Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ayton's Cave... all on my own!

Audio: Blue's Brothers Soundtrack: 'She Caught the Katy'

Decidedly miffed at the recent lack of luck with regards dry rock, I looked at the weather forecast yesterday and committed to an afternoon off today - I wanted to go to the cave and the weather for the weekend looks less than inspiring!

I got home from work at 1pm, packed my boulder pad and set off - Luas, Train, 40 min walk in...

During the train journey, the sun was splitting the skies over Howth and I couldn't have been more smug as I sat looking out the window...

No more than 50 yards from Sutton Dart station, the rain started and turned heavy and then hail stones...

Many normal, sensible people would have, at that point, turned back... but I kept plodding along, soaked to the skin...

When I arrived at the cave the sun was back out and by some miracle the cave was dry... every last hold I wanted to work with...


I had a fantastic hour and a half of nailing down moves on Loco Total (7a) and had little or no trouble sending Caroline's Traverse (6b)...

I left as soon as the tide looked like it might disrupt an easy escape...


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Epic fail.

Was so psyched to climb in Ayton's Cave today, met Chris at Sutton Dart Station and drove to his parking spot near the walk in and set off -

Yesterday was a miserable day of relentless rain that just got heavier and heavier as the day went on. This morning Dublin was covered in the usual canopy of clouds, but unusually it was really hot and humid.

Almost unbearably so.

As we walked in to get to the cave, the heat and humidity started me thinking that conditions there might not be great, but I remained optimistic, because after all - what do I know?!

We turned the corner around to the cave and saw two dejected looking figures sitting on boulder pads - Barry and James had got there before us and the whole cave was wet and dripping wet.


Plan B was quickly suggested and put into action -

We all hopped in the cars and headed off to Portrane,

The walk in, followed by a 5 minute discussion at the cave, followed by the walk out had me pouring sweat and totally dehydrated - Chris' car read 20 degrees or so on the dash board and any breeze that was in the air was dead with warmth - air-con on! NICE!

We hit traffic on the way to our second bouldering destination of the day and the convoy had to do an about turn and take an alternate route.

When we finally reached Portrane it was just too warm and the holds were either wet or greasy.

We met James' friend Rhys in the carpark and headed down to try some problems around the Arch area of Portrane. Psyche and patience were spent and after half hearted attempts on a few lines, we headed over to Ground Zero -

We may have spent 10 minutes there before Barry called it a day.

Barry calling it a day.

The Summer bouldering venues around Dublin that promise good conditions despite high temperatures took the piss out of us today and soon after Barry left we all packed up and headed off.

The day was a laugh, but it would have been nice to do some bouldering...

What to do tomorrow... Hmmm

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Putting in the Hours

I posted the rendition of 'Plateau' that Nirvana performed at their 'MTV Unplugged' session on my Facebook page on May 26th.

This was after I had been at the Co op for the zillionth time and not made any progress whatsoever on new problems I was working on. I had hit a plateau! I was at a standard far beyond where I was 8 months ago when I first joined the Co op... but seemed to be stuck there.

I remember listening to one of the commentators that spoke about one of the gymnastics world championships during the 1990's and they said something along the lines of... Romania and Russia always win because they train longer and harder than anyone else...

I have no competition to win, but I definitely want to get better at bouldering than I am now, or was on the May 26th.

So the very next day I started defining my training:

Warm Up:

How long does it take before I feel ready to climb my first problem?

My first 5 warm ups:

Did I get them on my first attempt?

My projects:

Did I make any progress?

Endurance work:

How many traverses can I do in a half hour?


2 x 10 v sits
2 x 20 tuck ins
2 x 5 chin ups
3 x 10 second v hold on chin up bar
2 x 20 dorsal raises
2 x 20 side raises
3 x 1 min Front Support
1 min dish hold
1 min dorsal hold
6 x heel hook leg raises to chin up bar
3 x 1 min handstands

The conditioning set is always varied, I do more of one exercise than another depending on the session or I'll stick exactly to what's listed above on another night... depends on the day I've had.

In the beginning it all seemed difficult, but as soon as I started defining where I was (difficult or not) I could define what 'better' meant. I'm not sure I really knew before.

