Thirty-Something

(by Gerry Moss, from IMC Newsletter Winter 2004)
An account of a wet and windy week-end in Wales.


Ain’t no use to complain,
Might just as well rejoice,
If God should send us rain,
Well, then, rain’s my choice.

It was just like the old days, back when Des was in charge of things. The drying room was full of dripping rucksacks (Jesse was not a happy camper), the rack above the fire was festooned with damp clothes and the floor of the common-room strewn with saturated, muddy boots. At night, in the darkness outside, an owl hooted forlornly, the poor bird’s mating instincts aroused by the cacophony of snoring emanating from the crowded dorms. The boys (and the girls) were back in town. It was as if we had never been away.

At one stage I wondered if people thought it was a pop concert we were staging, the demand for places reached such a fever pitch. Luckily, some last-minute cancellations eased the pressure on space, for, as it was, we had thirty-five on the meet. Thankfully, though, no-one had to sleep on the floor. There were new faces, familiar faces, young faces, old faces and old, old faces. Penny came up from Clare; Peter travelled up from Clonmel; others came from God knows where. We had Snowdonia aficionados, seasoned walkers all, and first-timers, eager to sample everything on offer. We had our current president and three former presidents among the throng. We had what was surely a Club first: Martina, a former president, obviously and happily pregnant, strolling the hills with ‘the bump’ to the front and a bag to the rear.

Four inches of rain, the weatherman promised us for the Friday, and four inches we got. Together with flooded roads, detours, traffic snarls and hold-ups for those who travelled over early. But it was the only day we didn’t get out on the rock. Willie, Denis and Martina took themselves off to the Beacon climbing wall instead.

It didn’t look too promising on Saturday either, so most headed for the tops, with Tryfan’s NE ridge, followed by the Bristly Ridge and the Glyders, heading the list. Cnicht, the Carneddau and Snowdon were all visited too, while Dairín took herself and Stephen off to Chester, no less, in search of bouldering (another first, surely). Nobody would believe me when I told them that Tremadog would go; that clean, wet rock was OK in rockboots (are they not aware of the Club logo: Climbers do it with sticky rubbers?), so Liam and I set off on our own. Surprisingly, we had the crag all to ourselves; the rain had passed on; the rock, while not dry, was no more than moist and, in temperatures several degrees above normal, everything was fine.

We polished off the slightly polished Poor Man’s Peuterey in jig-time. An up-graded, well-engineered path presented itself, offering a safe, speedy, but unadventurous way off (you know yourself what a cautious bunch engineers are). Never one for the well-beaten path I lured Liam onto a more interesting alternative, a dimly remembered, sort of indirect direct descent through the trees. He was not impressed. But how was I to know he wasn’t into tree hugging? Can’t get enough of it meself. Even my references to the redoubtable Frank Winder’s famous dictum: "rock will sometimes let you down, but vegetation, never", failed to elicit a response: he remained ominously aloof, eyeing me coldly, accusingly, from beneath hooded eyelids. Ah, me, it’s true for Yeats; romantic Ireland’s dead and gone. Later, fortified by a snack in Eric’s, we plied our skills again, but the long-threatened rain finally arrived, and we abbed off after the first pitch.

Mornings in Jesse’s were hectic, the dining-room crowded with those eager to be away. Guidebooks were consulted, maps were insulted, various options examined and accepted or rejected, while porridge burned and toast smouldered. Then, in the evenings, we gathered in force behind the steamy windows of Pete’s Eats, rehashing the day’s exploits while drinking huge mugs of tea and making steady inroads into large, heaped plates of exotic food, most of which looked suspiciously like egg and chips. Later, Rachel came into her own (well, she is the Meets Sec.) organising the venue for the aprés-ski frolics.


Gerry, Irene, Barry and John, at Tremadog.


James Aitken on the final pitch of Christmas Curry, Tremadog.

