Tag Archives: outdoors

“there’s yoghurt on the sleeping bag…”

“What am I doing here? Am I insane? Is this insane? We should go home, this is really not a good idea.”

These are some of the things that have gone through my head in the last twelve hours or so. I’m currently in a double sleeping bag, Em asleep beside me and Hannah curled up in front of her after a tumultuous night.

Meanwhile Rosie spent the night in her new little sleeping bag, looking the definition of cute at the bottom of the tent. She slept fine on all accounts. The same cannot be said for the rest of us.

Part of that was certainly the cold. Apparently the temperature hit 0C last night and it didn’t take long for the warm air created by our fan heater to find a new home. Rosie didn’t seem to mind but Hannah was restless (for whatever reason) and I was chilly – incredibly rare for me.

As much as I maintain my opinion that children shouldn’t stop you from doing the things you love – especially something inclusive like travelling and camping – I can’t help but lie here, very still for fear of touching a cold bit of the sleeping bag, and think this an error.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone is perfectly safe, no one is in any danger of freezing or starving or any other ing. Nevertheless, there’s a line between enjoyable and idiotic and as the rain falls steadily on the roof of our tent, Tess continues to be restless in the porch and Rosie repeats the word hungry, all while Em continues her morning slumber, I can’t help feel we’re teetering along it.

So what to do? The girls don’t seem to mind, Rosie bouncing around and Hannah in happy mode and smiling proudly. Tess meanwhile is an old hand at this and as I said before, there’s no concern for anyone’s welfare.

Plus the fact if we did falter at the first hurdle, I doubt we’d actually be able to pack up that quickly, certainly not in the rain. Chances are we’re here for at least another night but maybe that’s a good thing; forcing us to persevere when the obvious thing to do is run home quickly.

Chances are we’ll stay the distance, especially if we can iron out some of the problems – like a pillow that doesn’t hurt and a tent that isn’t in the extreme levels of chaos. Breakfast and, crucially, a first cup of tea since we left the house will improve the mood.

One hour later…

A run to the loo showed we were right to be cold: our tent sits just below the snow line that has engulfed the hills around here. I stared blankly at them for a second, wondering two things: why it couldn’t come just that little bit lower and insulate our tent and why this keeps happening to us whenever we go away at Easter?! After all it was this time last year that I saw, for the very first time, snow in fontainebleau on our family spring trip. There’s no way we could’ve seen this coming when we booked the time off, I think it’s Rosie. Next year I think I’ll take her to the Sudan and make a fortune selling the story to the papers…

Things are looking up, but despite there being yogurt on the sleeping bag and both children complaining of hunger (they’re not actually hungry, they’ve already eaten lots but for big one, it doesn’t include “biscuit” or “chocolate” which is what Rosie really wants. It’s almost like she’ll eat all of other food until the only things left are the ones she actually wants, giving us no choice).

Em has just come back into the tent from outside, exclaiming it’s like a sauna in here, fan heater having been on for a while now. Even Hannah has calmed down, sat on my lap. It seems that all the things that initially got to us first thing are slowly drifting away.

It just goes to show the importance of patience when doing, quite frankly, anything with children. Knee jerk reactions are rarely right and these experiences never come easy; or shouldn’t at least. We’re improving every minute, even if there is still yoghurt on the sleeping bag.

A Birthday to Remember

So we now find ourselves south; higher,  wetter and older than we were before. Well, i am anyway.

We currently nestle in the Alpine town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen at the base of the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak, hunkered down in the tent listening to the rain fall on the fabric above. There is not an established boulder problem that i know of for at least an hour from here.

What there is is terrific scenery, some amazing walking and a lake so clear and blue it’s like it was drawn by Disney. The town itself is remarkable too, with an awesome arrray of murals decorating the buildings that again have come straight out of the Stereotypes of Germany Handbook. It’s very quaint, it’s very Alpine and it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

We arrived on Friday, after what turned out to be a ludicrously long drive from Bensheim, suddenly in awe of the spectacular mountain vista in front of us. I’ve seen the Alps many times now but never have they snuck up and slapped me in the face like they did coming from Germany. Don’t ask me why but for some reason, one minute it was flat farmland, the next there’s an imposing lump of rock towering in the sky above.

