Tag Archives: rock climbing

Introducing Goal: 8a

They say train your weaknesses. But what if your weakness is training?

It’s been something i’ve always struggled with and the idea of “training your core” fills me with gloom and dread. I just can’t be bothered! The whole reason i got into climbing was to get out in the hills and the idea of staring at a wall dangling statically from my fingertips could not be further from that.

The problem comes when you want more. There came a point where just climbing wasn’t enough, i wanted to be operating right at the end of my ability level and there is only one way to make that happen: you have to train.

For me lately, there has been another driver, and one that comes up twice in year at New Years and during the Solstice: my Yearly Top Ten Average grade, calculated on 27crags. It may sound daft but for me, that single grade is a huge motivator. The problem i have at the moment is that it sits right below 7b. And i’m not in 7b shape: so i have to train.

But as i’ve mentioned, setting a training regime is really not my forte and while i could easily learn how to do it, sticking to it is entirely another matter. Will power is not something i possess in even small quantities and i am often found lacking any mental discipline for things like this.

So i asked myself: when i have managed to successfully train in the past? I’ve climbed 7c+ and i didn’t do that by simply going to the crag over and over, i have managed it before. What kept me focused for that?

The most obvious occasion that saw me even remotely training was preparing for Carnage. For any long-term readers (all three of you…) you’ll doubtless be aware of the effort i put in to tick this particular climb in Fontainebleau several years ago but for the uninitiated, and cutting a very long story short, it involved deadhangs on replica holds, a replica climb on a systems board and six months of preparation ready for my Spring attempt. And it worked.

Having such a definitive end goal gave me that undeniable focus. I had holds to copy, i had moves to practice, i had something tangible to work towards. And because of that, i’d find myself in the wall on a sunny day, training. But in the end it was worth it.

So there it was; the makings of a vague plan. Find a climb to work towards, and then work towards it. Simple really. But what climb…?

Again, my very top grade is 7c+ and i’ve wanted for a very long time to reach that next, momentous grade of 8a. There’s something very satisfying about the next number grade and it does have that tiny bit more cache. So why not?

I took a pen and a piece of paper and wrote in big letters at the top Goal: 8a. Then, i wrote down all the steps i could think of to get me from where i am now to achieving that goal. Turns out there weren’t that many either.

The first couple of steps are now complete, with huge thanks going to Tim Peck for helping me narrow down a long list of 11 to a shortlist of 2. Steps have been taken to move along on step 3 as well, although that ill discipline is rearing it’s head again. Still, this feels like progress. Now to see if i’m right.

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Catching Up

Need to step it up a notch? Fine! No sooner had i published my last post that i headed back out to the Cromlech boulders and within three attempts, had finished off James Pond sds 7b+ (the proper version).

Then it all went quiet; not that I’m complaining! Shortly after my success and right in the middle of the hot spell, we had a visit from my fantastic Aunty Helen and my cousin Leejah. The last and only time I’d met Leejah to date was way back in 2011 when I visited Canada and it was amazing to see them both again. Helen has been a few times since and every time, I will quite happily drop everything for them.

Back on that trip, I spent two weeks staying with one of my best friends, Simon, who now lives in southern Sweden. He recently married and in a move of pure genius, the newlyweds devised a plan to reduce the environmental impact of any get together and instead embark on a tour to visit their friends – located all over the world – of which we were their latest stop. Sadly taking a second week off work wasn’t possible and while we did manage to get two sessions in, it would never be enough.

I've been itching to check out the #slowmotion #video on my new #sony #xperia phone but to be honest, the quality is really poor compared to at normal speed. It also speeds up the footage that isn't slowed and Instagram then cropped it further. Things to work on methinks. However, two things: first from the #coaching of #rockclimbing point of view, this is super useful and gives a very different take on things. Probably not as good as #coachseye but certainly another option. Second, it gave me a chance to capture @simoncfr ticking off The Slopes at the #cromlechboulders in the #llanberisspass on his current visit. So great to catch up with an old friend! #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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Still, a first session back at the cromlech again, with time for walking in and bouldering restricted somewhat, turned out to be a lovely evening, with Simon getting shut down once more on The Edge Problem 7a and ticking a few nice dynamic problems before toiling on James Pond 7a. The daft thing is i’ve seen him climb much harder elsewhere but these two are both very particular climbs.

The second session saw us back at Caseg Ffraith, this time with little Rosie in tow. The crag has history with us and many years ago, when he lived in the area, we were here one evening when the weather turned on us in spectacular fashion. We hurriedly buried all our kit under the roof as the raindrops slapped the floor. We stood, trapped by the immense deluge, and listened to the thunder echo across the valley, from one mountain to the other. It was incredible to witness and to be honest, we could’ve quite happily waited it out and enjoyed the spectacle if it wasn’t that the rain began to creep down the roof and the curtain falling in front of us slowly edged further and further into the cave…

As we inched our kit further and further into the cave, slowly accepting the fact we were destined for a soaking, we looked up to see two people beckoning us into the hut a mere thirty yards away. This may sound dramatic but to explain how heavy this rain was, that thirty yards drenched us from head to foot. And we were running.

This time we had no such issues and enjoyed a pleasant evening in mild heat and intermittent sunshine. Rosie was a dream and Simon worked Boneyard 7b+ just as he had done all those years before.

A great friend and my daughter, taking by his fantastic wife and with the glorious Tryfan watching over them in the background. Photo credit: Kim Nicholas. Insane expression credit: Simon Rose

Success again wasn’t forthcoming but that didn’t matter – not for me at least. The last time i even saw Simon was at Arlanda airport in Sweden in June 2016 so for me, the trip had been as much about catching up and drinking beer as about any climbing, not to mention revelling in the chance to chat climate change and other politics with Kim. For him, i’m sure he would’ve liked to climb more (so would i, to be honest) but i hope it was nice for him to be back in North Wales again.

There was talk of a plotted return next year. I can’t wait.

Now that our visits are done and life returns to normal, I can turn my attention to the latest plan. I’ve always been poor at training; I know my weaknesses but have typically lacked the discipline to do anything about them. The only times I’ve managed to train have been with a particular project in mind. So the obvious step is to put a project in mind.

