One of the things I look forward to most durning the year is the chance to go winter climbing. There is something about mountains coated in snow which adds to their mystique.
Niels and I had spotted a couple days on our rota where we were both off together and followed by a night shift so decided it looked a good opportunity to head away from, the currently very rainy, Wales in search of snow or dry rock. As the dates approached it became obvious it would be the former we’d be looking at so decided to head out for a first use of crampons on Britain’s highest mountain; Ben Nevis.
Work didn’t finish until 17:30 so by the time we were away it was bound to be a late one. Eventually we made it into the highlands passing many deer that had been drawn down near the road by cold winds and snow up high. This boded well for a route in the morning and helped keep me concentrating while driving. There’s nothing to make you slow nervously as a horned stag picked out in the distance by the headlights.
Pulling up into the north face car park we got three hours quick rest before a 5:00 alarm roused us and we started getting ready. By 6:00 we’d set off.
The walk in was uneventful apart from a very kind lady out on her morning jog who spotted my phone (that must have fallen from my pocket) and sped up the track after us. She reached us just before the CIC hut and handed me back my phone before heading back down with my eternal gratitude. Thank you again if you ever see this post.
At the CIC we donned our climbing gear and crampons with a friendly america couple who worked in Yosemite national park. They asked to join us, lacking a map and compass, and we were happy to ablidge. Our chosen route was the aptly named Ledge Route.
This route weaves its way up the flanks of Carn Derg; starting in number five gully before breaking right and onto the ledges and ridges that take you through spectacular scenery. A fun but not too taking way to the summit and really worth a day out. When we did it the bottom of number five felt a little prone to avalanche so to minimize this risk we headed onto the snow coated banks to its right. More technical then the gully itself these were still fun and the snow turned to perfect neve into which crampons and axes fell with confidence. After this a snowy traverse right and then heading up a snow field led us to the ridge proper which was stunning. It felt like a proper easy alpine exploration; especially so when the cloud cleared and the full view of the north face appeared. Tower Ridge and the Orion Face were plastered in rime looking like a badly iced cake.
We topped out and headed to the summit shelter with the cloud on top clearing every so often to offer fleeting glimpses of the view. A bit of messing around here before we decided to head down the knife edge ridge of Carn Mor Dearg (CMD) Arete. The ridge offered entertaining snowy plodding onto the top of CMD that was again shrouded in cloud and gave us a timely reminder just how careful you need to be in winter. The decent from CMD was rapid with some glissading easing the load on our knees.
That night we headed over to a bothy rather then put up a wet tent. It was a bit of a slog carrying in wood for the burner but worth it for the enjoyable roaring of a proper fire and somewhere dry to sit.
The following morning we headed back over to the cable car on Aonach Mor and set of down it’s western side to the aptly named western rib. A grade three, this would be stepping it up a notch from the day before.
The valley and walk in are fantastic and worth a visit even if you’re not into winter climbing. We broke trail following the footprints of Arctic Hare and Fox before we were caught by guided parties looking to do the classic route Golden Oldie.
Looking at the bottom. There was a fun looking ice runnel to the right of the usual start in the middle of the buttress. It was Niels turn to lead so he set off up this on lovely neve ice. Soon we’d made it to the ridge proper and enjoyed winding our way around rock spires and along snow aretes until it was all over with just enough time to make it to the cable car down and start a long drive home.
The week starting the 22nd of July was young persons week in the centre. This week comes with added responsibility of acting “en loco parentis” for all of the young people over each evening. Having heard some horror stories of knock knock ginger and fire alarms all night it wasn’t without a little trepidation as we waited for the week to start. To add to the angst my SPA Assessment started on the weekend immediately following. However, this would give me the perfect opportunity to build up to the assessment by shadowing several days single pitching with young people.
With this in mind I had a look at the courses running and saw that Katheryn Bromfield (an MIC, and now happily married as Katheryn James) was running one that fitted with the kind of thing I was hoping for. She was more then happy for me to come along and there was plenty of opportunity to get SPA stuff done during the week.
We started with a trip to the crags above Betws Y Coed. These are a great venue for groups as they are less popular then some of the more mountainous crags but still provide really good quality routes and solid rock. The day progressed with introducing belaying and trying a variety of routes to Kath and myself leading a pitch where we brought each of the group up on a top rope – giving them an experience of what climbings all about.
The second day started with some bouldering at Casig Fraith (Willie’s as it’s affectionately known) which everyone seemed to enjoy before consolidating some of the skills from the previous day with more top rope sessions. Finally we introduced placing gear and building belays as something a bit different for the group to look at.
Wednesday was a bit of a different day out. We’d decided to head to the infamous Lockwoods Chimney. This is an adventure through some rocky and wooded terrain before heading into a great cleft in the mountain that’s protected from the outside world by a boulder. Squirming your way up this you pop out at the top of the crag for a full 60m free hanging abseil back to the start. We had two other instructors join us for the day (Mo and George) so in order to keep a group of this size moving we decided to rig this adventure up as a clip line with two “top rope” sections for the harder steps. This worked well with us each rotating positions to either de-rig behind the last person, setup the line ahead or man one of the top ropes. Soon we were at the top of the crag and setting up the abseil into space.
Everyone seemed to have had a really fun time. Unfortunately that was the end of my time with the group as the next two days I was in the kitchen helping out. Still plenty learnt and I’d like to thank Kath for letting me help out on those days.
That brings me to my SPA assessment. This was with Dave Evans, a big character in the North Wales scene and another MIC. He did a good job of making us relaxed and the days flew by with a good balance of testing out or skills and assessing while still providing little tips to improve us as instructors. At the end of the course I cam out with a good pass.
The good weather continued and I was on the rota as a Mountain Instructors Award (MIA) mock student. This was the first day of their assessment and is described as a “personal climbing day” where the aspirant instructors need to demonstrate the ability to climb VS 4c multipitch routes. I was Calum Muskett’s mock student; one of the cleaners at the Brenin. He had recently just got back from climbing arguably Wale’s hardest route, one called Indian Face on Clogwyn Du’r Arddu, so testing his ability to climb VS 4c was a bit of a forgone conclusion. I guess the question would be how much harder would he want to climb.
