The sea is a patchwork of black and green as the rain chases across it. Waves explode like mad fireworks sending froth into the air where it mingles with the irate gulls and salt spray. Over the hill fields of daffodils are sprinkled with bright colour.
A spring clean in Cornwall. Blowing away stale winter air with a fresh gale. I packed: writing and reading books; walking boots and hula hoop. No climbing gear. I’m having a break from this all- consuming past time. Waiting for the inspiration to return. Waiting for a fresh flirtation. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. I just want the sun on my face; the wind through my hair, an empty sunshine beach to dance on and the unwinding that comes with walking.
So I walk on the beach and on the cliffs and watch the perfect curl of rollers and become immersed in Cornish colour, clarity and light. One afternoon from the hill above the house I can see as far as the Scilly Isles.
At the same time I see a car approaching the house. 2 figures appear and I want them to go away. They will spoil the solitude and indulgence. I go for a long walk and when I get back, armoured for a social encounter, I hear live music. In the sun-lit sitting room a banjo and accordion are being played. Concerns melt away. Ruth and Ron, climber musicians – an unusual and refreshing thing. A cup of tea later and I’m invited to join them at a blue-grass session that evening in the local pub. No woman is an island, and anyway I was starting to talk to myself too much and too loudly. Then Ron asks: ‘Would you like to climb with me tomorrow? Ruth can’t at the moment.’ An obvious question to ask someone staying in a Climbers Club hut. I reply sternly: ‘I’m having a break at the moment. And I didn’t bring any gear with me’. Undeterred Ron comes back with: ‘That’s Ok. Ruth’s brought along her harness and shoes. I reckon they’d fit you.’
But….but I remember the warm gold rock of Bosigran and the thrift and the azure sea and sky, quality routes, and I’m pulled, drawn towards the idea with the lack of control of an addict. In fact I don’t put up any fight at all: ‘Ok, but only if it’s not cold and we do something gentle and fun.’ I underline the words ‘only if’ and assert: ‘I don’t want to be challenged.’
Ron is perfectly sanguine about this pronouncement (like any other addict would be) and we make a loose weather-dependent arrangement for the following afternoon.
And so here I am belaying at the foot of ‘Ledge Climb’ enjoying warm sunshine by the shelter of the starting slab. The wind is cold but it can’t get me here and we move alternately through the pitches quickly enough for it not to grab us. Sometimes I feel over-dressed and sometimes under-dressed, but never that painful ache of cold. The route is exposed and has the big moves of a classic HV Diff – and is entirely unchallenging and pleasant. An hour later we are at the top smiling in the sun. We pack up and head home for tea. Simple. Fun. Absorbing.
I’m asked by Ron to repeat the experience the next afternoon and I’m unable to say ‘No’. I laugh at myself in the sunshine as Ron starts off on ‘Doorway’ – a severe Severe but not serious enough to make me regret my lack of resolution. But I manage to let everything go: I don’t have to be a big brave climber. I don’t have to prove anything. So I don’t lead any of the pitches. Ron is completely accepting of my behaviour.
And on the last pitch, up the crack and across the black slab, with the sea crashing below, the sun came out in full and I felt that flirtation, that inspiration and the thought came to me: ‘I want to come back and lead this.’
How was your holiday? How was your trip to the Morrocan Anti Atlas Mountains? Was it very hot? What did you do?
A full white moon sat in a bright blue sky on the first morning. The mountains, spread out over the sweeping horizon, were crisp clear – great chucks of red ochre on the far side of a wide flat valley of red dust and spiky scrub. Streaks of cloud smudged the summits waiting to be moved on by an African sun.
‘It’s like LLanberis pass, but magnified a thousand times’, I declared rashly.
The clouds moved on but while we were hacking our way uphill to make our first acquaintance with Moroccan rock, they gathered together again to become large drifting mass and a few hours later the world turned into north Wales. After abandoning a nice bit of scarlet tat to an impromptu abseil, we arrived back at the hire car, sodden and complaining of frozen fingers. Adventure climbing.
