Tag Archives: psyche

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!

Welcome to the Sport of Climbing

Sadly there are no photos to accompany this. There are witnesses though. 

This story has been a few weeks in the making but I’ve held off to surprise a few old friends before publishing it. After all, for both me and many people i climb with, this has been a big surprise. The fact is that after roughly twenty years of trying, and five years of dedicated bouldering, i have finally got my leading head on.

Granted, i’ve been in this situation before and have had bouts of being on the sharp end comfortably in the past but for some reason, this feels different. Now i’m taking lead falls, not clipping lower offs and pushing things harder and harder, dreaming bigger and bigger.

So what changed and why did it happen so suddenly? And after years of being so happy on the boulders, why am i suddenly even tying on in the first place?

A VERY Good Training Course

For a while now, in order to increase my employability and especially since i went self-employed, i’ve been trying to get on the Climbing Wall Development Award (the award that entitles the holder to teach indoor lead climbing). Eventually, almost by chance, i found one running and booked my place; run by the local legend, Andy Newton.

The morning involved a lot of chat and a lot of thinking about legislation and risk. It was interesting and to be honest, i wasn’t that disappointed given my nerves when it comes to lead climbing. After lunch, though, it was time to tie in.

I could’ve probably avoided leading but i knew that wouldn’t exactly help my cause, especially as this was likely my assessor for the same award! Moreover, though, i actually felt up for it for a change. I got on a simple 5 and led it fine, reminding myself it doesn’t actually feel that bad. Then came a phrase that before has sent a chill down my spine: fall practice. Only this time, i wasn’t worried…

I’ve no idea why but for some reason, it didn’t seem that bad. Andy made sure there was no pressure to try it and unlike all other talk of fall practice i’ve heard of before, he suggested starting with the clip by my eyes – something that didn’t actually seem like a lead fall at all. I tried it and for the first time in a long time, didn’t totally capitulate and freak out. Well, i kinda did but in a good way.

Back up, clip by my chest now and another plummet, again, all fine. By now i’m banging my hands against the wall with glee, cheering myself on. One more with the clip now below my waist and the whooping and hollering probably seemed weird to everyone but me. No one knew what i’d been through to get here, what it’s cost me in the past. It seems i had to be okay not getting what i wanted in order to get it.

And Then the Grades Tumble

The following night, i was at the Indy and decided to show off my new found skills to some friends who had rarely seen me put a harness on, let alone lead anything. They were more than a bit surprised when i clipped the fourth clip on a 6a, climbed to fifth and jumped off but not as surprised as later in the evening.

Knowing i needed to log some recent routes, i recruited a belayer and ticked off a 6a+, 6b and 6b+ before running out of 6s on the steep section of wall. I looked up at the 7a+, recognised the holds and thought they all looked like jugs so i figured i’d try it… and flashed it, with only one move that made me think at all.

These four were all back to back and when Lewis said he wanted to try the 7c black route, i was glad of the rest and told him i wanted to second it. When he didn’t make the top, i figured why not? and got on the lead. From 5+ to 7c in about 36 hours: pretty insane.

I ran out of juice, tiredness winning out four moves from the top. Still, it had whetted my appetite and i spent the next week thinking about it before my next shot. Annoyingly that chance came after a family walk that saw me carrying Rosie up to and down from Llyn Elsi and thus, pretty tired. Even warming up felt hard work.

Still, by the end of the evening, i felt recovered (enough) and sure as that 5+ at the Beacon the previous Thursday, it was done, 7c in the bag.

Keeping the Momentum Going

People seemed underwhelmed by my story, partly apparently because the grades at the Indy are renowned for being very soft. Then came an abrupt back-to-earth moment (figuratively thankfully, not literally) at the Beacon when i got shut down on the tall routes.

Falling foul of the DCBA Scale and ending up being too arrogant, i was looking at least at the mid 7s for my session and was even a little disappointed to be warming up on mid 6s. Ridiculous really, when i looked back on it, this was all about consolidation and this wall was almost twice the height of the Indy. I got tired on the first climb and totally shut down on an ungraded line that turned out to get 7b+.

Tail between my legs, we moved to the easier smaller walls around the back and ticked off line after line, low to mid 6s but to be honest, they felt easy, uninspiring and by the end of it, pretty boring. The last climb had me continuing our conversation all the way up. Yes, climbs needed to be logged but the balance had now swung back too far the other way.

Thankfully, i received another boost at the Boardroom shortly afterwards when i flashed a 7a that felt very easy. There was a 7c ish line there too, with no discernible chalk that had apparently eluded the finest regulars and looked attainable but given recent experiences, i decided to leave it alone. That day at the Boardroom was with the last person i planned to impress and he certainly seemed pretty taken aback. To be honest, i have been too!