We set off on the way to Idwal Slabs and discussed what we’d look at doing in the bus. The first objective would be Rowen Tree Slabs, an e2 on the right hand side of the crag. This was to be followed by Javelin Blade, an e1 that starts above Rowen Tree. After that we’d see what else to get on.
Setting off it was very apparent that Calum was an experience and very good climber. He easily ran up the first route in what must have been less then 10 minutes before it was our turn on the first pitch. We followed up on delicate holds with plenty of fine climbing up the slab. The second pitch was less memorable then the first but still good climbing on clean rock. After this a brief scramble and an abseil later we were at the belay for Javelin Blade. This is an incredible route for when it was first done, featuring run out balancy climbing up a beautiful arete. It’s now on my hit list to go back and lead.
At the top of this we ab’ed down again this time so Calum could do a demo lead with lots of runners on the VS Javelin Buttress. Another classic route and again fun and absorbing climbing. Finally we topped of the day by quickly pottering up the HVS Continuation Crack. Hard at the grade this is another good looking line on the middle of the continuation wall above the main slabs.
The following day was lovely and sunny again but many days of continuous climbing was beginning to take it’s toll on my body so I was looking for something easier to do. Dan and a couple of the others were keen on a slate quarry adventure called Snakes and Ladders. This is a day out climbing the old ladders and sliding through the old mine shafts to wind your way around the slate mines above Llanberis. To start we went down to the “pan pipes” section near Dali’s Hole. This is where drilling in the rock has left holes of different depths that, when hit, play a musical note. We messed around for a bit composing some songs before continuing on into Dahli’s hole.
Skirting around the dry quarry bay, through some tunnels and into the next bay we found “The Chain” a giant metal chain which dangles from a cave above where you hope it’s well attached. Dan was eager to lead up this and dispatched it quickly hand over hand. I opted to go last so I could make sure everyone made it up ok. When it came to my turn I quickly found the rhythm needed to climb it. Mainly this involved using the middle two fingers locked into a chain loop while the rest was pinched with the rest of the hand. A pull up was then made to reach the highest next chain link possible before rinsing and repeating.
The next few sections involved walking in and around the quarry’s passed some deserted huts until our first ladder. This was precariously perched on top of a pile of slate at a jaunty angle. I set of up this first and dropped a sling down over the top so the others had a helping hand on the trickiest section. This started a run of other ladders as we wound in and around the quarries. This was followed by a squeeze through some tunnels and more ladder climbing before we finally abseiled down into The Lost World. This aptly named other worldly venue contains a “mountain” bothy where it would be possible to spend a night. We weren’t doing this though so instead continued up the ever longer ladders until we’d made it to the death bridge. This also looked too aptly named so we skirted around it and finished our day long tour.
Arriving back at the centre, Mike Raine intercepted me at tea and cakes to ask if I’d be ok taking a couple of the OTIS ladies out for a navigation day. Some brief planning ensued and I decided to head up Moel Siabod the following day. Rhys also joined me to get some more consolidation in before his Mountain Leader assessment. It turned out to be another scorcher of a day so it was nice and pleasurable to spend the first part doing a couple legs in the trees before setting a difficult leg for Rhys to try and finally some legs leading us to the top. The view was stunning and a quick look at the watch meant there was time for another round of legs each before making it back to the centre. It was really enjoyable getting the chance to work as an instructor and work a full day.
I was on night porter while Rhys and Niels were both off and the weather was stunning again. Niels also had Henry over so there where four of us looking to climb. With the weather having been so good for the previous week and a bit there was only one real choice of venue to go to – Cloggy.
Quickly packing our rucksacks, and driving to Llanberis we were heading back up the familiar Snowdon tourist trail before breaking right to head to the base of Cloggy itself. There was only one team on it this time and they were on great bow so we’d finally have the chance to get on white slab. The description of the first pitch is somewhat unnerving, “step up and delicately traverse the lip”. From talking to a couple of others who had done the route I new that this would be hard to protect. Particularly to make sure the second was safe.
This turned out to not be as bad as I’d feared. The hardest move was the initial committing step after that the difficulties began to ease. We had decided to run the first two pitches as one as apparently this is commonly done and we had a time limit. The second pitch is a long, technical 30 meter slab and arete climb. I started up the delicate absorbing climbing that remained continuously interesting until a resting place on the arete appeared at a good spike. From this point I couldn’t remember the description however I new I needed to head left to the belay at some point. Looking right a thin seem of chalked holds was visible where as left looked like a steep groove (also looking climbable). Figuring how busy the route had been recently I guessed the key holds would be chalked so left the security of my ledge and started out rightwards. The seem wasn’t as good as I hoped with the only place for gear also the only hand hold. I looked back but by this stage the delicate moves out would be hard to reverse so I was committed. Wrapping my thumb onto a slightly dimple in the rock and crimping my fingers over it I set off shouting watch me to Rhys below. Quickly and precisely stabbing my foot up onto the delicate smeary holds for a deep rockover to the next small edge. More thin climbing followed for two or three moves before I reached a horizontal break in the slab and could head safely around the arete to the belay. I’ve since learned that this variant pitch on the route goes at e4 (a much harder grade than the original) and has historically been done by accident before including a notable solo ascent by Jonny Dawes.
Thankfully the next pitch was easier. Heading back out along the narrow break it’s possible to lasso a spike for some protection before a further sequence leads to easier ground. The Lasso didn’t go to plan but compared to the difficulty and run out moves on the previous pitch this one went without any alarm. That left three more pitches of technical but easier climbing to the top. Time by this point was running tight so we tired to up the pace but unfortunately I had to call in a favour to get someone to cover the early part of the evening shift.
Tired from the previous days exertions and with the air being very hot, almost too hot for climbing on all but the highest mountain crags we decided to come up with an alternative plan. Looking through various guides we came across “The Tubes” a section of the Conwy where the rock walls narrow and form steep rock walls with funky shapes to climb on where if you fall you just land in the pools below. On arrival the area looked severely overgrown however unperturbed by this we soon had a path down to the water and had made our way down. The area itself was like a film set. Clean smooth walls with all sorts of funky shapes and dropping moss hiding holds. Soon we were swinging around and splashing down or relaxing in the dappled sunshine watching dragonfly’s scoot by. A very fun way to spend a hot day “resting”.
