Tag Archives: outdoor sport

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.

“Just win the lottery”

As the rain falls on Helsinki for the first time since our arrival 48 hours ago, we face the prospect of not getting any climbing in tomorrow. Not that either of us will complain.

After another superb day at another spectacular crag – i’m running out of superlatives – i can’t help but wonder, yet again, why Finland isn’t on more people’s radar. I thought Nalle’s ascent of Burden of Dreams may have raised awareness of the area but after four crags visited, the total number of climbers we’ve met remains a paltry six, with at least five of them in their first year or two of outdoor climbing.

Granted, it has been in the middle of the day on a weekday and conditions have not favoured those with the luxury of being able to wait for better but nevertheless, the absence of anyone trying anything harder than 6b+ is slightly baffling. We have been to four fantastic venues and today has not lowered the average at all.

The scene for today: Mellunmaki; a small cluster of outstanding blocs in the eastern suburbs. Once again, it was a short hop from the Metro station that would’ve been shorter had we taken a more sensible route in. Knowing our skin and energy levels were dwindling, and that this was potentially our last chance, we were a little tactical. We got it spot on.

A cluster of 6s fell quickly for me, with Simon ticking off Hantaaki 5+ with consumate ease. In truth, it was too easy for him, being a juggy yet delicate walk up the vertical face. Soon though, i was drawn to the awe inspiring line of Melankolia 7b+ despite the safe knowledge that it was likely a step too far for a single session.

So it proved but only just; the moves from standing falling very quickly after poor video beta that was soon disgarded. Annoyingly, it isn’t given a separate grade and i’m loathe to create one for an established area i am visiting for the first time. C’est la vie, i’ll enjoy the experience and take my tick on Mini Hueco 7a instead. Not that either were the highlight of the day.

That accolade falls to Simon who, despite my expectations, jumped on the big move of Reebus 6a: a dyno move that required power, timing and skills i’d not seen from him before. Yet again, as with everything this week, i watched in awe as he gainfully threw himself at this new form of climbing, glad to give it a go and take the fall. Our new friend, Tomi, climbing for only a few months and fresh from a crash course in heel hooking from yours truly, also admirably gave it a try, lacking a tiny bit of energy after what had already been a long session.

Simon fell twice while being filmed. I made him wait before his third effort, knowing if we didn’t capture this moment, i’d be kicking myself all the way back to Worcester. Much like the snippet of coaching that i’d offered, it proved worthwhile and like a pro, he leapt for the move and slapped the all important top hold. Job done and a superb effort from a man who can show us all how much we can achieve if only we try.

Granted he didn’t top it out, as i had and struggled slightly with a tricky one at best and advised it wasn’t worth either the effort of the hour of coaching needed to supply the skills to mantle an overhanging and blank top out over a slightly sketchy landing, but here is the lesson to be taken from the week. Yes, he didn’t technically finish the climb exactly but does that matter? Does that diminish his achievement? Absolutely not! In exactly the same way, i didn’t technically finish Melankolia today, or Peppu yesterday, or Meikun Pitkaveto at Meilahti the day before, it doesn’t mean i can’t enjoy the process and come away buoyed by the experience.

In a similar way, we spent the rest of the day revelling in a more typical experience of Helsinki; wandering the city and enjoying all the city has to offer: architecture, Moose sausage and reindeer meatballs by the sea shore, some gorgeous parks overlooking the city, a string quartet and some live music at Storyville. In what was one of the few disappoinments of the trip, we were expecting a jazz night but were instead treated to some covers from a lovely singer called Sanna Kukkonen. Even when it doesn’t work out for us here, it’s still pretty bloody good!

City Breaks

I’m not normally one for city breaks but if they were all like this, i’d gladly change my tune. Helsinki is a truly remarkable city. Well, for climbers at least.

This city is like no other i’ve ever been to before. Before we came, i’d heard Finland is more Russian than Scandi and possibly i was projecting but Helsinki certainly isn’t like any of the rest of Scandinavia i’ve been to before. The architecture, the language, the people in general, this feels very different.

It is also unusual to find so much climbing right in the midst of a city centre, let alone a capital city centre. This is our second night and we’ve yet to leave the city limits and yet we’ve already visited three quality venues: Meilahti, Koivusaari and Taivaskallio; and there are still 18 for us to chose from until we fly home on Wednesday afternoon. No car, no problem!

In fact, Meilahti is actually walking distance from our flat in town – an AirBnB for a few days – and once we’d checked in, checked it out and grabbed grub was where we headed yesterday afternoon. Much like Stockholm and countless other cities in these parts, Helsinki is built on the banks of the Baltic, the sea adorning the entire area and this is where many of the crags can be found. Including the very scenic Meilahti.

It seemed clear very quickly that these seaside crags aren’t only popular with climbers, as we interupted a young couple enjoying the intimate setting for their intimate moment. Sadly, we distrubed them, albeit temporarily, while we climbed on the sea shore, basking in the sun.

There is a level of irony that the guidebook i recieved from 27crags several years ago is far inferior to 27crags itself. Furthermore, i received the guide for taking out their premium membership and now that i’m finally here, the guide didn’t cut the muster and i was pushed into taking out premium membership once again.