Talk since has quickly moved to “does this mean you can start doing trad now?” from quite a few people but the answer (in the short term at least) is no. The current plan is to consolidate my newly-reacquired skills indoors over this season and see what happens in the Spring. Then, i might partake in some outdoor sport climbs. Either way i’ve learned my lesson about getting carried away and still keeping things interesting and i’m happy to be dabbling on the sharp end once again.

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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Thank F*** For That

We are now knee-deep in June (as well as puddles but more on that later) and that means one thing: The Birthday Trip is nearly upon me.

It’s been a few years since i thought it might not happen but this year was definitely one where i thought i’d be home. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be going anywhere new and had planned to visit Fredrik in Gavle, thinking this was the year i changed “different country” to “foreign country”. That was until i got a text from Em’s dad…

“Here’s an idea that might, or might no work” put a look on my face to ask what on earth the rest of this message was going to say. I couldn’t have guessed it: a long weekend in Helsinki, bouldering in the daytime, Airbnb to stay, three nights in Finland! I pondered it but the decision was almost immediate and i was in. Ten years, ten countries, unbelievable. I can’t wait!

Training Tactics

After unexpectedly handing in an assignment early for my Masters, i was left this week with two free days. Feeling more than a little fried – as discussed in my last post – there was only one thing on my mind and ideally i’d be outside, chilling out and recovering from my recent exploits. Sadly the weather had other ideas.

Wanting to make more of a day of it, coupled with building works going on at the Indy, i opted to make a bit of a trek over to the Boardroom. Plans to take the train were benched once Lewis showed interest to join me and we drove through relentless weather that confirmed this was the right call over to Queensferry.

With the impending Finnish trip in the back of my mind, i realised i needed to do a bit of training; but not quite in the typical sense of the word. Granted, i do need to do more physical training lately and get my strength levels up but this wasn’t what i had in mind: here, i had a unique opportunity to go to somewhere with a great number of climbs i’d never seen in a style i wasn’t aware of and i had a limited time limit. This was a chance to train my tactics.

It may sound a bit odd to non-coaching types but tactics play an enormous part in your climbing. On my other website, dedicated to my coaching company, i talk about there being Four Facets to performance climbing, following a model known as TTPP. These facets are Technique, Tactics, Mentality and Strength and Conditioning. Each play their part and the explanation for Tacitcs states: “Are you applying yourself in the right way at the right time?”

It’s easy to lose sight of. Setting both outcome-goals and process-goals is important before getting into the nitty gritty of the grades of the climbs being tried, the volume of climbing you’re trying to achieve, the resting time and peaking at the right point.

So we walked into the Boardroom,  knowing we were aiming for about four hours of climbing and wanted a balance of mileage and some performance. Getting around three or four 7s was important with a max grade of around 7b. That was the plan. We scoped out the wall, decided to try the climbs downstairs for the first and last periods, with the middle of our session being on the mezzanine upstairs. The wall doesn’t grade their climbs (grr) and sets by colour, with grade boundaries, the top grades being V7-V8. Not ideal but it did mean we were down the climbing on two colours very quickly.

It went very well, all things considered, possibly with the 7b lacking but without tangible grades and with varying levels of tiredness it being close to impossible to tell. I did leave one hard line at the end which proved too hard but did push myself and came away pleased with my efforts. Got some good snaps too.

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With a deluge falling from the sky back home and a desire to get out to get away from life for the day, @curly_hair_climber and I headed across the top of the country to @boardroomclimb for a session. It was good! Man they like their toe hooks and big dynamic moves there and I tell you what, they do them well! We also took the opportunity to do some training too; but not typical strength training. With an upcoming long weekend in Helsinki approaching, I wanted to improve my tactical skills and it's something I'll be writing about in my blog very soon. Keep an eye on the link in the bio. Many thanks to @curly_hair_climber For grabbing the photos of me #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #indoorclimbing

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Qualifying at Last

Attentions quickly turned to the next big thing: my Foundation Coach Assessment. After a very long time of trying to get an available evening, we’d finally managed to find a date that worked for all and everything was in place for the first of two very important assessments for me.

I’ve done my fair share of these now and there are certainly familiar feelings in the lead up. Anyone else who has been through a similar process will doubtless instantly know the signs: anxiety, nervousness, trying to get the plan sorted in your mind and hope that everything comes off smoothly. I had none of that.