The heat wave continued the following day and Becky had popped up to join me in wales so we were looking for a classic to go and get on. What better route to pick than a “usual wet” route called Black Spring which was by now bone dry. This route features really nice pocket pulling on the first pitch with some entertaining but doable moves leading up to the sloping belay. Well worth getting on.
The next day I was in the kitchen from 15:00 so needed to have a short morning climbing. We decided on Clogwyn Bochlwyd in the ogwen. This is a really nice single pitch venue with a variety of interesting climbs. We did Bochlwyd Eliminate and two pitch route. The later lead by Becky in fine style.
This week started with my legs needing a rest. The sun was beating down so we went to look at a crag but in the end decided a swim in the sea was the kind of rehab needed. For some reason nothing allows you to rest quite like lying on sand or swimming in the sea while having ice creams. As if that wasn’t enough water related fun we went for a splash round in the lake on the stand up paddle boards (like giant surf boards you paddle while stood on).
Tuesday was time to get back on it though. Both me and Neils were off and Cloggy was definitely the place to be. We headed up there straight after breakfast and spotted Caff on his brief redpoint of Indian Face. Our intended target was white slab, but again there were people on it and Great Wall looked properly appealing. Being e4, it was well above anything I’d lead before so I opted to second Neils and see how the moves went. As it turned out it was really enjoyable. All the moves felt really solid and really good with some hard foot dabs and sequences being the key to unlocking the first pitch up to the semi-hanging belay. I debated leading the second but the “scarily run out” description stopped me. I didn’t want to take another lead fall my second time on cloggy so again I’d follow Niels as he powered through the moves. This pitch actually had good gear but a slightly damp hold and some greasy pulls made it feel a touch more precarious then the first. Still amazing climbing though and a route I definitely intend to go back a lead at some point soon. We followed this with perhaps the “sketchy-est” past of the day where we “scrambled” around to The Axe, another classic cloggy e4. Unfortunately we’d timed this as Caff set off on his lead of Indian Face so didn’t see it however it’s pretty amazing to be on the same piece of rock at the same time as such a legendary route got lead for the first time in a decade.
Back to the Axe; for those that don’t know, this is a classic hanging arete on the pinnacle above Cloggy’s Great Wall and forms the cover of the current edition of North Wales Rock. I won’t describe the route in too much detail to blow anyone’s onsights but needless to say it was an amazing and pumpy climb. None of the moves were super hard but boy was it sustained! Coming off the top we plodded back down feeling thoroughly worked but pleased with what must be one of the best days of e4 ticking possible in the UK. Next time I’ll have to go and lead both routes.
A kitchen shift and the previous days exertions lead to using the following day as a rest day. Though I did some paddling in the evening again to keep practicing so I’d be ready for my level one coach qualification by the time September comes round.
Thursday was another kitchen shift day but this time I headed to Idwell with Jen to introduce here to the slabs. We swang leads on our way up Hope, Lazerous and The Arete unforutnately moving slightly too slowly for the full classic rock tick of Grey Slab as well before the midges came out. It was however really good fun and a thoroughly worth wile day.
Friday I was rota-ed onto a night porter shift. This meant I had until 17:00 to get something done. Ant was also free and despite being in wales for a year hadn’t climbed on the Cromlech (he had only started climbing as he started the Center Assistant scheme). This needed to be addressed and what better way to do it then the classic Cemetery Gates. This did prove a little too much for Ant however so I took over leading as he lowered off two moves before the ledge, spent. Having done this route many times before I enjoyed the cruse up familiar holds in the amazing surroundings. Ant managed to second the route ok and I believe now has it high on his tick list to get back on. After abing down it was my turn to get on a route I’d been saving for many years. The famous Left Wall. this route is infamously pumpy and often descibed as a long pitch of french 6b+ climbing but on traditional gear. Having heard all this I resolved not to stop too often to place gear (possible on almost any move) but instead to stop only when I could find a way to get as much weight on my feet as possible.
Setting off up the wall the climbing was amazing, some of the best and most consistent nice and not too hard moves I’ve experienced on rock anywhere. Before I knew it I was on the last rest before the crux and could spy the moves out up the thin crack. Having little fingers and managing to spy a couple feet I didn’t think it would be too bad. Wiggling in a little wire as high as I could I set off. It felt good and soon lead to the decision straight up or break out left. I opted for out left both because I hadn’t expected to get here with as much energy left so hadn’t mentally psyced myself up for the harder varient and I wanted to experience the final moves as they’d been done when such and amazing climb was first put up. A little woop and I was over and at the belay.
Saturday continued with the amazing sunshine and Niels was off again so we headed up to the classic e1 on Dfwys Ddu called The Grooves. This was another Joe Brown classic and described as seldom dry on the first pitch. I lead this and it was bone dry making the climbing really fantastic. The second pitch proved harder then it looked with plenty of jams and bridging required to make steady progress then as we got to the top we realised we’d need to queue to do the standard finish so instead opted to do Overhanging Arete instead. It was my turn to lead and was my second e2 of the week. Feeling strong from my performance on left wall I committed to the outrageous moves up the hanging jugs 150m above the ground. Spectacular climbing in the truest sense of the word.
Sunday we were both off again and this time went to Plexus Buttress of Dinus Mot. A lump of Dolerite amongst the Rhyolite of the rest of the pass; this crag provides some multipitch routes that would feel out of place on the gritstone crags of the peak. We set of up a particularly perplexing e2 called Ten Degrees North that features an insecure bridge, back and foot, press move at the crux on the second pitch. I lead the first and third pitches enjoying the balance required to break out onto the slab as well as the bold arete crack climbing to turn the arete on the third. Beautifully varied and absorbing. We followed this up with Plexus itself. An enjoyable e1 this was filled with a mix of delicate slab climbing bridging and stepping through roofs. A fitting end to probably my most successful week of climbing ever.
July started with a week of showery weather. This felt both unusual given the luck we’d had with the weather since starting and a bit welcome as it provided the perfect excuse for some much needed rest.
Not wanting to give up on the climbing entirely we headed north to the sea side at Llandudno; both on Monday and Tuesday, getting a couple of good routes done. The highlight being a 6c+ called Under The Boardwalk. This is a beautiful combination of positive sidepulls and grove climbing with a slopey last few moves to the loweroff. Really worth doing if you’re in the area. Some of the time up there was also spent in the cave working the left wall traverse which I only managed once fully linked up. Definitely more stamina / power work required to get to the level where I can lap on it and get some real training benefit. That will become an obvious goal for the winter.
