Sunday, 31 August 2014

Climbing, the rock

Well, this is my first blog in two years, over those years I occasionally look back at my old posts and smile, sometimes they make me feel sad too.

My last blog in particular pulls at the heart strings, I guess. It takes a look at the previous three years of my life. Years that really shaped me into the person that sits here typing away. I finish by stating I can't imagine living anywhere but North Wales... Unsurprisingly, I no longer live in North Wales, I now live in another of the UK's climbing meccas; Sheffield.

Apart from the climbing, one thing that features heavily in the previous blog is Jess. Jess is the reason I chose to leave North Wales, and after we broke up I felt stranded in this city away from the mountains and sea of North Wales that I love so much. But I'm not going back, not for the foreseeable future.

After a great day at Sharpnose, I couldn't resist one
more route. (c) GuyVG
2014 has been a bit of a rough year so far, and yet also one of the best. I have lost both my girlfriend, and shortly after my job. Although in reality people go through a lot worse, I have had a fortunate life with few major disruptions like this, so to have two come along so quickly definitely knocked me off balance for a little while. Whilst I write this, I am sorting through a few more smaller life disturbances that I won't go into. Yet I can't help but feel 2014 has been a golden year - am I damaged?

Whilst I fell out of love with someone I loved a lot, and lost a job I thought would suit me for the rest of my life, I relearnt something I had known all along but lost sight of. I fell head over heels back in love with rock climbing. I vividly remember when I started climbing, in comparison to the last 5 years I did it very infrequently, but my passion for it was all-encompassing. It defined me, every time I went climbing my self-confidence grew, I felt like I had found what I was born to do, I had delusions of grandeur. By the time I had finished my first year of uni, I had transformed from a person I didn't want to be into someone I wanted to be.

Somewhere in the past few years, although very much a climber and very much in love with it, my passion wained and I often wondered if I would stop climbing, I thought that eventually it would take second place to other more important aspects of my life. I questioned whether I was a true "lifer", even though everyone else would say I was, I was never sure. Despite the fact that when I didn't want to go climbing something deep inside would force me too, I doubted the power of climbing. Yet time and time again, I would still end up wanting to put climbing before all else.

Starting up Head Hunter, E5 6a (c) GuyVG
Recently, I have hit a real purple patch with my climbing and for the first time in many years felt real progress. I have progressed every year in some way, but this year my passion fired up as my life fell apart. This in itself is progress as I often looked to shy away from challenges in previous years. In the end it lead to me climbing what I consider to be my first E5. Head Hunter, in the very atmospheric Huntsman's Leap, Pembroke, has been a route I have dreamt of doing for a year or so now. Situated in my favourite crag it weaves a bold, technical line up the pink West Wall. It didn't disappoint. Upon topping out I felt a deep satisfaction that as a climber I rarely feel. The next day I climbed Deep Space, a wild E2 that made me grin from ear to ear. Climbing is good, the grade irrelevant.

What the last few months have taught me is actually just how much climbing means to me. In many ways this is a little worrying. I now know that I am unlikely to ever live a normal life that I imagine my family wish for me. My future definitely looks a lot less certain than it ever has before, I thought I'd find this scary, but in reality I feel free.

This all probably sounds pretty depressing, but in recent months I have found that there are definitely other people out there, however long or short our paths cross for is less important than the fact they did cross. When I had my job and Jess, I thought that that was it for the rest of my life, no more major changes. Instead there is more life out there to live, many more people to meet, places to see, parties to have and routes to climb. More adventure. I am only 24, the thought that I was set for life was actually unsettling rather than comforting.

I have now realised where my priorities lie and that climbing is the thing that will pull me through life and give it probably its only real direction. Money holds little value to me, as long as I can go climbing. A big house has little value to me, as long as I live near crags. Expensive, flashy things are worthless in comparison to memories. What I have known all along is that happiness is key and that it is rarely bought.

