Is it worth the drive?
Is it worth the drive?
2 hours North West of where we live in Dorset you enter the wonderful world of Wales. We spent a night and a day sport climbing in a sandstone quarry in South Wales and then hopped back in the car to drive for another 5 and a half hours north, all the while dipping in and out of England. Finally we reached our destination: Conway Bay. Trystan, a friend from previous travels put us up at his house and agreed to be our tour guide. That night we slept hard! The next day we drove another 40 minutes south west to climb some slate and another 20 minutes south to climb on some rhyolite. We finished up the day with a BBQ 10 minutes north. With a new day, there must be a new road. We once again headed an hour south through Llamberris pass to finally reach Tremadog for some multi-pitching on Dolerite. Climb: sent- we jumped back in the van for 30 minutes east where we set up for a night’s rest beside a lake. We awoke to rain and wind and barely got out of the van before deciding to pack up and hit the road for one final time. 7 hours home! Was it worth it? Yes! Is anyone free next weekend?
Over the bank holiday we drove a lot. In fact, we drove 17 hours! But we also experienced a lot too. The first night we drove to Sirhowy, South Wales. A tactical choice for our first day of climbing as it is close to the main roads which join North to South. We woke up and could hear the river flowing and nothing else. We crossed the nearby bridge to walk in to the Sirhowy National Park and entered the trees. With the guide in hand, we busted through some thick vegetation and came across this perfect sandstone cliff with chalk all over it. In the guide it says to leave if you are asked as you aren’t really supposed to climb there, so we moved up to the end of the crag hoping to keep out of sight for a little while longer. The whole crag is covered in 2 star routes and above, so we made our way through them with Tilly on guard. On the Western Wall there are routes ranging from 5c to 7a+ but admittedly, you need quite a reach on a few of them. ‘Queens of the Stone Age’ 6b+ was the standout route on this wall. Just to warn you, the bits which look like jugs from the floor are barely holds when you are on them! We smashed out 5 routes on this wall before heading to the most starred crag called ‘The Rust Curtain’ called this due to its stunning, bright orange rock. The routes here were outstanding but with limited time we could only get on a few like the crag classic ‘Strange Little Girl’, 6c. This route is made up on a crack filled with big holds which feel great but only if you have your body facing the right way. Alongside that I saw a 3 starred route called ‘Face’; apart from the reachy start this route looked incredible. After Pongoosing my way past the first long reach, I managed to work out the rest relatively quickly. The top section is run out but moving through the little crimps you wouldn’t want to stop anyway. A quick rest was in order until we realised the time. I rammed my shoes back on and went for a redpoint, although the first move was still a mystery. Pulling on half pad crimps with little to no feet and I threw up to a 2 finger side pocket and somehow stuck it. The rest of the climb went down with ease. This was my first 7b+ climbed on one redpoint, so I left South Wales with a skip in my step.
4 hours north.
Knock knock. The door opens and there stands Trystan. I met Trystan in El Chorro earlier this year and ended up traveling around the rest of Spain with him for a month. After Emmie and I decided to travel to North Wales, he happily agreed to show us around his old stomping ground. We woke the next day for another drive but only 40 minutes this time to ‘Bus Stop Quarry’ which is a slate climbing heaven. The routes range from 5’s – 8’s and along with sport there is endless trad and also this strange hybrid climbing which appears to be trad routes but with bolts sporadically placed. We warmed up on some shorter sport routes to get used to the slate style. It’s a very weird style as it tends to have limited feet, amazing crimps and often relies on a long reach. The texture of the rock is odd, smooth as tile but somehow grippy? Trystan decided we should get on a crag classic called ‘Fool’s Gold’, E1 5c, which is all gear and unfortunately, no placed bolts. I have to admit, my trad climbing can be a bit ropy and it is often joked that most of the gear falls out. So I was definitely a bit nervous but I knew I could climb it. I set off with enough gear to take on ‘El Cap’. The crux was all about leaning out from safety and questing up a crack which runs the rest of the route. After a couple of looks I ended up just going for it. Although it was very tense, I didn’t think it was too bad. The rest of the climb is said to ease off but with my limited crack climbing knowledge it still felt pretty tough. Emmie followed taking out the gear (which didn’t fall out by itself, by the way) with ease while Tilly hung out with Trystan at the base. Trystan then showed us a route he had been working on. A super thin sport route called ‘Beltane’, 7b. He worked it well linking moves but taking a few falls in the warm temps. He made it look pleasant so I geared up and had a go. Jeez! The parts he cruised up I could barely do and the Pongoose came back out. 7b my ass!!!!
