A small cam placed blindly under a roof leaves me anxious about the crux. Instead of committing, I scramble down to a knee bar and try to shake the lactic from my forearms. The cam seems good, but the pieces before it weren’t, and I’m not sure I trust it enough to attempt the moves. I climb back up and have another look, desperate for just one more piece. Thankfully, I spot a bomber nut out left. It’s a struggle to reach over, but with a bit of knee trickery I manage to take some weight off the undercuts, and place the kit. Back at the knee bar my arms are feeling it, but I take a moment to relax and breathe. The crux of Alien sits above me, beckoning. It doesn’t look as bad as I expected, but a reputation for abducting talented climbers forces me to doubt my prospects. Furthermore, the cloudy haze which obscured the sun for a while has parted, and I can feel the sweat pouring down my face and back. I stay in the rest for a couple of minutes, making a game plan, and then it’s time to move. I pull into the undercuts, and reach up to start the crux, but then…
…suddenly I’m airborne, the foot hold I was stood on clattering about the rocks below. Bollocks! I take a moment to hang in space, frustrated at my failure. Granted, I was pumped out my mind, and success was in no way guaranteed, but to fall off without even trying the crux is gutting. I’m not so fit at the moment and the next go will definitely be my last, so I’d better pull it out the bag! I lower off and return to Tess on the ledge, who’s been enjoying a seal spotting session. My arms are knackered, and my chances of doing the route feel hopeless. Dehydrated, I decide to enforce a long rest by walking back up to the bags and getting a drink. Looking out over the calm, deserted sea, I enjoy the opportunity to reflect, to think back on what a brilliant summer it’s been.
Tess and I moved to North Wales about a year ago, and thanks to our good friend climate change, this summer will go down in the history books as a fine vintage. It seems increasingly likely that global warming is going to be the end of us, possibly within the next century or two, and this line of thinking tends to make the darkness in me boil (pun intended). But it’s not all bad news – yet. Hopefully we’ll get a few more summers like this one, before we all become BBQ meat. Anyway, at the start of the year we both made a fridge list of fifteen routes that we’d like to climb in North Wales, and we’ve been competing to tick the lists. We were both quite optimistic, but the friendly competition has egged us on, and we’ve both done loads of brilliant routes, some of which I’ll recount here.
PHASE 1 – ISLAND HOPPING:
The list ticking frenzy started off well for Tess, with ascents off Fool’s Gold and Cenotaph Corner in April. Sadly, I didn’t put any routes on my list which might have been good warm ups, so I didn’t get anything done, other than climbing the start of Right Wall into the top of Lord of The Flies – a great link up of the safest climbing on both those routes. My arms were starting to get there, but then just as I was getting ready to try some of the routes on my list, things had to be put on hold.
At the start of May, Tess and I got married, which was a bloody brilliant time. The weather was a bit dodgy on the actual day, but it provided some great atmosphere, and the week as a whole made me feel so connected to the people in my life. But this is a climbing blog, so I’m not going to bore you eager beavers with the details, beyond saying thank you, once again, to everyone who was involved.
Anyway, wedding means honeymoon, so Tess and I jetted off to Kalymnos, a climbing paradise which Tess visited years ago, but to which I’d never been. It was rather hot, being mid May, but thankfully this meant quiet too. Between pump fests in the famous caves, we enjoyed beers and cocktails on the beach, swimming in the warming seas, and laughing at goats. Just the ticket for a newly married climbing couple. Kalymnos was just what we needed to get the arms going for the summer too, though it took a few days to get in to it. I started the holiday by getting far too excited, and couldn’t climb for a couple of days due to hitting the first crag way too hard. But after a couple of recovery days, I was happy to climb as well as I ever have, with on sights of routes like Priapos (a famous 7c in the Grande Grotta), and Zorba (which gets a guidebook grade of 8a, and of course my ego loved that, but in reality it’s more like 7c/+). Anyway, Kalymnos is fucking brilliant, a true paradise, with some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. And it was perfect training for honeymoon part two.
Two days after getting back to Llanberis, we made the big drive north to Oban, where we met a group of 10 other climbers, and got the ferry to Castlebay. I’d been to Pabbay and Mingulay a few years previously, and climbed some of my first E5’s there, so I was excited to return with more experience. Obviously, I had an agenda, but I tried to keep it under wraps, as I’d just got married and didn’t want Tess to regret it. I could write pages and pages about the islands, but this doesn’t feel like the place, so I’ll just include a few highlights.
