Tag Archives: north wales bouldering

A Month Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Washed Out

This weather is ridiculous. So far this month, we’ve had sunny spells interspersed with heavy showers, meaning we’ve got a beautiful view of a lot of rock that is perpetually too wet to climb on. And as a consequence, a dad here who is getting more and more frustrated at the world.

This happens this time every year. I often comment on weather patterns and that if the latter half of July and August is wet, September normally comes out to be dry and pleasant. A dry August will normally see us suffer from damp, potentially until the spring. So far, autumn 2017 isn’t looking that good.

With being off with Rosie, it’s mostly been a case of making the best of it and trying to get out as best we can and while it seems we haven’t done that much since my last post, looking back through the pictures on my phone has actually just shown me we’ve done pretty well after all!

30th August, two days after saying my farewell to Clare, i actually managed to escape for some baby-free time and head back up into the pass. I’d been keen to head to the Meadow and re-tick Killer Weed 7a for a little while and now, with Em and Rosie potentially to follow on a bit later, i took Tess up for a session. On the way, i bumped into an old friend, Mikey, and a youngster he was working with, who opted to take the long trudge up the hill to join me.

We got distracted on the way at the Wavelength boulder and started ticking. Despite being there only a few weeks previous, No Retro Ticks came into play and i repeated almost everything again and in a wonderful example of why it works, ended up ticking off a new line, Gav’s Sitter 7a+ on the second effort!

Two days later, we were out again, back at the Brenin boulder to see if it had dried enough since our last effort. Land Rover parked in the bushes, pads and baby crap carried in and very quickly it became apparent that the slightly high but easy top out was wet and slimy. While easy and not scary in the dry, in these conditions, it could be a touch treacherous and alone, it just wasn’t worth it. Instead, we bid retreat and headed to a small party to say farewell to this year’s crop of Centre Assistants – a great bunch of guys who will, i’m sure, all go on to great things.

The following day, with no rain since then, we tried again. Without even taking the baby up to the crag from the track this time, it was evident that it was still too damp so the backup plan came into effect: the RAC boulders.

The RAC is an unusual crag, having an abundance of easy lines but without much in the harder grades and since i began generally operating in the higher 7s, it’s somewhere i’ve normally avoided. Most of the lines i’ve done before and weren’t actually that challenging so the idea of going and repeating them again never really inspired. The difference now is a new guidebook to tick and a very baby friendly crag. Plus, there’s a load of new stuff that is actually that little bit harder now.

Old habits do die hard and i quickly ran up and down most of the climbs on the easier lower boulder, one after the other. It did, i must admit, feel very good to get some mileage in and did tire me out a little. Next was the front face on the other boulder and after finding a safe little dip to leave Rosie, i happily repeated most of the lines, trying On One 7b+, the hardest climb at the crag, to little avail. I did, however, forget to tick the 7a Frontside Traverse which is a little frustrating.

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

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On my return home, i continued to update 27crags with accurate records of all of North Wales bouldering and found, to my dismay, thirteen climbs of 6c or harder that i’d either missed, neglected or not had a chance to finish! It appears i need to read this book more and not assume i know the crag…

Since then, outdoor climbing has become nothing more than a dream. Where the weather was glorious on the Saturday at the RAC, the Sunday was nothing more than a deluge for Em’s birthday and her planned trip up Crib Goch was undoubtedly cancelled. Instead, in search of some shelter from the torrential drizzle, Em, her brother James and his partner Rachael, their mum, Rosie, Tess and myself all went for a little wander through Beddgelert forest.

It had crossed my mind to do a bit of boulder scouting but that wasn’t the point of the day and it wouldn’t have been right to try and hijack it. This was Em’s birthday and despite the poor weather, it was a lovely family day out, topped off with food and tea in the Hebog cafe in Beddgelert to dry out a bit.

A dry day the following Wednesday (that i’d forgotten about) was stymeed by a cement mixer making a hash of getting up Goodman Street here in Llanberis and managing to spill a large amount of concrete all over the road… and the cars parked along it. Three cars took the brunt, including the Land Rover with a splash on the front wing.

