Tag Archives: sport

Entering the Age of Aching

I often joke about getting old. I’m 34 and while, if i was a professional footballer, that would be time to start thinking about moving to a lower league club, slowing it down a bit and having one eye on retirement, the fact is i’m not a proffesional footballer. I’m a slightly-above-average participant in a specialist discipline of a niche adventure sport. Even calling myself an athlete is a bit of a stretch.

Nevertheless, youthful exuberance is starting to wane. Where i used to do six sessions a week, now six hours a week is pushing my luck a little bit and after every session, i do feel a bit creaky and achy. I’ve even started showering much more regularly; not because i’m more conscious of my appearance but simply because it helps my muscles relax and recover.

Aging has doubtless been written about ever since people started getting old enough to realise they’ve gotten old. It happens to everyone but for some reason, it seems to feel different when you suddenly realise it’s happening to you.

For me, it’s been a case of tempering expectations and realising new limitations. The overuse injury of several weeks ago was a timely reminder. Having children has had a similar effect too and with New Years a couple of weeks away, coming to grips with my age is especially pertinent.

Not Totally Down and Out Yet

As ascents become harder to come by – either thanks to my failing body or the lack of available time to play – they seem to gather a touch of extra satisfaction. Well, maybe not satisfaction as much, more shock i guess. Either which way, when i do get out and send something, or even have a good indoor session, i end up pulling the same face many of us pulled when faced with a bus claiming £350 million for the NHS. Only without the angry afterthoughts.

Instead, i found myself stood atop the Pit at the Milestone Buttress, utterly shocked at myself. “Hang on, that was 7a+!” was my first thought, closely followed by the popular “i did actually do it, didn’t i?” Yes i had.

What’s more is that despite my earlier reservations about the imposing bloc behind you when you try Harvey Oswald that not only had i overcome my fear but i’d even managed the top out without much concern at all. I’d planned to bail, i’d gone up anyway, which logically was actually the safer option. Nevertheless, logic doesn’t normally come into it with me and scary situations, so i was pretty chuffed to have it finished.

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Well that was unexpected! Finishing my uni work yesterday freed up my afternoon and after a morning meeting, and dry rock, I found myself in the pit (not the pit of despair, the Pit at the Milestone Boulders). After years of putting this off through fear of the imposing bloc behind – if you've ever been concerned, every effort saw me fall straight down – and despite my spotter bailing on me just as I arrived, I got on Harvey Oswald. Apparently there are two starts: one from the good high hold at 7a and another from head high gastons at 7a+, plus the sit which is much harder. I effectively coached myself up there; pulling on the holds to start, then jump up, then wave at the hold, and so on. Quickly enough, I slapped and stuck the finish! Phil and Chris from @boulderhut arrived in time to film me complete the "locals" start, shown here. And I've got a project to go back for! Great day. #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion

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Drawing Inspiration

This idea of aging, (echoed by a recent post by Mina Leslie-Wujastyk which is definitely worth a read, very funny) is reflected in a recent article regarding Inspirational Figures, although that wasn’t what got me writing initially.

We have recently had International Women’s Day and anyone that knows me well won’t be surprised how it got me into a big feminist/women’s rights/equal rights debate in various quarters. This year did change my outlook slightly though, as i realised IWD to be a day to highlight issues related to women, in exactly the same way as International Men’s Day does in November. After all, we all have our struggles, regardless of anything.

However, as much as IWD highlighted some amazing achievements by women in the last year, the next day they were gone. This just doesn’t seem right and i feel people that inspire should be celebrated all the time. So take a look at my article about Inspirational Figures – Females.

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It's #internationalwomensday today and while anyone who knows me knows I'm definitely no fan, the simple fact is I have a lot of girls in my life; females whose lives I help to shape. Irrespective of gender, the stories I've read today have indeed been inspirational. We're teaching our girls to be smart, independent and active, especially outdoors – and that goes for Tess as well. I'll encourage them to treat people as people, not to label them, and to give everyone a level of respect (until they open their mouth at least). And if days like today help to provide motivation for our girls to get out there and achieve something, I'll put aside my gripes and help them as much as I can. #girls #baby #getactive #startemyoung #getout Second photo by @emks93

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The topic of aging appears with the first man mentioned in the Inspirational Firgures – Males article, written to offer balance. Tommy Caldwell was the same age i am now when he climbed the Dawn Wall, and if that doesn’t spur me on, i don’t know what will.

Please do take a look at both articles, via the links in green above.

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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.

