Bring on the apocalypse

I couldn’t think of a suitable image to go alongside the angry opinionated diatribe below, so here is a fluffy one looking towards Elidir Fawr, Glyder Fawr & Carnedd Llewelyn from the top of Craig yr Ogof, Cwm Silyn after climbing a combo of Kirkus’s route & the direct. Possibly the first ascent of the season and un-chalked. It’s HVS and was climbed a long time ago by people who did not need to be told every gear placement and just got on with it.

Since the easing of Covid restrictions, I’ve been climbing frequently, and more than ever, (if that’s possible) and the space, the elements, the wildlife has been really noticeable. On saying this, is it just me, or are there a lot fewer birds than there used to be? When I grew up, the hedgerows were full of bullfinches, greenfinches, linnets, redpoll, mistle and song thrushes, and the muddy fields always had nesting lapwings, their burbling call, was a soundtrack to my youth. Nowadays, there appears to be few birds in comparison to the days of my childhood, it’s such a shame that it appears we, (humans) have buggered it all up, and are continuing to do so. We know what wrecks the world, but we continue anyway! Humans just can’t help themselves, and much of the blame, in my opinion, comes from arrogance, greed and vanity; humans just don’t appear to be able to hold themselves back where money and bragging are concerned, and it makes me ask why as a species, are humans so narcissistic and greedy?

Anyway, I’ve been getting a lot from my local climbing, it’s possibly been more enjoyable than ever, maybe a positive from all the bad. The thought of travelling long distances on a plane to fulfil personal ambition and ego, and causing more damage, while spreading more of who-knows-what, is something I’m struggling to justify at the moment. Maybe in the future, when it’s all completely wrecked, with no chance of clawing it back, I’ll just stick my head in the sand and do what I want with no regard to the outcome of my actions, who knows? So, I’ve stayed in the UK, two trips to Scotland, but mainly local in Cymru. I’ve done a bit of new routing and a few hard, (for me) repeats. I’ve had several days out climbing some stuff that was new to me, and I’ve climbed some well-versed classics, climbs I’ve done many times. I must admit, these often-repeated climbs felt wonderful, it was like meeting neglected friends. Usually, I do these classics a few times every summer, and returning to them almost felt like a return to times before the pandemic. But like the birds in the hedgerow, I’m not sure the unadulterated feeling I once had, will return?

Since the arrival of Covid-19 and the effect it has had on the world, I question and look at things more deeply. Humanity and the earth we share, appears to be a balancing act, a seesaw, and at the moment, from my somewhat limited perspective, we, (humanity) appear to be sat wallowing on the ground, outweighing the other life, which is in the air, and we appear not to care, as long as we can look at our smartphone, take selfies, eat burgers and fly into outer space!

So, I hear you ask, what has all of this got to do with climbing? Well, not a lot I suppose, or maybe it has? I don’t have a UKC Logbook, but a few years ago I began to look at what people had written about certain climbs. I think it started as my interest in European sport routes grew, and I started to attempt sport climbs at the top of my ability. Mainly I climb with Rich Kirby when on sport trips abroad, and I think it was because of Rich, (who has a logbook and reads what people say about climbs) I started to look at certain logbook entries. In those innocent days, I marvelled at how Rich knew certain things about climbs, and it was only when he told me about people’s logbook entries, I began to read some of them. It soon became apparent how Rich knew certain things, and why he aimed towards certain climbs. On those same trips, we would often have heated debates about the whole logbook thing, because at the time, I thought it was all ego fuelled vanity, yet another thing alongside social media to put it all out there, and show the world how good you are. Just another way to get your mates writhing in envy. I’ve softened a little since, because of course, climbers like to keep record of their great conquests, (sorry, I mean climbs) but, if this was the only reason to fill a logbook, I didn’t understand why people didn’t log their climbs privately, which is, of course, possible. I do understand, and can see the fun/addiction of adding climbs to a logbook, it’s like in the old days when egg collecting was a thing, just look at all those lovely colourful eggs lined up with the name of the bird beneath!

The time has come for me to ask, are routes still climbed wholly and purely for personal joy and the individual challenge, or is this reason to climb becoming, like the birds, a rare thing? Climbs themselves are becoming more like eggs, a commodity, something to be listed, ticked and shared, something to boast about. The once hidden nuances of climbs are now revealed in detail. Take a look at some of north Wales’s hard classics in the logbooks, bloody hell, if you choose to read the info given on some entries, or in the beta section, you can rack up the exact gear before getting to the crag, and as long as you’re fit, climb the route being guided all the way by information supplied. What is this about? Why do people feel the need to tell everyone the gear, where the gear is, and how to place it! Have we all become drones – slaves to the internet, unable to step from the ground without a list of how to do? Why do people need to tell others what gear to use on a climb? Hell, climbing has been happening for a long time before the internet, and folk managed. But, like I was saying, I’ve softened, my attitude has changed, and there are aspects of the logbooks I really like; I love reading about the epics, (as long as they got out in the end!) and I love some humble and witty stuff, (Rob Greenwoods comments are some of the best) and I love the honest comments that tell of struggle, pain and pump – things we can all relate and remember. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough of this type of thing, and what could be a good source of entertainment, is lost, (to me anyway) beneath all the fluff and ego.

Over this summer, I’ve watched people climb routes that bear no resemblance to their logbook entries, and the comments they write are at the best, misguided delusions or boasts, and at worst, lies. Why do the comments of people, in general, downgrade climbs, but very rarely, upgrade? And after nearly thirty years of climbing, it’s taken my reading the UKC logbooks to realize you can second a climb and then lead it, and say it was almost flash, I’m sorry, but you can’t almost flash something, you either flash it or you don’t, just face up to the truth, be honest with yourself and others, leave the ego behind and tell it like it is.

I’ve also learnt you can second, top rope and lead a climb, and then say how easy you found it! Well done on finding it easy, good for you! It’s taken years for me to realize you gain more bragging rights by telling the world it was un-chalked and no doubt the first ascent of the season, even if it’s a climb that has had hundreds of ascents and has possibly been climbed by folk already that summer, but they probably chose not to enter into the internet boasting fray, and what the difference does it make whether you climbed a route before anyone else that summer anyway?

I’m sorry, it’s my problem, I know it’s just climbing in the 21st Century, and I’ve been left behind, but bloody hell, this is why the world is fucked, it’s all arrogance, narcissism, selfishness and ego, and I’m happy I’ve been left behind, so please, bring on the apocalypse, because I’m suffering and I need putting out of my misery.

Postscript:

Fluffy boastful lists of the amazing climbs I’ve been finding easy this summer, climbs that I almost flashed after top-roping, will resume in the next blog.

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The Earth Died Screaming. (A dangerous labour of love!)

The Earth Died Screaming first ascent. Pic credit, Jethro Kiernan.

At the end of the first lockdown, when travel in Cymru was restricted – up the lanes from where I live, is Gideon Quarry. The imposing and well known Dinorwig Quarry, is to the east of Llanberis on the slopes of Elidir Fawr, Gideon sits on the west side of the valley, and feels secretive in comparison. Gideon is one of a series of holes burrowed into the hillside, collectively they are called the Quarries of Glyn Rhonwy. In the base, of Gideon, it’s vegetated and green, there are mature trees and bushes, and amongst this more wild environment, there are screeching kestrels, and ravens that turn clunking and clonking acrobatics, there are cheeky choughs with comedy crimson legs and bills.

Looking down from the natural bridge that separates The Land that God Forgot and Gideon, the left wall is an anomaly, the quarry is a slate quarry, but a section of the this wall is micro-granite. Given the travel restrictions, my friend Tim suggested I abseil and climb a, supposedly, (Tim just can’t help sandbagging his friends) good E4 called, The Bone People, and for once, Tim had not sandbagged me, it is a good climb. So good, in-fact, over a few days I climbed it several times. The E4 grade is a bit misleading, its almost fully bolted, (spaced!) so a few draws and a couple of small wires will do the job. Being outside and climbing after months of lockdown felt fantastic, but the weird feeling of not wanting to risk injuring myself because of everything going-on, was always in the back of my mind, which was a strange feeling for someone who has hardly taken a minute to consider personal risk in the past.

