With a few days off between jobs, I hatched a plan with fellow non-working bum Sophie to go to North Wales and climb it. All of it. Sophie was especially keen to climb steep things, so I took some prusiks and my best set of forearms.
We were quite tardy in leaving Sheffield due to some very important cake-cooling, so we headed to Millstone. I decided to start on Oriel, a VS which I'd heard was a bit hard, and it turned out to be so. A nice jamming crack finished a little too soon, leaving an indelicate flail into a big sandy cave. My initial attempt was rebuffed by the apparent jug actually being slopey and useless, so I downclimbed a couple of moves to a bridged half-rest. At least I tried to, but put my foot on the wrong bit of the crack and promptly fell off. Oh the ignominy. After a brief rest, I contemplated pulling the ropes, but since the gear was in the relatively straightforwards crack, and was trivial to place, I decided to forgo the ethical niceties and just get up the thing. Second time round I found a slightly better hold, laid one on a bit, and reached the sanctuary of the cave. The rest of the route was a lot easier, although it did feature some thinnish moves in a position with quite a high plummet potential. Exciting.
I managed to save some face with a swift tick of the fun Little Lotto Arete, although I should have flashed it. I got fooled into trying to use some tricky footwork, when the answer was obviously just to use my high-stepping skills to stand on the big ledge. We tried the V4 next to it, but there was a big ledge which rendered it simple, and not to use it was a bit too distressingly eliminate, so we sacked it in and went back to the proper climbing.
Sophie fancied a look at the bold arete of Watling Street, so bambered up the easy start of By-Pass to reach the big ledge from which it started. After a bit of a look she decided it was a bit heightist and belayed on the ledge, from which I finished up Scoop Crack. Deciding that something less subtle and more pumpy was called for, Sophie whizzed up Dexterity, proudly proclaiming at one point to have done six jams in a row, a personal record. I followed by the skin of my teeth, with my arms nearly succumbing to the pump on the top moves. Rather than abseiling off we escaped from the ledge up April Arete, which was quite fun.
Still feeling a bit the worse for the wear I lead The Hacker, a nearby VS, and still managed to make the moves onto the ledge feel very hard for 4c. Oh dear. The upper arete was thankfully much easier, and quite pleasant.
Unfortunately Sophie now had a taste for steepness, and dragged me round to the grossly overhanging wall at the far end of the crag. The guidebook promised that Brimstone would get you "as pumped as you're ever likely to get on an E1", which sounded as bad as it looked. Sophie used her Arapiles-honed fitness, and general skills to cruise the route, which is a lot more than can be said for my seconding attempts. After a particularly trying few minutes wrestling with a very intransigent nut I managed to reach the crux, forearms ready to explode. After a while hanging around getting even more pumped I somehow found the oomph to make the move and grab the jug, hooray. I pulled up, got stood on the jug, and, with only one more pull on massive (really, really massive) jugs to go to the top, fell off. Very unjust. As if to prove to myself that it wasn't a hard move I hardly rested at all before doing it, topping out and immediately collapsing in a heap of lactic acid and failure. Sophie just laughed at me. I did, at least, manage to talk her out of doing the E3 next to it, which was even longer, and even more overhanging. So we drove to her cottage in Wales instead.
The next day the forecast was a bit ropey, so we had an epic lie in and some awesome pimped porridge to set us up for the day. Intensive studying of the forecasts suggested Gogarth was the place to go, but we began to doubt this as we drove across Anglesey in the rain. Even as we got to Holyhead it was still drizzling and we were preparing for an epic cake-fest in the cafe, but when we pulled up it was dry if a little overcast, so we started walking and thinking positive thoughts. We headed for main cliff where I was psyched for Emulator, The Gauntlet, Bezel and The Ramp, but Sophie suggested I ought to warm up before getting on Emulator, so she led off up Aardvark, an E2 6a slab. I found the moves low down quite trying on second, which didn't auger well for the actual crux above. This was preceded by a very awkward rest, from which it was possible to rest all four limbs, but only one at a time and via an advanced sequence of balancey contortions. After milking this rest for all it was worth I finally committed to the fingerlocking and thin footholds above, and somehow made it through to the easier juggy finish. I managed not to fall off this time, and scrambled through up a pile of grass and perched blocks to the base of the upper tier, below Bezel.
