Rat Race (E3 5c) – Autumn 2007, By Jack Geldard
Giant waves crashed against the base of Main Cliff and the boys looked a little frightened. I waited a few seconds, timing the gap between the surges, then launched across the exposed rock shelf, just making it to safety before the next crash of water. Wizz took a wave on the legs, soaking him up to his waist. Dez stayed fairly dry, but looked as if the pounding sea may dampen his spirit any second. The deafening roar of the ocean meant all conversation had to be shouted; the strong wind whipped away our words like sea spray.
I looked at the boys and smiled what I hoped would be a reassuring smile, they looked back at me like I was completely mad. Maybe I was, what on earth was I doing at the foot of Main Cliff, battered by waves, strapped to two young boys? We failed to reach our intended route on the left side of the wall, a giant smash of ocean against the very place where I had envisaged a belay ensured our hasty and difficult retreat to beneath Rat Race. Dripping wet and freezing cold, I looked up with a damp, milksop face at the steep rock above.
All out of options and not wanting to fail after promising so much, I said “Lets go up there”, then to pacify no-one but myself, added quickly “It'll be fine”. Thus began the boys' first sea cliff adventure and introduction to the delights of Gogarth.
I suppose at this stage I should really introduce the two youngsters in my charge, so you won't think it completely unjustifiable to be taking two so young on a route such as Rat Race. Wizz, aged twelve and by this time soaked from head to toe, has led E3's in his local slate quarries and is the Welsh indoor climbing champion of his age group. Dez, his fourteen year old brother, wet up to the waist, also competes indoors and has climbed outcrop E3's and bouldered up to V7. I was impressed by their enthusiasm and offered to take them on their first trip to the coastal crags of Anglesey, where we made a beeline for Main Cliff.
Fate brought us to the base of Rat Race I'm sure, for around ten years earlier I had been in a very similar position on my first trip to Gogarth, in fact, on my first sea cliff route. I was a little older than Dez, maybe sixteen, and I was accompanying my friend Adrian who was both a little older and a little better than me. Our intended introduction was Rat Race.
Adrian led off up the first (crux) pitch, which I thought was a noble gesture. I was soon to change my mind. Arriving at the first belay terrified and with eyes on stalks, I glanced up at what was supposed to be my lead. The chimney, an assiduous slot of sand and rubble, had obviously never been climbed. The guidebook said otherwise. I would like to write about how I'd 'tucked in my skirt', sucked up a deep breath and made mince meat out of le fissure terrible, but I just followed the guidebook cop-out and skirted off to the right. After hours of epic-ing, mainly caused by me, we finally arrived at the top, where I swore I would never climb at Gogarth again. The next day we did T-Rex, and I swore a whole lot more!
Back to 2007 and three wet climbers stood below the first pitch of Rat Race. Infinitely more talented and able than I had been, the boys seemed non too phased by the steep wall above, but I hoped they wouldn't find it too easy. I led off and things were going smoothly until the overhanging crux, where the jamming crack was soaking wet. I, fancying myself as an 'experienced old man of trad' (a role I had adopted in front of the two youngsters), proceeded to throw in my fists and nonchalantly pulled up on the insecure jams. They slipped almost instantly and I quickly resorted to strenuous undercutting, cursing myself for nearly falling. The boys seconded fluidly, unaware of strange techniques such as jamming, and made themselves at home on the small belay ledge... by edging me off. They then proceeded to eat all of my food (a snickers bar) and drink all of my water. I busied myself 'tucking in my skirt' for an attempt at the chimney.
Wizz glanced up at the pitch and asked “Does it go up THERE?!” – aha I thought, now he's getting a little of the 'Gogarth Grip'.
“Yep.” I quipped with a smile.
“Brilliant! I love chimneys.” came his beaming reply. I honestly could have wept.
They followed quickly and enthused about the situation on the next belay stance. The short corner that followed posed no problems and saw us all below the final pitch and at a junction with the classic E1 Gogarth. It looked better than the described pitch of Rat Race so we opted to sidle rightwards and attack the steep crack. The boys finally showed weakness, a little uncertain about the long traverse out from the belay, with the booming sea now several hundred feet below.
Tiredness had taken hold, we had spent several hours in the biting wind, dressed in wet clothes, with only half a litre of water and a snickers bar between three (make that two!). They were at last having a suitable Gogarth introduction.
I made an intermediate belay, so that I would still be in line of sight. This seemed to pacify all the grumbling from below and the boys shot upwards, like stones from a catapult. The rest of the pitch passed easily and we topped out on the obligatory mariners lichen and loose, earthy rubble.
We reached our rucksacks as the golden light of the evening spilled over us, picking out the peaks of the Lleyn Peninsular like the sail fins along the backbone of a lizard. Discussing the days exploits on the car journey back to Llanberis, the boys were unsure; had it been absolute terror? Or had they just experienced the best climbing day of their lives?
I smiled to myself and hoped that they would go on to have many, many more.
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