With the weather over the last week being a mixed bag of cloud, rain and the occasional glimpse of sunshine I’ve been bashing around the Llanberis slate quarries. Their surreal, industrial atmosphere provides a playground for climbers, on probably the most marmite of rock types. From the strange three-dimensional routes to tentative slab routes requiring trust in edges the size of match-sticks to make progress. Although the rock initially appears to be a cold, dark-purple-grey up close the subtle shades and different colours appear.
Rocking up at Vivian quarry (01/06/12) with Lewis we had no real plan, digging the Llanberis Slate guide (by Ground Up) we found a link up of routes, The East Face of Vivian (E2 5c/6a). Gearing up I set off up Mental Lentils (HVS 5b), a classic easy route on the slate (but is suffering from polish). Pulling over the top of the route, I set up a belay. Hunting around on my harness for my belay plate I realised that I had not put it on the gear loops. Shouting to Lewis about this issue I placed him on an Italian hitch and brought him up. Lewis set off up The Monster Kitten (E1 5c), a tough route. The leader has to choose whether to hang around placing gear therefore suffering major leg pump or to crack on running out on the not-so-good gear. Lewis picked the latter. I quickly raced up on the second. Sorting out the gear, it was my turn to lead Too Bald to be Bold (E2 5c). The route lives up to its name in the first half with no good gear, loose blocks and some tricky moves. The top section is the crux, protected by a bolt. It requires delicate steps on small nothings that are fairly fragile (the route could do with more traffic to resolve this issue). Pulling over the top I set up a belay around some trees and set to hauling up the rucksacks. I’m not looking forward to ever big walling, just pulling a pair of rucksacks thirty metres was hard work. Lewis easily raced up to meet me. Checking the time we decided to stop on the Dervish level. Lewis suggested that I did The Last Tango in Paris (E1 5b), a long route (as in forty-five metres long), naturally split into four sections; a diagonal traverse out right, several mantel moves directly up, a leftwards-rising crack, (then once pulled over the protruding lip) delicate face-climbing. The initial traverse is fairly simple and able to take lots of gear, but does not require it. The mantel moves are safe but feel slightly precarious as you are moving up on flat, polished ledges not really requiring friction but careful balance to make progress. The crux moves come as you swing around on to the main face of the slab, gear is good but placing it generates a large amount of forearm pump. The moves are solid. Once over the lip, I sighed relief but in slight shock at the length of the route I pushed on, placed a couple of cams, a reached the top. I brought Lewis up, he flew along quite happily. As I lowered him down he had a look at Flashdance (E5 6a), testing the gear (a nut placed sideways and a DMM offset half in, confidence inspiring!). Once I was down, Lewis racked up, psyched up and set off. Smooth climbing on small holds, Lewis moved perfectly. As a belayer it was terrifying, long run-outs and poor gear, meant that I was going to have to sprint backwards to catch him before he decked. Intense focus was required. Completing the crux moves Lewis moved over to the finish which goes up Comes the Dervish (E3 5c) an easy and more relaxed route in comparison. An amazing effort. I seconded, a scary prospect when I pulled out the gear that protects the crux because even though I could not deck a massive swing was possible. I stopped just before joining the Dervish, as I really want to do it onsight. Packed up we raced back to the bus.
