By Kenny Stocker
When we first met Dan he was cranking on the British Bouldering Team, running coaching courses and climbing at a level that we could only dream of! Nick and Ken joined Dan's team in Fontainbleau for a few days bouldering.
Dan, everyone was full of praise for how well you organised the Font trip, that must give you a whole lot of satisfaction?
Yes it does, definitely. After all of the... I wouldn't say stress... but the responsibility that you take on it feels very satisfying. Even though everyone went as equals you still want everyone to do well when they are there. You want everything to fall into place, you want the mini bus to be ready on time, you want the gîte to be ok, you want everyone to like the food, you want everyone to have a good time climbing, you want the weather to be good and it is great to get all that back again in reverse. It feels like a lot of responsibility over the first few days and there are always going to be a lot of questions, but as soon as everyone gets settled in they get more relaxed, and towards the end of the week I get more relaxed knowing that everyone else is having a good time.
You organised all of the logistics, you cooked every night, you did the shopping, you even drove Hannah to the airport so that she could go dog sledding... how did you manage to focus and get some climbing done yourself?
Actually I got eight new boulder problems done and didn't climb at all for three days. I would quite often have my boots on to help people out, but the time which I would class as my time would be no more than an hour each day. You have to be picky with your time, there is no point trying something when it is wet, it is wasting your time. You have to wait for everything to be bone dry, everything in condition, give it half an hour then grab a mat like I did on Futurs Barbares. That approach works quite well for me. You always want more time for yourself, but at the same time you have to remember why you have organised the trip.
We can dig that, you are a professional but still, no amount of visualising is going to get us up an 8a anytime soon. Do you get greater satisfaction working a problem beyond your limit or a quick ascent of a problem closer to your limit?
Both. Getting to the top is always good and personally if I do five 7bs in a day or if I do one 8a in a day then I have had a really good day. Going for things at my limit is a bonus but climbing is fun.
You share inordinately strong fingers with The Chunk but you appear to be able to get up things that he can't. Power or technique.. if you could have only one which would it be?
Technique without a doubt. I would choose technique because of Derek Bolger. All the kids see Derek as this character behind the counter at the Nottingham Climbing Centre, so it is inspiring when you see him in Font showing these strong kids how to climb. He is not as strong as he used to be but he has not lost any of his technique. If you have good technique you can climb for ever.. I am still relatively powerful but I think that technique will get you through much more and take you further. You don't see many people climbing an 8a slab but you might see a lot on an overhang, technique is more unique than power.
You have been part of the British bouldering team. Does competing at a high level still interest you, or are you more interested in your coaching work?
I am now more focussed on the aspects of fun and enjoyment. Competitive climbing has never really been my main focus, it is a very niche area to go into. For me it's all about going to Stanage, Bamford and Burbage, beautiful places where I can climb easy stuff all day and think this is amazing. That is so much better than being stuck in a small bouldering wall. For me it is about the aesthetics more than anything.
Last year you had your gammy knees operated on. How difficult has it been to recover and build your strength back up?
I wouldn't say I have built it back up yet and I probably will not for the rest of my life. After the two operations I thought it would be relatively easy to get back to fitness, then I got fit too quick and went back to stage 1. I am now trying to take it a lot slower, much much slower so hopefully, you know, I can get up to fitness and start cranking again.
People may associate you with hard bouldering and gritstone climbing, however on a professional level you have been coaching climbing for more than 7 years and run your own company instructing climbing and mountaineering skills - UptoSummit.com. You are already a qualified Mountain Leader, how far do you intend to take your qualifications?
It is quite hard for me to tell at the minute. The Mountain Leader qualification amply covers the activities I am already instructing. I have a great deal of experience and knowledge in technical climbing but my ideal is to become a Mountain Guide. It still feels a long way off and is a long term aim.. whether I will have enough money to do it we will have to see. The assessment scheme is a very intense process, very time consuming, but a good thing to do. When you take into account going away on trips to get the experience needed I reckon it would cost in the region of 20 - 25 k. The number of fully qualified Mountain Guides in the UK is incredibly small.
