Sunday, 16 June 2013

June Trip Part 2

After 3 perfect days the Welsh weather reverted back to its usual miserable standards, forcing us to come up with some rain friendly alternatives for the rest of the trip. I'd borrowed a brand new demo jacket from work and promised them a review, so in a way this was a good thing. A very small, very insignificant way, but there you go. With Luke and other Dave, Pat and I hiked up to Idwal slabs and skidded up the big easy trough that runs through the middle. From the top Luke led a random traverse pitch across slimy walls and steep grass to get off the slab and onto the approach to Glyder Fawr. Pat drew the short straw and came over last, facing large slide potential on the downward mud traverse, and also having to wrestle out the wires we'd all aided on.

The Daves at the base of Idwal slab

It took about half an hour to gain the base of 'Central ArĂȘte', a long alpine-style ridge leading up to the Glyder summit plateau. Despite the rain getting heavier, Pat and I opted to short rope the whole thing in hiking boots. This was terrifying. The climbing was hard for VDiff, lots of small foot edges that would've been fine in rock shoes; instead I clung white knuckled to the flaky rock and re-evaluated my life choices. Not only was it hard going, there was bugger all gear on the main pitch, absolutely fuck nothing. Pat and I climbed with about 10m of rope flapping uselessly between us, knowing that one mistake would send us both tumbling to the bottom of the mountain. After a rising traverse of a thin slab I finally reached a boot sized ledge and a solid nut placement and brought Pat up hand over hand. We were both a bit shell-shocked, but above the going looked easier so we carried on moving together. Luke and Dave climbed the hard section in one long pitch just behind us.

The 300 odd quid jacket just about managed to deal with my intense "I'm going to die" terror sweats
Upon reaching the summit plateau we skirted round and descended via the first gully we came across, which fortunately wasn't too steep. After a welcome beer in Pete's Eats, we headed back into the slate quarries and bivvied in an old hut, which was surprisingly pleasant. Even Pat's usual nasal symphony couldn't stop me getting a good night's sleep.

As dawn's mist rolls across the quarries, strange creatures emerge from the darkness...
It was pissing it down in the morning so we decided to have a bash at 'Snakes and Ladders (and Tunnels)', a nightmare expedition of caves, treachery, rusted ironmongery, gloomy pits, and the loosest rock I have ever encountered. For hours we thrashed our way around the place, climbing ladders and chains up vertical slate walls, ladders attached by nothing but spit and a prayer. The worst of them was hanging off a knackered old bit of pipe, itself secured by a haphazard pile of rocks.

Aid climbing the chain pitch

From the ladders we made a series of abseils and downclimbs into The Lost World, an aptly named tropical jungle; the rock walls were dotted with obscure flora, bright colours, a stream ran from a clear blue pool, even a neglected old emergency shelter. We ate lunch and wondered if we were about to be attacked by an experiment gone wrong. From this bizarre place there was one last haul up shite ladders to reach Mordor (no, really), and a grassy plateau overlooking a crowd of bemused tourists, pointing at us like we'd just emerged from decade-old aircraft wreckage. The whole thing felt like being in an episode of Lost. Now we had two options; walk around a ravine of slate via a nice path, or cross it over a twisted, derelict train track suspended in space, fixed by comedy bolts at either end and chuff all else. Luke and Dave wanted nothing to do with it, Pat said he'd wait and see if I was killed before deciding. It swayed and moaned in the wind like a thing dying.

Oh god what the HELL AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?!?

Luke gave me a belay that might at least prevent my corpse from rolling all the way to Llanberis high street, then it was time to get going. I teetered and inched my way across, sort of humping the rails and getting rusty crap all over my trousers. The bridge and I swayed with every blasted gust. My innards oscillated with terror, limbs a-tremble, one abstract voice in my head telling me I would momentarily be receiving a loud and messy death, and didn't I just bloody well deserve it? I clenched my arse cheeks tighter and pulled myself to the nominal haven of a sleeper. But the next gap was even bigger, a chasm, an impossible gulf; I pictured the whole sorry lot come tumbling down, my mangled body bouncing merrily astride it. Squawking with fear I performed an ungainly pirouette and started dragging myself back towards safety, weeping softly as my hands clutched at terra firma.

We took the path instead. 

June Trip Part 1

Pat and I were like kids in a sweet shop when we got to North Wales. Sunny weather, brilliant forecast, dry rock everywhere. Day One say us hiking up towards Dinas Mot to get some multi-pitch cragging done. Up first was a HS called 'The Cracks', a mostly easy ramble up the side of the buttress, but with one hard boulder problem right at the top to gain a ledge, slapping off crimps for an insanely chalked up sloper. Warmed up, we abbed down a manky gully with about 485629 spikes all waiting to snag ropes, and decided to do something a bit more challenging. We chose 'West Rib', a fairly bold HVS. Pat took the initial pitch and placed one bit of gear. The guidebook said of pitch 2; 'there is a good runner at 9m'. Well that's alright then.

I teetered my way up on small edges then handed the lead back over to Pat for the final 4c crack. Bloody hell it was hard. He actually fell off at one point but managed to catch himself with a plummeting death grip. It was a fantastic effort from someone with relatively little trad leading experience. I gracefully lobbed off the start of the crack and smacked my ankles on the waiting ledge, just to make Pat feel better about himself. Obviously. Descending, the ropes got stuck again in the bastard gully. I just about managed to lead the sustained Lorraine Direct in one massive 60m pitch before the light got bad and we couldn't resist the siren call of the pub any longer.

Tip-toeing up Lorraine Direct (HVS)
The next day we parked at the Cromlech lay-by and slogged up past Pen-y-Pass towards the towering cliff of Lliwedd, Wales' biggest mountain crag according to our guidebook. We climbed a combination of several classic routes, 12 pitches in all. It was great fun, easy but fairly serious, with maybe 2 or 3 bits of gear per pitch. Things got a bit harder towards the top with the crux slab coming right at the end in full view of loads of hikers. I hauled myself up like a sack of mouldy spuds, anxious not to fall of and make an arse of myself. From the top of Lliwedd we then walked up to the manically busy Snowdon cafĂ©. You couldn't get near the actual summit, there were too many people packed on it like sardines eating their sandwiches. Pat and I slunk off down the Miner's Track, wondering why we bothered.

Lliwedd is the obvious crag on the far left
The forecast was less good for the Pass the next day so we drove over to Tremadog and ambled up a few routes in glorious sunshine. I made a misguided attempt on an E1 and fell off a lot before giving up. The highlight was the mega exposed classic 'One Step in the Clouds', which wins the award for the most hidden jugs/gear placements I've ever seen.

Bringing Pat up Christmas Curry (S)

In the evening we headed back to the slate quarries where Luke persuaded us to have a crack at 'Looning the Tube'. This interesting route took a bold traverse from a ledge to a bit of rusty chain fixed in the rock, then finished up a long drainpipe feature to the top. My rack consisted of 2 quickdraws, a cam, and a sling. Despite that, the runouts never felt that bad, and I cruised over the positive edges with ease. I was prepared for a fight at the crux, but it was protected by a bolt and basically a piece of piss.

Pat facing his demons on 'Looning the Tube' (HVS/E1)

Poor old Pat didn't find it so. More a jug-campuser than a slab crawler like me, he struggled on the small holds, but still summoned the will power to drag himself through each runout to the next gear placement. He eventually called it quits at the cam and lowered off, very impressive nonetheless. Now he's got no choice but to get back on it and face those runouts again...