Something remarkable happened in the Llanberis Pass last week. Eighty women climbers from 24 different countries – Iceland to India, Bulgaria to Belgium, Japan and New Zealand – came to take part in the Pinnacle Club/ BMC Women’s International Climbing Meet. Some on the meet had never before placed a piece of gear, while others had more experience and by the end of the week were climbing E7. From day one, there was a fantastic atmosphere and a real buzz, with so many women psyched to get out, climb, and push their grade, whatever their starting point.
It wasn’t exactly a first – the Pinnacle Club ran a Women’s International Climbing Meet in 1984, then, as now, supported by the BMC. But 2016 has to have been the first time so many women climbers had come together, keen to get on some of the most iconic trad routes of North Wales.
The 1984 meet saw the first female E5 – Right Wall – climbed by Jill Lawrence and then repeated by Catherine Destivelle and Rosie Andrews. The 2016 meet can also claim lots of ‘firsts’, though these were personal bests rather than ground- or grade-breaking. These spanned a first trad lead to a first E5. Some overseas guests on the meet had never climbed on sea cliffs or abseiled before last week!
Luckily, for those new to trad, Plas Y Brenin provided a climbing instructor – Cath Wilson – to offer the necessary training alongside Pinnacle Club member and qualified instructor, Ali Taylor.
Despite North Wales having seen several weeks of glorious weather in May and early June, the forecast for the week was not great. But this didn’t deter anyone – though it meant Gogarth was generally the driest and sunniest option.
Easter Island Gully, Yellow Wall, Wen Zawn, Castell Helen, Rhoscolyn, Main Cliff, Upper Tier and Holyhead Mountain – the international guests visited them all. Dream of White Horses was a popular choice – as ever – with up to three teams regularly on the route at the same time!
There were fewer ascents of climbs in the Pass – teams were rained off on two days, many of them half way up the route. One team did manage five routes on the Cromlech on the final day, garnering plenty of E points. With a nod to the 1984 meet, Right Wall also had two ascents - from Emma Twyford and Eve Lancashire (her first E5).
The final day at Tremadog saw Aniek Lith from the Netherlands giving Strawberries a go. She might have flashed it, had she not slightly mistook the line, and ended up on the harder, Dream Topping finish. Her plan had been to see what British 6b technical grade was like – but commented that she’ll now have to come back, as she has unfinished business.
Many of the overseas visitors also got to sample the slate – both sport and trad. Serengeti was one of the first areas where Yu Shinozuka, from Japan, went climbing and she asked, with some concern, whether all rock in the UK was like this …
As the overseas climbers rarely brought their own rack, DMM generously provided gear for climbers to ‘borrow’ and Gilly McArthur gave us tours round their factory in Llanberis, providing both overseas and UK climbers with a fascinating insight into how climbing hardwear is produced. Rab also supported the meet with gifts for our goody-bags and sponsoring one of their international athletes, Bibiana Zaes from Spain.
The evenings were mainly spent at Caban – the café in Brynrefail – who provided us with delicious food during the week. Each night we had presentations on climbing in different parts of the world: North Wales (of course!), Japan, Croatia, India and the BMC South African exchange trip. Plus one night a showing of Operation Moffat, the film based around the life of the first female guide in the UK and long-standing Pinnacle Club member, Gwen Moffat. On one evening we had a vigorous discussion on the whys and wherefores of women-only climbing events – and the general consensus was that, until women make up 50 percent of trad climbers (and we’re a long way from that yet), these kind of events are definitely worthwhile.
Ynys Ettws, the Climbers’ Club hut in the Pass – for which we’d been allowed exclusive use for the week – rang out with laughter and music on the Saturday night. Claire Carter, of Operation Moffat fame, ran a quiz (which got pretty raucous – who says women aren’t competitive!). Lots of climbing companies provided support through gifts and prizes for a raffle held in support of local Mountain Rescue Teams – Rab, Lyon Equipment, 3rd Rock, V12, Mountain Equipment, Mammut, Awesome Walls and Snowdonia National Park.
The vision for the meet came from Pinnacle Club president, Hilary Lawrenson. She’d been in North Wales during the first one, and the impressive climbing she’d witnessed had inspired her both to join the club and to push her own grade. So during her presidency, she was determined to organise another Women’s International Climbing Meet, to inspire other women in the same way.
Although our UK hosts did a great job of showcasing British trad climbing for the overseas guests, support and inspiration was not just one way. Some overseas guests said they’d gained so much from climbing with their UK hosts, they were keen to reciprocate with other hosts, giving them encouragement to help them push their grade – and this led to two UK women climbing their first E3.
Overall, the meet had the most amazing atmosphere, a real buzz, and some great friendships were forged amongst the Welsh rain and midges – and the Gogarth sunshine! Something so successful is definitely worth repeating – but next time, without waiting 32 years to do it.