Tag Archives: mountains

Waiting for the Click

Many climbers really don’t like football. Often, they don’t see the point of it, the appeal, or why there is so much hype and money in the sport (and i can hear many of you nodding at your screens right now…). I do, though, ever since i was a child, and have always supported Liverpool Football Club. And they are currently going through one of the best and most successful periods in their history; which if you know anything of the club is an unimaginable achievement.

Now, for this next bit i need to explain a little about why they’re doing so well, but bearing in mind the above paragraph, i will keep this simple and brief so please bear with me. Liverpool haven’t won a league title since 1990 and are currently 13 points clear at the top of the table. That means they need to lose five matches that their nearest competitors win in the next 17 games to throw away this winning margin. So far in the league this season, they’ve won 17 and drawn 1 of their 18 games. In June, they won the European title for the sixth time and for context, only two other clubs can match or better that, anywhere on the continent. Just before Christmas, they even world the title for the best club in the world; competing against the best clubs from each continent. In short, they are beating everyone and destroying records that have stood for decades.

For me, having recently hit the form of my life and trying unprecedented grades, i take great inspiration from this. I’ve supported this club through some really fallow years where nothing really that noteworthy was achieved and to know that they can pull it all together and really go for it, really push the boundaries of what the club can do reminds me that i too can do the same.

We often hear of sportpeople being referred to as heroes or inspirations and sometimes i hear people scoff: how can they be an inspiration when they’re on hundreds of thousands of pounds a week? How are they heroes for kicking a ball around? How is it relevant to us anyway?

We go again

As i drove up the Llanberis Pass yesterday, on my way to try the project yet again and hopefully for the last time, the prosperity of my chosen football team wafted through my mind. The standards they are currently at are, quite frankly, absurd and they are at a point where they could push the limits of possibility on to new levels. Granted, they’re in a multi-billion pound industry and i’m some bloke on a bit of rock most people will never even know existed but on a personal level, that’s what i felt i’m doing: pushing my own limits to levels that only a couple of years ago would’ve sounded ridiculous.

To climb 8a these days isn’t nearly as impressive as it once was but climbing isn’t about measuring yourself against other people. It can be, if that’s what you want, but it doesn’t have to be; it is one of those pursuits that allows you to be the very best you possibly can without needing anyone else to compete against. For me, to achieve this would be to show myself there are no limits to my abilities and that i can be my own Liverpool Football Club and can do things i never dreamed possible. If they can, i can, as daft as that sounds.

And yet the reason for the success of LFC is that all the parts have come together and are working in perfect synchronicity. No part of their system isn’t working, they are all gelling in perfection. That’s why it is working. And that’s exactly why i did not end my year with the climb of my life.

Something needs to click

The conditions yesterday were, with no exaggeration at all, absolutely perfect. The temperature was right, the wind was right, the holds felt good and i was fresh and well warmed up. The stage was set for me and even though i was thrown not to find the boulder to myself, my fellow climbers left me to it after a while in favour of other nearby climbs.

And yet something is not quite clicking with it. This climb is notoriously hard and people are quick to remind me of that but i don’t think that’s it, i think there is something else holding me back that i cannot quite place.

While coaching others, i use something called the TTPP model: four attributes to performance sport to break down areas that are holding someone back: technical, tactical, physical and psychological. Well i certainly have the technical skills so that’s probably not the right area to worry about. My tactics could possibly be better, perhaps with timed rests or paying more attention to when my body feels right to try again but i felt yesterday that wasn’t the problem and that i was suitably prepared for each attempt.

The temptation is usually to focus on the physical and suggest that i need to get stronger. It’s also an easy cheat, as by getting stronger than you need to be, you can compensate for something lacking in another area, not to mention strength typically being the most straightforward to improve. The thing is with Sway On, i’m pulling on fine, i’m hitting the hold fine, and i can do all the other moves. I can get to the hold and hold it, i’m just not engaging when i get there. The problem is in my mind.

The last time i was there, i remember thinking i’m not invested enough in this climb yet to do it, it doesn’t matter enough to me; which is frankly ridiculous as it will be my first 8a and i’ve had it lined up since August 2018! Nevertheless, there’s something missing, something lacking. Yesterday was the same, something wasn’t quite clicking in my head and i don’t know what it is.

The problem now is that to clear my mind, i usually go climbing. But how to clear my mind to be able to climb? Two seasons ago, you could feel the same thing with Liverpool. They were almost there, just not quite clicking yet. Now they have, they’re flying. If it can click for me, it may just unlock the next level.