In our own way we all trying to mix work with our love for the outdoors, it is a romantic notion but just how difficult is it to draw the line between paid work and doing the stuff you love?
It is quite difficult, especially with people you know. You get talking to them quite a bit and you get to know them reasonably well but at the same time you are trying to make a living and that's the difficult bit. A regular client can quickly become a friend and it then starts to become difficult to continue asking for money. You need to tell yourself to keep this as work, be friendly with people but don't become friends. My season runs during the summer between March and August and during this period I take on as much work as I can through larger companies. If I have any time free I take work on through my own company UptoSummit.
This year we have seen you coaching the Nottingham Youth Team, how has this been?
Pretty good actually, excellent even. Taking over the team has been really rewarding and it is great to see them developing their skills. They have a lot of direction and they are not short of enthusiasm. Coaching will take a back seat over the summer due to other work commitments, but I will leave them things to work on and I will take over again in the winter when the comps start again.
You have been through the competition scene, what role does it have in developing climbing talent?
If it wasn't for the comp scene kids wouldn't develop so fast. It gives them something to aim for so I think it is excellent that we have it. They can create a very strong sense of competitiveness which isn't for everyone, every parent wants their kids to do well but also some parents can be quite pushy. Without it there wouldn't be such a strong up and coming team as there is now.
It is possible that some of these younger guys will be future British champions, World champions or even Olympic champions.. do you think that the generation of climbers coming through now is stronger in depth than previous generations?
Speaking for the Nottingham team I can definitely see future British bouldering champions and we can possibly sneak in another one, maybe two in the leading category. European champions? I don't see why not, and World champions... you never know, if any of them get into the Worlds I am going to retire... sweet, job done. I would be happy with that, but they wouldn't... they would want to win it!
The new generation is stronger than previous generations and they are only going to get stronger and stronger as time goes on. Things that we developed in coaching 10 years ago are now being taught to these kids, but we have gone further and also developed upon these techniques aided by the new discoveries in sports science. At Nottingham we are also getting involved with a pHD student from the dept. of Sport Sciences at Bangor University. We are going to be studying training patterns, breaking down power endurance training, stamina and defining what levels we should be aiming at. Whereas I feel strong at 25 there are kids at 15 and 16 who are stronger than me now because they have benefited from these techniques. When they become 25 who knows what they are going to be like.
The BMC is also much better organised and fully recognises the comp scene, it is a sport in itself. They are making an excellent job of promoting competitions and putting on youth development days. I think that they could probably do with helping the coaches out a bit more by giving them a bit of direction. A lot of teens have coaches who don't really know what they are doing or where they are going so it would be great if the BMC put on more courses like the FUNdamentals aimed at all the coaches out there.
What or who is impressing you?
Derek 'the beast' Bolger always impresses me and the high level at which these kids are climbing is mind blowing. I didn't start climbing until I was 16, so some of them have already been climbing longer than me. Their performance motivates me to teach them more, to train harder myself and to climb harder because they are catching up.
Derek also makes a fantastic chip cob. What inspires you to continue climbing?
The Alps... to do big mountaineering. I like doing trad routes and doing a big face in the alps, high up, which is testing me is like awesome. Coming away from a trip like that and returning to the Peak District, going away to Font trying to get strong again and taking that back to the mountains for 8, 10, 16 pitches at your limit.
And finally, you have just spent another week at Font, so tell us Dan, what is Font for you?
It used to be a good trip away but I have been so many times. I still go often because it is an easy trip, but now I usually take other people who haven't been before. I love guiding people around and when they ask what is there to do I can say, ah let's try this, lets go there and i take them for a tour around the boulders. I still have stuff to do at Font but it is either ridiculously hard or conditions have not been good. I had one problem in mind this year but the area was wet and I didn't even get to look at it.. maybe next time!
Nice one Dan, spoken like a true Fontaholic! AK
Dan runs UpToSummit.com offering climbing and mountaineering courses in the Peak district and North Wales. Whether you're wanting to go out bouldering, lead climbing, multi pitch climbing or need coaching courses, whatever your ability just contact Dan for more info.