Tag Archives: mountains

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.

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Shared Parental Leave: Worthwhile?

So as i mentioned in my last post, i am back to work and am looking at a bit of retrospection on three months of time off on Shared Parental Leave. Was it worth it? Did it make a difference to our relationship? Would i do it again?

I’ll be looking at it in two minds: from a climbing point of view (being as this is indeed a climbing website) and from the view of parenting in general. Throughout i’ve been trying very hard to champion the idea that you can still get out and stay active and debunk the myth that children kill your interests so it’ll be interesting to see how well i’ve succeeded.

First, What Is Shared Parental Leave?

It’s not a daft question as Shared Parental Leave (SPL) is something that nowhere near enough people in the UK know about. Typically, the mother of a newborn will get a year off work, on varying levels of pay. Fathers meanwhile generally get a fortnight.

To even things up slightly, SPL allows parents to, in a nutshell, move the mothers leave onto the father. There are various caveats and conditions to this but in essence, since my daughter was born, i’ve found it easiest to explain it to people by saying i’ve stolen some maternity leave. It’s not 100% accurate but people understand.

In our particular case, we decided that Emily, my partner, would take the first six months off work and then i would take over and take three months before we looked for childcare. The final three months on offer were unpaid so originally we opted not to take them but then, once i was off, we decided to go for it and so Em took the last three months, meaning i got a bit in the middle.

There are many different ways you can arrange the time off to suit your circumstances and it is possible even for the self employed. This has been one of my missions over the course of Rosie’s first year: to raise awareness of this as an option. For more information, there is a dedicated government website on Shared Parental Leave that i emplore you to read.

The Plan At Six Months

As we reached the Great Work Switch mid-way through SPL, i started to get some ideas of what i wanted to do with my daughter on our time off and what i wanted to achieve. For me as a climber, and even more so as a boulderer, and with Rosie not crawling yet, i had the #babyatthecrag circling around my mind: baby play mat for her to lie on and play while i dabble on boulder problems nearby, stopping often to check on her.

The timing was good too, with the release of the highly anticipated North Wales Bouldering guidebook at roughly the same time that we swapped over. Ideal! So much more to go searching for! Still, with so many variables and not much certainty this was going to go well, i opted to stick with places i knew well that would fit what i was looking for.

Company would’ve been great but hard to come by a lot of the time so i figured i’d need to be self sufficient. Sessions would need to be short too, or at least planned to be. An hour or two might be all we could muster between us!

When we couldn’t climb, i was still keen to get out and make the most of being off work with my little one. I was very determined not to spend three months sat in the house, staring out the window, pining to be out and moping as a consequence. So for those wet days, scouting missions to new crags would be the next objective. For this, we could go almost anywhere, within reason.

Did It Work?

Yes, no and kinda.

I’d figured out i needed somewhere with a relatively short walk in, due to the excessive amount of kit i’d need to be carting in there, and somewhere with a decent flat area to leave Rosie while i was on the wall. With me happy to repeat old lines again, our first three targets were Caseg Ffraith, the Braichmelyn and the RAC boulders. All three would be dog friendly crags too.

They all worked a treat, with a steep learning curve. That first session at Caseg Ffraith and i’d opted to leave the baby bag in the car; a mistake i did not repeat! Even so, i had a good climb, got some awesome photos and Rosie had fun being out in the mountains. Tess had a whale of a time too, as she always does when we go bouldering together.

The Braichmelyn was similar although better planned and better executed. Conditions weren’t great for climbing but i couldn’t ask any more from the structure of the session and the whole day was exactly what i wanted.

The RAC was similarly a great little session and a long one at that! Still, Rosie did catch the sun a bit and i learned another important lesson about parenting!

