Tag Archives: indoor climbing

Back in the Swing Of Things

And with that little revelation, normal service is resumed. I hadn’t climbed since that poor session at Plas y Brenin a fortnight ago until last night when i headed back to the Indy.

I certainly wasn’t any stronger, although possibly more rested. To be honest, on my way i wasn’t any more psyched, particularly, merely armed with the knowledge that confidence breeds competence. My technique wasn’t any better and to be honest, my tactics remained largely unadjusted. The only difference was that epiphany.

It is remarkable what a difference a subtle change in attitude can do. I finished my session with a 7b retro flash, of a problem i had almost managed last time, tickling the top before plummeting in what i now think may have been more ammunition for my self-perpetuating downward spiral. This time, it fell first time during the warm up. Next, another 7b that suited me perfectly, on Jenga blocks; it fell quickly and in good style.

A break, that lasted a little longer than i intended preceded that send and after, i was looking for another to try. A friend offered up the project he was trying for me to have a go and, unexpectedly, i flashed it. I hate doing that and wouldn’t do it deliberately, sometimes that’s the way it goes. It did turn out to be useful for him, as my beta on the lower section avoided him using a knee that was causing him pain.

I tried a couple of other problems without ever getting going, flashed a 7a+ with a bit of a fight and found myself sat under a 7b+ that really tickled my fancy. Andy had mentioned some hidden beta in it but i couldn’t really see what he meant so opted to jump on and see how it went.

By the end of the session, when all energy had sapped from my body and it was obvious i wouldn’t complete it, i had managed it in two halves, one move away from linking it together. Aside from that, though, was the style of the crux move.

Without getting into the annoying move-by-move of the climb, the crux involved a tricky cross through that was hard to hold and a big move up with the right hand to salvation. It was more like two separate boulder problems stacked atop each other, the upper problem starting just before the crux. This was where Andy’s beta came in but i didn’t use it. Instead, i performed a move reminiscent of Johnny Dawes that flowed so beautifully, it stole the show of the whole session.

Hands primed on the holds, left foot pressing hard on it’s own, i rested my right foot on a crimp too high to provide power… yet. Left hip went up and i snatched the next hold with my left hand but as my body then untwisted, i simultaneously pulled and pushed with my right foot that now suddenly engaged. In one seamlessly smooth motion, i completed both crux moves in one, cruising through to the easier moves above.

I don’t know how it looked – an onlooker, a regular working the problem with me, seemed impressed – but it felt like pure bliss. It’s hard to describe and i really wish i’d caught it on camera as moves like that rarely happen, especially on harder climbs. It is something you’d see from Udo Neumann (above) or, as mentioned, Johnny Dawes and it is incredibly hard to perform or coach. The only reason it happened for me was purely subconscious.

I was back, primed and fighting fit. 7a+ flash, 7b retro flash, another 7b in a session, 7b flash and a 7b+ in two halves would’ve been a very pleasing session when i was fully fit! So imagine this after the abject failure of two weeks prior.

It just goes to show quite how important having the right mindset is on performance. Get it wrong and don’t get off the floor. I can feel my confidence and my belief come back almost immediately, and i’m back in the golden spot on the DCBA scale that has proven so important for me in the past.

The DCBA Scale the optimal mindset in order to maximise their own performance
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Finding the Fight

It is no secret that i am out of shape and this weekend gone certainly confirmed it. Friday night at the Indy saw me just scrape what i would class as par but then a Saturday afternoon in the wall at work saw me dramatically under-performing. What was significant was why i was under-performing.

At the Indy, i did feel weak and wasn’t shy in exclaiming such. Tim heard it from his captive position behind the counter (sorry dude) and Em certainly got it once i got home: “I’m old, weak, fat and ugly”.

I repeated this, much as i have been for a few weeks now but perhaps i was saying it a bit too much; over-compensating? making excuses? Who exactly was i trying to convince?

At the Brenin, i struggled badly. Climbs that i should be able to walk up spat me off. Indeed, climbs that i set threw me. After failing on a trunk-route 7a, i opted to change tact and try a bit of campus movement. A yellow route would suffice, nice easy jugs, certainly doable.

The first move didn’t exactly turn into a campus move. I’d got a right foot on to get going, the starting jugs being a bit low, but as i tried the move, my foot stayed pinned to the hold. Odd, i should’ve cut loose. Oh well, carry on, campus the next few moves, up to the penultimate hold. Matched, as the last move is far, i pulled up and didn’t even throw a hand in it’s direction, i just came back down to the ground.

Now this is odd: it is not common for me not to commit to a move, certainly not indoors and CERTAINLY not on a route like this. I didn’t even try the move! I eyed it up, decided it was too far before i’d even tried, did a token gesture and came back down. This is not normal.

Was it a fear of failure? Don’t try, don’t fail, don’t look so stupid? And then it hit me, an epiphany that slapped me in the face harder than the ground when i jumped off: i’ve slipped down the DCBA Scale and i’ve managed to convince MYSELF that i’m not strong enough. I’ve actually managed to talk myself out of being able to do anything.

There are Four Facets of Rock Climbing Performance: Technique, Strength and Conditioning, Tactics and Mentality. These are the four areas that encompass all climbing performance and any area of weakness can be traced back to at least one of these Facets. What i’d suddenly realised was that where i thought the problem was (S&C) had actually shifted without my realising and now manifested itself in a problem with my Mentality. That didn’t mean i was suddenly stronger than before but it meant there were more problems too.

I kept on with the analysis and realised i’d talked myself into having problems with ALL of the Facets. I wasn’t really trying and when i was, i was trying the wrong things at the wrong time and lacked the necessary structure. Even my technique was failing as my mind continually worried i couldn’t hold on – ironically putting more pressure on the muscles that weren’t up to it in the first place! It was a vicious cycle. But suddenly, with this epiphany, the cycle had been broken. In that instant, the problem had shifted significantly.

I could still feel the pain and the ache in my body so i knew the S&C issues were still there but now i understood the problem, i could begin to address it. For a while i’d been suggesting my next move is mileage on the wall and now it is even more true. I can’t afford to wait for the start of the winter aggregate, training starts now. And it needs to be much more purposeful.

The one bright side to this is it could help my career and demonstrates wonderfully the need both for coaching in rock climbing and self-assessment and self-coaching. It has also given me a nice little case study to help cement the theories i’ve been working on over the last few months.

I am now fully immersed in my Masters degree; a Professional Masters in Elite Performance with the University of Central Lancashire. Basically i’m looking at coaching in rock climbing and as such, at the moment i’m reading loads about the Adventure Sports Coach. It seems this is a new role in the outdoor industry and is facing some opposition.

Certainly, the coaching qualifications with the Mountain Training Association faced some mild backlash as many of the old guard failed to see the need for formalised coaching in rock climbing. While this is one isolated incident, it demonstrated to me at least that there really is a need for a coach, and an educated and reflective one, in this sport; competitive or otherwise.