Gogarth in the sunshine all to ourselves
Since we were here already it seemed sensible to do a route before heading back down, and I mooted Bezel as a quick and easy suggestion. By this stage the sun had come out, and we were both somewhat overdressed. Sophie had used her leader's prerogative to make me carry her excess jacket, which did little to cool me down. Still, the views were beautiful and we had the entire crag to ourselves and not a cloud in sight. My suggestion was quickly shot down in flames as Sophie insisted that one of the E2s would get us back to our bags, and water, quicker. Accordingly she shot off up the very steep weirdy rock of The Eternal Optimist, pulling some funky shapes up the steep groove. Soon it was my turn, and in spite of working hard at convincing myself that it wasn't that steep, as soon as I was pulling on the holds the inevitable onset of the dreaded pump began. I fell off after a desperate lunge for a distant jug was met with a not-jug, and again after messing up some footwork, but managed to tussle my way round the crux overhang eventually, and onto friendlier-angled ground. There was still an awkward crack to deal with, which drew some blood, and then the inevitable Gogarth top-out. Shudder.
When we finally got back to our bags it was late, and I was far too beasted to even contemplate anything hard, so we snuck off to Holyhead Mountain and I bambered up a slabby VS to finish the day.
Saturday started with a bit more rain, before we headed to the Orme. I was pretty uninspired by all this hard limestone nonsense, but we wandered round to a spot with an E1 that Sophie assured me was only HVS. I moaned a bit and set off rather warily, but it turned out she was right. It was soft, well protected, and actually quite fun. I felt a bit dirty.
After failing to toprope a steep fingery F6b+, we moved round to another E1 that Sophie suggested was soft. After a committing move at the start I fiddled in some reasonable gear and made a swing rightwards into a steep grove. This turned out to be full of huge jugs, and, other than spending too long faffing with poor gear, the climbing was fairly straightforwards. Somehow I'd managed to double my tally of Welsh E1s. I was beginning to warm to the place. We headed back towards the car, and Soph decided to get on Anchovy Madonna, an E3 5c with 3 bolts, and then a nut-protected groove. I was satisfied with my lot, but she insisted that I should give it a go on second. I managed to lank through the crux bulge, but the groove above was sustained and it didn't give up without a fight. Eventually I made it to the top cleanly, the first time I'd managed not to fall off anything harder than E2.
The appetising roof of Gritstone Gorilla
So, all in all a really good day in spite of my initial misgivings. Sophie was still keen for more pump, so we drove round Marine Drive to St Tudno's Upper Crag, and I belayed her up the fearsome looking roof of Gritstone Gorilla. I had already put my foot down and refused to second it, and the ensuing diagonal abseil round the roof proved a whole lot more effort for either of us then the route had been for Sophie. Still, she gained a number 8 nut in the process, so it was worth it. At this point the rain arrived, so we escaped to a Karibiner Club hut, where a distant acquaintance of Sophie's was having a party that she had somehow managed to get us invited to. There was even chili thrown into the bargain. Maximum win.
Yet another rainy morning, with added wind, drove us to a late second breakfast/early lunch in the Caban, before things looked to have dried up enough for us to head for the slate with Gareth and Naomi, a couple of Sophie's friends and fellow stragglers from the previous night's party. We stomped up the levels to Australia, and I warmed up on Brief Encounters, a part bolted, juggy HVS. It looked a bit dirty from below, but all of the holds were both huge, and clean, so it was easy enough. Next Sophie led Gadaffi Duck, an E2 6a full of new bolts, to give something like an F6b/+. She suggested I might be able to lead it, so I had a crack, and after no small amount of huffing and puffing at the unreasonably low crux, I somehow managed it just before the heavens opened. This coincided nicely with lunchtime, so we ate, and then let the slate dry off whilst we went for a look up the wonderfully-named Stairs Of Cirith Ungol at the other Caban, a relic of the quarries' previous existence containing some vintage workmen's boots and jackets. Very cool, and a nice reminder of the hard work which went into creating all of this funky climbing.
Gareth seconding Naomi up Looning The Tube
With things having dried off, Sophie warmed up again on a steep F6b, before having some fun trying to work out how to do the crux of Goose Creature. After many aborted attempts she went for it and fell off, but got it second time. Then it started to rain again, so we retreated to the car, at which point the sun came out again. After some flim-flamming I manned up a bit and decided to go and do Gnat Attack, an E1 with 2 bolts and a long run out. On getting to the bottom of the route I learnt that there was another run out to reach the first bolt, which I hadn't been expecting, but I managed to get over it, and the climbing wasn't too tricky. As soon as I clipped the first bolt things got more interesting, and I had to stand on some proper 5b footholds. A few more tricky moves and I had clipped the second bolt. At this point the lower off still looked a long way off, but I focused on one move at a time, and soon I was threading the lower off. Go me.
Alas our further adventures in Wales were curtailed by some truly atrocious weather, including wind strong enough to whip the leaves off the trees. This was probably just as well, as Sophie was trying quite hard to persuade me to have a go at leading Anchovy Madonna, eek. We headed back to the Peak in the hope of some dry rock, but the best that we could manage was a couple of hours bouldering at Raven Tor. I tried to occupy myself with some traversing, but after a few inglorious failures my elbow started to hurt, so I gave up and we came home for recuperative tea.