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Lulls and The Battle Against Sweat

I’d been meaning on writing a moaning piece; a wingeing, complaining feel-sorry-for-me diatribe on roasting heat, failing standards and an inability to do what i wanted.

Then i finished work on Tuesday night and left for home. Not thirty seconds out of the drive, i took in the view – one i see daily but rarely stop to appreciate. I saw the green of the grass, the still water of the lake, the crags on the hill above me, even the rust on the barbed wire of the fence that often fails to pen the sheep successfully and thought next week, this will be Sweden. Then just as suddenly, and? What’s wrong with this?

Now Thursday, and i’m a bit lost as to what to write about!

The Negative

I can’t deny that my standards have dropped significantly recently – not three months ago, i ticked my first V10 and now struggle on 7b+ – and, with climbing being my underlying reason for being, have been a little down of late. The problem with all your eggs in one basket is when that basket gets a whole, you’ve lost all your eggs.

Part of the issue is evidently in my head. I’m lacking psyche and commitment; something i alluded to in my last post. This hasn’t changed since then, although i am now a lot more aware of it.

And while i’m not normally one for blaming conditions for poor performance, it has been so ludicrously hot lately that even sitting around at work means bathing in clothes soaked with your own sweat! When even walking in to the crag is a feat of human endeavour, it’s not really a surprise i’m not climbing at my peak lately!

This has also led to a drop in strength and if i’m honest, the idea of mid-summer training in the wall is almost soul destroying. I don’t remember the last time it rained, i should be outside! Making the most of it! Which then leads to feelings of guilt. And this has led me on to a mild epiphany.

The Positive

Truth be told, i took a few weeks off climbing. At first, this was due to a weird niggle in my right arm but then developed into not particularly wanting to go out! And do you know what? The world didn’t end, i didn’t spontaneously combust, nothing happened! In fact, i just found myself enjoying being alive in weather that wasn’t soaking me from above on a daily basis.

I spent more time with Emily, just living (and moving her into the house, progressively) and walking the dog, teaching her to swim. I’ve detached myself so much from climbing these past few weeks, i voluntarily gave up a spare evening alone to faff around the house and take Tess down to the lagoons for some swimming. And it felt great!

Not that i’ve stopped entirely, with two notable sessions. An old friend, Glyn, got in touch to see if i was keen for a blast on Corridors of Power 7c+/8a. With it now being on the list, i thought i’d give it a blast, scout it out, see what it’s like. It was also nice to support a friend on a project.

It went well, although i’m still not strong or confident. Maybe that’s the key for now – find out the beta on climbs while i’m struggling? Or perhaps sticking to focusing on a few is a better idea? Not sure. I do know we had a great evening before being chased away by midge – another issue with summer bouldering in North Wales.

The other excellent session was with Emily. We’d talked about doing more with ourselves and it occurred that a prolonged dry spell like this opens up the mountain crag, Cwm Dyli. It’s not so much the rock that needs to dry out, it’s the approach and as we romped across the hillside, I reveled in the fact the ground was bone dry.

I didn’t actually get much done, and nothing new – the intended V8 being a lot harder to fathom than i’d expected. Far more importantly though was the success Em enjoyed! She flashed her first V1 with relative ease, after some demo and beta from me and then, just as importantly, tried something harder and experimented with different positions and grips. What’s crucial is after failing, she got back up and tried it again.

If you asked her, Emily would say she’s not much of a climber but she does get out there and try things, and is willing to give it a blast every now and again. We’ve only climbed a couple of times together a couple of times but i have been taken by how technically good she is – honestly. I’ve seen much more dedicated climbers struggle to grasp concepts she just does naturally. On our little session, I was very impressed and proud of her and thrilled she’s coming out and joining me at the crag. Even more importantly, she wants to join in and that makes all the difference.

Most importantly of all, i’ve learned over the last few weeks that when the weather is nice, it’s good to be alive. It doesn’t matter that i’m not climbing hard things, it’s just pleasant being here. This is why we live here after all! So that when the weather is nice like this, we’re already here. Going back to our opening sentence, why would you want to be anywhere else?

Upcoming

Not that any of this recent zest for life in North Wales has quelled any of my longstanding wanderlust. My ferry is now booked for Monday morning, 00:50 and from there the adventure begins. It’s a tale of foreign friends and familiar faces, of miles of driving and bouldering all over Southern Sweden.

I’m past the point of nervousness now and am itching to get going. Granted, i have a long and lonesome first stage – driving to Kobnhavn alone to meet Simon – but from there, i shouldn’t be alone much.

