Our best bet seems to be to pounce on good weather when it comes. Hidden boulders, walls, gullies and zawns have been revealed; even entire cwms have been discovered by the bouldering sub-culture. And we're not scraping the bottom of the barrel here; three-star classics miraculously appearing right by the road in well trodden valleys. North Wales just keeps on giving.
The Ogwen Valley has come up with the goods once again this winter, with a string of really good new problems, the best of which from me is Snapdragon 8A. After driving past this line so many times and wondering if it would go, I finally stopped and abbed down it, discovering perfect slopers and dream-like sequences. I set to work at the height of winter with snow and ice everywhere, and passing ice-climbers unable to resist comments like "Bloody 'el, you're keen!" and "I've seen it all now". The hypocrisy, they were the ones up at 5 a.m.! I found two great problems around Gallt-yr-Ogof; a pristine wall, The Rocks the Star 7B+, and a short slopey tussle up a prow, Momentary Grip 8A. A final classy problem I did was after a tip-off from Adam Wainwright. We headed up to a Craig Nant Bach, on the slopes of Tryfan to add an obvious direct start to Adam's League of Gentlemen. Les McQueen 7C climbs beautiful Roaches Skyline-esque rock and features actual smearing.
Perhaps the best find of the season, however, goes to Dave Noden. Reconnaissance does sometimes pay off. Roof of a Baby Buddha 7C+ is a perfect roof problem on great rock in lovely forest surroundings. I predict this one will become really popular, perhaps the new Jerry's Roof?
Other tit-bits in the hills from me include a very worthwhile low start to Water on the Boss Cuvier block in the Beddgelert Forest. Clear Water 7C substantially improves the stand-up version as it eliminates the jump start. Perfect rock and 3-star shapes guaranteed. Finally, Simon Panton again dealt me out some new problems from his bottomless bank of projects, this time up at Beyond the Dome in the Llanberis Pass. Ollie Cain and I worked out a cool sitter to Tiger, Tiger, at 7A+, before I added a new rising line on the Alfred McAlpine boulder. Time off for a Good Life 7C is slightly draining shuffle along typically bobbly Pass rhyolite.
Down the coast, Dan Knight blitzed The Gop last November, hoovering up three 8A projects in one day! First off, he added a sit start to Push the Button, and then he added two low starts to Smoke a Bloke, one linking from Blokesmoker low start, followed by the tougher direct low start. Word on the Gop is that Dan finds it easy there and his grades are probably harsh. Chris Doyle scooped a cracker of a problem last November as well, on the Sugar Lump boulder, near Elephant's Cave on the Great Orme. Tramps Tea Party 7C+ shuffles outwards, along a steep groove, to exit up a hanging ramp-line using a whole host of trickeries. Obviously a classic, once you get over the unsavoury 'crack-den' surroundings.
Doylo's blog gives all the juicy limestone details in a no-nonsense format.
This is an outstanding achievement from a guy who has committed himself full-heartedly to the cave and what it takes to climb hard there; countless visits and dog-like determination. In what has gone down in British climbing folklore as one of the greatest 'near-misses' in climbing, it was Ben Moon who nearly climbed 'The Big Link', as Pilgrimage was known, back in the '90's; a feat worth F9a in its own right. The 'weakness' of 40+ burly moves through the huge cave, all in the V8/9 region and without respite, was finally linked in 2004 by Malcolm Smith, who pulled off a dismaying display of power-endurance to create Wales' hardest climb, by far, at F9a or more likely F9a+.
A few folk have tried for a repeat since then, most noticeably Mark Katz (Patch Hammond and Will Perrin each offered £100 if he could do it within a year!), Danny Cattell, Gaz Parry, and myself. I felt quite close a few times but found it desperate and never quite committed to the big siege since it didn't dry out for long enough last year, and my psyche for the place finally fizzled out. Barrows' approach was 'knee-first', using rubber pads and long shins to find new sequences and even proper rests where no one had imagined. The innovation here was rubber and vision; long-limbed climbers have been found in caves for years. He managed to get two good knee-bar rests along Pilgrimage but, crucially, it was the more marginal bars that helped him most to negotiate through the savage crux sequences towards the end. Barrows has found similar bars all over the cave and most problems have promptly been ticked, reckoning he can slash one or two grades off, with Pilgrimage feeling F8c+. This has caused quite a stir with fellow 'cavers' and I suppose it does 'disarm' the hard-core reputation of the place. But really, nothing much has changed for most of us. I for one can't get a single knee-bar to stick on Pilgrimage!
Big routes like this don't need a grade anyway, everyone knows how hard it is for them and who's done it, which works just fine. I suppose some people want everyone else to know how hard it was for Barrows though! I'm now just waiting for him to find a couple of knee-bars on Bonnie, and then his job is done!
Check out Alex's own account, to appreciate the effort he put into his mission, on his blog.
For more details, photos, and approach descriptions for all the above problems, and a comprehensive archive of everything interesting, check out: northwalesbouldering.com
This winter, there have been two or three cold snaps generating excellent conditions on the higher north faces, plus many smaller opportunities for those with their axes on the pulse to get out.
Pete Harrison's three year waiting game paid off in mid-January, when he climbed Lateo X 10 on Clogwyn Du, Cwm Cneifion; perhaps establishing Wales' hardest winter route. The independent soaring crack line took Harrison seven days spread over three winters, during which time he remained patient until the route was is prime hoar-frost conditions. Suitably advertised, and with cold weather continuing, Dave Garry nipped in for a stylishly quick repeat.
Harrison then teamed up with Nick Bullock for a winter ascent of The Great Corner VIII 8. This climbs the fantastic open corner on the left side of Llech Ddu. The route is a Welsh classic E2 in dry and warm conditions, albeit very overgrown recently.
Lee Roberts has been a bit of a star this winter too. With Dave Brown, Lee wasted no time in climbing Procrastination Direct VI 7 on Glyder Fawr, Cwm Idwal; a direct version of the summer route Procrastination Cracks. Lee also teamed up with Andy Scott to climb Slim Chance VI 7 and Hawk's Nest Direct VI 7, at the right side of Glyder Fach. The team made some alarming reports of wild, flamboyant pick-end laybacking up flying grooves. Finally of note, Dan Commander and Huw Gilbert climbed Fantasies of the Old Bomaye VI 7 on Mynydd Moel, Cadair Idris; thought to be the hardest mixed route in Southern Snowdonia.
Many other nutters have been out getting cold and scared in North Wales this winter, and the best way to find out about all the action is to read the V12outdoor news archive. Further details of all the new routes and descriptions are written up on the Welsh Winter Climbs Wiki
Stop Press: News just in that James McHaffie has onsighted Box of Blood (E7) at the loose crag of Craig Doris on the Lleyn Peninsula, telling UKC that it was 'Bloody ace. Easier than Bam Bam, but still F-ing scary.' We've actually given up reporting when James does an E7 onsight, as he does so many we'd run out of server space pretty quickly, but as there's a North Wales round-up this week, we've squeezed him in this time.
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