It has been a while since I properly spent some time in Wales (we went back twice last year for a day of bouldering and a quick fire trek up Snowdon for the three peaks.) Not since I was coming to Wales every year with my Grandma and cousins have I spent more than a day in Wales and it was a brilliantly adventurous re-introduction which changed my outlook on this beautiful country.
For many years me and my brother used to get carted off down to North Wales with my Grandma and cousins in tow. If I am honest we used to mostly dread these week long “holidays” as our Grandma is somewhat of an authoritarian! Don’t get me wrong, we did have fun in the end and I do have some great memories from Prestatyn, Rhyl and Conwy. But I feel it left me with a slightly unfair impression of Wales. But on Sunday I left with a new found love and admiration of Wales and with plans already in the works for a return trip over summer!
We set off early down to Wales on the friday with plans of tackling an 8 pitch climb called “Grooved Arete” up the toweringly steep mountain that is Tryfan. If I am honest from the start I was a little nervous for this one having never done any multi pitch before and having only climbed around 30m previously. I knew it was going to be a challenge but I really don’t think I prepared myself for the realities of clinging to a rock 300m up!!
The walk in to the route was tiring enough and I questioned my lack of training and preparation for this weekend having been so distracted by travel and uni work, but on we pressed. At this point our only concern was actually locating the route in good time so as we wouldn’t be coming down in the dark.
As we arrived at the route and I started on the first few moves on the polished rock I knew this wasn’t going to be “the easiest climbing of our lives” as Ben had stated! Granted this was not the most difficult climbing but once the conditions and the bag on your back come in to play it is a little different to leading that 6b on the indoor wall. Credit to Ben for leading the whole thing, we had intended to lead a few pitches but once as the conditions became gradually worse and the belay ledges smaller we decided for our first multi pitch we would best to just second!
After around 3 pitches it really stated to rain heavily and the already polished rock became slippery and cold! Whilst wearing a harness, bag and trying to sort out heavily soaked ropes whilst perched on a precarious feeling ledge adjusting your clothing to keep you dry is not a priority!
The climbing and moves itself weren’t really all that hard although there are definitively a few stand out moves and pitches. One such move came when stepping out around a prow on the 5th (I think) pitch after around 35m of climbing which involved a high foot, two small pockets and a slap around a corner in the pouring rain… I was no longer disappointed with not leading!
Then came the infamous “Knight’s pitch” which on a nice day would probably not have looked so daunting as I glanced out across the soaking slab which appeared like a rocky slide into the abyss! This was probably the point in which I had some form of mini break down mid climb but somehow managed to pull myself together to basically campus across until I reached the puddle filled jugs! Disco foot was in full swing at this point and my fingers felt like useless stumps which made even the jugs feel like the most heinous crimps!
After the horrors of the knights pitch I was relived to see Ben just feet away, my relief was short lived as I found him on a hanging belay with only a tiny perch and rocky stake reserved for me!
At this point I did start to question what the hell I was doing and whether or not this had put me off climbing for good! I was eager to get off here and start climbing again and soon realised that once climbing I felt OK at that height, I guess looking down over a 400m+ drop for 20 minutes can really mess with your head!
On we pushed and by the time it was over I was really glad we had done it, despite considering phoning mountain rescue at one point, something which I now realised I will never hear the end of! The decent of the mountain itself was not straight forward being a scramble in itself and by the time we were down my knees has made their presence know! Once down we set up the tent in the dark and went off for some well deserved food and beers!
The forecast for Saturday was not brilliant and we knew we would be lucky to get some quality climbing done. We started off by having a look at “Little Tryfan” a slab standing at around 60-70m high. We got on a 2 pitch route to warm up and get a better idea about setting up a belay mid route before the heavens opened and we had to head back.
There are a lot of easy routes on here and the plan was to get up all of them and to get to grips with multi pitch a lot more. The thing which really struck me here was how low it felt, I was sat there on a similar sized ledge to the one on Tryfan with an equally small stake 35m up and felt totally OK. Maybe this being dropped in at the deep end stuff works after all!
After this and with showers and bright sky every 15 mins we decided to head down into Llanberris town. We popped in and out of the many climbing and outdoor shops and finally over to Pete’s eats for some lunch. There is a real climbing community feel to the town too which I loved.
Another thing I noticed which I haven’t on previous visits to Wales is the amount of people speaking Welsh, it is really great to see (or hear!) that they are keeping the language and culture alive.
After this we decided on going and having a look up at the slate quarries for some sport climbing. Me and shorty had never done any outdoor sport and non of us had ever climbed on slate so it was something we were keen to have a go at.
Getting to the crag itself proved a bit of a maze as well as a trek up some steep piles of slate. The quarries themselves were a real adventure and on the way up we had a little explore of some of the left over buildings and shafts. After coming back I realise “Snakes and Ladders” comes through here and will be a cool thing to do next time. The scenery and vastness of the quarry was worth the trek in itself and provided some amazing views.
Again as earlier on after all leading an easy climb just as Ben was showing us how to tie off at the chains it absolutely threw it down again. We waited it out a little while but the rock was soaked and slippy and with no sign of a break in the weather we headed off to the pub! What we all really got from this though was an enthusiasm for both slate and sport climbing. I found the slate to be an interesting rock to climb having some of the same qualities as the quarried grit I enjoy climbing back home.
We are planning our return trip to Wales for August bank holiday weekend and the slate quarries are top of our list and we have been scoping out some local sport crags too. What I found with this climb was that the height, 9m, felt pretty much like a boulder problem now and is similar to the 10m lead walls we climb in at our local wall which before now always felt moderately high!
On Sunday it was time for an early wake up call to get on the epic ridge over to Snowdon called “Crib Goch”. This is a classic scramble along a dangerously high and narrow edge. From how it had been described and it’s fearsome reputation I will admit to being a little nervous. On the initial scramble up it was quite windy and it felt pretty steep, but as soon as we stepped on to the ridge itself the wind died down and the views were amazing.
Crib Goch is a grade one scramble and much has been written about this legendary ridge as well as some well publicised deaths in the past few years. There are warning signs on the gate before you head up and in many guides have it classified as “Very Hard” and not for beginners.
Having said that we are not beginners and as climbers a scramble feels quite tame although this is something which requires a careful pace and full attention. The drops on either side are dizzyingly steep with death being an inevitable outcome from many so this is no place for complacency.
I do have to say though that at no point did I feel scared on this route. Once you get to grips with the conditions and the atmosphere up there it is a really enjoyable challenge and much more fun that hiking up the mountain.
We reached the summit of Snowdon in good time but unfortunately it was covered in low lying cloud. We took the Pgy track back down to Pen-Y-Pass and were done by 1PM! Lunch in Llanberris and on our way home after a challenging and adventure filled weekend.
So there you have it, a brilliant weekend in Wales in which we did many new things and pushed ourselves both physically and mentally as well as seeing some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen.
This weekend has taught me a lot about what climbing means to me. It’s not all about going indoors and trying the hardest problems over and over, it is about adventure and experience, exposure and fear, reaching summits and pushing your boundaries.