Journeys in the hills and mountains
With two days of holiday left before returning to work, I wanted to head to the hills. One option was to head up to the Highlands to pick up some more elusive northern Munros. A poor weather forecast, however, and a lack of desire to drive two days for two days walking meant I needed to look elsewhere. I was therefore pleased when Peter agreed to join me on a climbing trip to North Wales for the weekend. Both of us had done some climbing before, but mostly single-pitch and, where we had done multi-pitch climbs, these had tended to be easy climbs or scrambles, such as when I climbed Lliwedd with Tom in 2011. Where better to try out some classic multi-pitch routes, we thought, than the Ogwen Valley!
We both knew the Ogwen Valley very well indeed, having spent many years walking and scrambling over the Glyders and Carneddau. We were also both keen to try some of the climbs in the region, many routes of which had been put up in the early days of rock climbing. We stayed at YHA Idwal Cottage; I chose the soft option of a bed, while Peter went for the camping option outside!
On the first day the weather was excellent, with blue skies and white clouds blowing off the Glyders. We had been unable to obtain the excellent Climbing Club Ogwen Valley guide in Cambridge, and so we made an early trip to Joe Brown’s in Capel Curig to buy a copy. We then set off. As a warm up, we did the scramble up the side of Tryfan Bach, a Grade 3 / Moderate climb which, though quite exposed, has excellent foot and handholds which means that a rope is not necessary, provided that one is confident handling the exposure. From here, we headed up onto heather terrace to attempt Grooved Arête on Tryfan’s East Face. The start of the route is very obvious with the letters GA graffitied onto the rock, a few metres south of the beginning of Green Gully. In the CC guidebook the route is graded as VDiff, though elsewhere it is recorded as HVD and indeed the CC guidebook states that the route is hard for its grade.
I led the first pitch which climbs a fairly wide crack up a small slab. As we found the whole way up, the climbing was challenging in places, but the holds were always good and there were lots of opportunities for putting in gear. We took a set of nuts, five hexes and three cams with us. From the belay stance at the top of the first pitch a nice rock ridge leads up, which Peter led, the rock becoming more exposed as it gained height on the mountain side. The next pitch, which I ‘led’ was more of an easy scramble and walk, and so Peter graciously allowed me to do the following one as well. This proved a lot harder, climbing up the edge of the arête in quite an exposed position before breaking out to the left into the so-called ‘Haven’. Although the crux of the climb was supposedly the Knight’s Move slab, I found this pitch the hardest.
Peter decided to make the next pitch interesting more climbing up towards the Knight’s Move slab in a more direct manner, climbing a face rather than the usual crack. This was quite exposed and had little in the way of foot placements (or gear placements), but Peter led it well and I followed him up. We then went off-route a little, not realising that we needed now only to traverse the Knight’s Move slab to our right. Having realised our mistake, Peter led the traverse to a small belay stance. By this point my new climbing shoes were giving my big toe on my left food some quite considerable pain, and Peter was keen to do more leading, so he led the final pitches. This went up to another belay stance, from where the route could be exited to the north ridge, and then up a steep, exposed face to the false summit of the north summit of Tryfan. Tryfan is one of those wonderful mountains where you can do something quite challenging and emerge, with rope and helmet, in full sight of the tourists eating their lunch!
After some lunch we down-climbed the north ridge; surprisingly, neither of us had done this despite countless ascents of Tryfan between us. With a few hours spare and the sun poking through the clouds, we joined the crowds of guided groups on Tryfan Bach. We each climbed a VDiff route on the slabs, each one containing a pitch and a half of fun slab climbing, though not with a great deal of gear placements. Tired and with painful feet, though elated after a fantastic day of climbing, we returned to Idwal Cottage for curry and to plan our routes for the following day.
These plans were to be a little frustrated by the weather which set in over night. With light rain making all of the rock damp and slippery, our plans to head up to Glyder Fach by a VDiff climb and the Cneifon Arête were put on hold. Instead, we headed to the Idwal Slabs. With water running down the slab, and not a great deal of obvious protection in sight, we decided to stick well within our abilities and so we climbed the Diff-graded Ordinary Route. Not wanting further toe-pain, and looking at the water streaming down the route, I opted to climb it in my Scarpa SLs. Peter went for rock shoes. I led the first pitch and, despite being quite slippery, it had lots of easy gear placements and nice holds for hands and feet. After a whole pitch Peter took the next lead, with the route becoming more steep and less-well protected in the second pitch. At the top we came slightly off route, heading too far to the left, meaning my last pitch involved a rather unpleasant slippery slab and some turf-coated steps. It had, nevertheless, been a good route for the weather conditions. The climbers path down from the slabs is challenging and, on the final step, very exposed. Rather than risk this in the conditions, we abseiled from an in-situ anchor, backing it up with a sling that we were willing to sacrifice. After getting down Peter subsequently climbed back up the path, decided it was okay after all, and rescued his sling. From here we descended down, admiring the routes on Suicide Wall, before heading back down to Idwal Cottage from where we made our way home.