Calum Muskett rounds-up the last year (or two) in North Wales trad...
It's been an amazing year to be a rock climber in North Wales. There have been endless weeks of good weather and the mountain crags have been in their driest state for years. By the middle of June a rainy day was a welcome thing; not only would the garden receive some much-needed water, but you were also able to spend a day indoors no longer feeling guilty about not making the most of the blue skies. With these rare conditions it's no surprise that the hills have been alive with rock climbers and following the recent Lakeland summer round-up, I thought North Wales was due a similar report.
Whilst doing some research on the goings on in North Wales, I quickly discovered that many of the normal channels and magazines where new routes have previously been recorded are no longer around. I found it quite sad to see that much of the activity in North Wales has been left unrecorded since summer 2017, so I've started to piece together a more comprehensive list of new route activity over the last two summers. Undoubtedly I'll have missed out on some quality new routes and repeats but as you can see below, there's been quite a bit of activity!
Clogwyn Du'r Arddu
The crag of the year has surely been Cloggy. The dry weather has left the crag at its driest in years and it was great to see more and more climbers from near and far getting up to the black cliff. Strong Angus Kille made the most of the weather and his outrageous crimping strength to make the eighth ascent of 'The Indian Face' whilst being watched by Johnny Dawes and Nick Dixon. It was fantastic to see Shropshire's strongest putting the myths and his own demons to bed by climbing this fabled route. James McHaffie, on his unrelenting mission to complete Extreme Rock, returned to repeat 'Masters Wall'. The school is out on whether McHaffie made a repeat or a first ascent here. It sounds like previous repeats from Leo Houlding and Stuart Cameron traversed right into 'Spreadeagle' significantly lower down. Dawes and Dixon both think that the line Jerry Moffatt took on the first ascent was also at this lower level. Whatever the case, the high line that McHaffie followed was a harrowing experience that felt "as difficult as the Indian Face"…
After repeating 'Authentic Desire' and 'Fecundity Ridge', both E7 6b, Mr Cloggy himself (Nick Dixon) found some excellent gaps between existing lines on Cloggy with Johnny Dawes and Dave Greenald. 'Dignitas', graded E7/8 6b takes the rib to the right of 'Curving Arete'. 'New Balls Please' E7 6b, the true arete of 'Curving Arête'. 'Greek Fire' was an E6 6b taking the wall left of 'November' and 'Island' E7 6b takes the wall just right of 'Drainpipe' and was led by Johnny Dawes with the second ascent coming just after by Dixon. All these new routes come with a significant health warning of bold and exacting climbing and surely the spaces up here are being filled now?
In 2017 Alex Mason added a stunning new route on the Far Far East Buttress of Cloggy tackling an obvious unclimbed shield of rock. The ascent went smoothly enough and the only slip he made was of a Freudian nature when he named his new route 'The Cwm Face', which weighs in at E7 6c. Perhaps the most difficult new route on Cloggy of the last two years was McHaffie's 'Cumbrian Face' which he climbed with Dan Mcmanus. It tackles the wall right of 'Pistollero' via some fiercely fingery climbing and was given E8 7a (8a+).
Against popular theory, the Pass hasn't been climbed-out and new routes have appeared on almost all of the major crags. The best of these was perhaps 'Youtopia', a spectacular E8 6c through the roof left of 'Marlene on the Wall' climbed by James McHaffie. Up on the Cromlech McHaffie made the first ascent of 'Witch Doctor' E7 6c right of 'Grond' and 'Victims of the Sesh' E4. On the hillside to the right of Dinas Cromlech McHaffie also climbed 'Trouble Bird', a whacky E5 6b grappling with an overhanging arête. I climbed a new route up the wall right of 'Overlord' to produce 'Overkill', a tricky E7 6c that traverses into the centre of the face from the right. On the other side of the Pass Tim Neill and I climbed an excellent E5 (or 6?) up the obvious unclimbed crack on the left side of Equator Walls; be warned, it does take quite a while to dry out after rain.
Pat Littlejohn has been at it again, finding good new routes where nobody thought to look. He's contributed a number of new routes between HVS and E5. The best of these appear to be 'Pantheon' E3 5c, 'House of Shards' E5 6a and 'Big Bird' E5 6a, all on Clogwyn y Grochan and climbed with Tim Jepson and Chris Radford. Tim also thought that the new routes on Clogwyn Pen Llechen were worthy of note despite my rather sceptical questioning. When pushed, he said that he thought these lines would receive "hundreds" of ascents if they were lower down in the Pass… Plenty of good information on further developments are on the Climbers' Club website.
Also worth a mention is the fifth ascent of 'Nightmayer' E8 6c by Emma Twyford who has been having a stonking year, the second ascent of 'Queen Bee' E7 6c, by James Taylor who thought it was tricky for the grade and a repeat by Angus Kille of 'Trauma' E8 7a on Dinas Mot.
