North Wales Rock Preview

North Wales Rock is a brand new selected guide to the world famous crags of North West Wales. The guide showcases over 670 of the finest climbs from all the best areas: the Llanberis Pass, the Dinorwig Slate Quarries, Cloggy, Lliwedd, Ogwen and the Carneddau, Tremadog and the Moelwyns, Gogarth, the Lleyn Peninsula and the Llandudno limestone crags. It has been researched and produced by the Ground Up team, which consists of Simon Panton (principal author and editor), Al Williams (designer), Rob Wilson, Al Leary, Graham Desroy, Simon Marsh, Mark Reeves and Pete Robins. The guide is due to be released in February 2007.

Head honcho of Ground Up, Simon Panton, explains how it all came to pass, and why graded lists are so important:

The Mission

Simon Panton
East Buttress of Cloggy in the evening light, with a team just visible on P2 of Great Wall E4 6a photo: Al Leary
Right from day one my mission with this book was clear. I wanted to put North Wales back on the map of British climbing, just like it had been when I first encountered it in the mid '80s. Back then there was a strong sense that North Wales was the place to be. The new route scene was booming, fuelled by an army of dole-sponsored full time climbers who spent their days cleaning, equipping and climbing an ever-increasing catalogue of dazzling routes. I became a regular visitor, mad for the climbing as much as the crazy party scene. Paul Williams was the man who documented this riotous period. His 1987 Llanberis guide, which included a radical slate section, is recognised as one of the classic guidebooks of all time. Paul also produced a brilliant selected guide, Rock Climbing in Snowdonia, the last edition of which came out in 1990.

The world has changed irredeemably since those heady days. Climbing culture has mutated through a number of critical shifts: the full time dole-sponsored climbers who formed the backbone of the '80s scene are no longer around (well, some of them are, but they've got jobs and families now) and a series of trends (sport climbing, head pointing, bouldering) have passed through town, leaving a legacy of great climbs to add to the traditional canon of classic routes established by the pre and post war generations. So much choice, yet somehow the buzz, save for that which surrounded the bouldering scene, had all but gone. The North Wales scene certainly was adrift for a while, yet now in the late noughties it seems to be experiencing something of a revival. There is a lot going on and the atmosphere is overwhelmingly positive, as if some sort of tipping point has been reached. We have a re-energised BMC area committee, led by Mike Raine, a dynamic North Wales Climbing Action Group and a widespread desire to sort out the issues that have been dragging North Wales down over the last decade or so. The Tremadog clean up, the slate re-equipping, plus a second phase of re-equipping planned for the Llandudno limestone crags, abseil stations on Clogwyn y Grochan, new guidebooks (North Wales Rock, North Wales Slate, Ogwen, Lleyn Bouldering, Gogarth); all of these things are conspiring to create a feeling that climbing in North Wales will once again return to the foreground of the British scene.

And so it should, North Wales is an incredible place to climb; so much history to absorb, so many different crags in such a tight geographical area, and with the coastal crags and the quick drying slate, so many options throughout the seasons. I've lived here for over 10 years now, but I am still amazed by it all, still a fan, running around with wide eyed wonder, constantly discovering and rediscovering different elements of this fascinating crag infested landscape.

Jon Ratcliffe on Looning the Tube E1 5b, Dinorwig Slate Quarry, photo: Jethro Kiernan
There is no comparable climbing area in the UK, or indeed the world (at least the bits I've travelled to). I won't get drawn (much) into comparisons with the Lakes, a popular thread topic on UKC I notice, partly because I still harbour a deep affection for that area, having misspent much of my early years knocking about on Lakeland crags. Basically, they're both great, but in the end the unavoidable truth is that there is more choice, more routes and more wet weather options in North Wales than the Lakes. And it is quite telling that the young talent from the Lakes has voted with their feet (James McHaffie and Adam Hocking have been resident in Llanberis for a number of years); Llanberis has always been a tempting destination for young climbers looking to immerse themselves in climbing culture. Since the 1960s when the first wave of ex-pats arrived, buying up broken down cottages and establishing a small pocket of counter culture in the Welsh hills, each generation has felt the call of the hills. There is real sense of community that runs down through the different ages. I can stand at the bar and chat away to old timers like Ginger Cain or Ray Greenall, whilst in the same social circle the latest young hotshots mix and mingle. I could go on, but I'm sure you get the picture; North Wales is a fantastic place to be if you are a climber (the mountain biking and paddling are not bad either).