Something had twigged in my head. I hit the ground and swore very loudly, thankfully in an empty room. The realisation that my mentality or worse, my technique may not be at their best had got under my skin and pissed me off. I’ve always prided myself on these two aspects of my climbing and the idea that they weren’t working properly got me angry.

I caught a glimpse of my reflection and there i was: clenched jaw, furrowed brow, there was fire in my belly again. The hunched body language of earlier was gone, now i was up for a fight.

I walked back over to the yellow and tried again. First move, second move a big squeeze and i could feel my shoulders tensing as i felt better about myself. Carry on, move after move, giving my all. I’d done it, i’d changed that mindset and i’d completed it. All bar the last move. I was too tired.

Introducing Goal: 8a

They say train your weaknesses. But what if your weakness is training?

It’s been something i’ve always struggled with and the idea of “training your core” fills me with gloom and dread. I just can’t be bothered! The whole reason i got into climbing was to get out in the hills and the idea of staring at a wall dangling statically from my fingertips could not be further from that.

The problem comes when you want more. There came a point where just climbing wasn’t enough, i wanted to be operating right at the end of my ability level and there is only one way to make that happen: you have to train.

For me lately, there has been another driver, and one that comes up twice in year at New Years and during the Solstice: my Yearly Top Ten Average grade, calculated on 27crags. It may sound daft but for me, that single grade is a huge motivator. The problem i have at the moment is that it sits right below 7b. And i’m not in 7b shape: so i have to train.

But as i’ve mentioned, setting a training regime is really not my forte and while i could easily learn how to do it, sticking to it is entirely another matter. Will power is not something i possess in even small quantities and i am often found lacking any mental discipline for things like this.

So i asked myself: when i have managed to successfully train in the past? I’ve climbed 7c+ and i didn’t do that by simply going to the crag over and over, i have managed it before. What kept me focused for that?

The most obvious occasion that saw me even remotely training was preparing for Carnage. For any long-term readers (all three of you…) you’ll doubtless be aware of the effort i put in to tick this particular climb in Fontainebleau several years ago but for the uninitiated, and cutting a very long story short, it involved deadhangs on replica holds, a replica climb on a systems board and six months of preparation ready for my Spring attempt. And it worked.

Having such a definitive end goal gave me that undeniable focus. I had holds to copy, i had moves to practice, i had something tangible to work towards. And because of that, i’d find myself in the wall on a sunny day, training. But in the end it was worth it.

So there it was; the makings of a vague plan. Find a climb to work towards, and then work towards it. Simple really. But what climb…?

Again, my very top grade is 7c+ and i’ve wanted for a very long time to reach that next, momentous grade of 8a. There’s something very satisfying about the next number grade and it does have that tiny bit more cache. So why not?

I took a pen and a piece of paper and wrote in big letters at the top Goal: 8a. Then, i wrote down all the steps i could think of to get me from where i am now to achieving that goal. Turns out there weren’t that many either.

The first couple of steps are now complete, with huge thanks going to Tim Peck for helping me narrow down a long list of 11 to a shortlist of 2. Steps have been taken to move along on step 3 as well, although that ill discipline is rearing it’s head again. Still, this feels like progress. Now to see if i’m right.

New Year: March 2018

Happy New Year! A couple of days late but we’ll get to that. This is a bit of an interesting one this year, with lots having happened and lots about to kick off. Time to take stock and figure out where we’re going from here.

Some Highlights

Well, we always knew this was going to be a funny old year and it has definitely been the year of #babyatthecrag. More than anything, i’ve wanted to promote and champion the idea that having a child doesn’t finish your passions and judging from several conversations about my various social media accounts, it would appear i’ve been at the very least a mild success.

This post is normally a tricky one to write – after all, thinking back over an entire year is not easy. Of course, this time last year i had not long become a father and as expected, that has drawn my focus away from climbing. Juggling the two has been a tremendous strain and to be honest, i think, looking back, i’ve done admirably. Many people give up their hobbies with the onset of a family so the fact i’m still going, at any level, speaks volumes. Showing this to people has been just a much a goal as actually getting out. I’ve even managed to have pieces published on the subject, including one at The Project Magazine and have another couple lined up too.

A large part of this ability to carry on has been my fantastic partner, Emily. She has encouraged and supported me throughout this past year and deserves great thanks for that and no better has that been highlighted than by continuing the Birthday Tradition last June in Ireland. While not a resounding climbing success, it was indeed a climbing trip and a great family adventure.

Moving house in the autumn put paid to any trips then but again, thanks to Em’s encouragement and support, last week saw one of my lifelong dreams come true: to take my family to Fontainebleau.

What i have found is that it is nigh on impossible to perform to a high standard in these conditions. Climbing is never a priority with young children in tow and on both occasions, i failed to climb even a single 7a – a grade that has become my bread and butter now. An inability to complete just one shows just how hard it can be.

Still, i have been getting out and have indeed been climbing, predominantly indoors and have managed to compete at this winter’s Indy Aggregate Competition. Last count saw me at the unexpected standing of third in my category, or sixth overall. While the final results haven’t been published at time of writing, i don’t expect this to be any different and, save for February where i dropped nine points, i don’t think i could’ve done much better. I’ll take that for sure.

A large proportion of my Indy time has been thanks to my coaching and this is itself has been going incredibly well. My private coaching sessions have continued steadily, leading me to wonder about pursuing this with other clients, while my regular Friday night sessions with the Anglesey Adventure Club have managed to get me the respect and admiration of my peers. A few weeks ago i was shadowed by another volunteer, such is the desire of others to learn about what i do. I’ve certainly found that an honour and hope to inspire coaches and climbers alike.

This has, in turn, led me to think more about coaching proper. I’ve developed more theories (to be published on here in due course), restructured the blog to accommodate new ideas and, astoundingly, am hopefully soon to be embarking on a Professional Masters in Elite Performance with the University of Central Lancashire, focusing on coaching in rock climbing. Now there’s something i didn’t foresee last spring!

Last Season’s Goals:
  • Find out how to climb with Rosie around
  • Go climbing and make the most of the chances
  • Reset the list and get rid of the dross
  • 7c outside – most likely Nazgul’s Traverse
  • SPA Assessment
  • Another 7c+
  • Top ten yearly average around 7b/+
  • Continue the birthday tradition
  • Get to Font
  • Start to develop the coaching into something more
  • Don’t jeopardise your relationship for climbing…
Solstice Goals:
  • Top 5 Aggregate finish
  • 6 outdoor sessions with at least a new 7a completed
  • A weekend climbing out of Wales
  • Continue to develop coaching and formalise what i offer
  • Plan trips to Font and Germany
And how did it go?

