Tuesday 31 December 2019

Undiscovered Wales

Dduallt: Looking out towards the Arans

It was late one night, as I was re-checking the galley proofs of the seventy-eight chapters making up Classic Walks, when the phone rang. Jim Perrin was on the line. "Get out the Dolgellau O.S. map and look at the huge tract of mountain country between the Arenigs and the Mawddach Estuary. A walk linking the Migneint in the north with Cader Idris in the south, including Arenig Fawr, Moel Llyfnant and Rhobell Fawr would have a quintessentially Welsh flavour with all the beauties, problems and archetypal character of that country." Any recommendation from Jim is good enough for me and I hastily agreed to the last minute addition. Ken Wilson used all his persuasive powers to get Jim to extend his walk to a marathon crossing of the hills from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Dolgellau over Manod Mawr, the Migneint, the Arenigs, Moel Llyfnant, Dduallt and Rhobell Fawr. But Jim was spared — merit, not severity was our guideline, I reasoned, and anyway, the Migneint and Arenig Fach had already been admirably dealt with by Harold Drasdo. 

Jim's manuscript duly arrived and I read it with more than usual interest for I was not well acquainted with the area. My interest quickened even more when I read that Jim rated Rhobell Fawr his favourite Welsh mountain. This made it an exceptional hill for, as readers know, Jim is a most discerning and sensitive commentator on the topography of North Wales and he knows every cwm, llyn and dol in the Principality. Rhobell Fawr leapfrogged to the very top of my list of hills to be climbed and the first opportunity arose one day in early June. North Wales was suffering a heat wave and I planned my day very carefully. No thirty mile marathon of sweat and aching limbs; a mere fifteen mile hill crossing from Llanuwchllyn to Dolgellau would give me Dduallt and Rhobell Fawr followed by a gentle descent to the Mawddach. The morning was deliciously cool as, at 5.45 a.m., I left Dolhendre on the Llanuwchllyn to Trawsfynydd road and made for the hills. Whilst crossing the Afon Lliw a heron flapped loosely overhead. A good farm track leads south of the rocky bluff, Castell Carndochan, and then an indistinct path winds up through the pastures, between twisted rowans and tumbled-down walls, now overgrown and thick with moss. 

The fields were bright with harebells and heath bedstraw and my feet left a track through the dew. After half an hour the path petered out and the hillside was rough with tussocky grass, bilberry and deep heather. I paused for a moment under a line of rock outcrops falling away on the south side of Craig y Llestri and looked about. Rolling mists clung to the valleys below and completely covered Bala Lake but, rising well above the mist and already bathed in sunshine, ran the long line of the Arans. The view north was dominated by the shapely profiles of Craig y Bychan and Moel Llyfnant, while to the west Dduallt, my first objective, rose abruptly from the flat moorland belying its 2,153 feet. From the east Dduallt appears as a long whaleback, ribboned by buttresses of grey rock, and I altered course to make for the north ridge, the natural route of ascent. The high, open plateau under Dduallt has recently been fenced and drained and I suspect the conifers, at present just visible topping the ridge to the south, will soon be marching on towards Dduallt itself. From a distance the drained area appeared white with what I suspected to be lime but turned out to be cotton grass. 

Rhobell y Big Summit

My eye caught a glint in the heather and I picked up a tiny metal ring bearing a code number. It was the identity ring of a homing pigeon and a local fancier traced the owner to Ballymena, Co. Antrim. The pigeon had been released from Haverfordwest in 1980 and had almost certainly fallen prey to a peregrine falcon. From the increasing number of birds lost, pigeon fanciers reckon that the peregrine population in Wales is multiplying. The north ridge of Dduallt is quite broad, but always interesting with rock outcrops to be negotiated and ever widening views west to the Rhinogs and south to Rhobell Fawr. Ragged grey clouds hung over the Rhinogs but it was only 8.00 a.m and the sun's warmth had hardly taken effect. The way ahead to Rhobell Fawr was blocked by a huge forestry plantation filling the valley on the west side. The 1974 Landranger map showed a gap in the trees on the south side but this too had now been planted. However, from my bird's-eye view I could see an obvious broad fire-break leading in the general direction of Rhobell Fawr and I made for this. The forest was not as impenetrable as it looked from above because rocky ground prevents close packing of trees, unlike some of the dense Northumbrian forests, I was intrigued to see the smaller fire-breaks had recently been planted with cupressus. 