It’s All About Feel

Climbing is all about eliciting feelings: physical feelings, psychological feelings, social feelings, ethical, emotional, even spiritual at times.

That’s certainly why i climb: to feel something. I want to feel my body moving, i want to feel my mind at work, trying to process this complex sequence or control the small variables to be able to work, and so on. What i am less inclined to try and feel is the cold. Especially when that cold is so utterly baltic and freezing that it totally stops me in my tracks.

Trapped in a Paradox

That’s the situation that i found myself in last Thursday gone: just cold. There’s no reason to elaborate on it really, i was simply cold. And it was not fun.

I’ve realised that despite all this “optimum friction” malarkey at low temperatures, my body just refuses to function in the way i want it to once my tempterature drops too low. Many a wasted day has been spent thinking the friction would be top only to realise that it makes little difference when i can’t get my body firing.

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Another day off #goal8a today but absolutely bitter, I got stuck between needing to rest and needing to keep my fingers firing. In the end I lacked time and the necessary sticktuiteveness to get anywhere. @curly_hair_climber on the other and had an awesome day! A stack of ticks in the 7s ended with a flapper but a great day nonetheless. His success far outweighed my poor session and had me leaving with a smile. My worry now is that I'll have to wait until spring for the right conditions. But that probably won't stop me going back in the meantime #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion

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It doesn’t help when my body shape is so slight that i lack any discernible body fat and with it, any natural insulation; and while i can make up for this with layers – cold weather now instantly brings out the “double legs” approach – i cannot do anything about my fingers. If the rock is cold and the weather biting, i’m stuffed before i even start.

So, there i was, underneath Sway On yet again, optimistic that this time, it could go and i could change my climbing career forever. Yet i was stuck in this paradox: pull on a couple of times to warm the digits but then need to rest; rest and the fingers go cold again. If i keep climbing, my fingers tire and i risk injury but if i stop, i chill off and am back to square one.

Gloves and various other things taken along didn’t help and within a short while, i realised it was fruitless and that i would need to wait for another day. I much prefer cold days to hot days but there is a point where you simply need to admit defeat and call it a day. The wait continues.

How Are You Feeling?

Learning to harness feelings like those experienced that day is the key to climbing at your limit, both tactically, psychologically and physically. When is my body rested enough to go again? When am i tuned in enough to give it enough effort? It comes down to listening to yourself and reacting to those feelings to get out what you have put in. Sometimes that results in learning to deal with the disappointment of a bad day.

My morning was filled with emotion and nerves, almost to the point i didn’t want to go. The session itself held so much frustration, not to mention cold (did i say it was cold that day?) and of course the reason i didn’t have that many attempts was simply because i didn’t feel like i was able to pull on properly.

Listening to your body and mind comes through heavily in my coaching and it’s really hard to teach, especially with youngsters who are used to being told what to do and when. Nevertheless it’s one of the most crucial aspects of developing our skills whether in the wall or at the crag. If you want to improve, you have to listen to yourself and what your body is telling you.

For me, the long battle i’m engrossed in continues for at least another week. I’m not actually planning another session there any time soon, with indoor training and conditioning taking centre stage while it rains before a planned day on the limestone crags of the Great Orme on Friday. I’m hoping i’m feeling better then.

The Calm Before The Storm

I am quite used to constant, mild pain; it’s part and parcel of exercising hard i think. Running normally does it to me more than anything, primarily because i don’t do it very often and whenever i do, i go too hard too quick and can’t walk properly for about four days.

Dealing with the pain is fine but there does come a point where you start to need to listen to your body and that’s exactly the point i got to a fortnight ago. Despite all the recent success and the obvious form, it was a case of rest or ruin and i really didn’t fancy several weeks off injured (at best, i imagine).

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If you're going to push your limits, sooner or later you'll have to do some conditioning work. If you don't, you'll either plateau or worse, get injured. Recently I've been walking that line pretty close and I'm now on an enforced rest week. Part of this involves trying these smart bits of kit from @the_powerfingers. They come recommended by @neil.gresham and help to area the imbalance in the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the hands and wrists. I think, I'm not 100% sure yet as I'm still getting to grips with them and have some reading to do. Considering I'm struggling to open my fingers fully now though, I'm certainly hoping they'll help! #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #grimpeur #escalada #escalade #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #training #conditioning #stayingfit #avoidinginjury

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Enforced Rest Week

And so it came to pass – coinciding nicely with a bout of wet weather – that i forced myself to have an enforced rest week. No climbing, more than necessary at least what with me now working in the climbing walls, and nuts to the various aggregate competitions.