A gale blew all night but the blue sky and bright moon had returned by breakfast and continued about their business all day without interruption. North Africa was properly installed again.
We were here to do ‘adventurous’ climbing – on the north side of the Anti Atlas Mountains with the nearest town of Tafraoute an hour cork-screw drive away. A ‘new’ climbing area where the first thousand new routes set up by early 2013 have already been expanded by at least another thousand by the start of this year. Multi pitch; big exposure; perfect weather; solid rock. It all sounds so good and the local guest house – a fort perched on a lump of rock with the fittingly exotic name of Kazbah Tizourgane – is making a killing with UK climbers keen for fresh rock clamouring to stay there.
And the route book looks like a delicious menu – superlatives abound: ‘excellent’, ‘classic’, ‘superb’, ‘superlative’. Stars crowd in – there are armfuls, not just handfuls, of 3 starred routes. So where to start?
Ignoring the north Wales incident, we chose a 3 star HVS: ‘Crazy Mushroom Ridge’ on Babouche Buttress. The route grading description says 4a/5b/4c/4a/4b. The reality goes: V Diff/ 5a/4a with minimal protection/ pitch missing/ 4c. Our assessment is endorsed by the pair following us. Maybe it’s an aberration of the first ascensionists. We try again further down the valley in the pleasingly baking afternoon sun on Orange Wall – and the grading surprises us again. In fact we are so surprised we finish in the quick but colourful sunset and walk off in the dark. Adventure climbing.
‘Let’s crank it up. Time for an E1’. Famous last. Firesword. 3 stars. 5b /5a /5b/5b. First pitch = 4a. It’s cold standing in the shade but the call to prayer warms me. Second pitch = 5a/b. On the third pitch, hanging on desperately with 100m beneath my toes, I complained loudly – and not just about the rucksack on my back pulling me off the steep crack. I made an official complaint of no uncertain terms shortly after pulling over it, to see a traverse – 5c grade: all of it. The leader was surprisingly calm (I suppose one of us had to be). By the fourth pitch time had become an additional part of the adventure. My thoughts: It really wouldn’t be much fun finishing with possibly 5c moves in the dark, and further lack of fun would be possibly provided by a blind walk off a ridge in the black night with only small cairns secreted in spiny shrubs to point the way.
And yes, it was no fun. The final pitch was hard and poorly protected so plan b (diversion) happened. So yes, we finished in the dark. Yes, I was that desperate to get off the route that I left a recalcitrant cam wedged in its malicious crack, and yes, it took a further 2 hours to find our way (safely ) down to the start. (And yes, we had head torches). Adventure climbing.
A day’s entertainment in kaleidoscopic Tafraoute on market day calmed me down and the next day, with another early start, I went to Tramline Slabs with lowered expectations. Not lower enough. ‘How many out of 10’ asked Chris after 3 hours on a 3 star 2 pitch VS. Thomas the Tank Engine. ‘2’ he said. So the next day I stayed in the sun, stationary, and sent him out to play with the others on a 3 star E3 and they all had tremendous fun.
I choose fun. I choose sitting in the sun. I choose no unwelcome surprises. I chose reliable route descriptions. I choose having a break from this strange activity. Maybe fishing….
I hatched a bucket list trip – an indulgent plan of dreams and desires. I dreamed of walking in remote places where the only chatter would come from birds; dreamed of doing it simply but comfortably: I’m allergic to camping. And I’m not a mad Munro basher; I just wanted to be in the mountains. And I didn’t want to fly or drive to get there.
So I walked out into the Bristol commuter hour one Thursday afternoon in May with a rucksack on my back on my way to Scotland. I left the car, my passport and camping gear at home and began a 5 day trip by public transport to find solitude, freedom and space. It was perfectly possible and it turned out perfectly.
