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Newbies in North Wales

Posted on June 26 2013

North Wales was my first proper multi-pitch climbing trip. I have toyed around with it in the past but as my experience started with bouldering (as most do), I have always been into the shorter, more powerful moves. Most of all those beautiful crux’s that you can spend a day on.

Multi pitch seemed scary and most of all seemed hard to back out of. If you get stuck sometimes it can feel like the only way is up. Going back down seems convoluted as you can’t always do it in one go and you may need to leave several pieces of equipment in the rock.

To sum it up I was nervous to say the least. Especially as I was bringing my Fiancé allong with me for ‘a romantic trip’ which the more i thought about it would become a tragic nightmare with me being really angry because i chickened out and left half my rack behind. Also she climbs at a much lower level than me so it could have been a day of me dragging her up behind.

Luckily the plan was to do some Hard Very Severe climbs to challenge myself but not on a very hard grade (4c and below) so she could follow me up easily and being secured by myself above her climb without fear.

Now, I know a lot of you are thinking that that is easy but I regularly lead at 6b/c indoor at the moment. This is totally different. There is a well known acceptance at the moment that if you trad lead you don’t fall because you will hurt yourself. I don’t agree with this at all because you always see the best fall and that is how they became the best by pushing their limits. However, for me at the moment the aim was to get more experience and leave the falling and better climbing to the safer indoor environment. 

I only had a few days of from work so i drove down straight after and slept in the car (too late by then to stay anywhere) so we were ready in the morning. We were in the town of Betws-y-Coed which is the home of climbing in North Wales. We popped into a store and bought our guide book for the trip, North Wales Rock by Ground Up, under some great advice from the shop assistant. North Wales Classics from Rockfax was a very close second and a better size but this just had more climbs and more choice.

After our chat at the shop we raced over to Hollyhead and parked up. This was under the advice of the guy at the shop who i think thought this would be a great place for those without experience in North Wales. There was some sort of Puffin breeding frenzy going on on the south stack which really was a sight to behold. They just lined these cliffs which i bet even Steve McClure would have struggled with (probably not but impossible looking none the less). 

We trekked 20 mins to Hollyhead Mountain and started to find a route to climb. It was a Saturday and the weather was scorching. I have darkish skin and even i was getting burnt. The rocks were obviously packed. Suddenly the weakness of our book showed up. All the 'selected climbs’ in the book were all taken. Had we had a specific book we could have found climbs others didn’t know about and avoided the hustle and bustle. But as everyone had the same book we did we just had to wait. 

It wasn’t long before we were on the wall and the climbing was superb. We started with the Tempest. The jagged rock was mean looking but gave something solid to grab. The cracks were deep and it topped out with 3 spikes which you had to squeeze yourself between (safer but claustrophobic) or climb the outside which was actually easier than it looked.

Feeling pumped we hit the next climb, Tension. It was only 25m but with a bulge pushing you outwards and a little overhang it didn’t seem the best for resting. Leading it was easy and the placements were many. Nuts and hexes did fine and felt solid jammed in the cracks. It was very pumpy though and where you couldn’t rest the heart really raced. I had no plans to let go.

This one my partner struggled to follow me. I think it is much more of a strong arm climb and although technique will get you through it really helps to be able to drag yourself up over the ledge. Being effectively top roped she could rest and a weary figure with a big grin pulled herself over the lip.

Unfortunately, while sorting out the gear at the top i dropped my belay between 2 boulders and it disappeared. With only one belay left and not being totally confident using an italian hitch on my new slippery rope we called it a day. It was getting late, was way to hot and we just wanted to chill.

After rushing to the shops before close we bought another better belay and already feeling better we found this amazing farm campsite that was dead and with out own meadow right next to the river. After frolicking about in the river and feeling like we were truly wild camping (despite still having all the amenities and stumping up the cash) we planned the next day which didn’t include climbing.

It was so busy and despite being an admirable climber my Fiancé hates to be watched. We instead decided to see some national trust sites and have a touristy day. I reluctantly agreed but the next day i was so glad I had. It was hotter than before (it would have been cruel to climb in that heat) and Wales has some amazing history. Penrhyn Caslte was one of the best sites I have ever been to (easily rivalling Hampton Court and Tower of London for those Londoners). Plas Newydd Country House was beautifully set and perfect for a picnic by the estuary. The highlight was Ty Mawr Wybrnant, it is just a little gem that is tiny, despite meaning Big House. I think I mostly I loved it because it felt Welsh. It didn’t feel like something someone who is not Welsh should see or care about (which strangely means i felt Welsh).

We had a lovely day and then towards the end we decided to do a climb. It was a Sunday and we figured by now most people would have made their way home for the working week ahead. We were right and we found a great climb in Tremadog. We got set up and ready to go and then we got attacked. The base of the climb was in tree cover and we were fresh pieces of meat being eaten alive my midges. I started to climb but I couldn’t concentrate on the climbing. I was just too irritated. We made a hasty retreat and camped at the only place that made sense. Eric Jones’ cafe.

That same night we heard some crazy climbers doing a night climb with torches. From the sounds of things they were really being eaten alive. 

Eric Jones is a legend. A solo climber, base jumper and skydiver who has done the Eiger to Everest has created a haven next to the rock faces in Wales. What was great is we met a young budding climber who is trying to climb some 8a’s. We bathed in his enthusiasm for climbing, ate, had some wine and settled down for the night. He gave us some advice for the next day. This is were we felt the inadequacies in our book. Most of the climbs he told us to do were not in our book and just in the Tremadog guide. We met Eric which was a delight. It was like meeting a national treasure but he didn’t seem to know it.

The next day we started on Christmas Curry. An amazing route and a classic. It has some bubbly rock, a great ledge traverse and some solid lay backing. Towards the top the cracks and ledges get tiny before you get onto the ridge for the last few metres. I loved every minute of this climb and at the top it really felt like an achievement.

We did a few more like this and had an amazing day. These climbs take much longer so you get less done but they are so much better. You feel like you are dong some real climbing, really achieving something.

The amazing thing about this is the Rocks on Tremadog are on the roadside. There is basically no approach time. On the longer pitches though it made it harder to hear each other everytime a car went past which was annoying. 

Wales has some amazing climbs all with great variety. A lot is quite high, some is costal (Gogarth) and some is bolted (Llanberis). The rock type varies but it is all quite hard and quite high. There is so much to explore, so many areas so many climbs but it definitely draws you back. A general book will get you going but if you are going to spend any time in one area you need the specific guide.

Another problem is the approaches. Most of them have an hour approach or more and only Tremadog has a really convenient one. I think you will find any climb worth the approach here. Flipping through the book there was so much I wanted to try, i just had no time. For the beginners up for the adventure there is even a 230m VD.

When the weather is good it is too busy on a weekend. Climbers from Manchester and Liverpool join the locals here and it just becomes a bit much. If you can get here on a weekday you will have more fun and more choice. It is when you realise how big a sport climbing has become and just how popular it is.

The people really made the trip though. Climbers are a lovely relaxed bunch anyway and it seems like in Wales everyone is a climber. Everyone is chilled and lovely. We went in blind and everyone wanted to help us. We genuinely feel like we made friends (like Eric) who we want to go back and see again and again.

The climbers we met were amazing. I was shocked. Everyone who climbs in the south is competitive and all they care about is the grade you climb. Here all anyone cares about is climbing. Its just the joy of it. We met no one screaming or swearing because they can’t do a problem. They were just having fun. Coming from London it was so refreshing.

Would I go back? Yes. Do I want to move there? Yes.


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