In fairness it worked well and allowed my body to settle and recover enough that those niggly pains had just about gone. But there are still some tweaks in my shoulders and neck, my back still doesn’t feel great and i still can’t sleep in the position i have for years as the pain becomes too much to let me drift off. I’ve realised i need to pay more attention to my antagonist muscles and do more conditioning on a regular basis, not just driven by the pain but also by the fact i know i’m climbing hard and becoming imbalanced.

After getting back on the wall and having an outstanding and epic session at the Indy – reducing my remaining climbs down to only 2 from 145 – i realised i need help. None of us know it all, there are always gaps in our knowledge and Tim Peck knows far more than i about anatomy of climbers, injuries and conditioning to help them. So i recruited him to help me come up with a routine to follow. I’ve yet to get into it but i was really impressed with the way the session was tailored to the parts of me that needed it most and how informal it became, lacking any judgement.

So conditioning and rest week all in hand. They say you get stronger on your rest days so i’m hoping a whole week off will serve me well for what comes next…

It All Builds To This

The preparation for this afternoon started back at the weekend gone, when i aligned the diary with the forecast and realised there was the ideal gap for the next episode in my Sway On saga. After my break, it’s now time to crank up Goal: 8a and get this thing done! Before the snow comes proper…

I’ve long advocated that a project session starts long before you arrive at the bottom of it and this is my own little proof. Every now and again, every day for the past week, i’ve been pondering this problem, running through the moves in my mind, imagining success. I’ve been putting things in place, asking friends if they want to join me and generally psyching myself up for the climb of my life.

It makes a difference. Last time i was there, i was close but felt like if it had gone, like i’d have missed part of the process. I hadn’t invested enough in the climb yet and don’t think i would’ve experienced the euphoria i have on other long term projects; which sounds insane considering i’ve had this in the back of my plans for well over a year!

Now that we’re on the day of, waiting for the weather to warm up slightly, all i can feel is nervous. The niggles in my body mentioned earlier have cranked up the volume, i can feel doubt in my mind and i’m looking for excuses, wondering whether to go out at all. Oh, i’m tired; oh, my back is sore; oh, i’ve got too much work to do. All this plays it’s part in making this morning slightly unpleasant.

The fact is, there’s no reason i can’t do this today and those nerves are actually a good thing. The conditions are perfect, i’m in the form of my life, recently rested and have recruited a friend to come along. Everything is set up and perhaps that’s why i’m jittery: the weight of expectation. Today has the potential to be momentous for me. The trick is going to be to take a deep breath and enjoy it as much as i can.

Getting Into The Groove

1258 days. That’s 3 years, 5 months and 10 days. In that time, we’ve moved house, changed Land Rovers, got engaged. Two children have been born! Seven countries visited over at least six trips away, including dozens of crags with countless ascents, not to mention all the non-climbing specific adventures we’ve done.

There have been two new prime ministers, a new American president, several leading political figures have died. England have won a world cup (of ANY kind), that’s how long it’s been.

All that since the last time i climbed 7c. Until this week.

Getting the Groove Back

In my last post, i mentioned about spending two sessions on Barrel Groove 7c as it almost relented before i got distracted with another, more urgent, climb. Ever since then, the weather has been poor at best and while i don’t normally keep even a vague eye on the weather, recently i’ve been checking relentlessly to keep my diary free for the next window of opportunity. There have to be some perks to being self employed after all.

Wednesday was that day and i rose to find myself oddly nervous. All of a sudden, this started to matter to me. I walked poor Rosie to school running through the moves in my head, over and over, largely ignoring her as i was busy visualising. Moving on to drop Hannah off with the childminder, i rehearsed the moves again (she’s less bothered if i talk to her or not). Walking home i was even worse; waving my arms around while walking down church road.

What i didn’t expect were the nerves. I got home and while all common sense said to pack up quick and get out there, i found myself faffing and busying myself, almost deliberately delaying myself from leaving the house. I can’t figure out why but i know i was very trepidatious. It took a couple of hours before i pulled myself together and dragged myself up the Pass. I think Tess’s looks of longing to leave helped me a bit.

Even at the roadside, the nerves remained. A quick blast up and down The Ramp 5+and up Ramp Central 5+ before five turns on my old favourite The Edge Problem 7a – a trunk route for me that i regularly complete in approach shoes – to warm up the fingers sufficiently. In between each burn on the wall, i’d stand, arms folded, staring up at the Barrel and what was about to come.