There’s a host of venues i’m hoping to hit, for at least a day or two: Kjugekull, Vastervik, Gavle, Stockholm, Hono, it’s gonna be a proper little road trip! But with standards being what they are, and my annual goal of a foreign 7c being done and dusted, i’m going to put a cap on projects for this one at 7b+ to try and stop me wasting time on things i’m unlikely to succeed on. If i can get a brace of 7b, it’ll push my annual average up as it is, and a few 7b+ will push that still further.

But that isn’t the goal for this one. It’s a fact finding tour, a chance to experience some new and cool places, to see some old friends and to generally chill out, recover a bit and have a good time. That starts Sunday night. In the meantime, just rest it out i guess. Oh and pack at some point…

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Pre Tournament Friendly

Well that was unexpected! I spent most of yesterday pondering what to do with myself; play football, go climbing, or bum around and wait for a barbeque on behalf of the Fast Trackers at work, i couldn’t make up my mind. My mind flitted back and forth for hours, much to Em’s dismay as i refused to commit to a decision.

At about five o’clock, i bumped into Alex Cutbush from work and immediately asked what he was doing this evening. When i said to come for a climb, he was keen and my mind was finally made up. Soon after, we were in the Landy heading to Rhiw Goch.

There will undoubtedly always be things to get done at Rhiw Goch – the grades range from Gap of Rohan 6c right up to Poppy’s Move 8a+ with a good spread in between. There’s then plenty of scope nearby for other new lines on nearby blocks. It’s also conveniently close to work and a great option for an after work blast.

So it was a good option, with two good problems from The List: Nazgul’s Traverse and Badgers In The Mist both 7c. I’ve spoken a lot recently about Badgers so i won’t go into it any more than to say it was there waiting for me to go back. So, after a repeat of Gap… and Ride the Wild Smurf stand at 7a from a fractionally lower start than normal, we got on to the projects. For Alex, this was Moria 7b which would’ve been his first.

And he was close too. I had a few efforts in the interests or warming up and actually found myself cruising up with relative ease – yet another thing to raise the optimism levels for next week! Most importantly the style was really good; smooth, careful, no cutting loose, it went really well. But of course, this was Alex’s project and on something like his second go, he almost nailed it.

Another one for last night and almost more impressive than my own tick at #rhiwgoch – this is @alexcutbush working #moria 7b. He was really close on the one attempt, and a sterling #effort it was too, considering his top grade so far is 7a+ And that's the thing with #climbing: it's entirely personal. Me getting a fifth 7c wouldn't be anywhere near as impressive in my eyes as Alex breaking a new grade, and that would be the same at any level. It's all relative, something I hammer home when coaching and something every climber, no matter what grade they #climb should always remember. #inspiration #worldclasswales #snowdonia #northwales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #meclimbing @plasybreninstaff

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It’s a weird problem, Moria, in that it’s definitely flashable but at the same time, very easily dropped. It really was a great effort by Alex and he was so close, i felt sure, if he could nail that first move again, he’d have gone and ticked off a new grade – always something that requires respect.

Sadly, it didn’t go for him and we quickly thrust the pads under Badgers… for my first effort at the sit start proper. I’ve half-tried it before and found it utterly desperate and this time was no different – i couldn’t get off the floor! After getting frustrated and pissed off, i sulked slightly and shuffled the pads under Nazgul’s…

This one is even worse and i couldn’t figure out a sequence at all. I got completely shut down and didn’t stay on it long. After offering to move the pads back for Alex (to which he politely declined) i figured i’d have another blast on the other 7c.

I had a quick look at some video beta from the first ascent and found the foot sequence was slightly different to what i’d been doing and there was a mild twist of the hips. It was only the first two moves that were blocking me so i figured i’d try this new beta. First effort, i nailed the first move.

All of a sudden, a problem that looked like it would take me months suddenly opened up and looked like it might go. A quick shuffle of the pads, some tactical positioning of my spotter and soon the second move fell too, although my feet slipped off. So close, i was shocked.

I opted for a quick fag-break rest but when it went out, i took that as a sign and got on it again. Slap, boom, first move stuck and then a throw out left and i was still on. Alex directed (verbally) my heel onto the good hold and i slowly reached through to the lip-jug, matched and was on the exit jugs, my heel above my head to the right, my head leaning backwards to see the trees and the sky inverted in the distance. I topped it out and looked down, utterly shocked. Here was a problem that looked well out of my short term ability and one that had caused me so much consternation recently that had suddenly yielded.

So good prep indeed! A bit achy but still in one piece, i was thrilled at my choice, and equally thrilled for my friend that new ground for him may soon be broken – more so than i’d realised! for this evening, while i was in the middle of the opening paragraphs of this very post, i discovered he’d gone and done his first V8: Ultimate Retro Party at the Cromlech Boulders.

I am genuinely super chuffed for him – he’s a great guy and deserves the plaudits. I’m sure this won’t be the first and that Moria will fall for him very soon as well. Hopefully we’ll get out and get more done over the summer!

