The Finest Crags in the UK and Ireland Tremadog Words and Images by Mike Hutton in association with
Overlooking the village of Tremadog, the sun-blessed cliffs of Craig Pant Ifan and Bwlch y Moch offer over 300 routes ranging from difficult to E7 on some of Wales' best rock. When the routes in Llanberis pass are cloaked in a veil of mist, Tremadog’s fine compact Dolerite is often basking in the sun.
There was a time when people went to Tremadog as a wet weather alternative to the pass. Now climbers choose this destination for its sunny aspect, quick-drying rock and relative ease of access over other mountain areas. Couple this with the fact it has an abundance of classics in the Severe to HVS grade category and you will realise why it attracts so many people. If peace and solitude are more your things then there are plenty of crags in the same valley requiring a short walk that will offer an alternative experience.
I share Pat Littlejohn and Joe Brown’s views in that the climbs don’t rate as the best in Wales like in the pass for example, but the setting and quality of the rock make up for the lack of remoteness. Thanks to Eric’s café and camping, local activists, volunteers and a good infrastructure it’s become a focal hub for the weekend warrior. Some lunatic from the past even had the audacity to suggest that Vector (E2 5c) should have been dismantled and rebuilt in the pass. Imagine saying that today!
A climber pulling onto the finishing holds of Meshach HVS 5a on Vector buttress at Craig Bwlch y MochJordan Buys focussing hard on Finger Licker E46a at Pant Ifan.
Although this article is confined to the Craig Bwlch y Moch and Pant Ifan areas there are many more venues to explore in the beautiful Nant Gwynant valley.
The climbing all started in the 1900’s at Tremadog but generally it was neglected in favour of the mountain crags. There was a surprising amount done between the 1940’s and 1950’s. Climbers back then used to write down their new routes on the back of fag packets. Rumour has it you could identify the group by the brand of cigarettes.
In the 1960’s Tony Moulam created the classic Shadrach (VS) claiming it was the best route at Tremadog. A pretty bold statement from someone who hadn’t actually climbed many of the other routes. Scratch (VS), Christmas Curry (Severe) and Merlin (VS) all became his creations.
As far as the rock is concerned it’s fair to say that Tremadog’s dolerite is quite unlike the columnar variety encountered at Fairhead and Neist. Its compact nature makes it more reminiscent of granite, though the impregnated soil and greenery mean that on a bigger scale it’s more unstable than the other types of dolerite. Eric Jones knew someone who witnessed a monster boulder fly past him on the way to work. Unsurprisingly the meteorite like block originated from the Avalanche Buttress on Craig Pant Ifan.
A lone climber on the classic Christmas Curry Severe at Plum buttress, Craig Bwlch y Moch
In the 1970s a climber was soloing when a lump of Bwlch y Moch went downward bound. He was simply forced to climb faster! In 1978 a rock fall demolished a woman’s house. Fortunately, she was saved from being crushed by hiding behind her refrigerator. This incident led to the crag being banned until people realised there were far bigger forces at work than the weight of a 15 stone climber.
In the 1960’s that pegs were all the rage, with some routes boasting as many as sixteen; Henry Barber’s Pincushion (E2 6a) being a good example. It was claimed that Joe Brown’s Barbarian (E1 5b) became easier after the pegs were removed as initially the holes made good finger pockets. Brown didn’t initially think it was that good a place, though his route Vector (E2 5c) adopted classic status from day one, with climbers lobbing off the top crack after they failed to recover from the demanding climbing encountered on the lower Ochre slab.
Even the fire brigade got called out at one point to rescue some stranded climbers. In the summer of ‘69 Eric Jones soloed Grasper and The Fang with Alan Rouse. It turned out Rouse didn’t like ropes.
Many of Tremadog’s early soloists had practiced the art elsewhere. Steve Peake who had already soloed the BT tower in Birmingham and got himself arrested in the process. He fell into a tree whilst muffing the moves on Pincushion (E2 6a) and hit the ground from the first pitch of Void (E4 6a). Paul Williams soloed Silly Arête (E3 5c) for the 50th time on his 50th birthday, but sadly it was Jimmy Jewel who ended up killing himself whilst soloing Poor Man’s Peuterey (Severe) on a damp day.
