Tag Archives: sport

Divine Intervention

On a week trip like this, in Font at least, Friday is earmarked as the day for taking Tess to the vet.It’s pretty straightforward these days and so far, touch wood, i’ve never had a problem with her. The vet in Milly la Foret is excellent, on the Avenue du General Leclerc (directions here) and they have only ever been incredibly quick and efficient. That being said, while they are quick at sorting out me and my dog, the wait to get in can take quite a while. And of course, this being France, they’re closed for lunch until 2pm.

So we took the HUGELY unusual step on Friday morning to head out to the crag BEFORE we went to the vet. While this may not seem that incredible, anyone who has seen me in the mornings will realise how uncommon it is, and how much i really don’t like mornings.

Now was time to go somewhere different but the same: back to Franchard Isatis to try and get something of some substance done. So far, while i’d managed a series of 7a ticks, there was nothing above 7b – and even that was a solitary and speculative tick of <em>Canonball</em>. I wanted something harder to go home with and <em>Divine Decadence</em> 7b+ was the next one to try.

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As we left the car, Simon had mentioned to me that we could probably do with some more chalk and, with the brown paper bag having a small hole in the corner, i picked up the large sample bag of Snap chalk to chuck in the chalk bag. Thanks to the hole, we threw the lot in. That ought to do it! we’ve got plenty now.

It was a severely stupid idea. Take my advice on this: when you’re working a hard project, don’t switch chalk half way through. With the new beta wired, i knew exactly what to do but when i threw my right hand onto the slopey dish, it simply slid off. It wasn’t the conditions, and it was obsessively brushed, it was just that my hand didn’t connect to the rock through the layer of chalk. It might just be me but i swear, i will never buy another bag of Snap chalk as long as i carry on climbing.

A young German climber arrived to try <em>Le Surplomb Statique</em> 6a and was in need of chalk. By the time we left him, he had filled his chalk bag up to overflowing…

In exchange, he offered his pad to save the harsh thump that had resulted in my brain rattling around my skull slightly. It made much difference and i owe him a vote of thanks for that!

So, with Simon resting, photographing and generally bumming around Isatis for the interim, i tried over and over on this little problem. At one point Si went to show our new German friend <em>Spongebob</em> and i’m sure they were probably hoping that when they came back, i’d have it done. Sadly, no such luck.

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Then, after about two hours of toil, the feet felt good, i hit and stuck the right sloper, moved a left foot up and stuck a toe hook around the arete, reached out left and hit the giant white sloper. My feet pinged but i shuffled my hand, chucked in a heel hook and a few moves later was pulling over the top.

It made what had already been an outstanding week an unmitigated success. I’d now got my 7b+ tick and another monkey off my back – even if i do now need to go and tick the sit, in a manner not too disimilar to Carnage

But that was a worry for Sunday. Now more pressing matters were at hand and we headed into Milly. After an hour, Tess was all good to get back into the UK and we wandered round for a bit of shopping. Milly is such a quaint little town that even for non-climbers, i would still recommend a visit. The iconic market shelter in the centre is highlighted on a brown “point of interest” sign from the motorway and is still used for it’s intended purpose today.

Gifts purchased, and a spot of lunch eaten and we picked up some sausages for dinner and headed back. Our decision to head out had been vindicated by the rain that began while we were in the vets, and continued while we wandered the shops and sat eating sandwiches and drinking beer but now it had stopped, we made a quick detour before heading back to the site, to have a wander around Rocher aux Sabots.

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Simon, being Canadian, hasn’t had chance to explore the forest as much as myself, for obvious geographical reasons, and this was one of those crags he’d not been – but surely needed to! Classics of every grade, secluded but still a suntrap, easy access but not roadside and not overly popular with non-climbers, as we wandered round, i said to Si that Sabots is probably my favourite crag in the forest.

We weren’t there to climb though, the lure of sausages high on our minds, so i showed Si around, pointing out some of the stand out lines and some of the projects. I had a look at Smash 7b, thinking how i’d really wanted to try this but it looked SO much bigger than i’d remembered. We glanced at Graviton 7a (which looks desperate) and Sale Gosse 7c (which also looks desperate) and then headed home, via a small group playing around l’Oblique 7a. If nothing else, it was worth a wander.