Distractions

Well that was a quiet start to the New Year! And an unexpected one if i’m honest! Writing that last post, and with various trips penned and in the pipeline for year ahead, i thought i’d be chomping at the bit to get out and get climbing but, what with injuries and other distractions, i seemed to lose psyche for a week or two there.

Sometimes psyche and enthusiasm do take a bit of a hit – you simply can’t maintain a constant level of desperation to get out forever (or i can’t anyway). So i’ve not really done much in the last few weeks, as shown on my instagram feed and a series of old photos replacing anything new and exciting.

There are a couple of exceptional sessions though; mainly on Diesel Power 8a at the Cromlech Boulders, once in daylight on the way home and the other Tuesday gone. Neither were particularly anything to write home about – hence the lack of writing – merely to point out how hard this project is going to be.

It’s a unique problem really: the crimp handholds being reasonable, especially for the grade of climb! The crux seems to be entirely in the feet and keeping them on the smoothly polished holds using intense body tension that i seem to be lacking. Far too often, when trying to move anything at all, or even sometimes when simply trying to hold the position i find myself in, my feet will inexplicably part company with the rock, bringing me down to the pad with a thud.

Meanwhile, under the near-horizontal roof sits another bloc – one trodden by many thousands of feet to walk around and stand atop this roadside boulder; tourists wanting to summit something and get a feeling for the outdoors. The problem is that this rock underneath you is quite close behind and until you are reaching the exit moves, there is zero chance of cutting loose. It crossed my mind that if that boulder didn’t lie so close beneath you, this classic would probably be a full grade easier.

So you set up on any of the hard moves and pull on only to find your feet sliding off and you returning back to sit on the pad (assuming your pad hasn’t moved down the slope but thankfully, this seems fairly rare). It is undoubtedly one of the most frustrating and annoying problems i’ve ever encountered and one that will take some intense training, i fear.

Not to mention multiple sessions but the important bit of that is they need to be productive sessions and these last two really didn’t fit into that category. The daytime session taught me nothing i didn’t already know other than i’m still quite a way off from this project and that i was not in condition to be getting on something at the limit of my abilities. Such is the nature of roadside boulders though – they’re very tempting when you’ve not got much time… or inclination for that matter.

Such was the situation Pablo found himself in this week when he finished work late and headed into the Pass for a quick blast. Completely dark with cloud cover clouding any moon or star light, i noticed his lamp under Jerry’s Roof from quite a way away, slowing to see who was keen on my way past. When i noticed my good friend, i had to stop.

I watched as he tried Bus Stop 7b+ several times, this time making the first moves with relative ease before struggling after the crux, he moved onto Bus Stop RH 7c and i joined him before we both headed up to Diesel Power. To be fair though, while i struggled to make any gains, seeing how much Pablo struggled with any move at all did make me realise i’m a lot closer than recent sessions had led me to believe.

Considering my recent unintentional abstinence from climbing, partially to rest the two hip injuries i’d sustained in recent weeks, perhaps i’m being a bit hard on myself. With a Font trip looming, it had occurred that i might be out of shape when i get to the forest too and so, the smallest amount of rain convincing me that i was justified not going outside, i took a trip to the Indy on Sunday gone, with the express intention of seeing how well i’d do in a session.

Turns out it was quite well, and better than i was expecting! A flash on a 7b (albeit one that suited but it certainly didn’t feel hard!) and very close on a 7c filled me with enthusiasm. I had another session the following evening when i found myself there for some coaching that felt like i had no energy at all, granted but even then, said 7c still fell. Perhaps my hard ticklist for the forest may not be that ambitious after all?

So now, local projects have taken a back seat. A major back seat – imagine sticking them upstairs at the back of a double decker bus. Focus is now entirely making sure i’m in the best possible shape for the end of next week when i make the familiar drive through two of Europe’s busiest cities overnight. I’m so excited, especially to be climbing there with one of the few friends who would make the invite-to-my-wedding list [an imaginary list to distinguish my closest friends] who is also ticking around the same grade as myself.

It’s impossible to know how a trip is going to turn out but you always get a bit of an inkling and this one feels pretty good. The politics and troubles setting up have been and gone and now the path looks clear and my mind is just waiting to be there now. This, along with the other trips of the year, seem to have encompassed every ounce of thought in my head lately – to the extent that, to my eternal shame, i forgot my parent’s wedding anniversary this week. I feel terrible about it and hope that they can forgive me, being the ones that instilled the wanderlust that drives me so much of the year. Maybe one year, i’ll get to take them too; not so much for climbing but just to experience an area of the world so beautiful and magical. I hope so, as they took me to experience so many places in my life, it would be an honour to repay such kindness one day.

