I wrote this blog for the MUMC blog back in March, I thought I’d put it up here incase it gets lost/deleted from there. Since writing the conditions in Wales (as well as the rest of the UK) went pretty crazy with winter clinging on for an outrageous amount of time, this has allowed for some pretty rare achievements from the hard men. See James MacHaffies blog for more: http://www.jamesmchaffie.com/1/post/2013/04/easter-weekend-harmony-a-pass-challenge.html
The 1st of March and the grey skies above Manchester made the weather forecast seem improbable. For some unknown reason sunshine was predicted for the whole annual dinner weekend! Psyche was as high as the barometer. This mini trip report only talks about the climbing that was done, the social side is too far out of my comfort zone to report upon.
After a late start from Haslingden, Chi, Rachel and I aimed for some easy access A55 sport. Apparently Friday doesn’t count as the weekend so it was cold, grey and windy as we avoided popping the puffas on the gauze bushes. Penmaenbach Quarry was the obscure crag of choice; cold but at least it wasn’t wet. First on the ticklist was National Disaster (F6a), involving some low angled but awkward slopey shelf clambering akin to some of those awful slate sport routes. The wind really was cold but we set ourselves the goal of 5 routes each. Next up is the thin slab of Samoa (F6a), 1 peg, two bolts and a thin rock over, made it much more enjoyable than the first climb. Chi and Rachel did the sketchy looking neighbour using all the same runners but climbing up the right hand side (Playboys (F6a+)), it looked cold, and eliminate so I didn’t bother. With dwindling psyche we nipped up one more route, an enjoyable F5+ called Kato, then headed off to find food. There’s another story involving leaving the shopping in the car park but someone else can tell you that.
Day 2: The arrangement of sleeping bodies made a stealthy 6am exit almost impossible. Liam and I tried to be quiet as we make breakfast but an outrageously chirpy and impressively inebriated Dan seemed less concerned. Big boots and axes replaced the sticky rubber and clipstick from the day before. Andy, Liam and I piled into the Yaris and headed for Ogwen. Clogwyn Du Ymhen Y Glyder (mouthful) sitting high above Idwal slabs held our hopes for some late season ice. Turning off the main track the gradient increases and layers had to be removed. It was obvious that the mixed routes weren’t ‘in’ but Clogwyn Left Hand Branch (V 5) looked to be holding some ice. We arrived at the base and found a party of three has beaten us to it. Their leader was Rachel’s uncle Tony so I assumed they would be fast. We slowly racked up and ate some more breakfast while they started up the route. A few more climbers arrived but elected to try a variation so as not to overcrowd this route.
The first pitch was easy scrambling and we belayed in the middle of this. The second pitch is the main pitch with two distinct sections; the first half is a mixed gully which becomes a chimney, at the base of this chimney it is possible to step out left onto good ice for the remainder of the pitch. Andy and Liam both wanted to lead something of interest so Andy took on the lower mixed section and aimed to belay before the ice.
Liam’s diet of far too much coke the night before caused a distressful situation and while I belayed Andy, Liam excused himself to take a very precarious shit. A top tip for aspirant winter climbers: yellow snow is bad, brown snow is worse. I found this hilarious. While Andy toiled up the groove above, Liam and I watched in horror as a massive bastard crow pecked its way inside our stashed bags, eating most of Liam’s sweets and throwing around gloves and wrappers and almost stealing the car keys! Sadly Liam’s Tesco club card was savaged beyond repair. This made for one of the most interesting belays I’ve been on, although I had no idea how Andy was getting on.
Despite a super fast leader the party ahead were slower than anticipated and were kicking down a lot of ice (gully’s do have a habit of funnelling debris). Andy belayed us up to the cramped stance and some complex rope untangling takes place so that Liam can lead through. He stepped onto the ice (the most difficult move on the pitch) and made a nervous start placing a number of screws before breezing up the rest of the pitch, slowed only by the occasional blast of snow and ice from the party above. Andy goes up next and takes a little while to get used to hitting ice instead of hooking rock. By the time it is my turn to climb the party above were beginning to climb some brittle ice, which meant more debris coming down the route. I arrived at the top to see the final member of Tony’s party panicking and flailing at the top of a thin iced up groove/chimney.
