Friday, 17 October 2014

The ups and the downs

I’ve had a tough one in the last few months. After finishing last year on a high with a 5th place in the Norway EYC, I was psyched for this year. I was in the first year of A in Norway, and had a great final. Granted the field was small, but I beat people who had previously been beating me, and I came away psyched. Even the one bouldering European I competed in, Laval, was good, where I came 14th. At the time I was frustrated, and went away to train bouldering for the winter, so came into this year stronger and more ready to compete in the higher level.

The first chance to test this new strength was the second round of the Junior BBCs, but unfortunately, I was taking a US university entrance exam on that day so had to miss it, so the first national comp for me was the Senior BBCs. I went in with absolutely no expectations, almost hoping to miss out on semis so I could go on the grit the next day, but I had one of my best sessions of my life, where I topped 4 of the 5 qualifying problems and made my first senior semi-final in 10th place. This was a great boost for me, and had the problems been more to my style the next day I could realistically have made a final. I came away psyched, but concerned about some lack of strength still, so upped the number of training sessions with my coach, Mikey Cleverdon, hoping it would give me more focus in my sessions.

Doing my best Jan impression in the senior BLCCs

In July, I went to the first bouldering EYC of the year in France full of confidence, honestly believing I could make a final if I climbed well and the problems suited me somewhat. This competition marked the beginning of the worst week of competition in my whole 5 years of climbing.

France was a competition of power and squeezing, and it seemed to pick out my weaknesses on the first 2 moves of every problem. I topped the 2 sympathy problems and picked up a popular bonus, but I was absolutely shut down.

I came 39th (if I remember right, I don’t really want to check), 4th from last. I wasn’t entirely sure how to react. I’d never really finished in the lower half of a European, never mind in the bottom 5, so this wasn’t a failure I’d had to deal with. This wasn’t just missing a final, or being beaten by a rival, it was total, complete and utter failure and embarrassment in front of the best climbers in Europe as well as my friends in the team. I went for a little walk after that one.

It was ok though, I was to return to London to compete in the final round of the JBBCs that weekend. I had a realistic chance of making the overall podium if I won, despite missing a round. The blinkers were on, and I felt good in the warm up. Then, I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I didn’t top 3 of the harder problems, and was out of the final. There are many excuses I could use: the BMC rules mean just 3 attempts at a problem, one of them had a crux move with my weakest hold type or I was just having a bad day – but the fact is even on a bad day I should be making national finals, and I hadn’t missed out one for 4 years.

I was devastated. I said about 3 words to anyone for days, barely left my room and the one time I attempted to train I did about 4 problems before I couldn’t be bothered to try and left. I lost motivation for 2 weeks, climbed once with Jim in London, getting burnt off on every problem and really didn’t want to go to the wall.  I had a session with Mikey, he knew I wasn’t psyched so we just had some fun, tried some problems and campussed some stuff with the rest of the guys there. I was being burnt off, but I was having fun on the wall for the first time in weeks.

Then it was off to Lägenfeld, Austria for the second bouldering event of the year. This was far, far better, and I actually came away with a result I was happy with, inside of the top 20 and with multiple flashes. It was progress! With only a few weeks to go until the worlds it was back to training hard on a rope, but I was given the opportunity to attend the European Bouldering Championships in Arco, which I went for, taking the risk that it could detract from my worlds training.

Getting wet at the UK's first DWS competition at The Quay

I went in with minimal expectations, knowing it couldn’t get much worse than the first, so jumped straight onto the slabs! I knew I was good at them, and as 3 problems (2 slabs and a jump start) crossed over each other the queue was 3 times longer for each climb, but as I was the only one in the queue for each of the slabs I was getting attempts every 3 people, so I could crack them quickly and move on. I ended up doing one slab second go, and another third, which turned out to be the one only one other climber topped! I was in good shape, so moved across to the corner climb, which I cracked on my third go after some funky foot above head beta to get around my lack of shoulder strength. I moved over to the “easy” problem next, but this was part of the crossover so the queue was huge, but I flashed it after a wait and knew I was in good shape.

Bearing down on slabs, courtesy of thecircuitclimbingmedia

The round was one of the hardest I had competed in, with few getting more than 2 tops, and I had 4! I was ready to retire and save my strength, without even trying 3 of the problems, but decided to give one of the steep ones a go. I was called off twice for touching my foot on the wall before the starting foot, but after a shout to the team management the jury president was called and the attempts were reimbursed. I ended up pulling my way through using a high heel, screaming my way to the undercut top. I knew I had secured my first bouldering final, and I was ecstatic! I didn’t even try the last 2 problems, and ended up qualifying for the final in 2nd, my best result in Europe, even on an individual route! Although I ended up 6th in a tough final, I was happy to make it, and the result doesn’t show how close I was on some of the problems!#

The team: thecircuitclimbingmedia

When I returned home from Italy it was 3 days of school and hard training before heading off on the mammoth journey to New Caledonia for the World Youth Leach Championships. This was the climax of the year, and a special event for me as I had the hopes of the hundred people who pledged to get me there, to whom I am extremely grateful. The flights themselves took 21 hours, but with transfers in Finland and Japan, as well as getting to and from the airport it was more like 34! I’ve never been travelling for that long before, but felt some lucky sleeping times and good films made it a rather pleasant experience. We arrived late, but from what we saw of the island on our way to the apartments it was going to be a good week!