The Forestry Commission now realises that most fire-breaks are useless and they are filling them in with fast growing crops like cupressus. It was a relief to emerge from the trees high up on the north shoulder of Rhobell Fawr, where Welsh sheep were grazing the close cropped grass between the rock outcrops. The ewes and their lambs ignored me and I thought what clean and peaceful creatures these Welsh sheep are, an altogether superior breed to the nervous and scraggy Swaledales and Scottish Blackfaces of the north. Jim Perrin talks of a tame fox on Dduallt. I did not see it but I was rewarded by the sight of a young fox, with a white tip to his tail, watching me until, when I was within ten metres, he turned and slipped away into the rocks. Rhobell Fawr is virtually unknown and not a vestige of a path scars its upper slopes. The O.S. pillar at 2,408 feet is tastefully constructed of natural stone and in no way intrudes on the landscape. I sat down for a second breakfast by the pillar at 9.45 a.m. and although the sun had not quite dried the dew on the grass it was quickly evaporating the clouds on the Rhinogs and Cader Idris. 
The three sheets of water visible to me, namely Lake Bala, Lake Trawsfynydd and the MawdachEstuary were beginning to sparkle. Set in an unfashionable tract of mountain country and hardly worth climbing for their modest heights alone, Dduallt and Rhobell Fawr are ringed by the popular ranges, Snowdonia and the Moelwyns to the north, Cader Idris to the south, the Rhinogs to the west and the Arans to the east. But the vast Coed y Brenin forest dominating the view west put a damper on my enjoyment and, sadly, blocks of forest were the predominating feature all round. Our mountain tops are becoming oases in a desert of forestry which goes to feed the chip board factories and pulp mills. My heart sinks when I realise that the development of new and hardier species of conifer will enable trees to be planted to a greater height. Perhaps soon even our mountain tops will be enveloped, and North Wales will become a boring switchback of green carpet like much of Scandinavia. However, the south west ridge of Rhobell Fawr is still clear of trees and provides a gentle descent. I followed a magnificently constructed dry-stone wall until, at Bwlch Goriwared, I met a good track coming over from the west. The end of a walk is important when assessing its overall quality. A long bash over miles of metalled road leaves you with bruised feet and a short temper. 

Not so today, for the descent from Rhobell Fawr continued in an idyllic manner as the path led through lush pastures, the air heady with the scent of gorse, may and foxgloves. Hazel and alder grew in the hedges and a pair of buzzards soared overhead. With the sun now high in the sky the sheep were panting, even in the shade of the walls, and the hills were shimmering. My usual haunts are the fells of the north of England and the Scottish Highlands and I delighted in the typically Welsh scenery. With small fields, woods, rock buttresses, lichen encrusted boulders, tiny whitewashed cottages with slate roofs, a proliferation of bracken and ferns and butterflies, where else could I be but Wales? We become so used to expressing outrage at erosion and litter and man's despoliation of the countryside that it is rare to have to cope with other emotions stimulated by perfection. This was such an occasion and it left me feeling quite dizzy. A short cut along a marked Public Footpath (Llwybr Cyhoeddus) took me past the farm of Cae and then I emerged above the tiny village of Llanfachreth with its steepled church and line of terraced cottages. I stopped at the tiny shop to buy a can of coke. The local inhabitants were conversing in Welsh but broke off at my arrival and greeted me in English. 
I felt totally foolish and inadequate trying to explain, with my appalling pronounciation of Welsh place names, the route I had taken and the hills I had climbed. I felt guilty, too, that I was intruding into their beautiful valley which was so far removed in distance and character from my North Yorkshire. It was Monday morning and the Dolgellau bus did not run that day but I was recommended to take a scenic route to the town along the aptly named Precipice Walk. 
This circular walk hugs the steep slopes of Foel Cynwch and returns along the shore of Lyn Cynwch. I took the lakeside section of the walk enjoying the shade provided by overhanging sycamores and oaks. The blue rippling waters of Lyn Cynwch set against the backcloth of Cader Idris maintained my mood of elevation until, at 1.00 p.m., I crossed the bridge over the Afon Wnion and entered the fine old town of Dolgellau. Dolgellau, county town of Merioneth and centre of the great Gold Rush in 1862, but today choked with coaches and day trippers and the streets littered with ice-cream wrappers. I was back to reality. ■ 