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The imposing figure of the RAC boulders – imposing to those that don't know the #climbs they hold. This is #northwales premier beginner venue, with a plethora of low grade lines ideal for those just finding their feet in this #sport – now with all documented on 27crags.com For those of us with more experience, these days, there are a handful of harder lines to be searched out or, thanks to my No Retro Ticks rule and the challenge of repeating everything in the area, a chance to get some mileage in. Despite not doing anything over 6b+ today, 29 problems actually worked as reasonable training on another glorious day in #snowdonia. #babyleave is rapidly becoming #bouldering leave… #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #Bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram @27cragsofficial

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But then the rain came and it honestly hasn’t really gone away enough since for me to have any success taking her out. Where alone you can risk it on those iffy days and bail if the weather turns, i couldn’t take that chance with a baby and all the associated crap in tow – it just isn’t possible to run away in a hurry and keep the offspring safe. I might be determined but i’m not that mad.

It started to get to me a little after a month of outdoor inactivity, culminating in a moan on the blog and a mid-point retrospection following a Facebook debate with an old friend.

I never really recovered, as neither did the weather. From then on, it became solo missions on the occasional baby free day or indoor sessions – for which i can’t thank the Indy wall enough. Without that, i probably would’ve been substantially more surly.

Then came a rash of non-climbing interruptions that were far more important. In short, we moved house and climbing took very much a back seat, albeit for a very good reason. Sadly, #babyatthecrag lasted about a month, although not for lack of trying. And in that time, we honestly made the best of a damp situation.

We snagged one final day out, in great company with Dan Webb and Pete Fagan, at Upper Tier Tremadog which gave the whole time off and out some closure. All told, considering the stories i’d been fed before we started, we’d done bloody well.

What About Time Off With Rosie In General?

I have said before and reiterate now, having this time off with my daughter has developed our relationship so much. I don’t know, obviously, but i imagine it would’ve taken years to get to this point without this dedicated time together.

It’s given me some perspective as to what Em had to do while she was off the first time around and given me empathy as to what she’s doing now. Now i walk through the door after a long day at work with a totally different mindset and i’m happy to grab Rosie straight away and catch up immediately, where before i often just wanted to sit down for a few minutes.

Mostly though, and this may sound bad but hopefully makes sense, i think i love her more now than i would do otherwise. I’ve seen her grow every day into a wonderful little human, as she develops more personality, more emotion and she learns about the world around her.

I’m so glad that, climbing aside, i’ve been able to show her more of the world than the four walls inside the house and i desperately emplore any new parents to do likewise. Please get out with your kids, take them and show them the world as it’s been a wonderful experience that i wouldn’t change for the world.

I’m glad to be back at work now and have some normality back in my life – i don’t think being a stay-at-home dad would suit me that well. But if you took me back to that point at the start of the summer again and asked if i would do the same, there is not a second i would change. Now we can take this experience and grow even more and i can’t wait for the rest of our lives.

A Month Later

After my analysis of “active parenting” in my last post, it’s been a month now and to be totally honest, the climbing has dried up; unlike the weather.

The terrible weather mentioned a couple of posts ago has conspired to keep us from going out and totally stymeed the early momentum from my first time off with Rosie. Instead, we’ve… well, truth be told, i honestly can’t remember what we’ve been doing!

Even my Instagram feed – usually a useful record of our latest activities – is filled with throwback photos to try and get some psyche back. In fact, there are only two outdoor climbing posts since the last update post: a very quick and short blast at the Cromlech boulders and a recent glorious day at Clogwyn y Tarw.

The latter was indeed a great little session, with the aim being a climb i’d not really looked at called The Rocker 7b. The big one for me at Clogwyn y Tarw remains The Punk 7c from sit but with my current form, i’d noticed the lower grade and thought it would be a wiser objective. Sadly – as often happens with choosing goals from a guidebook – once i’d seen it for real, it didn’t actually appeal that much, and needed more protection (another pad or a spotter) than i had with me.

Instead, i opted to tick off a couple of other problems whose descriptions in the old guidebook have been greatly improved by photo topos: Soul Boy 6c and Here Comes Cadi 7a. Neither were flashed, as i bottled the top out and am soooo rusty on rock right now, but both were and are outstanding lines with great moves.