Dinner was again excellent, if a little simple. Fried French sausages in baguette with some fried onions, it tasted absolutely delicious. By this point, we’d put the tarp up to give us some shelter from the slight rain and again, i’d realised how invaluable these small pieces of equipment are. It is something everyone who goes camping should chuck in.

Saturday morning came and we found ourselves perched in the same spot – under the tarp, contemplating what to do with ourselves. The rain had dampened everything but had seemingly subsided, so we were wondering options. Simon’s suggestion was to go to Karma: the local climbing wall in Font but i was very much opposed. I understood his thought process – we were there to climb so climb we should – but i was loathed to go inside unless absolutely necessary and even more loathed to part with money for the pleasure. Still, it beat my other suggestions, which didn’t quite hit the spot either and it would give me a first chance of the week to sit and do some writing.

Now all week, at this point, Simon had been regularly checking the weather forecast while i had thought it pointless. I’d merely come up with plans for each contingency but Si seemed to want to know. At one point he even checked the forecast to see what it thought the weather was doing at the very moment for where we were. Now, the tables had turned and i got my phone out.

We needed to be at the train station on Sunday at 11 o’cock at the latest. I’d then need to leave at around 7 o’clock myself to catch my ferry home. The forecast for Sunday? To start raining at 11am and stop at around 8pm… And that was the time i’d earmarked to go and finish off Carnage assis

I didn’t even look up. “Let’s go to Cuvier. Now”

Simon understood and i think was quite keen to get on the selected project too. Once i explained, we were up and getting ready, packing stuff as best we could to speed up the next morning. After all, the longer we waited, the drier it would hopefully become.

Soon enough, we were parking up in the familiar spot. No wasting time on easy problems today, we went straight to the Place du Cuvier, straight to the project in question. As is usual, we weren’t alone and threw our pads down to add to the pile already there. It seemed a little bit of an odd way to warm up, given what was around me, but star jumps, waving arms and some Power Fingers were employed to get me going and then i was on.

There was a German guy who had met us at this very spot the previous year there also working the sit start diligently. I chalked up, cruised the first two moves and dropped going into the finger pocket/crimp. First go, can’t complain, chalk up again, be patient. I actually went and put my hoody on for some reason, even thinking as i did that i wasn’t really that cold…

Next thing you know, i’d stuck the first hard move, managed to get both hands up to the poor pair of crimpy slopers then was slapping onto the boss, thinking to myself how it wasn’t as good as i remembered… But i really didn’t want to drop it from here so gurned onwards to suddenly find myself topping out onto the top of the tall bloc.

Shouts of “Whoop!” and “Finally!” and even a “Six fucking years!” rang out from the top of the boulder, followed shortly by the familiar “We can go home now, Tess”. And as much as i was now firmly thinking about home, it did more crucially mean there was nothing else left for me on this boulder: Helicopter scaring the shit out of me so much i can barely bring myself to watch other people on it, Abatoir 7a being a bit too similar to be comfortable and Berezina 7c on the right not appealing at all, this was it, i was finally free of it’s alure. Granted, it had eaten up another three days of a week long trip but now it was done, it was time to move on. And that in itself made it all so worthwhile.

Admitted

Sometimes, the hardest part about injuries is admitting you’re injured. I mean, most of the time it’s not – you’re in pain and you can feel it but every now and again, it’s subtle enough that denial can overwhelm the issue and you carry on regardless.

After last week’s nasty fall, i ended up having a few days off (thanks to working, to be fair) before heading out again on Friday night. To be true, it felt fine, almost entirely healed and i was scratching at the door to get out of work and climb something. Diesel Power was the obvious aim but when i found out Em was heading in the opposite direction to help out a friend, i opted to follow and stop off to try the modern classic Roof of a Baby Buddha 7c+ instead.

