Snowdonia Log – Travels with Charlie's Angels

(by Gerry Moss, November 2011)
The annual North Wales trip, action-packed despite the weather.

Twenty signed up for the trip and, in the end, eighteen made it over. They came from far and near: Catherine travelled from Mayo; Kryzs from Galway; Christy from Tipperary; James from London, but pride of place goes to Martina, who came all the way from Germany, especially for the weekend. Last year, the weather for the weekend was unusually calm, dry and settled – very pleasant, but not very challenging, inasmuch as you could climb or scramble anywhere you pleased. This year, conditions were more typical for the end of October: quite mild, quite windy and, sometimes, quite wet.

I was one of four passengers in the only car to take the early morning sailing on the Friday – a day of bright sunshine and fresh winds. The other three were Mags (the driver), Martina and Jane. Feisty females, they might well be described as a latter day version of Charlie’s Angels, which is appropiate enough, as I have often been described as a proper Charlie.

Gogarth, being just a five minute drive from the ferry terminal, was our choice to kickstart the weekend, with Lighthouse Arete on Castell Ellen (which has the best rock on Gogarth) the target as our first route.

A long, committing abseil of 55m deposited us in a small, inhospitable niche, just out of reach of the lively seas (with the belay stances not really large enough to accommodate the four of us at any one time, you could say I was boldly going where no man has gone before …). The route then gave us steep, exposed and juggy climbing, against a magnificent backdrop of rough seas and a rugged coastline. While the climbing is mostly pleasant, there is the odd awkward move to add a little excitement to the occasion.

Then it was on to Ty Powdwr, the commodious and comfortable hut placed at our disposal by The Karabiner Mountaineering Club, where the girls, mindful of keeping all of our strengths up for the following day’s proceedings, laid on a splendid meal.

The strong winds played havoc with the ferry sailing schedules that night, and several parties didn’t reach the hut until the wee small hours of the morning. Nevertheless, everyone was up bright and early, and all rearing to go, even if some were a little bleary-eyed.

Standing in the doorway of the hut that morning, prospects looked bleak. Strong winds and driving rain were sweeping across the valley below us. But the hut lies in the rain shadow of Snowdon, and it is worth remembering that the three areas with the heaviest annual rainfall in Britain are the areas around Snowdon, Scafell and Ben Nevis – in other words, mountains make their own weather.

By travelling a bit further afield when cloud is clagging up the high tops, reasonable conditions can often be found. Therein lies the challenge. For the mountain mass of North Wales is so large and diverse that there will nearly always be somewhere that offers tractable rock, if time is taken to suss out the options. Finding these locations requires a close scrutiny of the maps, careful perusal of the guidebooks and a keen awareness of the weather forecast. All habits worth developing and essential ones for anyone heading regularly to the hills.

Willie, Cearbhall, Christy and Matthias drove down to the Moelwyns and had a pleasant day, knocking off several routes at Craig-y-Clipiau. Kryzs and Áine opted for the sports climbs in the slate quarries, which dry quickly after rain, while several parties settled for the ever-reliable sylvan delights of Tremadog, an area boasting its own micro-climate.

Tremadog is a place I never tire of: not only has it several different crags, all offering multi-pitch climbing on good, clean rock but, as an extra bonus, the drive down to it from Pen-y-Pass takes you through scenery that is particularly beautiful in late Autumn. There are mountains, crags, lakes, waterfalls and rushing rivers on either side of the road as you go, and the whole area is covered in oak trees at their best, showing off their autumnal coats of rich, warm colours.

Scrambling up through the oaks to the foot of the climbs, the carpet of acorns crunched beneath our feet while squirrels and the odd woodmouse scampered about feasting on this bountiful harvest, taking little notice of us climbers as they did so. There is usually a marked contrast here between the initial pitches and the final ones, as the routes often start by working their way up in the shelter of the trees, before leading the climber out onto the more exposed, and sometimes windswept, rock.

We started our day with the five-pitch Poor Man’s Peuterey, moving slowly but steadily up the route as the winds strengthened and the skies grew darker, with Dave, Brian, Peter and James hot on our heels. Then it was down to Eric’s Café for a quick snack, before gearing up for our second route. But as we approached the foot of the crag the rain arrived, a little earlier and somewhat heavier than forecast, causing problems for those who were still up on the crags. We decided to opt out while we were still dry and headed to Llanberis to check out the gear shops.

Sunday again looked doubtful, but this time the bad weather was moving up from the southwest. So, one party, having headed down to the Moelwyns, and discovering it wet down there, travelled back up to the Idwal Slabs where they found fine weather and dry rock. Others opted for the excellent scrambling to be found on Tryfan’s N/E ridge, while more went scrambling on the Glyders.

The three parties climbing at Tremadog had summer conditions, with good sunshine and temperatures in the high teens, and a number of fine routes were accounted for. We, having the luxury of being the first climbers at the crag, started off with the popular four-pitch Christmas Curry, retrieving some of Joe’s gear left behind the day before on the Micah Finish.

Meanwhile Rob and Willie were ticking off routes for fashion, while, over on Poor Man’s Peuterey, Joe, Kieran and Catherine were involved in an epic ascent of the variation pitches (at one stage they even contemplated sending a porter down to the valley to bring up fresh supplies) but they prevailed in the end, finishing before darkness arrived.

Having refuelled at Eric’s café, we stopped to exchange pleasantries with the man himself (he told me about a new type of walking poles that had come on the market – I was feeling a bit affronted until he explained that he used them all the time himself, and found them great – well, if they’re good enough for Eric, then they are certainly good enough for me. Trouble is, I can’t remember the name of the blooming things.).

Feeling refreshed after our cuppa, we then went on to do One Step in The Clouds, one of the jewels in the crown of Craig Bwlch-y-moch. It’s a number of years since I last did this three-pitch route so I was pleased to find that it was every bit as delectable as I remembered it, the exposure and the delicacy increasing with every move up the crux pitch. Sitting on the comfy belay ledge above, I was joined by a young lad from Sheffield Uni, he having led up Joe Brown’s classic E2, Vector, one of the finest routes in the whole of Tremadog. He confessed to me that this was his second time to lead it that day – he enjoyed the first lead so much that, when an opportunity arose to lead it again, he jumped at the chance. His enthusiasm was such that I wished I
could have bottled it, brought it home and sprinkled it about on a club meet.

Monday’s forecast was for early morning rain to clear by ten o’clock and our plans allowed for this. But, alas, our plans were scuppered when we got a text from Irish Ferries informing us that, due to high winds, our 17.15 sailing had been cancelled, and our booking transferred to the earlier sailing of 14.15. Nothing daunted, we opted to get the driving over early, while the rain was still falling, and go walking along the rugged and beautiful coastline around Rhoscolyn, only a short drive from the ferry, doing a recce of the climbs there at the same time.

The rain stopped shortly after we alighted from the car and we enjoyed a pleasant walk, pummelled by the strong winds, but impressed by the huge waves crashing against the rocks of the indented coastline. At the end of an action-packed weekend, I was beginning to feel a bit frayed about the edges, run ragged trying to keep pace with these three young Amazons, but they are nothing if not all heart, and they obligingly propped me up long enough to record a final photo.

The following day I received an email from Martina, safely back in Germany, saying she had enjoyed every minute of the weekend, had found it well worth the journey and asking to have her name put on the list for the 2012 October meet to Snowdonia.

With a hut already booked, her name is on top of the list.