It went like this: a forgettable coach journey to London followed by a quick but unforgettable Chinese meal with a friend to fill in time before the 23.50 train left Euston for Glasgow Central. (Number 1 on the bucket list: take a sleeper train to Scotland). As I approached the strident Scottish train lady on the platform she announced: ‘You’ve won the watch’, and promptly directed me to a first class berth instead of the standard shared cupboard that I’d booked.
The train clattered and mumbled through the night while I slept on a nice comfortable bed under a nice comfortable duvet. I awoke at 6.45 and drank a complimentary cup of tea while Glasgow unpeeled before me, then walked through a sleepy and drizzly city to Glasgow Queens Street Station to catch the 8am Mallaig train – which was oddly popular for a Thursday morning. I sat among the tourists and together we oohed and aahhed at the increasingly magnificent, and increasingly remote, landscape.
Almost 3 hours later I got off – at Corrour, in the Middle of Rannoch Moor- and I was glad to see that no one else got off with me. As soon as the train clunked its way down the glen I heard it … nothing. 20 miles from the nearest road: this was the remoteness I sought. Sauntering down to the Youth Hostel next to Loch Ossian (number 2: return to Loch Ossian SYHA) I felt smug about my choice of travel: I hadn’t driven all night and I hadn’t been subjected to air travel stress. I spread the superfluous contents of my bag on the bunk and went to find Beinn Na Lap (Number 3: walk up a mountain by myself). As I walked blue bits pushed their way into the grey sky and at the top I could see my kingdom – miles of flat black cracked moor and an encircling horizon of scribbled summits including the fat rear of Ben Nevis. Nothing and no one in view except nature; no chatter except what was in my head. I slept well that night- tired from achieving so many dreams at once (and it helped that there was only one other occupant in the dorm ).
I won the watch again the next day. I woke to cloudless sky and a picture perfect millpond lake. Yesterday’s chill wind had gone somewhere else and I sat outside in my pyjamas with a cup of tea in hand and declared to the other 4 hostellers that it was the most beautiful place I had ever had breakfast. And the most remarkable thing of all – there were no midges on this windless warm day.
Leaving my excess baggage casually stowed away in the station shelter I walked up the rather lovely Corbett Leum Uilleim in the embracing sunshine accompanied by moths and mayflies. At the top I again surveyed my empire (I made the two other people I saw on the hill turn invisible), before descending again to the solitary station in time to sit in the hot sun for a while before catching the 15.21 to Spean Bridge – chosen as my stop-over before I made my way to Aviemore.
I say ‘made my way’ because it wasn’t going to be straightforward. In this culture of cars and cutbacks it has come about that there’s no direct public transport between the major tourist centres of Fort William and Aviemore. For car owners it’s a ride along the A82 and A86 of one and quarter hours. For the car-less it’s a choice of a 3 hour journey (Inverness by coach followed by a train ride out to Aviemore) … or hitching. I’d decided to do the adventurous thing and hitch. The bus option would involve either an early start or a mid-afternoon slog that would eat into the evening: not an attractive idea on a sunny day.
The next morning I opened the curtains in the snug bed and breakfast room outside Spean Bridge and looked at the crystal clear view of the Grey Corries. A good day for hitching. But it was not to be for I won the watch again – the accommodating owner (best sausages ever for breakfast – thanks Neil) had a haggis scarcity, had to visit the butcher at Kingussie and so could drop me at the Aviemore line train station there.
So by lunchtime I’d dumped my bag at the Aviemore Youth Hostel, stocked up with lightweight but nutritious snacks for the following day, and walked to the viewpoint above the town. There I found a bunch of teenage Americans admiring the view and saying ‘wow guys’ a lot. ‘Hey guys’ I thought, ‘you ain’t seen nothing.’
