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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Jack Geldard on Warpath (E5 6a) at Rhoscolyn © Dave Pickford
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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."