Happiness (c) GuyVG

I don't know when I will next write another blog. But something compelled me to write this down. Climbing is a dangerous thing, however. I don't mean physically though obviously that too. You have to be careful not to measure your self-worth by your climbing ability - something that I think losing my job at UKClimbing has helped me shed. I often felt unworthy of the job having not climbed 'E5' - a big goal/deal for me, yet this held me back. You have to enjoy climbing for what it is, not for some ego boost.

My new attitude towards life is summed up by the following (lame) phrase:

"If you don't shoot, you won't score" - could be interesting to see where that takes me.

What am I going to do in the future? The only certain is that I'll be climbing, and having a right good time with my best friends, and I guess that is actually all that matters. I'll still be the same as I've always been, and I still know that there is more to life than climbing, but for better or worse, climbing is the rock.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Time Of My Life

I just realised that three years ago, I had been living in North Wales for less than a month! It is weird to think of the past three years and all they entailed as things of the past, and of course, much of it won't stop, but times are definately a-changing... 

My move to North Wales really was a massive turning point in my life, and a big scary leap into the unpredictable unknown. The lead up to my leaving for university involved getting all the bits and bobs needed; pots, pans, plates, sheets, a laptop, the North Wales Rock guidebook, all vital things for a new Bangor university student. Bangor had been a potential place to study for well over a year by then, as I had applied here the first time round but had rejected their offer in favour of the academically better universities of Sheffield and Exeter. As fate would have it, I failed to get into either of these universities, something that I was gutted about to begin with, I really wanted to go to Sheffield; it was a big, exciting city with a good university and that was where all the climbers you read about in the magazines had studied! I considered my options and applied for a slightly different course and to slightly different universities to match my actual ambitions and my lower than predicted grades. Bangor and Sheffield were once again jostling for my favour. Having gained definite offers from both universities I headed off travelling on my gap year (Yah, it was sooo cultural, yah?), eventually ending up at Mt Arapiles, Australia where I met Dave Morse. I had only ever been climbing with Rob, who I had started with, so all of a sudden I had access to someone who not only knew what they were doing, but also who had done a lot of climbing in a wide variety of places from Yosemite through to Ceuse to Scottish winter climbing. I learned a lot from Dave and chatted with him about my university dilemma. I don't actually remember what he said about Sheffield, but I do remember him telling me that there was A LOT of good climbing in North Wales, much of it adventurous, but with a good variety and with the added bonus of being close to one of his favourite crags; Gogarth. In short, North Wales sounded like it had much of what the Peak had to offer and a whole lot more in climbing terms, though he reckoned that I would have to trade many perks of the city life for this. After spending months living in the dirt and climbing followed by time spent doing the normal route up the East Coast of Oz, getting drunk like normal backpackers, my decision was made and I accepted a place at Bangor University to read Environmental Conservation. 

Upon returning home, I began climbing more with the locals and met a guy named Dom Jeff, an ex-bangor student who like me had gone to climb and had done so much climbing he was kicked out in his second year, he regaled me with tales of elegant, bold slate slabs, great days climbing in the sun in the Pass, lactic enducing sport routes on the Ormes, grippy goodness at Tremadog, though funnily he said that he didn't like Gogarth much and found it "reet scary youth". 

I was mega excited, even more so the morning my new bible, 'North Wales Rock; Selected Rock Climbs in North Wales', landed with a thud on the doormat. I was always looking at it, at work, at home, I even took it on a climbing trip to Cornwall with Dom and asked him what routes were good. He reeled off names of classic routes I had heard of before "Cenotaph Corner, Left Wall, Superdirect, Vector, Pull My Daisy...". I starred all the routes I wanted to do, I could barely contain my excitement. Soon enough, the day to leave arrived and all of a sudden the fact I had never been to Bangor but was committing three years of my life to it seemed ridiculous.