The only other outdoor activity of a climbing-related nature was a lovely walk into the newly developed Tal y Fan. This new crag lies miles out to the east of the park, overlooking the Conwy valley with a stunning vista down the the Irish Sea, and was almost undiscovered until the enterprising local activist Owen Hayward developed it in recent years.

With a friend of mine, Alex, living over that way and asking if i was keen to have a day out with our respective young kids, it seemed a logical place to go and explore; especially as the weather was actually quite nice.

In hindsight, taking pads and shoes in wouldn’t have been the worst idea but we would’ve had to be a LOT more organised. Saying that, a scouting mission was indeed useful and the crag dries super quickly. The aspect alone is worth the walk in.

While that short summary concludes all of our outdoor excursions in the last month (MONTH!) we have been able to make use of the local indoor facilities – although even then, i’ve been more coaching than actually climbing!

The most notable session must be over near Queensferry at the excellent Boardroom.  With Em’s brother living over that way, we drove over to meet up and have a bit of a family climbing session. It was, indeed, absolutely awesome, in a great wall that we don’t often use as it’s a little too far away, with James and Em both getting a climb in and with three of us, Rosie had a great time too.

Meanwhile, closer to home, the annual Indy Aggregate competition kicked off again a touch earlier than expected – numbering existing climbs, rather than stripping everything and resetting. Even with this, i still opted to play it safe and try and repeat anything that i could, to make sure i’d actually done everything i was saying i had. A couple of the harder climbs would be the exceptions.

Next thing i knew, i’d managed 50 climbs in one evening. By the end of it, i was making Chris Sharma-esq noises on a 4 and couldn’t do the first move on a 6a. Last time there, i had only five problems outstanding in the current set.

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You have to love a local #climbing wall that will let you do this. The #indy are absolutely awesome and me and Rosie spent a good four hours plus there this afternoon; me #bouldering away, my #daughter either chilling in her car seat or enjoying some space on the mat. Credit to the other customers too, who weren't phased by the site of a #baby on the pads. That said, there weren't many of them as we deliberately went during a quiet afternoon. I've got to give them huge credit. The Indy are always welcoming and friendly, set good problems and provide tea at a good price. There's not much more you could ask really. #worldclasswales #northwales #northwalesbouldering #rockclimbing #climbing_is_my_passion #activeparenting #startemyoung #sharedparentalleave #daddydaughtertime

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It has also proven an excellent venue for #daddydaughtertime. Admittedly i do try hard to pick times and days when it will not be busy but there aren’t many walls that will just allow me to take an 8-month-old baby and have her on the pad with me. More than that even, as Rosie often gets some fuss treatment from the lads down there and last time we were there, Dave was encouraging her to start crawling…

I’ve often waxed poetic about the Indy Climbing Wall and it speaks volumes that i’m more than happy to do it again and again. It’s more than just good business, there is a friendliness and genuine encouragement around the place, a nice vibe that makes me want to keep going back. The fact i’m welcome to take Rosie – or in fact anyone able to take any well behaved children like that! – is a testament to the nature of the place. With our outdoor options curtailed somewhat, it’s been fantastic to have such a facility so nearby.

The Long Awaited New Testament

It’s here.

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I've been waiting a very long time for this. Not just me, many people both local and elsewhere around the world and you know what, it's been totally worth the wait. It does have some weight to it: nearly 700 pages means it nearly doubles the mass of my #climbing bag but what that means is there are SOOOOOO many new places to explore; places I never really knew existed, places I knew of but didn't know what was there, places I know well with extra new lines to throw myself at. Makes it even sweeter for me that I'm in it! Not a photo but my lines in Bryn Engan! #stoked Here's to a summer of #bouldering in #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #guidebook #book #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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It has been a long time coming, for anyone wanting to boulder in North Wales; that’s quite a number of people given it is up there as a contender for the best bouldering in Britain! The last guide was originally published in 2004, in moody black and white and was actually bilingual, with everything being given descriptions in Welsh (Cymraeg) as well as English. It went out of print back in 2009 and has been a prized possession for anyone lucky enough to lay their hands on one – something not to be loaned or lost for sure! – until now.