We had incredibly good weather on Pabbay (too good) and actually couldn’t climb a great deal because it was so goddamn hot, but still managed to do a few good ones, between swims in the flesh numbing sea. On the first day I did the Raven at the Poop Deck, a fantastically steep E5 which I’d failed on the last time, so it was good to put that to bed. The following day I tried to do Ship of Fools in the full sun, but the heat got the better of me, and in my delirious state I accidentally tried to gain the crux flake via the crux of Geomancer, frustrating because if I’d just carried on straight up Geomancer, it would have been in the bag. Anyway, I lowered back down and we escaped by a cool line beneath the roofs, and on our last day on Pabbay I returned to do Ship of Fools, which is just a bag of laughs through and through. Other highlights on Pabbay were In Profundum Lacu, which really is one of the best pitches I’ve ever climbed. I also wound up climbing a cool little new route at Hoofer’s Geo, a counter diagonal to Caff’s Boosh. Tess unfortunately sprained her ankle on the way to the crag (which meant I was lucky enough to carry both half ropes, the full rack, the 100m ab rope, and most of our other gear for the entire trip – solid training). So I wound up shunting about and that was a lovely little find, with a highly technical crux above just enough kit, followed by a spicy run out for the top. I called it Signed, seal, delivered (Tess gets the credit for that) and graded it E7 6c, but I have no idea if it’s actually that hard. It’s certainly one of the hardest things I’ve done on trad gear.
Anyway, we moved on to Mingulay and by this point we were all totally fucked which is pretty standard for the islands. Thankfully the weather crapped out a bit, so we didn’t feel like we had to try so hard, but the midges were apocalyptic which made it pretty hard to stay at camp. My main goal for Mingulay was to try and finish K+S Special, which I’d tried the last time, and after climbing well on Pabbay I felt pretty confident. Feeling that sort of confidence is rarely a good precursor to climbing well in my experience, and the first attempt ended below the crux, although it was admittedly quite greasy. We had a few days chumming about, getting attacked by bonxies, laughing at puffins, and then I returned and thankfully managed to dispatch. That more or less ended the trip, but we were ready to leave anyway, and we did so having made a bunch of great new mates, and reinforced old friendships with others. All of this was capped off nicely with a banging night in Castlebay, which ended with a room full of Scottish people stood on the chairs and tables, singing the Proclaimers at 2am. Priceless.
PHASE 2 – MIDSUMMER:
Back in Wales, it was time to get on with some serious list ticking. Tess had the advantage, and I was going to have to work hard to get ahead. Our good friend Ferdia came to Wales, and I persuaded her to go to Craig Cwm Glas Bach with me. We warmed up on the classics at Hidden Wall, and then I went down to have a go at Pretty Girls Make Graves, a classic I’d been meaning to try for a long time. On the first go I missed a foothold and fucked the crux, the second I got to the base of the crack and faffed for what felt like a short eternity getting the kit in, meaning I was far too pumped to actually climb the crack. I came down and had a good rest. Ferdia had a go, but she was feeling pretty tired and wasn’t that psyched for climbing. She reckoned she had a finger injury, and wasn’t up for the mental stress of climbing hard, but this didn’t stop her from leading the first pitch of Midsummer’s Night Dream on Cloggy two days later. After a rest I managed to flog my way up the route, and was happy to tick my first one off the list.
Soon after, my best man Will came to stay for a long weekend, and we warmed up by doing the classics on Colossus wall in the quarries. The following day with Tess we headed to Tremadog. Tess had cruised Left Wall not long before, strengthening her lead in the list ticking championship, and was geared up for Vector, and possibly even Cream. I had Bananas on the list, so it looked to be a good day all round. Tess made the crux of Vector look like a path, but after Will had a good fight on Cream she didn’t fancy that, so I took us to the top and was duly too knackered/ lazy to have a go at Bananas. A bad attitude when your wife is getting ahead.
The next day Will and I got up early and walked up to Cloggy. It was a fine day and the whole crag was bone dry, but there was a fierce northerly blowing and it was fucking baltic. Unsurprisingly, we had the crag to ourselves, which sort of made up for the numb extremities. I warmed us up on a desperate E2, and then Will lead both pitches of Great Wall, a route which lives up to its name. We then decided that before proceeding, we should wait for the sun to hit the wall, and when it did I started up the intimidating first pitch of Midsummer’s Night Dream. Thankfully it passed without too much of an epic, and I was incredibly pleased to have climbed such an iconic route, a route which is massively improved by the presence of an old bolt stub in the middle. Say what you will about Ed Drummond, that route is a masterpiece, and a superbly bold effort even in the style he climbed it. I led the second pitch too, which was almost as scary, and linked that into a groove at the top as it was getting dark, which seems a logical way of climbing the line. Another good one in the bag. Mega.