Ogwen has been a happening place for repeat ascents with James Taylor repeating 'Rare Lichen' E8/9 6c on Clogwyn y Tarw and myself and Ed Booth recently tag teaming ascents of Nick Dixon's excellent 'Gribin Wall Climb' E9 6c on the same crag. It was also nice to see one of my own routes 'The Great Escape' E8 6c on Suicide Wall receiving a second and third ascent by Ed Booth and Nick Dixon using pre-placed gear – they were both even kind enough to say it was good!
The Pillar of Elidir above Marchlyn Mawr resevoir had a bit of a micro revival in 2017. It's an excellent crag for a hot day and can be accessed quickly by bike up the reservoir road. I spied a line going direct up the wall left of the existing E6 and found that it had lovely climbing but little in the way of protection. The resulting route 'Cantre'r Gwaelod' is a stout E8 6c and was seconded by Ed Booth.
In the Carneddau the pace of development continues at an alarming pace, so much so that I've been struggling to keep a tab on what's been going on! Mike Bailey and Al Leary have been spearheading development. The best of the newly developed areas appears to be Great Gully Wall on Craig yr Ysfa. Mike and Al climbed 'Mogadon Man', an excellent new E3, whilst Tim Neill and Nick Bullock climbed 'A Little Yellow Pill' at E5. Also of note is 'The Samarkand Bypass', an E3/4 climbed by Mike and Al down and right of Pinnacle Wall. Carreg Mianog and many of the other smaller crags have seen new additions, whilst on the north side of the Carneddau 'The Great Corner' was climbed above Llanfairfechan. A quality new E4 that has already seen repeat ascents. Harold Walmsley has been spearheading the development of new mid-grade sport routes at Penmaenbach quarry and West quarry, which are too numerous to mention here but information is available on them online. Please note that access to these quarries is prohibited by the quarry owners at present.
Mike Bailey is currently working on a new Carneddau climbing guidebook, which we should keep our eyes peeled for but I'm not sure if the good weather this year has been a blessing or a curse for progress on it!
One of the most developed areas of 2018 has got to be the mighty Craig Dorys on the Llyn Peninsula. Now that crag patron Mick Lovatt aka The Perfect Man lives nearby, the gaps in the guidebook have been diminishing rapidly! With the help of Nick Bullock and Graham 'Streaky' Desroy this crag probably packs in the highest concentration of high-end trad routes in the country.
Development started with 'Pushing For Rail' E8 6b climbed by Nick which follows the steep wall immediately left of 'Melody'. Mick then climbed 'Destiny' E7 6b, the steep blunt arête and wall between Bobok and Bam Bam. Nick was right back in with the 'The Zither Player' E7 6a, which climbs the steep wall and shallow arête between 'Rust Never Sleeps' and 'Rockin' in the Free World'. I was amused to be guiding at the crag one day to find Nick putting in some sneaky top rope sessions on another project whilst Mick was having a rest day only for TPM to turn up at the crag whilst out on a run. TPM was having none of it and put 'The Mudshark' E8 6b to bed the next day, which climbs the left arête of Rust Never Sleeps. Mick mentioned that 'Rust Never Sleeps' is now down to 5 pegs and is starting to feel "sporty" for the grade of E6. The pair also repeated 'Bam Bam', 'Requiem for a Vampire' and each other's routes other than 'The Mudshark'.
In 2017, The Perfect Man also climbed a bold-looking new outing on Trwyn Maen Melyn which is home to the classic E2 'The Bardsey Ripple'. 'The Bardsey Shuffle' at E7 6b climbs the steep prow left of the 'Ungradeable Donkey' and looks anything but a shuffle!
Harold Walmsley and friends have developed a new sport climbing venue in the Tyddyn Hywel quarries with a brace of new routes graded between 5c and 6c on good quality rock. Pat Littlejohn has also been active climbing new routes on the Llyn but I haven't been able to get hold of him to hear about his best new additions.
The rate of development at Gogarth has slowed down recently but there have still been a few notable additions to these fine cliffs in the last couple of years. James McHaffie continued his mission to discover and climb out of new caves between Porth Dafarch and the Range. His 'Nightmare Inauguration' is a bold new E8 6c whilst 'Nuclear Arms' is supposedly a gift for the grade of E7 6b. Over on the Painted Walls at Rhoscolyn, James Taylor climbed a steep new E7 6c to accompany the other two E7s called 'My Violent Desire'. At the White Arch area of Rhoscolyn, James McHaffie and Pete Robins climbed a couple of well protected but strenuous E7s, whilst further up the coast at Trearddur Bay Pete climbed a new E6/7 up the far-right side of the Face of Adversity. On Red Wall Alex Mason climbed a new E5 which he called 'Terror Firma' and in Wen Zawn I ground-up'd a new E6/7 6b to the right of 'Rubble' which I called 'Paperback Writer'.