We then drove to taste another style of climbing just down the valley from Idwal slabs. This area is called Sheep Pen boulders and has some amazing and quite big boulders. The routes are made up on limestone like features but rock solid and less sharp. We started at a beautiful boulder called ‘Klem’s’ which we all cruised up a few 6a/+’s. The rhyolite rock holds a few classic lines like ‘The Pinch’ 7a+ which we worked on with a few guys from Birmingham and ‘Gnasher’ 7a which IF you don’t hold the throw it will take a huge bite out of your fingers. A day out and about called for dinner and wine so we headed to Trystan’s partner, Claire’s house for a BBQ.
North Wales is full of climbing but also on a bank holiday it is full of people so after a quick stop at Pete’s Eat and every single climbing shop in the pass we headed out of the Llanberris for a quieter area. Tremadog was suggested to us by Trystan and since North Wales is so full of choice, we decided to do what we were told. We were looking for some ‘adventure climbing’. Emmie isn’t very multi-pitch or trad experienced but keen to rack up some miles. She recently bought a backpack for Tilly, much like one you’d chuck a toddler in. The idea was to use said backpack on longer hikes when poor Tilly’s little leggies get tired but we got to thinking “Have there ever been any sausage dog ascents?” An idea was born. We had a look through the guide and decided on a nice, easy HS- ‘Christmas Curry’; a route well within our climbing abilities and nothing too scary to climb with the dog. We faffed around at the bottom of the crag for ages laying out all the gear, deciding to take hexes, deciding we don’t really know how to use hexes, ultimately deciding ‘all the gear, no idea’ was a motto for a reason. I racked up, Emmie strapped the dog to her back and we missioned towards the crag. After a steep ol hike to the base of a climb we realised this was not our climb. Back down we went. We trudged along the hedges and reached the base of a chimney. This looks right? Let’s just go for it. The first pitch was horrible. Relatively easy climbing but very scary- exposed bridging on my dodgy gear is not how you want to start out. The top of the chimney goes into a steep and powerful layback and I was too afraid to stop climbing and place any more gear so I heaved myself over the top and set up our first belay at a tree. My adrenaline was flowing. Emmie followed up. She got stuck at the first bit of gear. Unlike my usual gear placement, this nut was not going anywhere. In the end, she ditched it. If anyone’s headed to Tremadog there’s some crag swag for you! Following up the steep crack, Tilly wobbled side to side as Emmie leaned out of the crack. There weren’t any squeals of discontentment, so we soldiered on. Referring to the picture I took on my phone of the guide I tried to decipher the next pitch. Go left? Into the brambles? I could see some chalk to my right- over the notch in the chimney. “Just don’t die” I whispered as Emmie put me on belay and I began the ascent of pitch 2/4. I scrambled up the grassy slope and much to my delight, found a sling over a boulder. I scrambled a bit further and found the perfect ledge. Two sharp tugs of the rope and Emmie came on second. We consulted our photo again and still unsure if we were going the right way, we decided the only way is up. Tilly must have been aware of what was going on by this point because she kept looking down. We stroked her loads, filled her with treats and sang her praise- “You clever girl! You’re such a good girl Tilly!” Time for pitch 2 ½. The start of this climb was just a mantle boulder problem but with brambles in place of pads. Once I was stood on the ledge I was met with another steep layback and a fairly blank headwall with absolutely no feet. I stuck some gear in just for effect. Are we sure this is an HS? After I finally discoed my way up the crack I felt some momentary relief only to be met with more strenuous pulling and more awkward gear placement. The belay in sight, I came over an arête and realised we were at the top!? 2 pitches? Weren’t there supposed to be 4… I called Emmie from the top and told her I was on belay and maybe it was the end of the climb? Emmie struggled through the second pitch too and with my belay spot being out of sight she tells me she had a little meltdown and rested on the rope. But Tilly dog the climbing coach shuffled in the backpack and Emmie muscled through the blank section. We did want an adventure! Once she reached the top we had a wander around and realised that yes, this was in fact the actual top. Definitely didn’t do the HS. As we wandered down the descent path we saw a local climber we’d met in the car park. We asked him if he knew which route we were on and he said “Sounds to me like you were on The Plum! That’s an E1!” We’re still not entirely convinced it was E1 but we know it wasn’t HS- all we know is it was an adventure and the first sausage dog ascent of something!
Although we’d only climbed 2 pitches that day, the mental exertion took it out of us. We decided to park up by a nearby lake for the night. After Emmie took a quick dip in the lake (day 3 of no shower) we made a feast and ate our dinner with some roadside entertainment- a family having a dance party on top of the boulder to music blasting out of their cars. The view was gorgeous; it almost doesn’t look real in Snowdonia. Everywhere you look is a mountain, a river or a lake. But what we didn’t take into account is the midges by the water… So we locked ourselves in the van and enthusiastically made plans to be up at 7 to climb Snowdown. We woke up to the whistling wind and the van slowing rocking. Upon sliding open the van door our gorgeous view as gone and replaced fog and rain. No Snowdon for us. We packed our gear and started the 7 hour drive home.