Tuesday, 15 September 2015

I found myself in Wales...

...and I found myself in Wales.

Hippy bollox, but entirely true. I just had an extended spell in Wales and rediscovered the joy of climbing and therefore the joy of existing. I pushed myself harder, and my tweaks and aches felt better. I ate worse, and got fitter and lost weight. I had only sporadic friends around, and felt more sociable and affable. I stayed in a slightly dingy, barren room, and felt more comfortable and slept better. The weather was generally rubbish to mediocre, and I managed to get more climbing done than previously in the year.

I ended up in the wrong weather, but in the right place and the right time to work around that, and follow many of my inspirations in many different areas. It helps that being based in Bangor there are approx 10 guidebooks worth of climbing within an hour's drive (Gogarth North, Gogarth South, Limestone, Slate, Llanberis Pass, Ogwen and Carneddau, Tremadog, Meirionydd, Cloggy, Cwm Silyn and Lleyn - I count the last 3 as totalling 2 normal guides are they are individually slim volumes) - compared to approx 1 guidebook living in Glasgow (half of Lowland Outcrops, half of Highland Outcrops). It helps even more that the wet weather options: GN, GS, Lime, Slate, and Lleyn are both plentiful, varied, accessible, and in themselves enthralling and exciting areas. Some of my Pass inspirations had to be put on hold, but one does not really go to Gogarth and grumble that it is a merely a mundane escaping-the-showers option. These venues held plenty of appeal as well as a revelatory quick hit approach, all being within half an hour's easy drive.

Thus, I did my climbing thing, my real climbing thing, of choice and variety and routes that personally appeal to me. Although the overriding feeling from this was happiness, there was also some satisfaction in climbing well, climbing as well on trad as I ever have. As usual this is down to a variety of factors (not just time on the rock, as I started doing reasonably challenging stuff after scarcely a day warming into it):

  • Being somewhere with plenty of choice of inspiring climbing
  • Being somewhere where I don't have to drive for two hours to get that choice.
  • Being somewhere with plenty of wet weather options
  • Being somewhere that lots of climbers go, so I could actually get partners.
  • Persisting with my climbing throughout a generally personally dismal spring and maintaining my psyche and patience.
  • Training hard throughout the spring when I wasn't climbing well outside.
In short: 66% location, 33% lots of effort and preparation and persistence.

I suppose I could do lists n shit, how about a top ten climbing experiences of the time down there:

  • The Long Run, Gogarth - possibly the best climbing experience of my life. Not hard, just wonderful, the perfect route for my style, in perfect conditions. A dream come true.
  • Byzantium, Craig Doris - worth the 8 year wait! Just fantastic, bold, committing, fly-on-the-wall situations, and a superb steady crux.
  • The In Of Sixth Happiness, Arennig Fawr - climbed by surprise after a nausea-and-exhaustion-inducing battle on War Cry, and an appalling walk-in. Once on the route it flowed perfectly, another one "Taylor"-made for me ;).
  • Crimson Cruiser, Moelwyns - another quite steady and utterly brilliant route. The meat of it is merely "good", but the jug-hauling space-walking finish is the best climax to any route, anywhere.
  • Whillan's Crack, Rhinnog Fawr - a surprise FA stolen from a cloud of midges. Not too hard, but has the mark of the man who would have done it. Topped out with grazes all down one arm, and giggles out of my mouth.
  • Killerkranky, Scimitar Ridge - a proper route with a proper crux. Fierce and fighty but not too pumpy. This signalled getting to grips with Wales.
  • Penny, Holyhead Mountain - the earliest challenging route I did in my time down there, easier than I thought and joyfully good holds and good balance.
  • Diamond Eliminate, Craig Aderyn - also worth the 8 year wait! As grand as roadside routes get, and exactly why I stick to my personal inspirations.
  • Brute 33, Carreg Wastad - still picking the scars off 10 days later... A whim inspired by the old guide photo, and joyfully brutal.
  • Men At Leisure, Australia - had to pick something from many days on the slate and this was perhaps the most intruiging with a skyhook start and a super techy crux higher.
(to be fair this list should be 1-11. all The Long Run and then 12-20 everything else, but Ordered Lists don't let me do that ;)).

Finally some random photos I probably didn't post before:

Tuesday, 8 September 2015


I think I've now read all of Martin Crook's "Diaries of A Slatehead" in the fine new(-ish) Slate guide, albeit in sporadic bursts and in the wrong order. I really like the way he refers to the slate gurus and aficiandos simply as "heads", emphasising the cultish dedication to the medium (or The Medium?). Thinking further, heads are not the only cult in the area - away from the hoary old traditionalists and honeypotted classic-baggers of the mountains, the fringes have their own dedicated acolytes and accolades: Slateheads, Ormesmen ritually circling Pen Trwyn, and presumably Coastline Perverts praying at the tottering temples of the Lleyn (the latter has only a passing mention in the definitive guide, but the spirit and idea is strong enough). I think one could add Rhinnogite as a further path to follow, not least because following paths in those broad hills is not an easy task. The addictive nature of the climbing and exploring seems to match nicely other three cults.

I'm not sure the exact qualities one needs to attain those titles, and I suspect it is a matter of spirit rather than box-ticking (just like climbing, then....). Certainly ownership of a North Wales Rockfax would be an immediate preclusion, and choosing such areas merely for convenience or fashion would demonstrate a lack of essential soul. A lasting passion and appreciation of the perculiarities of the rock type, along with varied exploration of the venues would be a good start, and a calm, knowing utterance of: "Yes, This is it" might be a confirmatory finish.

Unfortuately despite erring towards those tendencies on a regular basis, I don't think I'm quite deserving to be a head, yet (not that I could ever achieve it via accomplishments, only via dedication - but that's the main quality). I'm close with the slate, having been from the heights of Upper Australia to the depths of Vivian in adjacent visits, and done a 6a rockover next to skyhooks in one of those visits, but slate is so afflicted with hordes that the bar needs to be set higher - more exploration needed. I'm tip-toeing along the Ormesman path but have a long way to go - more routes away from Marine Drive and perhaps climbing at my limit in all 3 disciplines, trad sport and bouldering, would further my steps. On the Lleyn, I have the passion but not the experience, I mean every numpty and his dog has done Byzantium - going off-piste with the definitive guide is the appealing way forward.

I suspect I am a Rhinnogite, even if it's my own suggestion. Visiting several venues all along the ridgeline - yes. Doing multiple hollow star routes and likely second ascents - yes. New-routing with Terry Taylor - yes. Pushing myself on a few routes as good as any short outcrop routes anywhere - yes. Falling in heather, bilberries, and boulder chasms - yes. That must be enough....

Anywhere here are some pictures of that chalky polished trade route Byzantium, it is still fantastic:

This is a boulder below Direct Hit. I thought it was rather pretty. The route was jolly good fun.