Wednesday proved a busy reception day however this gave the body plenty of time to recover and I continued this by watching a film in the evening rather then the usual bout of activity.
Thursday started with a showery morning forecast followed by some sun. Having had a day off I was starting to get withdrawal symptoms from not climbing for a day so we headed over to a little known crag on the flanks of Moel Siabod called Craig Y Tonnau – literally “rippled rock”. This crag features a rather unique geology with the most similar rock I can think of being Dartmoor Granite (it isn’t however a Granite). Worth a visit for the budding geologist. We setup a few different rigs; releasable ab, top rope, bottom rope in the rain before then sun came out and allowed us to do a bit of actual climbing. It was a useful preparation day before my spa assessment.
The forecast was better on Friday and I was on a night porter shift so had until five to make the most of it. Having scoped out Clogwyn y Ddysgl previously after climbing main wall but not having time to do any routes on it I was keen to head back up there and get some more done. We parked up in the pass and headed up via the scramble on the side of Diffws Ddu to the cwm. Unfortunately the line I was hoping to climb was damp so instead we decided on a dry looking climb called The Ring. climbing the first two pitches of this was nice with the climbing not to hard and the rock amazingly grippy, I guess having avoided the mass of climbing that lower crags in the pass had succumb to. By pitch three it was apparent we wouldn’t be able to follow the exact line of the route as a river of seepage was flowing down the crux pitch. Consulting the guide gave us the option of a diff out to the right described as unpleasantly loose, abseiling off, or picking our own alternative way up. It was obvious which one would provide the most fun. Looking at the crag it seemed we’d be able to do a pitch just to the left of the Diff before followed a quartz vain round an arete back onto the perched block belay of the original line. Dan set off up the innocuous looking first section but soon belayed having got a bit scared of the lack of gear on the break out left along the quartz. I took over and set off along the traverse managing to wiggle in two small cams before a few more moves left me needing to make a committing rock over onto the hanging arete. This was really good fun and if you’re into committing airy moves I’d recommend it. The top pitches we then had to rush up in a blur as time was beginning to drag on and my 5pm deadline was looming. Eventually we topped out around 15:50 and I then sped off as fast as I could to get down in time. This just about went making certainly one of my fastest descents off.
Beautiful sunny weather greeted us the following morning and a plan was quickly hatched to do another long mountain day. This time an HS on Lliwedd called Paradise / Black Arete. Like the other route I’ve done on Lliwedd this has a real mountaineering feel to it complete with loose rock and sparse protection. I suspect this would be a bit of a nightmare in mixed weather but in the glorious weather we had this proved to be a fun day out. We topped out with just enough time that jogging down allowed a quick dip in the refreshingly cool Llyn Llydaw.
Sunday was a day spent in stores with the evening being spent practicing paddling stokes working further towards my two star.
The Monday morning started off damp as the previous evening had been. This put paddling rather then climbing on the agenda. The group was Alice, Dan, Jake, Matt, and myself. We dropped Dan’s car with roof bars down near the ugly house then headed off from the centre.
We started by playing around in “The Pool”, an area of the river just below the ski slope. This has “The Shoot” which is a little area of faster flowing water including a bit of a wave to surf on. A few tips and a bit more used to the boats we started to head down the river. The first section we’d covered previously. It was fun to give it another go and see if I could make a better line through it having learned more about paddling in the mean time.
This did go really well with less rock bashing and not almost capsizing when I “eddied out”. We then had a play around “ferry gliding” across the flow and trying to hit small eddies as practice for lower down the river. After a few attempts I was just about getting the hang of it so tried a steeper turn but messed up and got capsized (swim one). A bit of faff later I was back in the boat. We headed down to the next set of rapids and eddies. This time there’s a bit of a loop around a rock in the middle of the flow that provided it was approached correctly allowed some wave surfing We must have spent a good half hour playing about on this, practicing different strokes and edging to try surf the wave or “eddie out”. This proved really good fun and again I found my limit when I tried to paddle over the wave without full commitment and ended up pinned on the rock – I could support myself here but had no way of moving the boat so capsized again (swim two). A few more goes and I managed it again before we headed down the river again.
The next section was nice and flowy with a mixture of easy shallow rapids and calm sections of water. That was until we came across the first drop. This was just before the Cobdens We got out of our boats to have a look at the flow and watched Jake go down it like the pro he is. A little bit of advice and we had to choose to go down it. “Launch off the tongue of water with a strong right stroke then let the flow carry you.”
Alice was first to say lets go and the rest of us soon followed. Paddling down to the staging eddie, the drop looked pretty innocent. However, having previously looked we all new there was more to it. When my turn came up the words strong right stroke were ringing in my ears as I set off. It was quickly over paddle hard to the top, one heavy right stroke just on the lip and ride it down. Lots of fun and I even avoided a swim this time.
We walked around Cobdens then a little further on around Pont Coffin, Dan and Jake paddled them both which was very impressive to watch. The rest of the river proved fun but simpler with flat areas to practice strokes and gentile, shallow rapids to practice hitting eddies on. It was soon over.
At the get out it was entertaining to watch Jake show us how 5 kayaks can be stacked on a car, admittedly only for the short journey back to the centre.
During the evening I got a call from Fi and Si saying they’d be in Wales the next couple days. This was a shock as I thought Fi was in New York and Si was in Australia! Anyway it would be fun to see them and catch up.
So the following day started out with a kitchen shift. After finishing this we headed back up to Craig Yr Ysfa for a rematch with the E2 I’d forgotten rock shoes for last time we were up this way. The walk seemed quicker this time though still not the “short walk in” I’d secretly been hoping for when Niels came up to me saying “fancy a climb?”. I brought poles to help out my playing up ankle and we arrived at the foot of the climb just in time for the sun to come off it. Luckily it was so warm that it didn’t matter. Unluckily the midges were out though. So looking more like someone prepared to rob a bank (a buff on the face did stop them getting into my eyes) I started belaying Niels up the first pitch. He set off up the dark wall above looking like he was climbing smoothly though I couldn’t see clearly because of my masked face. What seemed like an eternity of bites on my hands and ankles later I heard the welcome call of “Safe” and it was my turn to set off.