But that will have to wait for the next post…

 

Leaving Germany As the Germans Come Home

Our departure from Germany coincided almost exactly with the German’s premature exit from the World Cup. While they are not exactly known as the type of nation who would begin looting and rioting after such a disastrous campaign in their national sport, and we certainly saw nothing to think that may be the case while we were there, it did feel a good time to be leaving.

From where we left off in the last post, we got back to the campsite from our shopping spree, undecided on what to do for our afternoon. With our departure from Garmisch set for the following day, there was some debate on what we’d squeeze in before biting off a chunk of the long drive north. Em was keen to explore one of the gorges in the area but after a lot of talking, she kindly offered to skip it in favour of a few hours of climbing at a crag called Vils; just off the road on the way home. Apparently i owe her one day visiting a German gorge but i’m sure i’ll work on paying her back some point soon.

So our last afternoon was spent on the site, relaxing and packing to make the most out of our Tuesday. It was odd to be in such a stunning place and not trying to get out or get anything of note done but in truth, having a laid back approach to the afternoon was thoroughly enjoyable and made the following morning substantially nicer.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Vils from the guidebook – featuring as a lone crag in the Alpen en Bloc guides but being a section in my newly acquired Allgau book, and located in Austria, giving Em a new country to tick off. The walk in was certainly pleasant enough but it was pretty obvious this was more of a local’s crag, overgrown and mossy. Still, the main lines were clean enough and finding the lines was not particularly difficult.

Neither was the climbing if i’m honest and after a couple of token-gesture warm ups, i managed to flash Soul Rebel sds 7a – my third flash of that grade in recent weeks. Chuffed but suddenly lacking inspiration, Em suggested the 7a+ traverse to finish on the same line and after a little work and some thought as to the moves through the middle, the traverse quickly fell too.

Back from #germany now and we actually managed a short period in #austria too, at a small crag in #alpenenbloc called #vils. Granted it wasn't exactly the type of place you could wax poetic about but it was another new #crag which is always good. I didn't manage much but found the three #climbs I often tell students to look for: one you get relatively easily, one you have to work for and one just outside your limit. This is the crux on the first of those: another 7a flash; the third in recent weeks at that grade. All three were surprisingly good! #alps #alpine #alpinebouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #rockclimbing #grimpeur #klettern #escalade #escalada #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion Photo credit to @emks93

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So now, my Top Ten Yearly Average reads four 7a climbs, three at 7a+ and three at 7b, averaging out at 7a+ quite nicely. It could’ve included another 7a+ too but in good form, i found a challenge problem that i was forced to leave behind. Hanuman just proved a touch too far. It has meant i now have to up my game, as ticking off more 7a won’t cut it and even four more 7a+ won’t affect the average grade. No, i now need to be ticking off 7b or higher but that is certainly no bad thing.

After the experience of Vils, we got back in the car, destined for, well, we didn’t know where. The car had been repacked and the plan was certainly to sleep in there somewhere nice and quiet for the night but as we approached Mannheim, and studied the map, we realised that the best route was to get off the famed autobahns and get on the a-roads. As we trundled cross country, i suggested finding a campsite instead and after a tiny bit of googling, we found a site on the edge of a town called Annweiler and right underneath a castle at Berg Trifels.

Our last night was pleasant, albeit ludicrously hot yet again (what did we expect once we were around a world-famous wine producing area?) and with time on our side, we walked from the site straight up the hill to check out the castle.

It was a slog but hidden in a beautiful forest, was quite cool and emerged to offer us a spectacular view and a quaint and oddly busy castle. I didn’t deliver a gorge but we did find a German castle.

There is no way you’d randomly search for the Berg Trifels, or come across this sleepy little venue but it was a nice little find and a testimony to this sort of travel. It’s something i’ve done since we travelled Europe in my childhood: taking the smaller routes and stopping when we find something cool. Granted the Berg Trifels may not make the UNESCO list (it might, i’ve no idea, haven’t checked) but coming across it certainly felt like a little win and gave our trip something different.

I’ve always loved this and love finding the smaller places – it is something that climbing trips offer. We would almost definitely not have gone to Odenwald if not for a guidebook i’d bought many years previously and yet it was a fantastic place and will certainly get a repeat visit. Sometimes the gems of the world are, perhaps, best when just stumbled across.

German Granite

Apparently, there is such a thing as a “Baby Moon” – a getaway before the arrival of a new baby – and without having any real knowledge of the term, or indeed seeing any need for it to have its own phrase, this is what I now find myself on. With Rosie in Worcester and Tess in Wales, I woke this morning, just me and Em… and an inordinate amount of sweat.

We’re in Odenwald: a seemingly little known area to the east of Mannheim with enough bouldering to have its own guidebook; a book I picked up in 2013 on my last prolonged trip to this country and the Frankenjura. A little delayed, with yesterday’s travels taking 8 hours from Calais and thus losing a day to explore, it seems I failed to heed the lessons (at least some of them) from five years ago: namely that Germany in June is hot. Fucking hot.

On a stop in Luxembourg yesterday, the famous watch thermometer came out and was rested on a bench. Last time I was here I recorded 40C heat and have questioned whether that could actually be true since but again yesterday, watch resting in the sun on a bench, it tipped over 40. Five minutes laid on the bonnet and it was reading upward of 50C.

Obviously the air temperature isn’t that high – even if we weren’t dead, the laptop wouldn’t be working – but it does give an idea. Odenwald was never the destination for the entire trip, this is a stop-over and a scouting mission to see if the climbing here is worth a cooler visit but nevertheless, the idea of climbing in this weather is ludicrous. I will, no doubt, but any goals with any grades are largely out of a window that even at 70mph yesterday, blew warm air at us.

The area certainly seems lovely. We’re staying on a campsite that I’m struggling to describe: urban, lacking even a reception – there’s a number on the wall to call when you arrive – and covered in caravans possibly older than my better half. Still, it has showers (a godsend) toilets and a flat grass pitch and the proprietor seems friendly and accommodating. It isn’t “glamping” but it is a pitch with nice people; just what camping used to be.

