Tag Archives: outdoor sport

Making the best of it

My travails in Barcelona – as enjoyable as they were – cost me a day of bouldering. With not being able to collect the car until 1pm and a five hour drive at least, by the time i got here, found the Airbnb, met up with Sally and ate, it was practically the middle of the night again with nought but a glance at the amazing red sandstone blocks i hadn’t seen since the week of my thirtieth birthday.

However, given our collective crippled state, this didn’t turn out to be the crisis we thought. My elbow has deteriorated again and i was nervous i wouldn’t be able to climb, while Sally – on her extended Spanish adventure and the reason i flew out here – had strained some abnominal muscles and wasn’t climbing for a couple of days anyway. Another rest day wouldn’t hurt. Getting stuck in might. Besides, that gave time to build a plan and some psyche…

I’m actually here to coach, not just on a jolly and arriving to find your client is crocked is not ideal. Instead, we decided to chat movement theory, goals and objectives with a view to seeing if any of it worked in practice later. With clients, i’m generally available any time people wish to chat so running over various ideas in person passed the time nicely.

There are several theories and academics related to climbing that i have developed and Sally is just the right type of person to take it on board. She’s also just the right one to tell me if i’m talking total shit and so far, seems very taken with the ideas; able to confirm through her own experiences or question when something doesn’t seem right. Not being able to climb sucks but  i think we are making the best of a bad situation.

The late night led to a late start which was no bad thing! Once up though, i headed into town for supplies, including food and some chalk from the excellent Sofa Boulder. They had not long opened when i was here last in 2014 and are just as friendly now as they were then. If you’re here, check them out.

After several cups of tea, in early afternoon, we finally headed up for a climb. I say we, i was the only one climbing and even then, i was being very cautious not to overdo myself and make the trip effectively pointless. A few 5s in and no pain, the tape holding my arm together and everything seeming pretty good.

A couple of 6bs and a 6c in and i tried the 6b stand start to some more appealing lines. However, when i paused mid route to assess my options (and test my ideas of movement theory on a wall) a nearby Spaniard mistook my musings for confusion and ran over to give me some beta. I wouldn’t ordinarily mind but the beta he was spraying me with was wrong and wasn’t going to work, confusing me further. Eventually i ignored his suggestions, pulled off a slightly harder-looking move and topped out to a round of applause that made me feel slightly embarrassed. 6b isn’t exactly that challenging for me (not that they were to know that).

Given all of this, they must have seemed slightly surprised to see me pull on to the 7a+ sit start version. From the noises they were making as i crept through the crux moves, i don’t think they were expecting me to get that far on El Rompededos. The look on my face at the top probably suggested i wasn’t either.

Sally had missed this taking a phone call and once she returned, found all the stuff had been moved around the corner. We’d looked at Eclipse 7b on our way in; the problem being one of Sally’s projects and she was keen for my beta. I quickly glanced through the moves again, dropped pads down and within about ten minutes had done it in about three sections, working out how to cope with my own issues and apply my own style.

Annoyingly, i mucked up the one attempt that felt like it would be fluid and easy, leaving my foot on a hold too long before it snatched from the hold and smacked the floor. As i rested, Sally grew cold and increasingly frustrated – not at me, at the fact she couldn’t climb – and eventually decided to call it a day, relieved of spotting duties by a group of Germans who had just arrived. If only she’d given it five more minutes, she’d have seen me fight my way through the roof and on to the top. Not a bad return for the day and with next to no pain to speak of!

Certainly psyched for tomorrow.

Suboptimal Preperations

These past fortnight have seen that rarest of rare phenomena: a dry day with me being free and able to climb. Only i couldn’t, i was forced to rest; my elbow tendons screaming at me that they could take no more. Tweaked simply by overuse from competing on too many levels, i was forced to down tools (or rock shoes) and stare at some of the first dry days from the kitchen window. It sucks.

Things are looking up since last Friday on the elbow front but then earlier this week got a bit harder again. With a few days to go before i fly off to Spain, being fighting fit is looking hit or miss. Not exactly ideal preparations.