They have a lot to answer for in this aspect of my life, my parents. And i will forever be grateful for that.

Happy New Year!

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

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

2015 Assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 Spring/Summer Goals – short term

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

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

In summary:

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

2016 Spring/Summer Goals – season long

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

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

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

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

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

2016 Autumn/Winter Goals

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!!!

Admitted

Sometimes, the hardest part about injuries is admitting you’re injured. I mean, most of the time it’s not – you’re in pain and you can feel it but every now and again, it’s subtle enough that denial can overwhelm the issue and you carry on regardless.

After last week’s nasty fall, i ended up having a few days off (thanks to working, to be fair) before heading out again on Friday night. To be true, it felt fine, almost entirely healed and i was scratching at the door to get out of work and climb something. Diesel Power was the obvious aim but when i found out Em was heading in the opposite direction to help out a friend, i opted to follow and stop off to try the modern classic Roof of a Baby Buddha 7c+ instead.

In the woods near #betwsycoed is a lone #boulder with a problem of such majesty, it cannot be ignored. #roofofababybuddha is it's name, 7c+ it's grade, around ten moves that are simply stunning. What's odd is that only today I was looking at @shaunacoxsey on instagram and thinking I'd like to see more outdoor pics (then I realised it's comp season and I was being stupid). Then, when searching online for video beta, I found a vid of her on this very same #climb. Strangely, sat here while it gets slowly darker, feel a bit honoured to be getting on the same problems as one of Britain's best. Might have to watch it again to try and nail the sequence… #worldclasswales #northwales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #meclimbing

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It’s one of the few remaining from the original list (one of four in fact) but a touch more conditions dependent, being hidden away in the forest and being quite porous rock. Found by local beast and super nice guy Dave Noden while out for a walk with his son and subsequently one of North Wales best grade 7 lines. It’s been on my radar since i first saw it a couple of years ago.

So, with everything falling into place, i sprinted from work, drove up the forest track to drop off the large pile of stuff, then back down to leave the car at the bottom of the hill. There was a touch of a contentious issue about parking here for a little while so i would strongly emplore people to park at the bottom of the hill and walk up. It might seem odd, with plenty of suitable parking spots along that track but this is what has been requested by the locals so please abide the requests and don’t jeopardise access for this stunning boulder. Besides, you’d be surprised how much traffic i saw drive past while i was there.

So, warmed up by running back up the hill, i quickly blasted through the “standing start” (there isn’t a separate climb as a standing start, just so you know) following lots of video beta. Then it was on to the business end of getting the tough moves through the roof wired.

The night’s are still creeping in too early at the moment so i armed myself with my new lantern right from the off, getting a bit more light in the shady roof straight away. It was a good session, getting most of the moves wired and feeling good with just the awkward foot swap to negotiate. And what’s more is that it didn’t hurt me at all.

But the next day was a different matter. All day, i felt stiff and achy and was torn with indecision whether to get out or not. Even as i began the descent down the road from Pen y Pass, i still couldn’t make up my mind so when i reached the Cromlech boulders and saw two lads finishing off the Edge Problem i opted to stop and have a chat.

It wasn’t long before i realised i wouldn’t make any progress on Diesel Power. While it might sound shallow, it kinda meant i didn’t want to bother climbing. I never like repeating climbs i’ve done before and at the Cromlech, there’s not much that’s easy and workable left. Still, the two lads i met were keen so i offered to show them the Cromlech Roof Crack V6/7 around the back, and maybe have a play on Sleep Deprivation V8.

I don’t regret the decision to try Buddha Roof on Friday but my choice to stop at the Cromlech was a poor one; driven by excessive keenness that clouded my judgement. It meant a regression in my recovery which was, in hindsight, idiotic – especially given i knew it was a bad idea at the time and did it anyway.

Sunday compounded the issue. I’ve spent the weekend not technically working but on a Development Coach Training course at work. While it was a good course, and much more relevant to the sessions i’m currently running than the Foundation Coach Training from last year, there was quite a lot of time in the climbing wall and at one point, i was asked to perform a drop knee as part of an exercise. As i did, my face screwed up in pain and i started making silly noises. It was so obvious that Dave Rudkin even came up to me afterwards and asked if i was okay, given i “looked in a lot of pain”.

That was the point i announced to myself that i am now injured; something that was far from easy to admit. I’ve always been pretty good at injuries, stopping as soon as i get any sort of tweak at all but this time, i feel i’ve pushed my luck a little. Even the belt of my trousers is making me feel sore. So, i’ve filled my evenings this week with other stuff, and am sacking off everything (even tonight’s coaching session) until Sunday. Even then, i’ll be playing it by ear and potentially just resorting to a beastmaker/campus session. In the mean time, i’ll be praying that’s enough.