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In the woods near #betwsycoed is a lone #boulder with a problem of such majesty, it cannot be ignored. #roofofababybuddha is it's name, 7c+ it's grade, around ten moves that are simply stunning. What's odd is that only today I was looking at @shaunacoxsey on instagram and thinking I'd like to see more outdoor pics (then I realised it's comp season and I was being stupid). Then, when searching online for video beta, I found a vid of her on this very same #climb. Strangely, sat here while it gets slowly darker, feel a bit honoured to be getting on the same problems as one of Britain's best. Might have to watch it again to try and nail the sequence… #worldclasswales #northwales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #meclimbing

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It’s one of the few remaining from the original list (one of four in fact) but a touch more conditions dependent, being hidden away in the forest and being quite porous rock. Found by local beast and super nice guy Dave Noden while out for a walk with his son and subsequently one of North Wales best grade 7 lines. It’s been on my radar since i first saw it a couple of years ago.

So, with everything falling into place, i sprinted from work, drove up the forest track to drop off the large pile of stuff, then back down to leave the car at the bottom of the hill. There was a touch of a contentious issue about parking here for a little while so i would strongly emplore people to park at the bottom of the hill and walk up. It might seem odd, with plenty of suitable parking spots along that track but this is what has been requested by the locals so please abide the requests and don’t jeopardise access for this stunning boulder. Besides, you’d be surprised how much traffic i saw drive past while i was there.

So, warmed up by running back up the hill, i quickly blasted through the “standing start” (there isn’t a separate climb as a standing start, just so you know) following lots of video beta. Then it was on to the business end of getting the tough moves through the roof wired.

The night’s are still creeping in too early at the moment so i armed myself with my new lantern right from the off, getting a bit more light in the shady roof straight away. It was a good session, getting most of the moves wired and feeling good with just the awkward foot swap to negotiate. And what’s more is that it didn’t hurt me at all.

But the next day was a different matter. All day, i felt stiff and achy and was torn with indecision whether to get out or not. Even as i began the descent down the road from Pen y Pass, i still couldn’t make up my mind so when i reached the Cromlech boulders and saw two lads finishing off the Edge Problem i opted to stop and have a chat.

It wasn’t long before i realised i wouldn’t make any progress on Diesel Power. While it might sound shallow, it kinda meant i didn’t want to bother climbing. I never like repeating climbs i’ve done before and at the Cromlech, there’s not much that’s easy and workable left. Still, the two lads i met were keen so i offered to show them the Cromlech Roof Crack V6/7 around the back, and maybe have a play on Sleep Deprivation V8.

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Sometimes the mind says go but the body says no. It can be hard to ignore though, as I found when I stopped at the #cromlechboulders on the way home. Torn with indecision, I bumped into two young lads experiencing their first time at the roadside face, so I dragged them round the back to try the #cromlechroofcrack. Thankfully for me, they didn't last long, as I found I was broken from last night's exploits, and #sleepdeprivation turns out to be utterly brutal. Short #session then, rest up. Maybe for tomorrow… #worldclasswales #northwales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #meclimbing

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I don’t regret the decision to try Buddha Roof on Friday but my choice to stop at the Cromlech was a poor one; driven by excessive keenness that clouded my judgement. It meant a regression in my recovery which was, in hindsight, idiotic – especially given i knew it was a bad idea at the time and did it anyway.

Sunday compounded the issue. I’ve spent the weekend not technically working but on a Development Coach Training course at work. While it was a good course, and much more relevant to the sessions i’m currently running than the Foundation Coach Training from last year, there was quite a lot of time in the climbing wall and at one point, i was asked to perform a drop knee as part of an exercise. As i did, my face screwed up in pain and i started making silly noises. It was so obvious that Dave Rudkin even came up to me afterwards and asked if i was okay, given i “looked in a lot of pain”.

That was the point i announced to myself that i am now injured; something that was far from easy to admit. I’ve always been pretty good at injuries, stopping as soon as i get any sort of tweak at all but this time, i feel i’ve pushed my luck a little. Even the belt of my trousers is making me feel sore. So, i’ve filled my evenings this week with other stuff, and am sacking off everything (even tonight’s coaching session) until Sunday. Even then, i’ll be playing it by ear and potentially just resorting to a beastmaker/campus session. In the mean time, i’ll be praying that’s enough.