Elbows

Where my last post held such promise and excitement, shortly afterwards i tried to catch up on the aggregate competitions after a Christmas break. I’m working on a post about competing on two fronts this winter to be published once they’re done but for now, let’s say that an endurance session on the Monday followed by 85 problems at the Beacon two days later was not good for me. That is, in essence, how i hurt my elbow.

Since then, i’ve been trying my best to rest but with being at the wall most of the time, it’s been tough. Throw in some manual labour as well and it’s been perpetually tweaky ever since.

That is until Friday gone when i bumped into one of the parents of the kids i coach. He suggested the latest thinking is to work it slightly and he gave me some exercises and some conditions on climbing; something Tim had also suggested previously which i’d discounted in favour of full rest. It seems to have done the trick and save for some aching from sweeping moss and dirt off a flat roof yesterday (cleaning is bad for you people!) my arm is starting to feel back to normal.

Dealing with injuries is something i’ve not had much experience with, thankfully and so i’m not the best when it happens. Having a good support network – either for myself or for clients when they get tweaks – will prove invaluable in the future. I think i’ve hit on someone well worth working with!

Suboptimal Preparations

The timing of this is not ideal, given that on Monday i fly off to Spain for a week in Albarracin. Ideally, i’d be tailoring my training to be at peak for a trip like this but such is life, and now i’m just hoping i can get some good routes in. Annoyingly, i’ve not been able to do much climbing this week either and my only session really will be tonight in Worcester.

I’m actually coaching here this week and don’t want to walk in to work in the wall blind. It’ll give me an opportunity to climb with my father in law too, which i’m really looking forward to, and to have a mild training session. I’m expecting to get on the lead, which should lower the intensity slightly too and give a different type of climbing to get ready. Not that i’ve ever prepared for a bouldering trip by sport climbing before but we’ll see if it works!

It’ll also be a chance to see how much these cuts on my fingers hurt too. While cutting wood Monday gone, i threw a piece towards a pile and, just as she often does, Tess went to catch it. Unfortunately, she got a bit too close and her teeth badly scratched my middle finger and cut deep into my index. It was a total accident and you’ve never seen a dog look so humble and apologetic but that didn’t make it hurt any less. I managed to squash it back into place and so far, it’s healing very well so hopefully it won’t hold me back and Tess can be forgiven for her over-enthusiasm.

Coaching Building

While out in Spain, i’ll be working with a friend on mine as she quests towards her first climb at a milestone grade. It’ll be great to be working with someone for a few days on real rock and i’m super psyched to get out there and get started. Her attitude is amazing and she’s a credit to herself in her approach to getting her project done.

For me as well, this is why i wanted this job in the first place. For the vast majority of sessions, it doesn’t feel like work. I love watching people climbing, see them improve and develop and it’s an amazing thing to behold when they tell you they’ve achieved a new grade; something that happens a lot to me!

Working in Worcester this weekend will be similarly great experience. This will be my first new wall in quite some time and new clients are great to work with. Stoked to have the business building.

The present might be frustrating and the immediate past hasn’t been great but the future is looking very promising. Now to see what happens when i get there!

Waiting for the Click

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

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

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

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

We go again

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

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

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

Something needs to click

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s All About Feel

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

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

Trapped in a Paradox

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Are You Feeling?

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

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

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

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

The Calm Before The Storm

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

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

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

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Enforced Rest Week

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

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

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

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

It All Builds To This

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Solstice: October 2019

For those who don’t know, my new year runs from when the clocks go forward, giving a much better point of the year for resolutions and goal setting. There is also a Solstice when the clocks go back. For more information, click here.

I could’ve easily fit another post in between my report from last weekend and this year’s Solstice post, such is the form i’ve been on, but truth be told, if i had the time to write that, i’d most likely have been out crushing something else instead. The fact is, something incredible seems to have changed over the course of the last season and i am now, unbelievably, stronger, better and fitter than i have ever been.

While this is undoubtedly fantastic news, it has left me with a quandry: i have no idea where i’m at or what sort of goals to make next. It is pretty remarkable considering this time last year, number one goal was “Climb. A bit. If Possible”. Now i’m getting 7c in a session – albeit ones i’ve been trying for some time but haven’t visited for years – and wondering just how far i can still go.