Again, on the Prowess site there is a page about what i call the DCBA Scale which is all about optimum levels of mental attitude to perform. Doubt, Confidence, Belief and Arrogance are the steps along a sliding scale, with a bell curve situated right in the middle. This was a night where i sat right in the perfect spot and it genuinely couldn’t have gone much better. I’d primed the kids the week before so they knew what was coming and credit to them, i couldn’t have done it without them, it was a great session.

The feedback i’ve had, both on the night and today, has been absolutely glowing. I’d dreamed of getting great comments back and of my assessor singing my praises but i didn’t actually think it would happen! There were even a couple of pointers and critiques in there too, which is even better as it does give me somewhere to improve. And it’s not so much about boosting my ego, getting a response like this helps to reinforce to me that what i’m doing is right, that it’s working.

#babyatthecrag returns

And so, after months of turmoil and stress in almost every area of life, everything goes on the back burner at 5:30pm today for at least a month. No climbing wall stuff at work, in fact no work, no masters study (this is now “reading month” i told my supervisor) and certainly no coaching assessments. No, this is my baby leave with Hannah and i’ve not got long this time.

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In other news this week, I've had a piece published on the outstanding website @theprojectmagazine! Called little life lessons, it's all about how Rosie affected my life when she first made an appearance with us and about #sharedparentalleave. Ever since I first took time off to be with my #daughter I've been trying to champion and publicise the idea that dad's can be primary parents too and it's fantastic that the guys at The Project are helping to support me with it! Meanwhile, I've also been trying to demonstrate that being a parent doesn't stop you being you. This photo is of #ogwenjazz at #casegfraith in the #ogwenvalley on one of our first days out together. Now I'm back at work again, I realise quite how important this time together was. #daddydaughtertime #worldclasswales #northwales #snowdonia #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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With a lack of other commitments and longer to share between us, Shared Parental Leave was very different with Rosie. Em took the first six months, i then took three months off and Em opted to take the last three months of unpaid leave that was on offer. This time, my Masters commitments don’t allow me to take that much time off and we no longer have the option of the final three months.

And so, at 5:30pm this evening, i leave work for one month, taking over from my significantly better other after her eight long months away from work. On Monday, she returns to work and i try and figure out how exactly to deal with two children – one a little over 2 and the other eight months old – on my own.

With the busyness mentioned earlier, i’ve not been as involved this time as i was with Rosie, so this is a little more daunting than the first time round. Still, Rosie spends three-days a week with the child minder, giving me plenty of opportunity to bond with Hannah and create a similar connection that i did with our first child.

Part of this bond will hopefully be at the crags. #babyatthecrag worked very well eighteen months ago and all being well, can be another success this time around. If only she can hold off on crawling for a little while longer…

Bouldering and Mental Health

Anyone who has met me in the last twelve months knows i’m busy. That’s not an exaggeration, and i apologise to any close friends who have heard this sob story many times: i have two young daughters, one a toddler and the other an infant; i have a part time job working at Plas y Brenin as a Storeman while also helping to get the revamped climbing wall going and running our successful retail outlet; i coach part time, either private clients and a weekly, voluntary session; i am also doing a part-time Masters degree related to climbing coaching, taking roughly two days a week; and i’m climbing for myself every now and again.

Please do not mistake this description of my life as a complaint. It really is not. Every aspect of my life was a conscious choice, a decision i made (or made with my very supportive partner) to take something else on and develop my life further. I do not regret any of these decisions – most of the time at least – and wouldn’t have things any other way. What it has meant, though, is there is an enormous strain on my life that can deeply affect my mental health; and that is what i wanted to talk about here.

First impressions would suggest that personal climbing isn’t exactly high on my list of priorities, given everything else and the deadlines i hit on an hourly basis – anything from Masters assignments to nappy changes, they’re all deadlines and jobs that need to be done.  Surely going bouldering for an afternoon isn’t really that crucial? Only, for me and for my state of being, it remains the critical factor that keeps everything else together.

You can think of my life as a guitar string. Every other job puts a little more strain on the string. As things stand now, the string is tight but that creates a sweet sound, a nice harmonic where everything works in harmony and goes smoothly. The stress actually makes everything work better, keeps that sound nice and in tune. As the stress mounts, the strings tightens and the sound becomes higher pitched, tinny, not quite right. Too much stress and the string is going to snap. That’s where the climbing comes in, it eases the tension.

This happened to me a couple of weeks back. I’d employed the “study at the crag” approach and sacked off everything for the Wednesday afternoon on a glorious day to head to the Gwynant valley and an old project perfectly suited to my situation. It had been a little while since my last climbing session – no, squeezing in a few routes around a coaching session doesn’t really do it – and that string was feeling pretty damn tight. Everything seemed to be overwhelming me, i was struggling in almost every aspect of life and i was becoming worried of burnout. Even the walk in had stressed me, as the sketchiest approach in North Wales has become even sketchier thanks to a fallen tree.

