What is the secret to success?


One of my climbing friends, who shall remained anonymously known as ‘Chris,’ has a small book into which he is amassing a collection of autographs and other artefacts from some of the world’s best climbers.  Along with some incomprehensible sketches and dark insights into the mind of a very drunk Johnny Dawes, are some responses to the question, ‘what is the secret to your success?’

I have studied this book to try to gain some helpful tips on how to improve as a climber. Pete Robbins suggested not having a girlfriend but I have already failed with his mantra. Michele Caminati’s secret is a pint a day but I couldn’t stop at one and ended up having some uncomfortable dizzy moments half-way up routes. Steve McClure’s diet of chocolate gave me diarrhoea, and the Haribo diet from Katy Whittaker did the opposite.

I had previously thought that butter is the secret to power and strength until Chris revealed quite convincing evidence to the contrary. Faced with the stark reality of being wrong my entire climbing career and with some actual real Science, I turned to several alternative methods for improvement and finally I believe I have found the answer. There are many terms used on the climbing forums, such as Anaerobic Power, Anaerobic Capacity and Periodisation, but the most popularised seems to be ‘TRAINING.’

Lena increasing the intensity of her ‘training’

For the last few months, in an attempt to get fitter and stronger I have been following this ‘training’ regime. I signed up to the local gym, a very modern Virgin Active, on the premise that I would spend the majority of the time ‘training’ in the sauna and hot tub. However, Lena keeps threatening celibacy until I climb 8b, so I have actually started to use the weights and machines. Having never used a gym, I quickly came to the realisation that I have no idea how to use weights and ended up spraining my ankle tripping over a 5kg dumbbell. I then turned my attention to fingerboarding, a technique that according to Dave Macleod ‘makes weak people strong.’

I’m not going to bore you with the details but each day I try to hang on my fingerboard using a variety of different holds to gain fingerstrength – I think these are known as Repeaters. Also included in the plan are far too many press-ups and sit-ups to try and build up my weak shoulders and core. These prove most difficult as Maisy, our furry, cute terrorist, will lovingly lick your entire face when given the opportunity.


Maisy is always seeking affection

On May 10th, Lena and I are travelling to the tiny Greek island of Kalymnos, for tzatziki, loukoumades, raki, swimming and a little bit of bolt-clipping. I am hoping that my ‘training’ has been working and that I can push myself to levels I have not yet achieved.

So in conclusion, I am now a convert to ‘training’, and no I don’t think it is a dirty word.

Turkish Delights


Tom doing some extreme sunbathing

It is a scientifically proven fact that the UK’s climate is 90% perma-drizzle and consequently when leaving our little island, it’s almost a certainty that the weather is going to improve. Let’s face it; we all get that selfish smugness whilst relaxing with a little vitamin D therapy on a Mediterranean beach, knowing that everyone else is suffering under the gloomy grey blanket of Britain.

However, the day we left for Turkey was beautiful, so beautiful it was very tempting to stay. The perfect winter’s day; a striking contrast between the hills encased under a white carpet, diamonds effervescing in the sunlight, and the dark grey gritstone edges. For climbers of the Peak, these are the ultimate conditions. The air is so dry and crisp that friction between rock and fingers is at an optimum, enabling some of the hardest routes to be climbed. It was not only climbers who were benefitting. People were taking to the slopes of the most exclusive of all the Peak District’s ski resorts – Mam Tor. The last time this came into prime condition was…well nobody really can recall.


Beautiful winter’s day in the Peak District

Leaving the winter wonderland behind, we travelled to Antalya on the south coast of Turkey. We were met by Senol, a very friendly Turk with a fantastic beard, and taken to the climbing Disneyland of Geyikbayiri. Senol and his wife own and run Kezban’s Campsite, one of many in the area. Accommodation is either tent or these lovely wooden tree houses. We chose the latter, a decision which we would later be very grateful.