The weather throughout the whole of the lockdown period, like a really bad joke, had been warm, sunny and dry, but abseiling into the Bone People area, it was chilly and a little foreboding – enhanced by knowing there was no-way out, apart from climbing an E4, (or so I thought at the time) but, like many areas, once the initial plunge is taken, you desensitise and become familiar, and there is often an unknown and relatively easy, option. On this occasion the ‘easy’ option, if you can’t get out by climbing, is a boulder hop into the base of the quarry, where a careful scramble over, under, and through the piles of boulders, bits of metal, and brambles, leads to a scramble on the left side of the huge purple slabs, (as long as it’s not raining!) and to make this even more straight forward, there are some in-situ ropes to pull-on, if someone hadn’t pulled them up (definitely needed if raining).

George Smith. The Man, the legend, my (annoying) hero, on the first ascent of his problem, The Whale Shark, Gideon Quarry. I would include the grade, but that will make me complicit with his lies!

Now, a person that has hardly had a mentioned on this blog and, in my opinion, has gotten away lightly, is Big George Smith. George is a bit of a hero. Admittedly, he’s a fucking annoying hero, but, hero nonetheless! George has climbed many new routes and boulder problems in well-known, and esoteric areas of north Wales; quirky, weird, thrutchy, overhanging, quality, crazy, funky – beautiful climbs, hundreds of the buggers, some are even good, but the one thing they all have in common, the one thing each, and every single one of them share, they are all undergraded. And every time I’ve been shut down on a George climb, (and take it from me, its often) all I can hear is his annoying laugh! I love George, but his bloody natural talent is so annoying, and I love/hate the climbs he gives the grade E5 even more! His legs are so big and long, he bridges everything, and if he can’t bridge, he knee-bars, and when he can’t knee-bar, he starts all of that bloody ridiculous backhand, underling nonsense, I mean, that’s not proper climbing! The Ragged Runnel, E5 6a my arse. The Undercling, E5 6b my arse, Chosstakovich, E5 6a, in someone’s wildest dreams, not mine! I’ve lost count on George routes I’ve failed, what a big lovable sandbagging wanker!

George and that under the radar, understated, Martin Crook were skulking around the quarries, and it turned out, George was working a new boulder problem in the base of Gideon. In typical Smith style, it looked fantastic, he just had an eye, a very annoying eye, but an eye for a great line, and with my new found interest in Gideon, we were bumping into each other frequently. One day George and I sat on the opposite side on the Bone People Wall looking around. I’m not sure if it was George or me, who pointed out a big, and quite obvious, overhanging corner/groove to the left of The Bone People and a climb called Synthetic Life. Because of lockdown restrictions, I had, by that time, checked out the other climbs on the wall, one of which is Synthetic Life, a long sport route first climbed by Pete Harrison and given the grade of 7a+. It’s a fantastic climb, but I think Pete must have been taking lessons from George when he graded this one, as (in my bumbly opinion) it’s harder than 7a+, and in the middle feels more like an E6. George and I sat two metres apart, on a large lump of slate, looking over at the wall while picking out unclimbed lines, but there was one that stood-out more than the others. Knowing that George was into his bouldering at the moment, I said I might throw a rope down this line to see what it was about, and a few days later that’s what I did.

Myself hanging in the middle of the unclimbed line. Pic credit, TPM.

I stood on the small ledge above the groove, arranged rope protectors, and for the first time, abseiled over…. Wow, the top of the groove was a massive keyed in block, and on the climbers right of the block, was an overhanging, hand-sized crack, running for about five metres. Below were some, smaller, keyed-in blocks with cracks and spikes, and beneath, a three-dimensional corner with a perfect fingerlock crack. It looked like there would be a fair bit of cleaning, especially in the lower crack because it looked really filthy, but I was sure it would go with a bit of work.

The next day I went to Gideon, and abseiled-in, but this time, I placed several pieces of gear, including a couple of pegs, so I could remain close to the rock. I brushed and scraped and pulled and brushed and scraped. And when I reached a large ledge near the quarry base, I began to jumar back up to get an idea of the climbing. Overhanging fingerlocking with smeary feet, into a weird 3-D chimney, followed by the long jamming crack, and a steep pull to finish back on the ledge. I abseiled again, digging mud, clearing dirt, chalking the crack, before jumaring and doing more of the same. When I stood in the grass at the top, I checked the time – eight hours on the rope, no wonder my back was hurting.

Sometime later, travel restrictions lifted, so I talked TPM into coming over to bolt the top slab; climbing the slab would be more enjoyable than pulling up a fixed rope. I also asked him to fix a double bolt abseil/belay anchor at the ledge above the main pitch. He bolted the slab quickly, but when he stood on the belay ledge about to drill, he discovered someone, (Pete Harrison I later found out) had already drilled, and placed two bolts leaving them without hangers (thanks Pete 🙂 ). I abseiled down, brushing and cleaning, and then on a top rope,  climbed back out, brushing and chalking the muddy finger crack along the way. At the top of the fingercrack, there were a couple of difficult moves entering the weird chimney section, but above this, the spikes and the long hand-jam crack were fantastic. The rock boomed a little, because, as I originally thought, it was a massive detached, triangular block, but it was so big and had been in place for millions of years, it wasn’t going anywhere. I even jumped up and down on it a few times. Safe as houses, here for another million years!  The continuation of the groove was full of loose blocks, so I climbed the final overhanging wall to the right and pulled onto the ledge.

“Game on.” I said to TPM.

“Aye.” He enthusiastically said back.

We both looked at all of the blocks in the top of the groove,

“What do you think I should do with them.”

“Shift em.”

So I cleared the top of the groove, exposing the lower groove to run-off when it rained, but certainly making it safer. Mick then climbed Synthetic Life and afterwards, we stood at the top and arranged to come back to climb the new route.

*

“AH, bugger, there’s a problem.” It was a few days later when I shouted up to Mick, who was about to abseil to the small ledge at the top of the groove.

“What’s that then?”

“The top of the climb has disappeared!”

“The bit you cleaned, right at the top?”

“No, the top third of the climb, the whole of the block with the jamming crack, it’s gone, I can see it in the bottom of the quarry.”

“What’s left?”

“Nothing that I’m going to climb today, it’s a smooth muddy groove.”

Slightly distraught that my new, brilliant jamming route had been snatched from me, I belayed Mick on The Bridge Across Forever, a brilliant climb put up by Chris Dale and Trevor Hodgson, both great climbers and big characters, and both, saddly dead, having contracted cancer.

Sometime later that week, I returned by myself to Gideon, armed with several brushes, wishing I had a portable power washer. At the end of the day, I stood coiling ropes in what was becoming the familiar grass, while watching the sun set over the distant sea. I had beaten my previous time hanging on a rope by two hours – ten hours of brushing and digging mud from cracks with a nutkey.

When the pandemic restrictions stopped, Mick and I began to venture further afield, and my Gideon obsession was almost put on the back burner, due in part by the rain, but I spent the occasional day by myself, sliding into the depths, brushing, cleaning and digging with a nutkey. No matter how much mud I dug from that bloody crack, there was always more, and every time I stuffed fingers into perfect locks, they always came out wet and covered in mud. The massive block that now lay in the base of the quarry had exposed an open and slabby groove, it was plastered in a skin of mud. My initial vision for the climb had been for it to be climbed on gear, with maybe one peg in the middle section to take the sting from a run-out, but the big block’s demise had me wondering if this was now feasible, because the walls were compact. Two smaller, keyed-in blocks, in what would be the middle of the pitch, remained. I really wanted these blocks to stay, as the climbing beneath them was pumpy and difficult. The blocks would give something to aim; good holds, good gear and good feet placements around them. But, knowing what had happened to the massive block, I began to treat them with suspicion, somethin akin to a Big George E5. I jumared up after a lap of cleaning, and at the base of the lower block, I could see it was completely separated, and like the massive block, it was held in place, only by time, mud and its own weight. The lower block also held the block above. Gingerly, I passed it, giving it a bit of a thump. It moved a bit, but maybe it’d be ok, it was quite big and it took a pull!

Later that night I spoke to Mick,

“Shift em.”

“But I need them.” I pleaded, knowing he was right, but also knowing it would reveal more, smooth, mud-covered rock, and less chance for gear.

Another day, another slide into Gideon, but this time, not only armed with brushes, I had loaned a crowbar from Mick. I hung by myself; just me, several brushes, a crowbar and two blocks. After the massive block incident, I considered these two as small, but in reality, they were fridge size, admittedly, a UK fridge, not one of those USA things, but still… I hung on a single rope, and the more I considered what I wanted to do, the more concerned I became. I imagined a whole host of scenarios; the blocks toppling, hitting me, ripping off limbs, cutting the rope, with me eventually laying down there in the base of the quarry, alongside the massive block, only to be discovered by George  and Crooky as they ferreted around, inspecting the massive block for problems, wondering how they had misses it in the past, and even more strange, where did that chalk on it come from!