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The good form continues, and it seems my coaching is partly responsible: after many years of substantial effort, I finally analysed my foot beta properly, changed my tact slightly and boom, Nazgul's Traverse 7c. Quickly sent Arya 7b+ too. This was Tuesday and yesterday, I had a VERY good blast on Sway On at Gallt Yr Ogof, now millimetres away from the first move and hopefully with it, the send. Tired out on that, I quickly got the easier version of Diamond Eyes at 7a and then the link from Regeneration at 7b+/c. Quite a haul for two days of solo bouldering! #worldclasswales #NorthWales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #grimpeur #rockclimbing #escalada #escalade #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion

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Season Review

Cue the section of this post where i scroll back through Instagram and 27 Crags to see what i’ve done in the last six months… I do love this part of this post as it is a good prompt to check out what i’ve done in the recent past; something that is far too easily forgotten.

For example, our Lakes trip back in April. We had a week off and wanted to take Hannah on a good adventure so camping in the Lakes – especially after a heatwave – seemed a good idea. I can still vividly remember the feeling of waking up on that first morning with snow capped mountains all around and us wondering what in the world had prompted us to do this.

We stuck it out and did have a great time, including a very successful session on the Bowderstone, ticking Picnic Sarcastic and the sit start to Power Pinch both 7b as well as a flash of Statstick 7a. The start of things to come it seemed! Moreover, the trip did turn out very well, with plenty of excitement and activity for both us and the kids.

Local excursions continued through April and into May, with Down on an Elephant 7b finally falling, and a first ascent at Supercrack that i called Doggle 7b. It maintained my strength levels before my birthday trip, kept alive by the stellar soul of Simon Slater who almost single handedly got me to Helsinki for a standout trip that also worked as a great bonding experience with my father-in-law-to-be.

It was yet another fantastic birthday, with birthday pizza only tainted by the divebombing seagulls and four crags visited in only three days. This trip wasn’t about ticking high grades – a couple of 7a to show for my efforts – and was more about keeping the tradition alive and spending time with someone i have a rapidly increasing admiration for. Still a bit gutted i didn’t finish Melankolia 7b+ though. The trip even inspired an article on ukclimbing.

Then came the Stunning Summer of Stress: a week in Birmingham (including a day at Cratcliffe), a music festival with the kids, a week in Worcester and a wedding in Cambridge (more kiddy camping), not to mention the beginning of the travelling for my thesis for my Masters. It was a fantastic experience, each trip a great opportunity and great to look back on but the stresses involved meant we completed each week saying “that was amazing! When is this all going to end…?”

Eventually it did end and we settled into an Autumn at home; the difference being that for the first time since 2015, i came out of the summer just as strong as when i went in. Maybe even stronger, given the growing list of local ascents getting ticked off.

The catalyst for my current high has to be, looking back through the ticklist, Barrel Groove 7c, my first of this grade since before Rosie was born and you can hear the emotion in me on the video. I’d had the idea for a film called Seven 7s all year and so it came to pass in the past week or so. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time and i’m thrilled i’ve finally produced something.

Almost to cap off the season was a weekend spent at the Roaches, again with my extended family. A healthy mix of time spent on boulders and time spent with children, this was a great way to round things off. Or so i thought.

Once back, and making the most of my current free time, i hit the crags again and wowed myself. In two days, i climbed a 7a, two 7b+ and a long-awaited 7c (Nazgul’s) and suddenly threw open a world of possibilities i thought may have been lost to me forever.

A Quick Note On Prowess

Out of all of this, the Autumn of 2019 will always be remembered as the time i finally went self-employed and decided to run my own coaching company. Prowess Climbing Coaching was named after my greatest first ascent near Plas y Brenin and had been running for around a year when i decided to throw everything into it. A huge thanks must go to Em for being so supportive, especially considering what is at stake if i get this wrong.

It has started well but is not yet sustainable and so i emplore you to check out the website, like the Facebook page and most importantly, help me find clients who are keeen to improve.

I will always be proud of taking that step, no matter how long it lasts. If i can keep it going into a viable career, i will have truly achieved my goal. And hopefully, will be able to help so many people with it.