Again, we always knew this was going to be tough and that these goals may or may not be sensible. With a baby now in the picture, it was impossible to know which way it could go. The list above is of all the goals, short and long term, from last March and October so let’s start with the easy ones.

The first four points were addressed in the Autumn but have left them there to add two points: one The List is done but needs a new home in the new house. The kitchen is no longer suitable but we really aren’t settled yet and this needs addressing. Two, figuring out how to climb with Rosie around me is all well and good but as any parent will tell you, the little blighters keep changing so you have to constantly change how you do that. Think that just shows my naivety there; it’s an ongoing challenge.

Completing my SPA was discussed previously and is on hold for longer days and better weather. 7c+ is permanently on hold until, well, quite frankly until i come to my senses and realise it won’t happen for a few years. Not until i get my act together. We’ll look at this another time.

Continuing the birthday tradition and getting to Font both happened and i’m so pleased about both. I need to figure out how to climb harder when i’m away but at least we’re getting away so that’s the first major hurdle done. Keep it going.

6 outdoor sessions since October simply wasn’t feasible as i don’t think there have been six dry days since October… As such, 7c outside was also never going to happen. Likewise for 7b Top Ten Yearly Average. There was nothing i could do about this, it hasn’t been my fault and there’s been nothing i could do about it. Keep it going for next year.

Frankly i’m amazed i ticked off the Aggregate goal, although this year has made me realise it is entirely dependant on who else shows up. So i think i’ll change this for next winter and say “don’t drop any problems you think you might get” or something like that. After all competing against myself means more than competing against factors i can’t control.

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When is it too cold to be good #bouldering conditions? When there's a sheet of ice over the entire top of the boulder… With an afternoon free after attending the inaugural adventure sports coaching conference at @plasybreninstaff I opted to head a few miles down the road in the #ogwenvalley to the #galltyrogof bloc. I'd always been put off by this before but now with fresh eyes and photo topos in the #northwalesboulderingguide the problems seemed immense and impressive. So I started to at least try and warm up, only to find the top out dodgy as sin! An entire sheet or verglas meant even if I had pulled over the top, it would've been rather treacherous to say the least. Nevertheless, another #beautifulday in #northwales! #worldclasswales #snowdonia #northwalesbouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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A weekend away is something i’d forgotten and as life ticks along slowly, i think it’s more and more important. I’ll be discussing this with Em very soon. Time to yourself is important in any relationship and even more so with children. I just want to make sure it’s done the right way.

Finally the coaching and i don’t think anyone could argue with the progress i’ve made there. This masters degree could be huge for me and while i’ve fallen foul to my own hype in the past, i feel strong and determined about this and i cannot wait to get started – so much so i’ve begun already. Even if i don’t end up on the course, it’s already making me a better coach.

2018 Spring/Summer Goals

Climb? Study? Coach? Parent? All of the above? Of course but to go into more detail is much more difficult. I really have no idea what i want any more as my inability to climb at my limit for the first time in many years and begun to make me question my motivation.

So this could well be a period of transition or a stagnant period, where all i’m trying to do is maintain my current standards until such time as i’m able to start pushing myself again. Or it could be that as a consequence of coaching more, i find myself improving again. Or it could be the start of a slow and steady decline. Who knows, place your bets now.

For the next few months, i think the climbing focus must be on maintaining. Anything other than that is a bonus. The area to push my standards is most probably with my coaching. And of course, it will be crucial not to allow this to get in the way of being the best father and partner i can be.

Most importantly of all, now is the time to begin to be more intelligent with my time. Every minute counts now and that lunch break you never used to take is now precious time i can’t afford to waste. It’s time to start using that brain to coach myself and make the most of what i have. If i’d never say to a client they need to put more time in to climbing in order to improve, i need to start saying the same to myself.

  • Go to Germany
  • Start the Masters degree and REALLY work at it
  • Be more productive with my time
  • Actually train, don’t just boulder. 1 in 5 sessions
  • At least one weekend away climbing without the family

2018 Year-long goals

This is even harder than my short term goals! After all, the rate things are changing around here, who could possibly guess what situation i’ll be in this time next year!

  • SPA completed (yet again)
  • Try and match Top Ten Yearly Average of 7a+
  • Make big strides into Masters Degree
  • Don’t drop any potential climbs during the Aggregate

Will it all happen? Will it all fall apart? I choose my words carefully when i say: fuck knows. What i do know is that there’s a lot at stake this year; my family, my career, my chance at redemption for past failures, my entire lifestyle. All i can do is line everything up and give it my best shot. But then, i guess that’s just life. Let’s see what happens next.

Happy New Year!

 

Mint Conditions? Or Utterly Baltic?

I had some really good sentences to start this post with but they’ve disappeared from my head. I’m gonna blame the cold, which seems to be infiltrating everything lately, including my sanity, although oddly hasn’t actually stopped me getting out climbing on actual rock! Well, kinda.

This all stems from the fact that, wanting to make the most of her maternity time, Em decided to go visit family and friends for a week, leaving Tess and myself behind to fend for ourselves. I think it was at the point she first mentioned it that i wondered what the weather would be like…

It turned out to, somewhat miraculously, be dry and sunny! The rock was dry and all of a sudden, that Saturday afternoon while at work, i could ponder the best choice of venue and where i really wanted to head.

I was looking for something specific: it was dry but hadn’t been for that long, so somewhere that caught some wind would be ideal to allow it to dry off. Forest crags: out. But, by that token, there was still a winter wind whistling through the valleys so somewhere perched on a high plateau was definitely out.

After a massive amount of deliberation, eventually i opted to head to the Milestone Buttress boulders; an oft forgotten venue with some outstanding climbing.  I’d looked at and dismissed the Pit before, due to landings and encroaching boulders behind the climber but figured it needed another look.

As i drove in, down the Nant Ffrancon valley, it suddenly dawned on me that our chosen venue would be shrouded in shadow. Fuck. Oh well, needs must, how cold can it be? Turns out it was almost bob on freezing.

Pablo – my Spanish sport climbing friend, for reference – and i struggled on, as i ticked Jez’s Arete 6c, jibbering like a fool on the top out and only completing as reversing the climb or jumping off looked worse than the committing moves to finish. Ping 7a also succumbed – a lovely little climb that is thoroughly recommended – and was then repeated a few times (missing the first two hard moves) with winter weight gloves. It was soon evident it was hometime.

The Monday proved much warmer and much sunnier, but the morning was preoccupied visiting my parents. However, that turned out to be much quicker than expected and despite my protestations of a lack of time, the day was just too good to pass up.

Now i’ve recently begun an article about mental preparation leading up to a session and perhaps that had a bearing, being as it was only when i drove down the steep Gwynant valley that i actually decided where i was going. That or i may have just been ridiculously out of practice but the session did not go that well.