 

Climbers and their Critics

I want to start this era with a quote from the great American figure Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Teddy Roosevelt

Given recent accomplishments that have appeared (quite rightly) at the top of the climbing news feeds, this seems particularly apt. However, as i’m currently learning with my studies, the critic has a place. The key is how the critic goes about it.

Second 9a

First, we need to give this some context and have a look at the story that grabbed the climbing headlines: rising French climber Charles Albert climbed No Kpote Only at Rocher Brule in Fontainebleau and has given it the grade of 9a. This is only the second boulder problem of this grade in the world, after Nalle Hukkataival climbed Burden of Dreams at Lappnor in Finland.

Below is a collection of some of the news reports from various sources across the world.

“But it’s barefoot!”

A lot of the focus of the internet commentary that inevitably ensued focused on the fact that Albert climbs barefoot; a rarity in the climbing fraternity at large, let alone among the elite. In truth, there would be similar comments if he differed from the norm in any other way too – if he climbed without chalk or had a disability for example – and this difference has led many to claim that he can’t use standard grading systems if he’s not going to participate in a standard way. One friend of mine last week even suggested a new grading system for barefoot ascents; something i personally think is more than a little unnecessary.

Another angle that people have looked from concerns Albert’s pedigree when it comes to hard boulder problems. While he has climbed five 8c problems – four of which in the forest and one in Rocklands – and two 8c+ problems – again both in Font – both of those V16s were first ascents, with both still awaiting a repeat. Even the magazines have been quick to point this out (see Climbing magazine link, paragraph three, above). It seems the community isn’t convinced of his ability to make such a bold statement.

Meanwhile, another intriguing question that has been posed is closely linked to how we grade boulder problems in the first place. Harder problems are obviously linked to effort and often, this comes from the number of sessions it takes to complete. Nalle spent around 60 climbing days (plus supplementary training including replica training) where Albert managed it in 20 (or so i’ve heard).

For many, grading new problems is as simple as that. Personally, i’m not as certain, and while it is a good gauge, Nalle himself states in The Lappnor Project that all the pieces need to fall into place at just the right time for a project at your limit to fall. Is it comprehensible that Albert found this perfect attempt earlier than Nalle with both finding the climbs equally as hard?

Either which way, the debate continues and the critics remain as vocal as ever:

The role of the critic in grounding the process

There are many examples of where critics have proven crucial to development. In academia, as i am learning now, once a paper is published it isn’t really taken as totally genuine unless it has peer review. In journals, responses to papers – and sometimes responses to these by the original author! – are included in the same journal. Unless someone has dissected what you’ve said, it seems it isn’t taken as seriously.

In terms of climbing, sometimes critics who have yet to even visit the climb can offer something to the community in a beneficial fashion. James Pearson learned this the hard way with Walk of Life, after suffering with over-grading with a few climbs in the past. Plenty saw fit to comment, passing judgement as they saw fit and the route was indeed downgraded substantially. It seems that in this case, the community at large was right to get involved and ground the decision.

Not that this made Pearson feel much better and following the furore of Walk of Life he moved to Austria, effectively shunned by the very same people who were calling him the next great climber not months before.

When critics go too far

Of course there comes a point where the critic can go too far; where they can believe they are equal in importance to the “doer of deeds” mentioned by Roosevelt. That is, after all, what started this piece off. The treatment James Pearson received certainly falls into this category.

Offering a distribution of importance between the doer and the critic will always remain impossible, although i would argue the climber (in this case) will always come out ahead: without the critic, the climber’s achievements remain but without the climber, the critic has no critique and fails to exist.

With the anonymity of the modern commentator, there is an ability to comment without risking one’s reputation in the same way as we would in face-to-face conversation. The term Keyboard Warrior is now standard fare, referring to people who don’t actually participate but are quick to judge; the very same that i’m sure Roosevelt was referring to in his original quote.

There is, of course, an irony in me creating a comment on the commentators and thus judging them. I guess the only real difference is the fact that i’m not passing judgement on an individual or a single achievement, more that i’m looking at a practice instead.

For all the criticism that Pearson and Albert have both received in making their bold statements at the time they did, one thing must be said: in researching this post, i have noticed that those repeating the routes are normally very praiseworthy of the initial climber, even if they do disagree with one aspect. And i think that must be remembered.

Criticism is important and the critic has their place in grounding anyone’s achievements. But they must always remember that their very existence relies entirely on the “doer of deeds” and as such, they should always show respect. Charles Albert will always have mine, both for his climb and for his bravery in the face of criticism.