Power Down

The bit now firmly between my teeth, and Emily busy for the evening, i stopped for an after-work session at the Cromlech boulders on the way home for an hour or so of torch-lit blasting up the next project: Diesel Power V11/8a. It might seem absurd and i’ve long since extolled the fact that it is one of the worst possible crags for me to gain a long term project (roadside is REALLY not dog-condusive) but if i’m honest, and probably a little bit arrogant to be fair, it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be that long a wait…

That might be me underestimating the climb slightly. I’ve lost count of the number of sessions on it to date – not because there have been that many, i’m just not good at keeping count – and have already done all the moves. It’s an iconic North Wales classic line; a must for anyone operating in that grade range and a good solid one for a first 8a that isn’t brutally hard for the grade. And it suits me very well indeed.

So with Jerry’s done, this is the next hard one on my radar. That’s not to say i’m only going to get on this for the next few months, but it is a priority, especially when i’ve only got a short while. Being roadside certainly does lend itself to torch-lit sessions on the way home so why not i guessed.

In the shadow of the great and imposing #dinascromlech tonight lay a torch lit #boulder and an 8a project: #dieselpower – the next big thing on my agenda. Layered up to the gills to try and ease the cold brought by the fierce wind, it turned out the temperature wasn't the way the wind had in mind to punish me. Bumping my hand on the third move, the pad, shuffled relentless by gusts, slid down from under me and a split second later, my left hand blew hard from the hold. With nothing now holding me up and momentum from that hand throwing me downwards rapidly, I hit bare rock. Hard. Hip first, then shoulders. I lay there for a second, wincing and gasping, checking how everything felt. A little over half an hour later, it's okay but REALLY hurts, right up into my lower back. I'll find out in the morning how bad it is. Shame really as I was linking the first four moves well with only one more really hard one to go! The lantern from #screwfix Was ace though, I'm sure you'll agree! #llanberispass #snowdonia #northwales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #headtorchsession #night #nightsession

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Anyway, after faffing far too much at work on the way out the door, eventually i rocked up at the layby next to the boulders keen as mustard and ready to give it a token gesture warm up before seeing if i had the Power. Turns out i wasn’t the only one from the Brenin with that idea; local all round beast Dave Evans was there also having a quick effort on the way home, and new Assistant Instructor Kris McCooey spotted us on the way to the Beacon and stopped off too.

It’s worth giving Kris a bit of a mention at this point. On the roadside face is a climb called The Edge Problem. Originally given V5 from the two horizontal slots, the ground has now eroded to the extent that even with stacked pads, this is out of reach for all but the unnaturally tall. These days, you’re far more likely to do the sit start – one where your backside simply cannot reach the floor.

Wherever you start, the problem is notorious. The slots for the stand start are fiercely small, as is the next hold for the left hand and many a strong climber has repeatedly been spat off this climb, often to the point of never going back. Two old friends who are both substantially stronger than myself have long since given up on it, finding their strong sausage fingers simply too big to get in the slots.

For those of us with small girly fingers, like me, he says smiling wryly to himself, the tiny slots soon become little finger jugs but nevertheless, The Edge Problem is still a fierce little boulder problem that bites back all those who don’t take the time to woo her correctly.

All except Kris, it seems. Kris arrived at the face, never having been and asked us what was there, starting with The Ramp V1 and then ticking off Pocket Wall V4, both slowly and carefully. By this point, i was getting impatient and had moved a pad under The Edge to warm up my fingers for my attempt on Diesel Power. Much to my surprise, he decided to join me and then did something i’m not sure i’ve ever seen before: he flashed it.

Not only did he flash it, he did it with such ease that as he rocked over the top, i was left feeling that he might pip me to Diesel Power, were he to stay and join me. While i continued to smoke as a post-warm up rest, he then got on the equally brutal Johnny’s Problem V7 next to it and dropped the last move. It was some of the most impressive climbing i have seen in a very long time.

Kris, Dave and Jack Rattenbury (another local who had rocked up for a quick session and headed to Jerry’s Roof with Dave) all departed and left me in the company of my lantern and self, underneath Diesel Power thinking “what if?”. Meanwhile, the wind continued to batter me and remind me that despite the nice weather, North Wales can often still have a bit of a kick to her sometimes; chilling my hands and blowing the pads out of position.

The problem is a fierce crimp fest that requires substantial body tension. Yet, the first move, for me at the moment, feels remarkably straightforward. The second follows suit and then i’m left with a choice: follow the normal beta and bump right hand up or go left hand onwards instead. Both moves feel equally fine and both will be followed by another brutal one so i’m trying to make my mind up. On my last effort, i opted to bump the right hand.