I felt slightly uneasy about my next solitude and remoteness project – 20 miles through the Cairngorms: The Lairig Ghru pass. 3 days earlier the forecast had included words I didn’t want to see: ‘heavy persistent rain’. I saw myself: a small person in a cloud-filled landscape pushing uphill against wind with rain running off my nose and down my neck – for hours and hours. The uninspiring plan B would be getting to Aberdeen on thin Sunday public transport.
But I’d won the watch yet again the next day – The MWIS report stuck up in the hostel reception had the life- affirming words: ‘Good visibility. Possibility of light rain in the afternoon.’ I got off the bus from Aviemore by the Sugar Bowl car park at 8.15am, stared at the cloud-free summit of Cairngorm and started my walk. 8 hours later I stopped – at the Linn of Dee.
I took the Chalamain Gap start – mainly to enjoy the way the landscape dramatically changes from one side of the gap to the other- like a door into another universe. The route follows the river as it ducks and dives under boulder fields and passes the foot of the lofty Angels Peak, the huge slab of Devil’s Point and the bulk of Ben Macdui. Views transformed and mutated every half hour and kept me entertained over the 8 hours. I heard the gronk of Ptarmigan and saw huge water falls including one that fell from a ridge through a thick left-over snow cornice. I saw only 4 other people and even enjoyed the little cooling shower that visited in the early afternoon.
The ascent was gentle and the path easy to follow, but after 6 hours my feet started to whinge and my reasonably packed 35L rucksack had made my shoulders ache. By the Linn of Dee car park I wasn’t keen on the idea of a further 7km of road walking to get to Braemar where I’d booked a B&B, so I stuck out my thumb and 10 minutes later was chatting to father and daughter Munro -ists from the back of their 4WD. At the B&B I immediately replaced my boots for Crocs and went to find supper and a pint.
The final logistic was getting home. I’d accepted it would take a day. It was almost possible to have a lazy morning (which my feet wanted) and catch the 10am bus to Aberdeen to pick up the 13.05 train to Edinburgh to pick up the 16.30 train to Bristol. But that would only allow for a 30 minute margin of bus lateness, so continuing to take the stress free option I found myself waiting for the 7.50am bus with the local school kids. Aberdeen distracted me for a couple of hours quite efficiently before I safely boarded the Edinburgh train. I arrived home at 11pm, rested, not stressed… at all.
I had no regrets at leaving the car behind. It was probably slightly more expensive than a fly drive and but it was a richer experience: I enjoyed the journey as much as the destination – which was a first in the UK. I’d also met far more people than I would have if it had been just me and the car – travel is also about connecting with people as well as the freedom and solitude it can bring. And I proved that you don’t need a car to get to those remote places.
And thanks for the watch Scottish train lady
This blog has been published by UK Hill Walking – http://www.ukhillwalking.com/articles/page.php?id=6717
It was a warm September afternoon when I was first introduced to vertical play – (except it was essentially horizontal). ‘Try this’, ordered the really weird skinny and bald man who had entered my life for a while and who was mixing it all up.
‘Weird thing to do’, I thought, but I was into ‘never say no’ at that point (for a change), so I watched him and his friends with increasing curiosity as they clambered like ants barefoot over and along the rock – a cliff in the Avon Gorge. The rush hour traffic piled up on the Portway like a ready-made audience. I touched the rock. It was warm. I liked that.
I followed the lead and took off my shoes, stepped up onto a ledge and looked at the lumps and bumps in front of me. I spent a long time looking, trying to work out how I was going to fit without falling, and then tenderly, gingerly started my first traverse: My first climb. No ropes, gear, harness, helmet or shoes – just movement and the challenge.
Increasingly engrossed, I lost sense of time and forgot everything in my chaotic life as I worked out the puzzle, and felt my body work it out too. My weird friend climbed high – high enough for someone who had been playing the risk game for many years. I resolutely stayed near the ground. The thick bed of chippings and random rock fall-out that was strewn over the ground wasn’t an attractive landing place.