Richard Gilbert 1983: First published in Climber -June 1983 

Tuesday 3 December 2019

Mastermind: Mental Training for Climbers...Review

5.10 Teamsters pose in front of Gullich and Albert poster
Man knows more than he understands’ Alfred Adler.

This is the third book published by the Cafe Craft organisation covering training systems for climbing. Who are Cafe Craft in this instance? An organisation based in Germany, with ultra-modern climbing centres in Nuremburg and Stuttgart, at the cutting edge of where training for Sports Climbing and Bouldering is developing. Looming over their story are the progenitors of the Redpoint, Norbert Sander and Kurt Albert and the deceased figure of Wolfgang Gullich who despite being dead since 1992, he was the tragic victim of a car crash, was one of the first of the ‘modern’ elite to bring scientific training methods into his development as a climber. A sports physiology student at Erlangen University, studying under the famous Professor Dr Weineck, he applied his knowledge gained into his climbing and set new standards for Sports Climbing with routes like Action Directe 9A in the Frankenjura and Punks in the Gym 8B+ in Arapalies, Australia. To also note some outstanding rock climbs in the Himalaya; e.g. The Riders in the Storm.
Jerry Moffatt came into the spotlight of British climbing in the early 1980’s and for the next two decades he roamed far and wide, pioneering high standard new routes and boulder problems, participating in competitions and making early repeats in countries as diverse as Britain, France, Germany, USA, Japan and Australia.

Learning, from these experiences and agreeing with Gullich that ‘The mind is the most important muscle’ he has set down in ‘Mastermind’ what he believes are the most important elements in mental training for climbers; guided by two climbers with a Professional background in such, Professor Lew Hardy from Bangor University and Dr Noel Craine an epidemiology researcher in the NHS. This knowledge is formulated in short chapters covering such subjects as visualisation, motivation, goal setting and planning, rehearsal, plus conscious and unconscious thought etc. The books layout and setting is truly modern and is typical of the author, a ’with it’ mind set bolstered by wise sayings and epigrams, everyone from Muhammad Ali, Lao Tzu to Bruce Lee. Unfortunately there are a number of literals and grammatical errors in the text, but they do not affect one’s understanding of any meaning of the contents.
Wolgang Gullich Image and his Professor Dr Weinick,
And so for the mass of climbers who do not aim to be part of an elite performers programme, who only climb for their own enjoyment and ‘fun’ they may ask the question, ‘Why should I bother?’. Well, exploration of the mind is not time wasted, and may be helpful in facing up to life’s inevitable problems in the other spheres of our existence. Present day research into this still rests heavily on the work of three men at the end of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries Freud, Jung and Adler. Each developed their own take on this subject, but the fact of all humans possessing a conscious and unconscious mind is paramount to the understanding of our behaviour. Inevitably as Psychology has developed and new discoveries have been made there has grown a plethora of specialisation; Educational Psychology, Social Psychology, Child Psychology, Clinical Psychology etc but the one of most interest to where climbing is now at, is Sports Psychology.

The core disciplines of performance are bio-mechanics, kinesiology, physiology and psychology and within climbing’s disciplines of Sport, Boulder and Competition climbers are coming to appreciate the importance of the latter, and I guess they are the ones that Moffatt’s book is now aimed at. This is bolstered by a quote elsewhere by Shauna Coxey, who has already twice been the World Bouldering Champion and is the only British climber so far, to have qualified for next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo: ‘I long ago came to realise in this sport, psychology is way more important than physiology!’
To return to ‘Mastermind’ we learn the thoughts and how they set about to reach their goals from several of today’s leading Boulder, Sport and Competition climbers, Margo Hayes, Adam Ondra, Alex Megos, Chris Sharma etc and from Jerry himself. Winning in 1989 at the Leeds first World Cup Competition was a major achievement in his life, and this is also of some pride to myself, for I was heavily involved in organising this along with DMM and it took place in that City for that is where I live.
Alex Meglos
Friends of mine owned the venue and I persuaded them to let us use their main hall. But Mastermind is not just about those involved in what many see as the modern disciplines in climbing, for included with their ideas and thoughts about mind control are Leo Holding, Sandy Allen, Pete Whittacker, Stefan Glowacz, Jimmy Webb, Alex Honnold and many more covering everything from an epic ascent in the Himalaya, Base and Wing Suit Flying, Bouldering, and a 24 hour ascent of El Capitan and much more. One interview that really gripped was the one with Mich Kemeter using a breathing technique and slack line walking between two balloons set at 1000 metres up in the Sky. Many of these events are included as ‘Inspirational’ stories at the rear of the book.