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!

Solstice: October 2018

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 was slightly concerned I would struggle to find time to write this post this year but ironically, one of the reasons for that has freed me up just enough: on Sunday 21st October, our second daughter finally arrived.

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At the start of last year, people would tell me my life was about to change completely; that any hopes of carrying on my old dreams and ambitions would be dashed now there was a little girl about to take centre stage. Paradoxically, they were so right and so wrong at the same time. We couldn't ask for a better child than Rosie and having her join us has made it a totally different adventure in of itself. And now, we've done it again. I couldn't be happier than having little Hannah to join our fun. To come along on our family adventure. Just as before, nothing stops, and now there are three of us to show this little one just how incredible life can be. The adventure hasn't stopped, it's just getting started. Welcome aboard, Hannah Ellen Edwards.

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She is tiny and wonderful and our eldest, Rosie, is very taken with her. The downside is it’s meant Rosie is getting a lot of daddy-daughter time that looks very likely to continue for quite some time. I’m not complaining at having time with Rosie, but it is exhausting spending all my time with Rosie. Toddlers are hard work sometimes!

I am very fortunate to have both a partner and a daughter who have been incredibly supportive and accommodating to my climbing to date; our trips to Glendalough and Fontainebleau aren’t the type of thing you’d normally do with a young child in tow!

Nevertheless, this first week has seen showering and sleeping hard to fit in at times so I’m under no illusions this season will be the one I crack a new grade. Throw in all the other commitments I’ve currently got and I’m climbing terms alone, this will likely be the hardest season I’ve ever had.

2018 Spring/Summer Review

As usual, we now turn to the most challenging part of this post: remembering. At the best of times lately, my mind has been all over the place and having a newborn thrown headlong into the mix hasn’t helped with that! On a course on Friday, i introduced myself with “my second daughter was born last Sunday morning and i’ve since forgotten my name…”

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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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The big, stand out, headline event since last March (second child notwithstanding) has been the Masters degree that started in June and quickly gained momentum. Granted, when i first began, i was totally clueless and it took a little while to realise if i didn’t know something, it was up to me to find it out. Similarly, digging out the right resources and finding the right places to find the right info was a steep learning curve. Four months in and my second assignment will hopefully result in a top-class document.

What’s more, the degree has opened my eyes vis a vis my coaching. More models have been developed and put into practice, working quite nicely. My usual Friday night coaching group shuts down over the summer holidays but since we’ve come back the ideas i’ve developed seem to be effective and helpful.

Of course all of this coaching relied on achiveing some sort of qualification and for years now, i’ve been targeting my SPA. After missing out narrowly on passing the assessment, i opted to try and go around the problem, at least temporarily, and go for my CWA instead.

The CWA – or Climbing Wall Award, now called the Climbing Wall Instructor (CWI) – was primarily an attempt to offer some standardised accreditation for those working in the indoor environment. As such, those on the course are often people working in a climbing wall on taster sessions and birthday parties. I did that work a very long time ago and am now in a very different place so applied for, and got, exemption from the training. Cue one slightly nerving assessment after some last-minute cramming into what exactly i was going to be tested on.

It worked and i passed. What was instantly a huge relief to have this monkey finally off my back suddenly turned into the realisation i have now opened myself up to a shed load more work. Time to go be a coach… almost. There are plenty of hurdles still to overcome.

This site’s sister website, Prowess Climbing Coaching, was adjusted to match this one and a lot of the old articles relating to coaching were moved across. I looked into the particulars of setting up a new business and (please do correct me if i’m wrong) as a sole trader, there is no need for me to do anything other than start trading! PCC is now open for business, save for a couple of hurdles that will be tackled once i have my first client. Please have a look at the website and share with anyone who might be interested.

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Two things are happening here: first, I'm #training to utilise my #core more and keep my feet on. As you can see, more work needs to happen and when they do cut loose, I need to be more accurate getting them back on. But this is easier to see with the second thing: in #experimenting with #slowmotion #analysis to better understand my flaws, they become much more obvious. Yes you can see that poor foot placement in real time but it's so much easier to see when slowed down. It really is a fantastic tool and something I'll be using a lot more in the near future. Oh there's a third lesson: put your camera in a sensible place! I guess that's the pay off with the #phonewedgedinshoe method of filming yourself… #coaching #coach #learning #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion

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All of this has kind of overshadowed any personal climbing to the extent i don’t actually remember much! Which is a bit ridiculous now i’ve looked it up.

