Monday, June 22, 2015

North Wales: Llanbris and Ogwen Valley

When describing an area as a "destination" there are some considerations.  Yosemite and Fontainebleau are climbing destinations for climbers all over the world while Monster Island and Hönö might serve as a "weekend destination" (If you don't know where those are you probably don't live very close).  Well, one of the primary perks of the relocation to England is having an abundance of new weekend destinations to explore and a few weekends ago we decided to tick one off the list with a visit to North Wales.

North Wales is a large region with lots of rock and a rich climbing history.  One of the trickiest parts of planning the trip was filtering through the spray and deciding which areas to check out.  We opted for the Llanberis and Ogwen Valleys which are peppered with small areas, some of which are heavily trafficked.  So here is my take on what I saw.....

The mountainous region of Snowdonia National Park attracts over 6 million visitor annually and it seems that climbers make up a noticeable percentage as there were plenty around.  We of course went for the bouldering which is fairly extensive but pretty spread out.  To be honest I was expecting more as I'd have a hard time spending a whole day at even the largest areas and it seems you'd have to move around quite a bit to fill your days.  It seems to cater to cherry picking which is less than optimal when you're got two small kids.

The rock itself (rhyolite and/or a similar igneous rock) is very climbable and can lend itself to some steep climbing but in general it is sharp and ugly.  That said, there are some beautiful lines and some friendly rock if you know where to look and/or are willing to search.

While overall I was less-than-impressed with the bouldering I was only there 3 days and had kids in-tow.  North Wales might not be a bouldering mecca but if it's only a few hours away it's certainly worth a visit or two.  And despite my less than glowing review I am more than willing to go back for a long weekend for a bit more cherry picking.

Here are some photos

Lina bouldering at one of the largest and most popular area in Llanberis .  The amount of traffic probably has a lot to do with the 30 second approach as the rock here was sharp and ugly.  On the plus side it was pretty solid.

Jerry's Roof was the one problem everyone said I should try.  With a "no commitment" approach it is certainly worth checking out and while it might not be much to look at it climbs really well and the rock is pretty friendly on the skin.   

If you're not into the climbing you can always just appreciate the area for it's scenery. 

Are there any boulders down there?

A pretty sweet problem within eye-site of the road

Lina on a sweet problem on the backside of the Caseg boulder.  This lone boulder was my favorite of the trip as it had a nice setting, good rock and good lines all around it.  I wish there where more boulders like this one.

Chris fires The Gimp on the Caseg boulder.

The Sheep Pen in the Ogwen Valley had a few gems on good rock and was well worth the steep 15 minute hike.  The Pinch my favorite problem there and one of the the most photogenic I saw the entire trip.  Fun climbing and a nice setting.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

North Wales Bouldering Video

Here is a little video from one of our days in North Wales.  I'll post a little write-up from the trip in a couple days.  Until then.......

Ogwen Valley Bouldering: North Wales from Walker Kearney on Vimeo.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Glendalough Video

Here's a little video of the bouldering I did in Ireland.  I spent a few hours running around in the sun trying to tick as many classics as I could.  These are the ones that I took footage of.  Hope you enjoy.

Ireland Bouldering: A Sunny Afternoon in Glendalough from Walker Kearney on Vimeo.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Bouldering in Ireland: Glendalough

When the Kearney family decided to do Ireland I looked into what kind of bouldering the area had to offer.  The bad news was that the castle we were staying in for the week was roughly 2 hours to the closest climbing but the good news was that the area is ground zero for Irish bouldering.  Do to logistics I only managed to arrange two half-days of climbing but got a decent feel for what the area had to offer.

The Wicklow Mountains are just south from Dublin offer a plethora of climbing on some pretty sweet granite.  Wicklow is fairly extensive with a multitude of small bouldering areas scattered among the peaks and valleys with the smallest areas consisting of single boulders and the largest offering several days worth of climbing (there is a fair amount of trad-climbing as well).  In order to optimize what little time I had I opted not to ferry around between the smaller areas but instead spend both my half-days at the largest offering, Glendalough.