Our lovely wooden home with absolutely no spiders in it

Geyikbayiri is fast becoming one of the best locations in the world for sport climbing, with a community of hundreds of people living in tents and huts that surround the cliffs. The vibrant atmosphere is so intoxicating that the place and the people seduce you into wanting to stay permanently. One of our friends was so drawn into the lifestyle that he shunned his return flight home to stay and look after some puppies.


Dougie looking strong and sweaty

Even in sub-tropical regions like southern Turkey, climbing in winter can be a slight risk due to being a wet season and the weather more unpredictable. What we were not expecting were temperatures plummeting to -18˚C. During the daytime, it was generally warm enough to head out climbing but as soon as the sun fell below the surrounding mountains, we would be forced to seek refuge at Kezban’s. It was only marginally warmer than outside and the only respite came in the form of a DIY wood-burning stove in the centre of the large communal room. If you ever need stove to heat up the outside of your house, then this is the one for you. We kept ourselves entertained through the long, cold evenings with whisky, cards and fashioning puppies into hot water bottles.


Chris modelling our patented hot puppy bottle

By chance, my brother, Will was in Turkey at the same time and had hitched down to escape from the bitterly cold mountains in the north…or so he had hoped. With endless bureaucracy to negotiate, he had a while to wait for the necessary visas for his travels further eastwards. He spent a little time climbing and a lot of time relaxing and playing with puppies.


Lena trying to keep warm

Geyikbayiri feels quite isolated in the mountains and it becomes easy to overlook the fact that you are in Turkey. Will, Lena and I spent a day visiting the sprawling metropolis of Antalya in search of culture. We were not too successful. Antalya, the gateway to the Turkish Riviera, is a continuous ocean of high-rise buildings, quite reminiscent of Benidorm. Hidden deep within this concrete jungle is the well-preserved old town district of Kaleiçi, which provides the main hub on the tourist trail. We meandered round the narrow cobbled streets and Ottoman houses and found some cats to cuddle. The locals were extremely friendly and often enticed us into their shops attempting to sell us spices, leather, rugs and drugs. Even to enquire as to the price of an item is to initiate the bartering process and almost commit to purchasing.

‘How much is this puppy?’

‘How much you give me?’

‘I don’t need a puppy, I was just asking what her price is.’

‘Make me offer!’

‘She’s very nice but I don’t need a puppy.’

‘My friend…if you like her, why no make offer. If you lucky, you might get a bar—‘

‘Seriously, I don’t need a puppy.’

‘Look her beautiful eyes.’

‘Ok I’ll buy her.’


Dan finding some wildlife in Antalya

One day subjected to the hustle and bustle of Antalya was enough and it was a relief to arrive back to the relative comforts of our shed and the world’s worst heater. I would love to spend more time in Turkey and visit some other areas, probably smaller, prettier ones than Antalya. I’m always in a quandary when on climbing trips, torn between devoting time to climbing or to travelling. What I do know for sure, is that I want to be back at Geyikbayiri with the puppies.


Monsoon season arrives in Antalya

The last three days it rained. Rain on a biblical scale, not the drizzle we get here in the UK. The monsoon assaulted us with such ferocity that the communal room at Kezban’s was now a picturesque lakeview cabin. The tents in the campsite were floating and one of the resident Russians was trout fishing from his life raft. Roads were transformed into torrents and new waterfalls were cascading off the 40m high cliffs that we had previously been climbing on. On our journey down to the airport, it would have been far safer to navigate the rapids by boat than our 4X4. Fortunately we survived and travelled back to Sheffield to be met with the well-accustomed perma-drizzle.


These tents would soon become rafts on the lake

Why travel at all?

Hitching across southern France. Photo by Kacper Gunia

From the comfort of my cloud floating across the skies, I hear the distant sound of a police car, barely audible on the horizon. What the hell is that doing here? Have I broken the law again? The serenity of my dream is confiscated, and I emerge from the depths of haziness into reality. The sirens gradually intensify to such a crescendo that not even the pillow wrapped round my head so tightly that I am suffocating, can prevent the inevitable. I am awake.