The Guide

Although the guide title is North Wales Rock I chose to concentrate on the northwest corner of Wales as this is where the highest concentration of classic routes can be found. I could have included the Clwyd Valley limestone or the Mid Wales crags down around Cadair Idris, but it would have been a very cumbersome book. As it stands you can reach all of the main crags (the Llanberis Pass, Cloggy, Lliwedd, Ogwen and the Carneddau, Tremadog and the Moelwyns, Gogarth, the Lleyn Peninsula and the Llandudno limestone crags) from the traditional climbing centre of Llanberis in less than an hour, and most are within 30 minutes drive.

Sam Leary romping up Toiler on the Sea E2 5b, Wen Zawn, Gogarth photo: Al Leary
Obviously it is important to give people plenty of options should the weather turn bad in the mountains. Thus a conscious effort was made to provide greater coverage in the quick drying slate quarries and out on the peripheral coastal areas where more favourable weather conditions are likely. Until very recently climbing guidebooks have been quite primitive by mainstream design standards. I used a designer, Mark Lynden, who was also a keen climber in his younger days, to help me with the North Wales Bouldering book (which I produced back in 2004), and I realised then that this was the way forward. I believe that the designer does need to be a climber, otherwise they won't understand the subtleties of what is being put across. Al Williams has brought a considerable amount of flair and sophistication to the process of layout. His influence on the book has been tremendous; in fact, I don't know what I'd do without him.

On the practical side, the book has all the modern accoutrements: full colour photo topos, individual approach maps for every crag, quick fire assessments of the character and prevalent conditions for each venue. Yet North Wales Rock is much more than just a factual guidebook crammed with information and recommendations, ultimately it is a celebration of the great rock climbs that we have in this area. I've gone out of my way to source an extensive collection of inspiring images. Aside from raising your pulse rate, the large number of action and landscape shots helps to convey the character and ambience of the many different crags featured in the book.

My goal was to reach out to people and give them an immediate sense of what they were missing. I pictured somebody seeing a copy of North Wales Rock in a climbing shop somewhere outside of Wales, and the visual impact of the book being so powerful that they just stopped dead in their tracks, like a stunned rabbit. An immediate decision would be made to run for the Welsh hills; they'd race out of the shop, call their friends, go home, pack the car, ring work and make excuses, then hit the road psyched out of their minds. That's what a great guidebook should make you feel like.

The Graded List

Graded List
To my mind, a guidebook without a graded list is like a bike without handlebars. Graded lists are a great source of inspiration, a map of our achievements, and a constant reminder of what we should be doing next. In short, they are essential.

A few years back when I was managing the Llanberis Outside shop (which subsequently became V12 Outdoor) we had the Gogarth graded list from the 1990 Climber's Club guide posted on the wall at the bottom of the back stairs, and the aim was to become a member of the '100 Club' by ticking 100 routes on the list. This was a pretty daft concept, as some really good routes (Bran Flake on Holyhead Mountain for example) did not make the list. At times it all got a bit silly; I was once setting out on the first pitch of Sunstroke (E1 5b) on Main Cliff when my belayer pointed out to me that it was not actually in the list. I immediately down climbed back to the belay and thumbed through the book until I found an adjacent line that was. A quick sideways shuffle and I was off up Diogenes (HVS 5a), safe in the knowledge that I was one step closer to the glory of 100 Club membership. Sad, I know, but let's be honest here, we all carry the list ticking trait, do we not?

I did originally produce a basic list for North Wales Rock where the routes were placed within the grade bands, but not in any particular ranking, except for the order that they appeared in the book. However, feedback from proofreaders showed that I'd got it wrong. The lack of relative ranking in the list was seen as a cop out; the general feeling was that it should be shuffled into order of difficulty. On reflection I could see their point, it is human nature to want to know whether the route you are about to commit to is likely to be a horror show, or not. Plus, when you are breaking into a new grade it makes sense to pick off a few of the softer touches first. So, with this in mind, I asked the various members of the Ground Up team to sort each of the grade bands into easy, mid and hard. Then to choose one or two top end and one or two bottom end examples for each grade. The lists that came back were actually quite similar, although in one or two cases there were some wild disagreements. I then mashed it all together, allowing a proportional influence of my own opinion, and not too many hours later, there it was, ready for public consumption.