Glendalough is actually a popular tourist spot that attracts people not only for it's natural beauty but for it's rich history and archaeology.  Back in the 6th century a man known as Saint Kevin started a monastic settlement in the area and there has been people there ever since.  The structures that remain today "only" date to between the 10th and 12th centuries but they are pretty awesome and well worth checking out whether you're a climber or a tourist.
An awesome little church with interesting stone roof and the impressive watchtower in the background.

The bouldering in Glendalough is located at the end of a glacially carved valley on hundreds of boulders littering the slopes on either side.  The good news is that the rock is fantastic for climbing,  awesome features on high-quality granite.  The bad news is that the vast majority of the boulders are on the smaller side, making for lots of 3 move sit-start problems.  But regardless of the diminutive nature of the boulders, there are some gems to be had and a few boulders that are big enough to provide some spice.
The view looking back toward the parking from the boulders in Glendalough

A quick note to those visiting the area,  you'll need to pay 2 euros (cash only) to park at the closest parking and the hike to the boulders is an easy 20 minutes on a flat road/trail.  The parking is also locked at nights so I reckon a night session will require a different parking area.  Here are some pictures of the area.
Lots of boulders.

Trying Wonderland.  The photo doesn't do it justice as this was the best looking problem I saw in Glendalough

 Andy's Arete

Karl on The Groove.  Many thanks to Karl for the awesome tour my first day in Glendalough

Some awesome vein features. 

The view of the boulders on the approach

The watchtower provides a great vantage point to scope for boulders or spot marauding vikings.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Kearneys do Ireland

A few weeks ago 15 memebers of the Kearney clan rendezvoused in Ireland to drink Guinness, visit castles and get in touch with our Irish heritage.  It was primarily a family vacation but you can't take me anywhere without expecting a little climbing to be squeezed in.

The family had rented a castle which seems a little over the top but if you're going to do Ireland you mind as well go big.  Complete with a suit of armor, our spacious accommodation had us feeling like medieval lords and I half expected a mob of angry peasants to storm the castle in protest of our decadence.  Fortunately society has come a long way since the dark-ages and we enjoyed our week of luxury without a single uprising.
The Lisheen Castle was our home in Ireland.  Pretty awesome.

I went to Ireland without doing much research (very uncommon for me) so the few expectation I had were solely the product of long held stereotypes.  I figured if I got lucky I might meet a Leprechaun that would take me to his pot of gold, or at the very least share some of his lucky charms.  But seriously, I wasn't quite sure what to expect as I figured I'd be hanging with my family and doing some touristy stuff.  So here are a few of the things I observed while in Ireland.

Castles:  The fact that we stayed in a castle only added emphasis to the ubiquitousness of them.  Everywhere we went there would be some kind of impressive ruin of sorts.  And I'm not talking about the castles that will inevitably be included in the tour of every city/town you visit, I'm talking about driving your car in the middle of nowhere and seeing a dilapidated 3 story stone structure in the middle of a field.  Maybe not all these ruins weren't technically the remains of castles but they where impressive none-the-less and the only ones that seemed to appreciate them were the tourists taking an unscheduled stop and the cattle grazing in their shadows.
Just some random ruins off the side of the road.  Things like this were everywhere.

Guinness:  We've been told that "Foster's is Australian for beer" but I've never met an Australian that actually drinks it, and I imagine that a foreigner visiting the USA might wonder why everyone isn't drinking Budweiser (maybe it's because it's a horrible beer...).  Well the stereotype that Guinness flows like water and is the national drink of Ireland seems fairly accurate.  Guinness accounts for over a quarter of all beer consumed in Ireland and was once famously recommended to  Irish women during pregnancy.  So it's not just the tourists that are slamming back pints of the dark brew and we certainly did our part to fit in by consuming at least one Guinness a day.
Björke getting in touch with his Irish roots and halfway through his quota of Guinness for the day

Accent:  I'm pretty well traveled and I've been living in England for the last couple months so I thought the Irish accent would be just another little twist on the English language that I could attempt to duplicate to the annoyance of the locals.  I wasn't quite prepared for how difficult it would be for me to understand and my standard response in any conversation became a blank stare and a polite request to repeat what they said.  It didn't help that people are very friendly and you'll find yourself having conversations with everyone (or trying to have conversations). Toward the end of the week I got better at inferring meaning from the situation but it was still a struggle.  Just another note, my favorite word in an Irish accent is "turdy"  (that would be the number 30) and I found myself asking people what time it was on the half-hours just to hear them say it.  Good times.

