More Outdoor Centres in the Firing Line

There has been a veritable bonfire of the Outdoor Education Services across the UK. With North Wales being home to numerous authority and private centres it seems they make the news a lot. Add the fact that I am employed directly in the sector it breaks my heart when I know the good they can do, yet as a business owner, I also know a little bit about running a business to at least break even.

The latest centres up against the wall and in front of the firing squad that is a consultation process are all the centres owned by Birmingham City Council and in particular the famous Ogwen Cottage, in the heart of the Ogwen Valley. A place where real outdoor education happens in a rural setting with a mountainous back drop.

The councils reason for wanting to cut off the head of outdoor education to spite its face are laid out in the report that can be downloaded here. Those reason it lays out for the cuts are:

  • The number of schools and pupils using the centres have dropped.
  • The Outdoor Services department loses £1.2 million pound a year.
  • The repair bill on all the building in the services is estimated as £4.2 million.
  • The Council needs to make additional saving to its overall budget of £340 million.
  • They seem to be leaning to providing more money to child services, probably after Baby P and other high profile failures.

I am all for outdoor education being run by local education authorities as they do focus more on education than fun. I have mentioned this before here. However I have never before seen the figures for centres, and as a tax payer I would serious question why I would pay for a system that is barely used and loses money hand over fist.

I should clarify that statement, the report shows that all but a few of the centres Birmingham city council used/own made a loss. Below is a table that goes someway to illustrate my point. The top three having particularly high loses for relatively low user numbers and unfortunately Ogwen Cottage is among the worse offender of cost per pupil.

Centre Profit/Loss in 2013 Number of users in 2012/13
Bockleton (Residential Centre) -171,581.89 1387
Stansfeld Study Centre (Residential Centre) -100,869.14 1090
Ogwen Cottage Outdoor Pursuits Centre (Residential) -181,721.63 798
Bell Heath Outdoor Learning Centre (Residential) -245,450.74 4486
Stables (Day and Residential Services) -107,102.73 No figures given
Springfield (Day Service) -8,138 No figures given
Coopers Mill (Residential Service) +136.31 No figures given
Hams Hall Environmental Study Centre (Day Service) +25,293 3000+
Botanical Gardens (Day Service) +3,963.69 6000+
Mount Pleasant Farm (Day Service) +22,181.51 3500+

I guess the big question is whether we should be looking towards the private industry and the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management, as these are people trained to run business at a profit or the very least to break even. Unless the mountain guide, instructor or teacher has learnt to run a business it is no wonder that they are losing money hand over fist. As with the best will in the world a outdoor qualification has no baring on someones ability to run a modern business in a world of web 2.0 where google rules.

I know that the services offered at Ogwen Cottage are some of the best in the industry, they have good ratios amazing tutor/instructors yet they are failing to turn that in feet through the door or into anything resembling a sustainable turnover. So whilst I really want to support these great institutions, it strikes me that they have been mis-managed to within an inch of their lives in the cases I have highlighted here. Yes there is a decline numbers, but if a whole private industry is somehow keeping its head above water and probably make a profit, then why can’t the public sector maintain a zero economy?


Swanage Strike Out


So I went to Swanage yesterday with the hope that I would be able to climb a route that I hadn’t climbed for a very long time. To say my first attempt at the route was a bit of an epic is an understatement. I won’t share that story here, suffice to say I was fairly nervous about heading down as despite 20 years and several thousands routes climb later Boulder Ruckle at Swanage still held quite strong memories.

That feeling of nervousness didn’t abate when I saw the coastline lit up with froth from a pounding swell bought in by the last storm to pass. Why wasn’t I at the beach surfing? As we sat at the top of the Marmolada Buttress, you could almost feel the waves as they boomed against the Ruckle. As I look over at a particular large set of waves a limited amount of spray atomised over my face.

The decision was made that it would be foolhardy even for me to head down there. It reminded me of a day at Castle Helen where I went down to the girdle ledge as the waves were breaking half way up the cliff. With that we drove to Winspit for some sport climbing.

We went to the East quarry and enjoy a good few routes, most of them seem fairly good sandbags for the grades. You certainly had to pull on most of the F6a’s. There was one route I really wanted to do the Stone Mason. As I remember climbing this with Atholl, nearly 30 years ago.

It is a great route and today I wondered how I got up it as the route is beefy to say the least and whilst not requiring some jamming, it certainly makes it much easier. I think I even gave a little power grunt on one move.