For Will’s last day in Wales, we decided to head up to Llech Ddu, in a valley I’d never been to before, and a crag we hoped would be in as good a state as it gets due to the incredible weather we’d been having. We weren’t mistaken. Walking into the cwm on a sunny Sunday afternoon was a beautiful experience – the cwm is one of the prettiest I’ve been to in Wales, and made all the better for how quiet it is. Our route for the day was The Great Arête, a truly proud line which screams to be climbed. After jungle bashing through the first two pitches of the Grooves, which were great fun in their own right, it was time to set off up the crux. A bold groove on suspect rock led to a roof, where I spend a long time trying to arrange a selection of dubious gear. Unsure whether or not to commit, I bridged out for a look, and was glad to find a bomber cam. This was enough to make me keep moving upwards, and I contrived to do so with a series of wild space walking movements, in one of the most exposed positions I’ve had the joy of experiencing. The route doesn’t really let up above the roof, and I struggled upwards with no small amount of terror, the pitch culminating in a loose block at the top of the upper corner. I emerged traumatised, and sketched over to the belay, where I strapped myself in and brought Will up. A couple of great pitches in a fantastic position brought us to the top of what really is one of the best mountaineering style routes I’ve done in the UK, and we scampered back down like ecstatic children, stopping only for a dip in the river to soothe our baking and aching bodies.
At the end of June some good friends, Claire and Malcolm, got married in the Scottish borders. This was a truly fantastic day, and one which led me to get shamefully drunk, on account of recently getting news that my summer would be coming to an abrupt end. I’d been trying to get work on the wind turbines for a while, and lucked out – the next four months would be spent on a wind farm in Poland, with one week back in Wales every month. After the wedding I had a fort night to try and tick a few more routes off, so I enabled an ascent of Plexus for Tess, in return for a belay on The Nectarine Run. I’d tried Atomic Hotrod when Tess did Left Wall, and so I was a little tempted to return to that, but decided that The Nectarine Run was less reliably dry, and decided to capitalise.
Clogwyn Gafr is an absolutely brilliant crag high in the Llanberis pass, nice and shady so good for a hot day, and reliably quiet, with lovely rough stone. I started off by warming us up on Pulsar, which is a fantastic jamming crack, one of two 3 star E3’s at the crag. Tess then did the other E3, Sacred Idol, which is pretty tough and gets E4 from some folk. Tess hadn’t climbed E4 at the time, and it was a fantastic effort from her, climbed in trademark rapid style. It’s been amazing to watch Tessa progress from timid trad climber to full bore crusher, and I’m going to have to up my game if I want to stay ahead of the curve. Anyway, after those routes I got on The Nectarine Run, a route I’d heard various intimidating stories about. The initial wall went well, the rough crimps lending themselves well to my style of climbing. Below the crux groove I spent an age arranging loads of mediocre kit, but was soon happy enough that something would hold. The moves through the groove are strange, and it took me a while to work them out, but eventually I was relaxing at the rest above. It was now time for the traverse right, and I spent forever trying to figure it out, never able to commit for fear of blowing it, after having already invested so much. Eventually, after about two hours on the route, I tried something and fucked it big time, swinging wildly into space, with as much relief as disappointment. Sometimes the desire to do something just gets in the way, and a fall is all you need. Sadly, time was running out, and we had to return later in the week, but things went fine the next time – I was just being an idiot and missed an obvious sequence. The Nectarine Run is one of the best routes I have done in Wales, and was a fine end to the midsummer phase. The next week, I began my first shift in Poland.
PHASE 3 – THE POLISH CONNECTION:
After my first three week shift in Poland, I arrived back in the UK just in time to attend a party in the Lakes, which was absolutely brilliant if not a bit wet, and it left me feeling rather worse for wear. We got back to Wales mid week, and I recruited Caff to help me tick some routes. Sadly Tess said it wouldn’t count if I got him to do the crux on Skinhead Moonstomp, so we headed to California in the quarries, to do Central Sadness, the only route on my list that I could conceive of doing in that state. I took the bold first pitch and it went pretty smooth, the crux moves being right up my street, and the boldness above hidden nicely by the haze of a comedown from the weekend. The crack above is a real treat of a second pitch, and as a whole the route rates as one of the best I’ve done on slate.
Sadly this was the only route I managed to tick on that trip home, so I headed back to Poland, where Tess insisted on telling me about an ascent of The Sun at Rhoscolyn, strengthening her lead once again. I was falling behind quick, and so when one of my workmates fell ill, forcing us to return home early, I was pretty keen to try and bag a few routes. Sadly by this point my arms had more or less turned to mush, so after doing The Moon with Tess, I didn’t feel up to any of my super ambitious Gogarth projects. I went back to Gogarth nonetheless, with Andy Moles, and we did a link up of Ratbag into Positron, as I’d not led the headwall pitch before, and this was a great way of getting my arms back in the game. I’d seconded the pitch twice, but couldn’t remember much other than it was pumpy, and by heck did I get pumped.