Power Down

The bit now firmly between my teeth, and Emily busy for the evening, i stopped for an after-work session at the Cromlech boulders on the way home for an hour or so of torch-lit blasting up the next project: Diesel Power V11/8a. It might seem absurd and i’ve long since extolled the fact that it is one of the worst possible crags for me to gain a long term project (roadside is REALLY not dog-condusive) but if i’m honest, and probably a little bit arrogant to be fair, it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be that long a wait…

That might be me underestimating the climb slightly. I’ve lost count of the number of sessions on it to date – not because there have been that many, i’m just not good at keeping count – and have already done all the moves. It’s an iconic North Wales classic line; a must for anyone operating in that grade range and a good solid one for a first 8a that isn’t brutally hard for the grade. And it suits me very well indeed.

So with Jerry’s done, this is the next hard one on my radar. That’s not to say i’m only going to get on this for the next few months, but it is a priority, especially when i’ve only got a short while. Being roadside certainly does lend itself to torch-lit sessions on the way home so why not i guessed.

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In the shadow of the great and imposing #dinascromlech tonight lay a torch lit #boulder and an 8a project: #dieselpower – the next big thing on my agenda. Layered up to the gills to try and ease the cold brought by the fierce wind, it turned out the temperature wasn't the way the wind had in mind to punish me. Bumping my hand on the third move, the pad, shuffled relentless by gusts, slid down from under me and a split second later, my left hand blew hard from the hold. With nothing now holding me up and momentum from that hand throwing me downwards rapidly, I hit bare rock. Hard. Hip first, then shoulders. I lay there for a second, wincing and gasping, checking how everything felt. A little over half an hour later, it's okay but REALLY hurts, right up into my lower back. I'll find out in the morning how bad it is. Shame really as I was linking the first four moves well with only one more really hard one to go! The lantern from #screwfix Was ace though, I'm sure you'll agree! #llanberispass #snowdonia #northwales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #headtorchsession #night #nightsession

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Anyway, after faffing far too much at work on the way out the door, eventually i rocked up at the layby next to the boulders keen as mustard and ready to give it a token gesture warm up before seeing if i had the Power. Turns out i wasn’t the only one from the Brenin with that idea; local all round beast Dave Evans was there also having a quick effort on the way home, and new Assistant Instructor Kris McCooey spotted us on the way to the Beacon and stopped off too.

It’s worth giving Kris a bit of a mention at this point. On the roadside face is a climb called The Edge Problem. Originally given V5 from the two horizontal slots, the ground has now eroded to the extent that even with stacked pads, this is out of reach for all but the unnaturally tall. These days, you’re far more likely to do the sit start – one where your backside simply cannot reach the floor.

Wherever you start, the problem is notorious. The slots for the stand start are fiercely small, as is the next hold for the left hand and many a strong climber has repeatedly been spat off this climb, often to the point of never going back. Two old friends who are both substantially stronger than myself have long since given up on it, finding their strong sausage fingers simply too big to get in the slots.

For those of us with small girly fingers, like me, he says smiling wryly to himself, the tiny slots soon become little finger jugs but nevertheless, The Edge Problem is still a fierce little boulder problem that bites back all those who don’t take the time to woo her correctly.

All except Kris, it seems. Kris arrived at the face, never having been and asked us what was there, starting with The Ramp V1 and then ticking off Pocket Wall V4, both slowly and carefully. By this point, i was getting impatient and had moved a pad under The Edge to warm up my fingers for my attempt on Diesel Power. Much to my surprise, he decided to join me and then did something i’m not sure i’ve ever seen before: he flashed it.

Not only did he flash it, he did it with such ease that as he rocked over the top, i was left feeling that he might pip me to Diesel Power, were he to stay and join me. While i continued to smoke as a post-warm up rest, he then got on the equally brutal Johnny’s Problem V7 next to it and dropped the last move. It was some of the most impressive climbing i have seen in a very long time.

Kris, Dave and Jack Rattenbury (another local who had rocked up for a quick session and headed to Jerry’s Roof with Dave) all departed and left me in the company of my lantern and self, underneath Diesel Power thinking “what if?”. Meanwhile, the wind continued to batter me and remind me that despite the nice weather, North Wales can often still have a bit of a kick to her sometimes; chilling my hands and blowing the pads out of position.

