Friday, 23 May 2014

The Grochan (Even more North Wales...)

With David Gainor, things are possible...

After being variously mangled and terrified at Tremadog Cam and I felt well prepared for a hard day climbing in Llanberis pass. We settled on Clogwyn y Grochan, an accessible but intimidating crag that I'd never climbed on before and was very psyched to check it out.

Cam leading pitch 2 of Nea

After getting started on an easy route called Nea we abseiled back to the deck and jumped on the Phantom Rib, VS. I led the first pitch up some parallel cracks which was a right awkward bugger. Just before the belay ledge was a pair of trees which I swung around on monkey style for a laugh, no doubt tempting fate to tear the fucking things from the crag and send me hurtling down with them.

This guy can't climb!

The anchor was built out of several small wires, something the guidebook said was essential for the next pitch. But this didn't matter because it was Cam's lead anyway. He stepped out bravely onto a thin, crimpy arete, microwires popping out of flared seams, feet sketching on polished smears to eventually reach the next belay. I found it pretty hard going on second and was glad to be on the blunt end. The third pitch was not without it's interest either; I found myself on a small ledge utterly stumped by a short groove above me, which, surprise surprise, succumbed to a good old fashioned footless grovel. Who knew?

Cam on the sketchy crux of Phantom Rib

Much more relaxed with a rope above you

There was one more VS listed in our guidebook, called Brant, which also had a direct start that was a bit harder. We weren't sure which to go for, but in the end there was another team on the direct, so we settled for the easier version. I led the first pitch, up to a big niche then traversing leftward across a steep wall on huge jugs. Great fun.

Getting photo-bombed on Brant

Cam was up next, finding himself faced with a disconcerting bum-slide into the base of a thrutchy groove then back across to belay pretty much right above where he started and not a whole lot higher. I must've found my grovelling mojo by this point because it all felt rather easy. We then abbed off some tat because the next pitch looked like a big pile of wank.

Spectre goes up here. Somewhere

We had enough time for one more big one, and settled on a mega-classic HVS, Spectre. There was a team on it already so we chilled out at the base of the crag, drinking whiskey and psyching ourselves up. All three pitches looked to have their own difficulties, so we decided that Cam would lead the shorter, sharper first and third pitches, leaving me with the big one in the middle.

Getting psyched for the big one

As the team above set off from the first belay we began. Cam led up a tricky thin crack, back-footing off very polished edges, finger jamming, to reach easier ground leading to the belay. Supposedly the easiest pitch of the route but it was still pretty tough for a few moves.

I grabbed the rack and bridged up a steep groove toward a capping overhang. It was much easier than it looked and the gear was bomber. A couple of pulls led me to a small ledge and an old peg. From here I had to traverse leftward on small holds, somewhat comitting, to quickly reach an awkward rest on a super exposed perch. The gear wasn't ideal, I went for the last tricky moves; pockets, a mono, into a short hanging groove leading onto a massive slab and the next belay. Above the crux awaited, the infamous 'Harding Slot'. Basically a wide, overhanging chimney crack that you just knew was going to be a complete arse. And it was. Sort of.

Your lead mate...

Cam contemplates the overhanging off-width horror that awaits

Cam gave it a real effort, twice getting up to the hard move and managing to get a decent nut in as well. However, with daylight starting to fade, we swapped over the belay and I racked up a couple of bits of big gear and waded in to battle. I was still really stoked from the last pitch and knew I'd get up the bastard as long as I just went for it, no fannying around. And...

The Harding Slot

 Bridge out wide, shuffle up, reach the gear, arm wedge, quick breather and go. I smeared my feet high and swung into an all or nothing layback off the edge of the crack. I scuttled upwards, skidding all over the place. One last heave, burrowing deeper, and I found myself almost disappointed to reach a hands-off rest in the notch. Is that bloody well it? I thought. Very unusual for me, normally I'd sell my soul for 'easier-than-expected-bomber-gear-lovely-rest' style climbing. And that's just while I'm grovelling and pleading my way up VDiff chimneys.

I chucked a cam in and a couple of easy fist jams saw me to a massive ledge and the belay. Cam smashed it on second, and we abseiled off rather than repeat the last pitch of Nea to the very top. Although I expected more from the 'Harding Slot' given its reputation, I was hugely psyched to do the route, which ultimately had been fantastic climbing from start to finish. Good times. Can't wait to get back there...

Incredibly manly pose of triumph

North Wales (Again)

What do you do when you arrive in Snowdonia at 1 in the morning and it's pissing it down with rain? The sensible answer would probably be 'go to sleep', but Cam and I decided to put on waterproofs and headtorches, slog up to Idwal Slab, and do a route instead. Fortified with a rather middling blended whiskey we kicked steps up the big trough that runs up the centre in a couple of long pitches. The atmosphere was awesome; all around us the dark walls of Cym Idwal, black clouds filling the sky, the distant lights of the Ogwen Valley below. Not a bad start to the trip.