It has been worth it, though. Where the guide showed us the location and bare bones, 27crags is comprehensive, including climbs that were surely there when the book was published (i’ll stop moaning about it now). Meilahti had a decent spread and both of us topped out more than once; me nearly ticking off Meikun pitkaveto 7a+ before heading out for a birthday pizza at the fantastic Putte’s Bar and Pizza.

Today was always set out to be a two crag day and there must be few boulders as magnificent anywhere as Koivusaari . Not only does it again sit on the shoreline but it’s a massive piece of granite, just the right height, just the right routes; and we managed to disturb another young couple… Platoon 6c is the standout line but there are plenty others and it was one of the versions of Peppu 7a+ that caught my eye. Sadly, once again, i left without the tick but this time, with some consolation in the form of Long John 7a.

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What a day! That's gotta be one of the best days in a trip ever. A late start pushed itself into the afternoon but after that, it's been all go. Firstly we headed to Koivusaari and the most impressive boulder in the most astounding scene. Right in the shore again, the lines were outstanding, even if I did leave with Peppu 7a+ agonisingly close. Then we shifted the focus and headed to Taivaskallio With a stack of Simon friendly problems. He blasted them out, one after another, flashing problem after problem. Taivaskallio is a very historical crag for Finnish bouldering too and it was great to experience such a fantastic crag. We're now back, battered and beaten by buoyed by a brilliant day off quality Finnish bouldering #Helsinki #Finland #helsinkibouldering #finnishbouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #grimpeur #rockclimbing #escalada #escalade #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #birthdaytradition #sunsoutgunsout

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Once it became apparent i was spent, it was time to move on and this time to a venue more suited to my companion. With a two day ticket for the entire public transport network, we hot footed it over to Taivaskallio: a historic place for Finnish bouldering, with climbs dating back to 1955 and crucially, a five minute walk from the train station.

Taivaskallio also seems to be a popular beginners venue, where we met four other local climbers all in their first year of outdoor climbing. In some ways it felt good to be showing them how international our sport can be.

Simon cruised climb after climb, having a whale of a time. It was the perfect place for him, as much as Meilahti was for me. Two days in and this trip is ranking right up there.

Not Better or Worse, They’re Different

My second time on Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and we’re off to a rocky start, in so many ways.

I’m very conscious of mentioning Rosie every time i talk about Hannah – it can’t be nice to be continually compared to your older sibling. In this case, though, i drew inspiration from the first time around and built on previous experience. Makes sense really.

Thus, on day two of SPL 2.0, i packed up the child and the pads and headed off to the very same crag from two years ago: Caseg Ffraith in the Ogwen Valley.

I’ve looked up the first photo from that first time (see below) and Roo doesn’t look happy. It obviously didn’t last as i remember that being a pretty good session, with the caption confirming that somewhat. And that is where the parallels end. The setting may have been the same but the reaction certainly was not. These two are, after all, totally individual.

Today has made me realise quite how little i’ve developed a relationship with Hannah thus far in her life. This is, of course, the reason for SPL in the first place and again, i do wish more people would take advantage of it. Hannah is not a fan of being left alone, and cried as soon as i topped out the first climb and disappeared over the top of the crag. Distraction didn’t work that well and putting her in the ball pit taken to contain the beast resulted in more screaming.

I’d managed a pitiful warm up before i realised time was of the essence today and need to step it up quick. I’m not one for long warm ups, having conditioned myself over years of poor starts at places lacking in easy options, but even by my loose standards, performing to any sort of level after this was unlikely. The more i tried, the more she cried and i was trying anything i could think of to keep her occupied.

Back in the car seat, now she had some finger food which allowed me a short while to have a blast. Crucially i managed to recreate the old photo of myself and Rosie that appeared on The Project Magazine for an article i’d written on just this topic. Alas, it didn’t last and soon enough her attention waned and we ran out of puffs…

Giving her the packet – a popular and noisy toy for this little terror – bought me enough time for three or four attempts at Boneyard 7b. It’s a tough beast, this climb, sapping energy and requiring the climber to complete what is a difficult dyno in itself after seven snappy moves. With such poor tactics (enforced by baby, granted) i had little chance and soon enough realised that a crinkly packet wouldn’t cut it any more and time was up.

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There's a nice parallel here: this was the first crag I took Rosie and today, I introduced this stunning valley to Hannah and continued with #babyatthecrag. It is always important to remember how every child is different though. The irony is that in the first incarnation of this shot, Rosie didn't look happy but allowed me to climb. Hannah looks like she's loving it here. It didn't last. Every baby, like every person, is individual and requires you to interact with them on their own terms. Where Rosie was independent, Hannah prefers to be held and comforted. It'll be interesting to see how this month ahead goes. #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #mountains #scenery

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Hannah has been exclusively breast fed right the way up to beginning weaning and even now, getting liquid into her is a challenge. What this has potentially meant is that she likes the closeness and comfort of being held. Meanwhile, she hasn’t had much exposure to the outdoors at this stage, unlike but primarily because of her sister. While #babyatthecrag is feasible, toddler at the crag is a totally different proposition with significantly bigger consequences. Once they start crawling, the goalposts move drastically and you’re in a totally different game.

This may contribute to the poor day, or it may be something else. Maybe this is an off day, maybe my standards and expectations are too high after being so successful last time. I don’t know but i do know if i’d persevered more, tempers would’ve flared. Now is time to calm down, regroup, learn the lessons and get ready for the next time out.