For some context, the old guide was 303 pages and (as well as half of it being duplicated already) contained the usual general pages, commandments for bouldering outdoors, two pages on gear, another on landings, four pages on the definition of a boulder problem (worth a read) and another three on grading. At the back, once past the faraway crag of Cae Ddu, you’d find a FULL graded list of everything in the book, eight colour photos including one of the great John Gaskins and SIXTEEN pages on history of the local scene. Oh and a glossary.

All that is gone, save for four pages of introduction; such is the nature of the North Wales bouldering explosion since the last guide first hit the shelves some thirteen years ago. In fairness, it had to as the weighty tome that now covers my homeland extensively still comes in at 667 pages. It weighs 1150g, almost half the weight of my daughter when she was born…

The old classics are in there, obviously but with entire new crags that only the most dedicated of locals were aware of. Nevertheless, with almost every crag at the very least giving a photo topo for an old project for me, and after years of deliberation, i’ve opted to go for a No Retro Ticks approach to the guide.

I was chatting to an old friend Andy Marshall the other day and said about this so just to clarify: No Retro Ticks refers simply to literally ticking the guidebook, not claiming the ascent. What this means in real terms is that there is a lot of repeating of boulder problems around here for me all of a sudden!

That’s not to mean i’m going to leave a lot of the new stuff. On the contrary, unable to wait for the delivery at work, i snagged a copy from local shop V12 (often called VDiff) the day it arrived and was out the following day checking out somewhere i’d been before but not climbed.

I love doing established boulder problems, with beta and a grade and i love doing first ascents but what i really don’t like is doing something that i know has been done but i don’t know how or how hard. I find it really irritating and more than once i’ve done something slightly different from the original and don’t quite get the ascent. There have been a few places like that around here but all of a sudden, i have a book that now shows me where they lie.

The first crag on my radar? The first crag in the book! Little walk in, dog friendly and oft pondered, i headed into Fachwen to get some much needed mileage under my belt.

A great little session culminating in Shorter’s Roof 7a+ while listening to the Test cricket. More than getting back into the swing of things, it was liberating to actually climb something i’d looked at years ago but was put off by not knowing enough detail. That and it’s a great little roof.

The only other ticks in the book were up in the pass where i managed to sneak out for a couple of hours. The Llanberis Pass has always been the focal point of the North Wales bouldering scene and has suddenly expanded, somewhat unexpectedly. One would’ve thought it couldn’t get much else new but it really has.

The Obedience Boulders are one such area that weren’t really known before but now have photo topos and provide a quick session for those nearby. Most people will be lured to the nearby Corridors Of Power 7c+ but i would suggest Nicotine Wall and it’s surrounding problems would be worth stopping at on the way there.

Sadly, despite obsessively reading the book at every opportunity, that remains my only outdoor sessions to date; stymied by poor weather and a baby, not to mention moving house. What we have mentioned though are some excellent scouting missions.

The crag of Fontainefawr was another i’d heard plenty about but not visited so an evening walk turned quickly into bushwacking and searching in the woods to find the inspiring hanging roof. It did look mighty impressive but for me, didn’t quite hit the spot and would most definitely not be baby friendly.

The one that did push my buttons was Supercrack. Under the heading of the Black Rhino boulder – a less inspiring but equally tempting boulder – Supercrack has captivated my attention since i first laid eyes on it in person. Despite the rain, the bottom half remained chalked and i really cannot wait for a dry spell to get back there and get spat off the harder (and hopefully not the easier) lines.

It looked inspiring in a recent video that caught my attention too but that wasn’t why i was watching. Long time readers will remember the excitement i felt after completing my best first ascent, Prowess 7b. So imagine my excitement when i watched this video:

It is a great feeling to put up a new line, even better to see it in the guidebook but to know that people are out there climbing it is a real thrill. What’s even better is a conversation i had the other day with the boys at Dragon Holds.