Even once in Garmisch and on the campsite, the view of the fierce mountain ridge above us was enough to keep us occupied while we pitched the tent, cooked and ate German sausage with pasta and stuff.

Saturday was my birthday and quite a memorable one. Anyone who knows me, or indeed has seen me in passing any May for the last nine years, will know of the Birthday Tradition: spend my birthday in a different country every year. It is to Em’s enormous credit that i am able to count Germany as number nine – yeah, nine years, nine countries! – and as such, i thought i’d make it count.

We’ve been together for a little over two years now, have a daughter approaching 18 months and a bump that is due to pop in October. We’re pretty settled but still only really fall into the boyfriend/girlfriend category.

So, after a slightly disastrous attempt to head up on the cable car, where i was struck by the sheer exposure and we headed straight back down again, we went for a valley walk, found a clearing and i “popped the question”. We are now, officially, engaged.

That evening we headed into town, not quite the romantic evening you would expect after a successful proposal but instead a burger at an awesome pub in Garmisch called Shaka. Yes, we accidentally ate each other’s food but both agreed it was delicious anyway. Another sure sign it was meant to be.

With nothing better to do, we stayed for the evening, watching Sweden almost pip the Germans to a win at the world cup, surrounded by vocal and ardent German supporters (unsurprisingly). Two years ago, we were in France and watched them play Iceland in similar circumstances. It really is fascinating to watch the locals support their own team.

Sunday was equally beautiful and so we headed for a touristy trek around Lake Eibsee that was, in all honesty and despite the throngs of middle aged German tourists, also thoroughly enjoyable. The Lake is stunning, the views straight up to the Zugspitze and surrounding mountains amazing, and the walk itself just about the right length to be a decent work out but not exhausting. It really was another lovely day.

The one thing we hadn’t accounted for was the German attitude to Sundays, which turns out to be decidedly more French than English; that is to say everywhere was closed, including the supermarkets. And we had no food. Oh well, good excuse for another evening out and the Italian restaurant Celentano – Cucina Italiana was excellent and very reasonably priced. The calzone was delicious, you should go there if you’re in town.

Alas, the rain was always forecast to hit us at some point and this morning we woke to the pitter patter of water falling onto canvas. We’d been keen to head into town anyway, to collect some souvenirs and other gifts as well as to check out the local climbing shop for local beta and possibly a guidebook not available back home.

The guy in Bersportgeschaft Alpinsport was wonderfully helpful and confirmed my suspicions of German attitudes to bouldering guidebooks: they do not like them. His quote was beautiful:

We do not want the guys from Munich to come down here and shit in the woods.

Possibly over simplified, i know what he means, and it’s not as if there aren’t an abundance of other amazing options around here. Still, it is a bit shit for many of us, who would love to spend more time in the area but lack the focal point to bring us in and in fairness, he was certainly empathetic. He offered the local climbing gym and a bit of local info and, much as in the Rockstore in Frankenjura, i got the feeling he was actually on my side. Nevertheless, no guidebook, no established bouldering. Not yet at least.

If you are German and are reading this, please think carefully about this situation. Yes, guidebooks do bring people into an already saturated area but with them, they bring their earnings from elsewhere. That is how tourism works. This is abundantly clear given the amount of tourists already here but with a guidebook, you can help to herd said tourists and educate them that there are local toilets and no need to “shit in the woods”.

Secondly, as i say, a guidebook can help to control people in the area. Many boulderers will come regardless and without any information, run the risk of wandering aimlessly and ending up where you don’t want them.

I sense i’m preaching to the converted here but i also sense it’s only a matter of time. The Alpen en Bloc guides grow substantially with every reprint and sooner or later, someone will put up a stack of lines and begin to document it – that’s what happens. There isn’t really a big boulder field and perhaps that is why it hasn’t happened yet but for anyone willing to search and shuffle their pad from bloc to bloc and keen for some first ascents would benefit from a trip to the area.

Feeling Lucky, Punk?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For being tall…” i replied.

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

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