The season started, aptly, with an ascent of Regeneration 7b after dismissing Andy’s assessment of Gallt yr Ogof and going for another look. The boulder is awesome, suits me perfectly and that day really set up the rest of the year.

I finally got into the Aberglaslyn to Supercrack 7a and sent Dog Crack 7b with remarkable ease. The spring dry spell made it an ideal venue – i was hoping that would happen one day!

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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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The same could be said of my time under the James Pond roof. Ten years i’d been thinking of heading under there, only for every attempt to be put off by the pond the name implies. This year, the spring kicked in, everything dried up and i made several special efforts to get down there.

It paid off. James Pond 7a was finally sent on the first go no less. I must admit to a bit of sadness that after all this time, it only took one attempt but Bog Pond 7a+ followed in the same session. What’s more, the slightly easier variant of the sit start went too. The original 7b+ sit start would follow a month later.

Around the time i sent the hardest line this year, i also had a visit from one of my best friends, Simon. As the years tick on, the longer the gaps between seeing friends can go but for the best friends, it matters not. It was only a week but i am so glad we managed to sneak in a few sessions at old favourites, and to chew the fat and catch up. It’s never enough but every session is a treat.

In that interim was our trip to Germany. In climbing terms, it was pretty good but that wasn’t what i was thinking of on the drive south. Even the Birthday Tradition continuing into it’s ninth year was overshadowed this time around. With no children and even no Tess in tow, Em and myself found ourselves on a German mountainside where i proposed. We are now officially engaged.

2018 Spring/Summer Goals

  • Go to Germany
  • Start the Masters degree and REALLY work at it
  • Be more productive with my time
  • Actually train, don’t just boulder. 1 in 5 sessions
  • At least one weekend away climbing without the family

Well, that turned out to be a good little list! We went to Germany, carried on the Birthday Tradition for another year and threw in an engagement for fun.

As said, the Masters is driving along like a bullet train and so far, all is going very well. What’s more, i haven’t been this enthused about something for years. I am totally and utterly loving it. Big tick in that box.

As predicted, an Autumn trip was out of the question and this was reflected in the goal of having a weekend to myself. Despite desperate attempts to go to the Lake District, the weather Gods stepped in and sent Lewis and myself east instead.

It was a good little weekend, despite dodging rain and indecision and saw us hit no less than five crags in two days. My idea for a video of Seven 7s will have to wait for another time; this one was just about being happy and being away and in that, was another huge success.

“Be more productive…” was too vague a goal and failed to be anything to work to. Meanwhile, the idea of 1 in 5 training is admirable but not suited to the outdoor season in the summer and one i will move to this coming season instead.

2018 Year-long goals

  • SPA completed (yet again)
  • Try and match Top Ten Yearly Average of 7a+
  • Make big strides into Masters Degree
  • Don’t drop any potential climbs during the Aggregate

That SPA is circumvented, for now, but needs to be kept in the back of my mind. Outside climbing is now a chilly challenge and putting the effort in for that one over the winter is setting myself up for a fail so it’ll wait for the Spring now.

Not dropping any potential climbs during the Aggregate most likely referred to last winter – truth be told, i don’t remember and can’t be bothered to look it up – but my final position was a lofty 3rd! However, it is worth noting that the margin to 4th was 94 points so it’s not such a great achievement. Throw in all the other categories and i dropped to 6th.

This season will be when i adjust the Long Term Athlete Development Model for myself. One of the latter stages is Train to Win, which obviously requires an element of competition and in the Aggregate in its usual guise, that’s fine. This time around though, i’m not bothered about comparing my scores to anyone else and thus am swapping that stage for Train to Complete. For me, now, the competition is against the climbs and i’m hoping to drag my sorry self up as many as i can.

2018 Autumn/Winter Goals

The business end of the lengthy bi-annual post.

  • Climb. A bit. If Possible
  • Coach. A lot. And earn some money from it
  • Learn. A hell of a lot. And keep the pace with the Masters
  • Train. 1 in 5 sessions
  • Complete 85% of the aggregate
  • A trip away without the family in the Spring

While time off with Rosie i could be pretty confident i could fight my way through and keep climbing with her around. Now, she’s at that stage in between being safe to leave to herself and being able to understand boundaries. Then of course, there’s Hannah as well. Simply put, if i have the kids as well, climbing isn’t possible. Not this season anyway.

Available time is a major issue too and other parts of my life MUST take priority, ESPECIALLY this season. That means my focus has to be elsewhere for a while. It’s a shame but to be honest, not the worst timing given my lofty enthusiasm of the last few years is waning ever so slightly.