When the time came to walk up, i didn’t think anything of it at all. Pack up, grab Tess, slog up there and set up. It was unpacking the pads and setting up the camera that i started to get those butterflies back. I’ve no idea why, there is little risk to this problem, so it was all performance anxiety. Even then, failure wasn’t exactly a problem. I suppose the weight of expectation to finally succeed on something i classed as hard after all that time was hunching my shoulders.

I needn’t have worried. The first few blasts threw me back to the floor but i knew instantly that was because of the poor condition of the holds and that once they had chalk embedded, they’d be good to go. I was right too, and within an hour, i’d slapped the top again.

Now was the time to learn lessons. Self coaching (i’m supposed to be quite good at the whole coaching thing) was what let me down last time and i was damned if i’d make that mistake again. I looked and instantly realised a right foot on the hold out left would leave me much more in balance, even if it felt more committing and slightly more scary. I forced myself to try it.

Scary didn’t matter. The first fall was fine, the second attempt and i latched the hold. I’d started the climb trying to touch on Flow State by sequencing the moves on the floor and now knew i was past the crux and stable. This was it, one more move and a top out.

Someone asked me later that evening, how many attempts i’d had. “Three sessions” i told him. “Three sessions?!” he replied, slightly aghast. I nodded. This is hard climbing, this is where i want to be again, and it doesn’t come easy.

Only on the send, it does. On that final go when you find yourself screaming the word YES!!! as you top out over the top of the climb, it does come easy. Everything clicks into place. It all comes together.

That wasn’t why i was shouting though, and apologies to anyone who heard me. It is hard to explain the emotion that comes from succeeding after a project like that, even one that hasn’t lasted that long. We, as people, put meaning into all sorts of things (just look at horoscopes) and for us boulderers, climbing a handful of moves in one go without falling off can feel like the whole world has opened up in front of you. I’d done it, i’d climbed 7c again. Much like Liverpool FC chief executive Peter Moore said this week about my beloved football team, i feel back on my perch. And it is sooooo good.

Seven 7s: coming soon

You’ll notice there are no photos with this post and that is because i did not take any. It is hard work taking photos of yourself when you’re climbing alone and Tess is USELESS at taking photos…

What i have been doing is videoing my ascents with a view to compiling them into a film. The name of said film with be Seven 7s and they will all be from the local area. I currently have six recorded that are suitable (plus a couple that are poor) so only one more to go. Watch this space.

In the meantime, have a picture of the dog to keep you sated.

Not Better or Worse, They’re Different

My second time on Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and we’re off to a rocky start, in so many ways.

I’m very conscious of mentioning Rosie every time i talk about Hannah – it can’t be nice to be continually compared to your older sibling. In this case, though, i drew inspiration from the first time around and built on previous experience. Makes sense really.

Thus, on day two of SPL 2.0, i packed up the child and the pads and headed off to the very same crag from two years ago: Caseg Ffraith in the Ogwen Valley.

I’ve looked up the first photo from that first time (see below) and Roo doesn’t look happy. It obviously didn’t last as i remember that being a pretty good session, with the caption confirming that somewhat. And that is where the parallels end. The setting may have been the same but the reaction certainly was not. These two are, after all, totally individual.

Today has made me realise quite how little i’ve developed a relationship with Hannah thus far in her life. This is, of course, the reason for SPL in the first place and again, i do wish more people would take advantage of it. Hannah is not a fan of being left alone, and cried as soon as i topped out the first climb and disappeared over the top of the crag. Distraction didn’t work that well and putting her in the ball pit taken to contain the beast resulted in more screaming.

I’d managed a pitiful warm up before i realised time was of the essence today and need to step it up quick. I’m not one for long warm ups, having conditioned myself over years of poor starts at places lacking in easy options, but even by my loose standards, performing to any sort of level after this was unlikely. The more i tried, the more she cried and i was trying anything i could think of to keep her occupied.

Back in the car seat, now she had some finger food which allowed me a short while to have a blast. Crucially i managed to recreate the old photo of myself and Rosie that appeared on The Project Magazine for an article i’d written on just this topic. Alas, it didn’t last and soon enough her attention waned and we ran out of puffs…

Giving her the packet – a popular and noisy toy for this little terror – bought me enough time for three or four attempts at Boneyard 7b. It’s a tough beast, this climb, sapping energy and requiring the climber to complete what is a difficult dyno in itself after seven snappy moves. With such poor tactics (enforced by baby, granted) i had little chance and soon enough realised that a crinkly packet wouldn’t cut it any more and time was up.