As soon as the conditioning got easier, I added ankle weights to some of the appropriate exercises and it obviously became harder again to complete each set.

As soon as I completed all 5 warm up problems on the first attempt, it soon came to a point where I felt disappointed if I did't complete them all first go (which still happens now!) and I use the success or failure of those warm ups as an indicator of what I should expect from each session at the Co op.

If I don't feel like I'm making progress on my projects I just walk away and come down the next night to try again.

They're not going anywhere soon!

I've found that by defining where my ability is at this point in time, I can now tell IF I'm making progress and HOW to get better. I can tell what I'm weak at (which is LOTS!) and what my strengths are.

Getting better at anything is simply about putting in the hours of focused and motivated work.

As the old saying goes: Nothing worth having comes easy.

Better train hard so!

Summer psyche is strong!

(I just wished the tides in Howth suited me better this week!!)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Success at Ayton's Cave!!

It lashed rain as I ran through town with my boulder pad on my back towards Pearse Street Dart Station. I had left work 4.30pm and was racing out to Ayton's Cave in Howth for an evening bouldering session.

I managed to get to the dart station in just half an hour, I was delighted!

Drenched, I sent texts to Chris and Tim o see if they were still heading out and keeping the faith!

Everyone was keen and I told them I was at the Dart station and ready to get on the train...

Unfortunately Dublin's public transport system was hell bent on destroying my evening and made me wait a further half hour before any train turned up... it then took a half an hour or so to get out to Sutton Dart Station...


The universe must have taken pity on me though, because on my way I got a call from Simon who was headed out to the cave but had no idea where it was...

He offered to pick me up from Sutton if I could show him how to get to the cave -


We parked the car at the Martello Tower (Simon's car has 'Back to the Future' doors on it!) and set off for the cave. Such was my utter frustration at being delayed for so long on the Dart, I speed-walked my way there, breaking into a jog at some points and by the time I arrived at the cave I was in much better form!

Simon and I met Chris, James, Kev and John there and as we looked back on rainy dublin and the Wicklow mountains, the skies were blue above us.

The evening was brilliant craic! As I put my shoes on, I watched John move through 'Man Eater' (7b) - I hadn't paid a huge amount of attention to the guys when they were working it last Saturday - but watching John and Chris work the moves last night - it looks like another cool problem and I can't wait to get started on it after I finish my other projects there.

It took only 4 attempts on Caroline's Traverse (6b) to finish it. Two of those attempts were just working the end, so I was pretty chuffed with that.

I believe my success on it had something to do with the motivation that sprung from the arrival of Tim who hadn't climbed outdoors in a very long time, but put the traverse away on his first go with little or no idea of the sequence...

Time to send, I thought!! and I did!

Played around on parts of Loco Total (7a) and the start is definitely the hardest part for me at the moment, though once I have those moves nailed (they feel really awkward for me) and am working the full sequence, there are harder moves and when I'm pumped they may shut me down!

Kev and Tim came really close to finishing it - but it's a really long problem and the final moves were too much of an ask.

I managed to put the problem together in 3 over lapping sections and was really chuffed to nail down a tricky little drop move with my right hand onto a juggy side pull.

The move in the middle of Loco Total, that see's you torque around to catch a left hand hold before cutting loose and turning 180 degrees to re establish your right foot in a toe hook is the best and coolest move I've done on an outdoor bouldering problem.

So much fun.

As the tide came in we climbed up out of the cave and set off back to the cars, at what felt like about 8pm.

Chris drove me home and when he turned on the car engine and the time came up, we realised it was 9.30pm!!

Time flies when you're having fun!

Brilliant evening!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Front Support... but why?!

Front support/plank position

A few weeks ago while training in the Co op, Naomi told us that she had read an article that said (and this is my memory of what she said!):

An average climber should be able to hold front support/plank for 3 minutes.

Eager to see if we were all average or not, myself Chris and Ron held front support and while Chris and I buckled after just over 3 mins, Ron looked bored after 4 mins and we all returned to our bouldering session...

