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Your first multi-pitch experience should be something that you remember for the rest of your climbing career, I know that I certainly will. My first multipitch lead was on Tryfan Fach in Ogwen valley, North Wales. This small slab is short, polished and well over-climbed, but I still loved it!
I want to suggest to you some more exciting and justifiably memorable multipitch routes to either start on or aim for. I hope this article gets you suitably psyched for many more adventures to come!
There is also a UKC Logbook 'Ticklist' to go with this article, so if you log your routes on UKC you can work your way through the list. And I'm sure there must be a few people out there who have done them all already?
The golden granite sea cliffs of West Penwith are amongst the most picturesque and stunning of the British Isles. There are some awesome, inspiring lines down there all on beautiful, sculpted rock. Many of the crags are multipitch, with a few exceptions at smaller cliffs like Sennen and Carn Barra. Here's a few of my favourite multipitch routes starting off with a short accessible option at Sennen, a true classic of British rock climbing on the essential cliff of Bosigran and finishing with a slightly more adventurous route on the exciting venue of Cornakey Cliff:
A classic rock tick, and a good first multpitch choice. Sennen's perfect granite doesn't come better than this. Although you can link the two pitches in to one, I think it's better done in two to avoid rope drag and also ease communication between climber and second. If this is one of your first forays in to multipitch climbing, a good bit of shouting might be needed!
The 'interesting' chimney section can be climbed in a multitude of ways and can push the grade in either direction, depending on your plan of attack and how confident you feel. One of the best things about Sennen is the ease of approach, so after you've finished this climb, you can just carry on and do a whole lot more!
I think ever since I started climbing I knew of this route, it's justifiably famous and an awesome afternoon. The easy approach, great views and chilled location make it a great place for an introduction to a solid Cornish granite VS.
The first two pitches are probably best lead together if you're confident and weave their way up to a comfy belay ledge. From here you look up and see what awaits you; amazing climbing up to a seemingly improbable route through a steep laybacking finish. As long as you commit, every hold gets better and you reach the top elated at having had battled your fears and overcome the exposure!
Moving on from the solid granite cliffs to the infamous 'Culm Coast' and its looser, more adventurous climbing brings us to Cornakey Cliff. This was one of the first routes I did in Cornwall, on a beautiful sunny day and sticks in my mind as particularly good, and I will never understand why it only gets two stars!
The approach is a beautiful clifftop walk, followed by a slightly dubious scramble down and then around the beach to the base of the cliff. It's worth noting that the bottom of the climb is tidal, so check the tides before you go and don't leave your bags at the bottom. The climb takes a line up the middle of the slab and for the grade is technically easy, but the slightly temporary nature of the rock justifies the grade. I'm not sure what it is that makes it such an amazing climb, probably a combination of location, adventurous climbing and Cornish sunshine!
Clogwyn y Grochan, Llanberis Pass
© Sean Kelly, May 2006
North Wales is definitely my home stomping ground, it's where I learnt to climb, and many of the days out I've had there are favourite memories. With such an amazing selection of awesome routes it's hard to choose favourites, but you won't go far wrong with any of these classic routes. We're ticking off three of the best venues; The Idwal Slabs and the famous trio of routes (be warned it sometimes rains up there...) a better wet weather option with Tremadog (it never rains at Tremadog...) and you can't miss out the Llanberis Pass. Enjoy!
The easy angled Idwal Slabs in Cwm Idwal, Ogwen Valley has to be one of the best places to start multipitch climbing. There is a plethora of lower grade routes to take your pick from, many of them all time classics. A relatively short and easy walk-in takes you far enough away from the road and in to the mountains, past the lake (good for a swim on hot days!) to the bottom of the slabs.
Out of the three routes suggested above, my favourite is Hope with its twin cracks pitch, and this is one of the routes that I regularly choose to introduce people to multipitch. Unfortunately, the popular and classic nature of these routes means that they are pretty polished, and if you don't get there early on a sunny day you will probably end up in a queue.
Last tip for Idwal - don't underestimate the descent! Aim to top out on your route with a good bit of daylight to spare. There is a scramble to get off the top of the cliff which leads to a short down-climb (can be abseiled if it's wet and getting dark!) to gain the gully that bounds the slabs on their left.
Craig Bwlch y Moch at Tremadog is probably one of my favourite crags in North Wales. The famous 'rain shadow' means that it's often dry when it is absolutely gopping in the Llanberis Pass, and its roadside accessibility coupled with the nearby location of Eric's Cafe for a strong cup of tea after a climb make it an essential North Wales stop off.
Christmas Curry is a tremendous route and pretty rewarding in good rock, quality location and bonus exposure at the top! After you have spent 30mins thrashing about in the infamous Tremadog forest trying to find the bottom of the route you are rewarded with three pitches of contrasting climbing, starting with a chimney, followed by a rising traverse pitch to a bombproof tree belay and finishing up an exposed arête to top out.