So today has been a climbing day; down to the one pad as there is no need to make my pregnant partner carry unnecessary weight on what turned out to be an awful lot of walking uphill! The majority of the guidebook is dedicated to a crag called Felsenmeer so that seemed a sensible place to head and it turned out to be a very good shout. Granite (I think) boulders of great quality and plenty of them in a fascinating and serene setting hosted what turned out to be an awesome session, including at least ten ascents.

We found the parking easily and got out to find ourselves at a bit of a nature walk, the information point’s window greeting us with some stuffed animals. With nothing else to guide me – beta on Odenwald bouldering is scant at best online – I’d opted to try one of the nearest sectors to our parking: Sector F and head for the Kanterblock.

We wandered in the right direction, found a couple of climbs to start with and got a nice video of Dyno-Varianten 6b+ before failing on Rechte Kante 6c and barely getting off the floor on the project line next to it. Despite a longer search for the Kanterblock while Em napped on the pad, it was not to be and we headed up the hill further to the sanctuary of the Kiosk and further adventures.

As we approached, the rain began to fall and a glassy sheen appearing on the blocs indicated day over; or so I thought. We sat, chatted and chilled as the rain stopped and we realised that it wasn’t actually that bad, the canopy of trees had sheltered the rock from the rainfall.

I’m very glad we waited, too, as even just a good look around went to show quite how much there is to do here. There are classics in abundance, including Dyno Direkt 6a+ on the Rampe boulder and Diskus 6a+ to name but two that I completed on a great bouldering day. I even got my coveted 7 tick with Leistenterror 7a on the second attempt.

Most importantly I found out exactly what I wanted: this is one good crag. Granted a dedicated trip from 14 hours away may not be worth the effort but for anyone heading from the low countries to the Alps, Odenwald makes a fantastic stop off on the way. Watch out for the destinations page, coming soon.

Tomorrow we pack up and head south, destined for Garmisch-Partenkirchen. From what I can gather, it’s a bit of a climber’s town, akin to Hathersage or Arco but only time will tell. Nearby bouldering is scant, again from what I can tell, but with Lake Eibsee, the Partnach gorge and the famous Zugspitze, we’ve got plenty on the agenda, and we’re still in the Alps. The latest copies of the Alpen en Bloc guides sit above the front seats of the car so we’ll have to wait and see.

For now though, with temperatures much more amenable in the mid-teens, it’s time to reflect on a thoroughly enjoyable day. Baby moon or climbing trip, it doesn’t really matter, as I sit peacefully, typing under a gazebo, watching the trees sway gently under the glow of the half-moon resting nicely in the sky.

 

Apologies for the lack of photos – i’m using my phone to publish this so data allowance is a consideration. They will be forthcoming soon. 

Presently Looking to the Future

I wasn’t expecting to post any time soon but when there’s a session like my last one, i’d be foolish not to document it. I keep prattling on about the heatwave of late and i truly got the chance to reap the benefits, at the Cromlech boulders no less. After nearly a ten year wait, the landing under James Pond at the famous roadside boulders was finally dry.

Finally, after probably about ten years of waiting, James Pond was possible after the longest dry spell I remember meant you didn't need wellies to get to the start… What a session that turned out to be: a 7a flash, a 7b/+ tick and a host of other excellent #bouldering that I'd honestly never done before. I've been waiting a long time for this and save for attack of the midge, might have had just enough left in me for #jamespond sit start too. What's more, you really can't argue with the setting (proximity to the road notwithstanding) – not many places you get to climb under the shadow of #dinascromlech And #dinasmot! #cromlech #cromlechboulders #worldclasswales #snowdonianationalpark #snowdon #northwales #northwalesbouldering #rockclimbing #escalade #escalada #grimpeur #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_lovers #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #meclimbing

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Granted, it’s not really been ten years and i’m sure it’s been dry in that period; it just didn’t happen to fall right for me or i didn’t end up there. Either way though, it is NOT common, being the lowest part of ground following the run off from the Glyderau high above. Now, finally, with a dog free evening and not a huge amount of free time, was my chance.

I took it with open arms and a grateful smile. A repeat of Moose’s Problem 5c/6a and the sit start at 6b+ were a great place to start, being so fun the first time around. After that, The Slopes 6b proved to be significantly better than i’d first thought, before heading into the cave proper.

After all this time, i was a little sad to flash James Pond 7a, although after my send of Cross Fader the other day, it did help to flash another at the same grade. At least it wasn’t soft! Bog Traverse 6b+ also put up little resistance and was excellent, before a first attempt at linking them with Bog Pond 7a+. Shocked by the success, it did mean i could get my teeth into the James Pond sit start either at 7b/+ or a little lower giving 7b+ proper. The former was done on the third attempt, the latter left for another day once the midge descended…

I’m not sure if it was this session, the recent spate of outdoor ticks or seeing my Top Ten Yearly Average creep up yet again, but something has lit a fire under my backside. I’ve never been one for training very well, lacking the mental discipline. Now, it has dawned on me that the only time i’ve been able to knuckle down and train is for a specific problem. So i’ve come up with a plan.

Goal: 8a. With a small ream of A3 paper and a pen – only one colour for a change – i’ve written not only the new list (photo on instagram imminent) but also five steps to achieving the next magic grade. My logbook shows two 7c+ after Love Pie was upgraded in the New Testament and that extra little bit of number has spurred me on. To climb 8a given my track record, experience and past would be good. to do it with two young children would be mighty impressive.

I’ve listed eleven of them to start with; next step is to scout them out and slowly whittle the selection down to one. Watch this space.

In the meantime, despite a dry evening, i’m heading for the Indy. It’s the first time i’ve been since they dismantled and rebuilt the famous central boulder and to be honest, i’m itching to see what it’s like now.

Any time i pass up an outdoor session in favour of an indoor one, i question what the fuck i’m doing but i think sometimes it is a sensible thing to do. This morning it rained solidly for five or siix hours, and it would be worthwhile to go and get 8a advise from some strong boys who’ve actually gone and done it.

Moreover, the Indy isn’t just a local climbing wall, it’s a local hub for boulderers, wads and general climby types and to be honest, i have missed it. Justified or otherwise, sometimes it’s important to forget what you should be doing and just do what you want to. The list of projects will still be there.