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How much does this say about so many places in the #outdoors: a padlocked gate and a broken #stile. This is at the entrance to the #clogwynybustach boulders and was a massive pain trying to get the dog (who managed to squeeze through the gap) and the pads across. Even with access seemingly allowed, it can far too often be very difficult to where you want to go. The sad thing is I don't actually know what to do when I find something like this. #northwales is amazing for the work that's done on maintaining paths in the popular places but there is so much more potential here, so many more little things that could be done and some big and blindingly obvious ways to get people into the area safely. All we can do is keep getting out and keep sharing our adventures. #getout #getactive #woodland #woods #coeden #blackandwhiteisworththefight

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Clogwyn y Bustach, alone but for Tess, Fagin 7a as a warm up before working on Rudder’s Wall 7a+ – an unticked climb for me. It took a couple of efforts to remember and work the first few moves but quickly i found myself at the exit jugs… and totally bottled it. I went to rock over, glanced down, suddenly changed my mind and reversed the move to come back down. “That was weird” i thought and shuffled the pads. Visual inspection of the top didn’t help and i found myself looking for excuses but i knew i had to do this.

Back on, back to the jugs, try and do the (remarkably easy) rock over at the top, bottle it again. “Fuck! what’s going on?!” i couldn’t fathom what was wrong with me!

Eventually, after repeated efforts, i committed to it, got my feet set and hands on good holds and climbed onto the top of the boulder, hyperventilating massively. “Have my trad climbing fears infiltrated my bouldering?!” i thought, worrying my climbing career might actually be regressing. No, come on, this isn’t hard, you’ve done this a hundred thousand times before, suck it up, do it. I got back on the route and finished it again.

There must have been at least five repeats before i began to feel even slightly comfortable again. It’s not a hard top out, not that high, maybe it was being alone? Well, i’m often alone and have had entire weeks in foreign countries alone before! Maybe only having a solitary pad? Again, i can’t rely on being able to carry multiple pads in, especially when the landing was sound. Still, after a few successes, it started to feel normal again. Hopefully, i was just out of practice.

I’m sure i’ve heard somewhere that you can equate three bad experiences to one good one (backed up by an interesting article here from the New York Times) and it certainly makes sense. What it means is that every time you bottle it, or every time you back off, you need to have three good experiences so as not to reinforce that negative experience. The downside in real terms to that is that it takes a lot of time to build those positive thoughts (think Oddball in Kelly’s Heroes) and by the time i start to try Rudder’s Wall i was spent.

It was a sobering session and not exactly one that filled me with joy but i guess an important lesson: time indoors cannot totally replicate time outdoors and if you want to climb hard boulder problems outside, you need to go try boulder problems outside.

So Friday afternoon, following two days at the fascinating Adventure Sports Coaching Conference at Plas y Brenin, which i will talk more about another day, Friday afternoon came and under blue skies, i headed out again. With good conditions and little wind, and as i was coaching in the evening, i opted for an old forgotten venue: Gallt yr Ogof. I’d always been put off before but recently seen some videos of ascents and wanted to go have a look with fresh eyes. Having a topo now helped too.

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When is it too cold to be good #bouldering conditions? When there's a sheet of ice over the entire top of the boulder… With an afternoon free after attending the inaugural adventure sports coaching conference at @plasybreninstaff I opted to head a few miles down the road in the #ogwenvalley to the #galltyrogof bloc. I'd always been put off by this before but now with fresh eyes and photo topos in the #northwalesboulderingguide the problems seemed immense and impressive. So I started to at least try and warm up, only to find the top out dodgy as sin! An entire sheet or verglas meant even if I had pulled over the top, it would've been rather treacherous to say the least. Nevertheless, another #beautifulday in #northwales! #worldclasswales #snowdonia #northwalesbouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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The path was wet on the walk in, the turds and ruts on the path totally frozen but i persevered anyway, figuring a walk would do Tess some good anyway and was pleasantly shocked to find the routes themselves bone dry! Granted it was cold but it was dry and it’d be fine.

The Ramp 7a/+ Smackhead 7b+ Diamond Eyes 7c Regeneration 7b and even Sway On 8a all looked much better than i’d remembered and very inspiring! They’ll all be on the list for the future but given the situation and temperature, the first priority was GyG Arete 6b+.

It’s a bunched start but my bendy-ness helped and quickly i was off the floor, reaching over the top for a neat little flash when my hands began to slip on the holds. Almost totally numb now, i had to see if i was still clinging on as my hands peddled off the holds and after a few seconds standing there feeling very confused, i jumped off. Looking at my hands i saw they were now actually wet and another inspection showed a complete sheet of ice across the whole of the top of the boulder.

I pondered for a few minutes, repeated the moves a few more times and tried to figure out what to do. Even if i managed the top out, i’d now be alone on a very slippy bloc that while wasn’t that high to climb onto, would still be quite painful to land off after a slip. Working low moves risked missing out on a potential flash (unlikely but possible). Reluctantly, i opted to sack it and go indoors.

Oddly though that didn’t actually feel like a negative experience and while i walked out with my tail between my legs and hands pressed hard into my armpits to thaw, the fact i’d gone and tried made it feel much better. It is worth thinking closely about what constitutes failure.

Later that evening my coaching session was sandwiched by a few burns on the last remaining projects at the indy before the latest reset. Andy Marshall was there and as i stood eating my hard-earned Chinese take away, with Tim explaining we were level pegging on our scores, Andy arrived and with huge glee announced he’d ticked off another problem and i should be demoted a place. It appears we have some healthy competition this year! So it was a sweet feeling to tick off another problem myself by the end of the evening.

Since then i’ve returned to indoor sessions and other than a hugely successful session Wednesday gone – including three 7a, four 7a+, a 7b and a 7b/+ which thrilled and confused me in equal measure – it’s been pretty much back to normal. Snow adorns the hills today but the big lesson i’ve learned: if you want to be able to get out, you gotta start getting out! With one eye on a family font trip in Spring, i think i’ll be checking the forecast.

Some Reflections on the Last Month or so

My last post prompted a very good and very old (yeah, Dan, you’re old!) friend to call me on some of the gripes i’ve been having lately and it got me thinking: have i been ungrateful while i’ve been off with Rosie?

His original reply:

To be fair pete, and I don’t want to sound like a dick. You’ve got a sweet deal. You’re lucky to spend so much time with your daughter and go climbing when weather allows is a bonus at this stage in the game. Stop moaning. It’ll stop raining soon.

That, in turn, led to a rather lengthy public Facebook conversation between us about me, my attitude and the things i could be doing rather than staring at the rain fall outside and wishing my life away.

And it led to me reflecting on the time i’ve had so far. As with my ideas on New Years, it’s probably wise to look back periodically and if i do this now, it should allow me to make even more of the rest of the time we have before i go back to work. It might even come to affect our relationship after i have gone back!

