Thursday 31 May 2012

Manic May (Part 2)

As promised in my last post, here is the rest of what happened in May.

Snowdonia Climbing/Scrambling

This year I decided that I wanted to get back climbing outdoors again, there's nothing like getting out on rock, rather than pulling on plastic in a climbing wall, also the skills would be useful for future climbing trips to the Alps. I felt that my outdoor climbing skills were a bit rusty and could do with a bit of a refresher.

After a bit of research on the internet, I decided that I would go to Snowdonia (Llanberis), as this area could offer me many different styles of climbing on different rock, from big hills days, scrambling and multi-pitch rock climbing. I found a local company "The Rock Climbing Company" which offered everything I wanted, so I hired a guide for a bit of one to one instruction/guiding.

My guide for the 3 days was Sam Leary, she was a great teacher, very patient and encouraging.

Day 1

At the start of the first day, Sam and I discussed what I wanted to achieve during the next few days. Unusually for Snowdonia, the weather forecast for the week was stunning, hot and DRY!!! This meant that we could go and do virtually anything we wanted.

We opted to go to the Ogwen Valley/Cwm Idwal and do some classic easy climbing on the Idwal Slabs, it was a chance for Sam to see how I climbed and assess what skills I already had and what needed improving. After a short walk in we put on harnesses, rock shoes and roped up.

Entering the Nameless Cwm

As most of the other easy routes in the slabs were already taken we were left with the route called "Faith" a classic 130m, 5 pitch climb, beginners climb. This all went well, Sam led the pitches and I followed. I got to practice constructing belays and placing climbing protection.

At the top of the climb we replaced our climbing shoes with ridged soled walking boots and we continued by scrambling up even higher to the top of the ominously named "Suicide Wall". From here we climbed into the "Nameless Cwm", where the next objective came into view, the "Cneifion Arête".

The Arête itself, looks like a ship's prow sticking out of the mountain and is a classic Grade 3 scramble/moderate rock climb that extends for 130m to the top of Y Gribin. The first couple of pitches were the main crux of the climb, but in big boots you loose all sensitivity, after a bit of thrutching & grunting I made it passed the initial obstacles onto easier ground. Nearing the top of the climb the drop to the right is huge, this has always been something that's frightened me, but this time I surprised myself as I seemed to handle this OK. We made it to the top, the sun was still shining, and we were above the clouds in the valley. We headed down to the valley, by this time I was getting tired, it had been a long first day. I went back to my B&B for a well earned rest and an early night.

Day 2

As the first day was quite a long one, I decided that I wanted a shorter day, so we decided to go rock climbing, to get some more practice on placing gear and building belays. We originally decided to go to the Llanberis Pass (one of the climbing Meccas in the UK). However, on arrival, the walls all looked a bit daunting and steep for me, Sam sensed this, so we drove the Molewyns, near Blaenau Ffestiniog. From the car park we walked the short distance up to the crag (Clogwyn yr Oen), a much friendlier venue to practice climbing skills. We had the whole place to ourselves, the sun was already beating down and the rock was warm to the touch. Nice!

We climbed a 4 pitch route called "Slick". The rock was super grippy and the climbing was not that difficult, apart from the third pitch which seemed like a blank, featureless slab. This required me to trust my feet on tiny pockets in the rock as there were very few hand holds.

Again it was good to practice all the skills in a different environment and with Sam's expert instruction I picked up loads of tips to make things easier in future.

In the afternoon we climbed up another route, by this time it was getting really hot, which was making me tired. We took this opportunity to practice another skill. Abseiling. This is something I'm not overly confident with, I find it quite unnatural and it scares the life out of me! We rigged an abseil and with some gentle coaxing I made it to the ground, in one piece.

We returned to Llanberis for a well deserved ice cream from Georgio's and to discuss what additional bits of equipment I needed for climbing. We also planned our final day.

Day 3

The final day, we had originally decided to do a classic rock climb (Grooved Arête) high on the East Face of Tryfan. However, after a bit of a slog up Tryfan, I was feeling a bit ropey (no pun intended). I put this down to slight dehydration and tiredness from the previous two days adventures. I'm pretty honest with myself and know when to "throw in the towel", also I thought it would be best to let Sam know sooner rather than later as this could have led to bigger issues higher up on the climb.

We descended and readjusted our plans and went to do some easy climbing on Tryfan Bach. There were many routes to choose from all of an easy grade. Near the top Sam asked if I wanted to lead the final pitch, which I accepted. We then practiced some alpine climbing skills, such as taking in coils of rope, moving together and body belaying, all very useful for the Alps.