I got there and dropped the pad and it was almost as if all my troubles, all my worries, all that stress was balanced precariously on the top. Instantly, it went away and i could literally feel the tension in my muscles ease. The string relaxed and the sound was sweet, a perfectly tuned note once again.

Rewind three and a half years and none of this was the case. I was quite a typical guy in my early-thirties: single, i worked five days a week. That was pretty much it, it gave me plenty of time to go climbing and i was happy with that, for the most part. I wouldn’t say it was a fulfilling existence and looking back, i wasn’t getting much stimulation from work or anywhere else really and that string must’ve been pretty slack. I tightened it up with projects, finding and developing new boulders or training but again, this didn’t really fulfill me.

In hindsight, perhaps my mental health wasn’t actually that good back then. I wouldn’t exactly class it as bad but i wasn’t achieving anything, i wasn’t working towards anything, i was coasting and to be honest, probably bored. However from the outside, going climbing wasn’t exactly a problem as i didn’t exactly have anything else to do.

Now of course, things are different and again, from the outside, it is easy to think that there simply isn’t the time to climb. How can i spend my time out playing when i have so much work to do?!

That is from the outside but believe me, from inside my head, those climbing days are what hold everything else together. Without that release of tension, the string is going to snap. Leave it too long and i can feel it. It’s not an excuse, it is my release, my way of grounding myself, of earthing the circuit. And climbing is the only thing i’ve found that does that for me.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the only thing i do, and swimming or running help to delay the need for a good climb but they don’t replace it. It has to be climbing, preferably outside in the mountains, with or without others doesn’t matter. I seem to have developed to a point where bouldering is directly linked to my mental health.

So why am i telling you this? Am i trying to speak to others who may struggle to find an outlet for their busy lives? Or am i just trying to justify to myself, and others close to me, sacking off my responsibilities for an afternoon? In part, i’m guessing it’s a little bit of both.

Mental health has become a popular talking point these days and i am quite aware of my own state. I’ve had dark spells in the past that i didn’t seek professional help for it as i wanted to deal with it in my own way and i think i did. Now i let things get to me but only when i decide, i choose when to get overwhelmed and to let it out. I’ve found my release, found my way of releasing the tension in the string and it works for me.

We all need that. Every one of us needs some way of relaxing and releasing for a while and what works for one may not work for another. Some sit and relax, others lose themselves in a book or TV, many choose exercise. For me, the only thing that does it is bouldering.

I once appeared on ITV talking about climbing and am oft mocked for saying it’s not so much a sport as a lifestyle. I guess for me it’s almost more than that: it is what keeps me sane.

Flying High

Now that our fantastic family trip is done and dusted, it’s time to turn my attention back to climbing; this is primarily a climbing blog anyway. More to the point, i have exciting climbing related news.

Exorcising Lake Demons

My last five posts related to our family holiday to the Lakes, which was awesome. One day was dedicated to climbing for me, with the tribe chilling around the base of the Bowderstone and while i did talk about it in Restoring Parityi wanted to quickly revisit this as that day has turned out to be quite a turning point for me this year.

The plan was always the Bowderstone; after all, this was somewhere that potentially could’ve transformed my climbing when i lived in the north west, if only i’d actually tried. However, the reputation of this mammoth boulder is well established and i was conscious that if i didn’t play this right, i could easily end up leaving with nothing.

Eagerly anticipating this once in a long time chance, i’d spent substantial time before we left watching videos of ascents on the stone and knew what i was heading for: Picnic Sarcastic 7a+. It was about the right grade for a session with a 7b sit start to go with it. I honestly didn’t think they’d both go but it seemed like the most tactical approach i could take.

As we were ahead of the new guide, i was conscious of struggling to find the right climbs too. Thankfully, i made a friend who pointed out much beta, as well as where lines started and finished. He even offered a crucial spot too as i soon found myself matched on the last hold, my mission accomplished. From here, it was almost as if the pressure was off and before i knew it, the sit had fallen quickly and i was looking for something else. Still wanting to be tactical, i opted for another 7a+ (or so i thought, it turned out to be 7a) Statstick and promptly flashed it. I finished off with a questionable tick of Power Pinch 7b to fire me into sheer bliss, even if the finish could’ve been cleaner.