Previous Season Goals

  • Unassailable 7b annual average grade
  • Re-establish The List
  • Work towards Goal: 8a
  • Train in the Mill/swim for the club again
  • Remember family and masters matter more than personal achievements
  • Write these goals down somewhere obvious

How Did It Go?

Well put it this way: within a couple of weeks of writing “7b average” on a sheet of paper and sticking it on the wall, i’d had to up that to 7b+ because i’d already done it. And you know what? This week, i’ve hit that revised goal as well.

Again, my situation is volatile and the rug may be pulled from under my feet any day now. And yet, despite all of that, i’m thriving and believe it or not, nearly three-years after my eldest was born and a year after she was joined by my youngest daughter, i’ve actually surpassed my best ever year of climbing. Whatever i’m doing, i need to keep doing it.

The same is true for my mental state too and both of these probably stem from turning self employed and developing Prowess Climbing Coaching. That has freed up so much more time, has left me significantly happier in myself while seeing me do what i love and what i’m actually really good at. I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet too much but if i was designing the ideal job for my particular skill set, my current job would be it.

It seems to be working too; all the noises i’m hearing are excellent, the reviews i’ve got online are outstanding and at least three clients i’ve had have gone on to climb a grade harder since a session with me.

It’s all got me improving my own abilities and both The List and Goal: 8a have gone very well. Granted i’m not as good at updating the List as i once was but it is vaguely up to date and is helping. My season goals are stuck on the wall to the right too.

Sadly, i haven’t trained: Em’s evening shifts moved to prevent me swimming and the Mill closed down temporarily. BUT to complain about that given what i’ve already said would be ludicrous. Yes i need to train, especially my antagonists, but to worry about it in terms of improving would be idiotic.

Next Season Goals

Dave Noden’s voice is ringing in my ears at this point: “never let good form go”. Yes, it might all go wrong any day and i might have to go get a typical job but while i can, i might as well aim high. Aim for the moon and you might hit Milton Keynes and all that.

So the goals are chosen to reflect how well life is right now and considering Friday gone saw my first ever 8a at the Indy, they’re pretty damned high.

With freelancing at both climbing walls, i’ve gone in for both aggregate competitions and that gives around 700 (seven hundred!) problems to try and tick off. As a consequence, i’m keeping to roughly to the same indoor goal as last winter.

Of course this hinges on still going to the walls regularly and that will come from still being in business throughout the season. More importantly will be not going bankrupt and putting the family in jeoaprdy but if i can keep building Prowess then it’ll be a big success.

Lastly, Rosie has taken to climbing in an unbelievable way, on that first session at the Boardroom and it was great she got to spend time with her uncle and develop that relationship further. I’m keen to keep this going but in such a way that there is not pressure on her at all. Keep the option open for her but don’t push her at all, that will be key.

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So unbelievably proud of all of my girls! A day at the @boardroomclimb yesterday and you wouldn't have thought a two year old could climb so well, phenomenal effort! At one point we had to stop her going higher, to which she pointed to the top of the wall and said, "I want to touch the yellow one" Credit to little Hannah too, who adapted to what must've been a strange day very well, and of course to @emks93 for getting on the wall and making some good sends, not to mention looking after two little ones while we were busy playing. Finally, we couldn't have done it without @james_slater_vertical and it was fantastic that we got to spend some time with their uncle. They've got a good climbing pedigree already these two! First three photos credit to @emks93

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  • Goal: 8a
  • Between 85-90% completion in both aggregate competitions
  • Complete the vast majority of the Masters work
  • Still be in business at the end of the season
  • Take Rosie climbing semi-regularly (including once on rock if possible)

This is a scary period in my life in so many ways and yet it is scary because it is so incredible. I have been trying for so long to achieve something noteworthy, not so much for the recognition from others but more for the recognition from myself that i can actually achieve if i put my mind to it. I’ve got myself to the doorway and am now staring through. Next i have to take the next step and i cannot wait to see what i get to put in next season’s post.

Merry Solstice!

Getting Into The Groove

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

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

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

Getting the Groove Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven 7s: coming soon

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

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

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

Getting Out, Getting In, Getting Strong Again

Firstly, apologies for not posting for over a month; especially with so much going on that is worth writing about! At the end of August, i left my job at Plas y Brenin and decided to try and make it on my own as a self-employed climbing coach.