But as i did, possibly slightly distracted or maybe simply through too much sweat, my left hand exploded from the fine crimp. My right hand mid move, i was suddenly catapulted downwards with great force, unable to do anything about it. While this is not an uncommon occurence, on this occasion, it almost caused me substantial problems.

What had distracted me was my pad. The wind, as i’ve mentioned, had been lifting them and shuffling them around since i had placed them on the rock beneath the climb and while i was setting up to thrust upwards, i had heard it slide down the rock slightly.

Only it wasn’t a slight movement: it had completely moved from underneath me. So when i departed downwards with excessive force, there was nothing between by bony hip and the rock beneath.

I hit it with a thud, hard. The one consolation was that the force of my left hand had twisted me round in the air, meaning i didn’t fall straight back onto my back but instead landed entirely on my left hip, my shoulders falling back on the rock but the hip had taken the brunt of the force by this point. It was as bad as i’ve had for a long time.

I lay there trying to assess the damage. I often carry my phone on me while i climb, just in case and lying there, alone, in the dark, i wondered if this was one of those times i would be glad i had. This could be really bad, if i’ve broken something or cracked my pelvis but with no signs of nausea, i tentatively decided to try and get up.

Lots of groaning and moaning followed but thankfully, the pain wasn’t that bad and i seemed to be in tact. Such is the level of my enthusiasm at the moment, i considered trying again but being as i was struggling to walk, i opted to call it a night. Packing up was slow but eventually i got everything together, arrived home and proceeded to limp my way around and eventually have a rather uncomfortable nights sleep.

Today, i’ve been hobbling around Plas y Brenin, explaining with simply i “fell off” whenever quizzed. Nevertheless, given half a chance, i’d be there again tonight, after my shift finishes at 9pm and i’ve been home to collect stuff. Sometimes, the psyche is that high. It is purely from my better judgement that i’ve opted not to. Helps i’ve got an Em to keep me company.

Feeling Lucky, Punk?

Thursday wasn’t just the day that Jerry’s Problem fell, it was also the first of four days off i had coming in the space of five. And with the weather maintaining it’s gloriousity, there was only one thing on my mind: to get out and keep this streak going.

So, with Friday being a couple day with Emily and Saturday conveniently being the one work day (being as that was the only day it rained…) Sunday soon came around and i was looking pointedly at the List to see where i was keen for. If truth be told, it would’ve probably been up to Rhiw Goch to try and finally swallow the bitter taste from the Badgers In The Mist saga.

[ASIDE. Badgers In The Mist 7c is a problem at Rhiw Goch near Dolwyddelan put up by one of the friendliest and nicest guys in North Wales, Joe Sterling. Here's a video of the first ascent
And that is THE first ascent, so no one can really argue with how he did it. The problem is, it's not how others have done it - after someone found a strong-man sequence that starts matched on the underclings and throws straight up the face. That, more direct, version can be seen here:
Now, you'll notice that in the second video, there is no bum-floor contact. So when i rocked up and beared down on the direct version, believing this to be the problem proper and sending with a cheer, i thought that was another quality 7c tick. Turns out, apparently, i was wrong.
No one has an issue with the sequence but bouldering ethics are fairly strict (they have to be) and if it says "start sitting on the floor" then you have to start sitting on the floor. And i didn't. So i haven't done the problem.
This whole saga has left me sucking my lips a bit, having a bit of a sulk for several months now. After several sessions trying that sequence, i'm now back to square one. What's more, the correct sequence (the only way to realistically get off the floor) feels like a completely different problem, meaning there would be grounds for having a direct problem with a different name, perhaps Collies In The Fog or whatever.
No dice; i've asked around and i'm in a minority of one. To be fair, i'm fully aware it's me being a bit pathetic but i can't seem to get over it. To be honest, think this one is going to linger even after i've ticked the problem proper! Nevertheless, it means it remains on the list for another day.]

In trying to find some company for the day, i got in touch with all-round nice guy and old colleague and friend, Tim Peck to see if he was keen. He offered suggestions of Sheep Pen or Clogwyn y Tarw – the former for him to try Jerry’s which obviously didn’t appeal. If i’m honest, Clogwyn y Tarw didn’t appeal either as i’d been to scout it out once before and wasn’t convinced at it’s quality at all.

But a day with Tim, even somewhere i really want to go, sounded very appealing so we opted for Tarw and met early afternoon to head out. And to be fair, as much i wasn’t that keen for something that didn’t appear on the List, it’s something i should do more often.

We started at the Raging Bull Area, ticking off the awkward El Gringo V4 before moving on to the problem Raging Bull V6 with Tim, to his enormous credit, flashing the problem, albeit with a touch of flash pump. A long traverse rail really doesn’t suit me that well and rather worryingly, while moving innocuously down to match hands, i slowly moved my right leg inwards and suddenly felt like i’d been jabbed in my right hip with a knife.