With Germany in jeopardy – the trip, i’m sure the country is fine – in could be timely to be thinking of things a little closer to home. I wouldn’t like to say that i’ve never been so close to the departure date while still not being 100% sure we’re even going but i certainly haven’t been in this situation often and definitely am not enjoying it. The Land Rover, which was to be transporting us, is still suffering mechanical problems and is out as an option and Em’s Berlingo isn’t filling me with masses of hope.

Only time will tell if all goes ahead and on schedule. Not a lot of time either: at time of writing, we leave home in about two days.

We have been discussing backup plans and a city break is on the cards, although i mentioned to Em that i’d be loathe to chose somewhere i’d later want to go for a June climbing trip. Nevertheless, the Iceland football team has really inspired me and i’m now itching to go. Perhaps a last minute change is possible but i’d rather collect up some strong lads and head over with a bit of a crew. June would be ideal and from what i’ve read, might be a good time to try.

With the present looking uncertain, perhaps focusing on the future could brighten my spirits. Who knows. I just hope when i look back on this year, wherever we head that there will be just reason for it to be remembered in many years to come.

Link to awesome Iceland bouldering article: here.

Looking Up, Looking Forward

My focus has seemed to shift slightly since my last post. After that great period of send after send, i couldn’t put the other important things off any more and had to do a bit of work on the house.

A fortnight after my Dog Crack success, and after boarding the loft, it was time for a coaching session with my excellent and long term student. After recovering from injury, this was one of our first sessions for quite some time and as such, we headed up to The Barrel.

Without going into the details of the session, it was interesting to get stuck in to some of the other new problems around what was, before the New Testament, a crag i’d pretty much ticked off. Just below the famous Barrel proper lies another, slightly high, boulder that now plays home to half a dozen problems or link ups.

Admittedly there were some that involved trying not to scrape your arse across the floor but overall, these have been worthwhile additions to the area. While i’m not sure they justify a star for each problem, Baby Barrel 6a, Baby Roof 6a and OLD Finish 6a+ should all get a few minutes of anyone’s attention on their way up that way.

Ever since then, my climbing focus has been firmly on our upcoming trip to Germany. Assuming we get there…

The #heatwave we've been experiencing, coupled with our impending #adventure has reminded me of my last extended stay in #Germany – what became known as the Ill Fated Trip Of 2013. The keen eyed among you will notice in the last picture the bonnet of the Freelander is up as the mechanical problems began. The first one is one of the very few #climbing photos I have of that week, taken on a timer as I was there with only Tess for company on our first #camping trip away. No idea where I was out what I was on. All I know is that we were in the #Frankenjura. It wasn't great. 40 degree heat probably didn't help. The middle photo though is probably one of my favourite #outdoor photos ever. Don't know why but I love the #juxtaposition of the green tree canopy with the brown floor, with the blue adding something extra. It's a simple shot but I like it. #bouldering #boulderingisbetter #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #rockclimbing #grimpeur #escalade #escalada #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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Friday gone and i received a text from my better half saying her car was not in fit shape. She called my dad, my expert mechanic consultant, who came to have a look and arranged for it to go into the garage. I’m glad he was at our place, too, as on my way home, the thermometer on the Land Rover hit max, a bad smell appeared and steam rose from the bonnet. After nose-diving into the nearest available space, it was obvious to anyone the radiator had gone, as boiling hot water sprung from the front of the car in a jet.

Long story short, three eggs in the rad didn’t work – it’s not a myth, it can work for small holes – and i was towed home. Friday night is a bad night to break down, and despite ordering the parts that night, it was Wednesday afternoon before the new one finally arrived.

I took two extra days off work (thankful for a quiet weekend) and slowly drove myself nuts at not being able to leave the village. Family time was awesome but there’s something about not being able to do something that puts it at the forefront of your mind.

Step forward the wonderful Mr Dan Webb. Despite spending his whole day in the Ogwen valley and living half an hour away from me, Dan drove over to my house, picked me up and together with Alice from work, we headed out to the boulders. It was significantly better than an hour walk into Pac Man!

With no dog and all of us having had a busy day already, the Cromlech boulders were an obvious choice. Much as i’ve never been that keen on them and think them over-rated, there’s no denying the quantity of problems there and the grade range is huge. What’s more, following this extended hot spell, there was an outside chance some of the soggier landings would’ve dried up slightly.

I was half right and our focal point was the Heel Hook Traverse 6b. With Dan wanting something to get his teeth into and Alice certainly capable, not to mention the ground being less than usually saturated, it was a good choice and almost yielded a send or two. After a rest, i have faith in them both.

We trundled around some of the other boulders, collecting more than a dozen problems for myself, before my colleagues declared themselves done for the day. After having seen the latest edition of Girl Crush (see below) i was eager to try what looked like an awesome climb: Cross Fader given 6c in the film but 7a in the guidebook.

It’s not 7a. Irrespective of using my own abilities to grade, it felt soft for even 6b. Maybe it was just my style – admittedly that is true, it suited me – but the handholds were solid and the footholds were huge! How it has got that grade i’ll never know. It was an easy flash and just to be sure, i repeated it just as easily.

Hopefully it bodes well for Odenwald; the lesser known area in the North West of Germany that i am still clinging to the hope of getting to in a little over a week. I bought the guide back in 2013, with no idea where it actually was, and have now found it is an ideal place to head to en route to the Alps.

I can’t actually find anything about it at all and any online search for “Mannheim bouldering” yields nothing but indoor walls – not exactly what you’d travel several hundred miles for! Still, i was chatting to a customer at work who knew the area and said it was worthwhile. I’m sure i’ve been to worse.

Then it’s south, heading for Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I don’t know much about the area, can find next to no nearby bouldering, but it is a typical climber’s town, famed for it’s Alpine mountains and ice climbing. I can’t wait, and am desperately hoping we can still make it despite our mechanical woes.

Super Cracks and Repeats

The feeling of total disinterest from Em couldn’t dampen my spirits on Tuesday when i announced proudly and loudly to her my latest climbing achievement: my Top Ten Yearly Average grade had finally tipped above 7a.