Apparently it was my turn to lead, and if Tony’s mate found it hard, I probably will too, I wasn’t keen and squeak out some very poor excuses (I was fresh off an Alpine ice climbing trip so logically was well prepared, but this is different, there are rocks in the way and the ice isn’t 3ft thick!). Andy and Liam turn out to be more stubborn than I am. I agree to lead on the condition that I can borrow Andy’s axes. Cunningly I formulated a plan to climb up the easy looking ice to the bottom of the groove and then sneakily make a belay before the hard bit. Unfortunately the easy looking ice at the bottom wasn’t that easy, and there was no belay so I have to keep going. It was a good learning experience; ice is thicker in the back of a crack, it is possible to smear on thin ice, Andy’s axes are better than mine and chimneying is definitely tiring (maybe I need to climb more Diffs) but also quite effective. Luckily for me Tony’s mate wasn’t as good as Tony and pulling round the top bulge is actually pretty easy. At the top I sit down and belay in the sun, overheating and very happy with my first IV 4 lead. A quick down climb brought us back to the bags where we assessed the damage, collected the litter, cursed the crows and headed back to the car and the Dinner.
It was a ridiculously nice day, climbing welsh winter with blue skies no wind and amazing views. While we were in our hats and gloves Rachel and Chi were climbing in T-Shirts while bagging classics including on Vector at Tremadog. I also heard that conditions were just as good at the Cromlech Boulders, the Slate and Clogwyn Cyrau a nice crag up behind Betws-Y-Coed. The weather gods must have been drunk.
Day 3 was a much more relaxed affair. A leisurely start was only tainted by the collective mind set of ‘someone else will bring butter’, and my highly anticipated instant shake pancake mix had to be saved for another day, never mind pasta for breakfast. The hut was cleared and partners arranged. Six of us head back to Tremadog; Rachel, Chi and I in one car, Gaz, Lizzie and Bill in the other. Lizzie has a brutal looking blister on her foot from the ceilidh and wasn’t sure about putting it in a climbing shoe…….i’m not sure how that worked but she did get some routes ticked.
Gaz and Lizzie head to the main section of Craig Bwlch Y Moch on Chi and Rachel’s recommendation that Gaz get on Grim Wall Direct (E1). The rest of us head up to Craig Pant Ifan: Scratch Arete (HVS) and Barbarian (E1) were on the list. We should have expected that a sunny Sunday would be busy, but every route in our selective guide had queues for it! Chi and Bill got in line for Barbarian, Rachel and I borrowed a definitive guide and aim for Ivy Crack. The first pitch is the same as Scratch Arete and Rachel climbed up this easily. I arrived at the belay and looked up at the amazing crack in a 90-degree corner. It looks amazing but where are the feet? I started off hoping that something will emerge. A big lock off to bye-pass a bramble filled niche allowed me to place a good cam in the bottom of the crack. Sadly it took up the hand hold, I down climbed and rested, before having another go. I had about 5 more goes before giving up and yarding on the gear. Once higher in the crack I tried to climb, a few hard won inches higher I had to rest again. From then on it is aid all the way. I pulled on more gear in this 8m crack than in my previous 3 years of climbing. Not a good start to my trad-climbing year. I belayed on a ledge halfway up the pitch, Rachel managed to get to the second cam with no rests and I started to get embarrassed, luckily she soon fell off. We traversed across to a gully with a tree then abseiled through some spiky bushes. Back to the first belay of Scratch Arête and more importantly back in the sunshine. I set off up the second pitch of this classic. The moves were super nice; in an amazing position and with good gear. Proper good route, it definitely felt at least 2, if not 3, grades easier than Ivy Crack. Chi and Bill are just finishing their second climb, Scratch (VS), as we finish our abseil.
Turns out Barbarian was also hard and Chi had fallen off this as well. I was keen for more, but Chi and Rachel felt battered from their battle with Vector the day before. Bill is also tired after his two routes so we headed off to Eric’s Café. The day was less productive than anticipated but definitely still fun. Gaz and Lizzie returned after an hour or so, having cruised Grim Wall Direct. Personally I was pretty stoked to have done sport, winter, (aid?) and trad all in one weekend, in March!!
The rest of the club spread out over Snowdonia with the delightful Little Tryfan in Ogwen getting a look, as well as Dinas Cromlech in the Pass and obviously the Slate too. It was an amazing weekend, the weather was gorge, everyone got out climbing and the hut and dinner was awesome and ran smoother than a coke fuelled poo. Thanks to all those who organised the trip and booked the good weather!!