My business, Prowess Climbing Coaching, has technically been running for about a year now, although with a full schedule already, it was impossible to grow as there was no time for potential clients. Now i’ve taken the plunge, freelancing where i can and trying to build a client base. Where before i was busy, suddenly i became different busy and my diary became my bible.

Still, the initial onslaught has calmed down and this has given me the chance to catch up on being me a little more again. Better still is that all this time spent in the climbing walls – coupled with the sessions i’ve managed while conducting interviews for my masters degree – has left me in a really strong position now i’m back at the crag…

Wavelength Sends

After months of cleaning, Josh and myself were finally at a point where we were ready to attack our new boulder and were just waiting on a suitable weather window. Once my last day at the Brenin had come and gone, we headed up for one last cleaning session together (Josh put in a little more effort in the following week) before that first day of climbing finally came.

Alas, while my schedule had now freed up, Josh was still working five days a week and when we decided the rock would likely not be dry enough – coupled with the knowledge that my friend still has many classics to tick off before worrying about putting up more – we shifted plans to the Wavelength boulder to have a blast on King of Drunks 7a.

It’s such a classic line that anyone operating around that grade should really tick it off at some point; more so now that there is a stand up variation at 6c. Much as i don’t normally agree with splitting existing problems, this one does make sense, with the start being incredibly powerful while the top is very different in being more technical. Josh, i’m pleased to say, ticked off the stand ably and now has the sit to come back to.

While i personally have ticked most of the routes on that boulder, i was happy to support my friend and repeat problems for the day. King of Drunks fell quickly and, more pleasingly, the right hand variant also yielded with little effort once i remembered the foot beta. Promising indeed! One of the last outstanding lines for me is Wavelength itself, at 7c. I miraculously and luckily flashed the stand several years ago but the sit has always alluded me. While it did the same again, i was much closer than expected and left feeling buoyed by my efforts of the day.

The Heavy Week

More indoor sessions kept me topped up and feeling strong, not least the send of an Indy 7b+ in one night. On my first dedicated Masters study day, i found my mind racing and myself unable to concentrate, looking out the window at a glorious day. I long since learned that it is pointless to persevere in these situations, you’re better to go and clear your head with what is distracting you and come back fresh and ready to work. I looked at my out of date List and plumped for a spin on the Barrel, and Barrel Groove 7c.

I didn’t think i’d get very far with a climb that the guide describes as having “barely adequate holds” so, glancing another boulder on the circuit higher up, figured i’d start there. Couple of 6cs, a 7a+, a 7b, they seemed more attainable and it turned out i was right: Summit o Nothing 6c+ and Summer Telse 7a+ both flashed. Me surprised. Bag of Sticks 7b had nettles under the start and terrible feet so down to the Groove to see how it went.

Turns out it went very well. VERY well in fact and after a spot of video beta and a few burns, i’d got it wired and was linking moves together. By the time someone wandered up to join me, i was almost linking the whole climb and when i ran out of time and had to collect the kids, i had slapped the top hold twice, only not in enough control to stay on it.

Maximum Muppetry

Wednesday morning rolled around and despite the knowledge that the following day was earmarked for our first blast on the Birch Tree Boulder, i couldn’t help myself. Where i went wrong was my complete and total inability to self-coach. Worse than that, despite filming literally every single attempt in case it went, i didn’t even think to watch one of them back.

Two and a half fucking hours i spent with the wrong foot beta, using energy and wasting time i did not have. After you pull off the floor, you place a heel in the break to your left and reach up with the right hand. Once you’ve done this, the toe sneaks into the top of the break in a heel-toe cam and you reach up left. What you should not do is place the toe in the break early, as this prevents the hips from twisting in and means you can no longer easily reach the first right hand hold. And yet, despite the fact that from the outside i’d have seen this instantly and despite the fact a two minute scroll through the video of the previous day would’ve told me, every time i pulled off the floor, the toe went in and i came crashing back down.