It was understandable, really – it’s not exactly exciting news! But to me, it showed how my recent spell of outdoor sessions and (more importantly) outdoor sends has improved. Since my last post and the success on Regeneration i’ve managed no less than four days of outdoor bouldering and one lunchtime hit outside on the steps of a fire escape…

The crucial factor has certainly been the weather. The Spring finally arrived and yielded prolonged dry spells, meaning that the forest crags began to dry out and escape from the searing sunshine was possible on the wooded crags of North Wales. First and foremost, the local Brenin boulder was finally dry.

Back at the end of April, one Thursday while walking the dog, i went for a quick lunchtime look and was stunned to find it not only dry but in reasonable nick. I’ve since joked that there are winter lines around here that are in condition more often than the Brenin Boulder and to be honest, even now i don’t think i’m actually wrong; it takes that long to dry.

Downside, it was warm, muggy and humid; so a repeat of either Eat the Meek 7b or Original Traverse 7b weren’t on the cards. What was possible was to retro tick a load of the old stuff, some of the new link ups and to manage every climb there below 7a in a session. Not bad in a quick hour after work before coaching!

I couldn't believe it when I wandered up here yesterday: the #breninboulder was dry! It's in condition as often as some of the ice routes around here! And yes, I've done all the lines in the old guide, but the new #northwalesbouldering guide has various new link ups (and of course I've got this #noretroticks thing going on) so I was super #stoked to get up there for an hour or two after work but before coaching this evening. Everything under 7a done and a quality play on actual rock with Pete Fagan, who took this sweet photo of me repeating #thehobbit 6c+ on significantly better style than the first time around. Anytime I get to climb is great at the moment, anytime it's outside is even better. Having Pete there was the icing on the cake; always great to have #psyched mates there with you #worldclasswales #northwales #capelcurig #brynengan #snowdonia #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #boulderingisbetter #rockclimbing #grimpeur #escalade #escalada #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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Ten days later, i was out again. Different day, different forest, same thinking: head into the woods, make the most of it and find the shade. Sadly, motivation was lacking slightly and it took a while to get into the swing of things.

The last time i was at The Shocker area in Beddgelert forest, i think, was back in 2015, not long back from my very successful foray to Magic Wood. I’d been eager to try The Shocker 7b+ again ever since but may have forgotten quite how hard it was.

Back then i was using some printed text from the guide that would not appear for another two years and struggled to find the problems. Armed with the new guide, i found myself looking at the same lines but not finding any further inspiration. Sadly it seems, The Shocker Area may not be for me.

The one line that i did complete back then and thoroughly enjoyed was Houdini 7a and despite some early setbacks – i couldn’t even hang the holds at first – eventually i managed to pull myself both together and off the ground and repeated the one move wonder. I even managed to throw in Derw’s Move at 6c too.

Didn't realise it had been this long! This was actually last month now, up in the #Beddgelertforest at the shocker area, a 7a called #Houdini. This was actually a repeat, so given the slightly poor landing, the myriad of pine needles on the top and the solitude, I opted to skirt left on the top out, making it a bit safer. I did want to give The Shocker 7b+ a good go but for the life of me, I can't seem to feel the right movement! Given that it was 2015 the last time I was there, think it might fall off the bottom of my list. Shame as I'm sure it's awesome when it goes. #northwales #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #boulderingisbetter #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #rockclimbing #grimpeur #escalade #escalada #climbing #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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Sadly, though, lacking enough pads to give full confidence and with my head hurting slightly from all the head-scratching, i realised i could not for the life of me figure out the movement on the dyno. Even a video online failed to provide inspiration and i fear i may not be going back for another go.

Any disappointment didn’t last long though, as a week later i found myself with another free evening and finally heading to a crag i’ve been waiting six months to get to: Supercrack.

Deep in the Aberglaslyn pass, hidden in the trees above Aberglaslyn Hall, i’d been to see this crag during a deluge with Em and Rosie and was so taken, it had been my main priority to get back there armed with pads and shoes ever since. But it would’ve been pointless to go when the holds were likely still seeping and this was my first chance to go since then.

Even more surprising on my arrival was that i was not alone; there were a couple already there, enjoying the bank holiday weekend by ticking off the classics of the area. Blessed with two extra pads and the knowledge that two people stood behind and below me, i managed to make the biggest hash of the top out on my way to ticking Supercrack 7a. Without them, i could have seen me backing off.

After the ignominy of missing half of Friday and Saturday to an unknown illness that resulted in me asleep for 24 hours and not #climbing as originally planned, I managed to get out yesterday evening. After a short heat wave, the chances of #Supercrack finally being dry – after a six month wait – were pretty high and sure enough, there it was, waiting to be climbed. I was half surprised not to be alone, as I was greeted by two very nice and kind climbers here for the bank holiday weekend. Here is @domybridge trying Dog Face 7c while my own dog face looks on on the background. I was incredibly glad they were there too, as I quickly found myself performing the worst and most graceless topout of my life, mere seconds away from beginning to blub that I was terrified and thanking anything I could think of that they were down there behind me. The most striking thing for me, as I continued to try Super Has 7b after they'd left, was how short my sessions are now before I'm too spent to compete properly any more. Still, as I watched my new friend nearly tick the entire crag after recovering from serious injury, I couldn't help but feel how nice it is just to get out and meet other climbers, no matter what we try. 7a or 8a, it's all relative really. #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #bouldering #boulderingisbetter #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #grimpeur #escalada #escalade #adventure #excitement

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Meanwhile my new friend worked hard but sadly fell one move short of the second ascent of Dogface 7c. Inspired me though! Once they’d departed, i continued to try Super Hans 7b and did almost complete the crux move but quickly ran out of juice.

What has struck me lately is how short my sessions have become; not necessarily by time constraints but i just don’t have the fitness to keep being so relentless any more. Quite simply, i’m lacking the conditioning and somehow i need to get it back.

Still, another week later and yet another free evening, continuing this brilliant run and, of course, it was back to Supercrack. This time with my friend Lewis in tow, i was focused to get back on Super Hans now knowing the beta and fresh. I was also keen for him to get on the namesake problem, as i was sure he would nail it.

I was right. Well, more importantly, Lewis was strong, savvy and more than up to the task. It took him a little while but sure enough, after unlocking the sequence, i watched through the lens of the camera from a distance as he applied a very committing heel hook above his head and, thankfully, topped out with ease.