After this, Tess and I headed back to Sheffield for another wedding, and a welcome catch up with lots of old friends. The next week had a promising forecast, and on the Tuesday Andy and I headed back to the big G, keen to have a gander at Thunderbird Zawn. We warmed up on Thunderbird, which was fantastic, and then had a look at the Flying Shed, which is one of the best lines I’ve seen, but was sadly pretty damp, and that was enough of an excuse not to have a proper go. Instead, we escaped up Friend or Anemone at Trinity House Walls, a cool E4 with a funky corner change and exposed upper arête.
Next day Tess and I returned to Gogarth, with eyes on the Strand and Alien. Tess warmed us up on the Strand, and I seconded with glee, happy to re-familiarise myself with an old friend. After this we headed down to Main Cliff, which promised good conditions in the crisp air, after a day of sunshine. A blanket of haze was providing some welcome shelter from the sun, and conditions were indeed perfect. I set off up Alien feeling good about my chances, but nervous about the reputation. Arriving at the crux I was boxed out of my senses, but I had a good idea about what to do, which sadly didn’t matter as I broke a foothold and was left dangling. After a long rest I still felt pretty fucked, and had to have a serious word with myself in the chimney-cave, but actually this time it went perfectly and before I knew it I was in the groove, cruising joyfully to the belay. As Tess seconded I enjoyed a period of reflection, thinking about my relationship with what is really one of my favourite places. I haven’t climbed much at Gogarth for a couple of years, having discovered the delights of Pembroke, but when I really think about it the routes at Pembroke are so interchangeable. Move for move it’s certainly better climbing there, but only a few routes out of the 60 or so I’ve climbed really stand out as being something truly special. More often at Pembroke I climb with a consumer attitude, trying to cram in as many routes as possible, but at Gogarth something which I expected to be a warm up is often so burned into my psyche that I don’t feel the need to do anything else. And they’re only the warm ups – the big ones, like Alien, really are truly outstanding. The White Cliff, Grant Farquhar’s new book, epitomises the Gogarth experience perfectly, and any self respecting enthusiast should own a copy. I am proud to have a couple of bits of writing in it, and I’ve been enjoying flicking through its pages almost constantly since getting my copy.
The day after Alien, Andy and I headed to Castell y Gwynt on the Great Orme, where there was no list ticking opportunities, but I’ve wanted to go there for a while so I conceded. An impressive limestone cliff, perched a good way above the sea, it really is worth the visit. I was tired from Alien, so abstained from the E5’s, but we did New Dimensions which is as good as anything on British limestone, bar Pembroke. After that we did Cruella Deville, a mean 7b which I flashed by the skin of my teeth, power screaming all the way. We felt pretty satisfied by this point, but I’ll definitely be back – the entire crag is 3 stars.
Which leads me to the last day of climbing before writing all this. A beautiful late summer’s day yesterday forced us to make the most of the dwindling warmth, and we headed up to the Cromlech. Tess warmed up on Foil, which is fucking hard for E3, a fact which was made clear by Tess hilariously telling the crux moves to fuck off, one after the other. Despite struggling more than usual, she dispatched, and I took us to the summit, from where we could ab in for another go at Atomic Hotrod. My word that route is a corker, one that inspires even the most British climber to talk like a yank. A must do for anyone who thinks they can climb cracks – and a fucking impressive on sight no matter who you are. Anyway, a wee roof leads to lay backing on purple and green jams, before a desperate corner change, which takes you to a thank god rest on perfect hands. Above that a decent sized roof with rattly finger locks provides a jug just as you think it’s game over, and another corner change leads to the top. On my first attempt earlier in the year, I made the classic punter error of clipping a cam above my head at the first corner change. The crack was immediately filled with rope and I couldn’t get a jam in. This time, equipped with a proper Indian Creek rack, I made sure to only clip cams at waist height, and got through the first corner change by the skin of my teeth. I knew there was no chance of doing it again, so pulling through the roof I gurned and shouted my way to freedom, pleased to bag another route, and especially one of the unsung gems of the Llanberis pass.
Which takes us to now. I go back to Poland on Monday, and it’s unlikely that I’ll tick many more routes off my list. Tess has got a two route lead, but I have a slight advantage in that I’ve ticked off all the mountain routes that I wanted to do. She also has to do Gin Palace. But I’ve got to do Mister Softy. Balls. But if I can get some arms on me again, most of my remaining ones are near the sea, which is perfect for the late season. Anyway, I hope this has come across as a bit of a love letter to North Wales, rather than a self congratulating wank off about all the ace routes I’ve done this year, as that isn’t what it was supposed to be. I’m really happy to have made the move to Wales, something I thought about doing for a long time, but never quite managed to commit to. And hopefully climate change will provide a load more vintage summers (and winters!) before we all get burned to a crisp. Also, I can’t recommend making a fridge list enough – amazing how much harder you try when you can tick one off!