It was so bad, i squealed – something very rare for me. Tim thought it was as i’d impacted the floor but i corrected him; it was literally the movement of bringing my leg to hang underneath me. Still now, i have no idea what i’ve done and it is still twingey and almost feels bruised. If you’re reading this and you know what it is, PLEASE do tell me!

So with me slightly crocked and Tim all done on Raging Bull we packed up and walked over to The Punk V9. It’s a problem that i’d never heard of, so much so that when Tim suggested it, i assumed it was yet another new addition to North Wales growing stock of hard boulder problems. So i was surprised to find it listed in the old guide – neglected by myself on that day when i’d been to investigate Clogwyn y Tarw a couple of years ago. More fool me! as it turns out it’s a superb quality line, ideally suited to my skill set.

Now, as mentioned in the comment on the photo above, i often feel that people use “height” as an excuse far more than they should really but on this one, i couldn’t help but empathise with poor Tim. He has climbed much harder than i, and is undoubtedly a lot stronger but on this climb, with a large deadpoint to a sloping hold, me being able to keep my feet on meant that on my first go, i was right over the hold while after over an hour or solid effort, Tim at 5’9″ to my 5’11” was still finding it tough to make the distance with any control. It’s entirely circumstantial but didn’t stop me feeling a little bit guilty.

Nearing the end of the session, i threw myself upwards from the opposing starting holds and stuck the move, completing the easier exit moves and rocking over the top. I shouted an apology, receiving the response “What for?”

“For being tall…” i replied.

He laughed. I forget his response but he certainly saw the funny side. Outwardly at least. We sacked it off shortly after that, me too tired to get anywhere on the sit start and Tim’s skin leaking slightly from repeated efforts on the same first move. Another tick in the book done but more than that, it felt so good to be out in the mountains again, weather beautiful in a way that reminds you why you live here, catching up with a man who has rightly been described as the nicest guy in North Wales and someone i miss from my time in the shop.

Life continues to be good and i’m starting to think that par might have changed slightly. I now have two goals, long and short term: three 8a climbs by the end of the year, and to keep ticking things off the List. I may keep going on about it, but it’s given me focus like never before. Hopefully, tonight, in the first after work session of the year, another one will fall.

Almost Perfection

Much as the worm did for the Two Ronnies, the weather around here is slowly starting to turn. Sessions are becoming less rare, conditions are coming in more and more often and the psyche that disappeared during the three-month deluge has reappeared. The average grade of The List is rising rapidly again, the ticks on my 27crags page are once again coming thick and fast.

Keeping this trend going has been pretty easy this week. The standard Sunday/Monday off and a good forecast for the former left me with multiple options but with sunny weather predicted, i was pretty sure where i was headed: Sheep Pen in the Nant Ffrancon. The climb? Jerry’s Problem 7c+/V10.

Now my hardest climb to date is 7c and i have three to date: Rock Attrocity at Parisella’s Cave my first, Intermezzo in Magic Wood last summer and Love Pie at the Pieshop boulders up in the pass. Is that enough to be getting on the next grade? Well, the truth to that one is it doesn’t matter – if i found the right 8a, i’d gladly skip a grade, even at this level. It’s a big mistake i made at uni, where “my grade is V5, i don’t climb V6, so i’m going to leave them well alone”. In hindsight, it was stupid trad climbing mentality; not to say that trad climbing mentality is stupid in of itself but it’s stupid to apply it to bouldering. It’s a bit like going into a 100m sprint and trying to run it like you would a marathon.

So, fuck it, go on then: let’s get on it and see what happens. It helped when Pablo agreed to come along with his friend Cameron and i heard my old friend Tim Peck was planning on going too. Even better when i arrived, another old friend and ex-colleague Andy Marshall was there too, with Michelle Wardle. (Michelle lives with Tim on the high street, here in Llanberis, some 100m from my house. We first met on the beach in Magic Wood last summer… one of the weirdest experiences i’ve had to date!)

