12th - 14th April 2019

The 2019 Wales meet was one that I enjoyed greatly. Strangely, the enjoyment seemed inversely proportional to the volume of material for a good story. There were no gruesome experiences underground; no excruciating hikes followed by vertigo fuelled torment. A lovely weekend with good company, large quantities of food and drink and great rock climbing aren’t really the makings of a good yarn. So, with little expectation of entertainment please read on.

I arrived at Rob’s house bang on 10am, Peppit-Mean-Time i.e. 34 minutes late. We packed his bags into my car and set off toward North Wales. I was rather jaded having just returned the previous night from South Wales. It seems rather odd that driving to North Wales from South Wales via Chesterfield is not to go very far out of one’s way in terms of the time. So much of a struggle it is to drive through the middle of Wales that my Welsh friend in Port Talbot has never so much as visited the north of his own country. He has, indeed, missed out on some amazing scenery.

After a surprisingly nice bacon and sausage sandwich at a Tideswell café and straightforward journey, we arrived at the Anglesey coast for a quick climb at Rhoscolyn, before doing the weekend’s shopping. It was a beautiful, if rather cold, sunny afternoon. We parked by the church and ventured around the coastal path to the peninsular. I was slightly apprehensive that I would have to climb down a treacherous promontory, but making my way down the rocky face, above the water, was within my comfort zone. How I would like to be able to report the howling wind and lashing sea spray gripping me as I edged my way down; the terrifying thoughts going through my head as I slip, only to catch myself at the last moment and stave off a certain death: dashed upon jagged rocks. Alas, we worked our way down safely, there was little wind or damp within the sheltered cliff and Rob set up a belay. We roped up and he made his way along a traverse about 15m above the waves. He stood on a small pinnacle of rock whilst setting a runner above his head. I mused that I wouldn’t like to be where he was because if he fell, he was about the same distance from me as the water and would likely end up swinging through the air, potentially dashed on rocks, followed by a dip in freezing water. He then made his way up the left-hand-side of a shallow chimney-like recess in the cliff. A few minutes later I followed. It was lovely rock; quite sharp holds with lots of friction. Once at the top, we decided that we should climb it again and I should climb the slightly different route to the right-hand-side of the chimney. I then found myself standing upon the same pinnacle as Rob had been standing upon, attempting to sink a runner in the rock as I had been foreboding about a few minutes earlier. The nut went in but slid out with a gentle push. “This runner isn’t very good” I called over to Rob. I would like to be able to tell you how I bravely overcame adversity, fumbling the gear before sinking home a good runner; followed by horrific ordeal slipping to near the water and then adeptly aid-climbing back up the E6 7a to a precarious stance and then a triumphant escape to safety. “You’ll get another runner in soon” he replied, as he tended to the camera on his phone, as opposed to any attempt at belaying me. Alas, for the purposes of the story, I felt secure and he was correct. At least it was my first deep water solo! At the top of the climb I was met by a small-ish hole that Rob’s brother-in-law had apparently got stuck in previously. It would have been an easy top-out to the left of the hole, though, I thought: “I can get through that” and promptly got wedged in the hole up to my harness. I would like to be able to tell you about my terrified thrashing, unable to go up but also likely to slip out of the hole and into the abyss, followed by a skilful and brave self-rescue. Alas, down I then came, with coat dragged up around my ears and alone in my failure, I surmounted the climb on the easy escape and belayed Rob to join me. All-in-all, it was a great start to the weekend, if a little lacking in terrifying anecdotal inspiration.  

We found a nice little pub nearby and we sat in the garden planning our shopping. I cupped the, most welcome, cold beer whilst shivering slightly cocooned in my down jacket, with hood up; whilst the other patrons sat around in t-shirts and shorts. I’m from The South, you see. Onto Morrisons: we acquired two large trolleys and set forth along the isles, sweeping huge quantities of produce into them with gay abandon. Time was marching on and the final items took many sweeps of the shop back and forth before our forage was complete. We joined a queue before a friendly shop assistant noticed our laden trollies and opened an isle for us. Another shop assistant set about finding boxes for us. A third assistant came over whilst we were finishing packing. The first said “it’s a shame you don’t have a staff discount card, you’d get £70 off the shop!” The third assistant retorted “I’ve got mine, what happens if I just scan it? Oh, it’s worked!” And so the weekend got that little bit cheaper for everyone. These ladies ‘of a certain vintage’ seemed to rather like the idea of joining us at the hut, to spend the weekend with some “fit young climbers”. We dissuaded them and then, rather late, drove to the hut. We arrived at the narrow path, in the dark, and Rob ran into the hut armed with emergency alcohol for all the thirsty people waiting for us within.

