IMC-Pinnacle Club Meet in Eryri/Snowdonia 3-6 May 2024 by Andrew Bollard

IMC-Pinnacle Club Meet in Eryri/Snowdonia 3-6 May 2024 by Andrew Bollard

North Wales is not famous for an abundance of dry rock in May (or indeed in any month of the year). One can reliably assume that a day of fine weather here will be followed by at least 3 days of mockery from the rain gods (and hundreds of parking tickets for hapless tourists chancing their arm along the double yellows in the Ogwen valley). While our sport-loving brethren made the very sensible decision to seek out the rarely seen celestial object known as “the Sun” in its natural habitat of Spain, those of us with a hankering for Welsh slate and granite were rewarded with an incredible four days in a row of relatively clear skies and suspiciously enjoyable climbing.

An advance party of Petrina and Gerry were greeted off the ferry by Jan and Becky from the Pinnacle Club. This is an all-women’s club with a presence all around the UK and a legendary reputation. Following best practice and speeding through the town of Holyhead as quickly as possible, they broke through the mist at the eponymous mountain to find gloriously dry quartzite. Rumours of inviting slabs quickly reached the rest of us making our way across the Irish Sea, who were already cautiously optimistic that the uncharacteristically calm crossing was a sign of things to come.

Petrina and co. then made their way into the heart of Snowdonia, where the rest of the Pinnacle Club ladies were slowly pouring in from all over the UK and preparing for our arrival. Having been hosted by the IMC at the Costa del Glendo over the years, they were keen to return the favour at the excellent Emily Kelly Hut in Cwm Dyli. This hut sits at the foot of Lliwedd, and stands beside a famous power station that was used in a Bond film to represent Kazakhstan of all places. While the abandoned mines of Snowdonia may have a certain post-Soviet dreariness about them, the atmosphere we walked into was nothing of the sort. Hot showers, heaps of food, and an off-licence worth of drink greeted the IMC contingent. Chief among this gang of legends in organising the reception committee was Jan, whose reputation as a host-par-excellence preceded her thanks to Petrina and Sue’s recce of the Pinnacle Club AGM earlier this year.

We awoke to the pitter-patter of gentle morning rain on Saturday, initially dashing hopes for anything resembling a productive day’s climbing. Deciding to play it safe, Jan, Diane, Gerry, James, Aidan and Petrina elected to spend the day at the amazing indoor wall in Caernarfon. Judy from the Pinnacle Club joined them and found kindred spirits in Petrina and Aidan, being fellow sailing enthusiasts and swapping stories of nautical adventures. As the day had so far been inexpensive fun, the gang decided to rectify this by squeezing in a shopping trip in the gear shops at Llanberis on their way back to the cosy comforts of the hut. An abortive attempt to return Dave Madden’s cam to DMM for repairs via V12 Outdoor was made, but the shop was rather reluctant to accept responsibility for the wayward item. They were much more interested in exploiting the average Irish climber’s lack of access to gear shops, to which our crew happily obliged!

Meanwhile on Tryfan, an altogether different sort of day was playing out. Myself Sue, Max, Adele, and the two Rebeccas from the Pinnacle Club had decided on a more scrambly outing. Having waited a bit later in the morning to get a shove on, we were rewarded with clearing skies and the possibility of dry-ish rock. It was decided that proper climbing would still be an overly greasy affair given the precipitous start to the day, but thankfully Snowdonia is chock-a-block with excellent scrambles which are still doable in the wet and make for an exciting alternative to the crag. With that being said, my enthusiasm for this kind of climbing led to a very unrealistic plan of attack. Aiming to do the North Ridge of Tryfan, descend the South one, then ascend Bristly Ridge onto the Glyders, we quickly realised on the lower slopes that this was a wildly ambitious itinerary. Between the bank holiday crowds, oppressive humidity, and general lack of enthusiasm among them for re-enacting Kilian Jornet’s speedrun of the Matterhorn, it was soon agreed that the North Ridge alone was much more in keeping with the jolly, jaunty nature of the outing. Who says climbers are lazy?

Scrambling is sometimes defined as the middle ground between hiking and climbing, but this description can fatally undersell the seriousness and exposed nature of even Grade 1 scrambles such as the North Ridge, especially to those who aren’t accustomed to moving unroped on this kind of ground. Many a hiker has gotten themselves into serious trouble on an “easy” scramble through lack of competence on rock, and the IMC-Pinnacle contingent were soon to find themselves staging an impromptu rescue of one such cragfast individual. This poor fella had gotten himself into a position above a drop into a gully where he was clinging to the rock so tightly he couldn’t see his feet, and he had become too frozen with fear to relax his body and think about making a move to safety. A fall probably would’ve led to broken legs at a minimum, so it was no laughing matter. Sue was able to get into a position below him to reassure him of the security of his feet and begin to calm him down, while Max hastily slung a spike of rock and I came racing back with a rope. Lowering a waist loop, Mountain Leader-style, down and over his head and shoulders, Rory (we got to know him afterwards) was able to step across the drop with Sue’s continued guidance and a belay from yours truly, finally getting himself out of the mountainous molehill of a situation that he had worked himself into. He soon proved to be a hit with the crew; when not clinging to a spike of rock for dear life, he turned out to be infectiously cheerful and was hiding an endless supply of biscuits in his rucksack! After posing for pictures on the summit in full regalia, the gang decided that more than enough fun had been had for the day, and they descended the South Ridge and traipsed back to the cars, fuelled by Rory’s parting biscuits.