I inserted the bar into a crack and levered, but nothing happened. I tried again, and still nothing happened. Well, I thought, good, they can stay. Then I remembered the crack at the base of the lowest block, so I placed the thin bit of the bar into the crack and pushed, and without any effort, the whole thing moved with a clunk. Slowly, I reduced the pressure on the bar, and eventually breathed. “Fuck.”  OK, they had to go. I jumared, pulled all of the rope and coiled it around my foot, propped myself as far away as possible, and levered. The bottom block clunked, and slid, almost as easy as it is to say, whatthefuckamIdoinghere… The top block somehow remained in place, so after moving up, I stuck the bar into its side and gave it a little pull, and off it went to join the other two. More smooth rock with less holds, more mud, less gear placements. I began brushing feeling a tad dispondent!

As the weather became more unsettled, I had another day, maybe two, brushing and cleaning and digging out mud from the crack. One day, the clouds were building as I slid over the edge, and by midday, the sky turned dark, and then almost black. A flash of lightening, and a crazy booming echoed around the quarry. The trees bent double, and the ravens honked and flew to a ledge. Where the two blocks had been, was now a small ledge, it was about half way up the pitch and covered in mud. I jugged and stood on the ledge. Boom, another explosion. Rocks rattled down the cliffs. The sky opened then, and the rain and hail began, and it was heavy, like something you would expect in the Amazon Rainforest. I stood on my little ledge looking out and a waterfall arced over the top of me laughing, imagining someone walking to the natural bridge, and looking into the quarry, to see me stood on my own, hanging from a rope in a maelstrom and laughing. The storm passed over, so I continued to clean, but instead of brushing, I now grabbed handfuls of sloppy mud.

Winter and another lockdown stopped my cleaning, but in the spring, I returned to Gideon and was surprised by how dry and clean the climb was, my efforts from last year, and the winter rain, had done the job. The fingerlock crack was of course wet and muddy, so I dug more mud from it.

For the first time since starting this stupid thing, I had a wobble about it being a trad route. The climbing was going to be tough in this bottom section, and the thought of fighting the pump, placing gear and climbing on with muddy fingers made me think I should ask Mick to bolt it. Bolting it would at least mean it was the same as the three climbs to its right, and it may also get a few ascents, but before making a final decision, I’d ask Mick to have a toppy and see what he thought. Apart from one bit in the middle, the gear was generally good, and I’d feel a bit disappointed, and truth be told, embarrassed to bolt a line with such good gear. I suppose if it was bolted, others would do it, but to me, this always seems a poor reason to bolt a line that was first climbed as trad, or a line that will go on trad gear, it robs the (fewer) people who may want a more intense and challenging experience, and for what, a bit of convenience? Its so easy and tempting to make something more appealing and popular, but I’m not sure this is always a good enough reason to make it more accessable and lose something different and special, something that a bit of trouble and effort makes more worthwhile and memorable?

A week later, Mick came over on a miserable day, and we both climbed the line on a top-rope. At the end of the day, we decided it should remain a trad climb, there was enough gear and it climbed really well.

I had one more day by myself cleaning and chalking the bottom crack, (the ninth, over a twelve month period) before taking out the wires and pegs. I was going to leave one peg in to make the run-out in the middle less, but I imagined someone abseiling in, attaching a long sling to it, and turning my climb into an easy ride, so I took the peg out! Twelve months had passed since I had started on this thing, twelve months, bloody hell, and what a twelve months we have all had! I couldnt believe it was (hopefully) almost over.

A couple of days later, Mick and I returned and Jethro Kiernan came along to take pics. After a warm-up, I led the main pitch and Mick seconded it before leading the first ascent of the top pitch, which is about 4c sport, he didn’t appear to struggle too much! We were going to call it Bone Machine after a Tom Waites album, but because it was Earth Day, we eventually decided on, The Earth Died Screaming, which is the first track on Bone Machine, and considering everything going on, seemed appropriate.

The fingerlock crack. Pic credit, Jethro Kiernan.

The crux, moving from the top of the crack and into the chimney. Pic Credit, Jethro Kiernan.

This is just after the crux, in the chimney. Credit, TPM.

Starting the run-out… Pic credit, Jethro Kiernan

Myself grabbing the ledge, that once held the two smaller blocks, it’s the same ledge that I stood on while a waterfall arced over the top of the crag. This is the run-out bit, but the gear is amazing. Pic credit, Jethro Kiernan.

Almost there… Pic credit, TPM.

TPM seconding the main pitch. This is the run-out bit, aiming for the little ledge.

The Earth Died Screaming. E6 6b 50m. Nick Bullock, Mick Lovatt. 22/4/21

The climb is two pitches, but the first pitch is, THE pitch; an overhanging groove that remains dry in wet weather, although the fingerlock crack at the start suffers a little from seepage and will be best after a dry period. The main pitch is sustained, technical, varied, and well protected, apart from a bit of a run-out in the middle section, which raises the grade from E5 to E6. Take a good selection of wallnuts, half-nuts, off-sets, microcams and cams (up to a gold Dragon). The second pitch is a clean, 4c (sport) slab that was bolted so people can climb out, much more enjoyable than pulling out on a fixed rope.

The climb is the overhanging groove to the climbers left of Synthetic Life. The approach is from a Silver Birch near the top of the scree that can be used as an anchor to carefully walk down the scree to another birch tree at the top of the slab. Abseil down the slab from the tree to a good ledge (double bolt anchor). Either fix an abseil rope from the anchor or rig it so you can pull your ropes. A forty metre abseil reaches a good ledge beneath the climb. A fixed belay is in place, so, if needed, a short abseil can be made into the base of the quarry where a scramble on the left of the slabs (ropes sometimes in place) to a tree, or a crawl through the tunnel system (right) leading to another tunnel and a scramble from Filmset Quarry, will provide escape.

Pitch 1. 35m

Climb easily from the belay until beneath an overhanging corner with a fine looking fingerlock crack. Climb to the top of the crack (great gear). Exiting the crack, and entering the wide, bottomless chimney is the crux. At the top of the chimney, place bomber gear before entering the slabby groove (bold). At the top of the groove, a large ledge is reached (small, not brilliant cams, and a small wire are just enough to steady the nerve). A thought provoking move left from the ledge leads to steady climbing and good gear. After a few moves up, a step back right into the top of the corner before moving right across the overhanging wall leading to an exit onto the belay ledge.

Pitch 2. 15m

Climb the slab. Belay from the tree at the top of the slab.

 

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Elfyngate… (AKA, a thinly disguised advert for Llanberis Resoles.)

The Llanberis Resoles team… L-R, Llyr, ‘God of Thunder’ Hughes, Torquil, and Jimmy ‘Big Guns’ McCormack.

I walked into Llanberis, the pavement was damp and dark. A chilly breeze from the centre of town funnelled between houses. It was winter, so I suppose anything other than pouring rain was a bonus. Passing the gated entrance to V12 Outdoor, the old chapel that is now a climbing gear shop, (other climbing gear shops are available) I turned right and headed up the metal staircase attached to the outside of the building. At the top of the stairs was a door, and at the side of the door, a sign; Llanberis Resoles. I knocked on the door and waited…

[I have only had climbing shoes resoled once, about twenty-five years ago, (I’ve been fortunate to receive free shoes for quite a while, (thanks Boreal) but after seeing what the resoled shoes of friends looked like, and with all the Covid and Brexit difficulties for businesses, I thought, what the hell, I’ll save Boreal a bit of expense and export hassle, (Gaining back control since Brexit is a wonderful thing isn’t it!) and I’ll pass on a bit of cash to a local business. Also, becoming more conscious of getting things repaired, (in a small attempt to do a bit for the planet) helped me with the decision to part with cash, but it was touch and go and kept me awake for several nights!]

…Torquil, the owner of Llanberis Resoles, opened the door. I’ve known Torquil for several years since he first moved to Llanberis. I like Torquil, he’s a tad quirky and down to earth and like me, a bit scruffy. He climbs, summer and winter, and is a keen cyclist, although at the moment is recovering from breaking his femur after hitting at sheep at 60mph (ouch!). As the story goes, the sheep ran away unharmed, but I’m no vet, so this is pure speculation on my behalf. Torquil has built up his resoling business over several years and now employs two other friends, Jimmy ‘Big Guns’ McCormack and Llyr Hughes. Unlike Jimmy, Llyr doesn’t have his first and last name separated by ‘Big Guns’ which is a tad confusing because he’s built like Thor, god of thunder, (which, by coincidence, is where the name Torquil originates) and in a gun-off competition, I reckon he could hold his own against Jimmy! I asked Torquil if a prerequisite for working in the business was having massive arms, he assured me, it wasn’t.