The problem is a fierce crimp fest that requires substantial body tension. Yet, the first move, for me at the moment, feels remarkably straightforward. The second follows suit and then i’m left with a choice: follow the normal beta and bump right hand up or go left hand onwards instead. Both moves feel equally fine and both will be followed by another brutal one so i’m trying to make my mind up. On my last effort, i opted to bump the right hand.

But as i did, possibly slightly distracted or maybe simply through too much sweat, my left hand exploded from the fine crimp. My right hand mid move, i was suddenly catapulted downwards with great force, unable to do anything about it. While this is not an uncommon occurence, on this occasion, it almost caused me substantial problems.

What had distracted me was my pad. The wind, as i’ve mentioned, had been lifting them and shuffling them around since i had placed them on the rock beneath the climb and while i was setting up to thrust upwards, i had heard it slide down the rock slightly.

Only it wasn’t a slight movement: it had completely moved from underneath me. So when i departed downwards with excessive force, there was nothing between by bony hip and the rock beneath.

I hit it with a thud, hard. The one consolation was that the force of my left hand had twisted me round in the air, meaning i didn’t fall straight back onto my back but instead landed entirely on my left hip, my shoulders falling back on the rock but the hip had taken the brunt of the force by this point. It was as bad as i’ve had for a long time.

I lay there trying to assess the damage. I often carry my phone on me while i climb, just in case and lying there, alone, in the dark, i wondered if this was one of those times i would be glad i had. This could be really bad, if i’ve broken something or cracked my pelvis but with no signs of nausea, i tentatively decided to try and get up.

Lots of groaning and moaning followed but thankfully, the pain wasn’t that bad and i seemed to be in tact. Such is the level of my enthusiasm at the moment, i considered trying again but being as i was struggling to walk, i opted to call it a night. Packing up was slow but eventually i got everything together, arrived home and proceeded to limp my way around and eventually have a rather uncomfortable nights sleep.

Today, i’ve been hobbling around Plas y Brenin, explaining with simply i “fell off” whenever quizzed. Nevertheless, given half a chance, i’d be there again tonight, after my shift finishes at 9pm and i’ve been home to collect stuff. Sometimes, the psyche is that high. It is purely from my better judgement that i’ve opted not to. Helps i’ve got an Em to keep me company.

Feeling Lucky, Punk?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For being tall…” i replied.

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

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

Reasons to be Cheerful, One to Ten

So initially this post was going to be Ten Reasons Life is Good but when i started to write it, i found it wasn’t right. Granted, i can easily find ten things about my life that mean things are good right now but it’s not what i want to talk about; they’re things that have been around for a while and aren’t what’s made my ears hurt from smiling. No, in all truth and honesty, there are merely two reasons that there is currently a (literal) skip in my step.

In my first draft of this, i started with the weather and it is true, the weather seems to have turned and now i’m getting out regularly. But this isn’t really the cause of my recent happiness, it’s just a trigger. It’s meant that after a long nine-day stretch in work, on Thursday gone, i was finally off with fine conditions and there was only one place on my radar: Sheep Pen.

Pads packed in the Landy (another one on the aforementioned list that, granted, does make me smile every time i get in) and we were off, a relaxed start a must. Turns out the conditions were too good – sunny meant warm and after a poor warm up that did little to inspire confidence, i could feel my fingers sliding off the gaston hold. Last time i was there, i was wearing everything i had. This time, less than a fortnight later, i’m down to skin and i’m still too warm!

[It is worth noting that normally, i am not a climber known for complaints about conditions and will generally try anything any time. I’m currently planning an article on this subject for the near future]

But this does lead me into one of the reasons i am currently walking with a spring in my step: my companion for the day, for i was not alone this time. My girlfriend was with me.

I’ve always tried to avoid talking about my personal life on here, it’s not relevant or appropriate. But Emily is entirely relevant to this story, crucial in fact as she followed me up the steep gully approach, carrying a pad for me, fully ready to spend the day sat on a rock watching me repeatedly fall off the first move of Jerry’s Problem V10. Or at least, i hope she was as that’s exactly what happened!