No doubt the readership of UKC will have their own opinions on the detail, arguing about grades is a given constant for climbers, and long may it continue. There are so many variables, not least of which our very own physiological peculiarities, that any consistent matching with the general consensus is actually quite unlikely. Some of us are tall, some are short, some flexible, some good on their feet, some are fit, some are strong, some are bold, some are timid, some can jam, some can't, some panic at the first sight of a loose rock, others remain cool no matter what the crag throws at them. Bearing all that in mind, we should be surprised if we can agree at all on the grade of any route, as everything else in the equation is conspiring against such an outcome. But please don't let that put you off wading in with some robust opinions on how we've got it all completely wrong. To view a copy of the graded list CLICK HERE

The North Wales Rock Challenge

Matt Tuck wearing big boots for a big route: Ordinary Route Diff, Craig yr Ogof, Cwm Silyn, photo: Tuck collection
Such a splendid graded list naturally prompts the challenge of completion. It would be an extremely impressive feat to tick all 676 routes in the North Wales Rock list. To bring things down to a more realistic level, we are allowing all previous ascents to count. Now this might give an unfair advantage to dedicated locals, but it's only a bit of a laugh really. Whilst most people realistically will not have a chance, unless of course they give up their jobs and become full time climbers based in Llanberis, I'm sure that some fun can be had amongst groups of friends by racing to see who can complete all the routes in a particular grade band. Just doing all the VSs, HVSs or E1s would be quite an accomplishment, particularly for a non-local.

The North Wales Rock Challenge has 5 basic rules:

1. All single pitch routes must be lead, but alternate leads are acceptable on multi-pitch routes.

2. Ideally the ascent would be fall free, but failing that, an ascent is acceptable as long as you lower back to the belay or the deck and then do it cleanly. It's okay to fall off seconding.

3. Everybody is allowed to play a Joker card and pass on a single bogey route that they keep failing on.

4. Only routes given full written descriptions are in the list, i.e. you don't have to do Indian Face just because it's drawn on the East Buttress topo!

5. The judge's decision is final (i.e. if your witnesses don't stand up to closer scrutiny, you'll be denied the glory, named and shamed and tarred and feathered etc).

A challenge of this order deserves a suitably generous prize: the first person to complete the North Wales Rock Challenge before the next 'revamp' (as opposed to re-print) of the book will have the luxury of drowning themselves, and a friend in beer, beer, glorious beer. To this end Ground Up will sponsor a bar tab for one night in the Vaynol Arms in Nant Peris, for both the plucky leader, and whichever patient belayer they owe the most favours to.

COMPETITION - Chance to win a copy of North Wales Rock

Ground Up have kindly set a competition for Just answer the follwing five questions, email your answers to and the first three people to answer correctly will get a copy each of North Wales Rock.

1. In the 1980s Phil Davidson appeared on a poster soloing a famous Welsh route. What was it and what year did he first solo it?

2. What year did Ron James first publish his groundbreaking selected guide, Rock Climbing in Wales?

3. What is the url for Mayfair Wall on the BMC Regional Access Database?

4. What grade did Peter Harding originally give his route Spectre on Clogwyn y Grochan?

5. Name either of the English/Welsh team that did the first ascent of what was subsequently named Katana on Holyhead Mountain? One now lives in France and the other is the new secretary of the BMC Wales/Cymru area committee.


Rob Wilson, one of the team at Ground Up, with the new guidebook.
North Wales Rock, selected climbs in North Wales is available now direct from V12 Outdoor for £24.95. It documents 676 routes in 544 pages, is chocker full of photos and has all new original descriptions and maps.

Sample pages from the guide and a copy of the graded list can be viewed on the downloads page (click here)

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9 Feb, 2007
Great news but the link to graded list PDF on the Groundup website does not work.
9 Feb, 2007
it's an issue with the ground up web site however, guide looks chuffin fantastic,, it's gonna be one that wish list of mine!
9 Feb, 2007
Let the grading debates begin! Strawberries E6?! Mussel Beach 8a?! Shame they don't seem to have corrected these obvious ones (though Zippy did get Strawbs right in his guide).
9 Feb, 2007
OK I'll start! Heading the Shot above Shitlegruber? My one E6 and all three potential targets are all now E5. At least Killerkranky and Rimsky are back up. In case anyone takes me to task I'm aware that graded lists are not to be taken seriously etc. But they are there to start debates like this.
9 Feb, 2007
Funny how Simon has written a whole paragraph about the graded list ;-) Some good upgrades though - Magallen's Wall. And I thought it was just me!
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