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There's a nice parallel here: this was the first crag I took Rosie and today, I introduced this stunning valley to Hannah and continued with #babyatthecrag. It is always important to remember how every child is different though. The irony is that in the first incarnation of this shot, Rosie didn't look happy but allowed me to climb. Hannah looks like she's loving it here. It didn't last. Every baby, like every person, is individual and requires you to interact with them on their own terms. Where Rosie was independent, Hannah prefers to be held and comforted. It'll be interesting to see how this month ahead goes. #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #mountains #scenery

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Hannah has been exclusively breast fed right the way up to beginning weaning and even now, getting liquid into her is a challenge. What this has potentially meant is that she likes the closeness and comfort of being held. Meanwhile, she hasn’t had much exposure to the outdoors at this stage, unlike but primarily because of her sister. While #babyatthecrag is feasible, toddler at the crag is a totally different proposition with significantly bigger consequences. Once they start crawling, the goalposts move drastically and you’re in a totally different game.

This may contribute to the poor day, or it may be something else. Maybe this is an off day, maybe my standards and expectations are too high after being so successful last time. I don’t know but i do know if i’d persevered more, tempers would’ve flared. Now is time to calm down, regroup, learn the lessons and get ready for the next time out.

Thank F*** For That

We are now knee-deep in June (as well as puddles but more on that later) and that means one thing: The Birthday Trip is nearly upon me.

It’s been a few years since i thought it might not happen but this year was definitely one where i thought i’d be home. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be going anywhere new and had planned to visit Fredrik in Gavle, thinking this was the year i changed “different country” to “foreign country”. That was until i got a text from Em’s dad…

“Here’s an idea that might, or might no work” put a look on my face to ask what on earth the rest of this message was going to say. I couldn’t have guessed it: a long weekend in Helsinki, bouldering in the daytime, Airbnb to stay, three nights in Finland! I pondered it but the decision was almost immediate and i was in. Ten years, ten countries, unbelievable. I can’t wait!

Training Tactics

After unexpectedly handing in an assignment early for my Masters, i was left this week with two free days. Feeling more than a little fried – as discussed in my last post – there was only one thing on my mind and ideally i’d be outside, chilling out and recovering from my recent exploits. Sadly the weather had other ideas.

Wanting to make more of a day of it, coupled with building works going on at the Indy, i opted to make a bit of a trek over to the Boardroom. Plans to take the train were benched once Lewis showed interest to join me and we drove through relentless weather that confirmed this was the right call over to Queensferry.

With the impending Finnish trip in the back of my mind, i realised i needed to do a bit of training; but not quite in the typical sense of the word. Granted, i do need to do more physical training lately and get my strength levels up but this wasn’t what i had in mind: here, i had a unique opportunity to go to somewhere with a great number of climbs i’d never seen in a style i wasn’t aware of and i had a limited time limit. This was a chance to train my tactics.

It may sound a bit odd to non-coaching types but tactics play an enormous part in your climbing. On my other website, dedicated to my coaching company, i talk about there being Four Facets to performance climbing, following a model known as TTPP. These facets are Technique, Tactics, Mentality and Strength and Conditioning. Each play their part and the explanation for Tacitcs states: “Are you applying yourself in the right way at the right time?”

It’s easy to lose sight of. Setting both outcome-goals and process-goals is important before getting into the nitty gritty of the grades of the climbs being tried, the volume of climbing you’re trying to achieve, the resting time and peaking at the right point.

So we walked into the Boardroom,  knowing we were aiming for about four hours of climbing and wanted a balance of mileage and some performance. Getting around three or four 7s was important with a max grade of around 7b. That was the plan. We scoped out the wall, decided to try the climbs downstairs for the first and last periods, with the middle of our session being on the mezzanine upstairs. The wall doesn’t grade their climbs (grr) and sets by colour, with grade boundaries, the top grades being V7-V8. Not ideal but it did mean we were down the climbing on two colours very quickly.

It went very well, all things considered, possibly with the 7b lacking but without tangible grades and with varying levels of tiredness it being close to impossible to tell. I did leave one hard line at the end which proved too hard but did push myself and came away pleased with my efforts. Got some good snaps too.

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With a deluge falling from the sky back home and a desire to get out to get away from life for the day, @curly_hair_climber and I headed across the top of the country to @boardroomclimb for a session. It was good! Man they like their toe hooks and big dynamic moves there and I tell you what, they do them well! We also took the opportunity to do some training too; but not typical strength training. With an upcoming long weekend in Helsinki approaching, I wanted to improve my tactical skills and it's something I'll be writing about in my blog very soon. Keep an eye on the link in the bio. Many thanks to @curly_hair_climber For grabbing the photos of me #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #indoorclimbing

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Qualifying at Last

Attentions quickly turned to the next big thing: my Foundation Coach Assessment. After a very long time of trying to get an available evening, we’d finally managed to find a date that worked for all and everything was in place for the first of two very important assessments for me.

