The Tight Rope

The thin line between success and failure

In climbing it appears that advertisers need to walk an extremely thin line between giving people want they expect and over stepping the mark, a recent article added to UKC has brought this debate on a very small scale. Whilst I don’t want you to see this as passing any judgement, it is just an observation of the tight rope between success and failure, when it comes to advertising on a small scale where marketing budgets simply don’t exist.

Before we go any further I would like to recommend Love to Climb as a foreign sport climbing holiday and general coaching provider. I think I even wrote a blog that mentioned Catherine a while back, she is after all a very talented coach and climber, and someone that I know who worked extremely hard to get her MIA. In fact she put as much effort into passing the MIA, as she did to her climbing, and my guess is she applies that dogged enthusiasm to her business and coaching.

She recently came under limited criticism for her article of 10 tips for sport climbing, over on UKC. With a couple of people seeing as more advertorial than editorial. Having read it they do have a point. However running a small business, I too have written articles for UKC and every one of them has been aimed at helping drive business to my website. In recent months I have gone all google analytics and burned my feed from this blog, so have pretty accurate numbers of people visiting my various websites. I can say that an article on UKC increases my average daily views from 100 to 500 easily. It also helps drive your placing in search engines like yahoo and google (appearing high up on the first page of result can’t be underestimated!). These sites use a series factors to decide the placing within search engine results and a combination of number of incoming unreciprocated links from large and important sites pay dividends, with links from UKC which due to its visitor numbers has what the internet refers to as a large clout.

When your running a guiding/instructing/coaching business there really isn’t that much money in it, unless you are one of the few who basically runs it as a business, rather than as a kind of lifestyle choice. Somewhere in the general running cost, you have to find the money to set up a website, and for any large business this is often achieved through outsourcing at very high cost. In our industry it means that as well as a coach you also need to be a web designer/ administrator. You need to be able to do some form of book keeping, to keep you accountancy bills to a minimum. There are of course many other skills, the least of which is being your own marketing manager, and if that includes writing an article for UKC, then believe me it is the cheapest and most effective form of advertising for a small business in the outdoor/climbing market.

Sod google adwords, UKC is the strongest media outlet for climbing in the UK, the ability to track how advertising there increases your site traffic, the ability to direct people to a specific page or content, is in my opinion way more relevant and effective than print media now, and probably cheaper too. So if you are lucky enough to get an article on there, you are talking the marketing gold mine. Unfortunately there is two ways you can have an article go from a marketing point of view, one is write on something unrelated to your business that has a lot of ‘clout’, like for instance an article on Mountain rescue, photos of climbing in the slate quarry’s or an article on retro bolting the quarry’s. This method is more a covert way to link to your site, however people don’t see one of the underlying factors, as simply marketing.

A more overt way is to basically write and long advert cloaked as an article, unfortunate this is what Catherine’s article read like, and I suspected that many climber will read it like that. If she had made the tips more general rather than specific to the area she takes her clients, I think she would have ‘cloaked’ the purpose slightly better. She still could have written a couple of paragraphs at the end about Turkey, however its still a good article that highlights a different sport climbing arena.

Hopefully nobody took offence at her article, and I hope even more that it works and she gets some clients to take over there. If you do book, I can only say one thing about Catherine, in the limited time I have hung out with her and partner Nic Sellars I can only say that I have found them two of the nicest, most welcoming people I have met in a long time.

I think what is important to remember is that people like myself, Catherine and any other small coaching outlets simply don’t have the funds to offer large scale adverts or brochures. The known industry standard is Plas Y Brenin, and they have a full time marketing manager, not to mention government subsidies through the sports council, so in order to keep up with them we have to imaginative with our marketing. In order to survive we all have to sell out to a certain extent, it just seems that some people simply can’t accept it as a necessary evil to professional climbing and coaching.

If you’d like to see more marketing progangda then you can on Mark’s Coaching Blog

More lifestyle …still no action

Well today I made yet another step to becoming a runner in that I brought an MP3 Player to listen to whilst I suffer. Now the thing is that this was almost as difficult as buying a pair of shoes, as I needed to make sure that my MP3 player was compatable with my computer!

