Journeys in the hills and mountains
The Alpine Club, which Dave, Joe and I joined last year, held a meet this weekend to coincide with the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the ascent of Everest. Although we did not go to the celebration, we did go along for the meet, staying in the Cwm Glas Mawr hut in the Llanberis Pass. The weather forecast promised much and, for once, it actually delivered! We awoke on Saturday morning to glorious sunshine and set off early up the Llanberis Pass to get to Pen y Pass ahead of the crowds. Our objective was to climb a route on Lliwedd, my second-favourite mountain in Wales after Tryfan, and then to complete the Snowdon horseshoe in the opposite direction to normal. We were already quite warm by the time we reached Llyn Llydaw and the morning sun was steadily warming the face up for us, though sadly the face receives little sunshine in the afternoon.
We decided to climb the classic combination of Avalanche, Red Wall and Longland’s Continuation. The route is graded as Severe though it seems to receive a Very Difficult grading on some websites; it certainly felt a lot harder than other multi-pitch VDiffs I have climbed, though this is probably due to the exposure rather than the technical difficulty of the route. This was to be my second route on Lliwedd’s north face, having previously completed the scramble via Bilberry Terrace in 2011. We arrived at the foot of the crag just in time to meet a pair about to climb the same route. As we were climbing as a three and they as a two we let them go ahead on the basis that we would be slower, though we ended up climbing with them for almost the whole route. With this being rather at the edge of my leading grade I was quite happy to let Dave and Joe lead the whole thing, something they were more than keen to do.
Avalanche is six pitches long and the route quickly takes you into the heart of the face. The climbing is never technically difficult though some of the moves feel quite bold and exposed particularly, I found, on the second and third pitches. Dave and Joe competently led pitches 1 to 4; as we were keen to get started Joe took a different route for the first pitch, off to the left, which proved to be rather challenging. We had all had miserable experiences climbing as a three before and, although we were undoubtedly slower than we would have been as a pair, we nevertheless climbed quickly and efficiently, generally finding that we could sort out our belay stances and rope-work without too much difficulty in-between each pitch. The last two pitches are a simple scramble and so we moved together on these, reaching the bottom of Red Wall in time for lunch.
After lunch at the foot of Red Wall, perched on the Great Terrace, we continued with our route. Dave ran a couple of pitches together to save time and we made good progress to the top, enjoying excellent climbing with some strong exposure but sufficiently good handholds to calm the nerves. The start of Longland’s Continuation proved a little more difficult to find and the description in the guidebook was not particularly helpful. The pair who were climbing above use decided to make their own way up the first half of the climb, but, after some searching, Dave located the route, indicated as ever by polished footholds, and led on up. The final pitch is the most technically difficult of all three climbs involving a short slab with little in the way of hand- or foot-holds, and even less in terms of gear placements. Joe led this confidently, however, and, after six hours climbing, we arrived on the summit of Lliwedd at about 4pm. We now set off at a fair pace to try and complete the horseshoe, and we made the summit of Snowdon in good time. This was the second time that I had done the ridge from Garnedd Ugain to Crib Goch in this direction and I am now even more convinced that this is the better way to do the famous traverse. We descended down the north ridge of Crib Goch and arrived back at the hut just before 8pm, having spent a happy 12 hours on the mountain. We were all in agreement that it was the best mountain day we had had in many months.
The great question, of course, was how the Sunday should be spent given that we had less time but equally good forecast weather. We agreed pretty quickly that we would head over to the Ogwen Valley and, seeking another ‘classic’ mountain day, we decided to climb a route on the Idwal Slabs before going on to do the Cneifion Arete. We managed to bag a parking space at Idwal Cottage and set off at a pace to beat the crowds. In no time at all we were at the foot of the Idwal Slabs and we settled on climbing ‘Hope’, a famous route graded Very Difficult. Having left the leading to Joe and Dave yesterday I took the lead on the first two pitches on this climb, finding it well within my abilities. The gear placements are plentiful and the moves interesting but never difficult. We decided to move together on the last pitch and a half, placing a few runners as we went, reaching the top of the climb in time for some lunch. We realised that we would not have time to do the Cneifion Arete and so changed plans and instead scrambled further up the ridge to the left of Holly Tree Wall and Continuation Wall to join Seniors’ Ridge which we then scrambled up to the summit of Glyder Fawr. With time against us we headed down the Devil’s Kitchen at a happy pace before jogging the final stretch down from Llyn Idwal to the car park.
All in all this was a stunning weekend with interesting climbs leading to significant summits on both days. Each day felt ‘classic’ in the sense of climbing routes first ascended in the early twentieth century to the top of a big mountain and then enjoying a ridge walk to finish the day. It was perhaps fitting that we had two such days on an Alpine Club trip which coincided with the 60th anniversary of the ascent of Everest, something that had been achieved by men who practised on the very routes we had been doing.