Tag Archives: New Boulders

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.

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Life Is Rosie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tumultuity: Part Two

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

A Good Man Gone

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

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

Bonnie Bonnie Banks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welsh Fun

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

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

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

The Bryn Engan Boulder
The Bryn Engan Boulder

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

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

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

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

The next step?

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

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

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

2015 Assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!!!

The Dry Side of a Damp Coin

After a couple of posts from friends, i may have talked down the week ever so slightly. So, in the interests of optimism, here is the same review but with an upbeat approach. Every word of both posts is completely true.

 

Every other year, i get the honour and privilege of travelling to Scandinavia, to explore more of what i believe is one of the greatest areas of the world. I’d love it to be more (i’ve even considered moving there a few times) but it’s a biannual visit because in the opposing years, my good Swedish friend, Fredrik comes to visit. After a hiatus last year for his wedding (marrying another good friend, Karin at a ceremony i was honoured to attend and even gave a speech) last week was once again Fredrik’s turn.

Months of planning couldn’t really help us with the Welsh weather, as we were forced to play it by ear. Still, optimism reigned supreme as i collected both Fredrik and his brother Tobias from Bangor station late on Tuesday night – the back of the car bursting with food…

With Tobias making his maiden voyage to these shores, i was keen to offer some hearty local dishes and throughout the week, i think i succeeded quite well: pan haggerty, more bangers and mash than we could finish, bacon butties with brown sauce, fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, it was a hedonistic and gluttonous feast from day one.

And day one proper was quickly upon is. A relaxed start (with Welsh Rarebit) meant we had time to ease into the day, and the easy decision to start up at Sheep Pen. Fredrik had missed this North Walean Wonder last time round and with Tobias climbing around the 6c sort of area, it was a good choice.

I was vindicated in my decision pretty quickly: The Pinch 7a+ went quickly while my back was turned, i got a new highpoint on the tough first move of Jerry’s Problem 7c+ and Tobias sent his very first 6c+ in Toe Dragon. Traditions being the theme of the week, this ascent prompted another that my compadres had been doing for some years: a new top grade warrants a bottle of champagne. We even got a quick visit from Emily – a welcome surprise.

Day two and another relaxed start preceded a trip to Rhiw Goch. I was keen to get on Badger’s In The Mist 7c after an incomplete ascent the week before. While i didn’t get on that well, and Fredrik didn’t really get the psyche for Moria 7b (despite it’s three stars) we did get a good session on dry rock, with Tobias stealing all the headlines with quick sends of Gap of Rohan 6c and Ride the Wild Smurf stand 7a. (Thankfully, we hadn’t bought the champagne by this point, so one bottle would suffice.)

The weather had sat on the cusp of good and bad all week, raining overnight but stopping late morning, allowing us to go in search of dry rock in the mountains every day. Friday was just such a day and the strong wind was enough to counteract the overcast skies. With projects from two years ago in mind, we made the trudge up the hillside above Ynys Etws towards the Wavelength circuit.

It was another day of ticks, although mostly for Fredrik this time as he quickly flew up Utopia Left Hand 6c before a quick look at Love Pie 7c after my tick on Monday and then up the hillside to exorcise the demons surrounding King of Drunks 7a and the tricky Groove 6b that he had left previously.

Windswept and windburned, we returned home, with three days of trudging the hills and crushing problems taking it’s toll. Not to be discouraged, we checked the forecast and Saturday looked good: sunshine, not a hint of rain but a steady breeze. The plan: the so-far unvisited crag of Crafnant. While it was a way away, it would catch the breeze and would offer the chance for more V-points than we could possibly achieve.

Sadly the risk didn’t pay off, with the skies as grey as Sean Connery’s hair and the air as still as fruit juice without bubbles. Even moving around proved trecherous but not to be discouraged, we made an early decision and went back to the Cromlech boulders for a headtorch session.

It went well, with Tobias getting another V5 (a dyno Loose Canon) as well as a handful of various other bits before Fredrik’s valiant effort on Bus Stop 7b+ and my own efforts on Diesel Power 8a and Jerry’s Roof 7c, despite tendon problems in my left hand.

With their flight not until 6pm, the last day was up to the lads to decide and i was pretty chuffed when they decided to go and try and repeat some of my own problems around Bryn Engan.

With conditions lacking, we brushed with vigour to try and get the holds just dry enough and while Prowess proper didn’t go, the 6b+ stand start was a consolation and Fredrik got to try enough to admit he liked the moves – a win in my eyes. Tobias meanwhile was feeling the effects of a heavy week and had called it a day –  a good sign that his time hadn’t been wasted.

That being said, as we called time on the week and wandered around Betws before the drive to Manchester, i realised that even though things hadn’t quite gone as well as they could, it was always nice to see my friend again, and a pleasure to meet his brother. Granted the conditions hadn’t come close to the fantastic days i’d somehow managed to find over the summer; we had got out every day, getting good, worthwhile ticks in the process. Even if that wasn’t the case either, social time in good time is never wasted and now i can look forward to my next Scandinavian trip next summer to the island of Aland.

Dampened Expectations

When you go on a bad trip, it’s a travesty. When you play host to people and it’s a bad trip, it feels even worse.

We’ve all been there: hounded by bad weather or a lack of suitable options, or any of a multitude of factors that can mean your rare week off can not quite match your expectations. I’ve had my fair share – frozen to death in Magic Wood, boiled and lost in Frankenjura, rained on for a week in Daone, overwhelmed in Font and of course, the Ill Fated summer of 2013 with Fredrik.

