Fortune favours the brave

(by Gerry Moss, from IMC Newsletter, winter 2005)
A wet weekend in Snowdonia.


There was a roaring in the wind all night;
The rain came heavily and fell in floods;
But now the sun is rising calm and bright;
The birds are singing in the distant woods …
All things that love the sun are out of doors;
The sky rejoices in the morning’s birth;
The grass is bright with raindrops; – on the moors
The hare is running races in her mirth.
W.W.

The armchair travellers will point out, in ‘I told you so’ tones, that it rained every day – and that is true, so it did. But those who kept the faith will tell you, with a certain smugness, that the sun shone every day – and that is truer still. For, in the overall scheme of things, we had the sunshine when it mattered most and the rain when it mattered least. Take the Friday, for example. As our cars eased down the ramp off the boat at 2pm (over an hour later than scheduled, due to storms), the rain was hammering on the roofs with an aggressive tattoo that dared us to step outside, while the wipers struggled to keep the windscreen clear.  But we took a gamble, called the rain’s bluff and played our best card. And Tremaddog came up trumps yet again.  The clouds rolled back and the sun came out to greet us as we approached the crags. We were greeted, too, by Sile, Dave and Maurice, who had just arrived, and by Orla and Helen, who had been climbing there all day, without a trace of rain. Having hit the jackpot, we cashed in our chips and headed for the rocks. For Jane, Conor and Nick it was a first time taste of the delights of Welsh climbing, and the sylvan setting of Tremaddog is surely as fine a place as any to begin. When we assembled again as darkness fell, and checked our winnings, we had a pleasant bundle of routes to our credit:Poor Man’s Peutery, (S); Christmas Curry, (HS); One Step in the Clouds, (VS) and Striptease, (HVS), all of which had provided us with warm, dry rock and good sport. A happy omen for what was to be a great week-end.

The sounds impinged softly, insidiously, upon the senses, slowly rousing me from a deep sleep. The shuffling on the stairs; the hushed whispers; the muffled curses, were all part of a familiar scenario; all indicators of a group arriving into Jesse’s off the late boat.  But then a quick flash of my torch revealed that it was 5am, and what I was hearing was a party preparing to set out, not a group of latecomers straggling in.  Now, I have always been an advocate of ‘the early bird catches the worm’; a firm believer in ‘codladh go moch agus eirigh i dtrath’ and all that, but lying there in my bunk on the Saturday morning, the thought crossed my mind that this was, perhaps, taking things to extremes. As the car pulled away in the darkness and rain, I wondered, as the poet Yeats had wondered before me, if it were words of mine that had sent them forth on this pre-dawn raid. Perhaps, in our discussions the previous evening, I might have stressed a little too much the importance of being first in line on Tryfan’sGrooved Arête , or dwelt too long on the dire consequences of being caught behind a slow party on that route.  Ah, well, fair play to them, isn’t enthusiasm the grand thing, was my last thought before I drifted off to sleep again.

Three hours later, as we headed up over the Pass, the rain rattled our windows in a half-hearted attempt to dissuade us from the task in hand. But the Pass is often wet and windy, and we were quite serene, for we were armed with an up-to-date, reliable forecast, (courtesy of Conor, who had diligently searched the Web the previous evening in Pete’s Eats) and we knew we could look forward to several hours of dry weather. Sure enough, as we approached Beddgelert we left the rain behind. We were headed for Craig Y Gesail andCreagh Dhu Wall , justifiably claimed to be the best multi-pitch Hard Severe in Wales. We were the first party on the crag and, climbing as a foursome, enjoyed the luxury of an unhurried, hassle-free ascent in bright, sunny conditions – a fine birthday present for Liam. Though a trifle windy at times, it was ‘a wind from the south, with a honeyed mouth’ and temperatures were pleasantly mild. Indeed, conditions were good enough to tempt us onto the 4c alternative finish, a poorly protected, but enjoyable, groove, and a fitting finale to a great route. Meanwhile, on Craig Pant Ifan, Declan, Carl, Brian and Olwyn were sampling the riches ofPoor Man, while, over on Bwlch y Moch, Sile and Dave were making a long-threatened ascent of Joe Brown’s steep and intricate route, Vector, the classic E2 of the crag.