Apologies for the poor quality video, I blame the midges – they were, after all, what drove us away! Not before @lil_lewis_climber nailed #Supercrack 7a with the most committing heel hook I've seen in years and inexplicably, I also ticked off the link in from the right, Dog Crack 7b. Shocked as that wasn't the line I wanted to try at all but I couldn't be bothered to keep shuffling the pads under Super Has 7b. Was far too hot for the crux sloper anyway. Then, quickly, on the way home, we stopped at the cromlech boulders and I got Leo's Dyno 7a+ on the second go! Not a bad evening, all told. #worldclasswales #northwales #snowdonia #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #boulderingisbetter #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #sport #rockclimbing #escalade #escalada #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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Not wanting to continually shuffle the pads around, i opted to try the link between Dog Face and Supercrack, a 7b called Dog Crack. First go, barely pull off the floor. By the time Lewis finished his own climb, i had finished my own, thoroughly shocking myself in the process. A second 7b of the year and one surprised but happy climber.

The midge chased us away before either the dark or an imposed curfew on Lewis and despite not feeling the look of Voie Normale by Llyn Dinas, we stopped briefly at the Cromlech Roadside for a quick effort on Leo’s Dyno 7a+. I’d tried it with Alice a few months back and figured i had time for a couple of efforts.

It was all that was needed. Miraculously, i remembered the footholds and for the second time that evening, shocked myself by finding myself suddenly hanging the familiar lip having skipped half the holds on the Edge Problem.

And thus brings us up to date. That top ten mentioned in the first paragraph currently consists of two 7b, one 7a+, four 7a, a 6c+ and the rest at 6c. As long as this good weather holds and my darling better half continues to be happy for me to get out, i can only see that average going one way.

Regeneration

After our Font fun, it was back to work and nose to the grindstone. Almost literally, to be honest! Does anyone else find that the stress of coming back in to work and dealing with everything that happened while you were off almost negates the whole break in the first place? Nevertheless, it only lasted a week as the Thursday after we returned, Em headed to the Midlands for a gig and i was left with a few days to myself.

These days, that means one simple thing: climbing. From Thursday morning until she returned, there was only one period when i wasn’t either working, coaching or climbing and that was a rest period when i went to visit my parents!

My usual coaching session was shifted from Friday to Thursday, possibly due to it being Good Friday, and whenever it moves, the numbers are low. As such, i had a session working with my friend Rob on how to coach, rather than actually coaching myself – an unusual take on things and a good demonstration of my progression. I must admit, it’s quite nice to be doing well with it and being respected for it!

The downside: i brought Tess in for the last little while, the wall being very quiet, and somehow, unbeknownst to me, she managed to hurt her elbow and develop a limp. Not uncommon but certainly not ideal. She has now recovered but as with anyone, it was slow.

Friday, now free, was miraculously dry. Making the most of the lack of necessary doggy freedom and with time still being in short supply before the onset of darkness, the Cromlech boulders came calling and i decided to finally go and check out Sleep Deprivation 7b for the first time since i found out where it actually starts.

Turns out it’s still not much easier, was soggy and full of touristy rubbish underneath and didn’t float my boat. That was after i’d repeated the usual problems on the roadside face, and shown Alice from work some good ticks for herself. I think she surprised herself with some of her ascents and while i sat under the roof wondering what to do with myself, she scampered over some nice easy routes with Harry, her boyfriend. Eventually, i realised that actually, i’ve never actually given Leo’s Dyno 7a+ a real effort so why not now!

#whilethecatsaway… New year (see blog post linked in bio) and that means evenings outdoors again! Well, to be honest, normally it might not but being as my better half and my daughter are away for a few days and the rock was actually dry, coupled with my dog Tess being injured, there were no reasons not to head to the #cromlechboulders straight from work. With @alice__kerr in tow, here demonstrating her technical abilities on #pocketwall before I managed to find enough excuses not to try Sleep Deprivation 7b before repeatedly trying to find the right feet for Leo's Dyno 7a+. Didn't get it but got close and got out. #psyched! #worldclasswales #northwales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #grimpeur #escalade #8crags

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Leo’s Dyno is the eliminate version of the Edge Problem 7a; a trunk route that many a climber much stronger than i fail repeatedly on, but thanks to my small girly fingers, i am able to lap in trainers. The dyno was something i’d not particularly tried before but as darkness fell and my companions called it a day and left me to it, i felt myself drawing closer and closer. More daylight hours are needed to finish this off and soon, before i forget the correct footholds…

Saturday night was my rest night, seeing my parents and some visiting friends and generally allowing my skin and body to recover but Sunday morning arrived, with my trusty canine companion still being a limpy lump and the weather was almost perfect.

Being so far away, heading all the way from Caernarfon to the Ogwen valley was a risky business but that was the project i wanted to attack. In a recent post, i mentioned Gallt yr Ogof as a potential for some success and this was exactly the place that had piqued my interest. But that still left me with 25 miles to drive to get there.

It took me a few days to realise that this was what had put me in a foul mood to begin with but nevertheless, my day didn’t begin well. I called in at our house – still under a layer of plaster dust following some building work – to try in vain to find my bouldering guide, furthering pushing me into a deep grump. Then to top it all off, i drove over the pass on a Bank Holiday Sunday in typically slow traffic.

By the time i’d arrived in Capel, i was in a mood that could kill all on it’s own; the only bright side of my grump being an excuse to yell obscenities at unknowing innocent tourists. My favourite has to be “this isn’t a funeral, it’s a 60mph limit!!!”

I quickly pulled in to the Brenin and ran into stores to grab a replacement guide, but not before slipping under the canopy in front of a large group of clients and wrapping myself around the concrete stanchion in the corner.

All this began to clear as i pulled in to the campsite and unpacked my kit and by the time i made it to the crag, it had all been replaced by a sense of excitement. It had been a long time since i’d had conditions and opportunity this good and psyche levels were getting high.