We had travelled out early to account for jet-lag and other problems, and when we arrived in Noumea to find our bags had not made it onto our rushed connection in Helsinki we were glad of the buffer! All we had to do was survive a couple of days with just an airline provided t-shirt and we’d be fine! As a result, the first couple of days were mainly spent chilling out and relaxing on the beach, but when they arrived we could access the full potential of the island!

The first thing we did was get the Beastmaker, hung it off a tree and had a training session, it’d been so long since we’d climbed and it felt good! We then used the pool, throwing coins in and racing to collect as many as possible. Over the next few days, we visited the wall, had a boulder session and (my highlight of the whole trip) went snorkelling. Snorkelling in an ocean I had never swam in a half of the world I had never stepped foot in was absolutely incredible, and seeing masses of multicoloured coral, lots of unbelievable fish and I even got the opportunity to swim with a wild sea turtle which I spotted, which defined the whole trip for me.

View from the apartment

Alas, the fun was over and the bigger fun was just beginning! The opening ceremony was interesting, but did drag on a bit in the way these things do. I also attended my first technical meeting, something I had been badgering to do for the last 3 years. It was everything I dreamed it would be, but there wasn’t enough argument about the rules which was rather a disappointment……

Opening ceremony

This year’s competition was different to all the others previously in that both the qualifiers were on the same day. This didn’t suit me perfectly, but I had to push through regardless. The first route was wonderfully set up high, but was a bit easy before the roof. In the roof though, there was a 360 spin, a bicycle and a huge drop knee! I made it through it all, only to pump out on the headwall. It was good enough, top 26 and in a comfortable position for semis. The next route was late in the evening, so we headed back to the hotel to relax and refuel.

The next route looked my style, technical with lots of crimps and rockovers. I was around 5th last to climb, so had to wait until 10pm until my turn, which was new! There seemed to be a hard “drive-by” move low down, but when I was there it felt fine. I relaxed on the hold, adjusted my foot and went for the long rockover out left. Normally, rockovers are my thing, but this time wasn’t to be. My foot ripped off of the hold and I was off, only a few clips up. I was devastated; convinced I wouldn’t make the semi-final, and went for a little wander…

Somehow, when the results finally came out, I was sitting in 24th (just into the semis, a minor miracle). I was psyched out of my mind to make it, and felt great warming up in isolation the next evening. The good thing of being out early is that you know almost exactly when you’ll be climbing, but if you’re too early you have to go for observation and then sit straight in the chair, which can cool you down too much, but I was lucky enough to be one off the chair so rushed to re-warm with the image of the route in my mind. It began up a vertical wall, until about two thirds height where it steepened out into the horizontal roof, barrelling to the top.

I waited for my turn in the chair, waiting for the two climbers who had qualified below me. Tying in, I walked out to below the wall and re-read. I had read the move into the roof, which looked huge, as an all points off dyno, so was particularly worried about that. The first move was also a bit sketchy, a long move off a horrendous foot. I opted to ignore the foot altogether and give myself no illusions by smearing on the panel, and it ended up being rather easy. The start panel was pretty steady, and I climbed well to the roof. The dyno was in fact not very far at all, and I reached it with extreme ease, resting on the move. I was in the roof, and using a funky combo of heels and toes made it too a big move from a jug, which I dropped. I made 19th place at the worlds, not bad and an improvement on last year, but definitely could have gone better in the end! Next year in Arco is going to be big!!

Off in the semis, courtesy of Nicolas Huet

More recently (and a lot closer to home!!) was the British Lead Climbing Champs. I took part in both the junior and senior events, as they both were in Sheffield over the same weekend. In the juniors, the final route was going well until my feet cut on the lip of the giant AWCC roof while resting, and just throwing them back on pumped me out. I ended up in 4th, not a bad result but definitely potential for better…

On Sunday was the senior competition, and I went in with the goal of making the final. In the qualifiers I had the vertical route as my first, and ended up being the first climber to top, which was nice. With a reasonable second route, on which I got incredibly pumped, I made it into the final in 3rd place! This was my first British senior final, so I was happy with my result already, but came away with an 6th place on one of the harder final routes I have climbed.

After the amazing dyno in the senior BLCC final

Overall, it’s been a year of ups and downs, but the trend has been rising of late! Hopefully this is a good sign for the winter season of training in preparation for the European circuit starting again next spring. I’m currently on a rest period after the year’s training, but am looking forward to returning to the wall soon and getting strong!

Happy Climbing,


Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Youth Opens December 2013

December rolled around more quickly this year, at least that’s how it felt, but I’d been training hard ready for the team selection competitions the month bought. It was my first competition in the upper end of A, but strong climbers I hadn’t competed against for a couple of years were now back with me, so I was keen to see how I’d get on.

We travelled to Sheffield, the home of the weekend’s competing, on the Friday evening and arose bright and early for the bouldering at The Works on Saturday. The problems looked perfect, and after a warm up in the cold wall, I managed to top 7 of the 8 techy problems, which qualified me for the final in 2nd.


The final problems contained a great spread, with some techy and a powerful one. The first was a flexibility requiring high heel before a massive last move to a giant jug. I cam out knowing no-one had done it, so I went out looking to take an early advantage. Unfortunately, it was just too hard and after making it to the final move several times, I had to settle with a bonus. The second was a lot more powerful for me, but whether I had the beta wrong or not it felt absolutely nails. I was attempting to hang a swing on a one arm lock, but to no avail and I walked away from the problem without even a bonus.

Problem one in the final

I knew the last problem would suit me when I saw it, but I knew it would be the same for others in the final so I was not confident it would be of any help. I came out and, after a bit of fumbling about, managed to top it first go! I was happy with the climb but not the final overall, but had managed to secure 3rd place overall, putting me in good stead for the overall championship.