After recognising the woods of Bryn Engan in a photo, and a comment saying they were searching for new boulders, i asked if it was where i thought. The reply: “You know where it is, near Pyb boulder and prowess”. Not only are people now trying my climb, they’re also using it as a landmark!

It might sound a little sad but it’s nice to think that while this new book is giving me so much inspiration and new climbs to throw myself at, that i’ve been a little part of that.

A Slight Rant About Some Aspects of Irish Tourism and Bouldering

Birthday climbing didn’t actually happen but that didn’t matter; climbing was a secondary purpose of the trip this year, behind sharing my daughter’s inaugural foreign foray and spending time with my significant better half. Instead, the day was spent chilling, watching bottles sterilise in a pan of boiling water and then going for a nice little walk around the nearby Vartry Reservoir.

I say around, we didn’t actually make it all the way around, it’s absolutely massive and not the most romantic of walks. This is a fantastic metaphor for Ireland (or at least the Wicklow National Park): they have some fantastic scenery and some wonderful places but really don’t know how to market it. North Wales is similar, in that we really don’t make the most of the assets we have here to their full potential, but there is politics in play and it’s not quite as simple. Perhaps that is the case in Ireland too, and that there is some deep seated reason that the local communities do not want to attract large quantities of tourists but without knowing that, all i can say is they really don’t make the most of the wonders they really have.

Here is the perfect example. I have just know googled “Vartry Reservoir” to find a link to post on aforementioned name and found, to my great shock, this video:

Now until right now, i had no idea about this at all. We didn’t see this and would’ve quite like to! Instead we were treated to a mediocre gravel path, half maintained but not to any exceptional standard with signs only for restrictions on fishing and an interesting A4 print out about a white cross built into a wall. If that spillway was in the Lakes, it would’ve been given brown signposts for miles around.

What they do advertise often doesn’t live up to it’s billing. After our walk, we headed into Roundwood for a traditional birthday dinner out and opted for “the highest pub in Ireland”; Kavanagh’s Vartry House at the top of the village. This is a pub (that looks nothing like the website by the way) that had a sign outside claiming to be the highest pub in Ireland but a quick Google search brings up no less than three other pubs. Now, i really couldn’t care less if i’m drinking at a higher altitude than the others, (for those that are, check out this lengthy thread on a message board, that i could not be bothered to reach the end of) but inside was a less than charismatic inn, seating plenty of stereotypical Irishmen watching the horse racing with their betting slips in their hands. Our dinner was pleasant, nothing to write about really but the place really was incredibly unspectacular. Perhaps the people of County Wicklow just don’t have the same ideas of what constitutes quality to visitors?

Not wanting to berate the good Irish people too much, i must say that they are just that: good, friendly and accommodating. The barman was incredibly friendly and pleasant with us, as was Jim at the Roundwood Campsite and indeed everyone else we met for the duration of the trip. Jim in particular would greet us with a cheery smile, a happy wave and often as not, a nice chat whenever we approached or passed him and did make the week just that little bit nicer.

An exception to the lack of tourism is indeed the village, lakes and valley of Glendalough and indeed, the day after my birthday was indeed a climbing day. Parked up at the shores of the lower lake, it was now Saturday and obviously that bit busier; although the number of confused looks and questions about the pads wasn’t as many as is common.

Up at the crag and Em stayed put at the ruins with Roo and i headed off, intending to scout out some projects before touching base again. I got a bit distracted on the Big Jim boulder to be honest, and wasn’t in somebody’s good books by the time i returned. A little oblivious to what i’d done wrong – in my own inimitable way – i headed over to the Big Jane boulder instead…

These two blocs are touted as some of the best in Glendalough and so surely some of the best in Ireland. Big Jim houses the easier or the routes, Jane the tougher and i was keen to have a look and see what was there. Turns out, it looked really good.

The big one for me was Andy’s Arete 6c from stand with a 7a+ sit start version that i found two climbers working: Ryan and Rocio. Several other lines did inspire on this bloc, thankfully shown to me by Ryan and he pointed out the excellent looking Rhythm and Stealth 7a and The Groove ss 7c which both looked immense, albeit with slightly worse landings. The Arete certainly remained the one to grab my attention.

