Calum Muskett gives us a comprehensive rundown of trad and sport developments in North Wales from the past couple of years.
Whilst many will want to commit the year 2020 to a distant memory, it has provided some renewed enthusiasm for new routing in North Wales. Whilst lockdown seemed to provide the single biggest surge in bouldering development ever seen in the area, this report focuses primarily on the highlights of the trad and sport climbing scene from the last two years. It never fails to surprise me what new routes lie under our noses in this area. Within this report is a bit about the controversial 'retro-pegging' at Gogarth and it's been nice to see some endorsement and use of Welsh language routes names appearing, at a time when Welsh place names have become a flashpoint issue amongst local communities.
The Dinorwig slate quarries have seen a surge in new route development spearheaded by the one-man new routing machine, James McHaffie. He's spent two winters and springs investigating gaps predominantly in The Lost World/Heaven Walls, coming away with a few quality additions and a host of worthwhile filler ins. The best of the bunch is his long new trad-come sport route The Endarkenment in Australia, a 45m E7 6c taking a line just left of his existing 8b The Serpents Vein. In Dali's Hole, climbing from the at times flooded hole he established the tip shredding The Surrealist, which may prove to be a soft touch at 8a. In Mordor (or was it Lost World?) he climbed The End of May, a new 8a next to The Wall Within with Pete Robins. Not perturbed by the thousands of tonnes of slate that recently fell down leaving a sheer white wall, Caff's big new route is called The Fight Back, at 8b it has sustained and excellent climbing despite the odd bit of sika to stabilise some of the holds. Elsewhere in Mordor and Lost World, the prolific McHaffie climbed Greta Thunberg (E6 6c/7c), Suck My Karma (E4 6c), Night King (E6 6b/7b+), Orphic (E6 6c), The Subtle Knife (7c), Extinction Rebellion (E7) and The Invisible Girl (8a).
Elsewhere in the quarries Ian Lloyd-Jones and his son Celt, have returned developing a few new worthwhile sport routes between 6b and 7a+. The pick of the bunch would appear to be Hack the Jugular (6c+/7a) and G'Day Corner (7a/7a+) on the G'Day Arete level, as well as a couple of easier sport routes on the right side of the Rippled Slab in Bus Stop Quarry. Also worthy of mention is Jacob Hadley finding an excellent E6 6a trad arete in one of the quarries in Fachwen. Angular Momentum is worth the short bush-bash to get to and has a funky slate fin it finishes on top of.
It's amazing what you find on your doorstep when you look hard. This afternoon I went to belay Jacob on an unclimbed arete in an otherwise overlooked quarry beneath his home in Fachwen. After a brief clean and top rope, Jacob cruised the bold and technical arete calling it "Angular Momentum", an excellent new E6 6a. Luke and I nipped in to make the 2nd and 3rd ascent soon after.
With work on the long-anticipated Carneddau guidebook continuing and an active team of choss and moss bothering enthusiasts re-discovering old classics and uncovering new routes, it comes as no surprise that the late spring heatwave gave way to a surge in new routing. Whilst the guidebook team of Mike Bailey and Al Leary keep their new routing activities under a level of secrecy not seen since KGB agents were active in the Cold War, a few informants provided me with enough leverage to use as blackmail in return for up to date topos. Getting new route information from Mike and Al is like drawing water from a stone, or free school meals from a Tory MP, but they have developed a huge number of areas which will finally be revealed in the new guidebook.
Llech Ddu (Black Slab), at the head of the Llafar valley above Bethesda, was the first area to see development this year. The dry weather and local travel restrictions in place in Wales saw all the crag classics receiving more ascents than they have had in the last two decades. A productive day at the crag with Luke Brooks saw the first ascents, both on-sight, of the direct finish to The Great Corner, a rather strenuous, but well protected and rope drag-inducing roof traverse at E4 6a/b named The Great Corona. As our next route, we tackled the unclimbed groove and crack up the left side of the same wall which made an excellent E4/5 called Day Moon, which I later straightened out with Tim Jepson and Steve Long to create Y Da, y Drwg, a'r Hyll at E5/6. Further left on the same crag, Luke and I tackled the huge unclimbed wall left of Herostratus. After some swinging around we pieced a devious line together to give us a rope stretching 60m long E8 6b called Physically Distant which we both led. Just round the corner, I teamed up with Callum 'Horatio' Nelson to jitter my way on-sight up Together Alone (E6 6b), a stiff hand crack followed by a bold and lichenous upper arete.
Over on Craig Yr Ysfa, I plugged a few of the obvious unclimbed harder lines which were all, I humbly admit, excellent. My direct right-hand finish to The Haunted (which is deserving of an upgrade to E6 itself) went at a soft touch E7 6b that I named The Haunting. To the left, I climbed a two-pitch new route climbing the upper and lower tiers to give The New Normal (E7 6b). The first pitch is a runout E6 whilst the long second pitch provided sustained and well-protected compression climbing between two cracks. With Horatio, I also climbed a technical slab and wall beneath Amphitheatre Buttress to give a tough E5 6b called Jetstream and may have made the first free ascent of Dover Road just below, which went at a surprisingly steady E2 5c.