Critically, the word now is maintain. Come spring, we’ll re-assess and go again. By that point, we should be ready to step it back up again.

Merry Solstice!

 

Some Outdoor Sends

Once i got back from the Peak, it all went a bit quiet. Not that you can tell from my Instagram feed…

But then, slowly, the sessions started coming back. My Friday night coaching session with the Anglesey Adventure Club, started up again after a summer off, i continued route setting at work and was looking pretty reasonable to be honest.

Then, after the weather took a turn for the better, i managed to sneak in a couple of outdoor sessions too.

At the start of October (far too long ago to remember details to be honest) i managed to get out with Tess in tow on a solo Monday session up in the Pass. I’d been thinking about The Crook Roof for some time, keen to repeat and have a better look at the Crook Roof LH 7b, sad at the fact they couldn’t think of a better name…

To begin with, though, i got distracted. The ground under Jerry’s Roof is undoubtedly eroding and more to the point, seems to be progressively sliding down onto the road. Time and again i drive past and see a large collection of stones, all kicked down, and it’s only going to get worse.

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The famous and amazing #jerrysroof; home to uber-classics such as Bus Stop 7b+ Mr Fantastic 8a and of course the namesake problem at 7c. It is a must visit for anyone in #northwales operating in the High 7s and 8s but as such, sees plenty of traffic. If you look closely on the road, you'll see a large pile of stones knocked down, some by sheep but many by thousands of #climbers feet, clambering over the wall, eager to sink their teeth into some quality #bouldering. And that is going to take it's toll. I spent the first ten minutes of my session today putting many of those stones back and I urge anyone going to do the same. The ground is getting lower and the road more full and if everyone going moved one handful of rocks, it would help greatly. Climbing up the wall further to the side would be even better; after all, if you're coming HERE to climb, I'm sure you can manage a slightly harder step off the road. This is everyone's problem, we all need to do it together. #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #grimpeur #escalada #escalade #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #conservation #allinthistogether

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It’s as much my problem as anyone else: while i don’t often climb there, i am local and have climbed on this iconic bloc. I figured i might as well do something to help.

While i finished my smoke, i stood in the road, chucking the stones back above the wall. Granted, i had to repeatedly jump up and down the wall to avoid being run over but it didn’t take long and made a big difference. I’d ask anyone else going there to do likewise; one handful from everyone and it’ll make a huge difference very quickly.

Eventually though, this grew tiresome and i went off to warm up properly. As much as warming up on a 7a doesn’t normally phase me, there was a nearby boulder that looked interesting and i figured it was worth checking out first.

The Dash bloc is indeed cool, with good landings and next to no-one to bother you, other than Alice, who had happened across me while waiting to head off on trad. (Always a lovely person to spend time with, she deserves a huge congrats today as she passed her MIA! Nice one!)

She didn’t stay for long, enough to see me tick off The Dash 6a, The Dash sds 6b+, The Dash Right Hand sds 6c and Dash Arete 5a. Seriously, if you’ve never stopped to marvel at the imagination of climbers when naming routes, you really should…

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Some snaps from my #session yesterday afternoon in the #llanberisspass. I had been keen to go check out the Crook Roof, now 7a but given V5 when I climbed it, but I quickly got distracted by this awesome warm up bloc! #thedash 6a trends up the centre of the #boulder with several variations and the hardest one at 7a moves from the sit start out to the arete with some beautiful moves. It took its toll though and got its pound off flesh in exchange for the send. Well maybe not a pound but certainly enough to stop play for the day. Still, awesome to be out, trying something new and with my loyal crag buddy along too! #worldclasswales #northwalesbouldering #northwales #escalada #escalade #grimpeur #rockclimbing #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion

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After she’d gone and i’d fished out the camera – i’m still self conscious of taking photos/videos of myself when others are watching me – i quickly finished off The Dash Traverse 7a and found it so good, after i stopped the camera, i stepped on and did it again.

Foolish move. The moves are good but the rock is sharp and it put a genuine hole in the index finger on my left hand. I can verify it was a hole: it was bleeding. Yet again, the Crook Roof would have to wait.

The sporadic nature of my climbing sessions continued until Wednesday gone. I’d been supposed to be climbing at the Indy on Tuesday evening but had actually lucked out when the session was cancelled. As pissed as a i was that the battery on the truck was dead and that i was stranded with the shed keys in dad’s pocket 30 minutes away, Wednesday was truly glorious and inside was insane. When my brain became fried early afternoon, i sacked off study and headed out to clear my mind.