They were working the start from sitting and despite being shut down by grades somewhat – something i will discuss more in another post – i figured it was still well within my grade and opted to join them. Between us, we figured out the beta, thanks to Rocio and her cheeky heel hook to start and the line so very nearly fell in a single session before a slightly abrupt departure.

A photo posted on 27crags.com by Barry O’Dwyer of the excellent Andy’s Arete

It was an excellent line although i fear without Ryan’s help, i’d have struggled to find it properly. The guidebook, Bouldering in Ireland by David Flanagan covers the entire country of Ireland, with a large swathe dedicated to the Wicklow mountains. Yet while at home it inspires hugely, it is massively lacking as even a half decent guidebook.

There are practically no maps, photo topos for boulders are scant and the descriptions for the problems that aren’t photographed are often useless. Take this line for the 8a on the Big Jim boulder: “Powerful? Yes. Pointless? Yes.”

Now this unnamed problem is even photographed but fails to provide enough detail to even know where to start. It was only when i bumped into some other local climbers who gave me a bit of a hint but considering they were working the lower grade problems around the corner, i couldn’t expect detailed beta.

While i appreciate opinion is a guidebook, it needs to be first and foremost just that: a guide. It is (supposed to be) a book that shows you where the lines go, where they start and sometimes finish and at the very least, how to get there. Glendalough wasn’t a problem but try and find anywhere less obvious – like every single other crag in the area – and the guide lacks even the slightest bit of quality.

David Flanagan has also written other books, notably a book called Bouldering Essentials; an excellent read aimed at those getting into bouldering, with some detail for those operating in the slightly higher grades. It tails off once you look for advice on climbing “hard” and in many ways his Irish guidebook works in many the same way.

In much the same way as i described earlier with Irish attitudes towards tourism, rightly or wrongly i might add, the solitary guidebook for the area seems to contain the same shortcomings. As someone on his very first trip to the country, i can say i’m indebted to those friendly locals i met as without them, i would suggest that even at this wonderfully accessible location, i would’ve really struggled to find anything. Given my level of experience, I’m classing this as a bit of a fail from them.

Another Year

So after the last post about rock shoes, now to matters more pressing: this year’s birthday trip.

Last year’s Great Sweden Bouldering Tour was a rip roaring success, as has been talked about on here plenty. What is news though, is that the follow up article has finally been published! With 7000 views and counting, it’s certainly been popular and can be seen on ukclimbing.com. Please do click it and have a read.

Now on it’s eighth year, and despite the arrival of a certain little Miss Edwards, we’re on for another installment, the family joining me again to see another anniversary on foreign shores. The destination of choice this year: Ireland.

There had been talk while we were away last year of trying for Norway this year but obviously logistically, that’s easier said than done. It’s actually compounded – in much the same way as with Tess back in 2013 in Belgium – by the fact we’ve not actually been camping with Rosie yet. Nevertheless, we’re not exactly the type to let that stop us and the trip is on.

So, as i sit here listening to “traditional Irish music” on YouTube, getting into the spirit of things ready for my inaugural trip to the Emerald Isle, it’s time to get the psyche ready and build some enthusiasm for what is doubtless going to be a stand up expedition, albeit in a very different vein to trips gone by.

Ireland has always been one of those places on my hit listbut has always been left for a year when i’m short on other options. As it’s turned out, it has worked perfectly as Em is equally high.

 

To narrow our destination down from 84,421km2 we’re heading about an hour south of Dublin – no doubt after a quick look around – to the Wicklow mountains and what i hear is the best bouldering in the country in Glendalough. The guidebook released within the last few years for Irish bouldering certainly makes it sound very appealing and the grade spread hopefully means we can both get a few routes in.

Campsite is booked, all is ready now, save for a couple of days of packing for which i’ve helpfully booked a couple of spare days off before we leave. So far, things are moving fairly smoothly and i’ve gotta be honest, despite this creeping up on me and not being the most adventurous trip i’ve ever embarked upon, i’m probably as excited about this as any other trip in recent years. To be sure.