The would-be Mountain Rescue aspirants managed to make it back in time to help with the cooking (rather than in time for the eating as was planned), but the team effort to help Jan cook a stupendously tasty dahl curry made it all the richer an experience. Many pats on the back were also given for somehow rearranging the seats and benches of the hut so that 20 of us managed to fit around the dinner table. Refuelled by the veritable feast and re-energised by war stories of the day and epics past, the next day’s adventures were taking shape in the guidebooks and maps strewn across the table.

With Sunday morning greeting us with glorious sunshine, the two Rebeccas were quick out of the traps, leaving around 7.30am to beat the hordes that would inevitably descend on the mountains that day. The rest of us were feeling a bit more leisurely, accepting that we were doomed to a long walk-in. Just how long of a walk-in we didn’t realise!

Andrew, Gerry, and Hilary from the Pinnacle Club set off with the Sub-Cneifion Rib-Cneifion Arete link-up on the agenda. Taking advantage of Hilary’s parking space at another club’s hut down the road in the Ogwen Valley, the approach was a tortuous hour and a half under Mediterranean skies, but the objective made it well worth it. Though only a two-star VDiff, the Sub-Cneifion Rib enjoys a commanding view over Llyn Idwal on days such as this. Highly polished, it is nevertheless thoroughly enjoyable climbing and a classic worth doing.

Sadly but predictably, we weren’t the only ones with designs on Cneifion Arete. In reality only a 25m Diff pitch followed by 120m of airy Grade 3 scrambling, it is one of the most popular routes in Snowdonia for good reason. Arriving at the base to find a scene resembling the Hillary Step on Everest, we waited 15 mins to see if things would move quickly, which they did not. A snap consultation of the guidebook and Gerry’s keen eyes spotting another party further up Cwm Cneifion lead to a 20 min ramble to the base of Tower Rib, hot on their heels. Another Grade 3 and rarely ascended on account of its 3-star neighbour, we resolved to make something of it and found the climbing to be excellent, soloing the whole thing. The route deposits you onto the plateau between the Glyders, and after lolling around for a while to soak up the sunshine, we passed the Cantilever Stone (with obligatory pictures) before descending via Bristly Ridge, another 3-star Snowdonia scrambling extraordinaire.

Enjoyable as the mountain crags are, the jewel in the crown of North Welsh climbing is its sea cliffs. Accompanied by Ellie and Abbie of the Pinnacle Club, Aidan and Petrina went to the Main Cliff in Gogarth to do some multi pitches above the sea. On a sunny day has the added benefit of being highly photogenic. After all, rule #1 of climbing is to look cool while doing it! Ellie and Abbie had established their credentials for being absolutely hard as nails the night before, with (among other things) an epic story about sneaking onto a military firing range to do a route, getting benighted and shiver bivvying in a chimney, then having to sneak out again the next morning before live firing started! They went to the upper tier of the cliff and had an easy day by their standards, ticking off a couple of VS/HVS routes. Meanwhile, Aidan and Petrina scrambled down to the lower tier to do the Imitator-Bezel linkup. Both are VS, and the middle 2 pitches of Bezel are 5a, steep, and not easily overcome.

With everyone on a high from a gastronomic day of climbing, morale was further boosted when we remembered that we had enough leftover curry to feed everyone for a second night! Thankfully eating arrangements were more staggered on Sunday evening, as some of the gang had very wisely decided to stop for a cheeky pint on the way back.

After a busy morning packing, washing up, and saying goodbye to our new friends, we squeezed into the cars and headed for Holyhead. Andrew, Sue, and Aidan attempted to explore D-Day Buttress at Gogarth South, but the apparent ledge where the climbs begin was still submerged underwater, so they called it a day and headed for the ferry. Gerry, Adele, Max and Petrina had intended to follow them down, but upon hearing the suss they instead revisited the same area on Holyhead Mountain where some of us had climbed on Friday, and found the climbing much easier the second time around.

Many thanks to Jan and the absolute legends in the Pinnacle Club for hosting us, guiding us, belaying us, and having the height of craic with us!