It had been a while since I last climbed, but at least i could still get up most 6a+’s. I didn’t give up on one 6a, but it looked like several holds had come off it and one or two more almost did when I was on it. Although hold break of the day went to Pete on a steep and loose F5+ in the West Quarry. He and the hold exploded off the cliff in spectacular fashion. Pete then attempt a f6a, I declined a try as my ribs had slowly started to hurt again.

Anyway a nice day out considering the weather the previous day which was quite biblical!


Why Snowdonia Mountain Guides?

For those who haven’t realised the link between my blog here and Snowdonia Mountain Guides, then I obviously haven’t plugged my business enough. In a highly saturated market that is outdoor instructors with their own dot com in North Wales, I thought I would try and point out why I think the courses I offer are among the best in the Industry. So here are some reasons to use SMG.

  1. Snowdonia Mountain Guides head coach Mark Reeves wrote the book on North Wales Climbs.
  2. Mark also wrote a book on How to Climb Harder.
  3. His other books and articles include mental skills for climbers, a moutnaineers guide to avalanches and effective coaching for rock climbing instructors.
  4. Mark has worked as a rock climbing coach in North Wales since 1997.
  5. Mark has the UK highest rock climbing qualification the Mountaineering Instructor Award.
  6. Mark has a MSc in Applied Sports Science with effective coaching, sport psychology and performance physiology.
  7. Mark’s passion for rock climbing shines through in his coaching.
  8. Mark has a near endless collection of rock climbing and mountaineering stories, many of them feature in is book Hanging By A Thread also available for iPad and Kindle.

Hopefully this is enough to convince you that if you want to improve your climbing, then Mark has a both a practical and theoretical background in climbing performance to help, combined with hands on experience teaching thousands of clients to either make their first steps onto rock or push themselves to climb harder. Here’s a full list of his rock climbing courses.

Mark also uses his understanding of teaching and learning to introduce skills on both Navigation, Summer Mountain Skills and Winter Mountain Skills.


Go Outdoors: Spot the Mistake

Please don’t fix your crampons like this to your boots.

So a friend was in Go Outdoors in Chester recently and saw this! If you don’t know whats wrong with this image and you are planning on going out in the winter. Then you definitely need to come on a Winter Skills Course for Hillwalkers and Mountaineers.

To be fair we can’t blame Go Outdoors, as it is hard to get decent staff who are actually really into the mountains in Urban settings. Whereas somewhere like Llanberis most kids have learnt to put on crampons before they hit puberty.


The DIY guide to Training

Most of us have to get any training when we can, climbing being something we have precious little time for at the bets of times. When life gets in the way and you have to miss out on real rock just what can we do.

Having bought a house this year I have turned many a chore into a training regime. First off, I have to scrub virtually every inch of my new house such was the damp. So scrubbing brush in hand I worked like a demon and set micro goals. This next hour I will scrub this much, by the end of the day I will have done this much.

The same goal setting helped me through painting the inside and outside of the house. First off, remember to cut in first. It is a ball ache and no one like doing it. After that ditch the brushes and get the roller out. The reason being you can push the roller onto the wall and work those antagonist muscles. This is really important for ceilings, as a days good ceiling paint is my personal recommended favourite way to get some pre-winter training in. How else are you going to get used to holding those ices above your head!

Other handy thing when doing DIY are hammering you own fingers into walls, whilst painful at the time are helping kill off the nerve endings. Thumbs are partially prone to this form of nerve training. Thumbs are also good at been sawn off, ala Tommy Caldwell. I was using a table saw to help lay a laminate floor and every time I turned it on it felt like an E1 4c. Essentially easy but one false move and your dead! I mused not inaccurately that if I was to take a finger off with this beast, I would see the fingers and blood before I felt the pain as it went through flooring like a hot knife through butter.

Putting that laminate down is another good core workout, as you try and pull the parts together. Although be careful because I popped a intercostal muscle, which felt like a broken rib for a few weeks. My final training was deadlifting a storage heater, after failing to get it off the ground I had to dismantle it and do timed runs up and down the stairs to my car with a 5kg block pinch in each hand.

Possible the most important thing about any DIY training is the trips to B&Q or some other store and seeing the people who it seems this is there life. A non stop cycle of do one thing then move onto the next. Working their way round the house only to arrive at the beginning. Don’t become one of them, do you time at the coal face, preferably in wet weather and then enjoy the dry.

