This Blog is from an article I wrote a few years ago for Summit magazine in the UK…
“I guess one of the keys to life are the lessons you learn, yet never seem to actually remember when it comes down to applying them. As a nascent surfer I would consistently forget my mantra that ‘the waves are always bigger than they look from the beach’, ending up out of my depth. Whilst renovating houses I only seem to remember the DIY maxim ‘double the time triple the money’ when halfway through. And in climbing my approach of always trying to get ‘one last route in’ has left me often pumped beyond belief and struggling; scared on a grade I should be OK on.
I suppose this could be summarised as ignoring the golden rule of ‘never underestimate the size of the task ahead’.
Which is then exactly what I did in deciding to write my first climbing guidebook. Not only in a foreign country, but working in a language I wasn’t exactly brilliant at and by deciding to ‘do the best ever’ and incorporating an area half of the size of Wales.
I had moved to Asturias (yes you’ve never heard of it either), in North West Spain, after fleeing Sheffield when a long term injury had curtailed my climbing. Deciding I was to be a surfer (see above) my new found love and me had abandoned our cosy northern terrace and pitched up in a tiny village (seemingly from the 50’s) in a country where we couldn’t speak the language in an area that was basically unknown to Brits. Somewhat like a much bigger, much sunnier version of North Wales, Asturias is verdant, beautiful, very mountainous and has a ton of amazing beaches.
However, unlike North Wales, when my lifetime climbing itch needed scratching again it was incredibly difficult to find out any information. Guides were old, out of date or downright useless. But the climbing was amazing, tons of rock, great routes, very few climbers – this was a climbing paradise. So the more I looked into it the more obvious the solution became – write my own!
The idea was simple, I would do a guide that incorporating the most commonly climbed on areas in the three neighbouring regions. I reasoned this would benefit not only local climbers, but if I could attract foreigners to the region it would help with the ‘crisis’ bringing tourists to bars restaurants and refugios (which were in a very bad way in 2011). I could even start a bolt fund to help provide gear to the local equippers. And in a classic rebuttal of the well-worn axiom above, I had reasoned that as it would ‘only’ be a sport climbing guide – just marking lines no descriptions – how hard would it be!!
It was this final thought that pinged off the inside of my (obviously) fairly thick skull as I trudged, alone, for about the fifth time, to ‘Placas del Sol’ to try and locate a the finish of a route that, despite lots of visits and various photos, I couldn’t seem to work out where the belay was.
I was now nearly two years, 15,000 kilometres and about 2000 hours into the process and it didn’t seem to end!
One problem I’d had was that about halfway through someone else had rushed out a pretty poor attempt at a guide to a large part of the area I was covering and another group had then covered another part. This meant that my guide, to be worth completing and to make sure it sold, had to be better. Hence the slightly obsessive / compulsive part of me kicked in to make sure I had everything right, each bolt, each belay – so no-one could point and laugh. And as with any project, the closer I got the end the further away the end seemed to be, spiralling away in endless details, with long nights on InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop blurring into one…
Looking back, almost a year after publication, with the guide having had a pretty good reception, and having made my money back (and even earning me the grand sum of maybe £1.50 an hour for my time) I have realised that maybe it’s the lessons we don’t learn that keep us going. If we assessed each task too rigorously to decide if it is worth doing we’d be missing the whimsical things, from artworks to music and from odd buildings to amazing new routes.
And so, perhaps ironically, maybe the lesson to learn is to sometimes let the capricious spirit reign. To raise a glass to lessons unheeded, waves downsized, renovations belittled and routes underestimated.”