By the time i realised it was too late and Josh had just text me to say the Birch Tree Boulder was dry. It’s one of the hardest things to do, to pull yourself away from a project that nearly yields. Not quite as hard as finishing the project though…

First Ascenting At Last

Delays the next day gave us an hour less than i’d intended but it couldn’t be helped and soon enough, at long last, we were sat on pads under our project boulder with rock boots in hands and smiles on faces. What we were facing was totally unknown, other than the fact we knew it would be satisfying. The face itself looks incredible and the idea of putting our own lines up, naming and grading them made us slightly giddy.

The climbing itself didn’t disappoint in terms of quality, although i’ve learned that with first ascents, they always feel much better on that first day than they do later. You’ve got a lot invested in this problem and i think you project that into the problem. Repeating them later often gives a better gauge. My Crane though, around 6b+ stand and 6c+ sit, will be as good next time as it was this time around. Named after Mike Raine, who informed us of this bloc back in the spring, i was glad to put this one up, with good moves on satisfying holds.

My project line Roohan proved to be exactly what i was hoping for, much to my dismay in a very Oscar Wilde fashion as i was hoping it would be mid-7s but also wanted to get it in one session. Given my week to this point, they were unlikely to align, especially as the slopers didn’t suit me at all.  Again, though, the moves were excellent and i am really hoping that when it finally falls, the route named after my two daughters will do them proud.

Meanwhile, In From The Cold

Very quickly, all this extra time indoors has seen me test myself against a variety of venues and their local strong boys. With the Masters dragging me across the country, i’ve visited three walls, getting a climb in at two of them (didn’t get time in Kendal). Plus, of course, normal service at the Indy.

However the Indy is one of the few walls these days that still grade their problems [insert rant about the ineptitude of top end setter-climbers to be able to offer a grade with enough confidence, even if it is over 7a and still with set-by-colour]. What that’s meant is that i’m pretty much first ascenting indoors again; walking through the door, looking at the grade boundaries, finding i can flash the bottom of the top boundary and so i’ve got one or two colours to challenge me.

That in itself isn’t a criticism, more another boost for my current levels. Both at Stronghold in London and at the Works in Sheffield, i was quickly trying some of the hardest routes in the wall and left feeling very good about myself. Things are looking good right now and i am growing in optimism for the Spring with every passing week. Goal: 8a is officially on.

Substance or Style?

I’ve always been a climber with a very distinct style: put me on small holds on a near vertical face and i’m all over it. Give me compression or intense shouldery moves and all of a sudden my grade drops significantly.

I know what i have to do – the phrase “train your weaknesses” has been floating around for many years now – but doing it is an entirely different prospect. I’ve even come up with my own add on to the phrase that says: “Train your weaknesses, play to your strengths”. Of course, all this means is that i constantly define everything as playing and nothing is classed as training and i never actually work on anything that i’m crap at.

Two of my last three outdoor sessions have highlighted this beautifully; bringing to the forefront of my mind quite how style-dependent i am and (certainly in the case of our Peak day out) the inherent risks therein.

The Big Problem

We found ourselves in Birmingham for a week with my parents in between an awesome gig and an even awesomer weekend at Larmer Tree Festival. Music is probably the next big passion of mine and it was great to see some live sets from some bands that i truly love; Cat Empire, KT Tunstall, Gogo Penguin and Ezra Collective were just some of the bands that joined Bloc Party in our recent extravaganza.

However, that didn’t mean that i needed to totally neglect climbing while all this was going on and we were a bit further East, Cratcliffe seemed like a good option. I’d long thought i’d like to try Jerry’s Traverse 7b there, as well as possibly T Crack 7b if it wasn’t as scary as i remembered so now was the time. First though, i’d been recommended Razor Roof 6c+ as a nice line and a glance in my guidebook showed i’d not actually done it before. With Hannah hiding under the roof, i finally committed to the obvious sequence and sent what really is a fantastic line.

 

Then on to the main aim but I should’ve done my homework. I am not strong at the moment, relying on my technique and footwork to get me up climbs. The problem on Jerry’s is that there are no feet; it’s a campus fest. The hands felt plenty big enough but even then, campusing sideways is about as far from my abilities at the moment it was a fool’s errand that finished with the only likely

It got worse. Late that evening, a strong and deep pain in my chest developed, around my sternum, balanced out nicely with a similar pain in the middle of my back. Slowly through the day, it worsened until i spent the majority of the night awake through pain – something incredibly rare for me.