In the early eighties, the now legendary Eric Jones set up his famous café and witnessed a lot of accidents in between making free brews for his camping climbers. I remember hiding in my van back in the day to make a sneaky cup of tea in Eric’s car park, after taking photos of Jordan Buys and Sam Hamer on Finger Licker and Strawberries. It turns out Eric had seen me dossing in my van the night before in the car park beneath Bwlch y Moch. He asked around to find the culprit then knocked on my van and gave me a well deserved telling off. I felt like a naughty kid, but Eric later smirked when I admitted the error of my ways and I liked him instantly. I was sure he had seen his fair share of mischief over the years by other climbers.
Of all the routes at Tremadog, Strawberries was the one that attracted the most controversy. For many weekends Ron Fawcett and Jon Readhead would battle it out for the first ascent often taking huge whippers from the top crack. This certainly provided some entertainment for passing walkers. Despite advancements in standards, it took until 1987 for the route to see a flash style ascent by visiting Stefan Glowacz. Even in the present day it still has a reputation as one of the hardest E7’s to onsight and continues to deter the UK’s most talented climbers.
Sam Hamer realising that the crux is near the top on Strawberries E7 6b, Vector buttress on Craig Bwlch y Moch.
Craig Pant Ifan
The left-hand of the two areas is easily recognised as you drive past Eric’s café. A vast assortment of exposed slabby arêtes, overlapping roofs and groove lines rise above the tree line. Many of the routes here require good footwork and the ability to find awkward gear placements. A bold approach will often pay dividends.
Poor Man’s Peuterey Severe 4a
One of the many routes on Peuterey buttress that manages to avoid climbing through the fine sculptured over-laps by weaving up the easier slabby ground. A classic route with exposure, unlikely ground and incredible positions that meanders to the side of all hard ground. Arguably the best of its grade at Tremadog.
Alcatraz VS 4c
An often-neglected gem on the secluded Strangeways buttress that unusually requires an abseil approach. Superb and sustained crack climbing makes this Martin Boysen line well worth hunting out.
Scratch Arête HVS 4c, 5a
This slabby arête on the right of Peuterey Buttress maybe easy for the grade, but it has a sting in the tail as you pull through the over-hang. The positions on the top slab are sensational and photogenic. A classic from the sixties by Baz Ingle.
Falcon E1 5b
Since the demise of any decent pegs, this one has a bit of a reputation. Amazing disjointed crack climbing with a pretty serious feel since some of the protection is behind slightly dubious loose blocks. A bit of a sandbag
Sam Hamer crimping on tiny crystals near the top of Silly Arête E3 5c, Peuterey buttress, Pant Ifan. Previous page: Jordan Buys focussing hard on Finger Licker E4 6a at Pant Ifan.
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Pincushion E2 6a
Slab climbing at Tremadog doesn’t get much better. A beautiful and exposed line that climbs to the right of the eye-catching stepped overhangs. Originally done with many pegs in place.
Silly Arête E3 5c
The serious arête on the right of the Pincushion slab is closer to E4 without a side runner. The positions on the upper-part of the arête are sensational and the gear is well below you on this lonely lead. It’s phenomenal that Paul Williams soled this for the 50th time on his 50th birthday - once would be enough for most climbers.
Silly to do this if you’re not solid at the grade.
Spare Rib E4 6a, 6a
The best route of its grade at Tremadog according to Andy Pollitt. Both pitches are bold and the upper arête is in some ways a harder version of Silly Arête.
Sexual Salami E5 6b
A classic example of John Redhead route naming. Another intimidating and serious route that manages to quest straight up through the middle of the unmistakable Two Faced Buttress. Passing the overlaps is spicy since the loss of one of the pegs.
Jordan Buys on the scary top section of Silly Arete E3 5c at Pant Ifan
Craig Bwlch y Moch
Of all the crags at Tremadog, this is the most popular. The routes are much easier to access than those at Pant Ifan and the easy to follow cliff top path makes descending and abseiling much less of a mission. The range of climbing is as diverse as it gets, and weekends spent here will prepare you well for the mountains. What sets this crag apart is the shear concentration of quality climbing in such a friendly and beautiful environment. There really isn’t much to fault.