Whilst neither being a new route nor a significant repeat, I thought it would be worth mentioning that Dan McManus' DWS 'White Lightning' at Rhoscolyn saw some attention this summer. This spectacular route has seen off attempts from James McHaffie, McManus and me this year, leading us to question the grade of 7b+ that McManus initially estimated to be the grade after on-sighting it. What is certainly true however is that it's bloody good and bloody hard!
North Wales Limestone
The limestone appears to be the gift that keeps on giving in North Wales. Pete Robins has found some time between establishing new boulder problems to climb a new 7c+ 'Master Plant', 8a+ 'The Good Life' and 8b 'Cream of the Crop' on the Allotment situated high up on the Little Orme. Luke Owens also nabbed the first ascent of 'The Greenhouse Effect' at 7c. Down at Pigeon's Cave, Chris Doyle established a direct finish to 'Stark' which he called 'Starkers' 8b. This was rapidly repeated by Tom Newman.
George Ullrich, Alex Mason, Jon Ratcliffe and James Docherty took a RIB ride around to the Seal Song area of the Little Orme and established a number of excellent deep water solos. The plumb lines were George's Neptune 7b+, Rib Rider 6b+ and Starlight Express 7a with more to be developed in the future.
Over on Anglesey, Pete Robins has been busy climbing a number of new routes at his local crags of Benllech and Fedw Fawr up to 7c as well as developing a small deep water solo spot.
Up on Craig y Forwyn Dave Evans climbed a new route up the wall left of 'People Mover' and finishing up 'Snake Direct', which is an excellent and long pitch graded at E4 6a and called 'Charmer'.
On the Great Wall, I established a new route called 'The Space Face' at E8 6b. It starts and finishes up 'Space Case' with sustained climbing on very good quality rock. 'Space Case' had its bolt removed several years ago and was climbed without it at a very bold E7/8 6b. It is possible to climb it carrying a screw-in bolt as the old bolt thread is still intact. This reduces the grade to the original one of E6 6b. The removal of the bolt has been an interesting talking point as it makes this former classic unjustifiably bold for most people, but on the other hand some would like to see a bolt-free limestone crag in North Wales. I'm sitting on the fence! Please be aware that access with the new landowners is sensitive and the central part of the crag is best avoided for now.
Down at Lower Pen Trwyn, it's been inspiring to hear about and watch Emma Twyford's progress on 'The Big Bang'. Emma has fallen off tickling the last hold now and I'm sure it won't be long before we see the first British female ascent of a 9a!
Mark Reeves' new Rockfax guidebook has helped to rejuvenate development in the quarries whilst highlighting the obvious gaps. Up in Australia James Docherty bolted and climbed a recent rockfall line, which has created an excellent and technical 7c called 'Thumbelina', rather alarmingly this had been an 8b sport project that I'd tried before a few tonnes of rock created a groove! Down in the lower quarries and whilst failing to repeat 'The Very Big and the Very Small', I climbed the 'Very Big Cop Out' which escapes into 'Poetry Pink' from the second bolt to create a surprisingly good 8a+ link up. Ian Lloyd-Jones and Harold Walmsley have been very busy climbing new routes in Twll Mawr, Australia, Bus Stop, Rainbow Walls and Heaven Walls. There are too many new routes here to describe individually but 'Øyenstikker', a 7a+ climbed by Lloyd-Jones, appears to be one of the best new routes and there's a whole new area to visit in Heaven Walls of mid-grade sport which can be found by heading straight up the incline behind Seamstress Slab. All these new routes can be found in the UKC logbooks.
I repeated Cure for a Sick Mind E7 7a, followed by John Orr a few days later - it hadn't had an ascent in perhaps two decades.
To round-up the report I thought it would be good to finish with a few new routes outside of the well-known areas. Mel Griffiths, Dave Lyon and co. have been hard at work establishing some 30 routes at Tanygrisiau of around 15m in height. Details are currently deliberately vague on both location and grades!
On the esoteric gritstone of Craig y Bodlyn in the Rhinogydd I returned after a five-year hiatus to finish off the "E9 Headwall" mentioned in the Meirionydd guidebook. This was significantly easier than estimated and went at a soft-touch E8 6c, which I called 'Scorched Earth'.
In the Moelwyn's, Ed Booth and I continued our development of new routes on Craig y Clipiau climbing the 'Crimson Cringe' an E6 6b just right of the 'Crimson Cruiser'. On a tip off from upside down guru George Smith, Peak invader Pete Whittaker established a monstrous new E8 6c which he called 'Koselig Hour'. This huge horizontal roof involves a panoply of jamming techniques, which Pete described as "mellow" for a lover of the unconventional delights of unorthodox roof climbs. Whilst Pete should be commended for his efforts here, he should also note that these are local new routes for local people and there's no need for him to steal plumb lines from under our noses.