Coaching. Climbing. Grappling?

Coaching. Climbing. Grappling?

Coaching. Climbing. Grappling?

11.35 am. I’m parked outside Straight Blast Gym on the Naas road. Only a hermit would be unaware of standards of excellence that have been achieved inside its walls. I’m a little nervous. I’m unsure what to expect in terms of the atmosphere inside. Will it be cliquey or insular? Overly macho perhaps?

11.40 am. I’m not here to take up MMA or try to get fitter. Albeit if I were, then this would be the place I would do it. I’m immediately impressed. Its an amazing facility and I cant get over how big the octagon is in real life. I cant imagine it feels as big when the gate closes and you’re inside.

My friend Cian coaches grappling at SBG and Ive asked can I drop by and observe him coaching. I’m constantly trying to improve as a coach myself. To find new ways to teach or relay a point, or see how others manage groups.

I’m constantly trying to improve my own climbing standard too. It goes without saying that being able to refine and hone skills personally is crucial in being able to relay those skills to others. But it also goes without saying that just being proficient at something doesn’t make you a  good coach.

11.55 am. I cant remember why I felt nerves outside. The signs say it and atmosphere portrays it, there are no egos in here. The welcome is warm and the people I meet are friendly. The underlying mood is one of calm, not aggression and I’m looking forward to watching the session.

12.00 pm. I’m wearing a pair of borrowed shorts and warming up alongside the others in the session. Cian has decided immersion is the best training and I should just get amongst it. He didn’t have to offer twice. The curious side of me is dying to try it out. The cautious side not so.

1.10 pm. Where has the time gone? I’m buzzing with energy and immediately see how grappling or Jiu Jitsu could become addictive. The coaching has been superb. Complicated movement patterns are broken down and Ive had plenty of chances to practice.

The parallels to climbing are many. They are both so deeply rooted in efficient and subtle movements skills, they could be siblings in sport. Yes, strength might help, but power without precision is useless. There’s all ages, genders and body sizes here and its obvious that skill outweighs all.

The physical workout alone is unreal and I can feel all-ready tomorrow is going to be a sore legs day. But its in the movement skills that my mind feels both muddled and sharpened. Ive struggled to execute a lot of the moves with fluidity, attempting to work them out in the static fashion that my mind is used to using. Just like climbing however, the answer isn’t always static. Speed and momentum can be as effective.

The precision of movement and the subtlety of body weight distribution for grappling would understandably take years to master. If I didn’t all ready have a passion in life, I’m pretty sure I’d have found a new one today.

Did today make me a better climber? probably not. Will it make me a better coach. Definitely yes. Ive learned some new tricks and tips for coaching. But most importantly its reminded me as a coach to always have empathy for those you’re teaching. Its good to be in the beginners role again. Feeling like a rookie and lowest on the food chain.

Empathy was shown to me, by the coach and by the others in the session. To learn well, its crucially important to have a positive learning environment. There are so many aspects to learning and assimilation, its often easy to forget some of the most basic.


Coaching. Climbing. Grappling?
Coaching. Climbing. Grappling?

Coaching. Climbing. Grappling?

Coaching. Climbing. Grappling. Coaching. Climbing. Grappling. Coaching. Climbing. Grappling. Coaching. Climbing. Grappling.

North Wales and the art of Trad climbing

North Wales and the art of Trad climbing

North Wales and the art of Trad climbing

seams-the-same Dinorwic Slate Quarry

Its common to hear trad climbing described as an art. Yet I felt more painter decorator than fine artist when I decided to take a trip to North Wales.

As much as I love climbing in Ireland, it takes a lot to beat North Wales and like all artists seeking inspiration, there’s nothing like new environs to inspire.

I arrived at night and parked at a lay-by in the pass. The dark form of Dinas Cromlech standing proud in the night to one side. Meeting up with Helen, Brian and Jon, the discussion quickly turns to aspirations for the trip. The weather forecast says dry, there’s no distraction of work or WIFI and I’m here for 12 days. The possibilities are endless.

The next morning we start lazily, but wander up to the base of Dinas Cromlech. A warm up for me on Better Things/Dives and Sabre Cut for Jon. I’m feeling less than fluid and taking some time getting used to Rhyolitic ways. As the climbs are not high in the grades, I naturally search for excuses. Perhaps plying my trade has made me soft. “perhaps this… perhaps that…”. The familiar excuse game. In reality I’m out of shape and out of practice. But lets not cut off an ear just yet.

The frustration continues in the afternoon and for the next few days. Venues and climbing partners change, but my progress is slow to improve, I struggle and punt up climbs I feel I should cruise with ease. A sunny and enjoyable ascent of Merlin Direct in Tremadog gives me hope. Its not all bad I suppose, there’s always work for painter decorators.