A gentleman's belay halfway up Idwal Slab

The next day we had a bit of a jolly climbing something on the east face of Tryfan. There was a tricky little slab around halfway up, and then it started raining again just as we reached the summit.

The East Face of Tryfan in all its rambling, vegetated glory

What happens when you take more whiskey than water on a mountain trad route

So we stomped back down and waited around in Llanberis, hoping it would clear. And it did, so we went over to the slate mines and wandered up a nice VS called Seamstress.

Demonstrating my slate gear paranoia

This was fun, despite it basically consisting of the same move over and over again, as well as all the usual slate mindgames of snappy rock and dubious gear placements.

One of many hands-off rests available

There was an E1 next to it that looked to be very similar, albeit with worse holds and less gear, so we manfully decided to skulk off to a lay-by and consume large amounts of spam for the remainder of the evening.

Meal of champions

Morning came, and with it good weather. The plan was to allow the pass a bit more time to warm up and dry off, so we headed out toward the coast and had an awesome day climbing at Tremadog.

Cam bridging up the first pitch of a cool severe I have forgotten the name of

A funky exposed arete on pitch 3

First up was Craig Pant Ifan, where we ambled up a severe in a few pitches, then tackled the classic HVS Scratch Arete. Cam did a great job leading the first pitch up a steep corner. Following, I smeared and struggled round a bulge, flopped onto the belay ledge, glanced up and saw to my dismay the bit I was supposed to lead. A thin slab wandering over to an arete with a bloody great overhang looming above like a guillotine waiting to fall. Marvellous. I minced my way up the slab, steady but fairly sustained, and eventually found myself on a small footledge on the arete. Here I clipped a rusty old peg and placed a few fiddly small wires that didn't inspire much confidence. Then there was nothing to do but carry on.

Over the crux on Scratch Arete

I committed, matched on a finger edge, smeared high, lunged upwards, missed the beckoning jug completely.

Oh bugger.

Awesome route

But instead of lobbing onto the peg I hung suspended, somehow managed to grow just enough to curl my fingertips over the jug and gibber onto the slab above. Cam used an intermediate sloper that apparently made the move a bit easier, so there you go. After that we ambled over to Craig Bwlch y Moch and selected a cool looking route called Shadrach. The first pitch featured a narrow chimney that could be climbed with equal desperation either outside or in. I opted to take off my helmet and squirm inside, because of reasons.

My god, the horror, the horror.

Yes let's climb in there it will be fun

It was so tight I could hang there just by breathing in a bit more air. Upward motion consisted of a sort of snake hip wiggle to slither between the crushing yet slippery walls. There was loads of gear. No wait, what's the one that's like loads of gear but not? Oh yeah, no gear whatsoever. It hardly mattered though. I knew, instinctively, that a fall would merely leave me wedged in chimney for ever; an in-situ corpse, whose skeleton could perhaps be clipped as a useful runner by generations of troglodytes to come. Scraping all my lovely gear on the rock, I burrowed higher, feet uselessly slapping below me like dying fish out of water.

Snobbling my way out of the chimney

And finally I saw the light. Both in the actual and the figurative 'what in the almightly fuck am I doing with my life?' sense. A horizontal slot beckoned to my right, I poked my head out and saw that my problems were in fact only just beginning. The slot was too small to do anything other than wriggle out head-first, which unfortunately meant descending a vertical, featureless slab in said position, like some great, hysterical, shrieking lizard. Clinging to the last hold with my left hand I went further and further down, expecting to plummet at any moment. It was literally the stupidest move I've ever done. Soon only my legs remained inside the chimney, and I was pretty much left dangling upside down. Inch by inch, I swung them round, teasing them out the slot, then suddenly they shot free, I cut loose onto the hold, just about managing to cling on and hang there, weeping softly all the while. Shakily I gained a ledge and spared a moments thought for Cam whose own torment had only just begun.

Objectively the greatest climbing photo ever taken

“Grovel when ready, mate!”

Having somewhat wider shoulders that me there were a few moments when he became well and truly stuck, and was only saved by some desperate survival instinct that enabled him to thrash his way free minus a lot of skin and all the expensive anodised coating of his gear. Rather like an animal gnawing it's own leg off to escape a trap.

But nevermind all that bollocks, the second pitch was probably the harder one. Cam once again stepped up for the lead and climbed it no problem. There were some tricky moves gaining the steep headwall from atop a pinnacle spike, and a tough final section up a slab. Truly a route with a bit of everything.

Shattered husks of the men we once were

To finish off we did Grim Wall, a super-classic VS which rates as one of the best routes at the grade I've ever done. The start was a bit scrappy but the climbing got better and better all the way up, past a funky little traverse, sustained shuffling, big moves, climaxing with a glorious jug romp up an imposing rib. Top hob indeed. And the weather looked even better for the next day...