Our Daily Routine

To start with, here’s some of our daily routines.

Em works one of two shifts on any given day: a morning shift until 2pm or an evening shift that normally starts early afternoon and finishes at 9pm. Personally, i prefer when she’s working mornings and we’ve developed a standard routine on these occasions.

With Rosie being tantamount to the perfect child, we normally get up around 9am, have a bottle and a cup of tea and then wash up from the night before, including her bottles. Then she has a nap while i write, or do house move admin or hopefully get everything ready for heading out later, making a plan based on the weather. Around 1pm, she normally wakes up and it’s lunchtime, with some shmush, finger food and another bottle. Then we’re out.

With me being so easy to please, usually just wanting tea and climbing, the default is always to try and get out to a crag but that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing we do and it certainly doesn’t mean if it’s not possible, we don’t do anything at all. I’ll talk more later about what we have actually achieved so far.

If Em is on a morning shift, normally i wait until she gets home and we normally then do something as a family. Yesterday, for example, was swimming which was awesome and something we all love to do. Walking around North Wales is also a popular option, especially as it keeps Tess, our resident canine, happy too. Sometimes, it ends up being something more necessary than fun-focused, like a trip to Tesco or the other popular one is to socialise with grandparents – we are lucky that both have accommodation of sorts around here and we see them often.

When Em is working and outdoor climbing not an option, there is still a bit of a hierarchy of activities i like to opt for. Both local walls are very accommodating and i have a great relationship with both so an indoor session often works well, and there is another climbing wall on site at work at Plas y Brenin; the latter having the advantage that we get to see Rosie’s mum briefly and our colleagues love seeing the baby.

The next option is normally to go boulder scouting. I’ve found that no level of knowledge of a crag pre-baby can actually tell you whether it’s a suitable venue to take a little one and it’s always best to check with fresh eyes now you know what you’re looking for. And of course, it’s just a walk in the hills really –  a win for everyone.

What about typical baby activities?

As for things like baby club or baby massage, that’s more my problem than anything else. I just don’t feel like i’d be that welcome and don’t actually know when and where most of these things take place.

Granted that’s mostly my responsibility to find out but i’m just not entirely convinced these things are as much for dads as they are for mums. That and why would i do that when i can take everyone climbing, keeping me and Tess that bit happier?

There is a bit of a network of local outdoorsy mums that i kinda know but haven’t really socialised with properly yet. In the interests of some peer social time for Rosie, it is something i know i should pursue but for now, what we’re doing is working and keeping us pretty happy.

Have i neglected the dog?

Erm, yeah probably. Fitting Tess and Rosie into life has proved the biggest challenge for me and sadly, the dog often loses out.

I am conscious of this, hence the hierarchy of activities; it keeps her happier and healthier. At the least, i try and get a walk around the village every day for Tess, so she doesn’t go stir crazy. And of course any baby free time is normally tailored to give my loyal pooch some activity too.

Rosie and Tess have certainly gelled perfectly and have a great relationship, even at this very young stage. Play time with the baby at home often engages the dog too which certainly helps. In a short while, i’m sure they’ll be exhausting each other while i’m washing up.

Has It Worked?

That depends on how you look at it but in the greater scheme of things, yes it has, spectacularly so.

Part of the problem is that i want to be out, every single day. If i can’t for around a week, i get itchy feet and start to think we’re not getting out enough.

Another part of the problem is that my memory is shite and i often plain forget that we got out climbing five times last week and it’s only this week we haven’t done as much. That’s what happened with my last post.

Here’s some figures to go with it: my 27crags ticklist shows 58 new boulder problems since i started Shared Parental Leave – and that doesn’t include a lot of climbs i’ve repeated, that’s just things that weren’t already on the list .

A quick count shows that Rosie herself has been to at least ten venues in North Wales since she was born, either while we were climbing or on a scouting mission. That doesn’t take into account the days i’ve been out without her in that time and that’s just North Wales, so you can add a week in Glendalough into that as well.

On the Facebook debate that prompted this post, Dan said,

For all the support I get from my partner, I can still only climb on average once at weekends, and two or three evenings a month. I tend to get rained off 25% of my days. I climbed a handful of times during my first year as a dad.

That is indeed a bit of perspective! especially as his partner is absolutely awesome. How i’ve done this, i’m not entirely sure but i certainly shouldn’t be taking it for granted.

The Big Important Point

The big huge, neon signed, slap people in the face point i’ve been trying to labour is that you too can get out. If i can do it, you can do it. I’m a barely organised, often unfed and unkept, mess of a human being. People have often said to me before, “i don’t know how you’re still alive” due to my chaotic nature and lack of basic ability to look after myself to others standards. [For the record, i look after my daughter infinitely better and she is perfectly happy and healthy.] If i can get myself sorted to get out climbing, anyone can.

I honesty think that a lot of people – and i don’t mean Dan or anyone else in particular – act the way they think they should when it comes to looking after babies. You’re faced with the fact it’s really hard right from the moment you announce you’re expecting and it really doesn’t fill you with confidence. My dad was the worst for it, telling me i’d never be able to leave the house with a baby; although that may have been a blessing in disguise, as i normally try and prove him wrong with anything he says. So thanks dad, you inadvertently helped.

Get organised, get out. Learn your babies routine and manipulate it to help you. Don’t fall into the habit of being A Parent above everything else – still be you and be a parent as well. Now i’ve looked back, i’ve suddenly realised what the levels of success you can have can be.

Roo Stops Play

Okay, the name of this post is a little misleading given the amount we’ve been managing to get out recently! It came to me as we were forced into a hasty retreat on our first unaccompanied day out once someone decided enough was enough and the title seemed pretty apt as we’ve been at various crags this weekend listening to Test Match Special and following the cricket… Nevertheless, there’s no doubting the start of our little adventure together has been a resounding success.

My last post talked of a solo session for myself (admittedly with Tess in tow) up in the Llanberis pass and some scouting missions but no actual bouldering sessions for me and Rosie. Well, after much anticipation, Thursday gone, we finally got out.

I think in hindsight, the excitement of finally taking my young daughter bouldering with me got the better of me and as Em went off to work, i frantically ran around trying to get all the required accessories together and piled into the car. A Land Rover 90 is not big enough and on the way back, the piles of stuff in the back nearly covered poor Tess, who at one point was almost scrabbling to get into the front cab with us.

We were afforded the luxury of taking plenty as the crag in question was Caseg Fraith – an old favourite of mine and perfectly suited to a baby session. We were even able to pull up right near the crag, unload and then move the car around to the farmhouse, giving us a minimal load to drag in. In a move that would later make me slap myself hard in the head with the palm of my hand, i figured the car was so close, i could leave the changing bag in the car…

The session started really well, with me ticking off the easier lines on the left of the crag up to and including Caseg Fraith Arete 6b while Rosie enjoyed playing with the toys on her play mat and occasionally watching me climb. The occasional fussy moment was easily dealt with and soon enough, i was shuffling the pads under the roof of Skunk X 7a+.