At about this time the breeze picked up slightly and the midges disappeared, thankfully. What followed was some of the best climbing I’ve done. The initial wall is technical but all the holds arrive just as you need them though they still require good body positioning to make the most of them. the initial moves of the deck felt powerful and then you gain a slanting crack system. This succumbs to a combination of laybacks, outside edges and flagging moves. further up this turns into more wall style climbing before returning to crack style moves with a final sting in the tail just before the belay. My pitch was then a short linking pitch over some steep wet grass, nothing to write home about before Niels set of again up the third pitch. This proved to be a tricky groove / corner climb with some strange contortions required to get up it. Short lived but fun. Then it was my turn again for the long crux pitch. The start of which involved some very delicate bridging with not great gear until you reach a jug after which the gear arrives and the climbing changes to a layback / bridging crack system with sustained interest. Swinging around on the pinnacle to reach the upper slab gives a fun exit and pleasant climbing to the top.
Fi and Si were somewhere near milestone buttress at this point so we swung by there on the way back. spotting them after a bit of looking (they weren’t on the main crag) we all then headed back to the Brenin for some food and a well earned nights rest.
The following morning I was in the kitchen again so I left Fi and Si to make there own plans and headed that way. By this point my ankle was complaining again so figured I’d use this as a bit of a rest day and take it easy once I’d finished work. Carlo had also called a meeting to discuss booking onto courses which is pretty exciting news for a Centre Assistant as this forms one of the main reasons for taking the job (the other main reason being the stunning locations to get stuff done in). After the meeting a couple of the others setup a slack line but my ankle didn’t want me to play on it and then we went for a quick boulder at the RAC to stretch the muscles.
Thursday started with a damp and showery scene in the mountains though it looked passible towards the coast so we headed to Tremadog. Unfortunately the dry weather there was short lived and we only managed a couple first pitches under the trees and overhangs before heading back to the centre. While pondering what to do Helen suggested we go out in the kayaks on “the pond” with her. She’s a qualified coach and a really good in a boat so we jumped at this oppertunity and got kitted out and on the water. After some paddling arround practicing more of the basic strokes we headed down a short section of the river to “Jim’s Bridge” (I’ve no idea who Jim is). This section is nice and crusy with a little rapid at the end to test out what we’d leard during the day. I’d done it a couple times before and enjoyed refining my “line” and strokes.
More rain the following day meant we carried on where we’d left off the day before and got straight back on the water – this time in Canoes. These are funny craft, initially they seem simple but then you realise you’ve got to learn a dozen more strokes to control them and that that kneeling isn’t comfortable on knees when you can’t get the whole lower leg section straight. Helen thankfully made things simple again with some good quality instruction showing us how to control the boats in all sorts of directions without constantly swapping paddle sides. Helping me progress from what I’d picked up on my previous days in canoes since starting at the centre. This time we spent most of the day practicing strokes and leanring new bits before Fi and Si had to depart.
With the weekends arrival came the sun and now that my spa was only a few weeks away it felt like time to get some more group work experience in so I volenteered to help three of last years Centre Assistants with the “adventure day” they were running. We headed over to “The Pinnacles” a crag a few minutes walk from the centre. This is an ideal group venue with some easy boulders at the bottom to get used to moving on rock followed by several easy lines up the slab. We started off with some bolder walking and hopping before introducing a few different games. Next we setup three seperate routes and got them “bell ringing” in groups of three so they were all entertained while climbing. This took up the remained of the morning and unfortunately I then had to head to the kitchen. Keeping up with the paddling theme I headed out on the lake again in the evening with Helen and Becky working towards getting my two star signed off.
Sunday started again on the water, this time with Alice who was keen to get out in her boat having recently padded it out to get a better fit. We did more stroke practice and some edging and support strokes. By this point I’m feeling a lot more confident in a boat and ready for the start of July.
This last week has been a fun mixed bag of work and play. The first two days all the new center assistants (myself included) got put through a REC First Aid course. This teaches you the basics of first aid with an emphasis on the outdoor enviroment. Topics covered include CPR, Bleeding, Common ailments such as asma diabeatise, or anaphalaxis as well as a section on trearge. The course also has a heavy element of scenario’s where you play both the part of the casualty and first aider; though not at the same time. This was followed by two days off then a session on working with young and vunrable people focusing around abuse. This was my first time at such a session and it was quite intresting, particularly the praticle element where the instructor got us to give each other a hug while making us feel initially uneasy using commands such as “stand toe to toe with the person next to you”, “look them in the eye”, “put your hands on their shoulders”, “run them down their backs to the small of their back”, then – after a long pause – “give them a hug”. Seems very strange not knowing what’s happening next and as he pointed out following the instructions of a complete strange just because of some assumed athority. During the week I also did my first ‘sleep in’ night porter shift. This all went smoothly with no alarms sounded, thankfully.
During my evenings and off days I also managed to get a mix of stuff done. Monday started well with the really nice “western rib” on Dinus Mot being climbing by myself and Rhys in the evening. This is now one of my favourite HVS’s featuring lovely varied climbing up the slabs and walls of The Mot in the evening sunshine. The climbing varies from delicate to pumpy and is pretty sustained throughout. Well recommended. It was time to pull hard again on Tuesday evening where Niels and I headed over to the Grochan. We did First Amendment (e2 5c), Kaisergebirge Wall (HVS 5b) and Quasar (e3 6a); where I had to rest on the rope for the later due to getting the sequence wrong a couple of times. They’re all great climbs though and we would have stayed out longer but for the arrival of the dredded midges.
On the first of my days off (the Wednesday) we headed up to Diffwys Ddu to complete the classic rock route “Main Wall”. Asside from the slightly loose and run out but still enjoyable first pitch it was easy to see why the climb got it’s classic status. I got the lead for the last three pitches and these turned out to be the best of the bunch with brilliant arete and slab climbing in a beautiful situation. We also had a look at the crags of Clogwyn y Parson above and main of the lines looked brilliant unfortunately Niels had to be back for a hours work at the centre though so we didn’t managed to get a route done on them. Our evening wasn’t wasted though as we did some “pulling hard” practice bouldering around the Cromlech and lapping on one of the traverses there to tire the muscles out.