I’ve done my fair share of these now and there are certainly familiar feelings in the lead up. Anyone else who has been through a similar process will doubtless instantly know the signs: anxiety, nervousness, trying to get the plan sorted in your mind and hope that everything comes off smoothly. I had none of that.

Again, on the Prowess site there is a page about what i call the DCBA Scale which is all about optimum levels of mental attitude to perform. Doubt, Confidence, Belief and Arrogance are the steps along a sliding scale, with a bell curve situated right in the middle. This was a night where i sat right in the perfect spot and it genuinely couldn’t have gone much better. I’d primed the kids the week before so they knew what was coming and credit to them, i couldn’t have done it without them, it was a great session.

The feedback i’ve had, both on the night and today, has been absolutely glowing. I’d dreamed of getting great comments back and of my assessor singing my praises but i didn’t actually think it would happen! There were even a couple of pointers and critiques in there too, which is even better as it does give me somewhere to improve. And it’s not so much about boosting my ego, getting a response like this helps to reinforce to me that what i’m doing is right, that it’s working.

#babyatthecrag returns

And so, after months of turmoil and stress in almost every area of life, everything goes on the back burner at 5:30pm today for at least a month. No climbing wall stuff at work, in fact no work, no masters study (this is now “reading month” i told my supervisor) and certainly no coaching assessments. No, this is my baby leave with Hannah and i’ve not got long this time.

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In other news this week, I've had a piece published on the outstanding website @theprojectmagazine! Called little life lessons, it's all about how Rosie affected my life when she first made an appearance with us and about #sharedparentalleave. Ever since I first took time off to be with my #daughter I've been trying to champion and publicise the idea that dad's can be primary parents too and it's fantastic that the guys at The Project are helping to support me with it! Meanwhile, I've also been trying to demonstrate that being a parent doesn't stop you being you. This photo is of #ogwenjazz at #casegfraith in the #ogwenvalley on one of our first days out together. Now I'm back at work again, I realise quite how important this time together was. #daddydaughtertime #worldclasswales #northwales #snowdonia #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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With a lack of other commitments and longer to share between us, Shared Parental Leave was very different with Rosie. Em took the first six months, i then took three months off and Em opted to take the last three months of unpaid leave that was on offer. This time, my Masters commitments don’t allow me to take that much time off and we no longer have the option of the final three months.

And so, at 5:30pm this evening, i leave work for one month, taking over from my significantly better other after her eight long months away from work. On Monday, she returns to work and i try and figure out how exactly to deal with two children – one a little over 2 and the other eight months old – on my own.

With the busyness mentioned earlier, i’ve not been as involved this time as i was with Rosie, so this is a little more daunting than the first time round. Still, Rosie spends three-days a week with the child minder, giving me plenty of opportunity to bond with Hannah and create a similar connection that i did with our first child.

Part of this bond will hopefully be at the crags. #babyatthecrag worked very well eighteen months ago and all being well, can be another success this time around. If only she can hold off on crawling for a little while longer…

Bouldering and Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flying High

Now that our fantastic family trip is done and dusted, it’s time to turn my attention back to climbing; this is primarily a climbing blog anyway. More to the point, i have exciting climbing related news.

Exorcising Lake Demons

My last five posts related to our family holiday to the Lakes, which was awesome. One day was dedicated to climbing for me, with the tribe chilling around the base of the Bowderstone and while i did talk about it in Restoring Parityi wanted to quickly revisit this as that day has turned out to be quite a turning point for me this year.

The plan was always the Bowderstone; after all, this was somewhere that potentially could’ve transformed my climbing when i lived in the north west, if only i’d actually tried. However, the reputation of this mammoth boulder is well established and i was conscious that if i didn’t play this right, i could easily end up leaving with nothing.

Eagerly anticipating this once in a long time chance, i’d spent substantial time before we left watching videos of ascents on the stone and knew what i was heading for: Picnic Sarcastic 7a+. It was about the right grade for a session with a 7b sit start to go with it. I honestly didn’t think they’d both go but it seemed like the most tactical approach i could take.