That was my first taste, 7 years ago. It made me hungry for more and I’m now feeding the rat regularly – ropes are usually involved but the traverse at the New Quarry is part of my life. I’ve done it a hundred times or more and it never tastes stale. It’s my local city playground and my training ground; it’s a 20 minute bike ride away and it’s free. Surrounded by cliff, woods and river (it’s sometimes possible to forget the road), it’s a haven – and a sheltered one: I’ve sweltered in a hot sun here on many afternoons in all seasons.
I wisely chose footwear after a while and conquered 75% of the wall. I put my rock shoes in my rucksack again this Sunday and paid the New Quarry a visit. A week of wet, wet, wet made me shy of greasy crags in the Wye, and any way it had been a late start with a slight vagueness from the night before. After a relaxed bike ride through a quiet city on a sunny autumn afternoon I found myself in a place where men had taken off their t shirts and were dipping hands into chalk bags. There were a few people fiddling around with ropes too- a thing that sets my teeth on edge. The place has recently been re bolted with thrutchy and loose sports routes and the teams just get in the way of the flow. Luckily the interest is already waning but I feel as if a quiet beach has been overrun by lager louts.
And once more I took off my trainers and put on my rock shoes and stepped up to the rock. By now I know the dance. I know the crag’s little idiosyncrasies. I can flow. And I love it. The traverse has become a benchmark – it reveals how strong (or not) I am and shows how far I’ve come- or how far I’ve declined. This isn’t a 5 minute mess about: It’s about 20 minutes on the rock for someone who’s broken the code, and a lot longer for the uninitiated. And that’s just in one direction…
This Sunday, while it all flowed, I grasped how varied and technical the climbing is. There are places where it’s straightforward and there are places where I still have to slow down and think. It needs good foot work and balance. The moves are sometimes big and strong, sometimes small and pinchy, sometimes smeary and off balance. Some are still just too difficult. The only thing missing perhaps is exposure, but as there are no ropes in sight, it’s not a walk in the park.
It has been a perfect learning, training and play ground. It’s been a springboard and provided a good basic diet of nursery food (excused the mixed metaphors). And if I hadn’t been here at least a hundred times I suspect seconding the neat E1 horizontal crack of Clan Union on the Suspension Bridge Buttress, the meandering Riders on the Storm (HVS) at Stennis Head, and the awe filling The Dream of White Horses (HVS) at Gogarth would have been an entirely different experience.
‘Jeez Christ. Crease Bunningtone hud a leeter beg then this wen he deed the ole mun of hoy’; so said the animated Scots taxi driver as he tried to lift the rucksack from the boot of his car.
Mountaineering: Multi pitch routes; Long day’s adventures. Scottish mountaineering: long walk-ins. We’d put an adventure together – South Ridge Direct (VS) on Cir Mhor, a perfect pinnacle in the middle of the beautiful Isle of Arran. 1000ft of classic route. Two and a half hour walk in? No problem. We’d wild camp; spend a couple of days there playing on the ancient volcanic rock. A voice in my head said: ‘but you hate camping’. I countered with: ‘it’s only one night’.
We unpacked and packed our rucksacks, casting aside anything superfluous …and unpacked again, but it made not a bit of difference to the weight. I grunted as I attempted to swing the rucksack on my back in one swift move to avoid future back problems. I had a full rack, two ropes and all the other climbing paraphernalia while Chris carried the camping comforts of oversized tent and sleeping bag, over-heavy food and clothing. I was envious of those who could afford rush out and buy the latest teeny tiny lightweight equipment but also in awe of those pioneers who had had no choice but to become beasts of burden.
