Don't Step in the Clouds: Alternative Tremadog VS

Tremadog! Perfect grippy rock, sunny, roadside, quick-drying and with a cafe just a stone's throw away. Add to this the fact the closest town - Porthmadog - has its own brewery with liquid delights including the brilliant Snowdonia Ale means that Tremadog, or 'Tremmers' if you're a cool youth, is one of our favourite cragging destinations in the UK.

one step in the clouds
© Nadir khan, Nov 2011

One thing does strike you though with the rock at Tremadog... It's blocky... And some of those blocks sometimes don't seem that well attached!

There was a recent rockfallon the classic VS One Step in the Clouds, leaving a very unstable block. This block has now been removedand Elfyn Jones (BMC Access and Conservation Officer for Wales) - has provided an update on its status and description.

One Step in the Clouds is probably the most popular and climbed route at Tremadog and the perilous state of the large blocks making up the left hand side of the groove on the first pitch was an accident waiting to happen. The blocks were removed (quite dramatically and with scarily very little effort) in mid-March and the route is now slightly more difficult (4c possibly?) on this pitch. Some loose debris remains on this pitch but this should clean up with weather and traffic.

The route description should now read:

Climb blocks to a large tree. Traverse left for 5m behind the tree and move up ledges just right of a freshly cleaned groove. Climb the slab just right of this to step left up to a ledge and belay on a massive flake."

But there is so much more to Tremadog than this single classic route as Ian Stevens shows us with his article 'Don't Step in the Clouds'... a guide to some alternative and not so alternative routes at the VS grade...

Tremadog after one step, 120 kb
Tremadog after one step
© heist182, Jan 2011

The Obvious Options

Grim Wall, Shadrach and The Brothers. Possibly the laziest selection for an article writer ever (with 3000+ logbook ticks between them), these three two star routes can be found just across the gully on the right-hand side of Vector Buttress. Grim Wall features a nice traverse pitch with a contrasting steeper second pitch, although watch out for people using the (in)famous abseil to lower onto your head. Shadrach should, despite the recommendations of most guidebooks, be taken on the inside for maximum enjoyment (one for you Sam) with a delightful wiggle to escape the bowels of the crag. The second pitch adds a nice finish with a bit of exposure and some conventional climbing. The least popular of the three is The Brothers, a great option when the others are invariably busy and you dont want to bush-bash back to the road. It does however share both a start and belay with Shadrach and as such can be congested as a result.

Merlin. Another low-hanging-fruit for the author, this top class route features an array of different climbing styles. A slightly wandering start doesnt detract from the quality of the route, featuring a short 5a pull (with excellent gear) into a groove before heading up to a big belay flake. From here the difficulty eases, although the crack at the start of the second pitch can look rather imposing to the VS leader; it has plenty of holds despite first appearances. This is followed with a nice traverse on positive holds and the finish up a grotty-looking corner doesnt detract from the quality. If you find the first pitch easy enough, you can always continue up the headwall at HVS.

Merlin Direct, 214 kb
Merlin Direct
© vinspin, Aug 2010

Scratch. The classic VS at Pant Ifan, and only a touch easier than its arete-based HVS brother. Ignore the guide and scramble up to the tree at the base of the imposing corner of Barbarian and enjoy a lovely traverse across a nice slab. The main feature of the route is a steep crack on the second pitch, perfect for hand jamming or if "the only jam you know is strawberry" (Joe Dean, Aber Uni MC El Pres) then layback up. This crack eats a lot of gear, so don't worry about the difficulty. Another traverse high up the buttress caps an excellent route.

Stan on the amazing Scratch arete, Tremadog
© jon_gill1, Jul 2014

A tad more obscure...

As you'd expect, the list starts to move away from the honey-pot of Bwlch-y-Moch to Pant Ifan and beyond. There are some great crags beyond the main two as part of the escarpment, and nobody can claim to be a Tremadog conissuer without visiting them.

Yogi. The perfect route for a mixed ability pair, the lower pitch just about earns the grade with some spicy slab moves just right of an arete to a large belay. The upper pitch is easier with great gear, a perfect first lead for novices.

Craig Dhu Wall (Direct). The original version of this route features two great traverses, and is arguably the classic route of this section of the crag and the only route at Tremadog to make it into Ken Wilsons Classic Rock. However, its only HS and having seen it done in deck shoes, I simply cant agree with the logbooks that its tricky for the grade. The direct version sneaks VS though, and is still a great route despite cutting out the two traverse sections, ideal for those who arent big fans of rope drag or arent quite as saintly with rope management as they would like to be. Rather than this, the direct heads up committing but well protected undercuts to a slanting crack before re-joining the original.

Olympic Slab. A two-pitch route that often sees the first pitch bypassed by abseiling from the top. Youre not at Gogarth, so Id encourage you to buck the trend and start at the base to climb the entire thing; clearly the tide isn't going to come in on you here. Having said that, the second pitch is the highlight great protection and slabby technical climbing are the order of the day, with a switch from slab climbing to a groove at the top.