Now if you have a PC then pretty much any MP3 player will work with either windows media player or a free version of iTunes or something similar. The same cannot be said the other way round as far as I am aware, and even a good trawl of the interweb, made it as clear as mud as which system to use. Even Apple’s list was so pitiful, and having searched for a creative lab nomad MP3 player and struggled to find one any cheaper than an iPod Shuffle, I opted to get one of those.

Its ironic that despite bitching endlessly just how good Apple Mac’s are, that when it comes down to add-ons Apple has you backwards over a barrel, and for some reason most people enjoy pushing back. Now I had a long think about this and Apples operating system has got to be better than Billy Gates Windows, because it only has to be tested on a handful of machines, all created by Apple.

However poor old Bill has to design an operating system that will work on just about any computer that can be made up of 2p chips, and 10p circuit boards and sold for pounds. What do we expect if you buy cheap, you buy twice! Anyway the other edge of that sword is Windows has the choice when it comes to up grades and accessories.

I was in a Tarrentino-esque fix, so biting the bullet I slumped for the cheapest apple iPod money can buy, and seeing that Apple had successfully screwed me buy selling me the best computer with the best but most expensive accessory, I brought my iPod in Pink!

New Shoes

Well I have made lifestyle choice today, I went into a sports shop to buy a pair of running shoes, if you thought it was hard to choose a pair of rock boots then you haven’t been into JJB Sports recently, this shop must have been the biggest selection of trainers I have every seen in my life, it makes V12’s rock boot selection look pitiful, which I can assure you its not. Where the hell do you start?

Unlike many modern electrical shops like PC world, Dixons, Curry’s where they seem to have staff that stand around being geeky talking about geeky things that they can’t afford to have in their chavy life’s, and getting service is actually an impossibility; the JJB staff on the other had me targeted before I could escape back out the door under the sheer overwhelming fear of trying to select just one pair of trainers from such an incomprehensible number of possibilities.

“Can I help you sir?”
“Yes, I’d like some trainers”

To this the sales man looked at me with a kind of sarcastic look of utter detest, as if to say, well you’ve come to the right place, now help me out by being a bit more specific, there are hundreds to choose from you idiot.

“What are the trainers for?”

I was of course being hopeful, in that I would like to use them for running, but I expect that after the first run I will hang up these running shoes as a bad idea.

“New to running are you?”
“No, I am looking for some…….(I frantically try to remember a brand of running shoes, whilst looking up and down the endless wall of shoes)….. Asics”

I was of course lying because I didn’t want to give this self-righteous sarcastic bastard the privilege of giving me any advice based on his obvious lack of schooling, seeing that he was currently interned at JJB. Given his age he wasn’t going to call on his life experience to aid my judgement in a pair of pumps. He also had the look of someone that hadn’t seen any exercise since he left the school when it was compulsory.

“Good, Choice….”

Thank good I was stood in front of the Asics stand otherwise I might be wearing a pair of over priced Nike’s manufacturer by imprisoned school children in indo-china for 10p a pair, using toxic glue that is illegal in 90% of the known world! Instead I got lesser known brand, probably manufactured in the same factory, for 13p a pair.

“….What size are you?”

The silence continued for a while, as I frantically tried to remember my actual shoe size, the only time I have brought a pair of shoes in the last four years that wasn’t a pair of climbing shoe’s was, well, I haven’t. So you can imagine the look on the assistants face when I peeled off the rotting pair of Scarpa approach shoes. He actual walk over to a different seat to collect a can of foot odour spray, ready to disinfect any shoes my feet went in.

“I am size 12 ” (I am not really, but you know what they say, big feet…….big shoes)

He did manage to find the matching pair of shoes, with a sale on I saved myself enough money to buy a neoprene knee support. To protect and old war wound I got whilst dancing a couple of years back. Anyway the shoes have had there inaugural outing to Thursday night Badminton, where they were certainly better than the pair of 5.10 skating shoes that I had been using the previous weeks.

They have yet to be out for a run though!

Here’s a tune about New Shoe’s if your bored.

The Ignorance of Incompetence

362 (the number of quarrymen who died in the quarry’s) – F5c Left Arete of Never Never Land

Many years ago now having flunked my first ‘go’ at university, I took a year off to work out what to do next. With so many friends all over the UK at various universities I embarked on a bit of a year long road test of various institutions being a common sight at Keele, Harper Adam’s and Bangor Universities, despite not being enrolled at any of them. On one of those first trips up to Bangor, I was taken climbing to the infamous Rainbow Slab, we top roped a route in the driving snow called Red & Yellow & …&… etc… .

I remember this today as I was out on the slate in very similar conditions, climbing one of the better new wave of sports routes, up the left arete of Never Neverland Slab. I can’t remember its name, and it seems unimportant to this tale. The moves were tenuous as the snow had laid on all the edges and melted, so every hold was slightly damp, not a good combination with Slate, but it was steady enough to allow progress and despite the snow it wasn’t too cold!

The view from the top of Fresh Air, across towards Snowdon

Back when i first visited the Rainbow slab, my first impression was that these guys had massive balls. Whilst the climbing was never hard the thought of essentially soloing that line was just ridiculous, its funny that despite accumulating years of experience in the intermittent years the idea of soloing that route is still fairly hat stand. Also in all those years of experience the thought of going out rock climbing in the snow still hasn’t become that appealing, I guess ignorance was bliss back then.

The next route we did was called Breaking Wind, but after being cleaned and retro bolted to make nice F6a, the latter day micheal angello tried to rename the route Fresh Air Crack. Now their argument was it climbed a different line. Unfortunately for them I attempted the route prior to it being retro bolted, and can safely say that on lead you climbed the exact line of the bolts that are in place, other than the last section, interestingly there was once a bolt on this route, at about half height, the old stud is still there but the bolt has long since gone!

Llion Belaying more than fresh Air this time!

I discovered this on my first attempt to check the route for the new slate guidebook, I had been climbing with Llion and as I racked up meticulously I looked up and thought that I might be lucky to get any of it in, as there was a dearth of any cracks that might take any protection. As I shuffled my way up, left a bit, right a bit, teasing the easiest line out of the cliff, I found that the climbing was straight forward, but the gear none existent.

The higher i got the more nervous and aware of the situation i became, looking up there was still no sign of even the smallest of fissures to nestle even the tiniest of RP. As I came level with the bolt stud, I suddenly realised that there might be a mistake that has been handed down from guide to guide, since back in the day, when perhaps the bolt stud I was looking at had a bolt that was ‘borrowed’ to fore fill a role on somebody else’s route.

Looking down the at the comfort of the rope!

At this point the thought of continuing up seemed fool hardy, looking down and the concept of reversing the route in my now emotionally charged state, had a similar sense of foreboding about it. So as I was about to shout down to Llion that I was going to untie from rope so he could run round and rescue me, I saw both ropes neatly coiled on the ground! In my rush I had forgotten to tie in, however as there seemed to be no gear, Llion just assumed that I had decided after bouldering out the bottom few moves that I had committed to the solo! Suffice to say the route is a lot more pleasant and popular with the new bolts in and a rope!

I would like to say this was a few years ago now, however it was one of those moments when familiarity bred contempt. Where ignorance spurned incompetence.

If you’d like more information on these new bolted routes in the slate quarry’s then please visit a site that I helped develop quite a while ago now, the slate wiki.

Aren’t Bolts great! In the right place anyway.

Snowdon: Winter Walks Safety Advice

The author high on Snowdon this week

Well, unlike in Summer, when drapped in its winter coat, Snowdow is more than a walk in the park. In fact at the moment Winter Walking on Snowdon is as serious as anywhere in Scotland. Given the conditions I have experience under foot in th last week even low down on the mountain, as well as some of the accidents that have occured in the months during the cold snaps, coupled with my general experience of walking up and down this mountain over the years, there are a few things that you need to consider before heading up the hill if you want to do it safely.