As we were ahead of the new guide, i was conscious of struggling to find the right climbs too. Thankfully, i made a friend who pointed out much beta, as well as where lines started and finished. He even offered a crucial spot too as i soon found myself matched on the last hold, my mission accomplished. From here, it was almost as if the pressure was off and before i knew it, the sit had fallen quickly and i was looking for something else. Still wanting to be tactical, i opted for another 7a+ (or so i thought, it turned out to be 7a) Statstick and promptly flashed it. I finished off with a questionable tick of Power Pinch 7b to fire me into sheer bliss, even if the finish could’ve been cleaner.

It just goes to show the importance of tactics, even in a non-competitive activity. It really did make a crucial difference and this whole experience has even spurred me into writing an article for my sister-site Prowess Coaching, which will hopefully appear very soon.

Finding Form and New Lines Back Home

As i said in my recent posts, this was our only climbing of the trip so once we got back and i was supposed to be back on study days, i used the “holiday” excuse and headed out again. Well, i say that, i wanted to but Tuesday fell by the wayside, due to last minute changes of plan and visiting friends, so i ended up tidying my desk, the house and then having a late night swim.

I’ve been back in the pool a bit more recently, especially when Em was away and i’m finding not only is it great cross training, because it’s so intense for an hour, it works out quite nicely with the family. What i didn’t anticipate this Tuesday – as much as the sessions are normally quite tough – was the brutal hour of medley i had in store. That meant that when i went to go out on Wednesday morning, the ache was a bit worse than i would’ve wanted.

It turned out not to matter. Indecision reigned supreme but there’s always logic if you look hard enough and given the recent dry spell, and the cool conditions, i figured i’d check out Super Hans 7b in the Aberglaslyn while it was likely in good nick.

It seems my Lakeland form is continuing and Super Hans fell quickly. After my sluggish start and slow walk in, i didn’t have that long but it was plenty enough to tick off this project from last year. Chuffed, i started looking for what to try next…

Dogface 7c looks much more likely than i’d thought before but i wasn’t in the mood to start working that, especially considering what i’d spotted to the left: to the left of the sloper of Super Hans is an enormous sidepull and left of this is L’Edge. It seemed logical to link them.

To my surprise, it worked! Feet are scant and i ended up doing a ludicrously awesome Egyptian in the middle of the climb before a very tentative snatched match of the sloper. I filmed the first ascent in poor quality and tried three more times to repeat it. I couldn’t get it a second time but i did get enough to splice together a rather nice little video of Doggle 7b (first ascent).

New Years Resolutions?

That first ascent of Doggle was my fourth 7b of the season to sit alongside two 7b+. Combined with a stack of 7a+ this has pushed my yearly average up to 7b by the middle of April. That was actually my goal for the season…

I’m not criticising my goal setting, as again there was no way to anticipate such success in such a short amount of time. The problem i have now is that to push this average up to 7b+ is no easy task. In 2016, the year i ticked Jerry’s Problem 7c+, my hardest ascent to date, my average for the year was 7b+. So this is gonna be tough.

In the Lakes last week, knowing this goal might go sooner than the end of the season, i scribbled some maths to work out how to push it to the next level. Simple answer is it’s tough. Realistically, it would involve climbing two 7c at least and that is no mean feat. Four 7b+ could work, and would be more logical but tracking them down won’t be easy and 7c is far more likely, as weird as that sounds.

Travelling may be key here and as long as i’m climbing at or above that average, it’ll carry on going up. It is also important not to get too engrossed in this either, maintaining a process-focus rather than an outcome-focus (for more information on this, read this but be warned: it seems very biased towards one system and both have their merits).

In the interests of that, and safe in the knowledge that come end of season this will be a success, i’m going to make the unprecedented step of adjusting my season goal. Staying process-focused is important but all those years without these seasonal goals and a little bit of outcome-focus only got me so far.  7b+ is likely unachievable but if the Bowderstone taught me anything it’s that you’ll never achieve any goal if you don’t try. Let’s see how we get on!

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A pad for me to carry, a pad for @emks93… And I'm still very grateful that she carries anything at all. I get a lot of support for my fun and games from my better half and it does not go unnoticed. I'm having my best climbing season in years right now and she deserves a lot of the credit; not only lugging some of my crap around and bringing the family to enjoy the time with me but allowing me the time to go and do my thing alone, congratulating me after a hard ascent and consoling me when things don't go to plan. I can't thank her enough. #lakesbouldering #lakedistrict #lakestrip #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion

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

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

Finding the Gruffalo

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

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

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

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

The Week in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Just the way it should be.

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

Raise Your Arms, Say Ow

The last couple of posts on here have been largely philosophical, looking at subjects such as criticism and reflection. However, what i haven’t posted for some time is actually what i’ve been up to!