The sheltered conditions we were enjoying were not duplicated high up on the east face of Tryfan, however, where John and Anne-Marie battled with strong winds as they moved upGrooved Arête , while James, Nick and Alastair were facing similar problems on another of the routes further along the Heather Terrace. But they all coped admirably well and, when gale force winds decreed a halt, they retreated safely, rounding off the day with a route on Milestone Buttress.

The weather pattern was reversed for the Sunday, with heavy rain in the early morning, and a clearance forecast for the afternoon. While Declan and Co. opted for the Snowdon Horseshoe, we decided to use the wet morning to travel south to the Moelwyns, a lovely range of hills, possessing a fine selection of crags and well away from Snowdon’s rain-shadow. If we had any illusions about being a bold, adventurous lot, we were humbled by the sight of the hundreds of runners gathered at the foot of the Pass, in atrocious weather conditions, many of them with nothing more substantial than bin-liners for protection against the rain, and all preparing for the start of the Snowdon Marathon.

One of the delights of visiting Snowdonia at the end of October is the dazzling array of autumnal colours in all of the valleys, and nowhere illustrates this better than the lovely Lledr Valley, along which we travelled. The sombre, dark green of the pines was a perfect foil for the multi-coloured canopy of yellows, russets and browns, displayed by the oaks and other broad-leaved trees on the lower slopes. But the crowning glory was the stands of larch trees; brash swathes of opulent gold standing out against the dull, grey skies. The storms of the previous days had stripped millions of the needles from the larches and these were lining either side of the road: two bright, burnished ribbons, leading us on to our destination. The lure of the Lledr Valley proved too strong for Sile and Dave, so they settled for the delightful Carreg Altrem, half-way along the valley, where they tackledLightning Visit and Lavaredo, two fine VS routes.

The rain had stopped by the time we reached the car-park above Tan y Grisiau, patches of blue began to peep through the clouds as we unloaded our rucksacks and the sun made a welcome, and timely, appearance as we toiled up the approach track.  The crags lining the hillside above us gleamed enticingly, if wetly, in the bright sunshine and a good drying wind was sweeping busily across the rock. There was a noticeable quickening of pace as we neared the foot of the crags, coupled with a bit of jostling and jockeying for position. The opportunity to follow in the footholds of the legendary Colin Kirkus, one of Snowdonia’s pioneers, on his four-pitchDirect Route, was the much sought after goal, and everyone wanted to be first off the mark.

Within the space of half-an-hour the day had been transformed. It was now one of those bright and breezy, up-and-doing, out-and-about days and climbers were popping up all over the place.  Inspired by all this activity, Conor tackled his first lead on Welsh rock and, ably seconded by Jane, cruised up the four pitches ofSlick in fine style.

The valley floor was in shadow as we made our way back to the cars, but the tops of the crags were catching the last, crimson rays of the setting sun and, just as the golden larches had welcomed us on our way in, the glowing rocks bade us a warm farewell as we took our leave.

We rendezvoused in Pete’s Eats, the only restaurant I know that entertains you with free bingo sessions while you wait for your grub to materialise.  It was here I watched in shock and awe as Anne-Marie indulged in her own version of Space Invaders.  The waiter came staggering in with her order, a concoction that had all the appearances, and dimensions, of a Flying Saucer, with a radius so large that its perimeter flopped over the rim of the huge dish, and a central mound, or cockpit, big enough to accommodate several Martians. It’s just a Monster Omelette, she assured me, guiltily. Perhaps so, but if there were any monsters or aliens lurking within they were given short shrift, hacked to pieces and despatched with ruthless efficiency. To round off a virtuoso performance she settled for a jumbo serving of apple pie and ice cream, all buried beneath a bucketful of custard, the whole affair resembling a bumpy alpine meadow covered in buttercups. ‘And still he gazed, and still the wonder grew, that one small frame could carry all that she could chew’.