The first is if you have the right experience for it?
The second is do you have the right equipment for it?
The third is is it the right day for it?

It is hard to answer these questions in one short and consist article, however a while back I wrote a small piece on winter wisdom for the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Blog.

Each red dot represents a recent call out for the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team

This article is more specific to walking up Snowdon in winter, which along with the appreciation that winter walking is more like mountaineering than a stroll in the park and should therefore not be underestimated. For starters, you need to have extremely warm and waterproof clothing, boots suitable for winter walking and appropriate crampons that will fit to those boots, not to mention a map and compass, and a extremely high level of navigation ability. Other things like ski goggles will help you keep your eyes open in driving spindrift. Picture someone crossing the arctic, and that’s the sort of conditions you can sometimes expected on Snowdon if the weather is anything but perfect during winter.

Even if you have this equipment, it is strongly recommended that you get some tuition on using it, making sure that your crampons fit, and that you can put them on with freezing cold hands in a white out. Similarly, the idea of having an ice axe isn’t to stop you once you have started sliding in a hollywood fashion towards a cliff edge, although it can be used this way! Instead an ice axes main line of defence is to prevent a small slip/trip becoming a slide/fall! This is only possible with training with someone who knows what they are doing in an appropriate place to do it. A safe slope with a safe run-out is needed for practicing ice axe arrests, and don’t practice it with your crampons on, as your asking for a fracture of the lower limb. A great instructional book is Steve Long’s Winter Walking Skills.

Further to this there are specific areas of Snowdon that regularly ice over and often become accident black spots with people who are not properly equipped or experienced. On the Miner Track the section from Glas Llyn to the intersection with the PYG track can accumulate ice, and the PYG track has icy on it from just outside the car park in patches. The most serious section of both of these tracks is the section above the intersection of the PYG/Miners, where even if there isn’t much snow, ice can develop into an inclined ice rink, and a slip can continue a long way. Further up the path section from the Zig-Zags to the finger stone are the scene of many slips that require rescue, again because a simple slip can carry on a for a long way.

Accident Black Spots on Snowdon

In terms of descending caution is needed on all the sections mention, if descending the Llanberis path, many people think the railway track will be the easiest way down, however in winter a section above clogwyn goch, becomes iced over and a the concaved slope has lead more than one person to have a fatal slip from here. Instead follow the footpath, above the railway track, it is fairly obvious in all but the heaviest of snow falls, and further away from the precipitous drop.

For all but the most experienced mountaineers, I would strongly recommend staying away from Crib Coch, as in winter it is a Grade II winter route, rather than a scramble. If you take heed of this advice then you could be set to have one of the greatest mountaineering adventures of your life, ignore them at your peril.

Craig Y Forwen: Partial Opening

Living with the Chairman of the BMC wales area, as well as being on the National Council for the BMC means I get to see a lot of important climbing related documents. This evening I saw extracts of the access/vegetation clearance documentation from the CCW. The agreement is dated as coming in effect on the 21st January 2009, so it is already in effect.

Now the wording and agreement is very specific so to start with you need to be aware of various parts of the document if you wish to stay the right side of the law, due in part to the SSSI and part to trespass issue on Mr Webb’s land. What climbers have been granted is a section 28 consent for vegetation removal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

In which we are given consent to the following two things under the subsequent three conditions:

1. Recreational activity; climbing, during daylight hours generally in dry weather for a trial period of one calender year commencing on 21st January 2009.

2. Removal of invasive ivy and non-native cotoneaster from climbing routes on the cliff faces. Cutting and clearing of ivy, shrubs and small tree trunks and branches at the start of each climbing route and along the base of the cliff.

The conditions are:

1. Climbing may be permitted within the area shown outlined in red on the map below. This looks as though Mojo and Great Wall will fall outside the area we are allowed to climb. This is to restrict climbing to the land in the ownership of Isallt Farm.

2. Removal and the cutting and clearing of vegetation shall be confined to within five metres either side of a climbing route and within five metres of the base of the cliff. There is a ban on this activity between the 1st March and 31st July, because of nesting birds.

This clearance is limited to Shrubs like blackthorn, elder, hawthorn and hazel and small tree trunks and branches from ash and sycamore. Stumps need to be cut as close to the ground as possible, and left to regenerate. All cut and cleared material must be stacked tidily in the woodland as near to the base as possible without smothering either Stinking Hellebore and/or Ivy Broomrape.

On the cliff faces the following rare vascular plants shall not be damaged, disturbed or removed: Wild Cabbage, Hoary Rock-Rose or Whitebeam.

3. The CCW shall make at least three random and unannounced visits to independently monitor the BMC management of access and recreational activities, with specific regards to the whether access has resulted in damage or disturbance of the rare plants mentioned above and the broad-leaved woodland.

At present then it looks as if partial access to the crag has return, the latest up date to the BMC Regional Access Database happen last month. I’d like to hope that the BMC offers a bit more support and guidance on this issue on there website, and if you feel it necessary to clear vegetation remember the above species that we are not allowed to touch, and those that we are, try a google image search so you know what they look like, as we are essentially on probation for a year on this crag, as the CCW can if they wish remove the permission to climb on the SSSI in a years time.

There are a few older posts on Craig Y Forwen, one of which is here.

Winter Walk

Cloggy Today

Well I was at a loose end this afternoon, so thought I go for a walk up Snowdon, so heading out from the village (my van still won’t start!) I walked up the Llanberis Path, I was going to go for the up and over to Pen Y Pass and try and meet up with my house mate on his way back from work, but the weather was in my face all the way, so it felt a little fresh. In the end I gave up on that idea and tried to get a picture of Cloggy in its winter coat. Incidentally the classic ice gully look like it was close to forming!

The wind has really ripped up the snow, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few pockets of wind slab starting to develop in the shelter gully’s. Given the wind direction the Trinity Gully’s might be banking up a bit, so take care. Although I didn’t make it all the way over, the wind direction was shifting about a lot, so keep your wits about out there, and enjoy the winter conditions.

Enjoying the weather, at Cloggy

Similarly the condition on the PYG track were extremely icy, even just out from the Pen Y Pass car park, and the conditions higher up definite require the use of crampons and ice axes, as does the top of the Llanberis Path. With the right equipment you can have a proper winters day out at the moment in North Wales.

Winter walkers seem way more socialable than summer ones, and despite the weather everyone stopped to have a chat as I made my way up today. Probably out of concern that I was on my own! Interestingly, I usually don’t look very well equipped on the hill, however today I got acosted by a stranger on Llanberis High Street asking if I was going out climbing, I didn’t even have a rucsac with me, but my fleece and technical trousers must have given me the air of ‘mountaineer’. I am sorry if that was you on the high street, but I have one golden rule in winter, only go out with people you are happy to suffer and potentially die with!

My Technical Trouser, giving me the Mountaineer look.

It also struck me during several meetings on the hill over the last couple of days, one of which included over hearing a telephone conversation as well, that women in the main seem to dragged out in all sorts of conditions by their boyfriends only really to find themselves questioning why they have agreed yet again to be involved with some testosterone induced plan. The conversation I overheard was the ‘boyfriend’complaining to his mate over the phone that “the girls didn’t want to do Crib Coch” I am not surprised because her toy Paris Hilton dog looked less impressed than she did.

Me, facing up to blizzard conditions

It got me thinking when do we grow out of showing off to women? I have had many hilarious experiences where in the process of trying to show a girl how cool, hard or clever I am, have instead made a fool out of myself. I can also guarentee it happening just at the point I realise that I am showing off, again! I wonder how many couples have called out rescue teams, because the man was essentially showing off? Now I have caused the opposite sex to damn near wet themselves by making a fool out of myself trying to impress them, but never had to call in outside help to remedy the situation!

Snowy Wall

A life in the Vertical

Wolfgang Gullich soloing Seperate Reality in Yosemite

Now for those of you who don’t know I have another blog that I tend to rant on, as well as put some articles and mini-topos on. When I was dreaming up name I came up with life in the vertical. It was only recently, when my housemate was looking for pictures of Wolfgang Gullich, I went up stairs under the vague recollection of having his biography that I found I had stolen the title for my other blog from the title of this book ‘A Life in the Vertical’.

Why am I writing this on here, well the answer is Gullich was one of the first people to train for climbing, and train in a big way. He basically revolutionised the concept of climbing, moving it from obsessive past-time where some people performed better than others to a more athletic ‘sport’ where an intense training programme lead to some phenomenal ascents.

More than that in his life time Wolfgang was attributed with many training quotes, and it is these that I would like to share with you.







Wolfgang was an amazingly strong climber yet, from his book and even these ‘sound bites’ above, you get the idea that he also focused on the psychology of not only performance whilst under the intense pressure of lead climbing or soloing, but the use of goals in climbing and life to stay motivated.

As such I like to think that this blog offers some of the cutting edge insights into the psychology of climbing, as well as a few more regular training and coaching ideas, as well as some more traditional ropework skills, but If there is anything you’d like to be covered then give us a shout.

The Lightest Carabiner in the World: This Week!

Well early on in the week i was ranting on about outdoor providers offering their services as the ‘best outdoor course providers in North Wales’. Now sweeping statements like that are the sort of thing I am often brought up on when writing. However Wild Country have come up with pretty bold statement.


Brave words, and similar claims have been made of snapgate carabiners in the past, and what followed was something close to the infamous Bake Bean Wars of the 1990’s. For those of you who weren’t students in this era, basically supermarkets kept up this competition for who was selling the cheapest tin of baked beans, as each chain reduced the price, another dropped it even further until it was only 1p a tin in some stores and the effect of having a ‘lost leader’ cancelled itself out and sense returned to the pricing of Britains favourite bean.

It strikes me that this is what has been happening with carabiners, each company shaves gram or two off the last companies design to have that coveted title of ‘Lightest carabiner…..” in there marketing jargon.

Now I was shown Wild Countries lightest carabiner today in V12, and funnily enough DMM are bringing out one that is 2 grams lighter next week. So the claim will be short lived. Now I know that manufacturing processes have improved massively over the last few years with hot forging and I beam construction, however there must come a point where the strength of a carabiner meets that 1p per can of beans, the theoretical rock bottom and its just stupid to go any further down the scales.

I know there was an article on UKC about some guy researching carbon composite carabiners, having had a several squash racket snap over the years, I can’t say I would be keen to have a carbon carabiner, and having seen the research while back I really don’t think any engineer worth there salt would choose carbon composite as a material for carabiners. In a few years from now we might get some carbon nano-tube technology, however despite there immense strength to weight ration, they have yet to make a nano-tube more than a few atoms long!

So anyway, rumour on the street is if you want the lightest carabiner in the world this week then buy the wild country one, if however you can wait a week then DMM offering will probably be released! 

NB: The author in the past received equipment of DMM, as such is extremely biased toward his local company that has helped support his and many other locals climbing. Not to mention that DMM is the only manufacturer to make its hardware in the UK, and as such it employs many local people. In light of the ‘wild cat strikes’ I thought supporting British manufacturers might be a good thing, ‘British jobs for British workers’, rivers of blood and all that….

Snow Work Day

Well its been a while since I offered a sound track to enjoy my posting to. So today I give you an appropriate Snow Bound. So today I was expecting to do some route setting, unfortunately my van doesn’t like the cold and point blank refused to start this morning. Which meant I spent the day like so many having a ‘Snow Work Day’. Instead I hung out with some friends and their children, mainly because it gave me an excuse to go sledging!

Anyway, there was more than ten of us out, and whilst the kids complained of the cold, the adults acted like the kids! There were some speed records set for young children, and the kids found there favourite adult toboggan driver, and made us work for our free rides by acting as the 1 man power automated lift back to the top.

The Glyn Rhonwy Test Strip