I spoke to my mum about it the next day, while still wincing and she suggested an intercostal strain. It made sense and thankfully subsided by the second evening after a long soak in a hot bath. Nevertheless, the whole day did highlight the importance of training antagonist muscles as it is a surefire way to hurt yourself very quickly.

Flash in the pan

Once back home and fully recovered, i took a trip to an esoteric little venue with no more than four established climbs; the top out for one a dirty, grimy mess. It goes without saying that Llyn y Gadar is not a popular venue, which was annoying as the problem obscured by lichen was the one that certainly seemed the more suited to me.

There are two 7a+ there: Freddie Kreuger and Freddie Welsh. On the same boulder, there was one more problem, Freddie Right Hand 6c acting as the warm up. I thought i’d flashed the easiest line, only to realise i’d started two moves in by mistake. Thankfully, i didn’t get it second go either (meaning i hadn’t wasted a flash) but it didn’t take long after that.

Then on to the next line: same start, move onto a rising slopey traverse. Granted i didn’t keep on it for that long but try as i might, i couldn’t find the body position that worked. Worse than that, when i found something that might’ve worked, i couldn’t manage it with my weak shoulder muscles. Again, this was a climb that simply didn’t suit me and as such, i struggled. A lot.

I wondered if perhaps i was off form; weak and underperforming. That was until i got onto Freddie Kreuger. Sat underneath, the right hand felt huge, the left ample and a super deep drop knee was ideal for me. Snatch up and i’m on the good crimp, shuffle feet and fly for the lip, bang! Slapped, stuck, swing the feet back on, go again with the right hand and i was onto easier terrain. Some tenuous moves later – top outs are often tenuous when you’re alone – and i was stood atop the bloc. One 7a+ miles beyond me, the other flashed.

I really need to work my weaknesses.

A Hat Trick

I didn’t climb again for another ten days, having been with the family in Cambridge for a friend’s wedding; a trip that included me camping alone with a two-year-old and a ten-month-old for the night… I don’t know how i ended up in that situation and all went fine, i was easily up to the challenge, but i don’t know many other people who would do that.

In a wonderful example of my occasional ineptitude at life, i had arranged to meet someone in Kendal the day after the wedding. Cambridge to Kendal then, plus a night sleeping rough in the back of the Land Rover – it was like old times again!

I left a little later than i’d hoped but as i crept towards Carnforth weighing up my options, i decided i would head to another old haunt and, much like our Lakes trip back in April, exorcise some more demons. I had a dinner date that sadly cancelled (totally understandably) so options were food or climbing. I picked climbing.

So straight to Trowbarrow: a regular haunt during my undergrad days and home to the imposing Shelter Stone. This monolithic bloc houses some incredibly tough lines, including the notorious Isla de Encanta 8b, climbed by the great John Gaskins. Some say he can’t have climbed it as it is simply too hard. For what it’s worth, i totally believe him, although looking at it, i’d love to have been there!

The Shelter Stone, much like the Bowderstone, was always something i longed to climb on but would never attempt as it was too hardcore. I didn’t stand a chance – largely through the fact i refused to even try – and even now, much of it is far out of my abilities. Still, there are some low and mid 7s and i wanted to plant my flag on the top just once.

If only it would stop raining. As i got there, i struggled to find the lines in the new and excellent Lakes Bouldering Guide, not through any fault of the book but because i was trying to keep the pages dry. Annoying but one of the best things about Trowbarrow is Red Wall, which stays dry when almost everywhere else for fifty miles does not. Ironically, i left the Shelter Stone in search of shelter.

A handful of 6s later and the sky was blue, the ground drying enough. Back to the Shelter Stone and i found a small and innocuous 7a+ two move wonder. Ideal! and with my types of moves and holds! After some quick conversation with visiting climbers, i sat on my pad, placed my limbs on the rock and less than a minute later, pulled over the top to stand atop this mighty boulder for the first time. Fifteen years after my last visit and i had finally climbed something: Funk Phenomena. Boom.