Over on Clogwyn Cyrau, Mike Bailey and Al Leary added Hedera Helix (E3 5c) and Oropetopus (E2 5c). Wyn Williams added Lelog, a HVS 5a right of Zip Wall. Above the The Sheep Pen Boulders in Nant Ffrancon, Harold Walmsley and team visited Carreg Fran Isaf to add a probable new multi-pitch E2/3 called Motivation near some existing routes from Nigel Shepherd and Mike 'Twid' Turner.
A few new crags have been discovered and developed by Wyn Williams, Dave Lyon, Alex Battery and Dave Brown in the Betws y Coed and Craig Eigiau area. Craig Cae Hydgyll is a small outcrop with a number of accessible mid-grade trad routes. Nearby, Clogwyn Cysgod has been developed with Dark Arete (E4) and Shadowalker (E2) the best of the bunch. The team have also been busy developing the Eigiau Slab with Camalot (VS) and Eripsa (S) being fantastic outings at their respective grades. For those wishing to find topos, the Carneddau Rock Facebook group has the most up to date information and many can be found on the Climbers Club new routes section.
New routing activity at Gogarth seems to have slowed over the last two years, but a small and committed band have continued development. Somewhat controversial has been the re-appearance of pegs on many routes on the Upper Tier and elsewhere at Gogarth by one local protagonist. Barbarossa, The Horrorshow, The Cruise, Fifteen Men on a Dead Man's Chest, Citadel and others have all had their long-missing pegs replaced, like for like, with 'sustainable' pegs. The old peg placements and rotting stumps have been hacked or drilled out and new stainless steel 'pegs' have replaced them with resin to secure the placements.
I'm genuinely unsure as to where I stand with these replacement 'pegs' and think that there ought to be a conversation amongst the local climbing community about them. They have re-popularised a few routes which may help keep the mariner's lichen at bay and are a genuine attempt at replacing rotten old pegs with a sustainable solution. With that said, all these routes had been climbed on-sight without any pegs and whilst we call them pegs, they are as close to glue in bolts as you will ever see. Of course, without any pegs, some routes at Gogarth will become so bold that they will rarely see any ascents, however, there are an awful lot of other routes to climb at Gogarth and it's not a crag known for its convenience climbing. Whilst the debate rumbles on, it must be said that Positron would make an excellent 6c+ multi-pitch sport route.
Alex Mason succeeded on his long-term project of linking Alien into Skinhead Moonstomp, naming the new lactic inducing pitch Democide at E8 6c and surely claiming some of the best climbing on the whole of Gogarth North Stack and Main Cliff in a single pitch. In Wen Zawn, Tony 'Pudding' Stone and Ben Heason re-climbed an alternative start coming in from the right to the now-departed first pitch of T-Rex naming it Paperback Relic (E6 6b) and suggesting that T-Rex may still be brought back from extinction. Over on the Red Walls, Chris Parkin, along with Glenda Huxter, climbed a new E5 called Hunting Witches, which is said to be tough for the grade. James Taylor snuck in the first ascent of Staring at the Sun, a new E7 6c at Rhoscolyn. On Sunset Wall, Graham 'Streaky' Desroy and Kat Dunbar have added a selection of mid-grade trad routes to add to the existing developments.
@tpmclimber on Staring at the sun E7 6C Rhoscolyn, I grew up exploring these cliffs as a youngster, always great to go back again. #climbing #tradclimbing#seacliffs#wales#adventure#climbing_pictures_of_instagram #nikon#sport#rockclimbing#photography#rhoscolyn#welshcoastalpath
Finally, worthy of mention is Pete Whittaker's project in Natalie Zawn which has almost been freed. With three pitches required just to breach the roof, it will surely be the longest roof climb in the UK when it finally sees a free ascent and is protected by an unseemly number of large cams.
Ogwen has also seen a small surge in development with a few excellent quality new routes. First and during the dry spell in 2019 alongside Ben Silvestre, I established Devilish on the North Cliff, a punchy E5 6b immediately ahead of the second ascent party (who had also intended to be the first ascent party) Tim Neill and Dave Rudkin.
Over on Gallt Yr Ogof, I checked out the crag beneath the Heart of Stone crag and was amazed to find a perfect splitter crack up a clean wall that I'd spied from the road for years. After three visits cleaning and attempting the line I'd fallen tickling the last hold in damp conditions whilst Ben Silvestre, who I'd introduced to the project, had been putting in secret sessions with Alex Mason. Soon after I departed to the Alps for a summer of work, Ben swooped in to claim the first ascent of The Dispossessed (I wonder who that refers to?) at E7 6c ahead of Alex to claim one of the must-visit routes at Ogwen for the grade. Well done boys and I hold no enmity towards you (you bastards!). There are a couple of other open projects on this same wall which would offer protectable climbing in the high 8's. Recently the hench couple of Hazel Findlay and Angus Kille repeated Mission Impossible (E9), on the wall above.