[I also know Llyr’s dad, Alun Hughes, the adventure filmmaker of, to name a few, Birdman, Upside-down Wales and Stone Monkey. A year or two ago, I stood in The Beacon Climbing Centre chatting to Al, (Llyr was also climbing) and I couldn’t help turn to Al and say, “Holy shit, where did he get those arms?”  Without hesitation, Al turned, stared me in the eyes, pointed to his chest, and said, “I made those.”]

…I walked into the brightly lit workshop and lent against the wall. Torquil handed me my repaired shoes and I (reluctantly) fished for my wallet. “Tell you what Nick, put something up on Social Media about having them done, and you can have the repair free.” I don’t really do advertising apart from for my sponsors, (And I don’t really do that very well!) I dislike Social Media, and I’ve exceedingly high morals, so, after much deliberation, (nanoseconds) snapped his hand off, but I said I wouldn’t do Social Media, I’d write something on my blog, (God only knows, with everything going on and being stuck in the house in a Cwm Y Glo all winter, anything that motivates me to write is welcome!) with the caveat he should be careful for what he wishes, because once writing, I’m never sure the direction my rambling will take. Torquil said this was fine, he’d take a chance. I then went on to explain that I never really appreciated the reputation my scribblings had, until one day last winter when I was in the Beacon Climbing Centre…

… I never take indoor climbing serious, only a fool would get wound up about indoor climbing, and getting obsessive about plastic routes, now that truly is a sign of utter craziness. On the day in question, I was climbing in the Beacon with Keith Scarlett and Zylo. I had rested for two days in anticipation of the session, because I was on my fifth day of attempting to successfully climb, ‘The Black’ 7c+, a beautifully crafted Alex Mason climb of much intricacy and difficulty. It was a Saturday, I had rung ahead and asked for the skylight to be opened so the connies were crisp. Unfortunately, the word was out that the grade of, ‘The Black’ was soft, so crowds were flocking, but as luck had it, none were here, so, I warmed up, refined a few moves, methodically brushed each hold, then sat down for a while.

After resting, I stood up, and began some quirky Ian Curtis dance while imagining the moves, then strutted towards MY climb. But, just as I reached the rope to tie on, someone stepped left and began to climb a yellow 6b+ that weaved in and out of MY route. Reluctantly and deflated, I returned to the bench and sat down. They wouldn’t be long, share and share alike, but at that very moment, they had a take, and began working the moves! How could they do this, this was MY section of wall? I untied and very graciously suggested to Keith, and Zylo, they should go and climb elsewhere, while telling myself that it was OK, the day was young. But, just as I thought the day couldn’t get any worse, in through the door came one of the other climbers I knew was working MY route. I panicked then because I knew they were weirdly obsessive, (who would get like that!) and once established, I knew they would hog the route all day. BOLLOCKS! I’ll could do something else, but the route was going to be stripped soon, and I had rested for two days, and the connies were great, and I had been awake for nights visualizing myself clipping the chains… I had to do it.

As predicted, the other person proceeded to hog the route, on one occasion they even left the rope clipped to the first draw while resting! I was very angry. How could they be so inconsiderate? To make matters worse, they were getting higher than me, and making the climb look relatively easy. Then, the inevitable happened, they only went and did it! If my eyes could shoot lasers, I swear, they would have been toast, but instead, through gritted, almost gnashed-down tooth-stubs, I gave a tight-lipped smile, and grunted something along the lines of, oh, how marvellous.

At least with their success, I would get my chance, but I had to wait for a while until the person who had just done MY route left the building, but my chance did arrive at last…

The first difficult moves felt OK. This is it! More difficult moves led to the only shake-out on the climb. I hit the shake-out hold with aplomb. Bloody hell, I’m so good! It’s going down. This is it! I began my well-practiced, shake-out and psyching-up procedure and then decided to take a quick look down. What the hell, Elfyn, bloody, Jones – BMC Cymru Access & Conservation Officer, the little wanker, was climbing beneath me, and he was on the yellow 6b+ the route that weaves in and out of MY route. Elfyn is actually a good friend, but at that moment, I hated his happy go bloody lucky smiling face, how dare he be so happy? I continued to shake-out, but with every happy move Elfyn made, my panic and anger rose. I was on the edge of breakdown and shouted, “Do the BMC not give lessons in how to look up and see where a route goes, you’re the bloody access officer for crying out aloud!?” I thought Elfyn would apologize because, without doubt, this was a catastrophic mistake on his part, and he would surely lower-off, as, let’s face it, my climbing was way more important than his, but no, he just kept coming and happily said, “I thought you’d fly up that route Nick, superstar that you are, what’s your problem?” This was just too much and before my brain hit total meltdown, I shouted, “TAKE”.  The vein in my forehead almost burst, but just when I thought he couldn’t make the matter worse, he looked down and shouted to the others, “Oh no, I guess I’m going to get a blog written about me now.” Which everyone (apart from me) thought hysterical!

So, the moral of the story is threefold; it’s a thinly disguised advert for Llanberis Resoles, purveyors of a quality service that cost me a bit of writing, (bargain) as the shoes were well repaired at a very good rate! All enquiries can be made here, Llanberis Resoles.

Two – The BMC should have indoor route reading night school for their employees, and three, never get obsessive about plastic, it’s the road to madness.

 

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A winter attempt of The Pendulum Route, Cathedral Ledge, New Hampshire, USA. Filmed & edited by Bayard Russell Jr

While hunting for the Mindless Finish film a couple of weeks ago, I noticed this film clip of the Pendulum Route wasn’t on the blog in the film section, so here it is. It’s pretty funny to compare these two film clips, both were a bit mad, but in different ways. The thing I love about this clip is Bayard’s commentary, he’s laughing and encouraging most of the time. The slab bit of climbing was stupid and hysterical… “Use the crystal” Bayard said… the crystal was so small I couldn’t see it, and when it became apparent what the thing was he was talking about, I couldn’t believe it! It did work though, so cheers Bayard, good beta 🙂

The full story of this day can be read here

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The film of the first winter ascent of the Mindless Finish to Pic n Mix.

Myself leading, and Bayard Russell Jr belaying, on the first winter ascent of the Mindless Finish to Pic n Mix. Credit, David Mora.

‘Quick one – have you still got that footage of you on the pic n mix direct finish ? A kid I know is reading your books and got in touch with me when he read that story. He would love to see it, but I can’t seem to find it.’

I received this message last night (26/1/21) from Dave Garry. It’s possibly nine  years to the day, give or take a week, when I first climbed with Bayard Russell Jr on a BMC International meet, (the story of that week can be read HERE). Bloody hell, what a great week of climbing, and what a great friend Bayard became, and still is. Since first meeting him, a small tractor of a man with a sensitive side, we have climbed together in New Hampshire, Vermont, Quebec, North Wales, Newfoundland and Alberta, and I’ve stayed with Bayard and his wife, Anne, (who is also a great friend) in their quirky wooden house hidden in the woods, on many occasions. Along with the cats and Bailey the dog, they now have two kids, neither of whom I’ve met, but at some point I hope to. And at some point it would be great to catch up with everyone, in and around the North Conway area who also became valued friends, they really are a wonderful and welcoming bunch from around those parts.

So quick the years have passed, nine years and so much, and I’m not sure where it went, and of course, it’ll never return. And the thing that’s become obvious to me recently is, no matter how good you’re going, no matter how never ending a thing may appear, no matter how much fun you’re having, at some point you will slow, and things will change, and those things you revelled, and did so easily, they will now become difficult or even stop, and they will stop before you realize. So, treat it all; meeting with friends, climbing, travelling, laughing, being kind – treat it all like it’s the last time, because at some point it may well be.

Here is James Dunn’s film that I’ve placed onto Vimeo because it doesn’t appear to be available anywhere else now, sorry James 😉

 

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A way of life or a life style?

The crag shot I posted while on my trip in Spain.

A few weeks ago, I returned from a six week climbing trip to Spain. I booked the ferry in July, making use of an offer Brittany Ferries were running for people whose sailings had been cancelled because of the Covid-19 outbreak earlier in the year. Not one to miss a saving, I booked the ferry knowing it may not happen, (I had to book before the end of July) but against the odds, I sailed on the 9th of October heading to Santandare. At the time, Covid-19 restrictions in Spain and the UK had been relaxed, things were looking, ‘not too bad’, although Madrid was being hit pretty hard as was the Northeast of the UK, but as I was travelling from North Wales, an area with low infections, and going to areas in Spain that also had low infections, I took the decision to go.

I met up with my usual partner for this type of thing, Rich Kirby, and after 3 days in Catalunya, we travelled south to the Valencia Community. It wasn’t long after, the Spanish Government introduced regional travel restrictions throughout the whole of Spain, but once you were in an area, it was OK to continue climbing. These regional enforcements remained for the whole of our trip and still remain.

Since returning back to the UK I’ve had a bit of time on my hands and a good internet connection (dangerous) and I’ve been perusing some stuff I normally wouldn’t, more fool me. While doing this, I picked up on something that interested me, especially as I had recently returned from a climbing trip abroad.

I’m not a fan of Social Media. This statement will not surprise anyone who regularly reads my waffle, but I do have a Twitter account and a Facebook account. I mainly use Facebook for messenger and as a platform to advertise my writing, I gave up on the newsfeed a long time ago because I discovered it wasn’t good for me. I don’t do any other Social Media. Instagram appears to be the latest big thing with climbers, and with time on my hands, I decided to take a look. After flicking around, I soon found out not signing up had been the correct decision. There were some really great landscape pictures and cool climbing shots and interesting life stuff, fun stuff and inspirational stuff, but many of the posts from climbers felt similar to the Facebook newsfeed, vain and narcissistic. Consumerism oozed from posts with more hashtags and @’s than nouns and adjectives. I wondered who some of the posts were aimed, as they were so obviously thinly veiled adverts or appeared to be something to hit a number count, possibly a filler-in to fulfil a sponsor’s requirement with nothing particularly interesting, new or inspiring, just a picture with, occasionally, some pseudo deep and meaningful prose at the side. Do people enjoy this kind of thing? I don’t think I’m an anti-Social Media zealot, there are good sides to it, contact with family and friends, a platform to enhance good causes etc, and I can see, when first invented, it was intended to give people without a voice, a voice, but it was soon appropriated by consumerism and greed, and people went along with this get rich quick, and have helped make it what it largely now appears to be, a big advertising platform. Maybe I’m just a cynical old man? Maybe I’m behind the times? Maybe the days of expecting something from the heart is gone and we have become conditioned to a sparkly set-up picture accompanied by a bit of rushed trite? Or, maybe I’m the fool, because everyone actually knows things like this are staged, and the words that run alongside twaddle, and this is just how it is and we shouldnt expect more?

Anyway, my personal failings to move with the times is not the main aspect of this piece (oh no!). While looking at Instagram, I read some quite interesting replies to a picture that got me questioning myself. The replies were in response to a picture posted by Hazel Findley. I’m sure I don’t need to explain who Hazel is, but I’ll give the quick low-down for anyone that’s been in a submarine for the last ten years. Hazel is a brilliant climber, one of the best in the world. What most people won’t know is, she lives just around the corner from me and we bump into each other on occasion, and when we do, I enjoy a bit of a chat because she’s smart and interesting. So, enough fluffing, (sorry Hazel) now to the bit I found interesting, and in no way a personal attack, because her posts and replies come across more honest than most, and a lot of what she has done in climbing is truly inspirational.

In one of her latest Instagram posts she is wearing a facemask while taking a ferry to Greece. Angus Killie and Hazel had left Wales in their van before the Welsh lockdown, to climb in France. When France locked down for a second time, they headed to Italy to catch a ferry to Greece. The usual comments to this type of Social Media thing began, “good job, well done escaping…” etc, but someone then questioned the moral aspect of travelling through several countries while there is a world pandemic,

‘…the lack of transparency that a global pandemic impacts the climbing world where people should be staying close to home and limiting interaction with unknown groups of people. This seems to be across this platform for many climbers and does not seem to capture the gravity of the responsibility for such travel. Privilege of traveling is not the issue. Having the privilege to travel and willingly doing it in a 100 yr pandemic is. Now I am not saying you are not taking precaution but the projection of this freedom gives others the validation to do the same which might not have the same sense of responsibility.’

The person was not rude, offensive or attacking, it was a well thought out and, I thought, an intelligent question, which Hazel answered in a similar, intelligent way,

‘…fair points. I did reflect for a long time before coming away. However, climbing is my work and I know my actions have very little impact on others. I come into less contact with others travelling in my van than I do at home. The economies of this area depend on visitors buying things from local shops etc so it’s not like our presence is only negative. It’s my job to talk about what I’m doing and I let other people make their own choices.’

And in reply to Hazel’s reply,

‘I am in agreement that economics of travel bring critical money flow. However, almost every community is financially impacted and struggling. And the financial discussion of ecotourism is a vastly large and a whole other discussion. With such a large platform comes much responsibility. I do not disagree your platform is part of your job which has layers only known privately. But projection of free travel can be taken and run with by so many, resulting in unknowing spread and ultimately more lockdowns. Your platform has far reach, and although you may not have chosen it, your voice does have great influence on what people do.’

Hazel didn’t reply again which was fair enough, she had said her piece, but others did, going to some of the usual cliched, bullying and belittling responses that are seen all too often within the world of Social Media, the “You are jealous, how dare you question…”, etc. I have no doubt this type of response is designed to intimidate, it is an attempt to humiliate and silence the person they disagree, but these were, as Hazel agreed, valid points.

Another person said,

‘…some people just let others be happy and do their thing…she has not broke any laws or guidance, so not sure why you feel the need to hold up her to some imaginary standard, comes across as jealously for sure…as they say, if you can’t say something nice…’

This, I find a particularly naïve or ignorant; As long as replies are respectful, not rude or aggressive, why shouldn’t someone question the decisions of others? Are concerns within the world of Social Media not allowed, are coments that fluff egos the only comments that should be posted? The post and all responses can be read here

I had wrestled with some of these same things when I set off to travel to Spain, but if I’m honest, not much, and certainly not enough to stop me travelling. Bloody hell I wanted to escape the dark and wet of Wales (along with a large percentage of others I’m sure who for various reasons didnt or couldnt!) and as long as I was breaking no laws, I was almost certainly going. While I was in Spain, and given everything going on in the world, I decided to avoid posting any shots of climbing and climbers or crags, except one. Even posting this one shot, (a long-distance crag shot) took days of deliberation, and to be honest, I still don’t really understand the reason I felt the need to post it. Did I want to brag about my life and my fortunate position, while rubbing salt into the wounds of people having a tough time in the dark and wet back home? The complexities for the individual with Social Media are so layered and complex, and the effects on the thousands of people addicted to this medium unrecorded?

Not posting on Social Media while I was away wasn’t difficult, I don’t publish many climbing pictures anyway, but more than ever, it felt wrong to be publishing pictures showing where I was, and the climbing I was doing, especially while others were either stuck at home or taking the morally higher, or dare I say, correct stance, given a world-wide pandemic? In life there are quite a few things that are not against the law, but given certain circumstances, it doesn’t make them morally correct, although, I suppose, as individuals, we all have a different take on what is moral, and my morals are different from yours, which are different from theirs. None of us know what is truly going on inside another person’s mind and the reasons behind an action.

Having travelled to Spain on the long ferry where I had a cabin, and afterwards living in my van, and climbing at quiet crags with Rich, I completely agree with Hazel, it felt safer than staying at home where I mixed with more people in riskier environments, but I do think the question, is travelling abroad at the moment the correct decision, was valid and worth exploring? Rich is in contact with quite a few people, he has an Instagram account and fills in a UKC Logbook, and people could see he was in Spain, and because of this, he received messages from climbers asking him about what was going on, and whether it was possible to travel and climb? Hazel has 184000 followers on Instagram, saying it’s your job is valid, but is it reason enough to advertise travelling around Europe at the moment? Given how well Hazel climbs and her large platform on Social Media, surely no sponsor is going to have a problem with an email from her explaining she is going abroad, but has decided to be low key given the pandemic. When everything is over, there will be loads of new stories and pictures that can be shared – a story, is a story, there is no particular time limit to when it should be published unless it’s a news item? Given this explanation to a sponsor, or should we just call them employer, they would surely understand, and if they didn’t, well maybe it’s time to look for a new employer?

Climbing has changed massively over the last few decades, some for the good, some, not so good. I was fortunate to start climbing in the early 90’s at the age of 28, most of my chasing has now gone, but I still love climbing and the way of life. I was very fortunate to have discovered climbing when I did, because in doing so, I think I was entering at the end of the period where climbing, and being outdoors, was a genuine, ‘life way’, a way of growing, shared by a minority community. Appropriated by capitalism, climbing now tends to be sold as a ‘life style’, rather than expressed as a ‘way of life’. Some climbers now have more followers on Social Media sites than professional footballers and cyclists and other top sports people. The days of climbers being dirtbags doing their own thing has not gone entirely, but if you make a living from climbing, and you have more followers on Instagram than let’s say, Tao Geoghegan Hart, a professional cyclist for one of the biggest teams in the world, Ineos Grenadiers and winner of last year’s Giro d’Italia, (he has 96000 followers on Instagram) this makes you a serious influence and your actions are going to influence and affect thousands of people.

The business of ‘climbing’ is now so big it has changed the activity, and it is changing, and has changed, the motivations of the people involved. I now find myself wanting to turn my back on much of what climbing has become. I understand things change, and that’s OK; at least for the time people can remain peripheral, go and do their thing and get what they want from it, but there will come a point this is no longer the case. We already see a backlash against people wanting to live in vans to climb. At one time, people were low key, under the radar, but now #vanlife and publishing the coordinates of the best places to park, Instagramming your amazing climbing life while living in your van, has turned the tide against people who at one time – quietly, considerately and cleanly, went about their thing for a way of life, not to enhance a business, a profit or a profile.

We now get indoctrinated on a daily basis about freedom of expression through climbing from car companies in adverts designed to sell us cars. We hear about climbing in the mainstream media regularly, even though a lot of the time the reports are factually incorrect or stupidly hyped. Maybe the time has come to openly question aspects of climbing and for climbers to be more honest, for climbers to really look at themselves and their motivations and ask what effect advertising of their endeavours on Social Media has on the bigger picture? Is it still inspirational to fly to the Greater Ranges on an expedition given all we know about the effects of flying on the atmosphere? Is it OK to be a part of a report in the mainstream press or TV when you know your words will be changed or taken out of context or reported incorrectly? Is it OK to travel across Europe on a rock climbing trip when there is a global pandemic?

I can only speak for myself, but when I travelled to Spain, I desperately wanted to climb on rock and in the sun, I wanted to spend time in my van that was parked up in some quiet spot alongside nature and without people, and I did. I listened to owls in the evening. I watched a fox poke its head from a clump of grass a few feet from where I sat. I stared at the stars, and I did this without advertising any of it.

I’ll admit, I’ve almost reached a point that I no longer care what the rest of the so-called ‘climbing community’ does. I’ve almost reached the point of sticking my head in the sand, as long as what I do is ethically correct and doesn’t adversely affect others, because it feels we, the human race, are close to the point that none of us will be doing anything at all for much longer, not unless we become more responsible, less greedy, less selfish and begin to work together to find a way to turn the thermostat down.

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Embrace the rain…

Will Perrin. Credit, Ray Wood.

For anyone who regularly subjects themselves to my blog, (gluttons for punishment) or perhaps, for those who don’t, (sensible) you’ll probably know I enjoy climbing at Craig Doris on the Llŷn Peninsular in North Wales. The seabirds, seals, waves and wind, they grind, until after a time, become embedded beneath skin, similar to the muck at the base of the cliff. Over the years, I’ve possibly climbed at Doris more often than some of my other favoured crags; North Stack, Wen Zawn, Dinas Cromlech, Red Walls, Yellow Wall, Rhoscolyn. Doris is a non-tidal sea cliff, so there is none of that messing about between full tides, which is good, because it can take a long time to climb a pitch, and some routes have two! Doris has quirks and idiosyncrasies, it also has a reputation and mystique, but once beyond these, once you give it a chance, you’ll relish your visits and find something long-lasting.

Craig Doris by Jethro Kiernan.

On almost every occasion since that first visit, I laugh thinking about that first climb. For those who know something about the cliff, you are possibly guessing one of three routes, Byzantium Wall, Knowing Her or Cripple Creek, all three would be sensible and good choices, (if such a thing as sensible can be had) but you’d be wrong. The first route was a climb called Bobok. Bobok is a Ray Kay and Dave Jones climb and given the grade of E5 6a. I’ve written about my experience of climbing Bobok a few times, so I’m not going to waffle on again, other than to say it was an eye-opener (It’s here if you are interested). When James (Caff) McHaffie and I climbed it, about twenty-five years after the first ascent, our ascent was the third, which is telling, but also telling was the second ascent team, Will Perrin and Ben Bransby, neither a slouch, both exceptionally talented climbers.

Mick Lovatt and myself. Neither exceptional, but both loving the times spent at Craig Doris. Credit, Ray Wood.

I’ve met Ben many times, don’t be fooled by that geeky, slightly awkward look, he’s a wolf in a woolly jumper, but I only met Will once, and that was a long time ago when I was still employed in the Prison Service. On that occasion, I had travelled to Wales to climb with my friend Owain Jones, but Owain had fallen ill, leaving me on the hunt for climbing partners. Tim Neill told me his friend Will was free to climb, and the next day, running through the rain, Tim led me into a packed, and steaming, Pete’s Eats, the climbers’ caffi in the centre of Llanberis. A fresh-faced and striking teenager sat amongst a group of people surrounding a table. “Nick, this is Will, Will, this is Nick.” After the introduction, Tim left. I pulled a wooden chair from beneath a table – the legs dragged against the floor, a cruel screech cut through the hubbub. In the company of folks I didn’t know, I sat down feeling uncomfortable. All I wanted to do was climb, but that was not going to happen today; thrashing rain streaked the windows, gushed from gutters, flowed along the roadside. Will turned to me, “Do you want to have a walk around the quarries?” “Nothing better to do, OK”, I answered, relieved to escape the crowd of strangers.

Will and I ran to my van. I drove from Llanberis and up the hill and along Y Stryd Fawr (Deiniolen high street), heading towards the parking spot at Bus Stop Quarry. Deiniolen was grey and wet. Some houses along the high street had metal meshing across the windows. Cars were parked along the side of the road making it a single lane. I could see an estate of cream and brown pebbledash council houses with soggy front lawns and abandoned multi-coloured plastic bikes. The pub was boarded up, but the door was open. I sat waiting for a bus to pass the parked cars. Windscreen wipers struggled to clear the deluge, but with each pass, I could see terraced houses and above the houses, moors and heather and piles of grey slate washed with frothing white water.

A dry day at Dinorwic Quarry. Credit, Tim Neill.

Parking at Bus Stop Quarry, Will sprang from the car wrapping a jacket around his thin body. I was grumpy, I wanted to climb, but here I was in the rain with someone I didn’t know, and someone I really didn’t understand. Will had been enthusing about the quarries and the slate, he didn’t appear bothered it was pouring, and we were not able to climb, he appeared happy to go for a walk and experience the atmosphere of the quarries in the wet. I couldn’t see the point, what the hell did I want to go for a walk for? Experience the quarries in the rain? Will was ahead, pointing out things of interest, things he appeared excited by – twisted railway tracks that abruptly stopped, hanging in rusty curls over the edge of a shining cliff face. Dark tunnels that led somewhere, or nowhere. Workers’ sheds, with holes in the tiled roofs that the rain fell through, and writing carved into walls. Old hats and boots and jackets hanging from rusty nails. Corroded metal pipes dripping water. Broken down fencing. Deep pools of green that I couldn’t see the bottom. A single wet and bedraggled sheep. This was all a pointless waste of time. I would rather be in warm weights gym or a climbing wall.

Esme Neill in slate tunnels… Credit, Tim Neill.

Will was transfixed, watching the white and bubbling flow of water churning its way down smooth water worn black. Climbing was not happening, and eventually I convinced him to leave. I dropped him outside Pete’s Eats, feeling somewhat relieved to escape this unusual and intense young man.

Brad Reed on Splitstream, the Rainbow Slab, Dinorwic Quarry. Credit, Tim Neill.

When I arrived in Llanberis, in the summer of 2004, my friends, Tim Neill and Lou, (who was still Lou Wilkinson at that time) were about to go on an expedition to Greenland with a bunch of climbers I didn’t know (many since have become good friends). Will Perrin was also a member of the team, but on the day the team travelled to the airport, Will drove, dropped his friends off, and said he wasn’t going. None of the team thought this was so unusual, Will had always done things differently, and after saying goodbye, he returned home. Everyone from the close-knit climbing community in Llanberis thought Will was in Greenland, and everyone in Greenland, thought Will had returned to Llanberis. Will did return to Llanberis and took his own life.