For an outsider, bouldering like this must seem more than a little obscure, and i was struggling to think of another sport like it: you do the same movement, time and time and time again, over and over, until you finally do it right and then move onto another equally unique move. With gymnastics, for example, there is a limit to the number of said movements but not with climbing, it is infinite and no two moves are identical. But compared to something else, you repeat the same thing dozens of times to get it just right. It must seem a bit weird.

And yet, there she sat, taking photos, offering whatever help she could, consoling me and hugging me when i needed it and giving me hope when it started to wane. She was the perfect person to have there that day and i hope more than any climbing aspirations that she is there for a lot more of them. And the few words of encouragement she did offer out loud while i was on the wall were equally perfect, both in what she said and when she said it.

For as the sun dipped behind Foel Goch, the temperature dropped several degrees. I began to shiver slightly and felt the holds. No grease! Now is the time, now is when it shall fall.

It took another hour (or thereabouts, i have no idea on time scales) of repeatedly falling and i’d completed the route from one move in twice now. I lowered onto the starting hold, looked up as i have so many times i struggle to comprehend, and sprung upwards to the left gaston. I hit it and stayed on the wall, clawing my fingers around the hold to desperately try and get as much possible purchase from the hold as i could. I threw my right hand up and hit the crozzly pocket, also not perfect but enough to keep me on for a second to readjust. On previous efforts, my right foot had popped off the small hold but not this time and i lifted my left foot onto the rail my fingers had started on.

Now the right foot came to join it and the left was left to dangle. I looked up again and saw the juggy rail i was aiming for. From behind me, a voice said, with mild surprise, “Go on, Pete!” in such a way as to imply that, after so many times falling off, this might just be it, maybe. I almost imagined that Em was actually looking away during those first two moves and had suddenly turned around and realised i was still on. It was just what i needed, at just the right time and i thrusted upwards to hit the good hold.

I was still on and moved my left up to the sanctuary of the finger jug for my left hand. Just one more move and a top out now, it’s easy but i was nervous. Drop off here and i might not get back, certainly not today! As i looked for the exit jug, i thought to myself “Don’t drop it” but just at that point, the voice behind gently said “Come on,”

It gave me that added little edge of confidence. It’s an easy move, and i knew it but it was almost as if Em’s voice had released me from my nervous tension and as she said it, i flew upwards and hit the jug. I hung there for a second, savouring the moment before realising if i dropped it here, i’d never forgive myself. Come on, get on with it, get it done and with that, i threw the left heel on top of the boulder and rolled around to be safely stood atop the block.

The whooping and hollering started even before i’d finished – a normally reserved climber unable to contain his excitement. Another hard problem, a new grade! my first V10! and the perfect one in the perfect setting with the perfect companion! And there, with that, i moved into the next grade boundary. V10. 7c+. Something i never thought would happen.

Hard bouldering is a strange game, as i mention regularly but more specifically, right at the top of  you ability, i find there’s something specific. Stood on top of the boulder, cheering and whooping to my hearts content, looking down at Tess and Em, i suddenly started to question what i’d done. Did i really just do that? I had to ask her! It doesn’t feel like it just happened, such is the extent that you’re engrossed in the movement at the time. I’ve had this plenty, where it doesn’t feel real and you have no recollection of what you’ve just done. Jerry’s Problem is five moves and a top out, not exactly much to remember! But it’s gone from your mind in the immediate aftermath of success, the exhaustion and exhilaration pushing it all away to the point where you question if you’d actually floated up the wall instead. Or more likely cheated and not noticed, with a sneaky dab for example. I asked, did i really do that? The smile said it all but Em said it anyway: “Yeah! You did it!”