Day 4 brings a forecast for showers. We depart from our now homely lay-by and head for the Dinorwic slate quarry. Ive never climbed on slate before, but for some reason I’m confident its a medium Ill enjoy. A blank canvas and a fresh start.

I warm up on Seamstress and enjoy every moment. Deliberate and subtle moves, no aggressive brushstrokes here. Seams the same is directly beside it and I hop on. Its a classic and an amazingly enjoyable climb, with progress being made on unlikely and thin foot placements. I could happily climb here all day, but the showers arrive. With our intentions usurped, we head for the coast and a dry but windy abseil into Castle Helen crag.

Over the next few days we climb at Holyhead Mountain and Gogarth sea cliffs, make our way back to Tremadog and revisit Llanberis and the Ogwen Valley. Every new crag boasts a gallery of masterpieces. I’m cruising now and enjoying every ascent. I enjoy fantastic leads like Breakthrough the barrier and second classics like Vector. The banter and jokes between friends are endless. Standard policy is to induce disabling laughter whenever a new lead is started. Thanks Helen!

By the ferry trip home I’m climbed out and ready for reality again. 12 days sleeping in the back of a small van and pushing my body has taken its toll. I ticked little of what I intended but experienced so much more. Its a week til the Dal Riada Burren Meet and Ive got to rest up. Inspiration and pysche is high. I might sell a painting yet.



                 Lay-by Camping



North Wales and the art of Trad climbing

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Fairhead Meet 2016

Fairhead Meet 2016

Fairhead Meet 2016

Last weekend I visited Fairhead for the annual  climbing meet. It was my first time climbing at Fairhead.

Ive been told for some time now of the awe inspiring vista of the cliff and the intimidating nature of the climbs. Ive seen footage from Underdeveloped and listened to brilliantly descriptive stories such as The Dimmest Glimmer.

But nothing prepares you for seeing it in the flesh for the first time. The setting is immense, the walls of Dolerite huge and everywhere you look classic lines and a lifetime of climbing presents itself.

fairhead meet 2016
Fairhead meet 2016

Its been an adventure in itself to get here, having left Clare shortly after 9 am, picked up Brian O’ and Tony along the way, we roll into Seans farm shortly after 6 PM. Weariness is replaced with eagerness though and we opt for a couple of quick routes to get the account going. A lot of lines are busy, but we squeeze onto “Taoiseach” as a team of three. Brian O’ leads off the first pitch, heavily laden with an array of small cams the like of which Ive never seen. But I rationalise quickly hes from the US and such gear is commonplace there. As a mainly Burren based climber Ive no need for as many cams.

The second pitch falls to me and immediately Im glad of my climbing partners predilection for small gear as I get to grips with a thin crack of climbing, hungry for small camalots. A fine pitch, and I shrug off some rustiness with it being my first climb here and with a long drive behind me. The best piece of gear on my rack, self delusion. A quick ascent of another classic, Girona, wraps up the evening.

The next morning we rise early, beat the crowd and get onto Roaring Meg, a classic 100 metre 3 pitch line with the interesting grade of VS 5a for the first pitch. Sounds fun and it doesnt disappoint, the pitch is immaculate and the crux move amazing. A team of three arrive at the base and by the time we all share belay ledges and top out, new friendships have been forged.

The sense of community throughout the weekend is highly evident. I meet old friends, new friends and passing acquaintances each day and with the never ending supply of sun and quality lines, its easy to think of Fairhead as climbing utopia. I dont know many other crags that could sustain 500 climbers and still have room for more.

But back to the climbing, I lead a crack line called Contortions and am absorbed by it. I check the guide book afterwards to see how many stars it has. None. Any other crag and this would have at least two stars, but such is the standard of Fairhead, to stand out you from the crowd, you need to have a special quality.

We dont have to go far to find that quality though, moving approximately 10 metres to the right and abseiling back down the prow, I second Brian O’ on Faith Mo Bhuarta, Mind blown by its crux moves and a good few midge bites, we are done for the day. Its getting on and everyones keen to see Alex.

No one is disappointed and everyone gets in to see the show. Alex Honnolds talk is inspiring and funny, but he lacks the comic timing of the bleating lamb in the adjoining barn, who steals the show.

Over the weekend the climbing continues, the highlight for me being Hells Kitchen, which is just another another three star classic. I fail to read the crux move properly on the second pitch and compounded by the midday heat, the onsight goes a begging, taking two attempts to gain the top out. But at the end of the day, Im not too bothered, Ive added another piece to the puzzle, I’m wiser to the style here at the head and there’s 99 other classics still to do.