Monday dawned bright, breezy and clear. Declan and his crew were booked on the afternoon boat, so they set off for a few hours climbing on Holyhead Mountain, while Sile and Dave opted for Tryfan and the Bristly Ridge. Wet weather was forecast for the late afternoon, so the rest of us decided to waste no time, keep the driving to a minimum, and head for The Pass. As the forecast also predicted strengthening winds, we decided to stick to the lower crags. A ten minute drive brought us to the car park and a fifteen minute slog saw us at the foot of the crags. John, Nick, James and Alastair chose Carreg Wastad, whereCrackstone Rib and Shadow Wall were climbed. We opted for Clogwyn y Grochan and Nea , an amenable VS. The skies were blue, the tops were clear, the sun was warm and the wind a mere playful zephyr while, climbing as a foursome, we worked our way up the lower pitches. But the wind was merely biding its time, waiting to pounce when we were tackling the penultimate pitch, an exposed and sparsely protected wall that was upgraded to 4b after a substantial rock fall some years ago. The difficulties were modest enough, but the gusts, coming suddenly swooping, whooping down The Pass, were strong enough to lift us off our feet or pluck us from the wall, and added an exciting buzz to proceedings. The descent gully posed some problems too, with the stream being blown uphill, and spray dousing the rocks, but we took our time and coped safely. As we threaded our way through the bottom of the boulder field and crossed the road to the car the first burst of wind-driven rain came slanting angrily down from the head of The Pass. Little did we care. We threw the bags in the boot and headed for Pete’s and a well-earned mug of hot tea.

As we drove across Anglesey Island, the weather, as if sensing the game was up, threw in the towel: the rain cleared; the winds dropped off; the seas quietened down and our boat sailed on time. A smooth crossing brought a successful weekend to a smooth finish. We had visited the high tops, scrambled over rocky ridges and climbed on a number of different crags. We had dodged the rain; followed the sun; been buffeted by strong winds; retreated by unscheduled abseils and, on occasion, brought our head-torches into play while descending in darkness. All in all, then, a typical Snowdonia meet.

Decades spent walking, scrambling and climbing on mountains and crags all over these islands, in all kinds of conditions, have convinced me that Snowdonia is the ideal venue for the October Bank Holiday meet. It is unique in that it has something to offer everyone: the big mountains offer challenging walks and airy, exhilarating scrambles; the big crags provide climbing, on clean rock, at all levels of difficulty, and allow climbers, particularly newcomers and improvers, to get accustomed to having some significant space beneath their feet. This brings home to them, in a way single-pitch climbing or top-roping never can, the importance of rigging safe and secure belay stances; the necessity for proper belaying techniques and the need for good gear placements, and provides plenty of opportunities for practising all of these skills. Multi-pitch climbing also helps develop the ability to interpret guide book descriptions and gain experience at route finding. In addition, descent from the big crags often poses problems that require techniques and tactics that are seldom required on the smaller crags. In short, Snowdonia is the perfect schooling-ground for climbers, the ideal forcing ground for those hoping to tackle bigger things in the Alps and elsewhere. It’s what the Club is, or should be, all about.

The IMC is never in any danger of being described as an elitist club – we operate far from the cutting edge of things – but it has always been the Club’s proud boast that we ply our craft in all weathers and at all times of the year. Long may that continue. It was a matter of some satisfaction to see several guidebooks being purchased over the weekend, a healthy sign, and one that augurs well for the future of the meet

Gathered together on the boat, we swopped yarns, compared notes and hatched plans for further trips. The short, damp days and long, dark nights of winter are with us now, curtailing (though not stifling) our activities but, to quote Shelley, ‘if winter comes, can spring be far behind?’

Bring it on.

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