Mark Reeves and Martin Chester sneak down to the Lleyn Peninsula and find dry (ish) rock and blue sky.
Lift your spirits in a dreary December and perhaps get an idea for somewhere new to climb. Treat yourself to a Bardsey Ripple Sundae...
Glancing at Llion in excited anticipation, I realise he's pulled a jacket on. "Is it raining? I chuckle, from the security of a crag so steep I can only just sense the drizzle and damp mist behind me. As soon as the words leave my mouth, to wrestle with the crashing sea for Llion's attention, my gaze is turned to the wall of horror sweeping in over Bardsey Island. "Do you want a rope?" asks Reevesy, somewhat rhetorically, as an almighty power shower erupts.
The day had started as a sleepy blur of bouncing kids and curious anticipation. Throwing the curtains open I cursed the grey ambiguity of the stormiest weekend of the year so far. Yesterday, a caravan had been blown right over the wall from the Cromlech layby to the far side of the torrential river Peris in full spate. Today we planned to go climbing, yes really, as the November rains lashed the house, it wasn't just my partner that thought I was mad. But it's Dad's day out, a gracious 'pass' from the family is too precious a commodity to waste, nothing would stop us trying.
Reevesy and Llion pulled up at the house soon after eight o'clock. I was impressed and surprised, as whilst Llion is a parent of young early risers, Mark is a part time student so not used to this ungodly hour and besides I wasn't entirely ready to leave the comical chaos of a family breakfast. We hastily bungled into the van for a very different road trip to the boys last one across America. Heading as far West as North Wales allows, to the Lleyn Peninsula, sticking out like a vets arm approaching the 'business end' of a cow, the area often surprises incoming storms, as they pass overhead not realising that they have made land fall yet, instead shedding their rain further inland... so it had to stop raining eventually, didn't it?
That there is always somewhere dry to climb is an often spoken quote for the North Wales climbing fraternity, as if you look hard enough and are prepared to duck and dive around the fringes of the mountains you can often grasp enough dry weather to climb, and today was no exception. Pulling over for the infamous "Super Deli in Pwllheli", yielding a quick coffee, a well stacked bacon bap, and a chance to sniff the breeze; the Westerly temptations of Aberdaron and Bardsey seemed to smell sweetest.
Llion found our way easily through a maze of identical hedgerows that somehow led us to a lonely car above St Mary's well, the end of the world, with nowhere further to drive, this was our last chance saloon, and it was dry. Walking down to the crag, we shared our own pilgrimage with that of countless feet from pilgrimages past – all heading out to Bardsey Island. I was filled with a sense of wonder and curiosity at the fantastic features and maze of paths and old walls. Lazy beds betrayed a less sleepy time for these fields, and immaculate paths led us to the wacky erratic boulder that marked the route to the crag, whilst out to sea was a harass of white horses reaching out from the horizon, all charging at the base of the crag like a herd of stampeding of wild stallions.
The stage was set, the atmosphere ordered and the anticipation of touching real rock again providing a true antidote for the soul. The Bardsey Ripple is truly the connoisseur's route choice on first acquaintance you won't believe how much mid-grade climbing can be packed into such a small crag, so deceptively steep that the surprise is bound to entertain, with a quality of rock that excites. Furthermore, it packs a punch, with most routes only 60ft long but feeling twice the height, like an Almscliff-on-sea, move after move take you higher before you look round in disbelief, as you are caught 'twixt the devil and the deep blue sea. The routes may look soft touch, but this is no sweet shop – and the prizes can be hard won for such an innocuous looking piece of rock.
The Bardsey Ripple is as good to climb as it sounds, a fabulous wave of quartz offers a highway of solidity across a veritable geological vomit of shale, mudstone and quartzite, like a poorly cooked pile of geological cookie dough, there are all manner of textures and degrees of solidity on this crag.
Today, the bottom of the crag is truly 'out of bounds', the storm of the year had left an atmospheric ground swell, which was lashing the base of the cliff, and swilling round the boulder ruckle. Overhead, the scudding clouds whipped a damp haze over the top of the cliff. Thankfully, above the spray and lurking below the crumbling canopy above, was a band of dry rock.
Setting off up The eyes have it from a convenient platform on the right side of the crag this cheeky E4 gets steep just as the good rock runs out, but today it would serve as a high approach to the main ripple. Stepping out on to solid quartzite, my arms instantly reminded just how steep this crag really is. Hands find only dampness in the cracks above, but the jugs are so big and positive it hardly matters. A massive cams reduces the most crumbly of cracks to the illusion of certain reliability and I quickly press on, the holds coming as fast as the rising pump. Traversing swiftly under the shaley roof, quickly scuttling down and left to a fragile looking spike. Gingerly transferring my weight onto the spike, my heart pounding as I expect the hold to give way at any moment, then relief as it supports my weight, 'thank God it is solid'.
Constructing a veritable 'air raid shelter' of poor nuts and a cam in suspect rock and a hastily tied off 'chicken head' of unidentifiable solid stuff in the shale, and another step left leads to a comfortable rest, and that one elusive move past that teetering block.
Pulling our ropes would be a disaster, they would surely get stuck and following the route to retrieve the gear seemed like defeat. The only possible course of action is to dry out, gear up again, and lower in to finish the job off. A veritable game of two halves. This may not be the most 'ethical' option, but its definitely the most fun, and we're really not here for anyone else's benefit!
Back at the crumbling footholds, and a move left over the teetering block led thankfully to the gargantuan jugs of the Bardsey Ripple, like shaking hands with an old friend. The holds are damp, and not super solid, but they are so big that it seems impossible to get pumped or fall off. Nonetheless, the sands of time was running out on these out of condition forearms, so I hastily tie off two sketchy spikes, and swung off leftwards. Just when it seems that the end is in sight, the crag has the last laugh. The rock veers up like one of the bucking horse at my feet, its just a fraction steeper but enough to stop those crazy hip moves and knee bars keeping you in balance. You want to move fast, but as the rock deteriorates you hold your breath and make sloth like movement edging slowly upwards. Pulling gives way to pressing as each of your fingers tickle the dodgy blocks in your hand. Trying desperately to spread the load as you convince yourself that it is surely possible to pull on these holds and push them into place at the same time. Then one last creaking handful, and it's over the top to a gleeful cry.
Feet swinging over the crashing waves far below, I belay the boys across – glad that I'm not following such a traverse on a single rope. As they cruise ever closer, switching ropes on crucial runners, I find it hard to believe that this line may never have been climbed before. But strangely enough, it doesn't matter one jot. Today, of all days, we have stolen a gem from the jaws of the storm. It was everything we wanted, and more. And as I gaze contentedly out to the next shower to sweep the rays of sun from Bardsey Island I feel like we've had our own pilgrimage on a 'stormy sunday' start to the Bardsey Ripple.
Words by Martin Chester and Mark Reeves. Photography by Mark Reeves.
About Martin Chester:
Martin Chester is the Chief Instructor at Plas y Brenin, the national mountain centre. in North Wales.
He lives in North Wales and in answer to the question: What is your idea of the perfect weekend? on the PyB website, he replied; "Sea cliff climbing, sandy beaches, and a BBQ with the family and some good mates."
About Mark Reeves:
Mark Reeves is a photographer, climbing instructor, writer and film maker. He is also a member of the Llanberis mountain rescue team. If you hurt yourself on a crag in the Llanberis pass, he may well be coming to your aid.
You can read more about Mark Reeves on his blog: Life in the Vertical
Mark is also a professional Mountaineering Instructor. You can find out more on his other site:
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