With a choice of finishes (original or Mica finish) you can tailor your route to suit how well you are climbing, or how much you really want to get back to Eric's for a cup of tea!
Christmas Curry, Tremadog.
© John Newbiggin, Oct 2010
Phantom Rib at Clogwyn Y Grochan - Very Severe 4c
Yet another North Wales classic-Phantom Rib on Clogwyn Y Grochan in the famous Llanberis Pass. In my opinion no cragging experience in the world can beat a sunny day in 'The Pass' with good mates. The pitches on this route are amazing, the second one being particularly good with an exciting pull around onto an exposed rib which you continue up to the belay.
The new Scarpa Vapour V (velcro) might seem like the same shoe as the new Scarpa Vapour (lace up) with a different fastening - in fact they are very different models. True, both are all-round high performance rock shoes offering precision, sensitivity and power, and an asymmetric, moderately down turned shape to offer great instant comfort. The difference is in the rubber.
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© Simon Caldwell, Nov 2006
A cold day on Little Cham
© Caspar, Jan 2011
As we get further north up to the Lake District, the approaches get longer and the grades a bit stiffer. There is a huge amount of climbing in the stunning valleys and on the picture-postcard mountains of the Lakes. Borrowdale is home to many classic lines, with good options close to the road (and the cafe) and a spread of grades from easy to impossible. Our three choices are all Borrowdale routes, but if you're looking for more adventures in the Lakes, then the Scafell crags (UKC Article) and the crags at the head of Langdale are also 'must visit' venues.
Little Chamonix at Shepherd's Crag - VDiff
Shepherd's Crag in Borrowdale probably has one of the shorter approaches in the Lakes, and is also handily located above a cafe to reward yourself with post climb cakes and tea. The absolute classic here is Little Chamonix, a charming VDiff with some spicy climbing on the top pitches, definitely worth doing! How is your horse riding technique? Why you wonder... you'll find out!
Troutdale Pinnacle at Black Crag - Severe
Just down the road from Shepherd's crag is Black Crag, home to the Troutdale pinnacle. This is a great first multipitch route, with solid rock, good placements and an easy approach and descent. The climbing is really varied and interesting, and you get to hang out on an exposed belay on top of the pinnacle before the last pitch!
If you want an adventure at a low grade, Corvus is definitely a route to head to. The hour long walk in to get to Raven Crag, Combe Ghyll (watch out, there are loads of 'Raven Crags' in the Lakes) means that you are far away from civilisation, and a whopping eight pitches of climbing mean that you are in for a big day. There are good gear placements the whole way, big belay ledges (lucky, as you might be sharing them) and an awesome position, what's not to like?
As well as the areas mentioned above, another essential crag is the South Lakes venue of Dow Crag. Dow gets the morning sun (and any wind going!) so arriving early is a good idea if possible.
So now we head even further north, to a land defined by long approaches, midges and large bogs. As long as you can cope all of the above, you will find some of the biggest and best multipitch routes in the UK. There is so much multipitch climbing in Scotland you could fill several books, but I've just picked a handful of classics to whet your whistle.
Due to much of the climbing in Scotland being a bit more remote, it is not uncommon to have approach times of 2+ hours, but the rock that you will reach and the feeling of being in 'The Wild' more than make up for this walking nonsense!
My favourite Scottish rock climbing is on The Isle of Skye. As soon as you cross the small channel that separates the island from the mainland (either by ferry or bridge) you feel like you're in a magical place. From the Glenbrittle campsite, there are loads of different crags, but be prepared for long walk-ins, and even longer descents from the top of the routes!
One of the most accessible crags in Sron na Ciche or The Cioch. For a longer route look at Cioch West, a less cruxy and more pleasant climb than Cioch Direct (despite what the stars tell you in the guidebook!), and for something shorter but more challenging try Integrity, a two pitch Hard Severe (although pretty hard for the grade!).
Agag's Groove at Rannoch Wall - VDiff
Rannoch Wall on Buachaille Etive Mor, at the head of Glencoe has a definite advantage of being fast drying, essential for normal Scottish weather. 'The Buckle' as it is known is a stunning mountain with gorgeous views over the seemingly endless Rannoch Moor.
Agag's Groove is a classic route on its own, but combine it with the first two pitches of January Jigsaw for a spectacular outing. The third pitch is undoubtedly the best, with an amazing exposed traverse on good holds to a whopper of a belay ledge.
Heather Florence is a twenty year old climbing bum. She has climbed throughout the UK on many classic multipitch routes as well as farther afield in places such as Wadi Rum - Jordan, Squamish - Canada, Rio de Janeiro - Brazil.
Heather reflected on her article:
"These routes are just my suggestions and are by no means comprehensive or entirely accurate! However I hope they have inspired some people to grab a couple of guidebooks and get climbing!"
She currently lives in a white van and is climbing in France until the weather gets too cold when she plans to head down to Spain and warmer rock.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Heather Florence: