Monday, 8 July 2013


Ever since visiting Fairhead a few years ago, Cloggy has been top of my unrequited craglust list. Given the length of time I’ve been climbing, it was an obvious glaring omission, but every opportunity I had to go there, it was wet, and every time it was dry I was busy doing something else unavoidable. Perhaps I should have just taken the Dai Lampard approach and phoned work to say “I’m sorry, I can’t come in, I just have to climb on Cloggy today”. Anyway, this weekend the stars finally aligned, and at 5am on Saturday I crawled out of bed and headed west, stopping only to pick up LJ from Stockport.

It was lunchtime by the time we’d driven over, stomped up the Llanberis path in the baking heat and had out first eyeful of the crag. I’d only ever seen it before from afar and in pictures, but wow, what a crag. More great lines than you can shake a stick at, with enough dark, dank crevices to maintain an air of silent menace. There were 5 or 6 other parties at the crag, all of whom seemed to be on the Great Slab/Bow-Shaped Slab link up, so we left them to their devices and scrambled round to the start of Longland’s Climb, a three star VS. after a hard, bold and slightly damp start, 3 pitches of pleasant slabby climbing deposited us below “The Overhang”, the aptly-named crux. Good but spaced holds were promised, so after some faffery I applied a bit of faith and groped inelegantly upward for jugs and glory. The temperature on the crag had been pleasantly cool, so it was a bit of a shock to scramble up to the ridge and suddenly be struck by the heat. Glad we weren’t climbing in the sunshine (and it’s not often you can say that in the UK).

By the time we scrambled down Eastern Terrace the crowds had dispersed, so we jumped straight on Great/Bow and were rewarded with 5 pitches of outstanding climbing. Every pitch was better than any of the pitches on Longland’s (and that had been far from bad). The crux is a traverse which is either a safe but tough swing along a break with little for your feet, or a bold but easier teeter along the same break. I was all for teetering, but James had led the hard way, so I had to follow the gear. It felt pretty stout to me, especially when I misjudged the length of one of the moves and failed to take out one of the runners until I’d climbed too far past it to reach it. After much huffing, puffing and sketchy reversing I managed to flick it out and scuttle back left. Whew. The sun came round onto the slab by the 4th pitch, which was quite pleasant, but it brought the midges with it, which was less so. Not enough to detract from the climbing though. Totes amazeballs.
We win at life
It was pretty late by this stage, so we wandered down to the lake below the crag where we planned to bivvy. My last bivvying experience was in a motorway service station near Stuttgart, so these were altogether more impressive surroundings. Some creative use of a nutkey was required when it became apparent that I’d neglected to bring one, but our pasta, spicy pesto, salmon, sweetcorn and brie conflagration was worth the effort. A spot of celebratory whisky was imbibed and I soon fell into a very well-earned slumber.

I was awoken at 8 by the youth complaining that the sun was up. I’d actually woken up just after sunrise to see the crag bathed in an amazing orange glow, but was too tired/lazy to get my camera to record the occasion. After a leisurely breakfast and a morning cuppa we wandered back up to the crag just as the shade had come round onto the East Buttress and I led the easy approach pitch to Silhouette, one of the crag’s many classic E2s. As I wasn’t psyched for failing to lead any 5c moves, James set off with a monster rack for a 45m adventure pitch. He slipped off downclimbing early on, which was a shame, but he managed all of the actual upwards climbing, although he certainly took his time and made the top crux look desperate. When I got on it I found out that was because the whole route was hard, from start to finish. Other than the two 5c cruxes there was barely a move below 5a, and plenty of tricky 5b, compounded by a few greasy patches in the crack just where you didn’t want them. I reached the non-rest below the upper crux feeling very low on beans and when I went for the moves I was convinced I was off, but somehow I managed to rearrange my feet as I was about to fall and one desperate final application of try brought a just-good-enough hold into reach. The route was brilliant, but definitely at the E3 end of the grade and not one I’ll be rushing to lead in the near future.

Approaching the first crux on Silhouette
After that we were both feeling pretty physically and emotionally drained, so we contemplated doing Sheaf, a 2/3 star VS/HVS depending on which guide you believe, but Ripley told us not to bother as the 3rd pitch was unlocatable. After a bit of umming and aahing we decided to follow him and his dad up the 1st two pitches and then finish up White Slab, that way avoiding the terrifying looking entry traverse of that route. I led the first pitch, which had some nice climbing in spite of being a bit dirty, but I was constantly unsure that I was on the right line and couldn’t find a sensible belay, so ended up in an awkward semi-hanging stance some way above where I wanted to be. The next pitch, down, round the arête and then making a descending traverse of a slab was pretty cool, but my feet were in agony and I felt like I was climbing like a particularly punter punter, so I made Oswald lead the next pitch, which was brilliant; slabby cracks with just enough gear, and a cool steep juggy traverse at the end. The next pitch was the crux of White Slab, involving either a 5c traverse, or a pendulum at 5bish. It seemed that even if you wanted to do it free, failure to lasso the spike was a scary option, since falling off the smeary 5c moves would then have you scraping across the slab, before swinging round the arête and off into space below the belay (if you were lucky enough not to hit anything else). I sat in the corner and sulked about my uselessness and general all-pervading tiredness whilst James spent 40-odd minutes fruitlessly throwing armfuls of rope at the distant spike. A cowboy he ain’t. Eventually, not fancying the necessary manning-up to lead it free we decided to escape, which involved an entertaining abseil round a blind rib. I was very pleased to round it and find the ropes running back down into the descent gully rather than hanging off into oblivion.

Ripley pulling some shapes on White Slab
I was a bit grumpy about our failure, particularly my general exhaustion, so I decided to see if a swim in the lake would sort me out. The water was a touch nippy, but very refreshing and mill-pond still, so I decided to swim out into the middle and wait until the ripples had settled down. I had to abandon this plan 2/3 of the way out when I suddenly realised that I was so battered that there was a very real chance I might not have enough strength to swim back to shore if I went much further. After I was safely back on dry land this made me feel a little vindicated about running away. I’ll just have to come back when I’m harder, better, faster and stronger. Or at least a little less puntertastic. Not that I need encouragement to make a return visit. It’s an amazing crag, well worth it’s semi-mythical status. Now if I can just man up enough to do Shrike next time round that would be nice…

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