Monday, 20 June 2011


Nursing a slightly worryingly dodgy elbow (I blame seconding Sophie up too much overhanging nonsense), and with a slightly ropey, but improving, forecast, I hitched a lift with Jaime and Dan to North Wales this weekend. I didn't have too many high hopes for much climbing, but was just keen to get a bit of mileage in, and perhaps tick off a few routes from the grand ticklist.

After a drink or several on Friday night, Saturday morning was hardly a faff-free or early affair, but eventually Jaime and I hatched a plan to nip to Rhoscolyn, climb Symphony Crack (the classic Diff of the crag!) and then head to Holyhead Mountain. This was a sort of compromise, as I didn't want to lead King Bee Crack, and had done everything else at Holyhead I wanted to. Or so I thought.

Anyway, eventually we reached Rhoscolyn at lunchtime, and strolled into the crag in the sunshine. The tide was in, and the sea was wavey, so I was relieved to discover that the crag wasn't underwater, and the traverse in to the route appeared to be above the waves. Jaime, it turns out, fears the sea, so we got the ropes out, and I tied her down to a rock, before leading the route. It was very pleasant, a fun little adventure. I got to experience this for a second time when soloing the route a second time to retrieve a stuck nut.

Symphony Crack and the hungry sea

Next up we moved to Holyhead Mountain, where Jaime led Cursing, and I led the essentially unprotected top pitch of Little Women (4c and a big ledge at the bottom to arrest your fall before the gear came into the equation). Pleasingly I managed not to gibber at any point, although I don't claim there was any style in my bellyflop top-out. I then soloed a couple of easier routes, before Jaime led the corned of Teaser, and I decided to maintain the bold theme by leading Step On The Wild Side, a largely unprotected HVS 4c up the arete to the right of Little Women. Again, there was not wibbling, and I even resisted the urge near the top, to place a runner in a crack I could easily have reached (try explaining the logic of that to a non-climber).

Soloing a Holyhead Mountain

Whilst pondering what to do next, Jaime mentioned a need to lead an HVS, so I suggested a nearby one which was really about HS 4b (hurrah for baffling overgrading). I soloed it to prove that it really was easy, so then after Jaime had led it, I did a bit of chicanery with the ropework and managed to second an unprotected E1 4c slab instead. I had entertained the idea of soloing this earlier, but was put off by the apparent lack of holds. As it was, the holds were good, if small, so i soloed it for the easiest E-point I've yet managed. We finished the day with Jaime leading Tension, still one of my favourite routes at the crag. A really good day.

A night of drinking, cake-eating, play-doh modelling and charades ensued, and didn't contribute to an early start on Sunday. Eventually we made it to Carreg Wasted in the pass shortly before lunchtime, and I set off up Ribstone Crack. The guide claimed it was high in the grade, but it felt fine, and had a particularly fine bridged position high on the headwall. Marvellous. After lunch I got stuck into the promisingly named Overhanging Chimney, which had a rather scary first pitch. Pulling on juggy, but dubious holds, with nothing but a couple of rattly and uninspiring nuts between me and 10 metres of plummet, wasn't particularly fun, but it was character building. Which is more than can be said of the second pitch, the eponymous chimney. Bridging led to more bridging, and then a pull on jugs, and suddenly I was free without having to do a single move of chimneying, overhanging or otherwise. I led to the top in a single 50m pitch with only 5 runners, perhaps some kind of record (for me at least).

Emerging from the Overhanging Chimney

After this we both sat around at the bottom of the crag feeling like we should climb something else, but not particularly inspired by anything. Eventually I decided to lead First Test, a two pitch VS 4c with "good but spaced gear", that old chestnut. The first pitch was bold, but with adequate gear until the crux, by which stage only a sling draped over a dubious spike lay between me and a near groundfall from 15 metres or so, and things only got worse on the second pitch. Direct entry to the corner as suggested (the guide at least said that it was hard) was clearly harder than 4c, and protected only by a poor nut behind a loose looking flake, which also provided the only holds. Feeling this was unreasonable, I engineered a traverse in from the right at a sketchy, and still unprotected 4c ish, to be rewarded with plenty more tricky climbing and rattly holds, but little in the way of gear. Finally after 35m the route bafflingly avoided the obvious direct finish, for a bold (of course), tricky and wholly un-fun, traverse onto a briefly lived arete. And I ran out of rope setting up the belay. All in all, not my favourite ever route, and definitely an HVS kind of experience, but it did seem like a fitting end to a weekend which had involved rather a lot of bold 4c climbing. At no point had I cried like a girl, or thought I might die. So perhaps I'm making some kind of progress after all.

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