It just goes to show the importance of tactics, even in a non-competitive activity. It really did make a crucial difference and this whole experience has even spurred me into writing an article for my sister-site Prowess Coaching, which will hopefully appear very soon.

Finding Form and New Lines Back Home

As i said in my recent posts, this was our only climbing of the trip so once we got back and i was supposed to be back on study days, i used the “holiday” excuse and headed out again. Well, i say that, i wanted to but Tuesday fell by the wayside, due to last minute changes of plan and visiting friends, so i ended up tidying my desk, the house and then having a late night swim.

I’ve been back in the pool a bit more recently, especially when Em was away and i’m finding not only is it great cross training, because it’s so intense for an hour, it works out quite nicely with the family. What i didn’t anticipate this Tuesday – as much as the sessions are normally quite tough – was the brutal hour of medley i had in store. That meant that when i went to go out on Wednesday morning, the ache was a bit worse than i would’ve wanted.

It turned out not to matter. Indecision reigned supreme but there’s always logic if you look hard enough and given the recent dry spell, and the cool conditions, i figured i’d check out Super Hans 7b in the Aberglaslyn while it was likely in good nick.

It seems my Lakeland form is continuing and Super Hans fell quickly. After my sluggish start and slow walk in, i didn’t have that long but it was plenty enough to tick off this project from last year. Chuffed, i started looking for what to try next…

Dogface 7c looks much more likely than i’d thought before but i wasn’t in the mood to start working that, especially considering what i’d spotted to the left: to the left of the sloper of Super Hans is an enormous sidepull and left of this is L’Edge. It seemed logical to link them.

To my surprise, it worked! Feet are scant and i ended up doing a ludicrously awesome Egyptian in the middle of the climb before a very tentative snatched match of the sloper. I filmed the first ascent in poor quality and tried three more times to repeat it. I couldn’t get it a second time but i did get enough to splice together a rather nice little video of Doggle 7b (first ascent).

New Years Resolutions?

That first ascent of Doggle was my fourth 7b of the season to sit alongside two 7b+. Combined with a stack of 7a+ this has pushed my yearly average up to 7b by the middle of April. That was actually my goal for the season…

I’m not criticising my goal setting, as again there was no way to anticipate such success in such a short amount of time. The problem i have now is that to push this average up to 7b+ is no easy task. In 2016, the year i ticked Jerry’s Problem 7c+, my hardest ascent to date, my average for the year was 7b+. So this is gonna be tough.

In the Lakes last week, knowing this goal might go sooner than the end of the season, i scribbled some maths to work out how to push it to the next level. Simple answer is it’s tough. Realistically, it would involve climbing two 7c at least and that is no mean feat. Four 7b+ could work, and would be more logical but tracking them down won’t be easy and 7c is far more likely, as weird as that sounds.

Travelling may be key here and as long as i’m climbing at or above that average, it’ll carry on going up. It is also important not to get too engrossed in this either, maintaining a process-focus rather than an outcome-focus (for more information on this, read this but be warned: it seems very biased towards one system and both have their merits).

In the interests of that, and safe in the knowledge that come end of season this will be a success, i’m going to make the unprecedented step of adjusting my season goal. Staying process-focused is important but all those years without these seasonal goals and a little bit of outcome-focus only got me so far.  7b+ is likely unachievable but if the Bowderstone taught me anything it’s that you’ll never achieve any goal if you don’t try. Let’s see how we get on!

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A pad for me to carry, a pad for @emks93… And I'm still very grateful that she carries anything at all. I get a lot of support for my fun and games from my better half and it does not go unnoticed. I'm having my best climbing season in years right now and she deserves a lot of the credit; not only lugging some of my crap around and bringing the family to enjoy the time with me but allowing me the time to go and do my thing alone, congratulating me after a hard ascent and consoling me when things don't go to plan. I can't thank her enough. #lakesbouldering #lakedistrict #lakestrip #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion

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Raise Your Arms, Say Ow

The last couple of posts on here have been largely philosophical, looking at subjects such as criticism and reflection. However, what i haven’t posted for some time is actually what i’ve been up to!

There’s a reason for that: i haven’t actually been up to much; well not much noteworthy at least. The winter has slowly been plodding along – until you look back and then it’s suddenly flown by – and as we now find ourselves getting into March, i’ve suddenly realised New Years is right around the corner and the aggregate is due to end in a fortnight. In an instant, i’ve had this slap in the face that i need to start thinking about my climbing, and quick before the summer comes and goes before i know it.

The last three weeks have largely been a write off so let’s start with that. Em decided to utilise some of her maternity leave to take a week to visit old friends and family down in the Midlands. To me, that read, “I’m away for a week so you can spend your evenings and daytimes going out playing”. Which i did. A lot.