Ray Kay in his purple phase. Ray is a wonderful and warm character from the 80’s Llanberis scene. Whenever we meet, I pester him for stories. This picture was dug out of Ray Wood’s archives, Ray W had to buy some new scanning IT stuff to get me this shot, sorry Ray, but it is a great shot of a great person that deserves airing! Here is Ray W’s background about this shot… “Ray K had just done a slate route in the Nantlle Valley called The Purple Tailed Lovefish and it involved taking photos of him painted purple along with his girlfriend at the time sitting in a pool of water below the route, with eels swimming around her feet. Ray was really into the colour purple. There is a black and white photo of the climb hanging in Pete’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if the route had fallen down.”

Credit, Ray Wood.

I was staying in the climber’s club hut Ynys Ettws in the Llanberis Pass at the time, and in the days following, it filled with people attending Will’s funeral. One morning I met a man who was attending the funeral, I’d disturbed him as he slept on the sofa in the living room. Later, in the kitchen, we chatted, and I discovered he was a man who had a formidable reputation in the history of North Wales climbing.

Ray Kay was a man full of dark mystique, a man, who, according to tales, was less stable than some of the rock from his climbs and possibly as dangerous. Introducing myself, and speaking to Ray, was almost impossible, I was so in awe of the man and his climbs. To be honest, I was also a little intimidated, but when I plucked the courage to introduce myself, and chatted, I immediately warmed and relaxed. To Llanberis locals, Ray is something of an enigma, a loose rock expert. By modern standards his climbs are not that difficult, but they still remain serious test pieces, Bobok, New Moon, many of the Llŷn Peninsular horror shows. I stood in the kitchen, feet shuffling against the surface of the red tiles, asking Ray about his first ascents and solos from the eighties, he happily entertained my quizzing and was a superb raconteur.

A large proportion of the Llanberis climbing community were mourning Will’s death, people spoke warmly about Will, and I thought about the one time we met, and the time we had spent together in the rainy quarries. I was also in mourning, but for my friend Jules Cartwright, who had recently been killed while guiding on the North Face of the Piz Badile. I’ve now learnt that on occasion the rain gives a person time to reflect, and I wish all those years ago I had given Will more time, and we had spent longer in the rain together.

Over the years of living in Llanberis, I’ve met Ray Kay several times, we always have a good chat, he’s great company, warm and friendly, I’ve grown to like him a lot. I’ve also learned it rains for large periods of time, and it’s taken me a while to get used to, maybe it’s an appreciation thing, maybe it’s about getting older and becoming more understanding, but I’d like to think I’ve embraced the rain completely now, it’s part of the place and makes it what it is, home.

Myself on the 26th August this year, climbing the new route, Tell Your God to Ready for Blood. E7 6b, on the un-named area at the edge of Stigmata Buttress, Craig Doris. Credit, Ray Wood.

Tim Neill on The Rainbow of Recalcitrance, Credit, Phoebe Denton.

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The Space Face Case…

Two Andys of climbing, both characters, both a great influence on the North Wales climbing scene, Boorman and Pollitt. Credit, Ann Boorman.

Mick Lovatt and I decided to head inland to the rolling hills and broadleaf canopies of Conwy. We drove through Old Colwyn; past the recently done-up Co-op, past the chippy and kebab house, past the Cuckoo pub, where a woman wearing cut-off jeans, and a vest stood smoking a cigarette and holding a black Staffordshire Bull Terrier on a lead. We drove past Aldi on the right, and up the hill, past the new flats on the left – a high-end development, all chrome and windows, balancing on the cliff edge above the little sport crag. Turning right, up the even steeper hill surrounded by modern houses, until a levelling and the sea behind, dotted with a multitude of wind turbines. Downhill and into the village of Llysfaen, before a turn left down the track and parking in the sheep field. Craig y Forwyn, a large chunk of gleaming limestone nestled amongst the trees.

Mick and I were hoping to lead a route called The Space Face, a line that climbs the front face of Great Wall and first climbed by Calum Muskett, and given the grade E8 6b. In some respect, the climb is an odd one, it starts up Great Wall, going into Space Case, leaving Space Case (for some direct moves of its own, including the crux), before once again joining Space Case at the bolt, and finishing the same as that route, including its crux. The bit of new climbing of Calum’s route is technical with small crimps and even smaller pockets, but with hardly any protection. It’s wonderful to climb directly up this scalloped shield of solid white limestone, while burying thoughts about how contrived climbing can be at times. I don’t mean this to belittle the climb, it’s a great climb, and on that day, both Mick and I led it and loved the experience, it’s just an observation. What is odder, when Mick posted on Facebook afterwards, that he had done the climb, were some comments.

Mick Lovatt on, or at least near the crux of Space Case, having climbed The Space Face. Credit, Pete Johnson.

Boring as this may be, I have to give a bit of background, so here goes…

Space Case is a brilliant three-star Andy Pollitt E6 6b that he climbed in 1982 with one bolt high on the climb to protect the crux. Andy was a superb climber who soloed loads of hard stuff and climbed a whole host of even harder stuff, he was no slouch and as bold as they come. I’m sure if Andy had wanted to, he could have climbed Space Case without the bolt, (or rope) but he chose to put one in, possibly because the route was more balanced and much better for it, and for those wanting to try to on-sight it, or climb it ground up, (without fear they would crater from the top of the crag) they could. Andy died on November 13th 2019 aged 56, a great loss to the climbing community and those who knew him.

Big John Orr topping out on Space Case. Credit, Tim Neill.

Anyway, a load of years ago, I was more black and white and opinionated. With age and experience, I’d like to think I’m a tad more understanding and take a more nuanced approach these days, and I can see now, it’s better to take each case on its own merit. So, Space Case, a brilliant E6 6b with a bolt high-up, first climbed by Andy Pollitt in 82 and available for many people to climb on-sight, ground-up, or headpoint, until a few years ago when a local climber called Ryan Macconnell set his stall to work Space Case until he had it very dialled, before removing the bolt, and climbing it. I am told to do this he used an elaborate system of tensioned bungees, holding down the skyhook placements. Brilliant, bold and imaginative, and I really understand the personal challenge and dedication to a dream, but did it make Space Case a better climb for the bolt removal, I’m not sure it did? Fortunately, Ryan (good on him) chose not to fill in the bolt hole that meant anyone having a bolt and hanger could drop a line down the route, replace the bolt, and attempt it in whatever style they chose, and a lot of locals did just that, including myself. Unfortunately for anyone not in the know, or not local, they wouldn’t have the odd 8 mm bolt and hanger on their rack. They would also, possibly, not have the time for multiple visits to Craig y Forwyn to repeatedly work the climb on a top rope, so this great climb, a climb that had been available for around 25 years, was now, for most people, off limits.

A few years pass, and with access to the Great Wall area still sensitive, but less so than in previous years, the bolt has now been reinstated for good? I think for Forwyn, a crag that has always had a few bolts on a few climbs, and going back to what I said above, each climb has to be taken as a case by case, this was the correct decision.

Phew, so where were we. Yes, The Space Face. The day Mick and I climbed it the bolt was recently reinstated, and the route we climbed, (a direct line up the face) felt balanced, a good addition, a fine line for locals who wanted to pull on a few different holds as long as we kept the blinkers on. On Calum’s first ascent, the bolt had not been replaced, so at one point he traversed into Great Wall for protection, before traversing back, and continuing with the climb. I take nothing from Calum’s bold and creative ascent, a typical Muskrat endeavour, I can almost see him now bouncing up the cliff with abandon, but aesthetically, not that good when you have to leave the line to get gear in another route (a route quite a way to the side). Calum mentioned on Facebook he thought the route would be better with the bolt in, and Mick and I agree, because at one E grade less, it’s a much better climb when you climb the actual line without deviation.

Nick Dixon, a person I respect very much for his climbing, didn’t share Mick, Calum and my opinion though, and made a few comments on Facebook about how Calum’s climb had lost its challenge because the bolt had been replaced. Nick appeared to forget that fact the bolt was replaced in Space Case, the original route, not Calum’s route, a very recent addition. Did the challenge need making any more on that three-star piece of Andy Pollitt history? Yes, Ryan had climbed Space Case without the bolt, but no one has since, and I’m pretty sure they won’t again, because it’s not balanced and not the climb Andy Pollitt climbed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been into making routes consumer climbs. I love the quirky and individual, I understand there should always be climbs that folks will never do, or want to do, but I’m not sure affecting such an established three-star Pollitt climb is the way.