I called in to work, printed my project to make annotation easier and bumped into local climber and wall-designer Michelle. We both pondered which venue – we had two options each at first – would yield good conditions before i cruelly decided to hijack her decision to head to Clogwyn y Bustach. She obviously didn’t mind as she appeared later on.

Before she’d arrived, i flashed Problem 22 6b+ and realised it’s actually a lovely little warm up line and worked on repeating Sick Happy now given 7a/+. Much as the first time around, i bottled the top out and even the arrival of three more souls to ease any fears of lying crippled alone, and without the excuse of a wet topout, i still couldn’t bring myself to finish it properly.

Instead i joined Michelle on Rudder’s Wall 7a+/b, indeed a line i’d had in mind for ages but couldn’t figure out the beta. It was awesome to have Michelle to work on it with, and to steal the beta from, even if she wanted me to get it first to show her the topout. Turns out it’s not me that struggles getting onto the top of that bloc…

We climbed almost until dark, bidding a hasty retreat in the twilight. No blood loss this time around and a great little evening!

Motivations

A glorious day was Wednesday last week, not a cloud in the sky, the rock dry as anything and what did i do? I drove fourteen miles and paid £5 to go swimming in an indoor pool.

Every instinct told me i had other, better options. Tess couldn’t come with me, surely going outside would be better. The pass is closer to my house than the nearest swimming pool, it would be quicker. It’s not going to stay dry like this much longer, make the most! Even training in the mill or the Indy would be better strength gain. And still, despite all of these thoughts swimming around my head, swimming was all i could think of. I had to go.

It seems an unknown fact that i used to swim competitively; albeit not at a great standard. I swam on the Masters circuit – not typically a home for the youth of today and while i won a large stack of medals in every colour, that was often as i was the only swimmer in my age group…

Still, for a couple of years, i swam, got strong and found myself in the upper echelons of my local club, often swimming in the fast lane and competing around the country. In 2012, i competed in around half a dozen towns and cities in the UK.

Then, for various reasons including time commitments and apathy, it tailed off and i stopped swimming as much and got back on the wall. The competitions waned and i stopped training, to the point that by the time Rosie arrived, i’d pretty much stopped altogether. Lately, that desire to feel the water encompass my body has been coming back.

And so it transpired that on the perfect day for outdoor bouldering and with a suitable project in mind, not to mention the work that needed doing that i was aptly avoiding, i sacked it all off and found myself with more headwear than clothing on poolside, thrilled at what i was about to do and pondering coaching and participation motivation.

I’d already come up with the idea that i could call my swim “cross training” but even as i thought it, i knew it was an excuse. Still, it’s not wrong and swimming – i mean goggles, swim hat, head down and put some effort in here, not a breast-stroke pootle keeping your hair dry – compliments climbing superbly. Back in the day,  a few swimming sessions would allow my fingers to recover, for example, but wouldn’t let my shoulders become weaker. In fact, it made them stronger and developed antagonists really well.

Do what you want

Not that cross training made any difference on Wednesday: the simple fact was that i wanted to go swimming and with that, it was instantly the most productive thing i could’ve done. Motivation is a major driver for participation.

The fact is there is no point trying to force yourself to do something that you’re not entirely invested in. You’ve got to want to do it.

Granted, sometimes, when it comes to training, you have to really want to but even then, if you don’t want to bother, you’re never going to give it your all. In this case, i was going to gain more going for a swim that i was psyched for than a climb that i couldn’t really be bothered with.

Motivations for participation (sorry for the buzz-phrase) are heavily investigated in academic circles and a major question for many outdoor pursuits centres. After all, it’s important to understand why people actually want to go climbing, for example, so they can tailor their offer to maximise the amount of people they appeal to. However, on a personal level, the message is simple: do what you actually want to do. Most of the time at least.

Time away

All this being said, i’m not about to ditch my rock boots in favour of goggles any time soon; far from it! In fact, i’ve been keeping a wary eye on this weekend for what will hopefully a hugely enthusiastic trip away from home.

The destination in mind is most definitely the Lake District and i am absolutely stoked for it. I’ve been printing off topos, watching videos online and even making lists of kit needed for the weekend. It will be my first trip without Em since Spring 2016 and while i will undoubtedly miss her terribly, and i’ve loved having her company on our adventures, i am really looking forward to some time away to crank hard on some unfamiliar boulders.