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#startemyoung

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After what i guessed at about five years absence, i got back in the pool with the Arfon swimming club but shit me, did i pick a bad week to start up again! During what felt like endless lengths of front crawl at full tilt, i calculated 2.2km with about 6 minutes rest in an hour. By the time i got out i was battered. Three climbing sessions were thrown into that quick week too, as well as a run on my rest day. Come Tuesday, i was back in the pool again, for a slightly more sedate drill session, only to hear a pop in my left shoulder and a chronic pain. I didn’t last the set.

Next morning and i was in agony, unable to lift my arm above shoulder height; a classic overuse injury. After a conflab with Tim at the Indy – a well of knowledge on all things strength and conditioning – we reasoned i’d inflamed a tendon in my left shoulder. There’s a big lesson in there that while i used to be conditioned to do day after day either climbing, swimming or something, that ability quickly wanes if not maintained. I’ll try and remember that next time she goes away…

Am i recovered yet?

That was three weeks ago and i have largely been trying to avoid using that shoulder for anything, from climbing to raising my hand in the air. The problem was: how do i know when i’m good to go again?

Thankfully, i’m already at the climbing wall every Friday for a coaching session anyway, and that includes free entry, so it didn’t cost me anything to test it out and see. Well, didn’t cost me any money at least, and i was acutely aware that if i got this wrong, i could be back to square one.

Equally thankfully, in a weird twist of fate, most of the wall was closed off last Friday in preparation for a competition, meaning there was little chance of me overdoing it too much by getting distracted with the aggregate comp.

I tried a few lines, slightly nervously and while it felt a bit tender and stiff, there was no pain. Given a fortnight of nothing, stiffness was to be expected and i was pretty pleased with that.

Moving Out

So while North Wales and much of the rest of the country were basking in a heat wave and ludicrously dry conditions, i was distracted with Masters work, children and of course, resting my shoulder. Eventually, though, a window was found, as was a healthy dose of psyche from resident puppy at PYB, Josh. He’d suggested a Brenin boulder session but i’d preferred to try some projects in the pass instead and once he got time off stores for good behaviour, we had enough time left to head a tiny bit more off the beaten track.

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While north wales has been basking in a spell of unbelievable good weather, I've been preoccupied with study, work and other non climbing related activities. Still, given I was forced to take three weeks off to recover from an overuse injury on my shoulder, staying busy has been the best antidote. Until tonight that is. Armed with a dose of psyche from @_josh_butler we hit the llanberis pass to check out NASA 7a. Either I'm rusty or its nails. It didn't go but crucially, we did and that was success enough for tonight. Here, josh battles with the moves we couldn't quite muster while Tess watches on. #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion @plasybreninstaff #dog #dogsofinstagram #collie #colliesofinstagram

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Originally, i’d been keen for Mr, You’re On Fire, Mr 7b at Craig y Llywfan; a great little venue with a couple of classics and a name that is incredibly difficult to pronounce. (Google Translate does it’s usual bang up job of making Welsh words sound utterly shit.) The warm up was intended to be a 7a lower down called NASA that turned out to be absolute nails! In the twilight, we both walked away with a lonely 5c each. Still, it was good to get out.

Not content with even the offerings of the fringes of the guidebook, Josh has also been scoping out some new boulders too and yesterday provided a rare opportunity for the two of us to head up and check them out.

I’ve looked at them several years ago and deemed them lacking for the effort of getting there but then Josh had spotted another boulder nearby. I figured it was worth another look. Turns out that was the right call.

I was almost instantly enthused by two lines on that first bloc when we quickly spotted something else. After a mini fight with a mountainside of heather, felled trees and hidden holes, we found ourselves under what i can only describe as a menhir that Obelix would be proud of.

We didn’t even get to the farthest boulder before we’d found enough to warrant a return. When is unknown but it’ll be soon, i’m certain of that.

 

Christmas, Competitions and Happiness Points

If there’s one thing guaranteed to change the way you think about Christmas, it’s having children. That first year, when they’re not yet cresting the age of 1, isn’t too bad as they generally have no idea what’s going on. My eldest was 10 months old last year but this year, she’s more switched on and a bit more aware. Not aware enough to get excited but knowledgeable to understand the hullabaloo.

Everything is different. For example, in days before kids (DBK) i would actively want to go to work, as my holidays were generally saved for climbing trips and Christmas made that largely impossible, with non-climbing related commitments. Now, as i work the gap between Christmas and New Year alone to allow others to spend time away, i find myself missing my kids and longing to be back home.