Happy DIY.

The Posing Production Trilogy

Over the years I have been aware of Al Lee’s films, mainly because an old friend was the star of many of them. I sat down with a few of Leo’s older friends this evening and watch two of the trilogy, Autana and The Last Great Climb. All but one of us had seen Leo give his talk last week at the Galeri on these two films. Although I was starting to worry about several of those friends and they seemed to ask question that I distinctly remember Leo answer during that talk.

Anyway, It was the first time I have sat through both these film, and for those that have seen Autana that has been out a while now, will know what I mean when I say the production is amazing. I don’t want to ruin either film in any way but Autana nodded more than a wink at Apocolypse Now, sub-text of a journey to madness. Whilst The last great time was as sic as it should haver been.

The narrative of both films is engaging enough for probably even non-climbers to grasp, but at the same time in-depth enough for the die-hard climbing pendant. What will blow you away and curl the toes of the non-climbers are some of the mind-blowing shots that seem to capture the exposure. I really made me wish that I had seen them on a huge screen.

Al has been doing some publicity on Facebook trying to sell these. After all he has to make a living and whilst Autana is amazing I can see how it could have been produced on a reasonable budget. The Last Great climb is something else, epic in everything and every way, I have struggle to see how they could have produced that film for less than £250000. I am sure they did, but how is just beyond me.

Anyway, for a christmas present for a climber there might be nothing finer, although expect to have your christmas day watching the standard christmas film ruined by screams of joy, pain, anguish and total terror!

The trilogy on Posing productions website

Finally Some Climbing

I finally went climbing today with Dave, who it is always great to head out with as we don’t see that much of each other anymore since he moved to the coast to get closer to all those sports climbs on the Ormes. There were several threads of conversations one of which was ‘Why all the Surfing?’

It was hard to put definite answer to but essentially I have spent the last year and a half focused on delivering North Wales Rock, now don’t get me wrong the process has been amazing. However it has added up to me being a little climbed out, as I have lived, worked and breathed rock climbing in North Wales for the last 18 years. I also decided that going bouldering on my own was quite dull, as I have had a lot of free time since finishing the guide and not many people to climb with as they all seem to have proper jobs.

What this means in real terms is that I have climbed all the routes I can easily and even managed many of the routes that are in the E5 range that are friendly. There comes a point when you are running out of starred or classic routes that are safe. For some reason I just felt that I needed a break and I had borrowed a friends surfboard and after two minutes just thought, yes, I need to learn to do this properly.

Since the day North Wales Rock went to the printers I have essentially focused most of my energy to the process of surfing. The I am still getting to the wall of an even and bouldering well with some V7/8, but for me the joy of an indoor wall is the problems change and if set well they should all be classics!

I tried to put that into words for Dave and I think he understood, but we managed to find a few starred routes neither of us had climbed in Twll Mawr on the Slate. As we enter I muse that this used to be the home of the big boys of climbing. Yet one man has made the climbing here accessible for all, and today I think we found one of his finest single pitch additions to the whole quarries.

We warmed up on a F6b Ian Lloyd-Jones bolted for his kids to lead, which is a really good two pitch route called Imagine Dragon. Definitely a good introduction to all Ian’s sports routes hereabouts. However when he was bolting this line I was taking the crag shot, unfortunately a topo line hides him, from above there was this amazing arete that he shouted across that he was attempting later that day.

The arete looks stunning one of the strongest lines on Slate and it has an obvious low and technical crux. He climbed the route ‘Set the Controls for the heart of the sun’ and graded it F7a. After our warm up Dave headed up to give it a go. He was close to the onsight after we rigged a stick to clip the second bolt, this is now in situ at the base.

The route has a really, and I mean really funky start to reach the third bolt. It is fingery and balancy despite seeming really steep. The end of the crux stepping up for a jug on the arete seemed like the limit of one balance, I might have grabbed the quickdraw, as I didn’t believe. Above the arete looks easy and in reality it is one of the best F6b one slate. As the majority of the holds are positive, however the climbing is still technical because you feel you could barn door off if you let your technique slip.

All in all I felt it was the best single pitch route Ian has put up. I wish I had time to climb it before the guide as I would have definitely given it more stars. For a F7a is it probably the strongest line in the quarries.