The next day I woke up tired, aching but massively psyched for the lead comp, ready to crush at The Foundry! I was up early on my first route so began warming up as soon as I got to the wall, to give me enough time before I climbed. It was not as long as I was hoping though, and I got on the route without being ideal, but fortunately I managed to top the route, along with about 6 others in the category. A good second route would still be required to put me safely into the final.

Route 1

The good route I needed tackled the very centre of the wall and looked really quite hard. It was all on tufas and slopers and just looked sketchy and difficult. People were falling off quite low down on a difficult move, so I was very much hoping the same didn’t happen to me! I was on almost last in the category, so had a while to wait, but while warming up got horrendous stomach cramps, not the ideal preparation for a competition route! Never the less, I managed to get warm and relax, ready for the second route.
Route 2

It was balancy and rather awkward on the slopers from the ground, but I managed to get up into the steeper, more powerful section, but the slopers (not my forte) had got me far more pumped than I should have been after only that long. I pulled hard, but with a misjudgement of beta on a tufa brought about by pump-panic, I was off. It was enough though, and I was through to the final.

Isolation was long, and I was tired when warming up. I really dislike the format the BMC brought in last year. Having 2 comps on the same weekend doesn’t make sense for those looking to perform in both. I personally need to be fully rested to perform at my best, and having a hard boulder session before an important lead comp would be ridiculous for me, yet anyone with ambitions in both lead and bouldering is forced to. In my eyes it devalues the lead competition. I know there would be an increased cost to run them both on separate days, but if climbing is to be taken seriously as a contender for an Olympic spot then I think we have to make changes like this.

Back to isolation, and I was warm and psyched. I came out and saw draws swinging really high, so I knew Pete had done well. I pulled on and sauntered up to the steeper section. It was hard, on slopers and tufas much like the first route, as well as up the steep wall once again. I powered my way onto a volume, but had completely run out of foot holds. I swung them up high to my hand to get some push across to the next tufa, but to no avail. I peeled off backwards into space, far short of the high point and frustrated.

Getting twisty in the final

I ended up 4th, not the best result but it was enough to get me reselected for the GB lead team as well as the GB boulder team, so bring on 2014! 

Thanks to Peter Wuensche for the pictures!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Wales and Ireland

I’ve competed at, as far as I know, every Welsh Championships there has been, and this year was no exception! Despite the fact that it was in North Wales, a 7 hour journey (further than Sheffield!) away, I was psyched for the comp! We travelled up late on the Friday, slept in the van in the car park and were up early for the comp the next day.

The format for the Welsh is different to most comps, in that you do a whole 5 routes in a day, from the morning’s 3 qualifying climbs to the semis and finals in the afternoon. This format is good in terms of getting as much climbing as possible into a comp, and its great training having to climb that many routes in the day, though it does take some getting used to.

I flashed the 3 qualifiers and the semis pretty easily, but knew the final looked much harder, and would be difficult to top. I qualifier into the final in 1st, so came out last. I could see the draws swinging from the previous climber, so knew where I had to get to win. It was a goal, a point where I knew if I reached I would win. I set off, and passed the high point. I powered through the 10 or so moves, knowing I had won, but the psyche I felt was different. I was not climbing for a win, I was climbing for pride. This was not the psyche I was ready for, fired up for a competition final, and my mindset changed. I tried hard, and pushed through some very powerful moves, but my foot slipped around half height and I was off.

When I got down it was confirmed, I had won! I chilled out, watched the rest of the
finals and had a quick play on the 8a+ senior final, falling on the last move!

The next day we headed out bouldering in the Ogwen Pass, where despite the cold conditions I came away with a V8 flash and a V9! It was just my style with little crimps on gently overhanging rock; I just wish there had been more of it!

 This weekend it was the turn of the Irish to host their national championships. This year the senior and junior events had been split up, so I could only make it to one of them, and decided to go for the senior title once again. I knew competition would be tough, and when the whole of the Irish junior team and last years second place were on the entry list, that was made certain!

The first route of the day, starting on jugs and finishing with a spicy section on slopers, and I was 4th up. I like climbing early on my first route, it gives me a time to target my warm-up at, and this time was no exception. Bar a couple of big moves at the top, the route was no problem and I topped along with a good few of the senior males.
The next route was an entirely different prospect, with a big dyno around the 4th clip and an incredibly balancey and technical final few moves across a volume. I was relatively pumped when I reached those moves, so a sit down rest on a volume was well received when setting up for the final moves. It was such a nice final sequence, I squtted down on the volume, keeping my centre of mass low and rocked over onto my foot. I reached the little intermediate and bumped again to the finishing jug, topping the second qualifier. Dom Burns, the current European bouldering champion, was the only other climber to top the route, putting us in joint 1st
 going in to the final.

Next up was the final! I didn’t have a clue how far people had got when I came out. Normally you can tell from the crowd how people are doing, but this time we were too far away to tell. All I could do was top, or at least make a damn good effort at it!

I came out and looked up. The route was very powerful and burly in the lower section, but I managed to avoid most of the pulling with some high feet and a good few heel hooks! From there it was just my style. Little crimps and heel hooks, Ideal! I rested as much as I could, but knew that the final decider would be time in the case of a tie between me and Dom, so I couldn’t hang around. I reached across to an extremely tenuous side pull, bumped my hand in and reached up to the bottom of the volume. I slapped onto the volume and rocked over, squeezing myself against the volume to gain a basically no hands rest. I could have stayed here for another 5 minutes, recovered completely and gone for the move, but I knew time would be the decider if Dom reached the same point. I pushed up on the volume, eyed up the hold, and threw! I was close, but just at the deadpoint of the swing my grip failed and I was off into space. Just another centimetre would have been enough, but not this time.