She was in desperate need for a clean and a polish anyway so that was the plan for the rest of the day and to be fair, she looked absolutely sparkling afterwards. Problem was, the day after, i noticed cement underneath, on the suspension, diff, brakes, all over so my beloved green machine is currently away being tended to while we cruise North Wales in a Nissan X-Trail.

It proved quite useful for our Non-Climbing Commitment (or NCC) in Birmingham at the weekend, giving us an economical and comfortable ride there and back. A party for some old friends on the Saturday evening was preceeded by a trip to the Botanical Gardens in the daytime and to be fair, it was an excellent weekend.

Since then, it’s been a case of timing the gaps between showers and getting pissed off. Thankfully, Rosie has grown to the point where she is now able to ride in the rucksack carrier and so, armed with a steak pie and a smile, on Monday gone, we went boulder scouting once again, to the Llyn y Gadair boulders and then possibly further into Beddgelert forest – a spot seemingly turning into our second home lately!

Sadly, on arrival in Birmingham on Friday evening, i’d decided i was only going to get strong if i exercised more and went for a run. An hour later, dripping in sweat, i had staggered back and my legs hadn’t quite recovered by our walk on Monday, meaning that as time wore on and progress slow, we cut the walk short and headed home. Llyn y Gadair looks good for a short session though.

Looking back, it seems i’ve not actually been that unlucky after all and it’s surprising how high are the standards i’ve set myself of late. We’ve actually been getting out much more than i’d realised and given i have a young child in tow, I’ve been spending my mornings writing lately on how you can maintain much of your old life once a baby arrives and it’s important to remember what you have done. Once you’re into the day to day routine, it’s easy to think you’ve not done enough.

Roo Stops Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Long Awaited New Testament

It’s here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Potentially Interesting/Dull Post About Rock Shoes

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

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

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

The New Shoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testing begins: Indoor climbing

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

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

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

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

Testing moves outside

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

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

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

The Vedict (so far)

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

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

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

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

Daddy’s Downfall

After eleven weeks of fatherhood, the tiredness finally caught up with me.

I’d been told this plenty of course but having what many would call the perfect child – she sleeps from midnight until around 8am every night, for example – has meant that the effects of having a newborn in my life snuck up on me.

So many people try and tell you, especially in the lead up to the baby’s arrival “oh, your life is totally different, you’ll give up climbing, it’s all about sleepless nights and you’ll swap chalk bags for nappy bags” and to an extent, no matter how much you try and fight it, they are right. Your mindset will change, your priorities are different now, your life as it was is no more. But does that mean you need to give it all up? Well, that may just depend on the passion you held for your previous life.

For me, since long before even the prospect of having a child came about, i’ve been determined not to let parenthood stop me doing what i want to do; merely adjusting what i do and when to suit my new change in lifestyle. I’m a climber, that is part of who i am and i really don’t want to lose that.

One recent Friday, my weekly coaching session was followed by the usual quick bouldering blast and suddenly, despite my recent successes and outdoor sessions, i found myself struggling on 6s. Even when i did succeed on a 7a or thereabouts, i returned to the mat in a heap, absolutely wiped out. Parenting, it turns out, is actually exhausting.

I’ve done pretty well to date. I’ve managed weekly coaching sessions since she was born, my ticklist includes seven outdoor problems, two of which are first ascents, at an average grade of 6c+. Not too shabby really. One of them was a 7b in a session (detailed in my last post).

The flip side of the coin includes a slight shoulder injury, actually on both arms but more on my left. After a while, i realised that it was from holding the baby…

There are the demands of the family as a whole, as well. I’ve been very lucky to date that Em has been more than happy for me to go out climbing and often, the whole family attacks the crag and chums about at a local boulder. Nevertheless, after a day of tending to a small sqiurmy thing, my other half needs a break occasionally and the prospect of me going straight from work to climb and finally get home 14 hours after leaving just isn’t fair to her.

And let’s not forget one crucial element: i want to spend time with my daughter. While i can – and will, be sure of it – combine daddy-daughter-time with climbing time, if it comes to a choice between the two, she’s gonna win every time. Well, 9 times out of 10 at least. I guess that’s the balance i need to now find.