There is so much more to say about Ireland but I'll leave it at that.  As for my take on the bouldering I did in Ireland..........I'll comment on that in the next day or two.  Here are a few photos from the trip

Autumn defacing an ancient structure with a disappointed father looking on.  We can't take her anywhere.

Autumn and Heather do their best Leprechaun jumps. 

Another Guinness?  Yes please. 

The Kearney clan at our humble abode in Ireland.  What an awesome trip!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Ninja Warrior Sweden: An unfortunate ending

On Thursday they aired last episode of Ninja Warrior Sweden and now that it's all over I can share my thoughts on how it all went down.....

Of the 125 that started Ninja Warrior Sweden 65 made it past the first course and only 17 completed the second, though a total of 25 would advance to the "finals".  Of those 25 people only three (Alex, David and myself) completed the finals Stage 1 and advanced to "Stage 2".  Here is a clip of my completion of Stage 1.

 As for Stage 2, those that watched the final got a glimpse of what happened as Alex, David and I fail on the final obstacles in the rain.  Alex had the good fortune of going first and got to attempt the "floating doors" when they where dry but it started raining on him as he pulled onto the "cliff hanger".  David and myself were not so lucky as the rain was dumping when they ushered us toward the floating doors making them impossible (I seriously don't think they are possible when dripping wet).  It was all very anticlimactic and hugely disappointing on so many levels.  Here is a clip of my run with the lame ending.

The weather had been an issue for much of the weekend but despite the varying conditions we were told they would do their best to uphold the integrity of the "competition".  There were times on earlier stages when people were stopped from running so rain could pass, tarps were put over and obstacles were dried off.  These measures of course took time and when the final rolled around they were behind schedule and production was stressed.

I do understand that there are things you can't control but whether a member of production, a participant or a spectator I find it hard to believe anyone could be remotely satisfied with the way Ninja Warrior ended.  It is such a shame to end an otherwise wonderful experience on such a sour note especially when it could so easily have been avoided.

From the beginning I understood that Ninja Warrior is a TV program before it is a competition and didn't question why it is shot outside and at night (apparently it make for better TV).  I lack the expertise to legitimately question the way things were done but I assured myself that nobody wanted Ninja Warrior to turn out well more than those calling the shots.  A compromised competition is bad TV and that was the one thing I thought they wanted to avoid but in the end that is what we were left with.

I guess I'm still a little bitter as having us do the last obstacles in the rain made them impossible in all likelihood robbed somebody of 500,000kr.  Alex, David and myself felt cheated as we joined to conquer the "world's hardest obstacle course"  but weren't given a fair chance.  Maybe waiting another hour for the rain to stop wouldn't work because the sun would be rising (bad TV?) but the one thing I just can't reconcile is why tarps were not put over those final obstacles.  Covers had been used on previous obstacles and there was ample time but for some reason it wasn't done.

Immediately after the filming I had talked to the other finalists and written a letter stating our grievances but in the end it was never sent.  The thing is I had nowhere to send the letter as everyone I interacted with in production was awesome and also bummed with the way things worked out.  On top of the fact that there was no villain, just unfortunate circumstances, there is very little a complaint would accomplish.  It was the first year and mistakes were made and while writing it as "rookie mistakes" doesn't give me much comfort at this point I just need to get over my bitterness and know that things will be better run next season.

But enough of my ranting.  It is over and done with and there is nothing I can do about it but come back next year and go all the way.

So just a few more things before bringing the blog back to posting about climbing.

First, I wanted to say congratulations to Alex as he will now get the opportunity to compete in Japan. Yes, I would have liked to go to Japan (or win 500,000kr for that matter) but he is deserving and will do well.  And props to David for killing the course as well.  He was left in the same situation as me and given the chance to take on a dry final there is no telling what he could do.

Secondly, the burgeoning Ninja community in Sweden is awesome.  I have little doubt that Ninja Warrior will take hold in Sweden the same way it has in the USA.  The community is in it's infancy but folks come from all walks of life and everyone seemed super energized, even those that knew they had almost zero chance of "total victory".  Just a great group of people all around from those that produce the show and participate all the way down to the young fans.