Well the man in question came for his biannual visit last week, this time with his brother in tow. After months of planning and discussion, he finally arrived at Bangor station late into the night and was collected in the Green Machine ready for a week of sending.

While the weather was typically session killing, every morning of the week, we awoke to a wet outside that was painstakingly drying out. Yes, it meant we could still get out but it severely limited our options.

Not for day one, though, as Sheep Pen was on the cards one way or another – only a week of driving hell would prevent a day to one of North Wales greatest bouldering crags. In truth, it was a great session too, with sends galore including The Pinch 7a+ for Fredrik and Toe Dragon 6c+ for Tobias; the first of that grade for him and a prompt for a bottle of champagne for dinner. I even made some progress on Jerry’s Problem 7c+, although not much, and we had a visit from Emily.

Alas, though, as the days are now quite short, the success was all too brief; the downside of coming over so late in the year. The up side to that was it gave us plenty of down time, so back home and into the kitchen to cook up some hearty British meals.

I had planned to make sure we were well fed throughout the week and didn’t disappoint. The menu for the week included pan haggerty, bangers and mash, Welsh rarebit, fish and chips, shepherd’s pie and of course, bacon butties. And that doesn’t include the large bag of pies and pastries for lunches.

On to the second day and on to Rhiw Goch, with a personal aim this time: a correct ascent of Badgers In The Mist 7c. With my success on the direct variation, i was hoping that the ground work had been laid. I was wrong. It turns out that direct is as different a problem as you could get and my abject effort means i’m resigned to starting again on a problem i’d already had on my ticklist a week before. The frustration from that was carried through to the next day. Where the sun had basked us and dried the boulders of the previous days, Friday was no such luck. Wild and windy meant that when we headed out to the open boulders in search of dry rock, we were blasted from all sides. By the time we got home, with ascents of Utopia Left Hand 6c and King of Drunks 7a in the bag, we were windburned and wiped out.

With a promising forecast for Saturday, we were hoping that it would be the crowning day of a mediocre week. Supposedly dry, sunny and with a light breeze, the plan was Crafnant: a new crag for me meaning plenty to tick off. The downside? Quite a drive and a twenty minute walk in up a steep hill. It was also an unknown quantity, a risk, and it was probably this that led to our downfall.

Around two o’clock, we arrived only to find the air heavy with humidity, the sun hiding away behind a blanket of cloud and every single rock covered in what felt like fairy liquid. Even moving around felt nigh on impossible and the vast majority of problems unclimbable.

We looked and after some indecision, we reluctantly retreated. It was a tough choice as it meant we were restricting ourselves to a headtorch session somewhere but even in hindsight, i’d say it was the right one. Where we went wrong was gambling it would be in nick in the first place.

The evening session on the Cromlech wasn’t that bad though, with Tobias (undoubtedly the most succesful of our troupe throughout the week) getting yet more bits done before Fredrik had a semi-triumphant blast on Bus Stop 7b+. My poor showing on Diesel Power 8a highlighted my level of exhaustion after a summer of sends.

The Swedes’ flight wasn’t until the evening and with the best weather of the week so far, it seemed churlish not to get out. One last effort meant time to pick a project and Fredrik was keen to try Prowess – my three-star 7b line in a north facing forest that won’t catch the sun until March… In short, one of the few places i was pretty certain wouldn’t be in nick.

But projects are projects and i was very keen for my friend to try my super line. Armed with brushes and chalk, we trudged in and got to cleaning but sadly to no avail. Tobias tweaked his shoulder on Bull’s Eye 7a and Fredrik failed to nail the first crux, albeit getting the standing start 6b+ as a consolation.

At Crafnant, Fredrik squeezed in another new line and named it Dampened Expectations. It’s an apt description of the week, for while we all hoped it would be the trip of a lifetime, i don’t think it’s one that will sit in the upper echelons of experiences. The one consolation: it was fun to see my friend for the week.

Mixed Fortunes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milestones: Plas y Brenin

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

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

Getting the Job at Plas y Brenin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bull’s Eye!

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

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

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

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

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

The Bull's Eye Boulder

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting for a Deluge

The rain was heading sideways down the valley yesterday so what better way to spend a lunch hour than to don full waterproofs, grab a rope, harness (wish i’d picked a better one), grigri and brushes and head up to clean off my new boulder a bit more. What would you rather do than that eh?

In fairness, the dampness did make it a touch easier with the moss coming off with relative ease but still, i did come back looking more than a little like a drowned rat. Tess loved it though, as was to be expected and progress has been made – all the moss is now off the top of the boulder. The sides still need some attention but only little and now i could do with a huge downpour to wash the debris off a little before a nice prolonged dry spell so i can actually climb the bloody thing! Then it’s time to document, celebrate and move on. That said, moving on might come a little sooner if i’m waiting for too long.

In the meantime is the Indy Aggregate and i’m struggling to keep up. They’re now setting a new face every week and i just can’t get down often enough to be able to project the harder stuff. I was talking to Tim, having a bit of a moan about it the other day and he did say the aggregate should benefit people who turn up more and should encourage people to go more often, and i grudgingly agreed. He is right but that doesn’t make me feel any better.

What i really want to start doing is sessions on the campus and finger boards. We’ve got a set of Metolius Rock Rings at work and i had a play on their online set the other day, finding it brutal. I’ve tried writing my own but haven’t tried it yet – hopefully it’s only a fraction easier than the one i already have!

To build a bit of psyche is this wonderful video of Sasha Digiulian at Kafe Kraft. Okay, it’s probably not that wonderful but have a look anyway.