It will surely be my last excursion for quite some time, too, with our second child expected at the end of next month.

Not that the planning has been plane sailing. Recruitment has once again proven tricksome, not helped by a poor forecast. It’s also led to a dilemna: there is more rain forecast in the Lakes than in the Peak or Yorkshire. But there is more chance of finding something to climb on the steep grab and pull of Cumbria.

So, do we head where the weather is likely worse with possibly better options in the West, or try and play it safe but risk having nothing at all to go at in the East? I leave in the morning and still haven’t comletely made up my mind.

The current plan is the Lake District, both as crags like the Bowderstone both retain dry lines after rain and the psyche level is higher. Still that may change by the end of the M56. Tomorrow, we find out.

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All thoughts at the moment have turned to next weekend and an upcoming trip to the #lakedistrict. So I've searched through my archives and this is about the only picture I can find that is even remotely related to the #bouldering to be found there at I have! This is a shot of the #langdaleboulders from 2012 and possibly the last time I touched rock in this #beautiful corner of #England. There is a host of amazing #rockclimbing to be found there at over hitherto neglected in favour of the same old places so this time, I am definitely keen for new venues. Currently the forecast isn't looking that promising but such is the desire to get to crags like the bowderstone that we may just go anyway and hope for the best. #lakesbouldering @greg_lakesbloc #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #scenary #mountains #outdoors

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Back in the Swing Of Things

And with that little revelation, normal service is resumed. I hadn’t climbed since that poor session at Plas y Brenin a fortnight ago until last night when i headed back to the Indy.

I certainly wasn’t any stronger, although possibly more rested. To be honest, on my way i wasn’t any more psyched, particularly, merely armed with the knowledge that confidence breeds competence. My technique wasn’t any better and to be honest, my tactics remained largely unadjusted. The only difference was that epiphany.

It is remarkable what a difference a subtle change in attitude can do. I finished my session with a 7b retro flash, of a problem i had almost managed last time, tickling the top before plummeting in what i now think may have been more ammunition for my self-perpetuating downward spiral. This time, it fell first time during the warm up. Next, another 7b that suited me perfectly, on Jenga blocks; it fell quickly and in good style.

A break, that lasted a little longer than i intended preceded that send and after, i was looking for another to try. A friend offered up the project he was trying for me to have a go and, unexpectedly, i flashed it. I hate doing that and wouldn’t do it deliberately, sometimes that’s the way it goes. It did turn out to be useful for him, as my beta on the lower section avoided him using a knee that was causing him pain.

I tried a couple of other problems without ever getting going, flashed a 7a+ with a bit of a fight and found myself sat under a 7b+ that really tickled my fancy. Andy had mentioned some hidden beta in it but i couldn’t really see what he meant so opted to jump on and see how it went.

By the end of the session, when all energy had sapped from my body and it was obvious i wouldn’t complete it, i had managed it in two halves, one move away from linking it together. Aside from that, though, was the style of the crux move.

Without getting into the annoying move-by-move of the climb, the crux involved a tricky cross through that was hard to hold and a big move up with the right hand to salvation. It was more like two separate boulder problems stacked atop each other, the upper problem starting just before the crux. This was where Andy’s beta came in but i didn’t use it. Instead, i performed a move reminiscent of Johnny Dawes that flowed so beautifully, it stole the show of the whole session.

Hands primed on the holds, left foot pressing hard on it’s own, i rested my right foot on a crimp too high to provide power… yet. Left hip went up and i snatched the next hold with my left hand but as my body then untwisted, i simultaneously pulled and pushed with my right foot that now suddenly engaged. In one seamlessly smooth motion, i completed both crux moves in one, cruising through to the easier moves above.

I don’t know how it looked – an onlooker, a regular working the problem with me, seemed impressed – but it felt like pure bliss. It’s hard to describe and i really wish i’d caught it on camera as moves like that rarely happen, especially on harder climbs. It is something you’d see from Udo Neumann (above) or, as mentioned, Johnny Dawes and it is incredibly hard to perform or coach. The only reason it happened for me was purely subconscious.

I was back, primed and fighting fit. 7a+ flash, 7b retro flash, another 7b in a session, 7b flash and a 7b+ in two halves would’ve been a very pleasing session when i was fully fit! So imagine this after the abject failure of two weeks prior.

It just goes to show quite how important having the right mindset is on performance. Get it wrong and don’t get off the floor. I can feel my confidence and my belief come back almost immediately, and i’m back in the golden spot on the DCBA scale that has proven so important for me in the past.