Note: i was searching through Instagram to try and find a photo to filch for this post about bouldering in Glendalough and you know, it was remarkably tough! For some reason, there really doesn’t seem to be anything on here, certainly not anything tagged accordingly. I’m sure there are photos on there but without suitable tags – like #glendaloughbouldering for example – they are tough to dig out. #wicklowbouldering gave me a solitary picture and it was a guy hanging on a rope… It looks like this could be a little bit of a step into a much quieter place than expected. 

A Single Session Send

After going on in my last post about success not being measured by sending problems, i only went and had a super sesh in the pass on Sunday!

Lizard King is a north walean classic 7c, much sought after and on many a climbers to-do list. I’d first had a look in July 2011 – and to be honest, i had didn’trealise it was that long ago until i literally just looked it up to type that! That would certainly explain why i’d not really given it much thought at the time; my hardest tick back then was a solitary 7b in Parisella’s Cave.

It does look a bit intimidating too, or would have then of course. After my scouting mission, it had seemed much more likely but as mentioned, the landing was worrying me slightly. So i’d opted to chuck the low version on the List at V8. After a day out at the beach with my family and the inlaws, it was the perfect venue for a quick blast.

To be true, i wasn’t that keen as i drove up there; sluggish and not entirely stoked for it. Then, as i was at the Cromlech boulders, i watched two pads walk their way along the bottom of the Pont y Cromlech slabs and reasoned they had to be  heading for the same spot. After all, there’s not much else there.

Turned out that they were actually heading for Emyr’s Arete 7a+, the climb i’d done when there all those years ago. They’d had a mammoth day, at the Milestone boulders, the RAC boulders, the Roadkill Block in the Gwynant valley and now here. Not bad for two climbers with only three legs between them!

They were the nicest guys – slightly unhinged in that brilliant way you often find with climbers. They were so enthusiastic and down to earth, it made me pretty glad to have made the short walk up.

They ticked off Emyr’s pretty quick only to look up at a hopeful me pointing at Lizard King Low. If truth be told, i’d only taken one pad with with me and the prospect of two more for a tenuous low traverse made me feel a little better. Moreover, these boys were barrels of fun.

Sadly, i hadn’t warmed up anywhere near enough and the tendons in my fingers were only just beginning to calm down their powerful screams as my companions decided to call it a (hugely successful) day, leaving me with some hard moves and a slightly grassy landing. Fair play to them though for joining me in the first place; they’d already bagged two V5, a V6 and two V7 at this stage! Now i’d persuaded them onto a V8 too. The call of an Indian takeaway was always going to be stronger than mine.

Not quite knowing what to do but only just being warm now, i figured i’d just work the moves and as the first was the toughest, i’d get that nailed. A tactical shoe change and a subtly different left foot hold and suddenly i was latching the first move.

Then, wanting to get it dialled in, i gave it another blast and suddenly found myself hanging the finger jug rail. Now i was no longer over the pad and pondered very quickly what to do. At one point i swung a foot out to try and drag the pad under me but thankfully missed as i’m sure that would’ve classified as a dab. It was decision time: step up or step off. I continued upwards.

Now anyone that knows this climb will be wondering what the hell i’m fussing about; it’s not high and not hard. But that landing had been (mistakenly playing on my mind. Plus, my confidence hasn’t been sky high lately. That and i’m a massive wuss.

I scrabbled over the horn feature like a first timer topping out. Seriously, even though no one else was there, it was embarrassing. Nevertheless, i didn’t touch the ground, didn’t go off route and had actually done it: V8 in a session!

