I woke up to leave Switzerland and found my car was snowed in. After 30 minutes of digging the car was free but the roads were horrific and I had zero chance of escaping the clutches of Bellinzona. I drank some tea, watched the snow continue to fall, and eventually at lunch time decided to launch my assault. It was uphill in every direction so I wasn’t confident but I reached the motorway and things weren’t too bad. Yes, it was covered in snow, no, I couldn’t drive more than 20mph, but at least it was progress! I drove on and conditions were consistently bad until the road started to go up hill, at which point things started to go down hill. I’m no expert when it comes to driving in the snow, but I do know the basics. I had to keep up my momentum, avoid slowing down, braking, or accelerating hard. This is easy on a flat, straight road, but much more difficult on an uphill and windy road. Conditions continued to worsen, but I knew I just had to keep going and I’d find salvation in the long tunnel at the top! A series of tunnels came at just the right time. I was beginning to lose grip on the road thanks to my summer sport tyres not adhering to the snow and ice, so each time I hit a tunnel with no snow I would accelerate as much as I dared to build speed up for the next open section. This worked rather well and there was only one point at which I thought it was over, when my wheels were spinning, the traction control was having a fit, and the brow of the hill still too far away. Thankfully I crept over and managed to reach the salvation of a long tunnel furrowing through the mountain. Unfortunately the other side greeted me with more snow and continuing bad conditions. I still wasn’t sure I’d make it out of Switzerland, but I had my sleeping bag and some food so how bad could things get? Slowly, slowly, I crawled to the border and into France. It snowed all the way into France and then changed to driving rain which caused a new set of cruising problems. Many hours later I reached the salvation of Brussels, which greeted me with dry weather but a ridiculously thick fog. Ten hours after leaving I’d arrived and could think of nothing except food and sleep.

The next week was spent catching up with things and climbing at City Lizard. It actually felt a bit weird to climb indoors and gave me food for thought. Whilst it’s a good gym, with well set problems on nice holds, friendly people, and good music, I wasn’t having all that much fun climbing. I felt like what I was doing was basically a non activity. I wasn’t rock climbing and I wasn’t training methodically. I was doing something in between. This is all well and good for a week, but it’s not something I want to end up doing for long periods. It also prompted me to rethink about the perfect balance of rock climbing and training. Some climbers seem to DO all their training on rock. They don’t spend many days in the gym doing pull ups, front levers, sit ups, deadhangs… they just go rock climbing. Others spend weeks, months, and even years training in their cellars or boards, emerging into the daylight to try and crush the hardest thing they can. If is it feasible to assume that both are aiming to do something on rock, then it is permissible to ask which is better. Personally, I’ve spent a good while training. In fact, at one point I was deemed an indoor beast and an outdoor punter. It was probably a fair appraisal since I clearly had some basic strength, but I couldn’t apply to it to the things I was trying to climb on rock. Over the past 18 months this has changed and it was a great compliment when a good friend of mine once defended me in a conversation saying that I was a rock climber and not a trainer. Climbing on rocks as much as I have done has been great and it’s not only reminded me of what I love, but it’s also pushed me further down the path. I fell in love with rock climbing, and then I became obsessed with training which led me full circle back to loving rock climbing. But I’m not living in cloud cuckoo land. I am also not a massively gifted rock climber. I certainly have a disposition for athleticism that is perhaps above average, but rock climbing is something I force my body into rather than something that fits like a pair of leather driving gloves. Some people have a gift for movement on the rock and some people have a gift for being able to analytically figure out how to move on rock. I’m definitely the latter of the two. I climb, or rather try to climb, and then I think long and hard about what I did badly or incorrectly. Then I try again, ad infinitum (well, not quite!). I’m also aware that climbing on rock for months on end doesn’t increase my base level of strength, it detracts from it. It certainly doesn’t decrease horrendously, but basic things like core tension slip away slowly. However, the months spent on rock add vastly to my climbing specific skill set. As one goes down, the other goes up. It’s not a one in – one out relationship either. Climbing on rock for long amounts of time is certainly the best way to get good at rock climbing. So what should someone like me do to maximise my ability? In my opinion it’s a mix of training and rock climbing, but cycled into longer periods. I think the most effective way is to climb on rock up until you find yourself at a point whereby you simply can’t do the moves on a boulder problem because they are just too hard. That’s what I think of as the wall. At this point it seems paramount that a return to the cellar is necessary. Then I think some months of specific training can increase the base level of strength, taking it to the next level. It stands to reason that my movement over rock will suffer during this period, but it’s a small tapering off. Upon returning to the rocks I think the movement will come back and armed with new strength nothing will stand in your way. That’s what I think anyway. I also think that a period of training may be due this year. There are still plenty of problems that I can do which are hard but in order to push things to the next level I could do with some training. In many ways, I’m looking forward to it. There’s something strangely alluring about the thought of hours of deadhanging and climbing on my board (which I’m eager to develop).

However, whilst in the gym in Belgium I suddenly realised just how much I love being in the mountains, the forests, the deserts, the places that have more rocks than people. My comfort zone has now encompassed these sometimes lonely places and it has become a place where I feel good. I feel happy when I’m out there climbing on rocks. Walking up to Brione everyday on my own made me realise that I love it. I love the vista, I love the air, I love the whole process. To be at the rocks trying a great boulder problem is one of the best things in my life, which may sound desperately sad to some people. But, to love what you do is something that I think all people aspire to, and I definitely love rock climbing. Love what you do and do what you love. I’m doing both at the moment and so all my worries about falling behind in a real career slip away when I discover micro beta that pulls the curtain away from in front of my eyes and beckons me further in. My home is no longer just my house in Derby. Whenever I go to the rocks I feel like I’m also at home in some strange way. I know this won’t last forever and I don’t care, I just want to enjoy it while I can.

The plan is to return to font. The blog will go full circle. I want to try to do some hard problems there whilst also trying to do some of the classics. I’ve still got a huge ticklist and I know it won’t get significantly smaller even with another few months there. If anything it will probably end up getting longer! I’m looking forward to being back on the sandstone with frost under my feet, perfect blue skies above my head, and super dry, super fine grain sandstone under my finger tips. It doesn’t get any better.