From Cumbria to Cambria
There comes a time in every working person's life when they push themselves so hard that they burn out. I've been there, you probably have too. Personally, it's not a feeling that I am fond of ... sacrificing physical or mental health for a job, no matter how important, is not what life is about.
As we float through life we must learn from experience: spot the signs of an impending 'burnout' and take action before it's too late.
The last few months have been hard for me, high pressure situations and minimum respite. I spotted the signs & booked a couple of days off. Time to catch my breath.
Leah and I hatched a ramshackle plan that involved a whirlwind, whistle-stop tour of some classic North Wales sport and bouldering; taking in some of Britains' most historic and famous climbing venues, whilst giving us chance to soak up the psych with some good friends.
First up was a late afternoon visit to the world renowned Cromlech Boulders in the Llanberis Pass.
The wind was blowing and a thick layer of cloud brought the temperature right down. Thankfully, there was an abundance of psyched locals to warm us up from the inside out and we got down to business.
Leah went straight to work on the ultra-classic Ultimate Retro Party, a classy font 7b with dynamic, shouldery moves. A quick play on the holds to find a sequence and within a couple of minutes it was dispatched. No messing. Tick.
One decent 'tick' in the bag and feeling fresh, Leah immediately turned her attention to a long time nemesis bloc, Jerry's Roof. Local bouldering monster, Oli Cain, was on hand to dish out copious amounts of beta, as well as dosing us all with his infectious giggle. I've never seen someone laugh from the bottom of a V9, all the way to the top, on every single move, without falling off. Full respect to that man.
Sheffield ex-pat, Miles Hill, was also in attendance, putting in some bold, yet seemingly ridiculous attempts on Bus-Stop font 7b+. Throwing shapes that would put a top-dog contortionist to shame, he really was trying everything. Unfortuntately, it wasn't enough. Neverthelesss, it was a great sideshow and an inspiring effort.
Meanwhile, Leah had decided to go for the 'tourist-tick' after dropping the last move on the original start. She cruised through the sequence as if it were V3 & topped out in her usual, casual style. Another one in the bag. Tick.
After working out beta on a couple of the other problems, including the back breaking Mr Fantastic and with light beginning to fade we packed up. Day finished. Time to head out for our innaugural Pizza & a Pint - a rite of passage for any climber wanting to experience the true North Walian experience. We were lucky to bump into an old friend and a couple of new ones too. Please don't tell anyone I had a salad.
Coffee was on the cards. Llanberis hostel owner, Mr Hasselhoff, had put us up for the night and when Cumbria's prodigal son, George 'The Boy' Ullrich, announced he was in town it would have been rude not to open a bottle of wine.
Thankfully, when morning arrived we were conveniently located next to the finest espresso serving establishment in Llanberis, which also moonlights as a climbing shop. Iron-willed vegan and all round crusher Derw fixed us up with a strong dose of caffeine & a to-the-minute weather forecast - hero - and before we knew it, Leah and I were parting with £2.50 and bimbling along Marine Drive on the Great Orme.
Moments later, we were hopping over the wall on a mission to find one of the most hallowed sport climbing crags on British soil.
Lower Pen Trwyn, otherwise known as LPT, is a flipping incredible piece of rock. Seemingly appearing out of nothing but choss and grass, it's immaculate limestone waves are a joy to behold. It was my first time.
Conditions weren't ideal, the cloud was low and the air was cold. Holds were greasier than we would've liked but ultimately we had made the journey and we were keen to get involved. We took the easy option - literally and headed to the far right end to seek out Skin Deep f6a+ and Kaffe Fasset f6b+. I hadn't tied into a rope for months and so I was mad keen to get on and climb, whatever the grade.
Honestly, I wasn't expecting much. At a crag famed for it's hard routes, I was imagining polished rock and average moves on anything below f8a. I couldn't have been more wrong. Both routes were absolutely brilliant, even despite the conditions. Skin Deep gave perfect flowing moves on superb rock, and Kaffe Fasset was powerful and delicate in equal measure, requiring maximum attention from start to finish. Both solid in their grade, both massively worthwhile. If you are ever on the Orme, with the tides in your favour and you fancy a couple of easy routes, then investing a little of your time and energy into these two is highly recommended.