The final route! Credit: John Banyard

Go big or go home! Credit: John Banyard

It was all down to Dom now. He set off and looked pumped from half way, but fought his way to the volume and rested his forearms. He was trying to press up with his feet and use the arête, but kept coming back to the volume to rest. After another attempt at pressing up, he went for the jump, getting 2 fingers on the hold but, like me, not sticking it.

It was down to time! A nervous wait followed, and after the judges checked multiple times it was decided; I was Irish champion again! I was so psyched to win this competition for a second year, the first title I have ever defended and my first senior title of the year! Bring on 2014!

On the podium Credit: John Banyard

My next competition in the lead and bouldering youth opens in Sheffield in December, where I hope to be reselected onto both the lead and boulder teams.

Monday, 21 October 2013


I was selected for the GB junior bouldering team last year, at the December youth open, but last weekend was the first time I’d had the opportunity to experience a European bouldering competition. We met the team in Manchester airport, and after a bumpy flight, a long wait at the airport and negotiating the infamous traffic of Paris, we arrived in the city. The competition was being advertised everywhere, so we knew the finals were going to be a real spectacle.

After a long opening ceremony on the Friday night, we headed for bed, ready for an early start on the Saturday to watch the girls and prepare for our qualifications. The wall looked amazing, 4 blocs separate from each other on the raised stage of a stadium sized arena. We went for a run to warm up in the morning cold, and then headed to the warm up wall below the arena. While bouldering to warm up, I was impressed at just how strong some of the climbers were, and knew it was going to be a tough competition. I’d not experienced European blocs before, so was keen to get on them and see how they felt.

It was a frustrating competition for me. I topped the first problem I tried, a quite powerful but technical climb up a vertical wall on gastons, but it went downhill from there. I seemed to be close on so many problems, but could not get the tops I needed. I managed the first, easiest problem after that, but no more. The main difference I discovered compared to lead competitions, is that while there is less pressure on every attempt, as if you’re off that’s not it all over, you need to keep motivated and positive throughout the whole of the 2 hour period. If you fall in a lead comp you have hours or even a day between routes to reflect, get frustrated and get psyched, but in a boulder comp every fall builds up, and requires a quite different mindset to deal with, something that with my relative inexperience of bouldering I have not yet learnt. This will come with time, but its still going to be annoying to fall off with a hand on the finishing hold, or come within a move of topping 3 others.

For Nathan, the captain of the GB team, this was his last junior competition, and he went out with style! He won the final in an atmosphere of the best psyche I’ve seen in a competition. It really was inspiring to see, and it was great to see him on the top step of the podium, the first I’ve seen since I stared competing.

The next day was the turn of the Youth B’s, and they had their qualification in a separate venue. In their first boulder competition, Pete and William both managed to make a European final! I really do envy them for their qualifiers, a whole set of slabs and crimps, hopefully something I get more of, rather than powerful campus moves off slopers, not really my thing that! It was another great final, and we cam away with another podium, with William making 3rd place!

I really enjoyed my first boulder comp, and really hope I get to take part in more next year! 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

BLCCs 2013

Every year the British Lead Climbing Championships is held too far away in the smoke fuelled north. This year, happily, it was a little bit less north, with the event taking place for the first time I can remember south of the border at the new Awesome Walls centre in Sheffield. The wall looks amazing, and is great to climb on, it’s just a shame it’s so far away or it would be perfect for training. This was the first time the wall had be used, opening for the comp, so it was the perfect level playing field.

The Saturday was the day for the junior competition, so we arrived bright and early to view the new wall and the routes that had been set for us. They looked great, and I was early on my first route, so set about warming up. The first route was really easy, no harder than 7a I’m sure, but the entire category topped it, so it was all down to the second qualifier.

This was the first route of the day up the main steep competition wall, and it followed the right arête of the protruding roof. This wall just as steep as the Ratho hangar wall, and is the closest I’ve seen in this country that comes close to that level of imposingness. The route began with a technical section of crimps and undercuts, before moving downwards onto a jug and a big move out around the arête. I hung around for too long on the jugs under the lip, shaking out the pump building in my arms but it was only getting worse. I had to go, and got my foot high and threw for the hold, my feet swinging off but sticking the move. I was pumped by this point, but kept moving and managed a couple more big moves before an awkward cross under spat me off. With only 4 in the category making it through to the final it was going to be tight as to who made it, and after Buster and Connor topped the route there were only 2 places remaining. Fortunately the 2 people who got past the big move in the roof fell off the same move as me, so I qualified for the final in =3rd place.

So pumped I'm dragging! Photo credit: Peter Wuensche

I was annoyed that the route we were to be climbing was leaked before isolation, so everyone had ample time to read the route and decide their sequence. I feel like the onsight factor suites me with just a 6 minute observation, so to have climbers discussing routes with their coaches or even drawing route maps is frustrating, and ruins the feel of a final for me.