Great to hear that Ben Sylvestre has put to bed this crack project on Gallt-yr-Ogof. It's a short yet fierce finger crack culminating in a tricky move up for the final jug. - Ben and I went out on a scouting mission earlier in the month to check out the line and were amazed to find how good it was. I got a little side-tracked by other projects but returned with Ben after work last Friday to discover that he'd been getting in secret sessions with Alex Mason! I fell off tickling the final jug twice that evening in greasy conditions and was a bit gutted my arms were tired from the previous evening on Cloggy. Unfortunately that was to be my final shift on the route before heading off to the Alps for work and Ben duly took the hint and sent it yesterday! - Good effort, even if I am jealous! The E10 project to the right is cleaning up and ready for action - any takers? - 📸 @timneill71
Above Marchlyn Bach reservoir James Mchaffie, Andy Moles, Emma Twyford and Ferdia Earle found some fun micro routes on excellent quality rock. These were Perrin's Prow (E6 6b), Micronesia (E5 6a) and The Secret Commonwealth (E5 6a). James Mchaffie and Mark Reeves also found a couple of excellent looking aretes on Glyder Fach Main Cliff to establish Trigfa (E5 6b) and Gilfach Ddu (E7 6c).
Up on the east face of Tryfan Derek Rydden has been developing new multi-pitch routes alongside Pete Johnson, Geoff Bennett and Glynne Andrew in the area around Munich Climb and Belle Vue Wall. This lofty crag above many of the more well-trodden traditional routes already offers some very worthwhile climbing and with this new development has become a great venue. The best of the bunch would appear to be Don't Mention the War at E1, Appeasement (HVS), Schwein Würst (E4) and Cally's Overhang at E2. Further route information can be found on the UKC logbooks.
Limestone and A55 crags
Craig y Forwyn continues its surge in popularity this year with most routes re-climbed and old classics un-earthed and re-equipped 'a la' Gogarth style above. Mick Lovatt made the first ascent of Manhattan Highrise, excellent despite its eliminate style and graded at E7 6c based around Al Mason's E7 Katie's Delight.
On Hornby Crags, Helen Seaborne and Ally Smith added Red Wine is My Kryptonite (7a) and You Don't Make Friends with Salad (7c), respectively. On St Tudno's Upper, Ally added Fatty (7c+), whilst at Pantymwyn (Devil's Gorge), Ally made the first ascents of The Bear (8b), It Takes Glue to Tango (8a+) and 52% Believed the Lies (7c+). Ed Booth added the fierce Paradiso (8b/+) and James Taylor climbed Dance with the Devil (8a+).
Notice Board Crag has seen some re-equipping and mid-grade new routes developed by Ian Carr and Martin Doyle with the support of Andy Boorman and the NW bolt fund. Nearby, Pete Harrison climbed a funky looking new 7c roof at Penmaenbach Quarry called Cyber Caff. Further down the A55, Harold Walmsley has developed a new sport venue at Pantymwyn which now has 28 routes graded between 5 and 6c.
Pete Robins continues his pursuit of climbing every inch of The Diamond with an ascent of the 40m Koi-i-Noor, a stunning looking 8b. To the right, his recent 8a Diamond Lights has been suggested for an upgrade to 8a+. Dave Redpath climbed Altered Carbon, a mid-height 7c+ with work underway on the extension to the top of the crag. Pete also snuck in Under Your Nose, a new 8a+ joining Simon Says starting in the Split Infinity Cave on Pen Trwyn.
Over on the Llŷn, Dan Mcmanus and Pete Robins have developed a popular DWS venue with three safe and pumpy pitches between 7a and 7b+. Adding to the increasingly popular sport routes at Tyddyn Hywel Quarry is Pete Robins' new three-star 7b Beasley Street.
The evergreen team of 'The Perfect Man' and the 'Turbo Bumbly, aka 'Nick Bullock', have continued to repeat and establish new routes at Craig Dorys. First comes Nick's routes Comin' Apart At Every Nail. (E7 6a), Tell Your God to Ready for Blood (E7 6b) and Harmless (E7 6b), with TPM's Safe As Milk added in July of this year.
Pat Littlejohn, alongside Tim Jepson, has been plugging away at the gaps in Ty'n Tywyn Quarries/Llanbedrog Quarries with Superstition (E2) left of Wailing Wall being the best of the bunch. They've also been beavering away at Wylfa West establishing some ten new lines between VS and E2. With Pat and TPM working on a new guidebook for the Llŷn, it'll be great to see a comprehensive update for this underrated area.
Just missing out on the last new route round-up was Alex Mason's The Rising Son (E8 6c). It takes the arete left of Cockblock on Clogwyn y Grochan and despite its squeezed in nature has surprisingly good sustained climbing. James McHaffie also climbed The Great Hack (E8 6c) on the same crag.
Outliers and Meirionydd
Craig y Garth near Criccieth has seen a slew of recent development by Alex Riley. With only a short approach and clean rock, this little venue could become an alternative option to Tremadog. Passage of Time (HVS 5a), Isolation Motivation (E5 6b) and Lockdown Lethargy (E4 6a) are all worthwhile additions.