Front Support/Plank is an exercise I've always done, without question - it's quite simply crucial in gymnastics. A good front support position is the bread and butter of any Bar Exercise and many of the balance positions held in gymnastics:

It is also crucial to maintaining a straight body position in the air during somersaults.

Gymnastics and bouldering are so closely matched as sports that front support has followed over from my training as a trampolinist to my training as a boulderer...

Whilst at the Co op the other evening, Ron asked what use front support is specifically to a climber - There seems to be so much talk about the exercise and yet what were it's specific benefits to bouldering - I hadn't actually questioned it before but knew that I'd be meeting my friend Frank, who has a good knowledge of these things at Ayton's Cave on Saturday -

In hindsight I totally put poor Frank on the spot, (sorry!) when out of the blue I raised the question about the use of 'front support' as an aid specifically to bouldering -

Admitting he'd have to look into it - he made the fair point that without good finger strength, a solid front support would be of little benefit at all!!!

Everyone agreed!

It's been a long rainy miserably day today and I've admittedly been bored out of my tree since I finished training at 1.30pm. So I decided to look into what help 'front support' can be to specifically help one's bouldering ability...

I've found a few different articles but this one seems to make sense to me the most... whether it's right or wrong, it struck a cord with me and is worth a quick read!:

"...At the climbing wall, bouldering is a great way to develop core strength. If you are working on a bouldering problem, it is typically a shorter sequence of power moves that impacts the body to a much greater extent.

Since you aren't relying as much on your legs to move you in bouldering, your body must enlist other muscle groups to keep you on the wall and moving. Lateral movement forces you to use your shoulders, abs and back to make the moves. On the contrary, you use your arms, legs, hands and feet while pushing and pulling yourself around in top-rope climbing.

Boulderers also use tension moves that require all of their core muscles to be locked off in position to maintain contact with the wall..."

Taken from:

Unlike gymnastics, when bouldering I'll never be in the front support position exactly - however, during a bouldering problem indoors or outdoors, it's important to keep the middle of my body strong through every sequence, and it appears that front support is a crucial exercise for the simultaneous strengthening of my back, front and sides.

"The Plank: The #1 Isometric exercise for Stomach Strength!

The plank is a great exercise to retrain your ab muscles to work more efficiently.

It is an isometric exercise for the stomach. "Iso" means "same", and "metric" means "length". Isometric literally means same length, or isometric simply means that you hold one position without moving.

It is important to include isometric exercises for stomach and abs in your workout routine because they enhance core stability, support good posture, and protect your lower back from excess strain."

So unlike pull-ups or leg raises, while it might not be immediately obvious what 'front support' is used for in bouldering, it's become clear from it's benefits why so many great climbers use it as part of their physical preparation for the sport.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Stamina fail at Ayton's Cave!

Barry working on Maneater, I think?! (7b)

Met Frank at Sutton Dart Station today and we set off for a lovely walk through Howth to get to Ayton's Cave. When we reached the Martello Tower we were stopped by a random man who asked: 'Are you going bouldering in Ayton's Cave?!'

Nice to meet a well informed member of the public!!

The forecast looked dodgy yesterday, but the weather ended up being lovely and sunny and super warm - which didn't seem to matter at all in the cave.

I thought I'd just have a quick warm up on Caroline's Traverse (6b) and while I moved fairly easily through the opening 3m or so and around the corner my arms were pumped to bits by the final sequence which is a further 2m, give or take...

Barry and Chris completed the traverse and moved on to Loco Total - They both Flashed it. (that problem looks AMAZING!)

Myself, Kev Frank and Paul worked away on Caroline's Traverse. A few attempts later Kev sent it and suggested to me that I practice the end of it. I started at the corner and seemed to move fairly hassle free (though I had a small amount of faffing with my feet) through the final moves.

Paul working Caroline's Traverse (6b)

Attempting it from the start however, was a totally different kettle of fish! By the time I got to the end moves the small amount of faffing I had done before, and repeated again was enough to spit me off as my hands were left unable to hold on any longer.

Barry suggested a pretty straight forward sequence to me, and I hopped on the problem from half way again and practiced it, again, completing the end with relative ease...