Sunday provided more murky, windy conditions in the hills, but a splendid day at Tremadog, and several parties took to the rock. John, Irene, Allister, James and Barry tackled P.M.P, then James, obviously back to his old self, romped up Valerie’s Rib with Brian in tow. Ramona teamed up with us for an outing on One Step In The Clouds and Shadrach. Meanwhile, Peter and Colm, along with Síle (the darling of the Duracell work-force), were having a good day, ticking off several routes, but they decided to squeeze one more route in as evening approached, and were found wanting, as darkness descended upon the crag. The ensuing shenanigans, rope manoeuvres and retreating tactics will not be found in any training manual, but were in the best IMC October meet tradition, and it was only the waxing of the moon that turned a rout into an orderly retreat. Such reckless behaviour by our senior members cannot be condoned, however and, aware of my heavy responsibilities as meet organiser, I was about to bring Peter to task, when he gently reminded me that the last time he was involved in a similar type of moonlit retreat from the rocks was many moons ago, on the Tre Cime Lavaredo in the Dolomites, in the company of none other than yours truly. (Entirely different set of circumstances, of course, and absolutely out of my hands, it goes without saying, but it’s quite remarkable the number of people I know that are blessed with long memories, and all of them seem to have the uncanny knack of recalling things best forgotten).

I’ll say this much for the weather – it was consistent. Standing outside Jesse’s on the Monday morning, the rain fell and the wind blew. The forecast was for an improvement, but some doubted this, and opted for the early boat. Others decided on low-level walking, but a sizeable contingent headed for Snowdon in dismal conditions. We had another first here, though it grieves me to say it. As this stalwart group arrived at the top of Snowdon, a train was just about to leave the summit hotel for Llanberis. To the dismay and horror of the rest of the group, two members of the party abandoned their intrepid comrades and, greasing the conductor’s palm with silver, set off in the height of luxury for the fleshpots of the village, with ne’er a thought for the gallant band left behind to do battle with wind and rain. A monumental cop-out, that can only be described as a dreadful slur on the doughty reputation of the IMC. Unfortunately, our draconian libel laws preclude me from naming the two culprits, but I must say that Steve’s excuse that he couldn’t let Ramona travel down on her own sounds pretty feeble to me. The term ‘big girl’s blouse’ springs to mind, but, truth is, I’ve nothing but the fondest of memories of my encounters with big girls and their blouses and wouldn’t dream of insulting the genre in this fashion.

Meanwhile, our team, every bit as consistent as the weather, headed back to Tremadog. And, wouldn’t you know it, we were within half-a-mile of the crag when the rain stopped. We had an early cuppa in Eric’s (a first for me) while we waited for the crag to shed some of its precipitation, then we took to the rock. Liam, wishing to mark his 67th birthday in a significant manner, led all four pitches of Christmas Curry, finishing up with the exposed Micah variation. Great stuff.

Tuesday, with all the plebs back at work, brought a remarkable improvement in the weather, (rich man’s weather I used to call it, before I retired). But Ramona, Liam and myself were still in business, and Gogarth was our target. We aimed to finish on a high note. The clouds parted, the sun made an appearance, the roads dried up as we drove across Anglesey. The choice was between A Dream of White Horses on Wen Slab, and Lighthouse Arête on Castell Ellen, for our finale, and we opted for the latter as it was in sunshine.

The storms over the preceding days had left the sea in a turbulent state, and waves were dashing high up the base of the cliff, but, on the other hand, there was a good drying wind, coupled with bright sunshine, and the tide was on the ebb. A steep abseil, down to a large ledge, was followed by a second even more scary one to a wave-washed niche. We were committed, and it was exhilarating, and it was glorious. With the sea snapping at our heels, and the wind tugging at our jackets, we left the niche, traversing out to a good ledge on the arête, where we were out of harm’s way. The sea sparkled, small white clouds scudded across a blue sky, the rock was warm and dry, and the remaining three pitches were delightful.

Back at the car, as we packed away our gear, the first of the showers arrived, but what did we care? It had been a fitting conclusion to a grand week-end.

Autumnal gales and storms are not an infrequent occurrence during the month of October. But the winds, more often than not, come from the south and, while they may bring rain, they bring mild temperatures too, making conditions on the tops and the crags reasonable. Those who have supported the Wales meet over the years will have taken the inclement conditions in their stride; while first-timers can console themselves with the knowledge that it has to be dryer next time.

And there will, surely, be a next time.

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