Fairhead meet 2016
Fairhead meet 2016

The entire weekend is a credit to the organisers, Paul Swail, Sean and his family and Mountaineering Ireland. Long may they continue in organising it. I’ll be back again next year for the meet, but ill be back before that too.

The lines are inspiring, the gear is generally good and the sense of adventure is high. What more can you dream of.

fairhead meet 2016
fairhead meet 2016

fairhead meet 2016 fairhead meet 2016 fairhead meet 2016 fairhead meet 2016

Movement Works – James Hale

Movement Works – James Hale

Movement Works

Ever increasing climbing aspirations and working full time in the industry takes its toll on my body. Long days on the hill tax my ankles and knees. Long days in a harness affect my hips and lower back. Route-setting kills my wrists. Climbing itself makes me hurt all over.

movement works

I know I am not doing all I could to take care of myself. I regularly ignore the advice I give others, on how to warm up properly and be careful of injuries.

Its easy to consider lower grade bouldering or routes as a good warm up. Its easy to ignore antagonistic exercises. Its easy not to do some simple stretching every day. But its time for me to put in more effort, to start looking after my body before the niggles and aches turn into large scale problems.

With this in mind, I booked a session with James Hale of The brief I gave James is that I want to (a) increase flexibility and mobility (b) learn time efficient and appropriate warm up exercises and (c) build up ankle strength, to counteract recurring sprains on both ankles.

First and foremost, James is a climber himself, as well as a climbing coach, so naturally he gets it straight away that I dont want to be told to stop what im doing and rest. No active person wants to hear this. Furthermore, having trained in strength and conditioning, pilates and physiotherapy he has a wealth of knowledge and it would be quite easy to spend a day picking his brains on so many topics.

We didnt have a day however, our session lasted 90 minutes and for this James charged 50 euro. Which, considering how much I learned and how good I felt after just one session, is possibly one of the most important 50 euros Ive spent of late.

James fulfilled the brief on all accounts and more. He takes his years of learning and training and distils it down perfectly and concisely.

I have an array of stretching exercises to do and most importantly he was on hand to offer corrections and input on the correct body positions to maintain through each move. You can find all theses exercises on line if you look, but it takes a trained professional to analyse and point out the nuances of how to complete each one effectively.

I’ve been armed with a host of movements to build supporting strength around the ankle and a massive choice of warm ups that were both challenging and importantly werent boring. I was worried that Id struggle to remember all id learned over the hour and a half, but James followed up by email with a PDF booklet detailing all we’d covered and some additional info.

He even found time to teach me a different  and seemingly less injurious way of using a hang-board.

Do you have to be a climber/hillwalker/instructor to visit James? No. Should you visit James at Movement Works? Yes.

Whether you have injuries already or not, are looking for prehab or rehab, do a session with him and find out for yourself.

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Climbing Howling Ridge, Carrauntoohill

Climbing Howling Ridge

Climbing Howling Ridge

Last Wednesday I climbed Howling Ridge again. I’ve been very lucky with weather on the occasions I’ve climbed it before and this was no different. While there were some very short downpours of rain and the occasional bit of mist, we spent a lot of the day in the sun. As always we were treated to amazing vistas and absorbing climbing.

howling ridge 2

Howling Ridge is a multi pitch climbing route on Irelands highest mountain, Carrauntoohill. Its a classic Irish mountaineering day out and while its graded at v. diff and full of adventure and exposure, the real test of nerve on this climb is trusting your hands and feet on less than solid rock. A lot of the hand holds and foot holds are loose and friable and a good sense of judgement is needed.

Climbing alongside my friend and regular climbing partner Vicki, we parked at Lisleibane car park and made the considerable hike in to the Heavenly gates in good time. From there we roped up and Vicki led off on the first of the pitches.

With over 400 metres of pitches to climb and even with us both moving fast through them, time can seem to evaporate on Howling Ridge. But who’s in a hurry. With views like this and good weather, where would you rather be?


howling ridge


The pitches finish with a beautiful airy traverse on a knife-edge section of the ridge. After that if you are comfortable and experienced on steep mountainous ground, you can dispense with the ropes and harnesses and ascend to the summit. I find this final 15 minutes or so strangely relaxing, as you pump the legs for a final hard section before the summit.

Obligatory touching of the cross ticked. Two hours or so back to the car from here. More great memories banked. The epitome of why I do all this: Adventure with friends in the outdoors. I would’nt change if for the world.


Climbing Howling Ridge mountain training logo leave no trace ireland Climbing Howling Ridge