In fact, i’d done more than that. I’d nailed a reasonably hard problem very quickly, true, but my mood had erupted after a somewhat sluggish start. I’d also found some much needed confidence and as daft as it sounds, just walking down to the car i felt so much more comfortable on my feet on rock. On the way up, i skirted carefully round the little rocky section of path. Now i danced my way purposefully through it. All of a sudden, i felt on top of the world. The only thing that could bring me down now was some sort of abominable and debilitating headache or something…

Sorry for the lack of pictures: my phone broke at the back end of last week so Instagram posts were out. I’ve also lost some of the old pictures from the scouting mission and being as i was expecting to be alone, hadn’t bothered with a camera proper. Fixed now, should have some snaps to brighten the next post. 

Several Sessions To Send

In hard bouldering, you don’t measure success by ascents. Well, you do and you don’t. Obviously you’re never gonna think someone is a really good climber because they’ve done a load of individual moves in the middle of various climbs. Nevertheless, when you look a little closer at individual sessions, if you measured a their success by whether you climbed something or not, you’d rarely be happy!

Get in deep enough and a good session can even be managing to hold the holds or to almost do one of the hard moves. That’s exactly how it went for me on Monday in Maes Newyddion. The plan was to head over with the family and have a play on Roof of a Baby Buddha 7c+ to see how poorly i would do. Meanwhile, before we left i’d been scrolling through instagram and found a video of the line to the left, Grey House 8a that looked interesting so i thought i’d check that out too.

Success on this was set on being able to simply do all the individual moves on Buddha Roof, but if i were only able to hang each position, that would suffice as average. Any less than that and i’d be heading home with my head held low.

As we arrived, it turned out we weren’t alone and that old friends Tim Peck and Will Oates were already there, playing on not only Buddha Roof but also Grey House while their companion, who i had not met before named Tom, was in the middle of working on a line i didn’t know about, Teenage Buddha 7a+.

The stand start almost fell on the first effort, as a bit of a warm up around the 6c mark before taking a further three attempts to finish off. It was repeated a few times before i joined Tom on Teenage Buddha. It relinquished quite quickly, if i’m honest, and in much the same as my recent Parisella’s Cave session, i was astounded to be leaving with a new tick!

With the exit moves of Buddha Roof now completed, i tried the starting moves and found that they were equally straightforward, with only the crux moves in the middle left to finish off. Plus the link up, of course.

But i moved left to join Tim on Grey House instead. He was trying the tricksome second move – a dyno from a mediocre left drag crimp and a right pocket to the slopey top – and couldn’t quite get it dialled in every time, for reasons even he didn’t really comprehend. Intrigued, i joined him and to my astonishment, found it going pretty well! After a couple of tries, i was moving in the right direction and after watching the aforementioned video and getting extra beta, i was slapping the top hold!

Eventually, everyone departed the crag and left me alone with Tess to continue jumping into the air. Periodically, i’d jump off the floor to find the right position but of course, this didn’t simulate the swing i would experience. Nevertheless, once i’d ripped my finger open and decided to call it a day, i was pretty happy with my efforts: session success indeed.

The following day was less climbing orientated and by the time i finally headed out of the door with Tess in tow, the ground was wet and the sun shortly to set. So instead of taking pads, i just took a guidebook and went exploring a project in the back of my mind for a while: Lizard King in the pass.

There are two versions listed in the old guide: a V10 straight up through some slanting shelves and small crimps up to a letterbox hold and a lower V8 version from the crimps onto a finger-jug rail to finish in the same place.

I haven’t been sure whether to add these to The List so went on a scouting mission. Lizard King High as i’ve heard it known does seem the better line but with a wild swing at the top and while falling straight down would be without serious consequence, to come off during the swing would invite a long tumble down the hill. So for now, i’ll just try the low version. That, for me, would certainly constitute a good session.

Solstice: Goal Setting Time Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Highlights

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

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

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

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

Clocks Fall Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 Winter Goals

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

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

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

2016 Autumn/Winter Goals – short term

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

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

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

2016 Autumn/Winter goals – season long

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Solstice!

Tumultuity: Part Two

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

A Good Man Gone

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

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

Bonnie Bonnie Banks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welsh Fun

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

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

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

The Bryn Engan Boulder
The Bryn Engan Boulder

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

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

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

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

The next step?

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

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

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

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

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