As we walked up Glen Rosa, our knees creaking and hips bowing, it drizzled, and then it rained. The shifting thick cloud on the summits was a slight distraction from the exquisite pain in my shoulders. As we neared Cir Mhor the amenably level path steepened – and we realised we’d missed a turning. So off we went across bog and heather where there was no sign of a sheltered flat dry camping pitch. My boots had taken in enough water to soak my socks by the time the perfect spot decided to reveal itself: an emerald green croquet pitch behind a Cromlech-type boulder.
The rain relaxed long enough for us to put up the tent and then throw the gear and ourselves inside to wait for the rain to find another place to stay. We accepted the fate of so many Scottish plans- we’d only be climbing for one day and that wouldn’t be until tomorrow.
At 5pm it went quiet and I peered out. The world had completely changed. The sun shone on the jagged summits of Goatfell , Cir Mohr and Bheinn Tarsuinn which surrounded the small speck of our blue tent. Just above us was a folded and creased tower of smooth grey rock- the Rosa Pinnacle – and the ‘s’ and ‘y’ cracks were grinning at us. No route finding problems tomorrow then.
There followed a night of intermittent sleep while we fought with slippery sleeping bags on slippery mats and creeping mountain chill, but kept the faith for the expected forecast. And it came good: under a bright blue sky a multitude of merging alpine -esque ridges filled most of the horizon, while beyond the smoothly curved sides of the Glen, I could make out the white speck of the Androssan ferry on the azure sea.
After breakfast of tea and biscuits we repacked a rucksack for the day’s work, went to the foot of the huge hunk of gritty grey slab and found our way to the first of the VS pitches – the S crack – by which time other climbers had scampered up the Glen and were nibbling at our toes.
‘How do fat people climb?’ I grunted like a Yak up the crack with the bag on my back bulging with wet boots, layers and sustenance for two. We hauled it up the thrutchy and slightly overhanging ‘Y’ crack making the climbing experience so much more enjoyable.
In that manner of multi-pitch routes time shrunk as we set belays, flaked rope, handed over gear and climbed the meandering 14 or so pitches. Towards the top, where the climbing is easier but the exposure more difficult, I had to be reminded by the party behind us that I’d conveniently left the rucksack behind. I retraced my footholds. ‘Wishful thinking’ I muttered. And, as is the manner of mountains, cloud gathered and sunk down to cover the summits and a wind blew in from the artic.
I was glad to see the distinct tip of the summit but was fully aware that the day hadn’t ended yet. After the long descent down to the tent, we had to de-camp and become beasts of burden again. The walk out only took 2 hours but it was gruelling – but all bad things come to an end and by 10pm we were sipping an Arran malt listening to some fine live Blue-Grass music with full bellies … and with very, very tired bodies.
We’re having a summer: A summer where the days seem longer and lighter, where the temperature is just right and the sun shines at the right time- well almost. You just need to travel to the right places. I’ve been on the road, chasing the sun.
First there were the sea cliffs of North Pembrokeshire where the sun shone through a cruel wind at Craig y Crisial setting my teeth chattering and making me long for shelter, while the sea roared at me. Aside from the cold I vaguely remember it took two routes of two pitches to climb out of it. Not a remarkable day but an ‘adventure day’ we decided. I decided the next day we‘d seek shelter- and we found it at Carreg-Y-Barcud. The sea did a millpond thing to show us how beautiful the Pembrokeshire coast can be while I did a sweaty second up the steep wall of Sinecure (E1) and tremulously led Yellow edge – an HS-feels-like-its-a-VS.
The following week it rained and shone and rained and shone and rained and I went to North wales to the foot of Snowdon to meet with the lovely Pinnacle Club members. We arrived on a wet Friday evening with a rain forecast which was so chronically misleading that on Saturday I did a tick list item (a short but perfect list): an enchainment on Idwal Slabs. Admittedly our routes were chosen on the basis that they were the only dry ones but it was a perfect summer mountain day. There was The Ordinary Route (Diff) and then the delightfully exposed Lazarus (Severe), and the day finished under blue summer afternoon skies on The Arete, an airy V Diff. Mountain valley rain chased us away to Tremadog the following day which wasn’t as exciting but the sun shone again.