Full of nerves, we pulled into the car park at Normal Site, and my new life took it's first breath. I was scared and felt awkward with my Dad around, but I didn't want him to leave either. Soon enough, he left for home and I washed my fears away with cheap beer, meeting brilliant new people, and exploring new places. Slowly but surely fate revealed that it had known what it was doing all along; North Wales began to feel like home, I met some great people living in Normal Site, but I really felt at home upon joining Bangor University Mountaineering Society (BUMS). Out of all the freshers who had climbed before uni I wasn't the most experienced and was a long way away from being the best at climbing, with many of my peers climbing E2 or harder onsight and on big scary cliffs! This was brilliant though, where Dave had taught me a lot, like a sponge I was once again absorbing knowledge on everything from movement technique, ropework skills and the history of climbing. All the while I felt at home socialising with my non-climbing mates

I vividly remember one morning having a shower after getting up and thinking how lucky I was to live in North Wales and be able to do loads of climbing and have a great time going out on the piss and lead an exciting varied and new life. All of a sudden I felt like the person I had longed to be throughout school was actually me! Here are a load of pictures that hold good memories for me...

My first night out as a Fresher in Bangor! 

Two of my best friends from halls, Caroline 'Tittins' and Lowri,.
Think we are in Paddys the first stop off on a night out from Normal Site.

BUMS Legendary Rubix Cube Night.
Can you spot me?

Cold Autumn cragging in the Slate Quarries

BUMS Peak Trip night out in Sheffield.
Xmas-themed to contrast with  the fact it was Hallowe'en.
BUMS Xmas Party, THE Alex Mason and THE George Ullrich to my right. Neither can climb for shit.
Think I climbed Comes the Dervish earlier this day, which was a big step up at the time.
Beach Clean at Cable Bay, followed by Curry, beer and a fire on the beach.
Tom 'Bubbles' living up to his nickname at a Foam Party in Occy...
These things are good once. Just once.
Carnage in Aberystwyth with an old school friend. Geeky.
BUMS (4person) trip to pembroke in February 2010.
Me leading Lucky Strike, a must do!
The day I really cocked up, setting off up Excursion, on the Orme,
I fell off high up, ripped a load of gear, missed the belay ledge
and stopped just shy of the road. Chopper.
BUMS Cartoon characters night out. L-R Ella, Bubbles, Me, Rach, Harry.
Four Pebble Slab, Froggatt. An early E3 for me.
BUMS March 2010 Peak trip.
Never let people patronise you...

Normal Site shenanigans, the day Ben's kayak was mysteriously found hanging out of a window... 
Easter 2010 Sport Climbing trip to Turkey. Me soloing a sweet little 5+
Getting spanked on a 7a in Turkey!
A quick break from revison with some Twister!
Tittins winning...
Revision break at LPT, getting spanked on Pink Pinkie Snuffs it.
Hanging out on Normal Site Beach
Me on Scarlet Runner, Bus Stop Quarry. 

Normal Site Summer Ball. Best Halls in Bangor.
Yes, I did grow a lot in a few months... 
Ballsford and I at the top of The Weaver, one of the best routes at Bwlch y Moch.
The start of living like outlaws for June 2010, raiding leftover food from
 other kitchens in halls and climbing loads.

An atmospheric lead of Quartz Icicle in Wen Zawn.
One of many good days out with Dave Morse, a friend I met in Australia!
VECTOR! A Tremadog classic.
Another good day out with Dave!
Bangor Uni Dossers. L-R, Ballsford, Bubbles and Me.
Don't forget your oldest friends from home!
Emily, Me and Chris.

Perfect cragging weather (very rare) in the Llanberis Pass.
Overlapping Wall, Carreg Wasted.
Morning Glory, Portland weekend hit. Mikey G basking in it. 
Meeting Jess through BUMS early in my second year,
one of the best things to happen to me.

Freezing our bollocks off on a portaledge party on the Cromlech in December.
For George's birthday. A night I'll never forget. Got a lot of shivering done.

Pre-xmas in the Lakes.
L-R Bubbles and Nikki, Jess and I, Rach T and Ed, Heather and Ollie.

Sheep Pen Bouldering. Dog Shooter.
BUMS Social, "When I grow up I wanna be..." 

Approaching Dave below the top pitch of Cream.
Fell off on my onsight attempt but the feeling of being on
the Vector headwall is a special memory of mine.
The Butcher, April 2011 Pembroke Trip. A great trip!
Easter 2011 trip to El Chorro, the sandwiches and the odd day of sunshine
were a bonus to the great routes we climbed. 