With the limping dog in tow, i unpacked my pad under the warm up GyG Arete 6b+ and proceeded to struggle significantly more than that first time when i was stymied by a sheet of ice topping the entire boulder. Next, The Ramp 7a/+ fell much quicker, and was even repeated just to make sure i hadn’t dabbed the boulder behind

When is it too cold to be good #bouldering conditions? When there's a sheet of ice over the entire top of the boulder… With an afternoon free after attending the inaugural adventure sports coaching conference at @plasybreninstaff I opted to head a few miles down the road in the #ogwenvalley to the #galltyrogof bloc. I'd always been put off by this before but now with fresh eyes and photo topos in the #northwalesboulderingguide the problems seemed immense and impressive. So I started to at least try and warm up, only to find the top out dodgy as sin! An entire sheet or verglas meant even if I had pulled over the top, it would've been rather treacherous to say the least. Nevertheless, another #beautifulday in #northwales! #worldclasswales #snowdonia #northwalesbouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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To it’s right, though, the one problem i had borne in mind turned out to be truly nails. Smackhead goes at 7b (i think, still don’t have my guidebook!) and is only a couple of hard moves, right at the start. I couldn’t pull off the floor; and even when i skipped the first move, the position was so stupidly hard to hold, i decided to wander around the corner and check out some of the other problems.

And here we find Regeneration 7b: the most apt title for not only the ascent but the timing too. The first period of climbing in the New Year – a typical time for nature to begin to regenerate. A marker for me to try to claw back some form and begin to improve again. A nod towards the lovely little reason that’s so hard to do.

Holding the first position was certainly the toughest part for me, the second move needing precision that took time to find but after that, it was dynamic moves on reasonable crimps and a precise foothold. It was like it was set just for me and those three moves seemedto regenerate my spirit just in time for the next challenging season ahead.

Baby en Bleau: Part Two

Day Three

After the previous day, lengthy walk ins were off the table; in fact, our first port of call was to head in to Font and go shopping. I’d been trying to find a healthy blend of climbing and non-climbing activities for us to do and wandering around the town seemed a good option.

Our walk didn’t actually take us into the town proper but we did have a very pleasant and sunny walk around the gardens of the chateau. I’d only discovered them thanks to my friends Ben and Charlotte in 2014 or 2015, i forget and they are somewhere anyone visiting Font should go and explore.

The afternoon was then spent at Cul de Chien. We met Gabe and Marie, took only the large Petzl pad, cut out a lot of the unneeded crap and basked in the sunshine on la plage sans la mer as i like to call it.

More low-grade climbs succumbed, all thoroughly enjoyable and one rather terrifying top out, and while i went and glanced at l’Autre Toit it was not a sensible place to head. Instead, we made the short walk over to 91.1 to try another couple of projects from trips gone by.

Flipper sds 7a+ had been agonisingly close back in 2016 when i’d tried it last, had people on it this time and was there for the ticking. A few attempts brought the beta back, a fired up American completed the stand and then told me to fuck off when i suggested the sit start – not as bad as it sounds, but enough for it to stick in my mind – and i was on it, ready and determined.

But then i ran out of time again. One last go means three last gos and on the second, i slipped, dropping the first couple of moves and felt it would go on the next attempt until i looked at Em, shuffling her feet and looking at the way home. Then i glanced at my left hand and the large flap of skin hanging off my palm and knew i’d have to leave another one.

Day Four

By this point, i was pretty demoralised about the whole climbing thing. The goal had been a couple of 7as or 7a+ and hopefully a 7b during the week. So far, i’d managed none. With one climbing day to go and my standards evidently lacking, i was not feeling very good about myself.

Time for a change of tactics. If you can’t climb new and hard, just go for new and while ticking off easy stuff at somewhere i’ve been many times doesn’t do much for me, exploring a new crag certainly seemed like a productive use of the day! At least if i didn’t climb anything, i’d have somewhere else in the bank for the next trip.

Buoyed by this new strategy, i looked through the guidebook and selected JA Martin. While eating pizza on the previous evening, i’d noticed a signpost to local crags and smiled as i read through, audibly saying “been there” to almost every one. Suddenly i was keen to visit the missing ones.

The obligatory hour-and-a-half wait at the vets to allow Tess to come home killed early enthusiasm but after we were finally done, we headed off to investigate somewhere new. Gabe, Marie and Lorenzo were having a rest day so we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Straight away i cheered right up, thrilled by the look of the awesome roof Le Surplomb Pete-Couilles and it’s variations, ranging from 5- to 6b. All fell pretty quickly and were thoroughly enjoyable. Vent Couvert (racourci) and (droite) both 6a+ followed, were both enjoyed, before i wandered off looking for a good 7 to try.

I couldn’t find one within sensible walking distance so instead finished the climbing week on Signature 6a and Bille en Tete 6b, satisfied with the day’s efforts, if not entirely happy with the week’s climbing.

Day Five

With pads buried at the bottom of all of our other stuff, climbing on the last day was simply too much a trial. Frankly, it wasn’t worth it and after four days of dragging poor Em around the forest, having a day doing more conventional touristy activities was the least we could do.

We took a quick trip into Milly la Foret, getting a souvenir for Rosie from a fantastic little boutique that i frequent often – i had no idea they spoke English there and had been conversing with them in my poor French for years! Actually, i’m really grateful for them allowing me to try and for being patient and welcoming to me. It is called Derriere la Fenetre and is in the main square near the market stand. Please visit on your next trip, an ideal place for gifts for those back home.

After grabbing some food, we headed back to Fontainebleau, said a quick hello and goodbye to Gabe and Marie, wandered the town searching for a sticker and a pin (the latter of which we didn’t find so if anyone can send me one, i’ll be phenomenally grateful) and eventually headed off for Barbizon and a quick walk before our long drive home.

Barbizon is a lovely, tranquil village, steeped in art history and worth an afternoon of anyone’s time. It is also very close to some lovely walking which Tess was doubtless very glad of before being cooped up for such a long time.

After a pleasant walk finished under a mild shower, we bid farewell to the Forest, stopped briefly at the large Carrefour for supplies and then began our long journey home.

The Inevitable Question

Once home and back at work, i faced the inevitable question: how was Font? With a paltry list of ascents, i must admit, i was a tiny bit despondent. How was Font? In climbing terms, pretty shitty to be honest.

