Ogwen VDiffs - "It is beautiful here in North Wales, it?s just a shame it?s so busy."

The queue of climbers at the base of the Idwal slabs grew longer. As they racked their gear and jostled for position, I overheard a snippet of frustration.

“It is beautiful here in North Wales, it's just a shame it's so busy”.

Suzie Wilson on the immaculate pillar of Sub Cneifion Rib
© Jack Geldard - Assistant Editor, Apr 2007

I squeezed past and set off up my intended scramble. On reaching the summit of Idwal Staircase I could see the insect like swarm below, buzzing around the slabs. I counted; there was over 30 climbers all on the same few routes. The rest of the valley lay sleeping, tranquil in its empty silence. It was time to explore.

There are of course many reasons why the Idwal slabs are so popular. Ease of access, a beautiful mountain setting and fantastic routes at achievable grades are what many visiting climbers are after – I would heartily recommend them. But once you have tried out the delights of the slabs and feel the need to explore a little deeper, you could do worse than seek out my favourite classics.

The Roadside Venue

Milestone Buttress

Suzie Wilson on the first pitch of Direct Route, Milestone Buttress.
UKC Articles, Aug 2007
© Jack Geldard
With an approach walk that's shorter than most gritstone edges, Milestone Buttress is an accessible gem. Just a stones throw from the road, this could be the perfect Friday evening warm up before pitching the tent.

Direct Route

Direct Route is just that, direct. It carves a path straight up the prominent main rib of the central buttress, taking the most obvious and aesthetic challenge on the crag. The initial contrasting pitches, starting with a fierce crack, take you up to a broad ledge. You could make the mistake of thinking that it's all over after this, but keep something in reserve. For calories per meter, the final chimney gives a better ratio than any gym step machine and will see even the most hardened traditionalist panting and sweating when they finally pull over the top.

The Short Sharp Walk

Sub Cneifion Rib

(pronounced 'Ka' 'nay' 'vee' 'on')

Rachel Barlow topping out on Sub Cneifion Rib
UKC Articles, Aug 2007
© Jack Geldard
Situated above the shore of Llyn Idwal, on the approach to the Idwal slabs, Sub Cneifion Rib runs like the spine of a whale up the rugged mountainside. The crag itself is more a rambling set of buttresses, but when combined in to a multi-pitch route it provides a fantastic 125 meters of climbing.

An amazing first pitch hugs the barrelled pillar, teasing you upwards until a committing move to pass an overhang gives access to the upper slab. Comfortable belay ledges, perfect rock and an exposed final pitch all add up to make a classic route.

The Gentle Walk

The Idwal Slabs

Well it wouldn't be the same without a route on The Slabs. Although they are the mountain equivalent of the M25 in rush hour, these ramps of solid rock still host some of the longest and best traditional routes in Snowdonia. Approached mid-week and with an early start you can have the mountain solitude that these routes deserve.

Alex Williams on the first pitch of Hope.
UKC Articles, Aug 2007
© Jack Geldard


Shot through with lightning bolts of quartz, the exquisite slab of the first pitch gives a taste of the quality to come. Have a good rest, squeak your boots and get ready to scrabble. The polished Twin Cracks of the second pitch could be graded anything from V-diff to E5! The rest of the route flows by in a dream of perfect rock and acres of exposure.

Further A Field

Suzie Wilson trusting friction on Central Route, Red Slabs.
UKC Articles, Aug 2007
© Jack Geldard

The Red Slabs

Seldom visited, but not to be missed, the unique rock of the Red Slabs is one of the true hidden treasures of North Wales. An amazing sweep of rough friction rock that slides down the mountainside like a ski run. So slabby it's almost a walk, until you get just a bit too far above that last runner!

Central Route

The route itself weaves a line right up the middle of the face. Graded Severe in the guide, I have cheekily dropped it to V-Diff here (because it's one of my favourite routes and I just had to include it!). The climbing is straightforward and for those adept at fiddling in unusual runners, the route is adequately protected. I would take great care in setting up the belay in the centre of the face as protection is scarce (but it is possible!). A Severe for ingenious V-Diff climbers.

Mountain Goats

Ally on amphitheatre buttress
© allysingo, May 2007

Craig yr Ysfa

For those who seek true solitude, Craig yr Ysfa lies high in the hidden and silent Carneddau, a range of mountains overlooked by visitors, who instead flock to the honey pots of Cwm Idwal and the Llanberis Pass. The Carneddau hold other secret crags such as the awesome and intimidating Lech Ddu and the almost Alpine Ysgolion Duon.

Amphitheatre Buttress

With a strength sapping 9 pitches, an early start is a must for this mountain expedition. Although the crag is high and takes a lot of water seepage, Amphitheatre Buttress dries reasonably quickly – a day or two of good weather is all that's needed. I won't tell too many of the routes secrets, because this is a day for adventure and exploration.

Also read Classic enchainments of Routes in Snowdonia by Mark Stevenson which gives some great ideas for lower grade link-ups in the Snowdonia area. You can read this popular article right now, (which has been viewed 5,545 times as on 15th August 2007) click here to read.

Jack Geldard on Warpath (E5 6a) at Rhoscolyn © Dave Pickford
Jack Geldard (26) is a mountain safety advisor for Exploration Logistics PLC (overseas) and a Mountaineering Instructor based in Snowdonia.

His last article for was Brandler-Hasse - F7a+/E5, Cima Grande di Lavaredo, Dolomites (which has been viewed 3,502 times as on 15th August 2007). You can read this popular article right now, click here to read.

Jack has been climbing for 15 years from big walls in Morrocco to Peruvian Andes and lots in between including winter alpine North face epics and Scottish winter classics up to VII/VII. He has onsighted up to E7, done F8b redpoints, and has made first ascents up to E8/9, most recently Spinal Crack in Cwm Idwal. Gritstone bouldering highlights include Brad Pit, Jason's Roof (Crookrise), Underworld (Earl) and other V10-11 ish boulders. He's a bit of an all-rounder. He hasn't any sponsors but once, "won a quickdraw in a raffle."

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