That seemed to be the trigger – or at least the time – for Rosie to begin to fall out of love with our adventurous afternoon. Rapidly, contentedness made way for fussing and some early crying and just after i’d ticked Skunk X, we both realised time was up. She was hungry now.

The problem, as mentioned above, was the changing bag being in the car. By the time i’d saddled up with the inordinate amount of crap, she could probably be heard the length and breadth of the Ogwen valley.

With the session having equal success and failure, i decided to call it a good one. I’d defied most of my own advice i’d recently penned in an article about bouldering with babies and thought i should probably learn from my mistakes but remain undeterred. And that is exactly what i did.

The Saturday following our mixed day out, we tried again. The target this time: the Braichmelyn, or Super Boulder, near Bethesda. Another short walk in with enough space for Tess to run and play, i was definitely making the most of the No Retro Ticks rule!

One subtle but important change for this session was the play mat for the baby. As Caseg Fraith, i’d taken the small play mat from the living room whereas this time, i took a much larger one procured from my cousin Lindsay. It worked a treat and Rosie was an absolute dream – playing with toys peacefully while i duly ticked off more climbs. I stopped to feed her briefly and she dropped off for a nap but none of this prevented sends of The Ramp 6a!, Central Wall 6c+ and the sit start at 7a, Braichmelyn Arete 5b and again, the 7a sit start and a fresh tick of Kryptonite 4c!.

In fact, it wasn’t even Rosie who forced the exit from this crag – more my own abject efforts at ticking the two 7a lines Klimov and The Crack. Given the miniscule crimps in use, i’m blaming the conditions and not my own failings. That’s what good climbers do isn’t it?

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One from yesterday at the #superboulder of me on the sit start to Central Wall 7a as Rosie watches, taken on a timer. Where our session a couple of days before was good, this one was much better as my #daughter had loads of fun playing on her play mat with her toys, giving me plenty of time to continually fall off the fierce crimps of the #braichmelyn. I'm blaming the conditions for my average list of accents… The only downside was an injury sustained by Tess somehow who came home with a major limp, probably while chasing a ball. She's much better today though, thankfully. #bethesda #worldclasswales #snowdonia #northwales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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Monday i needed to call into work to say goodbye to a colleague going off to greater things and the plan was to go in early and head to the Plas y Brenin boulder, given there are now several good new link ups to go at that didn’t appear in the old guide. However, we were once again thwarted by the friendliness of the Brenin…

You can’t go anywhere in that place in a hurry; certainly not without a stern look adorning your face and a furrowed brow. It can regularly take half an hour to get a cup of tea, getting distracted chatting to pretty much anyone else you happen across along the way. Throw an adorable baby into the mix and you’ll never get anything done. That’s what happened last time i went in: climbing took second place to sitting in the bar.

It almost happened again but with dark clouds gathering overhead, an indoor session seemed more sensible anyway. With an empty climbing wall on site, we headed down to get some mileage in.

True to form, Rosie was great and with Cat from the bar mixing playing on the wall with playing with the baby, i managed a third good session in five days. Clare, the departing colleague, even managed to take a few minutes out to come and say hello – to be honest, that made the session all the more worth it. Clare, it’s been a pleasure and i know you’ll be sorely missed around the centre.

A Potentially Interesting/Dull Post About Rock Shoes

This could go one of two ways and i’m hoping it turns out to be interesting! I’ll certainly try my best. Because after many years of climbing exclusively in La Sportiva Solutions, i have recently made the radical decision to try something different…

It’s quite a radical action, for me at least. Even when i was talking to them at local shop V12, the staff member commented that i hadn’t changed shoes in years, such has been my reliance on this particular model. I have had others during that time, like the La Sportiva Futura – a shoe i initially hated but one that grew on me, most notably in Magic Wood back in 2015.

So i thought i’d give some musings on rock shoes and see how it came out. I’ve written an article previously about fitting of rock shoes so i’m not going to go into that here but will discuss some different models, which ones i’ve opted for and what i’ve found so far.

The New Shoes

This all comes from when Sportiva released the Otaki: a new stiff, broad uber-downturned “Performance climbing shoe”. It looked good and when i tried it, it felt even better. (Click that link and watch the video by the way, it’s hillarious at the end).

Problem was that when i went to order some from the supplier, through the small shop i run, there were none in stock and it didn’t look like any would be coming in any time soon. Even checking some local shops i had no joy.

Reluctant to pass up my staff discounts, i decided to branch out from La Sportiva shoes for the first time in many years. The designer from Sportiva moved to Scarpa a few years ago and since then, their shoes have inevitably become very similar. Considering we also deal with Scarpa, they were the obvious choice.

After trying a few on, it came down to a choice between two models: the Instinct VS and the Booster S. After a bit of deliberation, quelling the temptation to get both, i opted for a pair of the latter.

As i expected, they were super small, requiring some help from my other half to stretch them out before i could get them on but when i eventually got the chance to climb in them, they were superb and aided a tricky 7c ascent indoors at the Indy.

Nevertheless, i was still reaching for my old comfy Solutions for most sessions and not really usinng the Boosters. I slowly watched the rubber degrade on them and knew i needed to get the Boosters broken in but the allure of my old pair was hard to ignore.

Then, a few months later, after a bit of forward planning to do with my upcoming paternity leave, i managed to convince myself to stick a pair of Otakis on the latest shop order. The next thing i knew, i had two almost brand new pairs of rock shoes: one stiff, one soft, both a fantastic fit, two manufacturers and a chance to find out more about how the stiffness of your shoes can affect your climbing.

Testing begins: Indoor climbing

As i mentioned, i’d had the Boosters quite a while before the Otaki was added to my repertoire and the precision was fantastic. That said, i hadn’t realised until writing this post that i’ve had them since early March! Never mind.

The first real test was a Mill session where, unsually but not without precedent, i had one of each on, thanks to sore feet. The most notable difference was the precision and the response from each shoe. Soft gave me a great feel for what i was standing on, ideal for smaller holds as i could get a great reaction from them.

What was interesting with these two models was the heel hook move with the Booster, where it performed surprisingly well. The heel on them is less substantial but they molded well onto the hold and despite being a tall throw to a distant pinch, stayed on a few times.

On the bigger holds, the stiffer shoes certainly worked a little better, giving a solid platform for me foot. Granted, digging in deep on a steep wall to get more power from the hold was less likely but with bigger holds, this was less crucial.

Testing moves outside

Suddenly and unexpectedly, i found myself with a last second offer of an outdoor session this week. Suddenly down at Rhiw Goch again for the first time in a long time, i repeated Moria 7b (almost a retro flash) before getting back on with the battle on Nazgul’s Traverse 7c.