The DCBA Scale the optimal mindset in order to maximise their own performance

Finding the Fight

It is no secret that i am out of shape and this weekend gone certainly confirmed it. Friday night at the Indy saw me just scrape what i would class as par but then a Saturday afternoon in the wall at work saw me dramatically under-performing. What was significant was why i was under-performing.

At the Indy, i did feel weak and wasn’t shy in exclaiming such. Tim heard it from his captive position behind the counter (sorry dude) and Em certainly got it once i got home: “I’m old, weak, fat and ugly”.

I repeated this, much as i have been for a few weeks now but perhaps i was saying it a bit too much; over-compensating? making excuses? Who exactly was i trying to convince?

At the Brenin, i struggled badly. Climbs that i should be able to walk up spat me off. Indeed, climbs that i set threw me. After failing on a trunk-route 7a, i opted to change tact and try a bit of campus movement. A yellow route would suffice, nice easy jugs, certainly doable.

The first move didn’t exactly turn into a campus move. I’d got a right foot on to get going, the starting jugs being a bit low, but as i tried the move, my foot stayed pinned to the hold. Odd, i should’ve cut loose. Oh well, carry on, campus the next few moves, up to the penultimate hold. Matched, as the last move is far, i pulled up and didn’t even throw a hand in it’s direction, i just came back down to the ground.

Now this is odd: it is not common for me not to commit to a move, certainly not indoors and CERTAINLY not on a route like this. I didn’t even try the move! I eyed it up, decided it was too far before i’d even tried, did a token gesture and came back down. This is not normal.

Was it a fear of failure? Don’t try, don’t fail, don’t look so stupid? And then it hit me, an epiphany that slapped me in the face harder than the ground when i jumped off: i’ve slipped down the DCBA Scale and i’ve managed to convince MYSELF that i’m not strong enough. I’ve actually managed to talk myself out of being able to do anything.

There are Four Facets of Rock Climbing Performance: Technique, Strength and Conditioning, Tactics and Mentality. These are the four areas that encompass all climbing performance and any area of weakness can be traced back to at least one of these Facets. What i’d suddenly realised was that where i thought the problem was (S&C) had actually shifted without my realising and now manifested itself in a problem with my Mentality. That didn’t mean i was suddenly stronger than before but it meant there were more problems too.

I kept on with the analysis and realised i’d talked myself into having problems with ALL of the Facets. I wasn’t really trying and when i was, i was trying the wrong things at the wrong time and lacked the necessary structure. Even my technique was failing as my mind continually worried i couldn’t hold on – ironically putting more pressure on the muscles that weren’t up to it in the first place! It was a vicious cycle. But suddenly, with this epiphany, the cycle had been broken. In that instant, the problem had shifted significantly.

I could still feel the pain and the ache in my body so i knew the S&C issues were still there but now i understood the problem, i could begin to address it. For a while i’d been suggesting my next move is mileage on the wall and now it is even more true. I can’t afford to wait for the start of the winter aggregate, training starts now. And it needs to be much more purposeful.

The one bright side to this is it could help my career and demonstrates wonderfully the need both for coaching in rock climbing and self-assessment and self-coaching. It has also given me a nice little case study to help cement the theories i’ve been working on over the last few months.

I am now fully immersed in my Masters degree; a Professional Masters in Elite Performance with the University of Central Lancashire. Basically i’m looking at coaching in rock climbing and as such, at the moment i’m reading loads about the Adventure Sports Coach. It seems this is a new role in the outdoor industry and is facing some opposition.

Certainly, the coaching qualifications with the Mountain Training Association faced some mild backlash as many of the old guard failed to see the need for formalised coaching in rock climbing. While this is one isolated incident, it demonstrated to me at least that there really is a need for a coach, and an educated and reflective one, in this sport; competitive or otherwise.

Something had twigged in my head. I hit the ground and swore very loudly, thankfully in an empty room. The realisation that my mentality or worse, my technique may not be at their best had got under my skin and pissed me off. I’ve always prided myself on these two aspects of my climbing and the idea that they weren’t working properly got me angry.

I caught a glimpse of my reflection and there i was: clenched jaw, furrowed brow, there was fire in my belly again. The hunched body language of earlier was gone, now i was up for a fight.

I walked back over to the yellow and tried again. First move, second move a big squeeze and i could feel my shoulders tensing as i felt better about myself. Carry on, move after move, giving my all. I’d done it, i’d changed that mindset and i’d completed it. All bar the last move. I was too tired.

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.

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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…