My final route went straight through the steepest part of the roof, and looked particularly cruxy through the beginning of the roof. I was first out, and the beginning section was much more powerful and pumpy than I expected, and I had to throw for a lot of holds, not the ideal style for a lead competition. I arrived at the roof pumped, and despite shaking out on a sloper below the steep section I had to continue climbing still pumped. I reached an undercut at the beginning of the roof, threw out to a side-pull further out and got my heel under the undercut. The move I had read looked too big, so I desperately grabbed for a volume that I, and the rest of my category, had read as a foothold. I spent a good 2 minutes scoping out every surface of that volume with a pair of binoculars and could see no hold, but to my surprise, there was a veritable jug on the other side. I knew I would have to bicycle the hold next to my right hand to stick the move, but my heel was on the wrong side and I was too pumped to switch my feet, so I squeezed and hoped I could make the match, but was off. All but one in the category read the move wrong, and Connor made it to the same place as I did, placing my 2nd via count back. I’m pleased with the result, though it was luck that got me there more than anything. I have defiantly learned not to discount holds, especially if they appear to be the only way!

Heel up and moving to the mysterious volume... Photo credit: Peter Wuensche

The next day, and it was time for the senior event. This is the first year I have be eligible to compete in the senior competition, and was keen to make the most of it. I was on my hardest route first, so was psyched and ready to go when the time came. I was on early, so not too many people had gone, but there seemed to be big moves between slopers low down, and then my perfect style higher up, technical and crimpy on a slightly overhanging wall.

The route felt awkward and hard from the start, with a match by the 4th clip feeling very hard. I knew a big move was coming, and clipped high ready to jump between the slopers. I moved into the first, it felt terrible and slippery, and I stopped to consider my options, reversing the move. I knew it was big, and it looked bigger from here, so I knew I was going to have to jump, boulder style or try and get my foot up and static the move. I opted for the latter, a mistake it would seem after I slid backwards off the route, only 14 moves in. It was frustrating to fall off that low, but I know that next year I will be stronger and taller, ready to tackle the harder moves in the seniors.

Starting up Route 1. Photo credit: Peter Wuensche

The second route was my exact style, vertical and crimpy, and I topped it pretty easily, along with about 10 others. A nice end, but not enough for the final. A frustrating end to my first senior BLCCs.

Crimpin' on route 2! Photo credit: Peter Wuensche
I have just returned from my first Boulder EYC in Laval, France, so will be blogging soon about my weekend and experiences. Stay tuned!



Sunday, 29 September 2013

Norway and Worlds

After my performances last year, and with making 2 European finals, I was this year selected for the World Youth Championships in Victoria, Canada along with a small group of the GB team; Molly, Pete, Buster, Jim and William. The flight was long, dull and filled with films, with the most exciting event being the finding of an unattended in-flight cookie box around 5 hours in. Canada from the air is incredible, so vast, empty and untouched, we flew for hours without seeing a town or even a road.

After short hop from Vancouver to Victoria in the scariest little plane I have encountered, we were on the island, and were to spend the next few days adjusting to the time difference and the place as a whole. The city was amazing, and unlike anywhere else I’ve been to, every person I met was happy and always ready for a chat. The amount of random strangers I had conversations with was staggering! In terms of the time difference I didn’t suffer too badly, and found waking up was actually easier than in the UK!

The Team!

Friday rolled around, and it was time for the first qualifiers. I was one of the last to climb in the biggest category of the event, so waited for hours under the giant wall, watching the competition unfold. I met a fair few new people on that day and the opening ceremony the previous night, and it was great to talk to some of them during the day. It was late before I started my climb, but I knew what I was doing, knew I was fit and knew I was ready. In the first part of the climb I felt sketchy and perhaps a bit nervous, but when I got to the rest I told myself to relax, enjoy it and climb my best, and I did. I fought as high as I could, and made it beyond any expectations I had, falling pumped within 2 clips of the top. You can do no more than fall off fighting, and that’s exactly what I did! I ended up 13th on that route, which put me in with a very good chance of making the semis, so I could relax some more and focus on my next route, and try to do as well as I could.

Qualifier 1 (Photo By Nick Pope!)

Like the first, my second qualifier began vertical and steepened out into a roof towards the top, and looked like my perfect style! I was on much earlier today, and this meant I could warm up as soon as I got to the wall, which helped to calm my nerves. Normally on routes in competitions they feel easier than they looked, that is the holds are bigger than they look from the ground, and the moves not as long, but on this route this was not the case! It was insecure and sketchy but I made my way up to the vertical wall to a rest, where I composed myself for the harder moves above. I moved off and up, and got to a long rockover around the arête. It was one of the harder moves on the route, and required a fair amount of commitment. I rocked to it, moving off the intermediate, but only got to the bottom of the hold. I clawed at wall trying to move the last inch but despite coming so close, I peeled off backwards into the air. I’m normally good at rockovers, so to fall off here was frustrating! It was enough though, and I qualified for the semi final in 17th.

Qualifier 2 (Photo By Nick Pope!)

The rest day was relaxing and gave me time to reflect on my performance, but before I knew it, it was back to the wall and into isolation. During observation the route looked just my style, techy and vert into more steep, crimp climbing. It looked perfect, and I was psyched to get on it! My time rolled around, and I was ready. From the start I felt good, and pretty solid on the first section. I got past the vertical and was resting ready to go for a big tufa that marked the beginning of the steeper section. I went for the move ready to use a small foothold as an intermediate, but it was terrible! I returned to the hold, ready to make the move again but had to move my hand around the rope, or it would have been in my way to do the move. I bumped it off, went around the rope, but when coming back down I hit the hold again wrong. I popped off it, over balanced and fell. I was devastated; to fall off with such a stupid mistake was completely frustrating. I ended up 24th, which with my qualifying results being much better I know there is lots of room for improvement, so bring on next year!

The Semis (Photos By Nick Pope!)