The shoes on my feet? The Otaki. I’m not sure why i opted for them straight out of the bag, probably as they are fractionally more comfortable but on Moria the solid heel and ability to power off the small holds came in really handy. However, on the higher holds, where i needed to claw my feet back on, this proved a touch harder.

On Nazgul’s the Otaki performed brilliantly, with much the same issues. The heel was so solid for the cruxy crossover, i almost inverted on the way down and landed with a thump on my backside. However, again, on the more subtle holds on the steep section at the start, i suspect the Booster would’ve been slightly better.

The Vedict (so far)

Even after a short amount of time, the differences are becoming evident. For holds where you want to propel yourself then the stiffer shoes give a stronger platform to launch from. For anything just off vertical, they would undoubtedly be the ones to opt for.

Once the angle gets steeper, and the need to claw your feet onto holds gets bigger, the soft shoes will come into their own, i feel. Meanwhile, when there is a need for precision on a hold, having more response from the shoes could be the difference between success and failure.

However – and this is a very important point – the climbs i’ve tried them on and required both attributes in equal measure. I’ll keep experimenting with them and doubtless soon will try and same climb in both shoes to see the difference but to be honest, i think there will rarely be the perfect shoe for any given climb.

So unless i’m able to keep swapping shoes in between moves, it seems it’s going to be a bit of a compromise. Guess i’ve just gotta get out climbing more and keep testing!

New Year: March 2017

It’s the last weekend in March again and in time honoured tradition that stretches back to this time last year, it’s a goal-setting, New Years Post.

Some Highlights

If we go right back twelve months, it’s been an up-and-down year. On the one hand, 7c+ fell, there was another fantsastic Font trip and the trip of a lifetime to Sweden to keep the birthday tradition alive. Meanwhile, there’s been a major drop in standards through a major drop in psyche and big gaps in between sessions.

Through all of this, it’s hard to look past the fact i’ve had a baby. On the 10th February, myself and my amazing, wonderful partner – who had accompanied me on the return leg of the Sweden trip no less – had our equally wonderful baby girl, Rosie. While that’s pretty late in the year to exaplain a drop in standards and psyche, any parent will tell you how trying pregnancy can be on your social life and spare time and there’s no way i’d trade Em and Rosie for any climb.

It has meant that expectations have needed to be tempered. It turns out Em was pregnant as far back as mid-May so even in Goteborg and Gavle, she was carrying our child. No wonder she wasn’t feeling well! And of course, once your ability wanes, it affects your psyche too. A list that was formerly inspiring became quickly deflating.

This hasn’t stopped me from hitting some high points and most notable of all have been my results in the indoor competition scene this winter. Whichever way you look at it, second in the Indy Aggregate is nothing to be sniffed at and second in their Massive Monday Series too is no weak achievement.

Those two trips really were two of the best as well. Font in April yielded the sit start to Carnage 7c and Divine Decadence 7b+ both of which old projects that i’m super stoked to get finished, especially on another great week with Simon. I love travelling with him and moving through Sweden with one of my best friends before meeting another of my best friends, Fredrik, then being united with my girlfriend was surely one of the best adventures i’ve ever had. Both will live long in the memory.

So before i’m too hard on myself, let’s have a look at how we’ve actually fared.

Last Season’s Goals:
  • SPA Assessment
  • Top Five in the Indy Aggregate
  • At least one 8a climb
  • Create a coaching philosophy
And how did it go?

We’ve already touched on a lot of these and the second goal was absolutely smashed – more through luck than judgment but nevertheless. That one is a huge big tick well done.

That pesky SPA Assessment continues to linger on but steps have been taken towards it and with the prospect of some paid coaching work, is now much more pressing. While i try and figure out the new direction my life is about to take, this is about to become much more urgent. I just need to continue onwards.

That 8a actually looks further away now than at the start of the season but again, we’ve mitigated that slightly in the opening paragraphs. As we’ve seen in recent years most notably with the economies of the world’s leading nations, growth and progress will not continue exponentially forever, there will always be a crash eventually and in a weird parallel metaphor, i think that’s what i’ve experienced. While i’m not worried, now it’s time to rebuild and come back even stronger. The goals below will hopefully reflect this.

As for the coaching philosophy, that has not quite materialised; largely as i’ve completely forgotten about it! I have, however, become heavily engaged in weekly coaching with a great group of kids and consolidated my teaching methods nicely. Perhaps that should’ve read “Coach regularly” as i feel in a much better place now to write such a philosophy.

So one outstanding win, one abject fail and two somewhere in between. To be honest, that’s a pretty good result, considering and shows some real intelligence when it comes to actually setting these goals. I’d forgotten until now the goals i’d actually set (maybe something to address there) and was fully expecting to flop. That is definitely not the case.

Complete them all with ease and they’re too easy. Fail absolutely and the whole thing becomes equally pointless. The point of this is to push the limits and in that, last season’s objectives seem pretty good.

2017 Spring/Summer Goals – short term

While i’d love to say get out there and start using this newly regained strength, the fact is my life is different and i need to adjust to it first. My first priority from now forever more is going to be to Rosie. Climbing is going to have to come further down the list.

That doesn’t mean i don’t want to still get out and achieve, just that i need to find out how to do that.

Meanwhile, the List needs revision; although not actually as much as i’d initially thought. Nevertheless, removing some of the lines that don’t actually suit me or inspire will help bring it back on task and adding some slightly easier stuff will give me something more realistic to go at. Most importantly of all, finding baby-friendly venues is going to be key; especially as she’s so small!

Then it’s just a case of ticking stuff off. I’m still keen to get hard ticks in but setting the bar too high will lead to failure of the not-so-good kind. 7c seems a realistic short term goal.

  • Find out how to climb with Rosie around
  • Go climbing and make the most of the chances
  • Reset the list and get rid of the dross
  • 7c outside – most likely Nazgul’s Traverse

2017 Spring/Summer goals – season long

If I’ve not at least had an SPA Assessment by the end of the summer, there needs to be a good explanation. This could be my future and continually putting it off simply isn’t good enough any more.

Meanwhile, it would be really nice to get another 7c+ done this season. My solitary climb at that grade to date is oft noted as hard for the grade so perhaps being a bit more savvy about what to go at may be key but certainly getting something new done will be a good achievement. More would obviously be better.

This will undoubtedly be best achieved by going climbing. Once i’ve sussed out the baby friendly crags, The List will be re-written and the ticks should hopefully begin to fall. Aiming for a top ten yearly average of around the 7b/+ mark would be a fair goal and would hopefully tempt me back outside. The new guide will help if it’s out before the season ends!

Meanwhile, the Birthday Tradition has become very dear to me. Seven years old now, i would be thrilled to be able to carry this on and to take my family would top it off beautifully. With Ireland on the cards and Rosie’s passport in the works, it seems a likely success but important enough to warrant inclusion.