It is an odd feeling now that it is actually happening to me. The nice thing about being a parent is that generally, you have many months to prepare yourself before their arrival and set your mindset as to how you want to handle things. As a climber, this, for me, includes things like combining these two huge aspects of my life.

What i’m learning now is how difficult that can be. You have to take into account the constant needs of a baby on you – something i’ve neglected to do up to now. They do indeed need your constant attention, your partner needs your help all the time you can spare and it grinds you down, even if, like me, you don’t even realise it.

None of this is a complaint in any way. I love having a daughter, Em is fantastic and i am, contrary to what i was told before Rosie’s birth, getting to go climbing every now and again. The reason for this post is more as advice for those in or about to be in a similar position.

Can i go climbing? Yes, it’s possible, nay easy, to get out and do so regularly. Can you do it in the same way you did before? Not a chance, you’d be a fool to try.

Am i going to get up 7c+ any time soon? Not unless i’m really lucky and get the right one on the right day at exactly the right time. But that doesn’t mean i can’t keep getting out.

This period just after the baby’s arrival is a massive shock to your system and you’ll need to be ready. Understand that it’s about small adjustments, not wholesale changes. Bouldering is hugely beneficial in this respect but even then, you will be more tired when you rock up at the crag than you would’ve been under the same circumstances 9 months ago.

But don’t let that stop you, please. And i mean please sincerely. If you still have a passion for climbing, or indeed anything, having a baby doesn’t stop you in your tracks. Trust me, i’m living proof.

So what does change? I don’t know if i’ve mentioned it already but you will, no matter how good your offspring and other half are, be more tired than before. Parenting simply is not easy. It’s totally worth it. It’s almost in the same way as a hard climb that takes time and work. It’ll exhaust you but the rewards are greater for it.

Even if you take the baby with you, unless you’re just going to ignore them and negate the point of having them there, they will interrupt your session. You simply cannot dedicate your time and energy to climbing as intensely as before. This is fine, as long as you take it into account.

Your time will be restricted. It just will. There is no question here, babies are time intensive, it’s as simple as that. So be tactically astute with the time you’ve got. You can’t magic more time from nowhere but if you use it wisely, you can get the best from it. This is the big key. Be organised or be frustrated.

Your energy levels are going to be lower than they were so the idea of pushing your limits starts to change. Grade chasers beware: even for dads, the chances are your top grade will be lower than it was. So embrace it, set new goals, lower your standards slightly and take things from there.

The effect of a newborn on fathers is often underrated (in my experience). Em is off work, at home with Rosie, i’m at work, back to the usual routine i had prenatal. I honestly didn’t notice the baby having any effect on me physically – Em takes care of things and i help when and where i can. I’m not actually involved, my nipples are not in action, why should i be tired?

Well, dads, you will be. Know it and you can work with it. Neglect it and suffer. Know it is possible to carry on your life from before. And for all of you, it’s important for you to do just that. Manage it and you have my utmost respect.

A #throwback to days gone by today: to days pre-baby when my time was only my own and I was free to go and do things like this, #rockattrocity at #parisellascave, whenever it suited me. Those days are gone. Now, I have dependants, I have a family, I have loved ones in my life who have their own demands on my time. The big question is: would I give up this life for the one I had then? Not for all the ascents in the world. Not to climb burden of dreams. I love my daughter and my better half so much, they do and always will mean more to me than anything. Does this mean I'm giving up #climbing then? No chance! What it does mean is a slight adjustment as to how I go about things now. My love for my family doesn't mean any less love for #bouldering It's the subject of my latest blog post (link in bio) and something oft neglected; the effect of a newborn on dads. That balance is coming and when it does, I'm certain things will be better than they have ever been. #northwales #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #activedad

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A Single Session Send

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Several Sessions To Send

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

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

Grey House. Borderline but most beasties seem to give it 8a. Pocket drag is 👌

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Year: March 2017

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

Some Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 Spring/Summer Goals – short term

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

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

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

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

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

2017 Spring/Summer goals – season long

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

 

Final Score

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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