And then it was back on the A5 again 8 days later with a definite window of weather opportunity to do another tick list item – the seriously mad traverse at Gogarth that can only be faced on a nice blue calm summer day, and with a nice blue calm sea (unlike the conditions for the first ascensionists of a Dream of White Horses). Beautiful. Mad. Job done.
To Pembroke again a week later as it dried out after a thunder storm that had hung on over the rest of the UK. The sound of the enraged sea swell entered my head on the first day and wouldn’t leave, making it difficult to relish Sarsparilla Sunset, an HVS up a dark corner followed by a thin traverse over the snapping sea – a dream revisited. The heat cranked up and the air was balmy as we sauntered up the 3 star Blue Sky – ‘HS climbing in an E1 position’ was how it was appropriately described by Chris.
The next day on our way to Mowing Word, Barafundel Bay looked Mediterranean and I had a passing thought about a lazy beach day but then forgot about it as we played in the sun on sea cliffs above a benign sea on SealHunt ( E1) and The Curver (VS). But while I hung from a belay at the foot of the curiously named Snozwanger (E1) in the fierce sun with screaming toes and watched the cool green water lapping below me, I re-visited that thought. The route could be described as classically ‘sustained’ so as soon as I’d grunted my way up it I snatched off my shoes and made for the beach. My toes sizzled.
It’s now too hot to climb so there’ll be more toe balm instead.
I led an E1 yesterday: The first pitch of Wurlitzer in the Wye Valley. A classic Wintours Leap route: steep and not entirely embellished with gear shaped cracks and crevices. I seem to have leap-frogged the grades over the last 2 years – from Severe to Very severe and now up and over to the E numbers.
It had 2 stars and my name on it. No it didn’t. I definitely didn’t set out from sunny Bristol that afternoon and grind through commuter and weekend traffic over the bridge with the idea of pushing my grade. In fact my head was almost totally full with unrelated climbing junk- maybe that’s why. Or maybe it was the beauty of the afternoon or maybe it was just a funny turn.
‘I was thinking of doing Wurlitzer’, said Chris. ‘It’s 2 pitches. You might like to do the first. Have look and see what you think’
My climbing season so far has been in fits and starts and all a bit timidly. I seem to have lost a slice of bravado from last year’s model- the bit that pushed me to VS. And this year so far I’ve only done one or two VS routes, and one of those was a re-run. So this proposal was shocking …but somehow the shockwaves didn’t register.
So I walked up to the route and peered up through the trees and daisies and grass. Not too steep and not too blank. Route finding – always a problem in the Wye and especially for someone like me with an inability to translate the words into the thing before me- could be facilitated by bellows from the belayer below , book in hand (or by feet in a safe way).
‘Can I do this?’ I asked. ‘I think you’ll be fine,’ came the reply. I wasn’t quite sure I liked the word ‘think’ but I moved on quickly and started to gear up with a different part of my brain.
So with Chris shouting the obscure route instructions to me I started the 30m pitch. The descriptions had to be shouted to me throughout the route and I’d like to apologise to the other 2 climbers in the area for the disturbance.
The first half reminded me of the lower pitches of route on Suspension Bridge Buttress in the Avon Gorge – balancy and edgy but not too steep. So not too uncomfortable. There were awkward moves but fingers and toes could always find something (in the end). I did some gardening and found gear placements both good and not so good (But not enough of them I was advised later). ‘Breaks’ appeared regularly but they never seemed to be able to hold a cam like a cork in a bottle. Overhangs appeared regularly too: more reason for more gear. And then…it got very very steep and all a bit thin and I started to make a noise like a strangled cat (entertainment for the belayer) and announce that ‘I’m not sure about this’. A bit late for indecision really. The language then became very multi coloured. ‘That’s not a f****** 4c move’ was declared to the birds and daisies at one point. But the funny turn continued and I managed to trust in my abilities and arrived at the top without too many bouts of disco leg, sweaty palms and that question ‘when is this going to end?’