Hopeful that a breeze would have improved conditions, we spotted the only other dry line on the crag that wasn't f8b. Face Race f7a+, stood out and looked like a belting route. I tied in.
The moves on Face Race are technical and balancey, but climbing confidently will ensure you make progress quickly. Two thirds in and the holds get small. Sharp crimps lead the way, and my lifeless, numb fingers gave nothing. Clawing rather than climbing, and with friction at a minimum, I stood no chance.
Disapponited not to have sent the route, I was still totally psyched by the quality of the climbing. I will most definitely be getting back on this route when the rock is dry and I have blood in my digits. There is no doubt in my mind about that.
Now on the wrong side of low tide, we decided to opt out of LPT and headed back up to the road for some Parisellas Cave action. Another first for me and also the home to another nemesis problem for Leah.
Pads were arranged, holds were brushed, shoes were fastened. Leah quickly linked together the beta in three solid sections, Rockatrocity looked like it would be a quick tick.
Four goes later, after falling from the finishing hold EVERY time, Leah needed to change tactics.
We worked out that a crucial knee-bar/knee-scum was repelling her, on the last move. Glassy limestone paired with cotton trousers was providing zero friction. She needed skin contact, but only I had brought my shorts.
Ego aside, Leah pulled back onto the problem, this time wearing my rather fetching, baggy orange shorts. She absolutely cruised through the sequence, the skin on her knee stuck to the rock like velcro and she matched the finishing holds with energy to spare. Case closed. Tick.
Our final day of climbing, fuelled by the MASSIVE cottage pie that Leah rustled up the night before, and we were heading out with Cumbrias prodigal daughter (is that a thing?) Emma Twyford.
Llanberis Pass was the destination for the day and we were keen to explore more of the boulders that were in the area, whilst getting some mileage on foot too.
First up, Leah and Emma were keen to have a look at the easily accessible Diesel Power, a brutally powerful font 8a that is right by the road.
Following that, we packed our pads up and quested off across the valley, onto the opposite side.
Perched on the hillside, the Barrel boulder is a really aesthetic block which holds an awesome position and offers fantastic climbing. Leah and I were especially keen to check it out as neither of us had been there before. Joined by honorary locals (and human guidebooks) Tim & Charlie, the five of us checked out the classic lines and got stuck in.
Heading back down to the road to meet the endlessly energetic Oli Cain, we then regained height on the hillside picking off the classic blocs. First up was the Utopia boulder, a stunning block with some easy highballs. Then we headed up again, this time for the steep and powerful delights of the Grooves boulder. Boysens Groove and The Witch were on our radar there and both were flipping brilliant.
A long day under our belts, we started to tire, but Oli and Emma were keen to show us one last boulder and so we finished with the short walk to the Wavelength block. Another absolute stunner.
The climbing style from boulder to boulder is so varied, and Wavelength is no different. Entertaining problems that are physical and technical. We had a play on King of Drunks, an impeccable font 7a. We also got well and truly involved in 'The Groove', which climbs a superb shelf feature in the centre of the block. Mantel/heel/full body grovelling at its finest.
And then, before we knew it, it was trip over and we were back in the van, northbound on the M6.
Trips like this one are so special. What was penned in as an quick break with low expectations actually turned out to be a match to the tinder of our psych fire. Leah and I both felt like we discovered a new place and we were fully welcomed into it's 'scene'.
The climbers in Llanberis and the area around it are just so psyched, and also incredibly friendly. I've never known a place like it. Everyone is keen to get out. Everyone wants to get involved. It was flipping marvellous.
Leah and I will be heading back down as soon as we can to delve deeper into the mass of world-class climbing that North Wales has to offer. On a conquest to climb more routes and tick more blocs and meet more of those flipping awesome people.
For now, it's back to work and working hard. Just remember to keep an eye out for those signs | LL