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Not the actual #sequence (not the sudden disappearance of the hat…) but these are the moves that I somehow managed to link together. A brutal first few moves of utter delight, a few beautiful moves where you have to keep it together and not get too excited and then pure delight. #jerrysproblem V10/7c+ First problems of each grade for me are often forgotten but I wanted this one to be perfect and it was: the crag is my favourite in #northwales, the moves flowing while making you burst with effort, the day glorious and the company (and the words of encouragement) couldn't have been better from @emks93. This one will live long in the memory and rightly so. What a day. Thanks to all those who contributed. #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram

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I came back down and we hugged and kissed, Em just as excited at my success as me. I couldn’t believe myself. Andy Marshall, my old friend and colleague, has long since accused me of not truly trying with my climbing. Perhaps he is right. But only up to now. I know the feeling when i’m giving it my all and now, the goal posts now forcibly moved by completing my annual goal in mid-March! i’ll be finding the right climb and going for it. For the greater the effort, the sweeter the reward. And right now, thirty years of effort have given me the greatest reward i ever could’ve asked for.

Almost Perfection

Much as the worm did for the Two Ronnies, the weather around here is slowly starting to turn. Sessions are becoming less rare, conditions are coming in more and more often and the psyche that disappeared during the three-month deluge has reappeared. The average grade of The List is rising rapidly again, the ticks on my 27crags page are once again coming thick and fast.

Keeping this trend going has been pretty easy this week. The standard Sunday/Monday off and a good forecast for the former left me with multiple options but with sunny weather predicted, i was pretty sure where i was headed: Sheep Pen in the Nant Ffrancon. The climb? Jerry’s Problem 7c+/V10.

Now my hardest climb to date is 7c and i have three to date: Rock Attrocity at Parisella’s Cave my first, Intermezzo in Magic Wood last summer and Love Pie at the Pieshop boulders up in the pass. Is that enough to be getting on the next grade? Well, the truth to that one is it doesn’t matter – if i found the right 8a, i’d gladly skip a grade, even at this level. It’s a big mistake i made at uni, where “my grade is V5, i don’t climb V6, so i’m going to leave them well alone”. In hindsight, it was stupid trad climbing mentality; not to say that trad climbing mentality is stupid in of itself but it’s stupid to apply it to bouldering. It’s a bit like going into a 100m sprint and trying to run it like you would a marathon.

So, fuck it, go on then: let’s get on it and see what happens. It helped when Pablo agreed to come along with his friend Cameron and i heard my old friend Tim Peck was planning on going too. Even better when i arrived, another old friend and ex-colleague Andy Marshall was there too, with Michelle Wardle. (Michelle lives with Tim on the high street, here in Llanberis, some 100m from my house. We first met on the beach in Magic Wood last summer… one of the weirdest experiences i’ve had to date!)

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Finally a #gloriousday off and a fine one for #bouldering in the mountains! Sadly, I didn't take it pictures… Not of me #climbing anyway, as I only got on two problems: the link up from Toe Dragon into Kingdom of Rain V8 and agonisingly close to Jerry's Problem at #sheeppen . The conditions were perfect, the company immense and the send of my first V10 so close I can taste it. If I wake to find it still dry, nothing could stop me heading back, first thing in the morning and topping off one of the best periods in my life. #northwales #snowdonia #northwalesbouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_photos_of_instagram #nantffrancon #Ogwen #mountain #mountains #scenery #landmark

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So, the perfect crew conveniently mustered, we set about getting to work on the main block. Link ups between Toe Dragon and either Dog Shooter or Kingdom of Rain were attempted at V7 and V8 respectively and completed. Ding Dong’s Traverse 7c was given a bit of a bash and Cameron especially walked away with an impressive array of ticks quietly tucked under his belt; cheating slightly in that he’s strong and had never been, having more to go at than the rest of us…

Myself meanwhile did my usual trick of jumping on the V8 link up between Toe Dragon and Kingdom of Rain as a warm up. Granted, this one isn’t as bad as it sounds, as the moves have been well rehearsed and being a long traverse to begin with, with the potential to simply step off the rock at any point, it’s possible to get into it slowly. The fact that i didn’t and ticked it on the second attempt is entirely besides the point.

I’ve always been abject at warming up. I blame it on visiting crags where the easiest line is my project too many times and i’ve adapted to it nicely now and rarely feel too much need. Considering my recent coaching exploits, it’s worth pointing out i do understand the concept and was talking a few people through it last week: get the blood flowing, start easy and slowly crank the difficulty up to get your body used to the idea of working hard. As soon as you start to feel that bit of pump, step away, let yourself recover slightly, then get into your session proper. I know this from the swimming club, where you’d complete 750m of various strokes for your warm up. I know the concept. Doesn’t mean i do it.