Finally a #gloriousday off and a fine one for #bouldering in the mountains! Sadly, I didn't take it pictures… Not of me #climbing anyway, as I only got on two problems: the link up from Toe Dragon into Kingdom of Rain V8 and agonisingly close to Jerry's Problem at #sheeppen . The conditions were perfect, the company immense and the send of my first V10 so close I can taste it. If I wake to find it still dry, nothing could stop me heading back, first thing in the morning and topping off one of the best periods in my life. #northwales #snowdonia #northwalesbouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_photos_of_instagram #nantffrancon #Ogwen #mountain #mountains #scenery #landmark

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So, the perfect crew conveniently mustered, we set about getting to work on the main block. Link ups between Toe Dragon and either Dog Shooter or Kingdom of Rain were attempted at V7 and V8 respectively and completed. Ding Dong’s Traverse 7c was given a bit of a bash and Cameron especially walked away with an impressive array of ticks quietly tucked under his belt; cheating slightly in that he’s strong and had never been, having more to go at than the rest of us…

Myself meanwhile did my usual trick of jumping on the V8 link up between Toe Dragon and Kingdom of Rain as a warm up. Granted, this one isn’t as bad as it sounds, as the moves have been well rehearsed and being a long traverse to begin with, with the potential to simply step off the rock at any point, it’s possible to get into it slowly. The fact that i didn’t and ticked it on the second attempt is entirely besides the point.

I’ve always been abject at warming up. I blame it on visiting crags where the easiest line is my project too many times and i’ve adapted to it nicely now and rarely feel too much need. Considering my recent coaching exploits, it’s worth pointing out i do understand the concept and was talking a few people through it last week: get the blood flowing, start easy and slowly crank the difficulty up to get your body used to the idea of working hard. As soon as you start to feel that bit of pump, step away, let yourself recover slightly, then get into your session proper. I know this from the swimming club, where you’d complete 750m of various strokes for your warm up. I know the concept. Doesn’t mean i do it.

But whatever i do normally works for me and while i wouldn’t teach my own methods, anyone who argued can look to my injury record (or lack of it). What this meant on Sunday was as soon as Toe Dragon – Kingdom 7b (my seventeenth of that grade no less) was done, i was ready to jump onto Jerry’s. Thankfully, Tim and Andy were keen for that too.

Once again, in typical fashion, they cracked on while i sat and had a smoke, absorbing beta. Turns out they’d not been on it before, whereas i’d had two previous sessions to try the difficult first move. They tried, struggled to make the distance at first but had several sterling efforts that were certainly to be proud of. I got up, put on shoes, chalked up and sat under the initial holds.

I knew it was far, knew i had to give it beans, knew this one was going to take some effort. I stretched down and thrusted my body upwards, hard. Not only did i make the distance, i hit the hold and stuck it, swinging backwards wildly and letting out the most enormous scream as the effort poured out of me. I couldn’t hold it and returned to terra firma with a thud to a cacophony of encouragement. Andy shouted over, “when did you learn how to do that?!” Truth be told, i have no idea.

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

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You could feel the enthusiasm, Owen Hayward and his young lad coming to watch. I tried several more times and did very well, sticking the first two moves to make a new high point. Only one more move after this and it would’ve been done – a new grade achieved, a champagne moment, i’d be a V10 climber.

But the best climbs are the ones that fight back and this one tempted me, slapped me in the face and walked away. I had a break to take a walk and never really got back to that high point. Either nerves, exhaustion, a mental barrier or one of a multitude of other factors suddenly reared to mean that at five o’clock, i was forced to pack up and walk away empty handed. Granted, i couldn’t complain at the success and there was no doubting it had been a hugely successful session. Nevertheless, like a lower league football team losing the cup final, sometimes it’s not much consolation being so close and yet not quite getting the reward.

The difference is that, unlike a cup final, i can build on this, go back and get it done. Even a night’s rest could be enough and i told myself that if it hadn’t rained by the time i awoke, i was back there to get this thing done. I’d even worked out my celebration, worked out the Instagram photo i was going to post (and still am, by the way), in my mind, a new day would bring new focus and i’d hit that first hold, make the second move and i’d be one more grade up on the ladder.

This problem is a fighter though and Monday, despite the dry weather, called in the help of the weather gods to give freezing conditions and a biting wind – much like the conditions that completely derailed me at the Roaches recently. I was down to two pads, from the myriad of them the previous day and there alone, conscious of the top out and it’s slightly treacherous landing.

It just wasn’t right – i still wasn’t hitting the hold, i couldn’t stay warm and every necessary rest meant i was back to square one, freezing cold with numb digits. Eventually i reasoned that repeatedly doing the move wrong could run the risk of ingraining failure into my muscle memory so for the second time in as many days, i packed up and walked away.

And believe me, that’s hard to do. When it’s so close, knowing that just one more attempt could be the one for victory, packing everything up and leaving it behind for another day is agonising and there have been plenty of times where i’ve packed up, unpacked for a few more goes and repeated for quite a while.

But having to go back, having to go train and put effort into this makes it all the more worthwhile. The best climbs aren’t the ones that feel easily, they’re the ones you had to really want. So now, with no days off for a nine-day straight, it’s time to train and rest and get ready for that one more session. Granted, ticking my first V10 would’ve topped off one of the best weeks of my life but sometimes, waiting for the right moment makes it all the more special. Trust me.