From Canada, after I got over my horrendous jetlag, it was to Norway for the final EYC of the year. The wall was in an ice rink, so warming up was the first challenge! The group sizes were relatively small, compared to somewhere like Imst at least, so I knew I would be on my first route reasonably early. I warmed up as normal and felt ready to climb my best. This was my last chance of the year to make a European final, so I had to get it right.

My first route was no soft touch. The vertical wall was littered with slopers that I knew were going to get my pumped. I sat in the chair, but was beginning to cool down as soon as I got off the warm-up wall. By the time it was my turn to climb, I felt fine, but as soon as I got onto the cold holds of the wall my fingers got cold I started to get pumped. I sketched my way over an awkward move off a sloper and rested on a volume, but just couldn’t shake off the pump. I had to press on, and hope it got no worse. I dug deep, and pulled over a lip before a move to and undercut defeated me. I came off pumped and frustrated with a final place of 12th on the route. Not bad, but not good enough for a place in the final yet. I had to do better, and I knew warming up effectively and staying warm would be key. 

I was dejected, but tried to stay positive. The route looked hard, and I was particularly worried about a section in the middle. I started and heel hooked my way up the arête to what looked like a hit or miss slap to a sloper, and there seemed to be more miss than hit. I got onto the hold below, looked up and reversed the moves. A high heel to hand, a rockover and a bit of luck later and I was past it, thank god for heels! I was pumped, but managed to fight my way to the next hard move, where I managed a crucial match on a big sloper before pumping out and peeling off. Now it was time to wait. For my efforts I gained a joint 4th place on that route, and had to wait the agonising hours to see if I could sneak in. The end draw closer and I was dropping places slowly. 6th… 7th… 8th… 9th… Then came 10th, the one place no-one wants to be with the end still not close. There were 5 to climb, then 2, then none. I had made it to the final of my first European this year, along with the rest of the GB junior team!

The 2nd Qualifier

The next day, finals day and I was set to go. I felt strong, and fit and ready. The route during observation looked desperate, with a hard double dyno move at half height. I read with a number of people, but knew the sequence was hard to read, and ensured I had multiple options for every move. I sat in the chair, put my shoes on, and then my favourite song came on in the arena. Perfect. I walked out, stood under the wall and read the climb. Time to go!

I had a huge scare at the second clip, where I had missed that one of the volumes was in fact a giant jug and went too statically, and almost didn’t reach it. Fortunately I held on, and fought my way through the lower section of the climb. I rested on a heel hook over a small lip and made my way, with some fighting, to the crimps before the dyno. It looked even bigger from here! I rested for what felt like an age on the crimps, and knew I would have to go for it. I got my feet up, and went! Looking back, it seemed like I was trying to do the move statically, or at least keep a hand on. I touched the hold, but couldn’t bring my other hand over to match it, and fell.

Looking back, maybe I should have rested longer on the holds, and gone for it with full commitment. But, I must say, the dyno was inappropriate for our age category. 4 fell at the same spot, and count back had to be used to separate us. One climber made the jump, and won the competition. This seems to be a new thing in competition lead climbing, dynos on the route. There were 2 in Norway, for some categories suitable and others perhaps not. Most recently on the male final in Purrs a sideways dyno caught out many of the strongest climbers in the world. Will there be more? I don’t know, but I will definitely be practising from now on!

I finished 5th in Norway, My best result in a European to date, and in my first year of the category. Hopefully next year we can bump that best up a place or four! My next comp is the junior and senior British Lead Climbing Championships in Sheffield next weekend, and then my first bouldering EYC in Laval next month, and am training hard!

Massive thank you to Paul Allen Wealth Management for their support, and bring on next year!

Happy climbing!

Alex J

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Road Trip

Sat in my final maths exam staring out at the sunshine, thinking about how the next weeks would pan out, I would never have imagined some of the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been and the climbs I’ve done.

We set off from the conclusion of that very exam, straight from school to begin the 7 week long roadtrip we had been planning since the beginning of the year. After a family wedding in Cambridge, we met up with Billy Ridal, one of my friends from the comp circuit who was also on the trip to Spain earlier in the year, who would be accompanying us on our journey. We were packed, psyched and ready to go, and boarded the ferry with high spirits. Bar the black foot marks in the cabin from constant "cabin bouldering", the 2 day journey passed relatively painlessly and we arrived in Bilbao ready to hit up the first stop on the list, Baltzola cave!

The one place we didn't have the guide for turned out to be the hardest to find a topo for, obviously, and we spent many hours in the city searching! Not to be outdone, we found the position of the crag online and decided to venture out topoless, and got on one of the nice lines until (we hoped!) some locals arrived. I managed the climb 3rd go, after falling from the last move on the second, and when a group arrived I was happy to find out it was in fact an 8a called “Blandiju”! As well as the route identification, we were also pointed to a topo online, which gives fairly accurate information about the routes in the cave. Fresh from my success on the first climb, I decided to try another 8, and settled on the 8a+ “Iluminatis”, another steep roof line, which despite trying it intending to get up the next day, I managed 2nd go! A very successful first day!

Second day, and I got on another 8a+, “Black Kongi”, which starts up the classic 8c of the crag, “White Zombie”, then ends with a boulder problem. It was an awesome line, and when I didn’t manage it that day I was deliberating whether to come back and finish it off or to move on to the next crag without the risk of another failure. Nice one to Billy for getting his 2nd 8a, and his first of the trip at this amazing crag! I made the decision to give it a last few attempts, and managed it, after a few good falls from up high.

I made a video of our time in Baltzola, including all the hardest climbs we managed. Some of the zoomed shots really capture the scale of the place!