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It's been a very long time. Fourteen years, perhaps. I think that's what made going back to Trowbarrow on Sunday so special. The Shelter Stone is, for me, much like the Bowderstone: one of those crags I always dreamed of climbing on but felt inadequate to the point I wouldn't try. Half the battle of climbing harder is to get on it and give it a go. Again like the Bowderstone, even more it is a tough venue, with many of the problems still out of my abilities. But after all this time, I now finally have my tick. And now than that, I've had the chance to return to this fantastic, scenic spot and enjoy it once more. #lancashire #lancashirebouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #exorcisingdemons Huge thanks to @greg_lakesbloc for the excellent guidebook at gave me the chance to find something I could climb!

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Finnish-ed and Home

There was a part of me, on the last morning, that wanted to get another crag in. Simon, it seemed, was less enthusiastic. Three days and four crags is a tough ask for any climber, let alone one that is unaccustomed to day after day of intense climbing and another lacking in fitness to continually batter themselves. Simon, it turned out, was absolutely right.

We could’ve checked somewhere out and not climbed but there was no need; we were both more than happy with the week we’d had and i was happy to concede to his plan of checking out a flea market in the morning before leaving the apartment a little early and heading for the airport.

Flea markets, apparently, are very popular in Finland, selling new and old primarily on market stalls in a cross between a British market and a car boot sale. This one was sparse to say the least, with very few stalls and even fewer customers but the building it sat alongside was stunning on the outside and almost designed exactly as i would like inside. Cafes, boutique shops, the whole feel of the place was fantastic and the first served fantastic pastries – i’d been craving pastries since we got there, being in Scandinavia after all! – and a wide range of tea.

The Finns are the best country i’ve been for serving nice, decent tea and for once, there was little need for me to take a box of 80 tea bags. Good job, too, as i’d only taken a handful as we were “travelling light”. I say that, Simon travelled light, i failed miserably, realising as i packed up that half of my electronics hadn’t been used and could’ve easily been left at home and swapped for an extra t-shirt and a thin jumper. More lessons learned that could prove invaluable later in the year.

After finishing our tea and breakfast, i’d arranged to meet up with an old friend Tomi Lindroos. Tomi was one of those that started 27crags and we’d exchanged many emails and messages over the years but never actually met in person; a wonderful example of how modern social networking can be a fantastic thing. He’d seen my posts of being in Helsinki and got in touch to see about meeting. Granted, we hadn’t climbed but it was great to meet him for lunch and chat about climbing, 27crags, North Wales and the world in general.

We bid farewell, hopefully not for the last time, and headed back to the apartment to pack up. We had one last trip in the world’s most awesome lift that must’ve been 100 years old but had not lost any of it’s charm, before some tactical packing saw us leave nice and early. We now had around six hours before our flight left the tarmac.

It turned out we did go to Meilahti again after all, just to have a look really. There is a public park across the road so after craning our necks up and wondering who on earth would classify this as bouldering we sat outside a rather large building that seemed lovely but gave no indication of what it might be. Turned out there’s a reason: it was the parliamentary residence. Our last act in Helsinki was to have a picnic outside the president’s home. That sums the week up.

That wasn’t quite our last act, as we then walked a fair way out of pleasant parks and scenic city into more industrial settings to our train station. By this point, we had everything with us and i was dearly wishing i’d learnt those lessons about travelling light before i’d left home. As the traffic and the buildings grew, i eventually dragged my way onto the platform, grateful that carrying this unholy pile of stuff was nearly at an end.

It felt hot, as it had all week but that was suddenly put into perspective as we walked off the plane on the tarmac in Munich. Suddenly slapped in the face by a swell of hot air, we realised that we’d been the lucky ones all week to be so far north and away from these blistering conditions covering the entire continent. Some German food in a Bavarian airport finished us off, before i admired Birmingham from the air before landing back home.

It felt as if we’d been gone for weeks, not days, such was how much we packed into the trip. The whirlwind hasn’t stopped either, with two pieces since written on Helsinki, one published right here.

It was genuinely one of the best trips i’ve been on and will live long in the memory of the Birthday Tradition. I’ll forever be grateful to Simon, my future father-in-law, who was one of the best travelling companions i’ve ever had. I can only hope that this is the first of many.