtedly be with fondness. There was a time at Joe Brown’s where i actively wanted to go to work, the best couple of years i’ve had. My tenure at Plas y Brenin, i’m sure, will be just the same.

Just some of the crew that have accompanied me on many trips since i began at PYB
Just some of the crew that have accompanied me on many trips since i began at PYB

 

Milestones: Storeman’s Legacy 7a+ and Prowess 7b

This is part one of a series of posts all about the turning points in my climbing career. From single moves to huge time spans, these are the events that shaped me into the climber and person i am today. 

I’ll be posting a new one every few days so keep an eye on the blog for the latest or, if not, they will appear in one beast of an article at the end of the series. Feel free to comment and let me know of some of your own highlights, i’d greatly enjoy hearing some of your own. 

Storeman’s Legacy 7a+ and Prowess 7b

I dare say, every climber that develops past a certain point dreams of a first ascent. It’s drummed into us through film and article that it’s the pinnacle of climbing achievement. Just look at Chris Sharma: granted he was one of the strongest climbers of any time when he rose to fame, leagues ahead of his peers, but it was only when he began putting up his own lines that people really started to think he was up there in the pantheon of the best.

If you can’t put up new lines at the cutting edge, putting up any new lines is a close second. The vast majority of people won’t climb the hardest routes in the world (almost by definition) but to put something new into the sport is equally as sought-after.

For me, i would say it was half luck and half perseverance. Many had searched the woods of Bryn Engan, opposite Plas y Brenin in Capel Curig over the years in an attempt to find more lines to go with the long-established Brenin Boulder but to no avail. All that sat along the six established lines was Chris Davies hard highball.

The fact that i succeeded owes as much to available time to search as anything else. Once i started work at the Brenin, hour long lunches meant i had little else to do. Walking through the woods, off the beaten track, would reveal something eventually.

That said, it’s only half luck. My first find, the Mymbyr Boulder, had also been found by local activist Jon Ratcliffe years before, and dismissed. I saw potential and again, with a lack of suitable alternative activities, began brushing.

Slapping up the first few hard moves of Prowess
Slapping up the first few hard moves of Prowess

Neither of the mentioned problems were my first, that was Christmas Comes Early 4+, and even that wasn’t my first first – that is to be found in Sweden and is called Call It A Four 5+. But Storeman’s was the first on that block that taxed me, the one i will always think of (rightly or wrongly) as my first proper first.

Prowess meanwhile was my first hard first. Now given 7b, it’s not easy by most people’s standards and when done, was right near the top of the graph, only half a grade off my hardest accomplishments at the time. It’s changed the way i see the world, looking for new lines where before i saw nothing and the effort and multiple sessions, as well as hours of brushing, all added to make me feel i had left something substantial there for others.

Bull’s Eye!

Well you don’t often get a weekend like that! After what seemed endless drizzle and wetness, we were finally blessed with a decent spell of good weather. It was even better when you consider it followed a brief snowy spell, leaving the tops as white as you could imagine and Snowdonia in it’s most stunning beauty. This weekend, the snow reflected the sunshine, making the skies even more wonderfully blue, reminding those of who living here why indeed we do. And where was i? In a shaded woodland facing North…

Emily Bridger attempting Fresh EyesSo why did i chose this as the venue for my enjoyable and convenient weekend off? Because it is in this forest that lie my recent discoveries and current unclimbed (and as such ungraded) projects. I found them in the latter stages of last year, received an early Christmas gift on Christmas Eve, culminating in my first Welsh first ascents and have been waiting ever since for an opportunity to return. Beaten back on multiple occasions by time constraints, wet weather and on one occasion, a sheet of verglas covering the top of the boulder, it’s been frustrating me that i have yet had chance to return. So when this weekend rolled around, there was no hesitation on where to head.

Saturday morning and i rose fairly slowly, allowing the air to warm to a more amenable temperature  and drove to meet my companion for the day, Serena. I’ve been very careful over who to take to this boulder, Serena being an ideal companion and joining a currently elite list of trusted souls. We met, collected Tess and wandered in, the path to this new site slowly becoming more obvious. Conditions were good – not so cold as to kill enthusiasm but chilled enough to offer good friction. We began by introducing Serena to only her second outdoor bouldering venue, and a few attempts at Christmas Comes Early 5+. A good warm up for me, a good tick for her and (after a quick look at the problem now known as The Dichotomy of Good and Evil and thought to be around 7c) before long we’d moved around to try another first.

DSC04294Originally the line went from the shelf straight up through a tricky mantel, albeit with good feet. Slowly, the line moved, evolving as the moves fell into place and by the time it was climbed, followed a rising traverse line to finish into my premier problem on the boulder, Storeman’s Legacy 7a+. While not what i had originally imagined, it gave a more natural line – something i imagine is commonplace when making up the problem for yourself. It has maintained it’s original name of New Direction, somewhat fitting considering the history of the line and has a speculative grade of 6c until someone can confirm. It, and my other firsts on this bloc, can be seen on the video below.

We quickly nipped down to the RAC boulders, to give Serena a more normal taste of bouldering, introducing a nearby and established crag, with lines documented in a guidebook. It also meant we both left on a high, although the day had not gone the way i had originally planned…

The Bull's Eye Boulder

Another of my finds has an unfortunate stream that runs right through the middle. It is also a jumbled array of rocks, meaning it is very difficult to reroute said waterway and thus, offers little opportunity for ascent. So imagine my delight on Friday when i headed down to find the stream dry and the climbing possible.

DSC04349Sunday morning saw a solo return, desperate to make the most of the unusual conditions. With a lack of rain and what stagnant water remained still frozen, this was my best chance and i knew it. Another relaxed start saw me walking in after bumping into an old friend. Soon i was there, alone but for my canine companion and ready to do battle with this new boulder. Neither rockboot nor chalk had touched this before, although it had been cleaned of mud and moss and was good to go. I would like to take this opportunity to say (especially after i was foolish enough to publish photos of my cleaning efforts) that only nylon brushes and my hands were used to remove any vegetation and loose rock and that was after extensive research into the ramifications of my actions. Nevertheless, if you have issues with this, or indeed any advice or help on the subject, please do contact me at chezdelabloc@gmail.com

A beautiful day allowed me to climb three new routes: firstly Bull’s Eye 7a, named after the concentric circle formations on the rock when i first arrived. I’d speculated with a few people as to what they were and how they were formed; i quickly discovered once on the rock proper that they’re actually dirt formations… As such, if you end up there, please take care not to disturb more than i unfortunately have already. It is a very fun climb, with every move slightly harder than the last and is started in the low pocket shared with the next line.

DSC04367This is to it’s right and called Bull’s Arse 6a: a six-foot problem that seems a touch pointless but does give nice moves when started low and makes a good warm up. Finally on the left arete, Bull’s Large Protrusion 6c is named after the unfortunate jutting rock that nestles just above one’s backside once you pull off the floor. This move was considerably more difficult, almost to the point of impossible, before the loose shale-rock was removed and scattered on the floor to give a more solid standing. Again, as above, this was done exclusively with my hands, merely pulling and pushing loose rock until it became free.

Those three ascents fell surprisingly quickly and soon i was heading home, delighted with my achievements for the weekend. It has ended with a great sausage casserole and David Attenborough on the TV, bringing this week’s delightful days off to a fitting end. I now have to recover and hope that next weekend follows suit, to allow me to go back and tick off some more.