But whatever i do normally works for me and while i wouldn’t teach my own methods, anyone who argued can look to my injury record (or lack of it). What this meant on Sunday was as soon as Toe Dragon – Kingdom 7b (my seventeenth of that grade no less) was done, i was ready to jump onto Jerry’s. Thankfully, Tim and Andy were keen for that too.

Once again, in typical fashion, they cracked on while i sat and had a smoke, absorbing beta. Turns out they’d not been on it before, whereas i’d had two previous sessions to try the difficult first move. They tried, struggled to make the distance at first but had several sterling efforts that were certainly to be proud of. I got up, put on shoes, chalked up and sat under the initial holds.

I knew it was far, knew i had to give it beans, knew this one was going to take some effort. I stretched down and thrusted my body upwards, hard. Not only did i make the distance, i hit the hold and stuck it, swinging backwards wildly and letting out the most enormous scream as the effort poured out of me. I couldn’t hold it and returned to terra firma with a thud to a cacophony of encouragement. Andy shouted over, “when did you learn how to do that?!” Truth be told, i have no idea.

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Giving it beans yesterday on #jerrysproblem at #sheeppen. Session 3 on this one and I stuck the first two hard moves fairly quickly, much to the surprise of the excellent crew surrounding me. Sadly it didn't go and despite dry #rock this morning, and a repeat to try and keep the momentum going, it again eluded me. With rain falling this afternoon and another day off not until a week Thursday, it's not looking likely to be going any time soon. Still, it's not going anywhere and the weather is starting to turn… Photo credit to @michelle.l.wardle and top marks for capturing a great move with a great shot #northwales #northwalesbouldering #bouldering #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_is_my_passion #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_photos_of_instagram

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You could feel the enthusiasm, Owen Hayward and his young lad coming to watch. I tried several more times and did very well, sticking the first two moves to make a new high point. Only one more move after this and it would’ve been done – a new grade achieved, a champagne moment, i’d be a V10 climber.

But the best climbs are the ones that fight back and this one tempted me, slapped me in the face and walked away. I had a break to take a walk and never really got back to that high point. Either nerves, exhaustion, a mental barrier or one of a multitude of other factors suddenly reared to mean that at five o’clock, i was forced to pack up and walk away empty handed. Granted, i couldn’t complain at the success and there was no doubting it had been a hugely successful session. Nevertheless, like a lower league football team losing the cup final, sometimes it’s not much consolation being so close and yet not quite getting the reward.

The difference is that, unlike a cup final, i can build on this, go back and get it done. Even a night’s rest could be enough and i told myself that if it hadn’t rained by the time i awoke, i was back there to get this thing done. I’d even worked out my celebration, worked out the Instagram photo i was going to post (and still am, by the way), in my mind, a new day would bring new focus and i’d hit that first hold, make the second move and i’d be one more grade up on the ladder.

This problem is a fighter though and Monday, despite the dry weather, called in the help of the weather gods to give freezing conditions and a biting wind – much like the conditions that completely derailed me at the Roaches recently. I was down to two pads, from the myriad of them the previous day and there alone, conscious of the top out and it’s slightly treacherous landing.

It just wasn’t right – i still wasn’t hitting the hold, i couldn’t stay warm and every necessary rest meant i was back to square one, freezing cold with numb digits. Eventually i reasoned that repeatedly doing the move wrong could run the risk of ingraining failure into my muscle memory so for the second time in as many days, i packed up and walked away.

And believe me, that’s hard to do. When it’s so close, knowing that just one more attempt could be the one for victory, packing everything up and leaving it behind for another day is agonising and there have been plenty of times where i’ve packed up, unpacked for a few more goes and repeated for quite a while.

But having to go back, having to go train and put effort into this makes it all the more worthwhile. The best climbs aren’t the ones that feel easily, they’re the ones you had to really want. So now, with no days off for a nine-day straight, it’s time to train and rest and get ready for that one more session. Granted, ticking my first V10 would’ve topped off one of the best weeks of my life but sometimes, waiting for the right moment makes it all the more special. Trust me.