A Week of Wonderful Welsh Rock

Snowdonia is known to be one of the wettest parts of the country, but that didn’t stop me from being as excited as a child visiting Disneyland for the first time. I was exuberant just thinking about witnessing some of the most impressive crags and landscapes in the UK. I got there with a couple of friends on a scorching hot Friday afternoon. We climbed a few long multi-pitch routes over the weekend, spent quite some time under our tarp during the sudden bouts of torrential rain, and splashed out on a few new goodies in the local climbing shops. The majority of Sunday was cloudless, beautifully sunny but breezy, the perfect temperature for climbing. My friends and I took advantage of this glorious weather and climbed a fantastic route to end the weekend on a high. Later, they dropped me off at the Bryn Twrch campsite; we said our goodbyes, and they left to start another week in the drudges of work and reality. For me on the other hand, the adventure was only just beginning. I felt the same excitement as I stood there alone, taking in the magnificent view from the campsite. With a vast array of scattered mountains and rugged landscape all around me, not to mention Mount Snowdon’s ever-impressive peak clearly visible in the distance, I began setting up base camp with a smile on my face. Initially, Tony was supposed to be spending these 5 days training one of his volunteers, but he’d kindly offered to take one other person, who’d be available for the duration and wanted help with boosting their climbing skills and knowledge. Upon receiving this email, I didn’t waste any time in getting the week off work and confirming that I would be going. I was ecstatic at being given such an opportunity and wanted to secure my place before he changed his mind! Unfortunately (for him), the volunteer couldn’t join us due to an injury, so I was to have Tony’s expertise and time all to myself. I could not believe my luck! I did worry that Tony might call the whole thing off, but he assured me that he is not one to let others down. Who wouldn’t want an excuse to stay there anyway? Tony had been on a CPD course that weekend, so I wasn’t expecting him until later that evening. There wasn’t a single tent in sight apart from Tony’s, so I took my time in finding the best position for my temporary abode. When I’d eventually decided where to set up, I went about preparing dinner whilst thinking about what was in store for me over the coming days. When Tony arrived, we had a lovely catch up, talked briefly about where we may be climbing, and had a look at all the gear we had available between us. Our itinerary was entirely weather dependent, so we used the resources available to us to find the best outlook in order to plan ahead. I managed to find a reasonably optimistic forecast, whereas Tony’s seemed to say the contrary. We decided to go with the most positive report, but agreed on a plan B in case the weather should take a turn for the worst. DAY 1: We knew Monday was going to be a rest day, as rain and more rain had been predicted. It made sense anyway, as I’d been climbing for three days prior to this, as had Tony. It had rained quite a lot in the night, and I was concerned about whether my tent would be able to handle another bout of it, so we ventured off into town on a tarp hunt. Not having much luck, I ended up buying some heavy-duty pegs and an emergency rescue bag, which we were hoping to somehow improvise with. We’d had quite a pleasant afternoon despite the rain, and had certainly made the most of our day off. After buying a couple of vegan ice creams and enjoying them beside a peaceful lake, we decided to go to the Slate Quarry Museum to delve into the history of the area. After an insightful trip to the museum, we hopped onto the bus to Ogwen for a sneak peak of Idwal Slabs, which was where we were hoping to climb on a dry day. I was completely blown away by the beauty of this crag, with Devil’s Kitchen lurking on the right, Llyn Ogwen gleaming behind us, and a narrow but mighty waterfall racing down the left cliff face. I couldn’t have imagined anything more stunning in that moment if I’d tried. After much gawping in awe and eyeing up our potential routes, we walked back to the main road, in the hope of catching a lift back to base camp. Having never hitchhiked before, I followed Tony’s lead and we walked towards a suitable hailing point. After a mere 10-minute wait, a sleek BMW pulled up beside us, we told the stranger where we were heading and he said he would be passing by the campsite, so off we went. He was there on a business trip, which apparently wasn’t going very well. After a brief conversation, we’d arrived at our destination, so we stepped out and thanked him for the ride: my first ever hitch-hiking experience was indeed a pleasant one! Once we’d returned, we cut up the rescue bag I’d bought earlier that day and managed to set up a surprisingly sturdy, makeshift tarpaulin to protect my tent from any more rain. There was still plenty of daylight left, so we decided to explore some boulders in the distance that Tony vaguely remembered climbing the last time he was there. It didn’t take us very long to get there, the ground was steep and overgrown, but very close to the campsite. At first look, the main boulder looked like a bad idea to me; it was covered in moss; the holds were there but looked ever so slippery; and the boulder was quite a high one too! I grumbled to Tony that I didn’t think it was a good idea, in response, he simply told me to live a little! I was still a bit hesitant, but loved his enthusiasm and sense of adventure, and was secretly intrigued too. It wasn’t as hard as it first seemed at all. As long as you kept your balance and gripped the greasy holds in the right way, it worked. We topped out and scrambled down the other side to see what else was hidden there. We found a few fun scrambles, but it was evident that no one had been up there for a long time, let alone bouldered. As the sun began to set, we retrieved our boots and proceeded to find an alternative return path. On the way down, we tried a few edible plants that Tony pointed out, crept around an adder basking in the setting sun, and discovered the secret to warding off midges! We covered our visible skin in what is known as Bog Myrtle and almost instantly, the midges gave up and wandered off to find someone else to bother. Our brief visit to the top of a small hill and back consisted of climbing hairy boulders, learning about edible plants, enjoying a beautiful view, seeing an adder up-close, finding the secret to repelling