Nick also suggested the bolt had gone back in because Ryan was not a well-known climber, I’m also not sure about this, I think the bolt went back in to make Space Case the route it was when it was first climbed by Andy Pollitt. Replacing the bolt doesn’t make Ryan’s effort less, it’s just, I suppose, a more equitable and accessible experience for the many people who aspire to climb a great Pollitt E6, which there are many, and once again they now have the opportunity to try and climb it on-sight. [As a side note, I believe Ryan was asked about replacing the bolt in Space Case, which he said would be fine if someone else had repeated his effort. He asked two of the best local climbers around to repeat Space Case without the bolt, they both refused stating they would rather on-sight the route as an E6 with the bolt.]

Would people want to climb Calum’s route by traversing off into another line to get gear before reversing and continuing climbing? Nick said he had top roped it once, (a while ago) and he thought it was a good challenge, but he hasn’t been back, so maybe not that good a challenge to make it worth repeated visits? In my opinion, climbing The Space Face by traversing off route to get gear, before traversing back is not a challenge worth depriving people from attempting Space Case on-sight, or whatever?

So, anyway, Space Face, E7 6b, a great route for those who have done almost everything to do at Craig y Forwyn. Nick, I have a spanner and a bit of time, come over, I’ll hold your ropes, we can have a crack about the best style and experience of climbing Calum’s route, but I’m sure I’ll not change my opinion about the best way to climb Space Case, and that in the end is what it’s all about, a fantastic route from a great character and open to the many.

Myself on or around the crux of Space Case after climbing The Space Face. Credit, Rich Kirby.

Almost… Credit, Rich Kirby.

 

On the same day. Geoff Bennett climbing Great Wall, an on-sight attempt after no training throughout the whole of the Covid-19 lockdown and hardly any climbing after. Geoff’s enthusiasm for climbing is an inspiration for us all… A bit of a link, Geoff used to teach Calum at school.

Unfortunately for Geoff, on this occasion his enthusiasm didn’t quite get him through… Great effort though… 🙂

A bunch of old men with a bunch of gear on top of the crag at the end of a fun and memorable day. Credit, Rich Kirby.

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We went, we saw, we failed, we came back…

This podcast was recorded by Matt Pycroft and Emma Crome on a very rainy day in North Wales at the end of 2018. After listening to something I said a while ago, I still hold with most of it, which is surprising as I usually change my opinion daily.

Matt and Emma are a part of a team of talented folk who make and produce films, the company is Coldhouse.

Other more interesting podcasts from Matt can be listened to here at Terra Incognita.

As mentioned in this podcast, I did write an article about this trip that also included other ramblings. The article was published in Alpinist 68 and called Less Rich Without You.

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Smash and grab.

A unique shot of the whole of Craig Doris taken by Jethro Kiernan via drone.

I’ve been fortunate to have climbed a reasonable amount, (given all that’s going on in the world, and my shoulder) over the last weeks, but I’ve only climbed at three crags; Craig Doris, Craig y Forwyn and Rhoscolyn. I’ve avoided the Llanberis Pass and other crags that are generally busy, not wanting to have the weirdness of interaction – who steps where, how do I pass this person, don’t shake hands, don’t hug! I’ve mainly climbed at Craig Doris, with a couple of trips to Forwyn and one to Rhoscolyn. Rhoscolyn was the busiest, but it was still relatively peaceful.

I’ve read lockdown accounts from folk saying they enjoyed the isolation and quiet, personally I just got on with it because it was a necessary evil, although now that the roads are busy once again, I must admit, I do miss the peace and quiet and the clear air. I miss the hard edge to the hills that usually only happens when there is a Northerly air flow. Until lockdown, I never really appreciated the blast of noise and the mini hurricane caused by vehicles. Until lockdown, I didn’t appreciate the necessity for drivers to reach their destinations at breakneck, but here we are again, vehicles driven by tight-lipped and frowning; cyclists and other road users lives risked by impatient drivers crossing solid white lines on blind bends.

Craig Doris is always a sanctuary, a rickety, rubble strewn recluse, an oddity stuck on a windswept peninsular. The gulls, fulmars, ravens, stonechats, kestrels, pippets, skylarks, buzzards, choughs, they all frequent the headland, I find their cries and song evocative. It’s mesmerizing sitting and watching the fulmars, wings set, skimming the cliff at the same height as my feet that dangle over the edge. Charms of goldfinches raid the thistle heads on the bank beneath the crag and large field mushrooms look like moons glowing through the long grass. Out at sea, out into the yawning mouth of Cardigan Bay, above the waves with their white caps, gannets, oystercatchers, and cormorants cruise and call, and beneath the waves, most days at 4pm on the dot, a pod of dolphins pass, its like they have an understanding of time. Mick Lovatt and I look forward to watching the dolphins, the pod is eight or nine strong, adults and calves. We generally stop whatever we are doing and watch them. Mick sometimes ruffles his rucksack to find binoculars and gives me a commentary. Occasionally an adult breaches the water and the slapping noise on re-entry alerts us to their presence. They hunt fish causing a flush of blue bubbles and alert the birds to a possible bonanza. But eventually they pass and swim out of sight, going to where ever it is they go. There is always a gap in conversation, a time for quiet reflection after they pass. I know nothing about dolphins, I’m just another ignorant punter who finds charismatic megafauna a joy.

Lockdown for the time being is over here in Wales and visitors can once again travel freely. I’ve read some people complaining about the influx of people, which in a way I understand, but I also see the benefits for a family or individuals needing to take a break from the usual in this crazy year, we all need a break! Who has the right to say, no you can’t leave your area and travel to the countryside or a beautiful place, let’s face it, most climbers are tourists and the financial benefits for the local community is helpful and needed?

Mick and I walked to Doris on a Sunday, the first Sunday since lockdown had finished, it was eleven am when we stood on the top of the crag. There were several boats in the bay, the first we had seen for a while, but they were anchored and the people inside reasonably quiet. But, as we prepared to climb, the first of the jet skis appeared, followed by others, their high pitch revving engines and bump, bump, bump as they hit waves, jumped, hit waves. As the day passed, more and more jet skis, some had loud music. The call of the birds was now engulfed by engine noise and bumping beats. The gannets were nowhere to be seen. At four pm, the doughnut spinning madness happening just out to sea had reached a new level of revving-screaming-fervour. I sat on top of the crag willing the dolphins to stay away, but right on cue, the pod appeared. They took their usual course, on occasion breaking the surface, dark glinting skin, a blow of air, but they were separated by jet skis cutting through the middle of the pod. Two dolphins turned back to swim in the direction they came, the rest continued their usual path. After several minutes, the larger group of dolphins had a boat and a flotilla of jet skis following, just metres away, and the two separated dolphins swam in circles some way behind. Having heard nothing, but the sound of revving engines and music all day, I watched the dolphins being disturbed, and longed for lockdown again. After everything people had experienced over the last few months, I hoped we may have had a deeper understanding and consideration for wildlife and other people, but in some way, for some, it appeared the opposite, now it appears to be a smash and grab, ignore everything and everyone else, get it while you can before the ‘good times’ are gone.

The flotilla closely following and disturbing the dolphins.

Myself climbing the new route Sold Under Sin E4 5c, on the clean white wall, high above the boulders and grass ledges, between the pinnacles at the start of Pysgodyn Aur, and the crazy overhanging crack (with a massive, vacated nest at its base) of Chosstokovitch. Pic credit, Mick Lovatt.

Mick Lovatt seconding the first ascent of Sold Under Sin.
Start from the biggest and lowest, ivy covered ledge at a small groove, on the right of the ledge, beneath the crack in the final headwall. Peg and good cam for belay.
Follow easy grooves and corners, up and left, (with increasingly better gear) until a small ledge beneath an overhanging red wall that has an obvious flake-crack. Climb the flake crack, step right, then a series of good, but bold moves to reach two solid flat holds on the left (crux) where a peg can be clipped (if tied off). A couple more tricky moves follow to reach the base of the finger crack. Follow the crack to the top.

Mick climbs Box of Blood, E7 6b, a memorable route, first climbed by Leigh McGinley. The lower section is the first pitch of an E5 called Crucial Condition, NOT Doris lite!

Mick leaves Crucial condition to get good gear before some, eyes on stalks, overhanging, unprotected groove climbing. Mick did a great job climbing Box of Blood with minimal practice and pre-inspection.

A Ray Wood shot of my ascent of Box of Blood from several years ago. This is the overhanging groove above the position where Mick is, in the picture above.

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