North Wales Area Report: March - April 2013

© Neil Gresham Collection
Since the early sun North Wales experienced in February, we were plunged back into an icy winter that saw many new winter routes and some hard new boulder problems. However, the trad climbing season has started, along with the return of rain, fingers crossed it won't turn out like last year!

Winter Climbing

Neil Gresham on Central Icefall Direct, VI 6  © Neil Gresham Collection
Neil Gresham on Central Icefall Direct, VI 6
© Neil Gresham Collection

Just as everyone had stashed away their axes and got out their Easter eggs, winter swept back into town and froze everything solid, ready for a final flurry of intense winter action. Whilst this has been catastrophic for many local farmers, with snow drifts killing off new-born lambs, winter climbers have been bouncing out of their beds with uncontrollable excitement, just like when they were kids and got an extra day off school. Prolonged freeze-thaw conditions, combined with strong winds, polished the hill tops a glistening, Alpine-like white for weeks, leading to many high quality first ascents all over Snowdonia.

Man of the winter season, Pete Harrison, obviously unpacked his tools once again for the late season gold rush. Teaming up with Rob Pitt, Pete climbed Grey Ghost VI 6; heralded the 'last great corner' of Glyder Fawr in Cwm Idwal. The capping overlap, a few pitches up, is reported to require heavy snow consolidation to pass. With Ian Parnell, Harrison headed to Llech Du to climb the first winter ascent of Trindod, being a 3-pitch VI 7 and including a bold and icy groove. On Craig Cwm Du, Harrison and Steve Long climbed Adam Rib VI 7, in three awesome pitches, resulting in a classic mixed climb based around the summer route, but with much independent climbing. Frozen in Time VIII 7 is another excellent new route from Pete Harrison in Cwm Silyn. They all sound desperate to me, and Pete surely now deserves a few weeks in the sun getting up late and clipping bolts, but he'll probably start developing some mankey zawn somewhere on the Ormes!

Perhaps the hardest ascent during this spell was from Rich Stone and Andy Humphries, who climbed a thin seam above the first belay of Samuel 17:36 on Craig Dafydd. Bladerunner rates a mighty VIII 9 and took Rich several sessions spread over the last few years, taking several falls before success. The next day the pair returned to the cliff to climb another testing route, Easter Resurrection VII 7. And finally, Chris Parkin and Lee Roberts managed to climb a major new route on Lliwedd. Lliwedd East Buttress – Winter Direct VI 6 is a mega 300 m epic, forging a direct weakness up the East Buttress, starting as for the summer route Central Chimney Route and finishing up Terminal Arête. For more information and full pitch descriptions of the above routes, and much more (including impressive and hard new routes in the lesser frequented Cwm Silyn and the Nantlle Ridge), check out the V12 outdoor news page and the Welsh Winter Climbs Wiki.

Trad Climbing

Hazel Findlay managed to overcome terrible weather conditions in March to climb the second ascent of Tim Emmett's Chicama, E9 6c, at the crazy Anglesey sea cliff of Trearddur Bay (see ukc news report). This is especially impressive as its one of the least convenient excursions in north Wales; the route overhanging by 45 degrees straight out of the Irish Sea, and being about F8a/+ to climb but with hardly any natural gear! Consequently, the route relies heavily on pegs which is a real shame. In fact, the whole wall is littered with unsightly and untrustworthy rusty pegs. Hopefully, one day, we will stop bashing pegs into sea cliffs and find an agreeable and sustainable alternative, or do the routes without or not at all. I think it's time we stopped viewing pegs as part of a trad climbing ethos. James McHaffie was part of Hazel's support team and, as is becoming a trend since their Yosemite trip (see ukc news report), he had to keep up with her strong lead and do the route himself. Caff reckoned it's "an ace clip-up now, like". So we'll be expecting big queues there this summer then!