midges and having plenty of giggles: Fantastic. DAY 2: According to the weather forecast, Tuesday was supposed to be sunny, although it didn’t turn out this way. We woke up to a wet, dreary sky that wasn’t showing any signs of clearing up. So plan B it was. The landowner had set up a small shack for campers to use as a sheltered dining area. It wasn’t much, but had enough in it for us to turn it into our classroom for the day. We were going to work on theoretical practice, looking at building anchors, escaping the system, useful knots, assisted and unassisted hoists, as well as other related procedures. Thankfully, the forecast wasn’t completely wrong, as the afternoon seemed to brighten up. We packed our bags and made our way to the nearest crag, which was within walking distance and quite a popular spot for instructors. Capel Curig was safely hidden away from the main road, with very easy access. We decided to continue with the ‘classroom day’, and used this area for practising gear placements, and building proper anchors on real rock. During a break from our lessons, as I was exploring the area, I accidentally discovered a small area with a few routes on it! Now Tony had climbed here before, but hadn’t realised this was ‘that’ area. Tony concluded that he must’ve subconsciously erased the memory from his mind, after having a painstaking ‘falling’ experience some years back. It had evidently triggered some unwanted flashbacks, but he didn’t let this get in our way. We set up the top rope and had a few practice climbs on improving technique; I was certainly glad that we had stumbled upon this face of the crag, and that we were given a window of sunshine to enjoy it. Eventually, the window began to close so we finished up the last route and packed up to go home. Our campsite was visible in the distance, so we attempted finding an alternative route home, as Tony seemed to remember there being one. We took a slightly different trail back, but still ended up on the main road for the remainder of the walk. It had turned out to be a very productive day, and ended on a good note. Tony had even enjoyed the climbing, and was able to get closure from his distressing previous experience, and finally put it to rest. On the way home, as the showers started again, we took refuge at the local climbers’ café for a well-deserved hot drink. DAY 3: Wednesday morning was an absolute winner, the weather was perfect and we were raring to go. We had a swift breakfast, packed our bags and hitchhiked with a lovely lady who had only stopped because she saw our climbing helmets and knew we’d be okay (note to self: always attach climbing helmet on outside of bag, when trying to hitchhike)! She dropped us off in Ogwen, at the start of the path towards Idwal Slabs, and off we went. We started by climbing ‘Hope’ a fabulous 3-star, 5 pitch route given VD, of which I lead the last pitch, and followed this with ‘Lazarus’ at the top. A pleasant 2-pitch route awarded one star and S grade, which I also lead. The descent was quite precarious in comparison to the climbing, with a steep and narrow route, leading to an optional abseil point. We decided to down-climb rather than abseil, as I went first and felt confident enough to scramble down using the holds available. Once we’d almost reached the bottom, we sat next to the waterfall to reorganise our gear, have a quick snack and admire the breathtaking view. By the end of the day, I was undoubtedly blown away by what I’d experienced and we nattered about it all the way to a suitable hitchhiking point. Along the way, Tony pointed out a beautiful little plant, which he suspected to be an orchid, but was unsure. This later turned out to be a Marsh Orchid! Today had been an extremely long day, with a very early start; surprisingly, we’d managed to pack in a whopping 11.5 hours of activity! Due to this late finish, we’d missed the main rush of drivers going home from work, and had to wait considerably longer than usual to finally get a lift. DAY 4: Another beautiful morning got us off to a flying start, we managed to get a lift with a friendly gentleman who was a frequent hillwalker in the area. He dropped us off in Ogwen near the path for Clogwyn Bochlwyd. We reached the base of the crag and started setting up. Once we were ready to go and Tony was flicking through the guidebook to decide on a warm up route, I sat on a boulder and took in the spectacular scenery around us, it was magical…and we had the whole crag to ourselves! Although a few other climbers did join us later on… We started with the enjoyable ‘Two Pitch Route’, which was actually a 1-pitch route with 2 stars and had been given a Severe 4a grade. I went on to lead ‘Chimney Climb’, a Severe graded route, also with 2 stars. This was in fact a 2-pitch route but we climbed it all in one. I found the crux extremely challenging as there was one tricky move to get over the chimney, which could only be done in one way without making it extremely hard for yourself, but it was quite a scary move! It took me a quite a while to pluck up the courage and make this move, but once I’d done it the rest was fine. I’d conquered the route. For the last climb of the day and of the trip, we chose ‘Marble Slab’, a one-tricky-move HS 4b. After the difficulty we had the day before with getting a lift home, we agreed to leave a little earlier this time. Although, a couple of other climbers had offered to give us a lift if we were still waiting when they got there, we’d managed to catch a couple of hillwalkers heading back to the car park. Once we were back at base camp, I went about packing my belongings, as I had to go home first thing Friday morning, to return the rope I’d borrowed from a friend who needed it back for the weekend. After we’d finished dinner and sorted all the equipment, we sat down to enjoy the last evening amongst our glorious surroundings. We reminisced on our various mini-adventures, whilst I updated my notes and Tony helped summarise everything he’d taught me. I never thought there would be so much that we could pack into a few days and make our time count. Despite the rain, Tony had ensured that we were always doing something enjoyable, educational, challenging or active. From leading trad climbs, to foraging for edible plants, to the perfect hitchhike! I even learnt a little about Welsh pronunciation and some of the basic rules. This was truly a week of learning, productivity, putting theory into practice, pushing boundaries, challenging myself, and all-round enjoyment whatever the weather. Thank you Tony, for making my first experience of North Wales so special.