I thought - ok, I have it wired now!

Frank and Paul both made progress on the traverse between my attempts, but we all seemed to have the same issue...


The moves were mine, but I failed each time in the same spot quite simply because I couldn't hold on anymore.

The cave is definitely the Summer venue for bouldering around Dublin, and I intend to get out there as much as I can -

In order to make it work though, (and it hurts to admit it) I may have to practice climbing more than 3m at a time...

All in all we spent nearly 2 hours working on the traverse and got more and more tired as the time passed. I can't wait to get back there again and finish it!!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Man up!

Lough Bray

As a destination for a walk, a picnic, a paddle or a drive - Lough Bray is a wonderful choice for a summer's day...

However, if I want to stay on friendly terms with my fingers, Lough Bray will certainly no longer be a summer's day destination for bouldering...

The June bank holiday Monday started with glorious sunshine and Dec had suggested we hit Lough Bray for a few hours bouldering - my arm didn't need twisting and I met him in the morning and we set off down to Wicklow.

I was really excited about getting on to 'Away from the Numbers' (7a+) again and Lough Bray is a beautiful place to spend a day off work!

We started off on the Grand Hotel Boulder and warmed up on problem 1 (5+) and 'Easily Taken Away' (5+) which we traversed into, and my feet slipped off as my hands sat into the huge jug in the middle... doh! I continued on and moved nicely through the crux of the problem.

The view from the 'Grand Hotel' Boulder

We then moved on to a problem I believe Diarmuid put up. It's on the right hand side arete of the traverse into 'Easily Taken Away' and involves what feels like an improbable sit start position, then a slap with the left hand to a good sloper on the arete, I slapped again with my left to the top of the arete and scraped my tummy as I ungracefully lugged myself over the top...

Diarmuid's Problem (6b?)

Dec had done the problem just before me, and though I finished slightly to the left of the top out, he did a far more stylish send just to the right.

The problem ain't in the guide, but I think it's pretty cool and probably goes at about 6b?

Eager to be fresh for 'Away from the Numbers' we set off from out warm up and got ready for what has to be my major project for next Winter.

I made an arse of the sequence to start with and Dec had to offer step by step beta as I failed in my mental fight to forget the searing pain of my finger tips against the sharp rock.

Dec took a couple of attempts and got the moves nailed down. He sent the line and was pleased to have done so on such a warm day.

Happy to move on we headed over to Rainbow (7a). By the time Dec and I figured out the sequence I'll be honest and say my fingers and my mind had had enough of the pain. The moves on Rainbow are really cool and Dec moved well through the sequence but failed each time at the last throw.

I have to wonder what his finger tips are made of, cause they were all intact despite moving through the problem no less than 5 times!!

It was an amazing effort and makes me think about my focus. I'm left wondering if I don't have a good pain threshold or if I have an inability to put the blinkers on if everything isn't just so...

Excuses are an all to easy way to avoid sending a line. Maybe I was tired after Fairhead, maybe it was the temperatures or maybe, as is often said to girls who boulder... I just need to man up!!

Sunday, June 5, 2011


I have a friend called Eamon who doesn't like my flippant use of the word 'awesome'.

Lately, my attempts to reduce my use of the word in general conversation have lead me to appreciate it's true meaning. This weekend I was presented with a place and quality of climbing that left me in no doubt that Fairhead can be described as:


The weekends adventure started out for me as an opportunity to stay in the luxury accommodation of my newly purchased tent, which kept me sheltered, warm and worryingly felt far too much like home... I am actually concerned about how at home I felt waking up in it...

My tent and I did well and farmer Sean's fields were a great spot for the many climbers (I want to say a hundred or so?) who showed up.

Paul Brennen drove us down and himself, myself, Jane, Johnno and Brian did a fairly stand out job of fitting 5 sets of trad climbing gear, 3 tents, sleeping bags, stoves, food, helmets and a set of juggling balls not to mention other bits and bobs into the boot of Paul's Ford Focus.

The success of that game of 'weekend away car boot-tetris' meant we had more than enough room in the car to be comfortable on the long journey up from Dublin.