Hazel Findlay going for it on the lead on Chicama - E9 6c  © REELROCK / Matt Pycroft
Hazel Findlay going for it on the lead on Chicama - E9 6c
© REELROCK / Matt Pycroft

Caff has continued 'bezzing' his way along some of the loosest cliffs on the Lleyn Peninsula, having now virtually ticked all the hardest routes, on-sight of course. Harmony on Craig Doris and The Apprentice on Porth Ceiriad have been the latest victims to fall to the Cumbrian on-sighting machine, and without any apparent fuss. Caff thought Stevie Haston's Harmony was excellent and worth its E7 6c grade, talking enthusiastically about slopey crimps and hard scary moves after already climbing a lower E6 section; comparable to but harder than The Great White in Pembroke. He also mentioned that the route didn't rely on pegs but instead needed some crucial mid-sized cams. The Apprentice was first climbed by Dan McManus and given E6 6b, later to be up-graded to E7, but Caff thought the original grade was most appropriate, as the route has good gear and good rock (I'd wager the rock ain't as pristine as the Verdon though!) and is therefore destined to become a classic! Caff climbed the two pitches in a one-er, as the mid-height belay isn't up to much, advising that this is the best course of action for future ascents. If you want to hear more from Caff, check out his blog.

Ioan Doyle has made a very rare ascent of Idwal Crack E7 6c/7a, after a quick top rope and a few big lobs, reckoning it to be about F7c/+ with good gear. More information on these routes and more can be found on the V12 outdoor news page, including scary biscuit pulling on Anglesey and the next generation on-sighting extreme new routes!

Sport Climbing

Llandudno's keenest activist, Chris Doyle, who has also been dubbed 'the most environmentally-friendly climber', by never leaving the Ormes, has kick-started the sport climbing season with a new addition to Mayfair Wall on the Great Orme. The often eyed big flake to the left of Contusion has until now been ignored as it was loose. But Chris went one step further and knocked it off to produce a fine and crimpy 7b+/c called Blood Lust. It sounds as though the old top pitches to the Mayfair routes, which have recently been taken of the banned routes list, might get re-bolted to produce 30 m sport pitches, so keep an eye out for moving lower-offs. For more information, go to Doylo's Blog.


After several trips up to the Lilly Savage boulders in Ogwen, I managed to climb my amazing project up the super-steep left arête of the upper tier boulder. The area is about a 20 minute walk north-east from parking at the east end of Llyn Ogwen. This surely has to be one of the most striking hard problems in north Wales, although I know it's not cool to big-up your own routes too much so I'll stop there. Mike Adams originally tackled the arête, climbing Danny LaRue 7C+/8A, but the landing zone for most of the arête dropped away meaning he could only try the final section; a great and scary effort for a one-day mission. I thought that by filling in the huge hole to form a lovely rock patio, the entire arête was on. So I set to work on the landing zone then the problem itself. The problem now has about 10 or 12 hard moves to get to a position where Danny LaRue starts; a crazy mix of grappling with the slopey side of the arête whilst busting out big moves on the steep side and all-the-while keeping your tension up so your feet stay on the marginal nubbins and heel smears. The last section has to be climbed by a really wild and awesome dyno to the lip, unless you've got a huge span and can do it Mike's way. I named the problem Madame Allure and its perhaps 8B, although tenuous ones like this are tricky to grade.

A video of the problem was made by Adam Bailes:

As predicted, after Dave Noden's fine addition to the Maes Newyddion woods near Betws y Coed, Roof of a Baby Buddha has become a local classic, complete with grade changes, access issues and variation problems! Dan Knight climbed the obvious snatchy left-hand variation of the roof, called Grey House 7C+. The steep limestone crag at Pantymwyn has had some quality additions recently. Firstly, Byron Orde added Sunset Sit 7C+ which is a low level sit-start to Pantys Down. Tom Williams quickly repeated this, after a hold breakage, making it now solid at the grade. Tom then went on to climb the obvious and harder finish into Be Ruthless, called Join the Dots, 8A. Topos, pictures and videos of these burley Pantymwyn links can be found through the North Wales bouldering website, which also details other bouldering news in the area, including more development at the Ruthin Escarpment.