Type 2 fun. Out of my comfort zone, but apparently this is occasionally needed if you’re intending to push your grade – which I wasn’t and which would explain the surprise I felt at the end of the day. A nice surprise though.
Not sure what route to do next.
I concentrated all my powers of weather goddess and conjured up a May Bank Holiday in Snowdonia with no rain, no standstill motorway and no crowded crags – honestly.
My ambition was …to be in the mountains… a trip up Main Wall would be nice, but choices are determined by the mountains not the climber. On Saturday Simon and I played on the local Llanberis crags sheltered from a sharp wind. Nice rock.
We woke on Sunday to cruel northerly which made it an easy decision not to hang around on belays on a northerly crag. It’s that time of year when my body has had enough of the cold and wants to be warm – and not by being wrapped in 4 layers of clothing. I emerged from the tent with 4 layers of clothing. A plan quickly took shape for a day moving in the mountains. We hopped into Dave’s car and slipped over to the Ogwen Valley to do a slab climb. Not the overrun Idwal but Atlantic slab: ‘Left Edge’- a 5 pitch (sort of) V Diff we could quickly swop leads on.
It wasn’t a long walk in but it was painfully uphill. The 4 layers became 2… and then 4 again as soon as I reached the wind-blasted start. Simon sauntered up the first pitch throwing in gear as I watched a group of 3 elderly men approach. They stopped and we had an exchange of pleasantries and then the climbing talk began. The small bright-eyed bearded man said he was there to show his friends a fine climb on a fine piece of rock. They were all in their 70s. ‘Look’ ,said the bright-eyed man as he put his feet into a pair of ankle high climbing shoes . ‘These boots are older than you’. He intended to solo it while the others were going to get their ropes out. They’d been there and done it, and were now clearly thoroughly enjoying a time when they could play gently and make the most of their surroundings. They were in it for beauty and quality. Not a bad ambition.
I followed Simon up, enjoying great friction, and while on the first belay overlooking the weird ‘waved slab’ I had a short lesson from him on ‘tension gash’ . No, not the name of a heavy metal band but an arabesque quartz formation. It’s interesting climbing with a geologist.
The soloist caught me up at the second belay and perched on the arête for further climbing talk. ‘Years ago I did the route on Grey slab at Idwal that’s now a VS. Guess what it was graded at then?’ ‘HS?’ ‘No. V Diff. And when it was originally put up they wouldn’t even have had boots like this to climb in; not even a harness’. Looking at him I saw his passion and his brightness and I thought: I want to be doing what you’re doing when I’m your age. Forget a staid retirement of comfort and ease.
Simon and I swopped leads for another 4 pitches, stopping where we could. Available placements came and went like buses- all at once and none at all. The slab was fairly sheltered so fingers still retained some feeling by the time we got to the top – where the bearded one was waiting for his friends like a dog waiting for his owners to catch up before he can start running around again.
We moved on up past him and then scrambled up to the top pausing for a bite to eat in the warm lee of jumbled rocks with a wide view of Anglesey, the Carnedds and Tryfan. The clouds drifted up and down the tops and the sun occasionally waved a hand at us.
We continued up and up across the windswept Glyders to summit Y Garn and then swept on down again back to the camp site in Nant Peris. A good way to spend a Sunday: a day in the mountains in beauty and enjoying quality. May it continue.
I’ll go to the mountains
and tell them by my footsteps
how much it hurts
I’ll go to the mountains
and show them by my words
how much I wanted it to be different
I’ll go to the mountains
and throw the heavy black ball
of everything ugly at them
I’ll go to the mountains
and scream my disappointment
but I’ll only hear the echo of emotion
I’ll go to the mountains
to eat their silence
and I’ll let it fill me up