I could moan a great deal about the weather we’ve had in North Wales for most of the past 12 months but to sum it up I can say that if Mark Reeves makes a sequel to his 1st climbing film it could justifiably be called ‘Between the Floods’. Rock climbing through the winters in North Wales generally involves some bouldering, some Slate, the odd day on Gogarth or Tremadog but the most reliable venue for good weather and dry rock is the Lleyn Peninsula. The Lleyn is the area I associate with being forced to go to after constant weeks of rain and having a lack of the boredom threshold necessary for going sport climbing on Pen Trwyn.
If adventure climbing is your thing and you enjoy sea cliffs then the Lleyn should be top of the list, Gogarth pretty much pales in comparison (certainly in terms of rock quality). The highest proportion of potential new routes in North Wales can be found on the Lleyn. Jack Street and C Jacksons 1968 epic route Vulture on Cilan Main is possibly the wildest climb of the grade in North Wales and the fact that there is only 1 other free climb on that huge bit of face adds to the feeling of remoteness. The other freeclimb on this face is Terrorhawk, a contender for the best multi-pitch E6 in North Wales with the most serious pitch being the first one which it shares with Vulture, the rock thankfully gets better as height is gained.
One of the few forays outdoors since I’ve been back was to have a day out at Dorys with Sophie. We chose Samarkand, an E5 just right of Byzantium which I know has some of the best rock on the cliff. I gave Sophie 2 tips before starting. One was not to fall off the start as seconding with 45m of rope out could easily put you on the deck/boulders with the stretch. The other was to check every hold before using it as it’s not like grit. The contrast between the good Yosemite granite and the ‘good’ Dorys rock felt considerable and after our ascent we met a friend Sam at the Beacon Climbing Wall who had pulled a flake off the top of the same climb and broken his leg in the fall. I classed this as getting away lightly having been nervous about the prospect of pulling a hold off the top wall my imagination had made the consequences more serious.
There are many terrifying stories people have from climbing on the Lleyn. Sat in the Heights with Leigh McGinley he tells the story of him and Chris Wentworth going for a repeat of Littlejohns and Sustads epic traverse of Dorys, War and Peace, a 16 pitch E5. Towards the end a ledge collapsed on Leigh and his fall pulled out Chris’ belay with the pair of them left hanging on one cam and both of them battered and bloodied. They had no car so had to walk back to Abersoch and hitch back to the Heights in Llanberis to consume lots of ale. I presume they had a thousand mile stare on each of them.
Climbing Other Realms with Neil (the youth) Dicksen was an interesting affair. The climb was originally given E5 by Littlejohn even though his partner Chris Forrest had said it should not be given such a low grade. A strong team had pulled a block off it and had been forced to retreat, another strong team had had some combined ‘shananigans’ for an ascent to be made hence it had earned a reputation. Neil led the direct variation first pitch which felt like an E6 6c. On the 2nd pitch I climbed up to a bulge at 10 metres and stretched to place a cam high on the left in a loose looking ‘tombstone’ flake. I grabbed the most solid looking undercling which came off in my hand, thankfully I stayed on and reversed to the belay knowing the youth was revving to go. Neil was near his most relaxed and fatalistic form at the time and climbing up to my high point he didn’t hesitate to grab the loose flake I’d placed a cam in which I realised was directly above the belay. He backed it up and sat on the runners whilst I adjusted my belay to swing to the side if the flake plunged downwards. Neil comes down to the belay and suggested something about the crux bulge I didn’t want to hear. I go back up more relaxed with the knowledge that Neil had tested the flake and was at least 2 stone heavier than myself, I committed to the bulge and grim wall above. We topped out and like the others who have done the climb more recently it left an impression as do many of the climbs from Littlejohns legacy.
In 2007 myself and Nick Bullock went for a repeat on a classic 2 pitch Dorys ‘E5’ called Bobok which according to one of its first ascentionists means ‘the chant of dead people’. Bobok was put up by Ray Kay and Dave Jones, 2 devout loose rock activists who put up some truly terrifying climbs in great style. Stevie Haston tells the story about trying a new line through it and lowering off some appalling runners he was able to flick out with the rope when safely on the ground.
On the second pitch I’m thankful the rock quality is better and using a big foothold I make a long crucifix to gain a groove and eventually the top. Nick gets into the same crucifix position when seconding and the big foothold comes off leaving Nick ‘campused’ in a strenuous position, fair play to him though he didn’t fall. It had felt quite a bit harder than the E6s on the crag.
The one time I’ve climbed with Pete Robins on the Lleyn involved a slightly regretful experience for a friend. We went down to repeat Professor Whitaker, an E7 in Vatican Zawn. After a quick look in the guidebook I led what I thought was the first pitch and Pete led through on the second rapidly as Pete does. The gear had seemed good and we felt it to be very easy for the grade and/or that we were going well. We went back to Llanberis and told Jack Geldard how easy it was and how great the protection.
Jack obviously spent more time checking the guidebook and with Tim Neil went and tried it. He reached an impasse and felt it to be a bit dangerous so went down after a fight with the rock and maybe a dodgy fall?. Sometime later after some questioning it had turned out me and Pete had climbed the E4 called Messalina to the left of Professor Whitaker. He was unimpressed. Sorry Jack.
If you’ve climbed a lot at Gogarth and are after an adventure this winter buy the Lleyn guide and be careful.