The journey up to Fairhead was nearly 4 hours and in that time, to pass the time, we chatted, sang songs... all the usual really, with the exception of the entertainment which came from a pineapple which was one of only a few things that made it into the car from the cleverly packed boot.

This pineapple was given a pair of shades, a climbing helmet, and a nose and moustache were fashioned from toilet roll to create SeƱor Pinapple... The fairhead Climbing Meet Mascot.

Photos to follow...

We arrived in Fairhead at about 1.30am on Friday night, pitched our tents and went to sleep.

Woke up the next day, absolutely psyched out of my mind to get bouldering, but had no idea (having travelled up with trad climbers) where the boulders were, or who was about to go bouldering with!

Went and had breakfast in a local cafe behind a petrol station near the turn off for Fairhead and fueled up for the day.

Headed back to the camp site and saw that there were a few heads heading bouldering - I plead my case and convinced them that Murlough Bay was THE place to go and despite initial hesitation, my plea must have had weight because after a few minutes discussion we were all bundled into the back of Phil's van and heading towards my destination of choice!

Phil left us at the car park and we headed off on what was a nice down hill stroll towards the boulders -

It looked epic!

The boulders were a composition of highball monsters in amongst a mess of broken blocks and were set against a back drop of the awesome sight of Fairhead craig, the edges of which were defined by a clear blue sky and as I walked towards what I knew was going to be a really special day's climbing, I thought - my god I love my sport!


We arrived at the 'Letter M' boulder, which curiously enough has a letter 'M' chiseled into it?

Warmed up on the slab on the back of the block, followed by the line 'Brought to you by the Letter M' (5+). It's a really classy line with satisfyingly positive crimps and a nice top out that gets your head in the game for what's to come!

I then moved on to 'Crazy Arete' (6a) and fell off the start of it before sending it on the next go. Another cool problem of open hand slopey arete holds finishing at the same-ish point as the previous problem.

The nerd I am, I had studied the guide and watched some videos and looked at photos before I went to Fairhead bouldering and all in all, the one boulder I wanted to visit more than any other was the 'Eat It' boulder.

'Eat It'

I had looked through the bouldering guide and it caught my attention just as a block. Barry then mentioned that he was on for looking at it and I thought, ok it's not just the photo in the guide - this thing is really worth a look!

'Eat It' (7a) is listed in the back of the guide as one of THE problems in Ireland to try. Ricky Young met us earlier at the 'Letter M' boulder and brought us over to 'Eat It'.

Looking at the problem I was instantly inspired. It looked tough but doable with work. I easily caught the opening throw from a really positive crimp way out right at a long stretch to another crimp,. Time and time again I caught it, but couldn't move from it, so I though - right, time to work the next move...

Me on 'Eat It' (7a)

Starting from where I caught the first throw, I bumped my right hand out along the rail which turns into a deeper jug from the initial crimp. The jug is so deep I found I could cut loose, with my left hand and feet and still re-establish myself on the rock comfortably. I moved up to the next right hand throw and caught it...

Unsure of what to do next and under pressure from the intense moves, I dropped off.

I took a leaf out of Ricky's book and took off my climbing shoes to force a break from my efforts- I knew I was too eager and getting tired. We had been at the block for over an hour at that stage.

Colm had joined us, and was making as much progress as me on the problem but refused to take any sort of break and just seemed to possess some sort of unending energy for climbing. I wanted to know what he had for breakfast...

He said Sugar Puffs...

I put my shoes back on having had a substantial break and decided I would try the problem from the start. I caught the opening hold from the throw and to my amazement managed to bump my hand across and stick it. I matched the rail and threw my right hand up to the next hold about a foot higher up.

In disbelief at my progress I went all out and thew for the top rail before the lip and caught it.

Barry had a arrived over and had smoothly moved through the line only moments before. He stuck a comfortable looking heel up onto the rail before throwing over the lip and I thought - that must be the way!

Holding the crimp with my right hand and the hold lower down with my left I ignored the obvious foot hold and attempted to move my heel onto the rail. It didn't work and I fell. I wasn't a bit bothered and thought - I'll just send it next go!