After finishing the climb we left the crag and headed out to our next planned destination, Rodellar! There are very few, European destinations that allow for hard summer climbing, but with its North-South gorge giving morning and afternoon shade, and its proximity to the river, Rodellar is perfect, as well as having a great climbing scene!

My goal for the entire trip was to manage an 8a onsight, so with the aim in mind I set out to try as many 8a's as I could find, and it seemed like Rodellar would be the perfect place to do it, with plenty to choose from. We began with some fun mileage in the morning then set off for some more serious stuff on the huge wall of Gran Bovida. The goal for the day was an onsight attempt of Coliseum, the most onsighted route at Rodellar and a 40m long stamina fest. I set off, but despite easy climbing I was pumped out of my mind by half height, and came off fighting as hard as I ever have. I was going to need to be fitter!

I tried many more 8as in the coming days, falling off most in the last hard moves. I’m not sure if it was a mental block, or I wasn’t fit enough, or the routes just didn’t suit me, but despite coming within moves of success, the tick eluded me! I managed some great climbs in Rodallar though, with 3 8a ticks and a 7c+ onsight (almost falling clipping the chains!). Perhaps the most significant for me though was redpointing El Delphin, the mega classic roof climb through a huge arch well above the valley floor.

The route itself isn’t particularly good and the climbing for the most part is not too hard, but the mental battle for me to clip the chains was intense. It wasn’t the difficulty of the route, but the combination of the exposure, the (from my point of view) poor fixed gear and insecure looking rock flipped some sort of switch in my head, and I just freaked out. When I fell off on the onsight, I was a gibbering wreck of fear. I haven’t been scared of falling for some years now, in fact I have come to enjoy it, but this climb made me feel like I didn’t even want to weight the rope, for fear of the rope snapping on the worn draws. If I stopped, let the route beat me and moved on, I felt like I could develop a mental block, and it could slow down my rapid progress on the trip. I had to get back on the route, just to show myself that I could do it. The next go I came off again, panicked, but less so than the first attempt, which was good. I got back on, and with a fight I slapped through the last boulder problem and clipped the chains. Not a route I plan to do again in a hurry, but an important step in improving my climbing.

El Delphin

From Rodellar we headed to Terradets, but even with the morning shade the heat was unbearable, and the rock felt slick in the humidity. The sixes felt hard, the eights felt just as hard, and when the sun finally peaked over the top of the crag, with no meaningful ascents under my belt, I left feeling frustrated. We drove off to find the next crag, Tres Pons.

Tres Pons is exactly my style, long, not too steep and on positive crimps, and with the summer heat being kept at bay by the river and the shade, was the perfect destination. We arrived too early on the first day for the afternoon crag, but as soon as the sun was off it we got on an unnamed 7b to warm up, and wow was it amazing! This is the single best route I did on the trip, and I’m not even sure why. All the moves just flowed, and gave me a route that meant I came down smiling. Perfect!

Fresh from this fun I geared up for an onsight attempt of a route to the left, Alt Urgell, a 7c that extends into an 8a. I had wanted to go for the onsight of the 7c, but put a few extra draws on so I could try the extension if I got there. I set off, and after choosing the wrong line of holds at the start and having to down-climb to just off the ground, I was soon at the end of the 7c section looking up at the final steep moves before a hard looking slab to the chain. I was already about 30m up at this point, but I could recover for the last 10m on jugs by the first lower off. I composed myself, and went for the crimps above. It was hard climbing, but all the onsighting I’d been doing meant I knew what to do, and with some high feet and long rockovers I was stood on the slab, shaking out my arms and staring at the chain some metres above. It was a case of moving slowly, taking the route one move at a time and ensuring I didn’t make any mistakes. Every move was a calculated risk, but when I latched the final flake that I knew would take me to the top, I let out a shout of delight! I climbed to the chains, clipped them, and lowered off. I’d done it, my first 8a onsight! I left happy that night, and looked forward to the next day at this perfect crag. Effort to Billy, who also managed to top this route, despite being a bit under the weather.

We warmed up on the 7b again, but it didn’t seem as good as the previous day, which was a shame, but it was no matter, and I decided, after some recommendations from locals, to try for the onsight of another 8a. This again was the extension of a 7c+, but also extended again into and 8a+ finish. I took enough draws for the whole thing, more out of hope than any real confidence I would reach the top. I pulled through the 7c+ well, and got to the angle change that marked the start of the 8a extension, another slab! The moves were technical and balancey, with every movement a risk of a foot pop or a slip. A few tenuous metres later, and I clipped the chain, surprised to have ticked my second 8a onsight in as many days. But there was more to come! Just 15 metres of slab climbing stood between me and bettering the whole goal of my trip. I was high up, but I relaxed and focused on the next move. I committed where I needed to, rested where I could and after battling with 60 metres of rope drag, a sketchy mantle and almost falling clipping every clip, I had reached the top of my first 8a+ onsight. I lowered off ecstatic, but sad to be leaving this perfect crag. Props to Billy, the hero of the day, who, when a storm stopped his attempt, battled to the top through the heaviest rain I’ve seen, and the loudest thunder I’ve heard, to strip the route. Not something many people would be queuing up to try! 