In the afternoon we moved to a different crag just outside Llanberis called Lion Rock. This is a area that is used by climbing groups, schools, Scouts, etc to practice climbing and abseiling. The main reason for going here was not for the climbing (as it was quite easy) but to practice rigging abseils and top ropes. Sam had asked me to use all my skills to build anchors and rig the top ropes or abseil ropes, all with minimal input from her.

Abseiling with Snowdon in the background

The proof of the pudding is in the eating they say and with that I was climbing and abseiling off my own anchors, I was slightly worried at first, but as I'm writing this blog all went well and the anchors stayed put!

After these 3 intensive days I feel that I'm more confident and now have the skills to go and climb outdoors. Thanks to Sam Leary (my guide/instructor) and The Rock Climbing Company. I would recommend these guys to anyone who wanted to learn to climb, move from indoor to outdoors climbing or like me brush up on some skills and gain a bit of confidence.

I rewarded myself that night with a big juicy steak and a pint or two at my B&B.

Monday 21 May 2012

Manic May (Part 1)

Sorry for the lack of blogs lately, but I've been a bit busy getting outside and hill fit for my trips. I'll give you a whistle stop run down of whats been going on.

After what can be described as an abysmal April weather wise, which confined me mainly to the gym, I'm playing catchup with the outdoors training. Having said that, I did manage one quick trip to Snowdonia with my Tour du Mont Blanc walking companion (Phil).

Snowdonia Weekend

We had some great plans but we were forced to change them as we were faced with four seasons in one day. The day started well in the sun, but then slowly deteriorated with rain, wind, hail and even snow! We made good use of the adverse weather conditions to test our gear, layering systems and figure out what worked for us. I found out that my softshell trousers and jacket needed a reproof, so not all bad.

So into May, and the weather improved so more opportunities to get out and about.

Two Bridges Walk

I've always wanted to walk between the 2 Severn Bridges, we set off from the "lovely" Severn Beach for a gentle 8 mile walk from the new Severn crossing to the old bridge and back. I think the strangest part of the walk was stopping off at the motorway services for a cup of tea, you get some funny looks turning up with walking boots and a rucksack.

Birthday Weekend in the Brecon Beacons

At the start of the month I reached the ripe old age of 40, I celebrated by hiring all the rooms in The Griffin, Felin Fach near Brecon. I invited my family and some of my closest friends, to share my birthday celebrations, lots of good food and drink. I also got in quite a good walk in over Pen y Fan and Cribin from the steeper north side, the weather was perfect, we made it back to the pub in time for cake and prosecco.

Three days of Climbing

I never intended to climb and boulder 3 times in one week, but it happened.

  • Tuesday - I normally go to the Bristol Climbing Wall with my regular climbing partner and climb for around 2.5 hours, I decided to push my grade. I returned home with arms like jelly, but satisfied with my efforts.
  • Wednesday - I met up with my friend Sally (she's training to be an outdoors instructor) as the weather was good we decided to do some easy climbing in the Avon Gorge, we had a great time getting out "touching" rock. If that wasn't enough we then decided to go to The Climbing Academy (TCA) and use up our remaining energy bouldering.
  • Thursday - I met up with an old work colleague and went for another 2.5 hour bouldering session at TCA, I managed to tick off a few more routes on the circuit I'm working on. I feel that I'm making some progress (albeit slow)

50km Cycle Ride

Following my week of climbing, my girlfriends brother and his family came to visit us for the weekend. They have a 7 year old boy (James) who always amazes me with his endless amount of energy. When we met up for my birthday he said he wanted to ride at least 30 miles to beat his previous personal best.

We decided that we would cycle to Bath from Bristol and back along the old railway path, not a hilly ride, but a nice safe, off road route suitable for a 7 year old, which would be just over 30 miles (50km) and fulfil James' criteria.

We set off, again the weather was on our side we rolled into Bath an hour and 30 mins later. We had a rest, some snacks and a drink and cycled back, stopping at a pub on the way back for lunch. Fuelled up we completed the final leg of our ride. So proud of James.

So that rounds up May so far, training is going well and there's more to come. This week I'm off to Snowdonia for 3 days of climbing and scrambling instruction, then I have a 40km hike in South Gloucestershire with "Mont Blanc Phil" and another old work colleague. I'll update you all when I'm back.

How did I ever have time to work?