I never got near catching the opening hold with any authority for the rest of the session. My muscles were sore and tired after so many hours on the problem - we must have spent 4 hours there. For me, the moves were intense and my left shoulder and right arm and hand are aching now as I type!!

I was pretty chuffed that my beta seemed to sort out a send of the problem for Colm though. As I had been told in the past by many climbers down the Co op to relax onto the good holds, so I passed my acquired knowledge on, and the very next attempt Colm chilled out on a long straight arm as opposed to continuously cranking whilst catching the jug on the rail and moved through the rest of the problem with conviction and ease.

He was chuffed with the send - Ricky sent it straight after - and somewhere in the middle of all my messing, John Howard, who had just joined us at the 'Eat It' boulder nearly flashed the problem before sending it on his second go.

Barry and John both took attempts on the sitter to 'Eat It' (7b+), Barry caught the opening throw. The move is really long and I thought - it's nice to know, as in the case of 'Rhythm and Stealth' (7a) in Glendalough, that once the stand start to 'Eat It' is complete - the fun isn't over! It looks nails hard and is a fine excuse to return to the block over and over again!!

Colm had moved on to working the Arete to the right of 'Eat It' - a line called 'Stop Feeding It' (7a+) John had just flashed it and Colm was making fantastic progress on it and before we all knew it he was at the top out which was more or less the same place as the top out of 'Eat It' (7a) He looked like sending it but seemed strangely stuck in the one spot.

It never occurred to me that he wouldn't send it and I thought he was just taking a breath before pushing through his heel and standing up -

He exploded off the top of the line and plummeted to the mats below falling right on top of John who was in the wrong place at the wrong time - John seemed to be flattened by the fall but the two, after shaking off their initial shock appeared to walk away ok - though John's knee certainly took the brunt of it.

That fall may have even been more epic a bouldering fall than I saw Squib take in Albarracin last month. In the excitement of the prospect of somebody sending, it can be quite easy to forget how high up they are and how sometimes...

Shit happens.
Colm sent the line on his next attempt
I was absolutely shattered as we moved on from our 4 or 5 hour stint on the 'Eat It' boulder. The guys seemed eager to try 'Missing in Action' (6a/7a?) and though impressively enough he sent the line first, Colm had a bit of an epic top out which left me with a sinking feeling and a rock solid excuse not to put my boots on.

Barry on Missing in Action (6a/7a?)

I was tired and wanted to boulder the following day... Barry sent it followed by John and they headed off along with Michael before the rest of us went to check out Carbide (7a)

Having nothing left in the tank, I watched the beta come together on Carbide safe in the knowledge I'd be back in the morning. The top out look horrendous but I was looking forward to seeing if I could do my usual trick of convincing myself I was only two foot off the ground and could make the move the following day.

We set off home from the boulders that evening at about 8.30pm and the walk out was about as much as I could take. Scrambling over boulders is far more stressful a prospect than climbing them for me. I'm never scared bouldering but scrambling leaves my ankles in tatters and my nerves in shreds...


On the way out we stopped at a giant boulder near the sea front which had lots of chalk marks on it and lead up what appeared to be some of the most beautiful face climbing I've seen in some time - it was difficult to tell how hard or easy the lines were, but I'd love to get back and try them!!

We arrived back in the campsite and ate dinner and I swapped stories of bouldering and heard stories of trad climbing epics in return. There were 12 boulderers out sending lines at Fairhead this year, and it had the feel of a meet all on it's own.

The trad scene was obviously overrun, and with the sunshine and psyche, the day went well for one and all and culminated in a gathering of around 100 climbers in a shed on a farm in Fairhead watching a slideshow projected onto a white sheet of climbing footage taken over the last 6 months by Ricky Bell and Paul Swail.

The footage is nothing short of insane!!

I woke up and couldn't wait to get to the boulders this morning... 15 minutes later, the rain started...

and didn't stop.

Footage of Fairhead Bouldering by the 'Tops off for Power' crew: ... enjoy! x x

My favorite bit of gear for Fairhead!

Thanks to Jordan who took all of the photos all day.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011