Christmas Curry Severe 4b
An old favourite that people seem to come back to time after time. Brilliant belays make this a superb route for beginners. Take time and enjoy the wonderful positions especially near the top.
One Step in the Clouds VS 4b, 4c, 4b
A great exposed multi-pitch outing and the easiest way up the famous Vector buttress. Often crowded but that’s hardly surprising given it’s one of the best VSs on the cliff.
The Fang HVS 5a, 5a
Another classic Joe Brown test piece up the fang shaped buttress. A steep initial pitch followed by a contrasting bold and balancey pitch contains all the elements that make this a climb of two halves.
The Plumb E1 5b
A 1960’s classic that climbs the obvious nose on the right of plumb buttress in one long, simple and direct pitch. It has just about every kind of move on it possible. Arêtes, grooves, roofs and cracks, you name it and this route has it!
A Climber enjoying the exposure on The Plumb E1 5b at Craig Bwlch y Moch.
Vector E2 5a, 5c, 5c
The classic, much sought after and feared Joe Brown route of the buttress. Both pitches are contrasting in character and there is a lot of traversing. Airy to second and good rope-work is a must on this highly rated adventure up the cliff.
Void E4 5b, 5c, 6a
This Rowland Edwards classic is definitely one of the few relatively safe E4’s at Tremadog. The line is sublime in that it follows a distinct fault line for its entirety.
For simplicity it’s possible to link up the first two pitches.
Debbie Birch enjoying the views on the upper section of The Fang HVS 5a at Craig Bwlch y Moch.
A typical Easter weekend at Craig Bwlch y Moch. Tim Neil showing everyone how it’s done. Next page: Lee Roberts fighting hard on the classic jamming test piece, Neb Direct E4 6a at Craig Bwlch y Moch and a climber doing battle with the top section of Cream E4 6a on Vector buttress at Craig Bwlch y Moch.
How to get there
Theoretically, it is possible to get a train to Bangor then a bus to Tremadog via Caernarfon, thus avoiding the need for a car. In reality this is tedious, and you would be better with a car as it would give you access to the other crags in the valley.
When to go
Tremadog enjoys far more sun and less rain than the rest of Snowdonia and therefore is often dry in the winter months, so in theory you could climb here all year round. Due to its southerly aspect it can literally be too hot to climb on in the middle of summer, but this doesn’t seem to stop people.
Where to stay
You couldn’t have it more sorted. Eric’s café provides camping and a bunkhouse opposite the crag. The BMC own the parking opposite Bwlch y Moch so no access problems here, although you must not sleep in your vehicle. Within walking distance is the village of Tremadog, which has a fine pub and a local shop.
Half 50m ropes are required and a fairly standard rack of wires and cams. The routes often weave about, so lots of extendable quick draws will help reduce drag. After heavy rain there is often the odd rock fall so wear a helmet at all times.
The 2010 Climbers Club Tremadog guide by Steve Long is the only definitive guide to the area.
The 2013 North Wales climbs by Rockfax details most of the best climbs in the area.
The 2014 North Wales Rock guide by Ground Up also contains a selection of the best climbs.
Jordan Buys climbing into a splendid position on Bananas E5 6b on Vector buttress at Craig Bwlch y Moch.
Mike Hutton is an Adventure Photographer and Writer working for the Outdoor Industry.
During the past decade, Mike has travelled to over 30 countries capturing images of climbers in places rarely visited by people. He has accumulated over 2000 photo credits to his name and his work has been extensively published in the world's leading magazines and books and on national television. His editorial client list includes Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times, Daily Mail, Geographical Magazine, GQ Italia, Red Bulletin, Rock and Ice, Women's Adventure, The Outdoor Journal, Rockfax, Climbing, Derbyshire Life, Klettern, Desnivel, Pareti, Vertical, Climax, Climber, Summitt, Outdoor Photography and Rock and Snow.
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