However talking about the use of a breathing technique to keep the level of anxiety or fear at managing levels in order to undertake a dangerous challenge like ‘Slack Line Walking’ I have to observe that this is nothing new. It is obvious that Jerry is impressed with Chinese martial artists as I. They are masters at such techniques and are common practice in some of their meditation techniques. I have visited the Shaolin Si in Henan Province, China on two occasions previously: the Monks there have developed Gong (Kung) Fu techniques for over a thousand years. Unfortunately they have become a part of the entertainment industry (and maybe that is where Competition Climbing will also develop into given time) but they can still perform some amazing feats. I also when in Jiangyou in Sichuan Province, China witnessed a Daoist monk perform a staggering feat, a one finger hand stand.

On another occasion in Northern Sichuan I observed a monk tightrope walking between two high rock pinnacles. He had no safety line and if he had fallen it would have been terminal. But finally in reporting the observing of Chinese mind training activities, adherents following Tai Chi exercises can be observed anywhere in Parks throughout China, but the one activity I have seriously studied was at a Qi Gong centre on the isle of Hainan off the south coast of the mainland, and it was most rewarding. In this one follows a strict regime of exercises, calligraphy, meditation etc. And learning how to harness the power of one’s centre using Qi is both relaxing and impressive. It is why a Qi Gong master who came to the UK sat down and challenged a group of Royal Marines to lift him. They could not, and interesting for Jerry’s benefit might be the information that Bruce Lee of ‘Enter the Dragon fame’ was taught by such a master sensai.

So humans for generations have known about the potential of harnessing the power of the mind, and though slow to accept Sports Psychology in Britain it was adopted much earlier in the USA. Coleman Griffith of the University of Illinois is credited as one of the founders of this discipline. In 1918 he began to use cognitive and behavioural strategies to improve the performance of basketball and USA football team members and in 1925 he opened the first research laboratory in ‘Psychology and its relation to athletic performance’. I was invited in the mid 1980’s to join the Board of the British Association of Sports Psychologists, and at that date we still lagged far behind Germany, who like the USA had adopted the discipline as early as 1925 led by Dr Carl Diem in Berlin, and we had hardly noted the fact that 450 Sports Psychologists from many countries of the world had gathered in Rome in 1965 for the disciplines first World Congress.

An amusing anecdote is that one of my fellow Board members was invited by the Manager of one of the First Division Soccer Clubs in 1986 to advise his players and to begin adopting psychometric methods in their training, he came back chastened for the team had ganged up on him and refused to take part in any mind training. They totally misunderstood what he was about and felt it was a dark suggestion that some of them were mentally unstable. Remember that the First Division became the Premier League just a few years later, so this was an indication of how far behind they were in adopting what are now the accepted norms in such training. Sports Psychology came of age at the Olympics in 1984, and for the summer Olympics of 1996 the USA Athletics team had a group of 20 such accompanying their participants. It is now the norm for Sports Psychologists to be a part also of our national teams, and even the Premier Division football clubs.

I am sure like me Jerry Moffatt sees climbing as a different kind of sport than athletics, although it is a sport in which I have also been involved. He started climbing as a 15 year old, and was prepared to really ‘rough it’ just to get out onto the crags. I started as an 11 year old and used to walk long distances to do the same at a time when our country was still recovering from the war. I would have suggested to him when he was putting together ‘Mastermind’ to give an indication of where he thought climbing was travelling along to? It is still a broad church, with boulder, trad , sports, competition, alpine and greater ranges mountaineering all a part of climbing. But will it remain so with Olympic recognition?, and what experience I have is that though several times in ‘Mastermind’ we learn that training and competing is all about having ‘Fun’, it does seem awful serious now with little or no hint that anarchy might still break out given half a chance to do so. So as I have observed before, ‘Quo Vadis Climbing?’ 
Kurt Albert
Finally the book is illustrated by many fine photographs, and is intended to be used as a training manual. At the end of some of the sub-sections there are blank, lined pages to write thoughts and detail as in a diary, of where the climber is at in their training methods ,and progression for example ‘In Strength’. And into the Case binding is bound a page marker and a pencil holder. I am informed that ‘Mastermind’ has sold 12,000 copies outside of the UK so it will be interesting to note how it is received here, doubtless it will be like its author another milestone in our own climbing story.

Mastermind’. Mental Training For Climbers. Jerry Moffatt
288pages Case Bound. Published by Cafe Craft GmbH. £25.00
Available in the UK via Vertebrate Publishing. 

Dennis Gray: 2019