I offensively eject Lena from the bed. She is awake.

Temporary home on a beach somewhere in southern France. Photo by Kacper Gunia

The standard midnight panic-packing has left us with the far from ample 3 hours of sleep and it is time to go to the airport. Tired, but excited and with an unhealthy dose of caffeine, we are ready to face the day. Time management is not one of our strengths and we run to the bus…and then to the train. Safely aboard, we relax and drift back into our pre-exercise comatose states. We are meeting my dad at Derby and then being chauffeured to Birmingham Airport. Simple.

Not so. For some unknown reason, it seems like the entire population has descended upon the M42 in an effort to migrate to Birmingham. Out with the atlas, we embark upon an off-road adventure. Time is rapidly being stolen away from us, and in an inspired attempt to warp the physics of space-time, Dad engages anger mode. We are still in the car 30 minutes before take-off time. Using some Smartphone power, Lena has discovered that flights the day after will bankrupt us. However, the rage and profanities wielded by our captain has somehow worked and we arrive at the airport. We run yet again.

I still don’t know how we managed to catch our plane. Perhaps, Dad is onto something. Either way, it is sometimes difficult to justify the levels of discomfort and stress associated with travel. This was merely a journey to the airport. When backpacking, hiking or mountaineering, the suffering involved is infinitely worse. Tiredness, fatigue from hauling a backpack that is too heavy to lift, scarcely protected from what the weather Gods torment upon me, and not nearly enough deodorant to mask my stench. Despite the hardships, I love to travel, especially through the wild places. So what is it that drives people to travel?

Suffering but immense enjoyment in the Alps

Whilst much of travel is for business, the majority of people travel because they want to, and that the benefits outweigh all the inconveniences. Individuals all have their different motivations but fundamentally, we as humans are a migratory species. The fact that resources fluctuate over time drives migration, with food, sex and responses to climate change proving the most powerful motivations. Travel is therefore a basic human desire and was essential for the continued existence and expansion of humanity.

Research has also shown that travel is good for effective critical thinking. It doesn’t really matter if this is cycling across Turkmenistan or just a short wander away from your house. When we escape from the place where we spend most of our time, our minds are able to become more creative. It is then easier to see something new in the old, and problems can be viewed from a more abstract perspective. Isaac Newton is a classic example of this, inspired to formulate his theory of gravitation whilst drinking tea in a garden under the shade of some apple trees.

The instinct that compels people to be curious about the world and exploring unknown places, ultimately led to the greatest ever journey by man. This was to a place already known, researched and intimately mapped. Yet, this journey, which may have done nothing but confirm established views, provided mankind with a revelation. The journey was, of course, to the moon. And the most striking discovery of the first lunar journey in 1969 was an insight into what was left behind – the image of the small pale blue dot standing in the vast expanse of space. It was a strange irony to travel for three days to the moon, and rediscover the earth.

Hello and welcome to Plait and Beard

So here we are, this is our new page within the cyberspace world, where we can express our love of travel and being a small part of the ecosystem on this beautiful planet. To be fair, I never expected myself to have a website, or a blog. I simply thought, that nobody would actually be interested enough to put himself (or herself) through the effort of reading my terrible writing. But, not that long ago, I received one lovely message from a friend asking if I have a blog or website. And you know what? I though, that even if there will be just one person interested in some of our crazy adventures, then why not?  Inspired by the beauty that surrounds us everyday, we have a passion for exploring new places, cultures and environments. Dan and I will endeavour to update this as much as possible with tales of our wanderings, adventures while being lost (yes, we do get lost quite often), photos and other ramblings that may or may not happen to be of interest. If at least one person is going to enjoy it, it will be a great pleasure for both of us.

Lena & Dan