And that is that.  Sorry about that little rant (hopefully that doesn't affect me coming back next year). So until next back to climbing rocks.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ninja Warrior Sverige: My quest to become a Swedish Ninja Warrior

Here is a little write-up on my experience leading up to the final of Ninja Warrior Sverige (Sweden).


Many of you are certainly familiar with the television program called Ninja Warrior.  If you don't know about it you should just type it into Google but in a nutshell Ninja Warrior is an extreme obstacle course where contestants get one shot at completing various stages in pursuit of "total victory" and a big cash prize.  From my understanding the show originally started in Japan back in the 1980s and as it gained popularity it was adapted for an American audience and in 2009 American Ninja Warrior began.

I remember seeing some clips of the early episodes and thinking that it not only looked like fun but it also looked relatively easy.  Apparently many a rock-climber must have had similar thoughts as it wasn't long before fellow climbers (a fair number of them personal friends) began joining the ranks of competitors and consistently being among the best performers.  Some very talented friends have taken on the course and in the end all them punted (that means failed when you shouldn't have) and it seemed surprising to me that in the 6 years of American Ninja Warrior no one has ever won the $500,000 prize.  I'd talk to my friends afterwards and try to gather what went wrong as the obstacles were so far beneath their level.  In the end fatigue, pressure or something always seemed to send them to the drink.

Despite my friends' failures I was still convinced I could complete the course and while I considered applying for the program in the USA the logistics of living in Sweden deterred me and I was relegated to trash-talking my friends from afar.  Then last spring I discovered through a random conversation with a friend that I would be given the opportunity to backup all that talk as Ninja Warrior was coming to Sweden.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect but I threw together an application and before I knew it I was jumping through hoops and hanging on rings with other wannabe ninjas at a tryout in Gothenburg.  After the tryout I was fairly certain I would make it on the show and began trying to figure out how one would train for Ninja Warrior.  I had a couple climbing friends that also were selected and while we trained a few times I feel that high level climbers are pretty well equipped to take on the course without really training.  That said it would be helpful to try some of the specific obstacles and I build a salmon-ladder and ultimate-cliffhanger just to ensure I wouldn't do anything stupid when it mattered.

Leading up to the filming I wasn't nervous at all but just excited about the chance to participate and for a sweet payday.  I also figured that this was the first year in Sweden and the course will probably be a bit easier than what they have in the States so if there was ever a time to win it would be now.  For the two months before the filming I had integrated some extra ninja specific training to my usual climbing and felt that as long as my nerves held out and I didn't do anything stupid I'd come home with a fat wallet. That being said, it's hard to know how you'll perform when there is a big production around and nerves were the big question-mark for me.

Just before the filming our little family drove to Stockholm (Björke was less than two weeks old) and I went through the rigmarole of checking in and learning how things would be run.  While waiting my turn to go (there is quite a bit of waiting involved) I met fellow ninjas and watched as others attempted the first course and tried to glean any tips from their runs.  I was still calm and confident all the way until I was standing in front of the quad-step when suddenly those nerves decided to show up.  Despite preparation and confidence I got butterflies in my stomach and was so nervous that I almost got the "shaky legs".  All those "what ifs" came rushing in and I'm noticeably fidgety as I stare into the camera waiting for the production folks to give me the go ahead.

Fortunately when I was given the green light the nervousness evaporated and it was just me and some obstacles to play on.  It reminded me of when I played basketball and a similar thing would happen at tip-off before big games but once the whistle blew it was game on.  With the moment of nervousness gone the first course was easy and from there on out I didn't worry about my nerves.  Here is a clip of the first course.

The second course wasn't that difficult either but I had a little reminder on the salmon-ladder that it only takes one poorly timed mistake for it all to end.  I think a fair number of others learned this the hard way as only 17 of the 65 that attempted the second course succeeded.  Here is a clip of the second course.

Going into the final I was extremely confident as you could see the obstacles we'd be attempting and none of them seemed too difficult.  "Total victory" seemed as good as mine, but would I show up my friends in America or just be another punter...................

I'll do another write-up in a couple weeks after they have aired the final episodes as I can't spill the bean.  For those in Sweden tune into Kanal 5 at 2000 on Thursday for some Ninja action.  Youtube clips are available for those outside Sweden.