Lunch on Memorial Ledge, Squamish... June 2011
Squamish was an awesome trip taken during the summer holidays after 2nd Year, with my good friend, Heather Florence. We had a brilliant month learning to climb cracks, climbing some big routes fast and free. Read Squamish Select for more info!

Heather and I on the summit of the Chief, Squamish having just climbed the Angel's Crest. Awesome.
True dat.

A great day at Suicide Walls with Mason, here I am warming us up
for the day on the classic Suicide Wall Route 1.

Had a great week trip to Wales from home. First up headed to North Wales, had a great day bouldering at Angel Bay, Chaos Emerald Crack being a highlight. The next day, Al and me headed to Suicide Walls, where I ticked Route 1 and Capital Punishment. Al climbed a new E6 called Decomposed. The next day we headed to Cloggy and did West Buttress Eliminate. I then headed down to Pembroke with Dave Morse and we smashed a load of quality routes in in two days!

Smiles all round on sunny sea-side Granite in Cornwall.
L-R Me, Jess and Mark.
Quality little trip to Cornwall, Post Squamish. Did loads of great routes, the best of which was Glass Arete, stunning!

When in Wales... get naked and chase some sheep.
Bubbles and I fell-running on the Carneddau with Livingstone. 
Bubbles having fun on the top pitch of Moonraker,
a classic HVS at Berry Head, Devon.
Chris Carroll... looking pretty special at the special venue that is Porth Ysgo.
Bubbles losing all sense of reason upon finding his beloved snow...
My first day out in winter, Feb 2012.
Once people catch on that you are small, they never leave you alone...
Early season Grit Trip, finally sending the ultra classic Not To Be Taken Away.

Easter 2012 trip to Scotland... TEAM
L-R Bubbles, Jimmy and Me.
Bubbles, Jimmy and I headed to Skye to try and do the Cuillin Ridge but unfortunately it snowed the night before we were due to try it, so we headed to Kilt Rock, where Bubbles lead Grey Panther. Then Scooted over to Diabaig in Torridon, where we climbed some great single pitch routes such as The Pillar.

Bubbles and Jimmy at the top of Grey Panther.
Bubbles' first Extreme Rock Tick! 
A very happy memory, finally handing in/getting rid of my dissertation. Wooop!
Enjoying the end of exams in Llanfairfechan with Jess.
Paradise... The campsite on Pabbay, Outer Hebrides Scotland.
Officially finished Uni now... what a way to celebrate!
June 2012.

Spit In Paradise. Awesome route, shared with two good friends...

The Great Arch, Pabbay, awash in the evening light.

Pabbay-Mingulay Team on top of the ruined house on Pabbay.
Jimmy and Gwen on Voyage of Faith, Mingulay.
Pabbay & Mingulay, potentially the best climbing trip I've ever been on, perfect weather, perfect location, all shared with just your best mates. Here's more info on you're own desert paradise.

Visiting Jess in Glossop. Climbing at Hobson Moor Quarry with Woody the dog.
Smiles all round!
Ben and I on Appian Way, Castell y Gwynt.
A great day and one of the last I spent with Ben before he moved back to Yorkshire.
(Yes, I know I look like a total Chummer...)
The start of non-student life: A quick trip to Ceuse in South France.
L-R Me, Robbie Rocket Pants, Si.
The Bible looking well 'loved' and patched up.

So there are just a load of photos I've nicked off facebook (cheers!) to show some of the great times I've had at Uni, there are many, many more but no photographic evidence. Coming to Bangor has completely changed the course of my life and now I struggle to think of living anywhere but North Wales. This blog post is mainly just a way of saying thanks to everyone I've met and hung out with/got drunk with/gone climbing with throughout the last three years. It's been absolutely awesome and I really have had the time of my life. So thank you all! To anyone thinking of, or just arrived in Bangor get ready for three of the best years of your life!

Can't wait to see what the next few years have in store!