7a is what i regard as my bread and butter these days, rightly or wrongly. Any less than that and to be honest, it doesn’t even register. Whether i should be like that or not, that’s just how i think, given the standards i’ve achieved and currently operate at.

Font fun 😄 . . #fontainebleau #bestfriends #familyholiday

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BUT, and this is the crucial thing, as a family trip, time away from home, time spent with the love of my life and my absolutely wonderful daughter, the perfect opportunity for Tess to get some time, experiences and stories, it was brilliant. I didn’t get any hard climbing done but i did get climbing done and, as i’ve said several times now, with an infant in tow, that’s an achievement in itself.

Em also reliably told me she really enjoyed being in the forest and is keen to go back. At first, after getting home, i was a bit head down, fed up, desperate to go again and perform as i know i can. Then i got chatting to Jam; the same friend who had been there when we were but who’s path we hadn’t managed to cross. We got chatting about things, about how it had gone and over the course of the 45 minute conversation, i realised that grades aren’t everything. That indeed the whole week was one big win.

Baby en Bleau: Part One

After our brief break in our scheduled posts to deal with New Years, we can now return to recent excursions and our family trip to Font! Planned months in advance, we had organised ourselves for four nights in the forest, Tess making her triumphant return to one of her favourite places, Em returning under much better circumstances than last time and Rosie making her debut at the world’s greatest bouldering venue.

I have, of course, been for a springtime week many years before and found this time of year totally reliable. Still, despite my staunchest protestations that it’s normally fine and t-shirt weather in the daytime, there was a worry from a certain someone that we were in for a chilly one. Turns out, she was right to worry.

From our home in North Wales, down through the Midlands and on to Dover, we battled through snowy roads and full on winter driving conditions such as i’ve never seen in England. Better still, once we were in Calais, it continued and didn’t relent over the next four hours as we continued down the motorway and past Paris. In fact, as far South as Melun there was snow covering the trees and verges by the side of the road and i was starting to think i would need to go buy a broom in order to climb anything at all.

Miraculously, it cleared at the last minute and we pulled into the familiar site at La Musadiere totally clear of snow. It was, though, bitterly cold and while i wasn’t that phased in terms of climbing conditions – i’ve climbed in sub-zero conditions plenty and the friction would be good – i was a bit worried about the effect it would have on our one-year-old daughter. I’ll let you imagine what her mother was thinking…

Day One

Having driven through the night, none of us had had a particularly restful night, not least myself having been restricted to an hour and a half of sleep on the ferry, so once we were unpacked and organised, we opted for a simple day. I’d noticed a nearby crag on the map that i’d not been to before; Chateauveau, so we opted to walk in and have a look.

As is typical for the forest, finding the correct path can be tricksome and after a period of bushwacking, we finally found some painted lines and then numbers on the rocks and began to find our way around. It wasn’t a large venue, nor did any of the lines seem especially outstanding but for it’s proximity, it was worth a look. A handful of problems were inspected but only a couple climbed: Chaleur and Triangle Rouge both 6a. By this time, we were all flagging and heading back for a nice early night.

Day Two

“Let’s walk in to the crag today” says me, thinking a walk and a climb would be a good combo! I’ll take the baby, the big pad and the climbing stuff, Em can take the other pad and the baby bag. Simple!

Simple idiot maybe.

That many pads, in Fontainebleau, was quite frankly absurd and unnecessary and meant that my poor, suffering better half slogged all the way from the campsite to 95.2 with far more weight than she needed to. Granted, i took more of the weight from her on the way back, estimating (probably over-estimating but not by much) to have about 30kg attached to me, but being as it was my stupid idea in the first place, i got what i deserved.

First full day in the #forest with #babyatthecrag and we walked in to #ninetyfivepointtwo from the campsite; a long walk, when we had a stack of pads on our backs, a #baby on my front, a bag of #climbing crap and a changing bag but totally worth it! Rosie had an awesome time, playing and crawling in the sand, @emks93 took some awesome #climbing_pictures_of_instagram (including this one) but sadly I didn't quite get the #bouldering done that I was hoping for. While I got a stack of ticks for my #7+8 guide, I failed on a 7a that I thought would go (and very nearly did, my hand slapping the rock as my feet disappeared beneath me and I plummeted back to earth) and this: Miss KGB 7b. I'd tried it two years ago on my trip here with @simoncfr but even with new beta, it refused to relent. The disappointment was offset by having my #daughter, my trusty #dog and the love of my life join me on a beautiful day in #Fontainebleau. #fontbouldering #rockclimbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_worldwide @parentsthatrock

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The original plan was to hit 95.2 first and then head down to Cul de Chien to meet up with a friend from work, also in the forest that week. Much as with our kit choices, i should’ve known better and we spent the day at the former. The consolation was the Jam never made it to Cul de Chien either.

The bright side was, well, the bright weather! 95.2 is, i believe, it’s altitude, being the highest point in the area and as such, the crag dries quickly and catches the nicer weather. While it wasn’t the t-shirt weather i had sold Em with, it was certainly much nicer and where we met Gabe, Marie and their little boy, Lorenzo. We would spend every day of the week catching up with them from here on.

Climbing wise, i stack of ticks for my 5+6 guide were collected before i decided to try some 7s and try a couple i’d left last time i was there. First on the list: Miss KGB 7b.

After our attempts last time, we’d returned home and found a video of someone completing it. Now, i was keen to try his beta but quickly realised this guy is about 7′ tall with a positive ape index! I tried relentlessly to use his beta before sacking it off in search for something easier.

Le Mur de la Fosse aux Ours only gets 7a and last time, i’d looked and thought it would go pretty quick. The moves suited me, and grade was certainly within my limit and there it was, marked clearly in my guide. Ideal!

I genuinely couldn’t be much closer. On my best attempt, as my hand reached to grab the top, my left foot pinged off, my palm slapped the rock loudly and i landed in a heap on the floor.

Not for the last time this week, i simply ran out of time. When you’re there with your climbing bum mates, you can push dinner back a bit, you can stay for a little bit longer, you can keep trying. Take a baby and that flexibility disappears. Push her dinnertime back and you screw up her bedtime, which while flexible, can’t be messed with too much. Aching to finish what i’d started, i did the agonising pad pack up leaving the problem unclimbed.

 

 

To be continued…