It’s not just wanting to be home: the way i think about things has altered too. I spent yesterday lamenting the way we treat our young children at Christmas, especially when it comes to presents: here, take this and open it. Seen it? Got all excited? Great, now let me take it away from you and give you the next thing. No wonder our kids struggle with attention span!

From a really young age, we’re effectively teaching them to crave something new and exciting all the time, not to sit and savour things properly. The interesting thing is that perhaps this is a neat little parallel with indoor climbing walls…

Regularly set routes is a pre-requisite of the modern climbing wall; something new to go at, something new to try and some new achievement to give us that immediate sense of satisfaction. We want new challenges but also new gratification to boost our own ego. Without a glut of new climbs, how can we continually convince ourselves of our own abilities?

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There's something very satisfying about stripping an entire climbing wall. Still, as we were starting, I thought I wanted to leave one route up until last, just to finish it off with a bang before the very last hols were removed. This has been one of my favourites since I set it: a fierce, dynamic 7a that doesn't actually need rock boots. It certainly didn't feel this smooth when I was climbing it though! Tiredness kicked in at the top and after watching it back I was tempted to do it again and sort the poor footwork out (matching that last hold has always been the crux) but two days of removing and cleaning holds has taken its toll. I've lived setting these problems, I just hope people have enjoyed climbing them too #video #climbing #beasty #7a #dyno #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #indoorclimbing

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It is totally at odds with climbing outside on real rock; a medium that, for the most part, refuses to change, millenia upon millenia. New outdoor sends and climbs – and even areas – appear all the time, granted, but for the most part the first editions of old guidebooks predominantly contain the same lines on the same crags as their current versions. You want to keep ticking stuff off? Better get your project on lad!

You can see this with the old hands at the climbing wall. The old boys, often with beards adorning their aging faces, will tick off all the “easy” stuff when a new set goes up but will then bed in for the long haul to sit under the same problems, slowly working them out and building the right strength, before success eventually comes. It’s like the antithesis of modern instant gratification.

I would say this is the joy of something like an aggregate competition but i’d be wrong: the mentality defines how you approach something like an aggregate. If you crave instant success all the time, you’ll finish off your available lines and then mill around, waiting for the next set of new problems. If you’re open to the idea of projecting, the aggregate forces you to try all of the easier stuff but hopefully allows you time to project and improve.

For me, lately, it is this combination that has spurred me back to nearly-full strength. I came into this year’s competition off the back of a newborn daughter, our second, and not in anywhere near form. I was weak, my technique poor and my mentality not conducive to grinding out results. Regular readers will remember this admission with my Solstice post in late October where i put a goal of 85% success during this winter’s competition.

Several months later and not only am i back up to scratch, i’m thriving in the comp and currently sit a whopping 53 points above second place in my category. Even across everyone, i’m still 24 points in the lead.

This needs to be tempered with the knowledge that many of those climbers will not yet have ticked their sheet and those margins will shrink. However, i keep reminding myself that this year, it does not matter about anyone else, i’m just aiming for that percentage.

Either which way, the aggregate has brought it back to me that i need to put effort in to reap the greater rewards. Flashing a 7a is  nice but working a 7c is amazing and that’s where i need to be looking now.

I have recently described a similar phenomenon as like spending happiness points. In a conversation about money and how we use that money, Em and myself were talking about how we should buy less small sundry expenses – DVDs, bits of unneeded clothing, etc – in order to be able to afford a bigger annual trip somewhere super cool. While the Lakes is cool, for us, a trip to Norway will be infinitely cooler and much more memorable.

This is where the Happiness Points come in. Every time you buy yourself a new film or a nice coffee, you’re spending a Happiness Point and it feels nice. However, if you save them up and spend them in one big go, the return is much greater. The problem is that if you’re not spending your Happiness Points in the mean time, you’re not going to be as happy in the meantime; think living for the weekend.

Now that’s not to say we should be blowing it all in tiny increments to maintain a level of happiness forevermore, it’s to say there is a balance to be found between them. The ideal is to find a way to spend Happiness Points without spending actual money but as we all know, in modern society, this is increasingly hard.

And this brings us back to our metaphors from earlier: the Christmas Present Attention Deficit and the Aggregate. There is a balance to be struck somewhere along the line between instant gratification and putting effort in to reap a reward. With both, we only have a certain number of Happiness Points; spend them wisely.

