Rock Climbing in Snowdonia – All you need is “Hope”
From a weekend of planned kayaking how did I come to be Rock Climbing in Snowdonia instead…
I had the weekend to myself, Laura was house-sitting (again), so on a Friday night I was sat watching TV and trying to dream up plans for the weekend. Andy, a friend of mine messaged to ask about any kayak coaching I was looking for or if the club was considering anything (he’s a professional kayak coach) and after a few messages back and forth he mentioned how quiet he was due to low water levels so he’d been getting out climbing as much as possible instead.
Having just got back from our summer Alps Trip (Austria & Slovenia) where I had a couple of days climbing with Laura I’d kind of caught the bug again, I told him as much and he said if ever I was looking for a climbing buddy in the North Wales area to give him a shout. I ceased the opportunity and said I’d love to take him up on the offer sometime – “by the way – what are you up to tomorrow?” I asked, fully expecting him to be busy, however it turned out he was available and was quite happy to get out climbing.
Now, my climbing has been sporadic at best over the last twentysomething years and has mainly consisted of climbing walls with occasional sport climbing crags and even more occasional trad climbing (literally a handful of routes). Andy on the other hand is also a qualified Mountain Leader and member of the local Mountain Rescue team so is well versed in steep mountain skills and was mainly focussing on Multi-Pitch climbing, something I have been very keen to try, but also a little nervous as to whether I’d have the head for it.
My first (and only) experience of climbing multi-pitch was on a Llanrug School trip roughly 30 years ago, I remember camping by a lake and getting up in the morning to tackle a fairly easy climb, not too steep, big slabs but several pitches long and very high (it seemed to me). For 30 years I hadn’t been able to recall exactly where the climb was or the name of the route, but at Andy’s suggested locations I did a bit of browsing and stumbled across “Hope” at the Idwal Slabs – that was it..!! I now clearly remembered my school friends and I nervously discussing being on a climb called “Hope” it seemed very exciting at the age of 13.
And so 30 years later I found myself once again at the foot of Hope, 450 feet, 5 pitches and a good scramble and abseil to get back down, yes it was all very exciting again, even at the age of 43. Unfortunately, the weather forecast had not turned out as predicted and the sky was very grey, low cloud, drizzle and water literally running down the rocks set the tone for the climbing today, but undeterred we kitted up and got ready to go. Andy prefers to use double ropes for Multi-pitch climbing as it has a range of benefits over single rope (which I won’t go into here). This was my first time trying double ropes too so that added to the buzz of the day.
Andy led off (obviously) as I belayed and got to grips with dual rope management, not massively more complicated than single but does require some concentration to keep the lines feeding at the right rates and avoid tangles. I watch as Andy makes easy work of the first pitch, he does keep commenting on how slippery it is although I don’t actually see him slip. He has done this pitch in his approach shoes though as the route is only a VDiff (Very Difficult), however at the first belay he decides to change into his rock shoes, I went with rock shoes from the off and very glad I did.
After Andy had made himself safe and set up the belay it was my turn, at this point I must admit my stomach was turning a little and I had fleeting thoughts of calling it off… However I gritted my teeth and set off up the first few moves, the foot holds here were narrow ledges and holes in the quartz layer over the slab, they look like polished marble and with the rain you would expect to be slipping straight off them, but to my surprise the rock shoes really did their job even in the soggy conditions. The first few moves instilled a little confidence and the doubts drifted away allowing me to focus on seconding the route.
Seconding involves stripping out the protective gear which has been placed by the lead climber, this can be easier said than done, the gear gets well wedged in and needs a fair bit of persuading from my nut key to get it out, but this is all part of the process and I’m very glad that we are on a sloping slab and not a sheer face. I make it to the first ledge without drama, get tied in and I’m then ready to belay Andy up the next pitch – this is it, the end of my comfort zone, up until now it has been very similar to all the climbing I have ever done, all be it a longer pitch than most at 45m, but now I’m stood on a ledge, attached to the rock by a couple of little bits of metal and a sling which I have to put my faith in and lean against whilst I manage the ropes for the next pitch. A few dark thoughts drift across the windows of my mind, but I have a little word with myself ‘out loud’ and remind myself that this climbing is well within my grade and I need to focus and enjoy the day.
The rest of the climb goes swimmingly (literally on occasions) in the same fashion, Andy leads, makes safe, I follow, tie in, then belay the next pitch and so on – I am actually enjoying it, even when the cloud rolls in further and we can no longer see the ground, just the few climbers within about 30 yards of us on adjacent routes. One section does get somewhat confusing, there is a very short pitch on the route, which Andy decides to skip and get to the next ledge, this means that he disappears round a corner and for most of the next pitch we are unsighted so having to rely on feel of the rope and climbing calls. The difficulty here is that there are a number of other climbers near us in the same situation so it’s not always possible to figure out who is calling to whom. We have to make sure we shout the name along with any instructions so we know who the calls are aimed at.
Before long we are topping out the last pitch. From here there is a scramble along to the left and up a few more sections to reach the abseil pitch, it is possible to traverse across and find the gully down, but in slippery conditions it is safer to abseil down to the gully, besides it’s another good learning opportunity and to see some of the benefits of the double rope technique (you can abseil the full length of a rope, rather than just half as you would with a single rope) ironically the weather is now starting to break and we get some stunning views of Llyn Idwal and beyond to the Menai Straits, after the scramble down we retrieve the bag we left at the base, have a chat with a few other climbers then make our way back to the cars.
There we go, after a 30 year gap I have gotten back to Rock Climbing in Snowdonia and the very same route where it all began for me, I must admit to feeling a little emotional and nostalgic about the whole experience. It was a superb day and one that will stand out in my mind for a long time to come, but has it put me off multi-pitch climbing? Not a chance – entirely the opposite, I can’t wait to get back and try some more – I just need to find some new partners to get out with and hope for that elusive weekend where Laura won’t be working, or house-sitting and we can actually head for the hills.
Is there anything you have returned to after a long break? or maybe you want start a new adventurous hobby – let us know in the comments.