Emily Groves topping out on the Micah Eliminate finish to Christmas Curry, 215 kb
Emily Groves topping out on the Micah Eliminate finish to Christmas Curry
© ianstevens

Mensor. A little tricky to find the start of, especially for those not familiar with Craig-y-Castell; its located on the right hand side of the crag with a big old oak tree at the base. Fine positions above the village and a good alternative if Craig Dhu Wall is busy and can be done in a single pitch if youre not a fan of sloping belay ledges. As for Craig Dhu Wall, abseil back down there is an in-situ anchor.

Quatre Fois Direct. Despite its reputation as an SPA group crag, it's well worth risking the slip-and-slide up the muddy fields to Pant Ifan's upper tier for a go at Quatre Fois Direct. A nice finger crack requiring delicate footwork, it will make all native gritstone lovers feel like they haven't even crossed the border. To add to its allure, it's (unfortunately) only a single pitch, leaving a lot of time to explore the other great routes the upper tier has to offer. If you fancy something a bit harder, Meirionnydd (E1) features a low 6a "boulder-problem" move topped with VS climbing.

The rarely travelled

Nothing at Tremadog is truly hidden, so calling these routes esoteric is probably a step to far. Despite this, they may not be the most pretty, and feature a few trees and a bit of soil. Its not called tree-mud-rock by the haters for no reason! Nonetheless, the quality of the climbing on these routes shine through.

Rienetta. Given HS in the Rockfax guide (although the variation start is a grade harder, taking in the crux of Merlin) the definitive CC guide opts to give this one VS so I'm allowing it. Ignore the loose rock symbol in the Rockfax guide; a scrub-up at a recent BMC Tremfest has improved the quality of the route. The lower pitches take you to the Merlin belay, and from here the quality of the route improves, although it may not appear that way before climbing it! A nice slab traverse to a niche, a swift pull and a steep corner crack to finish off. Lovely.

Cynhyrchwyr. Another softie and a nightmare for all non-Welsh speakers, this little number can be found on the far right hand side of Bwlch-y-Moch. It does have some arboreal belays and some soil to avoid, don't let this put you off some excellent thin crack climbing. Take care to not finish up the wider, more obvious crack of Rio however, which is easily done by mistake and only earns you HS.

Plumbline. This one is a bit further away from the caf area, and can be found at Craig-y-Gesail, arguably the least-travelled section of the Tremadog escarpment. Difficult to get to (requirung and abseil) and difficult to climb, a tricky but well protected move from a sentry box which looks outrageous for VS make this route highly enjoyable.

Alcatraz. A tough one to balance out the soft touches, with copious but energy-sapping gear placements up a sustained, prominent crack line.

Cheeky Extras

Y Broga. It might be HVS, but this is after all the cheeky extras section, so would you expect anything else? Its soft enough at the grade, and if you can jam and own some big gear it feels like a tricky VS. The main difficulty is found in the polished first pitch, but the most enjoyment is to be found in the upper arte pitches.

Christmas Curry/Micah Eliminate. Another not-VS route that has snuck in, and lets be honest, youve almost certainly heard of it. The logbook votes would suggest that its tricky for HS, and the exposure on the upper arte simulates that offered by One Step in the Clouds quite well, and is arguably more-breath taking. Furthermore, if you want a lazy afternoon in the sun whilst the ice cream from Erics settles in your stomach, its a great candidate for a VS leader. Expect busy-ness though.

Christmas Curry, Tremadog., 179 kb
Christmas Curry, Tremadog.
© Dissenter, Oct 2010

One Step in the Clouds. But I thought this article was about other routes? I hear you cry. Well it is, and although the first pitch is out of action, a scramble up the gully right of The Fang will still get you to the tree belay on Hail Bebe. Having done this accidentally whilst lost in the woods on one of my first visits to Tremadog, I can advise that this is quite easily done despite the jungle. From here you can traverse across to the upper two pitches of One Step theyre the best anyway.

Destination Info

All relevant destination information can be found in this old article. Its all still up to date, although there are two new guides: North Wales Climbs (2013) and an updated North Wales Rock (2014). Note that some of the above routes require the definitive CC Guide (2010).

About the Author

The author belaying on Nifl-Heim, Craig Bwlch-y-Moch, 108 kb
The author belaying on Nifl-Heim, Craig Bwlch-y-Moch
© Emily Groves
Ian is a PhD student at Aberystwyth University, although constantly bunks off during the week to go climbing instead of writing his thesis. Having spent around 8 years going to Tremadog in all seasons, he thinks he's got a handle on the place pretty well, so much so that he considers it his local crag despite it being well over an hour away, and even longer during caravan season. He's even been known to brave the infamous T2 bus for his Tremadog fix, taking in excess of two and a half hours. A trad climber at heart, despite claims to have any sort of talent in the winter or the Alps.


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