The weather didn’t bode as well the following day with strong winds and horizontal rain blowing in the mountains. Still having some psyc we headed up to the coast and found a couple dry caves to shelter in. At one of these caves we managed to climb on of the strangest routes I’ve climbed in a while. It was a tufa fest but also covered in green something to make it a bit slippery with added objective danger from dive bombing pidgeons. It did prove good fun though. We were also joined in the same cave by John Dunn providing some good pointers and a demonstration of just how good technique can be.
The morning before both the young persons course and a night porter shift we headed down the road to pont coffin (not to self: check this is the right name). Here I watched a few of the other run a 10 foot drop and then jumped of another point into the same pool. I’m not great at jumping into things so this was probably the scariest thing I’d done since ariving at the center. The advice of “aim for the white stuff, it’s soft” worked a treat and it proved a fun way to pass the morning. I resolved to do more of the same in the future to get rid of my irrational fear (and allow me to make better rational judgements about such things).
Again with bad weather in the mountains we headed for the coast on saturday morning before my sleep in night porter shift. We only through a rope in just in case the sport climbs were dry in fact the sun was out so after some warm up bouldering we jumped on a couple routes. I was imediately pumped on the 6c I should have been easily crusing – obviously a sign that the continuous activity was getting to my energy reserves and that the lack of training was making me weak. Both things I’d need to address soon. Luckily an enfored rest day was happening on the sunday with all day spent behind the desk. A fun week.
The forcaste for week four wasn’t as nice as the previous weeks and my body was feeling pretty distoryed from weeks on contunuous climbing – not that I’m complaining! So this week turned out to be a week of introductions to paddling.
It started on the monday (10th) with a “General” shift. This turned out nicely as a morning / lunchtime was spent in the bar being trained. This being something I’d never done before I found it really quite enjoyable. There’s something very satisfying about standing behind a bar and pulling a pint for someone. Dave was an excellent tutor and had me up to speed in no time. My bar shift then ended at 14:00 so I headed over to stores as there was a rumour they needed a hand. This was true and I was soon put to work helping to repair the bang plate on one of the canoe fleet. Again this proved fun and reminded me of model making as a kid. By 17:00 we were finished and I had a quick chat with Alice who conviced me it was a good idea to take a canoe out by myself. This was in fact a very good idea with Alice underplaying her teaching skill and actually showing me loads on how to control the boat. We did some figure of eights around rocks and even “reverse parking” if you can call it that in a canoe.
Tuesday and wednesday were both days off with plenty of rain meaning the rivers were full and climbing was out of the question (unless I wanted to practice being a troglodite by finding a cave to climb in). With a few of us needing to get as much time in kayaks and canoes as we could so that we could work towards our two stars one of last years CA’s and an expert kayak coach offered to take us out on the lake and teach us a bit about paddling. The wind was really blowing but the boat shed was luckily sheltered behind a headland so we could launch and get used to the boats. Having been out with Alice the day before I strated praticing my ‘J’ Strokes etc and soon got the hang of it in the sheltered bay. It was a different matter out in the wind though. the “correction” part of the stroke didn’t seem needed anymore as the wind would do that for you. Some of my sailing background did help though as trimming the canoe and traveling at what would be “close hauled” in a dingy allowed some progress to be made up the lake. More tuition later we were all moving about happily in the wind (although not without a fair amount of effort). We decided it was time to get back and find out what the soup of the day was so rafted up and used one of the canoes as a sail, racing back down the lake very rapidly. it was a good fun morning with lots learnt.
After soup, and with plenty of time left on our hands we decided a trip to “The Beacon” climbing wall was needed to find out just how weak lots of trad climbing had made us. It turned out fairly weak was the answer as the 6b’s were feeling pretty pumpy but the moves were feeling straight forward.
The following morning had a similar outlook so while hanging out in the bar we bumped into Pete Catterall (one of the insturtors here). He was heading out with a school group to the Afon Ddu for some gorge scrambling with Sid and invited us along. Having not done this before I thought it would be a great opertunity to see how one of the best in the business does it so jumped at the chance (along with fellow Center Assistant Rhys). Kit was – warm clothes we didn’t mind getting wet in, old trainers and waterproofs (to stop any windchill and provide protection) as well as warm clothes to swap into back back at the bus. The group was really good with all the kids being well behaved, super positivie and able on their feet. They had come up from Surrey for the week as an after exam break to learn some other life skills and have a bit of fun. The gorge itself is easy to get to with a short five minute walk from the car part taking you to it. We started with some boulder hopping to get used to moving around on the damp slipper rocks before a climbing traverse section (with spotters for submerged rocks) again with a close eye to see who was moving well and who might struggle later. Further on up the gorege we came to a feature called the Elephants Arse. This is a spout that comes out of two rocks you can scramble up between. To make this easier a rope was speedily setup and dropped down with a few knotted hand holds made. more scrambling and rope work later we were at the plunge pool at the top and having never been there before I was reliably informed that it was compulsory to jump in. Rhys being braver then I am went first and did it in style. I followed with less aplomb but enjoyed it in the end. tromping back down the steep road dripping from head to toe.
Bumping into Josie (another Center Assistant) back at the center she invited me to a rolling pool session so I could learn more kayak handling skills. This proved really useful; giving me a bit more confidence when tipped upside down. I managed a couple roles with my paddle supported but couldn’t do them without. A bit more practice needed i think.
The next day still had rain and was down as a staff training day so we all headed along to the morning meeting to see what was in store for us. Carlo (our boss and the Chief Instrutor here) had a suprise for us and told us to kit up for a mountain day but with a harness, two eight foot slings, a couple screwgates and waterproof clothing. He also picked up a rack and rope from stores before we all bundled into a minibus. Heading off down the flanks of Snowdon we pulled up by Nant Gwynant powerstation to be informed we’d be heading up the infamous Lockwood’s Chimnee, named after the caretaker of the powerstation who first ascended it of that name. Calling this route a climb would be a misnomer with much of the route being more an expedition over tree covered ledges through midge infested temporal rainforest until you reach a ‘passage’ into the heart of the mountain. Squirming your way up this you then pop out into the air above the cliff face before absieling back down to the bags 50 meters below. On a wet day this made a fantastic expedition with plenty of ammusement as we each took it in turn squezzing up through the cleft. The whole round trip got us back to the centre for 14:00 so we had abit of time to play about in the rain with Kayaks being the order of the day. With the “rivers running” there would just be enough time for a few of us to head down the short section to Jim’s Bridge before lugging our kayaks back. This was really good fun and my first taste of white water.
Paddling the river was fairly straight forward though needed some getting used to being sent in a direction by the flow of the water (up until that point all my paddling had been on still water). We learned a bit about “ferry crossing” the flow of the river and how to escape the flow by looking for eddies that act as islands of safety. Darting through the rapid under Jim’s bridge was an experience having to link both paddling different lines and negotiation a couple of obsticles on the way. Lugging our boats back up was also an experience but of a very different kind – I definitely need to get some shoulder padding for next time. Back at the centre the little rapid was running so we messed about for another couple hours paddling into it to see how to manover and control the boat. A few capsizes and much halarity later we were begining to get the hang of it but were very tired and food was on the horizen so we packed up.
The following day I was a mock student for a level two canoe and kayak coach assessment. This envolved three assessee each taking it in turn to teach us a new level of skill with the boats. First up was Ant (one of last year’s center assistants). This may sound stupid, but it’s not as bad as it sounds, he taught us to go in a straight line. This is actually harder then it seems and to be perfected requires good control of the core muscles as well balance in the boat. The second assessee then introduced us to turning the boat starting with sweep turns and moving on to leaning. With the final assessee we covered more of the same and started to introduce tighter or wider turns. After lunch we swapped to canoes. Given wind conditions, pairing up was the order of the day. Plenty more strokes were taught including pry, draw, bow rudder and off side bow rudder. Finally there was the rescue so we all ended up getting wet capsizing the canoes.
When I got back Becky arrived and we optimistically headed out bouldering (given it had been dry for about twenty minutes) unfortunately it rained as we arrived so one problem down we headed indoors for some more unfortunately I tweaked a finger on the second problem so had to call it a day early on.
Saturday was a night porter day and wet in the hills so we headed down to Tremadog climbing a couple routes before heading back to the centre. We did a route I thought quite hard for severe and continuing the theme of slightly esoteric routes it involved asending a tree at one stage. Then went and did a pitch of a route that’s definitly hard for severe involving some delicate moves with little gear on polished holds. Not for the faint hearted.
Sunday was unfortunately a reception shift but afterwards I managed to get out on milestone butress for a lead pitch by becky and then some moving at speed with scrambling techniques in the rain and midges. Throughly tested we raced back for some food. Unfortunately Becky then had to head off to get back to work on monday.
Another fine week of weather saw plenty more fun taking place.
The week started with customer service training. This involved a day spent between reception and one of the class rooms which was decked out with computers learning the process and computer system. It was a hot day and unfortunately the content was quite dry though the team teaching us did their best to make it entertaining and give us breaks. With the long evenings and both Niels and I keen to get to some of the rarer visited crags with long walk in’s we headed over to Llechog with a classic link up of Zarquon Resurrection Erection (E2 5c ***) the first two pitches being really good but quite broken between them. The theme for the climb was “sideways” as when asked what the climbing was like on the first pitch that was my responce. The reason being the whole butress slants at an angle and all the natural features in the rock follow this giving it all a balancy feel like you’re on an arete despite much of the time being on slabs. The crux pitch was lead in style be Niels. It involved delicate footwork and good finger locks on grippy rock. Being the last pitch, those wanting to get the best of the route on a short timescale you could ab in and enjoy the climbing. Our walk down was in the dark with a phone call ahead to Rhys to save our salads from being locked up overnight. (Thanks again – it would have been a very hungry evening without your help).
The second day of customer service training went very quickly as we’d managed to cover most of content on the first day. This meant we had a bit of time until lunch and a slackline session seemed like a fun way to pass the time while remaining about the centre in case we were needed (as requested by Carlo our boss). Of particular fun was a session with Harry the handy man (an ex wrestler, an all round nice guy) having a go at the “harry potter” where you lie down on the line like it’s a broom stick and get wobbled like your flying by everyone else. It should be pointed out now that Harry’s in 60’s!
The afternoon was taken up by marshaling the timed navigation component of the Interntional Mountain Leader (IML) scheme. This involved the group of asparent IML holders running around the side of Moel Siabod collecting orienteering stamps within an alloted time to prove their navigation skill. Our job was just to be on hand with mobile phones should any issues arrise. This mostly invovled sitting around in the sun watching some fairly stressed individuals maddly dashing around before heading back to the centre for the compulsory tea and cakes (A Brenin institution).
For the evening Niels, Dan and I again headed out to a remote cliff with the intetion of getting more multipitch climbing ticks. This time we headed for Craig Yr Ogof (Cwm Silyn) and chose the route Kirkus’s Direct (HVS 5b). I lead the first two pitches and Niels lead the final 5b pitch. The crag as a whole had a particularly conteninental feel about it that evening with the scree aproach and hot evening sunset meaning I was climbing in a baselayer most of the evening. the views were fantastic and the climbing was brilliant up a beautifully steep slab which just keeps giving holds when you need them. The decent is someone loose down a scree slope and had a bigger mountain feel to it. Make sure you take some appropraite footwear with you for the way down if you try it.
The next day (Wednesday) was a minibus driving assessment and night porter in the evening. the minibus driving assesment involved spending the morning driving around the local area including plenty of reverse parks and corners that made you breath in to get used to the vehicle before heading over the Parisellas’s ice cream shop (one of the best in North Wales acording to expert Mike Raine). I actually really enjoyed the whole experience and it convinced me even more that I want to get my D1 as soon as possible.
Thursday was a “general” day which basically means I help out where ever I can. I end up spending the morning in the kitchen which was great fun. Al was the head chef for the evening and provided plenty of entertainment while still keeping us very busy. I ended up chopping up the fresh fruit for the evenings fruit salad. The afternoon was a mix between reception and moving pictures around as the many photos around the place were being swapped. Also the “Wild” show had turned up with a heard of alpacas, vultures and an enomous eagle providing some entertainment whilst on reception. They were preparing the place for a live broadcast Saturday morning.
During the evening Josie (another of the Center Assistants) and I headed over to Dinus Cromlech to climb Ivy Secptre; a route I hadn’t climbed for 11 years and this time I’d be heading back to lead the crux pitch. It would also be Josie’s first E1. The “easy climbing” to the first belay proved anything but, probably because we were off line, but an inocuous looking shallow groved proved terrifyingly poorly pretected and tenuous. luckily Josie is made of strong stuff and lead it with some jokes and ammusing comments. I then got on the sharp end for the main corner and thoroughly enjoyed bridging and pressing my way up through the roof’s to the top. A great well protected and fun pitch. Even better then I’d remembered it being and the last of the main corners on the Cromlech for me to lead. I’d have to venture onto the walls next.
Friday was again hot and sunny with Carlo deciding it was time to send us out with Sid (one of the best sea kayak instructors there is) to find out how good we were in kayaks. We headed kitted up, loaded the boats and headed over to the coast of Anglesea for a gental paddle getting the hang of leaning the boat to control direction and rock hopping to test our skills. I learned that sea kayaking is one of the most fun ways to travel around the coast line especially crusing round watching the wildlife. Something I intend to do more of in the future.
It was another of the Centre Assistants birthday’s on the Friday so we had a BBQ / Part in the evening with Pims, Ale and other drinks going round, some fancy dress and lots of jollity it was really good fun but made the start for the day off on satuday a bit slower then it should have been. This was a day I’d been targetting getting on all week – a visit to Cloggy.
For those that don’t know Cloggy is the climbing nick name for Clogwyn Du’r Arddu. It’s an impressive cliff, high on the flanks of Snowdon with an equally impressive climbing hirstory. From it’s early days the cliff has seen the major climbers of each era testing themselves on hard lines. The easiest of which goes at VS and is still a major undertaking. We planned on doing the classic “White Slab” I’d remembered reading of in Don Whillian’s auto biography “The Villan” but to our incongruous suprise it seemed climbers from all over had the same plan. I’d never climbed on this cliff before so was pretty pschyed to get on a route so we queued up under Lithrig (White Slab already had two teams queuing for it). I won rock paper sissors and opted for the crux second pitch. While we were queing Fran, Jake, and George, as well as Mike and a friend of his (all from Plas-y-Brenin) turned up. The first three setup below Pigots Route and set off at a similar time to us (Mike and his friend followed us up). Niels made short work of the first pitch and built a bomber semi-hanging belay while I headed out on the second traverse / pendulum pitch. The the moves up until the crux were brilliant, around 4c/5a climbing with good gear in a airy position. Then came the crux down climb / traverse. This took am in in ordinate amount of time trying and reversing the move to find the sequence. After many attempts I committed to a higher varient I’d been trying where I rocked over onto a distant but good foot ledge using three slopying finger pad crimps. I hadn’t planned what to do with my left had at this stage but hoped my balance would win through and I’d figure out the rest of the sequence from there. unfortunately this didn’t happen as I’d fogotten a crucial left hand hold and ended up shouting take while gathering some speed. A mediocor backup nut I’d placed above the curcial sling runner popped and came wizzing down slaming into my thumb. Kicking myself for missing the crucial hand I pulled back on and quickly dispatched the sequence to a woop as I reached the belay. Niels was up for the beta on the moves so managed them to some exlamtions of “that was hard” soothing my ego I’m sure… The rest of the climb was steady VS climbing with good gear and lovely moves up the groves / corners to the top. After topping out we decided that we were quite spent and my thumb was beginning to feel sore / swell up so we decided to call it a day and head back down. We’d both be back to the cliff though as soon as weather allowed.
Sunday was stores duty during the day. This turned out to be very busy for a couple hours while courses were getting kitted out / handing kit back and quiet the rest of the time. At lunch and in the evening a few of us went for a quick boulder at the RAC Boulders just down the road. It was good fun especially as the “marsh” boulder had dry landings which is very unusual so we did several problems not normally on the circut there as well as the usual suspects like the pump traverse. After some food and a break to let it settle I went for a short run around the forest to stretch the legs as well as the muscles that had been worked bouldering before heading off to sleep wondering what the next week would have in store.
I can’t believe that we’re already at the end of week two – time is flying by! This week I’ve been short roping up a grade three scramble, climbing single pitch to demo how to lead and doing plenty of multi pitch routes to get the mileage in. All the while we’ve had a couple of induction days to learn how the centre works and picked up our kit from Mountain Equipment, Scarpa and Deuter.
A few of us had a day off on Tuesday but the forecast was for mixed conditions so we decided that it would be a good opportunity for a scramble. We picked “Sharks Fin” on Glydr Fach. This was grade three but on a cliff I’d done some other scrambles on before so I had an idea what we’d be in for. It was a good opportunity to practice the short roping / scrambling techniques I’d been a mock student on with the guides a few days before. Unfortunately group numbers worked out as a four so much of the route ended up being done as short pitches. The route itself is nice a varied with plenty of what I’d consider as good quality top end scrambling. I was certainly glad to have the rope on a couple of the moves given the slightly damp conditions we were out in.
The following two days were planed as induction. The first of which was a lecture room based day where we got to meet a few of the team and learn how the rota and kitchen works. After the day in the lecture room we headed off to Tramadog though it proved a little too showery to get much done.
The second induction day was a day climbing with Cathy (our mentor) watching us to see where we were with it. Again we’d headed to Tramadog – this time the upper tire – It proved really good fun with five routes climbed (one of which was a demo of leading for Cathy). The hardest had the peculiar grade of e1 6a with it being a nice thin finger crack.
Following on from the climbing we pocked up our new kit. There was a sack full of goodies – mine containing:
Not a bad set and certain to keep me comfortable in most of the conditions I’ll be likely to encounter. I’ll try and find some time to give reviews of these pieces and the system as a whole at some point.
To finish a great day we then headed to the pass and climbed direct route on Dinus Mot – this route has plenty of character and has a lovely move on the last pitch.
Over the next three days I only had a night porter shift (looking after reception from 17:00 until the morning) so could get out everyday. Becky also came up for the weekend and we got out on plenty of multipitches include Mur y Niwl on the beautiful Craig Yr Ysfa where I forgot to pack my rock shoes (oops) so ended up seconding in my Cristallo’s, luckily these boots are great to climb in so it made a really enjoyable day.
All in all another great week, keep feeling I need to pinch myself to check I’m not dreaming.