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March 2017. I can't even comprehend what has happened to me since then! So many massive moments – had more children, moved house, started a masters degree, got engaged! – and yet in all that time, I have been using the very same pair of #climbingshoes Considering a pair of rock boots would last me a season, I'm staggered. And yet with the rubber almost worn through and the knuckle on my toe peeking out, the everlasting boostic has nearly reached the end of its life. Weirdly, it's not actually the holes and wear that have sealed their fate, more the rotation standing on a hold this Friday. Still, every session feels like it may be their last. I've had replacements since September but can't bring myself to part with these comfy machines! They've managed four countries on their own. I don't really have a point, this isn't a metaphor for anything, I was actually hoping to be a little more artistic with my photos. Alas, I'm more about the words so I'll finish with a huge thanks to @scarpa_uk and a heartfelt well done for supplying me with one of the longest serving pairs of stickies I think I have ever known. #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #indoorclimbing

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Additional thoughts on solstice 2018

After my customary seasonal post – written sporadically with two young children around my feet – I realised there were a small few areas that I’d failed to address or things I’d not looked at.

Now, due to my strict policy that publications are final, I thought it wise to revisit said omissions and elaborate. That and I haven’t got anything else to talk about at the moment…

Is Goal: 8a dead already?!

A few months back, I started an initiative called Goal: 8a, which was intended to focus my energy and motivation to climbing the next big grade and my next big milestone.

Yet despite the profile it received at the time, when it came to writing my next season’s goals, this blindingly obvious one totally slipped my mind. So the obvious question (and the one that immediately went through my head when I realised a couple of days after publishing) is surely: is Goal: 8a dead already?

The simple and instant answer is no. Context is important here and with a newborn baby now on the scene, it is simply not a sensible objective.

I’ve read a bit about flow by Mihalyhi Csikszentmihalyhi recently and one of the crucial factors in achieving this is the challenge-skill balance. It turns out, the CS balance is important simply for motivation, not just for achieving flow and with that in mind, 8a falls far outside my current abilities.

The one crucial thing with Goal: 8a is that it was always going to be a long term idea. I’m hoping, if all goes well, to achieve this in spring 2020 and certainly not expecting to be ready next year. Instead, this winter is about getting back to full strength and next summer about putting it into practice. In that regard, leaving it off the list was the right thing to do.

Will there be a resurgence of #babyatthecrag

When Rosie was born, we decided to share Em’s maternity leave between us and while she maintained 9 months of leave in total, I took three months off work.

During that time, I was keen to champion the idea that having children doesn’t necessarily stop anyone from doing what they want to do (not entirely at least) and went on a three-month spree of days out, with photos and articles, using the hash tag #babyatthecrag.

It was very successful and popular and showed that it is possible to keep climbing with a newborn in tow.

Now that we have little Hannah along, will there be a resurgence of #babyatthecrag? Simply put, probably not.

Hannah isn’t the problem, although timing is critical and she should be past the crawling stage by our time off where Rosie wasn’t. Indeed, it is more likely Rosie who will put the brakes on any activities.

By next summer, she will be age 2 and any parent will attest to how difficult this stage is. She’s already started and I would expect to use #tryingtimeswithtoddlers more than anything else…

The other large issue is my masters degree. While I can take some time off my studies to raise a child – and happily will – going climbing probably doesn’t qualify. It may work out, only time will tell but I’m not optimistic.

Nor do I mind too much. Three months with Rosie was a long time and while I got out and made my point, there was still plenty of time to just be with her. Reduce that by a third and I’m not sure it’s worth it; I’d rather concentrate on being with my daughter. Again, we’ll see.

Initial stats: the first 100 problems of this year’s indy aggregate

From the first 99 numbered problems, I have dropped 17 so far. This is of course at time of writing and while, on finding out they’re stripping some tomorrow, I had to go back in and put twenty minutes into a tricky 6c+ I’d been avoiding earlier this evening, there is time to tick off some more.

That said, seven of the remaining problems are 7c or above and these I’m not expecting to get, given the sparse nature of my sessions and the regularity of the setting.

Still, that leaves 4 x 7a/+ and 6 x 7b/+ that should, in theory, leave me with a chance of hitting the 85% I’d set myself. I should at least get a couple of these and hopefully more, leaving a buffer for later in the season.

Granted, this is a tougher set than usual and I’m not likely to be able to skip climbs just because I don’t like them, as with other years. But so far, the target seems a sensible and attainable one.

Prowess Coaching Moving Forward

Finally, i’d like to mention the latest steps forward with my coaching business. I have now actually paid for a proper domain name for the website: prowesscoaching.co.uk and would greatly appreciate anyone reading to share as much as possible.

Business cards and posters are going up soon and hopefully, it won’t be long before i have some clients to teach! Here’s hoping the New Year will bring a new approach to life at the climbing wall for me!