I’d always said i’d never marry anyone who’d never been to Font (or watched the Italian Job) and while we called in on the way home from Sweden after a bit of a dog related epic, taking my daughter would make my year. It also serves nicely as an introduction to camping on the continent with the family: somewhere i know well, incredibly family friendly, it doesn’t really need much explanation. A trip is penned for September, it’s just a case of making it happen.

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Well I didn't see this coming! After a small administrative problem at the port yesterday, involving the dog's passport (she's absolutely fine), we weren't allowed to take her back across the channel for another 8 days… With huge help from my folks, yet again, we're now sailing home tomorrow night, but with nothing better to do until then, the #greatswedishboulderingtour has ended up being concluded in #fontainebleau… On the bright side a) I got to show @emks93 the #forest for the first time! b) she got her first #font problem done! c) I got another day of #bouldering in, at one of my favourite venues anywhere #rocherauxsabots d) we're in fontainebleau… Lacking a guidebook, we struggled to get anything done really but I did have a good blast at this: #smash 7b. More importantly, Emily is quite taken with here so we'll soon be back. Silver linings to a complicated end to a stunning trip! #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion

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Away from the personal focus, my coaching seems to be developing nicely and keeping this going and growing could even lead to something really big. With options awaiting us regarding work and childcare, coaching could be a nice little addition so developing this is a must over the next six months ready for the winter season.

But most importantly of all is Em. It is critical to keep her in mind through all of this and not put other priorities ahead of her. Going climbing is hugely important to me but nowhere near as much as she is. Remembering that and not risking the relationship for any climb matters more than anything. Thankfully, she’s wonderful, understanding and keen to get out too. Between us, i think we’ll be okay.

  • SPA Assessment
  • Another 7c+
  • Top ten yearly average around 7b/+
  • Continue the birthday tradition
  • Get to Font
  • Start to develop the coaching into something more
  • Don’t jeopardise your relationship for climbing…

All of this needs to be put into context but i honestly think that this has been taken into account when setting these goals. They’re all realistic and if something crazy does happen (like simply not getting onto an SPA course or Rosie not allowing me out to play) then that will be understood in October.

Now all is left is to get out and get it done! Things only happen if you make them happen, even more so with a child in tow. The plan is set, next comes the action.

Happy New Year!

 

Final Score

I’m going to avoid the line, “i never win anything!”- it’s a tired old cliche and quite honestly, it’s almost never true. At least if it is, it’s most likely through a lack of effort!

One thing that you cannot claim with anyone reaching the end of an aggregate competition is a lack of effort! Make it to the end of six months of the same competition and you must have been doing something somewhere down the line.

With a total of around 350 problems set since the start of October, i managed a total of 318 and to be honest, there weren’t that many more i could’ve nailed without projecting for session after session. I date my sheet for every ascent and know that this year, there were at least three sessions where nothing fell. Without substantial effort, i’d hesitate that 320 might have been my max total.

It was enough to get me second place, beaten only by the local beast Wolf – fair play to you sir. That being said, as we chatted between ourselves the other day, we both said there are plenty of strong boys around North Wales who haven’t been playing this year; naming a handful that would’ve beaten us both with relative ease. Some just couldn’t commit the time, some not really that bothered, some struggling with injury but all better and stronger than us. But you can only compete against who is there and i’ll take second; a new high position.

I must admit, given my current circumstances, if i had gained that extra place, it would’ve said more about the current state of affairs on the Indy Aggregate than of my own abilities. This time last year, i hit new heights in climbing Jerry’s Problem – my first V10/7c+. This year, i am nowhere near those standards, as demonstrated yesterday during a day out at Parisella’s Cave.

Notoriously hard, the Cave of Justice takes no prisoners and gives little away for nothing. Brutally overhanging and polished to a high sheen, you earn your ticks there. It’s not somewhere that often grabs me as a destination (apart from anything else, Tess needs to be tied up due to the proximity of the road) but occasionally i’ll take a trip there and when James text me keen to climb on a day with an horrendous forecast, this was about our only decent option.

My high point (grade wise) in the cave remains my first V9, Rock Attrocity. After many sessions, i was there with a friend, Andy Marshall, and an inspired effort from him meant i kept my feet on and nailed it. On watching me sail through a line i’d been trying intensely for weeks, he showed me the Wobbly Block start which adds a grade but only two more moves that aren’t that hard. He showed me some sneaky beta – that i’ve now annoyingly forgotten – and i gave it a blast. A dab on the first move and fluffing the last match meant i couldn’t add the harder version to my ticklist but it felt good and i vowed to come back. The week later i got injured and then never went back.

An old shot from 2014 – around the time Rock Atrocity fell for me

Now it became the focus of my attention again. Driving over, i ran through the moves in my head, optimistic that it might actually go, buoyed by my recent successes in the aggregate.

It didn’t. Almost every move felt brutal, almost to the point of impossible and i found myself working moves long ago ingrained in my mind. Even the end sequence – usually not too taxing when attempted in isolation – felt desperate and wasn’t linked. In essence, it chewed me up and spat me out, cackling at me for good measure.

There are mitigating circumstances to this, in my defence as the conditions couldn’t be much worse for the cave. Rock Attrocity is an artificial line, with drilled pockets and a glued-on flake and even that was seeping in places. The polished holds held a fine drizzle  that skipped the famous sticky-damp and went straight to plain wet and outside the cave’s vast entrance, for the most part, water fell from the sky making everything just that little bit harder.

It wasn’t a complete waste, as Pillar Finish V6 nearly fell and i found some sneaky beta to tick off Parisella’s Roof V6/7. There are many lines in the cave i’ve not really tried much before, with Pillar Finish being one i’d simply missed and Parisella’s Roof having a heinous and committing finger lock half way through. Instead, i crimped the edge of it and found it fine. The aggregate had managed to get me up to some standard at least!

And of course there have been mitigating circumstances for the aggregate too. I have commented recently that getting together with Emily directly related to the downfall in my ability to climb boulders but i have also pointed out that before she came into my life, that i had nothing better to do than climb and train. Would i trade my life with her to be back to those levels? Not in a million years.

And of course it can’t be ignored that when the competition started in early October, Em was five months pregnant and needed my help and support. When it drew to an end, my beautiful and wonderful daughter was already five weeks old.

When talking about climbing, it’s common for me to say, “Life gets in the way” and this has never been more true now. With that comes a reassessment of what truly matters in life and finally having the family i’ve craved for over a decade will always far outweigh any desire to climb hard. The fact i’ve managed to juggle both to achieve what i have certainly makes me take a step back and smile to myself slightly.

Second place, whatever the circumstances, is still a great achievement! 40 people are on the list in my category alone and my score beats any in any other category as well. But of course, i never win anything. Oh, damn it….