After picking up my Mum and Brother from the airport, Billy and I were deposited in Ceuse, the crag I had visited last year, while the rest of my family enjoyed rainy days in the Verdon Gorge. Ceuse did not escape the rain however, and after the first day or so rain was a constant delight we experienced almost daily. I managed to climb far harder than last year though, ticking Dolce Vita (8a+) before the rain set in and climbing the steep and powerful L'ami de tout le monde (8b), after a problem latching a long move by the 3rd bolt. I also spent some time working Slow Food, and extremely powerful 8b+ that begins with a V8 boulder that I was very close to linking, for me the key to the route, and definitely something to got back for when I’m stronger. Ceuse, as with last year, was full of great people, and the atmosphere is amazing, so I will of course be returning lots in the coming years.

The last stop on the outdoor leg of our journey to Imst was in Gorge Du Loup, the group of crags I had visited earlier in the year. Just an afternoon there, in the dry tufa-lines of Deverse was enough to convince me that this was in fact a good crag, and after climbing the mega classic 8a+ Deverse Satanique, I was keen to return to the many more hard lines this steep wall has to offer.

From Loup, it was off to Imst, so, after stopping at the Arco and Innsbruck indoor walls to re-remember how to climb on plastic and 2 days or driving we met the team. A couple of days of rest later, it was time for the comp. My first route and I felt calm, confident and fit, but a slip moving off a pinch ended the climb short of where I wanted, and needed, to be. I came 40th on this route, but just 4 moves more would have put me joint 10th, so to be so close and coming off relatively fresh is frustrating. On my second route, I climbed well, but with a small mistake higher up I was off in a much better 15th place, so I was reasonably happy. Overall I finished 28th, my worst result in a European competition. I needed to stem the mistakes and climb to my best to make the final in this comp, but the fact I can be close on many of my climbs in encouraging, especially for next year when I should be stronger and fitter after a winter of training.

After climbing on the final problems on Sunday, we started to leave when we experienced the first breakdown of the trip! The muppet of a mechanic they sent out didn’t have a clue, but with a promise of having it seen to in the morning we were left at a campsite. Turns out the problem was electrical, and with an hour of tinkering we had found the trick (which involves pulling wires around the ignition when you go to start), and we could drive consistently. Off to Font!

Font was so much better than I expected. Even though we only made it to Bas Curvier, the sheer volume and quality of the problems that were there made me want to go back as soon as I could! While there, I managed Carnage (F7B+) and was excruciatingly close to the sit start, which is definitely something to go back for as it is such an amazing problem. I also climbed many easier problems, as the heat made it difficult to redpoint, but even these we a far superior quality to any boulders I have climbed in the UK. I am not the greatest fan of pebble pulling, but this place was definitely the best argument I’ve had for giving it a good go!

More driving, another ferry and the European leg of the trip was over, but we still had one final destination, the annual summer Youth Open comp in Leeds, and the first to include bouldering in the form of the Junior BBCs (British Bouldering Championships) round 3. The Saturday was the bouldering comp, and being a close second in the overall rankings behind the ever strong European bouldering champion Dom Burns, I was in with a good chance of taking the title. In the qualifiers I climbed ok, but not at my best and came away wit 6 tops in 7 attemps, but was within 1 move of another. This meant I qualified for the final in 4th place.

The finals were really good. Isolation actually had places to warm up, we weren’t in there for too long, and the problems actually looked really good! After observation, I was out early but from the speed people were coming back into isolation I knew I had to flash the problem to be up there and in with a chance. It was my turn to go, but a foot slip caused me to fall on my first attempt. I got back on, and despite taking a monster swing on the finishing jug I held it, and had topped the problem second go. The next problem was harder for me, with a long move from a sloper to a gaston which I couldn’t reach from the foothold, meaning the move became a full footless crucifix between the two. I didn’t manage this problem, and I didn’t even get the bonus so I was behind going into the last problem. The last problem started with powerful moves in a roof, into a long press and crimp moves on the headwall. I knew this problem would suit me, and when I came out I knew I could do it. I stepped out, read the problem and climbed it first go. I was slightly disappointed, as the problem felt relatively easy and I knew it would not be enough to put me in a better position, but I finished this comp in 4th, and the overall series in 2nd! I’m really happy with this for my first year in Youth A, and will certainly be back next year to challenge for the title. Off of this performance, I was selected to compete at the final bouldering EYC of the year in Laval in October, which will be a great comp!

Photo credit Peter Wuensche

The next day was the lead comp, and after coming 2nd in the last youth open I was hoping to go one better. My first qualifier was exactly my style, a vertical crimp-fest that actually required some technique, which was nice to see in a comp. I topped it, and was looking to repeating that on my second climb. Sadly, that was not the case. I made every move hard, got every hold in the wrong place and came off low down. Was it not for my first climb I could not have made the final, and when I came down I expected just that. Fortunately, in a final of 6 I made it in 5=. Not where I wanted to be.

In isolation I didn’t feel 100%. In fact I felt terrible. I had a pump in my arms that I could feel, and knew it would surface as soon as I pulled on to the final route. Isolation was crap as well, warming up on vertical walls is never easy! I came out, climbed as well as I could and tried hard, but the pump appeared, I went for a long move and was off. It was better than I expected to do, as I finished 4th, and were it not for my abysmal qualification I could have been higher, with count back deciding against me. Not my best comp, bouldering the previous day and just the fatigue from the whole trip really took it out of me, but I’m ready for the next national comp, the BLCCs in Sheffield in October. I will also be competing in seniors, so I look forward to seeing how I compare!

Its been an amazing summer, and I’d like to thank my Dad for putting up with me all trip and making it happen. Also to Billy for coming and keeping us company! Cheers everyone, and stay tuned for my next blog about the World Championships in Canada!

I will also be competing in the final EYC of the year in Norway this weekend, so follow me on Twitter for updates and to find out how to watch.