There’s a reason for that: i haven’t actually been up to much; well not much noteworthy at least. The winter has slowly been plodding along – until you look back and then it’s suddenly flown by – and as we now find ourselves getting into March, i’ve suddenly realised New Years is right around the corner and the aggregate is due to end in a fortnight. In an instant, i’ve had this slap in the face that i need to start thinking about my climbing, and quick before the summer comes and goes before i know it.

The last three weeks have largely been a write off so let’s start with that. Em decided to utilise some of her maternity leave to take a week to visit old friends and family down in the Midlands. To me, that read, “I’m away for a week so you can spend your evenings and daytimes going out playing”. Which i did. A lot.

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#startemyoung

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After what i guessed at about five years absence, i got back in the pool with the Arfon swimming club but shit me, did i pick a bad week to start up again! During what felt like endless lengths of front crawl at full tilt, i calculated 2.2km with about 6 minutes rest in an hour. By the time i got out i was battered. Three climbing sessions were thrown into that quick week too, as well as a run on my rest day. Come Tuesday, i was back in the pool again, for a slightly more sedate drill session, only to hear a pop in my left shoulder and a chronic pain. I didn’t last the set.

Next morning and i was in agony, unable to lift my arm above shoulder height; a classic overuse injury. After a conflab with Tim at the Indy – a well of knowledge on all things strength and conditioning – we reasoned i’d inflamed a tendon in my left shoulder. There’s a big lesson in there that while i used to be conditioned to do day after day either climbing, swimming or something, that ability quickly wanes if not maintained. I’ll try and remember that next time she goes away…

Am i recovered yet?

That was three weeks ago and i have largely been trying to avoid using that shoulder for anything, from climbing to raising my hand in the air. The problem was: how do i know when i’m good to go again?

Thankfully, i’m already at the climbing wall every Friday for a coaching session anyway, and that includes free entry, so it didn’t cost me anything to test it out and see. Well, didn’t cost me any money at least, and i was acutely aware that if i got this wrong, i could be back to square one.

Equally thankfully, in a weird twist of fate, most of the wall was closed off last Friday in preparation for a competition, meaning there was little chance of me overdoing it too much by getting distracted with the aggregate comp.

I tried a few lines, slightly nervously and while it felt a bit tender and stiff, there was no pain. Given a fortnight of nothing, stiffness was to be expected and i was pretty pleased with that.

Moving Out

So while North Wales and much of the rest of the country were basking in a heat wave and ludicrously dry conditions, i was distracted with Masters work, children and of course, resting my shoulder. Eventually, though, a window was found, as was a healthy dose of psyche from resident puppy at PYB, Josh. He’d suggested a Brenin boulder session but i’d preferred to try some projects in the pass instead and once he got time off stores for good behaviour, we had enough time left to head a tiny bit more off the beaten track.

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While north wales has been basking in a spell of unbelievable good weather, I've been preoccupied with study, work and other non climbing related activities. Still, given I was forced to take three weeks off to recover from an overuse injury on my shoulder, staying busy has been the best antidote. Until tonight that is. Armed with a dose of psyche from @_josh_butler we hit the llanberis pass to check out NASA 7a. Either I'm rusty or its nails. It didn't go but crucially, we did and that was success enough for tonight. Here, josh battles with the moves we couldn't quite muster while Tess watches on. #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion @plasybreninstaff #dog #dogsofinstagram #collie #colliesofinstagram

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Originally, i’d been keen for Mr, You’re On Fire, Mr 7b at Craig y Llywfan; a great little venue with a couple of classics and a name that is incredibly difficult to pronounce. (Google Translate does it’s usual bang up job of making Welsh words sound utterly shit.) The warm up was intended to be a 7a lower down called NASA that turned out to be absolute nails! In the twilight, we both walked away with a lonely 5c each. Still, it was good to get out.

Not content with even the offerings of the fringes of the guidebook, Josh has also been scoping out some new boulders too and yesterday provided a rare opportunity for the two of us to head up and check them out.

I’ve looked at them several years ago and deemed them lacking for the effort of getting there but then Josh had spotted another boulder nearby. I figured it was worth another look. Turns out that was the right call.

I was almost instantly enthused by two lines on that first bloc when we quickly spotted something else. After a mini fight with a mountainside of heather, felled trees and hidden holes, we found ourselves under what i can only describe as a menhir that Obelix would be proud of.

We didn’t even get to the farthest boulder before we’d found enough to warrant a return. When is unknown but it’ll be soon, i’m certain of that.