After some extreme pizza eating, we went to bed. In the night I ventured to the bathroom, almost falling over the far-too-low bannister and then tried to step up the down step – stumbling and cursing. Getting to the loo in the dark was probably the most dangerous activity in the whole weekend. 

The next day Rob and I set off for Tremadog; or “Tree-mad-dog” as I insisted on calling it, despite there being not the slightest suggestion from anyone else that this was in any way amusing. I now see that I should have persuaded Rob to head for a multi-pitch, scary section of the crag; so that I may have more adventures to write about. Alas, I promoted the idea that the nice short climbs on the end of the crag would be most appropriate so that we may get back to the hut in good time for cooking. The dolerite rock that the crag was composed of was good, though not as frictioney as the previous day’s metamorphic rock on Anglesey. Overall, the crag had the feel of somewhere in the southern Peak District, with a sea view. The time available allowed us to climb two HS, two VS 4c a Severe and I led an E2 7a. That would have made a nice story and is correct, except for the last bit. The VS were nice – they felt as though they were right on my limit of climbing – though I made my way up them successfully. My many hours of training in the Climbing Works is not translating particularly well outside. I tried to use some of my new-found strength and skills, to a small amount of avail. Taking my weight on my extended arms, with good crimps worked well on the 4c moves until stepping up felt very different from the holds found inside. All too soon, our climbing for the day was at an end. Via a pub, we set off to the hut in good time and began cooking. Two-by-two members arrived from their various activities of the day; mostly having been swept along in the crowds visiting Snowdon. By all accounts, there was a queue just to visit the top of the mountain.

The climbing of the next day was the most interesting. We visited the disused Llanberis slate mine on the way home. It was my first climb on slate and it was quite an experience. The open mine is a surreal little world; where I could quite imaging Dr Who from the 1980s might have been filmed. Walls and ramshackle little buildings were dotted around and made from limestone. OK, they weren’t really…they were made from slate. It seemed odd seeing buildings made from materials that are strewn around everywhere; as though the materials had simply been scooped up from where they lay, before being assembled into flatpack houses. The blue-grey vista was strangely attractive, especially the sweeps of clean smooth facets. Many of the climbs appeared as huge crystals, reminiscent of Escher staircases. The slabby walls were not unlike an indoor climbing wall, though smoother and without any holds. It would have put the best climbing centres to shame, with several tiers of climbing to one side of the huge slate hole-in-the-ground. Rob led a 4+ and then pulled the rope through. I climbed an uncomfortably long way up, unprotected. With my foot precariously out on the wall to my right, I heard an odd noise from the adjacent climb: “you’ve pulled the bolt out!” I had to come down from the climb and compose myself before trying again. The second attempt went well and I soon found myself at the top. I had not led a sport route before and I had the fun of threading the rope. I followed Rob’s instructions by clipping a sling from harness to the two bolts. I then threaded a loop of rope through the bolts, tied a figure-of-eight and clipped it to my harness. Then followed the most unnatural process of untying the original knot. I bravely did this and found myself still attached to the rope: how ingenious. The level of difficulty steadily ramped up after Mike and Sam joined us on what I guess was the second tier of the quarry. We followed them along, perhaps, five climbs. 5+, 5+, 5+ all on my limit of ability before a 6A! Each climb was similar in the sense that there appeared to be almost nothing to hold onto. Every move, I thought to myself “well…. you aren’t going to be able to do this” followed by the surprising sensation of moving upward against gravity without the ignominy of immediately sliding back down again. It was strenuous on the fingers but really was a nice experience.
The day was sunny but bitterly cold, so it was a relief to be heading home in a nice warm car. We confidently decided to follow the sat nav as opposed to Rob’s direction. As a result we added 15 minutes to our journey as we headed aimlessly down tiny little tracks with lumps of rock each side, with barely more room for my car and two cigarette papers. Apparently one should be able to drive at 60 mph along these roads.