Finally, in the last report, I forgot to mention Chris 'Floppy' Davies' new problem in Parisella's Cave, called La Derniere Atrocite. Sorry Chris! Floppy added a really hard move to gain the sloping shelf of Cave life. He initially escaped left up Left Wall Traverse (The Last Stand), but returned to do the harder finish up Rockattrocity

King of the Pass

Caff going through the chandeliers as Jon Ratcliffe, Jim McCormack and co shelter from the downpour.  © James McHaffie Collection
Caff going through the chandeliers as Jon Ratcliffe, Jim McCormack and co shelter from the downpour.
© James McHaffie Collection

... and if you mix it all together, you get the all-rounder's local trophy of 'King of the Pass', which was awarded to Caff for climbing Central Ice Fall VI 6 on Craig y Rhaeadr, Lord of the Flies E6 6a on Dinas Cromlech, and finishing off on Jerry's Roof 7B+, all in the same day! For this challenge to be even remotely pleasurable, you need extraordinary conditions which seem to happen about once every decade. Obviously Central Ice Fall has to be frozen, which is rare, but then the right wall of Dinas Cromlech also needs to be quite dry and warm. But this Easter, conditions for this were the best I've seen for 12 years. Caff teamed up with his super-second, Jim McCormack (whom seconded him on The Meltdown and on this occasion led the middle pitch of Central Ice Fall). Unsurprisingly, the routes went without a hitch, more like scrambles to Caff, but he had to dig a little deeper to climb Jerry's Roof at the end of a long day, blaming his fatigue on his tired left arm after climbing Harmony the day before. The team were joined that day by Gaz Aston and the most mentioned climber on the internet for not actually doing any climbing: Neil Dyer. So I thought it best to mention Neil again here in case he felt left out. Gaz takes up the story:

"Neil christened the challenge 'Man of The Pass' when he made an impressive attempt at Cascade, Jerry's Roof and Right Wall in a day. Due to ice build up Right Wall, he took an equally impressive fall after climbing the other routes and could not complete the challenge. That was a few years ago and it wasn't until this year that conditions fell right for another attempt, only this time it was Caff leading the charge. With Central Ice Fall in and the possibility of Lord of the Flies also being on the cards, 'King of The Pass' was sporned. Caff completed the challenge with his usual unassuming grace and style but there were moments along the way, especially when you consider he had climbed Harmony the day before and it was a 4 a.m. start for the challenge! Luckily we were there with a camera and an able cameraman in the guise of Neil Dyer to record the event, so fingers crossed, there should be a short film of the rare day coming soon".

So next season we need a new challenge; Lateo, Nightmayer, and Diesel Power? Eeek!

Here is a short video of Caff talking about being King of the Pass:

Also out that day were Neil Gresham and Tim Emmett, who were casually climbing everything frozen. Suitably inspired by Caff's mission, Gresham returned a week later to share the crown and throne, right at the end of the cold snap. An appraisable move for one of Britain's most prolific all-rounders. After re-familiarizing himself with Jerry's Roof the day before, Gresham decided to start his big day off with the boulder problem, before teaming up with Robin Thomas and climbing Lord of the Flies, followed by Central Ice Fall at the end of the day. As the pair topped out on the ice fall, to their horror they witnessed the whole main ice structure collapse beneath them and crash down to the ground. An utterly terrifying and close call.

Neil Gresham on the lower section of Lord of the Flies, E6 6a  © Neil Gresham Collection
Neil Gresham on the lower section of Lord of the Flies, E6 6a
© Neil Gresham Collection

Neil further commented:

"I was so inspired by Caff's performance on the Triple Crown that I had to see if I could follow suit. Folk had speculated about this mythical enchainment for years but few were convinced that all 3 of these contrasting classics would ever be in condition at the same time. In fact, both Caff and I encountered a torrent of water running down the top of Lord of the Flies which certainly added to the excitement. I guess none of the individual components of the challenge are hard by modern standards, but it requires a diverse range of skills to put them together and above all else the ability to read the mountain. I feel pretty lucky to be alive after Central Icefall collapsed and I know I won't be cutting it this fine in the future!"

Tim Emmett, James 'King of the Pass' McHaffie and Neil Gresham after Neil's first attempt at the Treble.  © Neil Gresham Collection
Tim Emmett, James 'King of the Pass' McHaffie and Neil Gresham after Neil's first attempt at the Treble.
© Neil Gresham Collection

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