|Me on The Last Tango in Paris (E1 5b) at the end of the initial traverse.|
|Lewis setting off on Flashdance (E5 6a).|
|Lewis just pre-crux, contemplating the moves to come.|
|The Dervish Slab. The dark diagonal line rising right to left is Flashdance.|
With the weather still being poor I went out with Charlie back to the slate and up to the Rainbow Walls area. Charlie noticed a couple of E2’s on the Manatese Level, noticing one of them was a Dawes’ route I set my sights on one of them, Angel on Fire (E2 5c). I racked up, taking all my cams, hexs and tri-cams as the route had several obvious crack-lines. The route has a reasonable start but is run out. Good gear follows. The route has typical strange slate movements, tackling the blocks, perfectly parallel cracks and small crimps. Once all the difficulties are over, including a precarious step using a slate smear and a very loose top out, the belay needs to be set up. The belay is a slate hut on the level that you have climbed to. I walked round the hut, tied my ropes together and set up ready to bring Charlie up. One of the strangest belay set ups I’ve used. Charlie raced up the route. Next up was German Schoolgirl (E2 5c), a slate classic. A corner route that chews through small gear. Having a reasonable reach makes a massive difference, as the climbing involves long reaches and scrambling the feet up to various size ledges. Before long the difficulties were over and the top reached. Once I’d stripped the gear out we set off to the Rainbow Slab. The Rainbow Slab is an amazing geological and mining event. It is a ripple that moves across the slate block, clearly evident from miles away. The colours of the rock change throughout the slab. Beautiful, in its weird industrial nature. Charlie wanting to attempt the classic line of Pull My Daisy (E2 5c), a line just left of the rainbow. Racked up and ready to go, she set off. The first gear is fairly high up and small. A few more metres up and with some more small gear in she tried to move up on the first crux. Hands on good holds and on small feet but she could not find the right size gear, the panic started. I could hear it in her voice, that raising pitch, the desperation and slight note of anger. Not being able to place the gear I took the ropes tight and she fell. Landing on solid gear she was safe, but slightly shaken, her first proper trad fall. I suspect she was more angry that she’d failed to do the route than bothered by the fall. Once I’d retrieved the gear by dangling off a skyhook (a hook of metal that relies on gravity and faith more than anything else), I racked up for Red and Yellow and Pink and Green and Orange and Purple and Blue (E1 5a). This route is forty metres long, has barely any gear and although the climbing is steady it involves some technical balances. Once I’d pulled on it was several metres to the first gear, a sling round a friable flake that does not inspire much confidence. Next gear was about fifteen metres, placing a skyhook weighted down by two sets of nuts and with a long sling, I stepped sideways and managed to get a tri-cam into a shot-hole. Removing the skyhook thinking I might need it later I moved up. A delicate step left and upwards I reached the large ledge about two-thirds up. Stepping on to the next section I wrapped a sling around a metal bar and raced to the top. Bringing Charlie up on the second, she cruised up the route. There was a strange mental process that went off on the route, I was questioning myself on the value of the route to possible cost of failure. Although I eventually decided that the route was worth doing, the internal measuring of these factors (experience of the climb and enjoyment vs. the risk i.e. death/massive injury) stopped me, whilst balanced on a four inch wide ledge. I’ve never experienced such deep questioning, even when soloing. I suspect as I increase the grade I climb at these mental debates will become more common. We raced back down to Llanberis and had a good pint in the Heights Hotel.
|Me on Angel on Fire (E2 5c).|
|A bit higher up.|
|German Schoolgirl (E2 5c).|
|Charlie attempting Pull my Daisy (E2 5c).|
|Running it out on Red and Yellow... (E1 5a).|
After having a rest day we headed back to the quarries (04/06/12). Sitting in Pete’s Eats in Llanberis, Charlie and myself worked out which routes we’d like to do over a pint mug of tea. Dali’s Hole was the target with Holy, Holy, Holy (E2 5c) being the main route to tackle. Charlie went under the fence and I climbed over delicately standing with the spines of the fence between my legs, possibly the most dangerous thing I did that day. Feeling strong and confident I racked up to do Holy, Holy, Holy straight away. The route follows an open book corner crack, which from the ground looks remarkably easy yet as is normal with slate appearances are not what they seem. Ready to go I set off, placed a few pieces of bomber gear then lay-backed for glory up the crux section. Semi-smears on the slate whilst turning in my toes to try and gain further purchase in the crack proved successful and quickly I reached the top. Charlie happily came up on the second. Buoyed by her ease on the route, she quickly forgot the issues from the previous trip and opted to try the route on the lead. Geared up and ready to go she set off, making short but steady work of the route. The only nervous section was when, unwittingly, she kicked out her top runner post-crux. Staying calm she blasted onwards and topped out. Having a look in the guide book we spotted some routes down in the hole, setting up an abseil we lowered in. Dali’s Hole is one of the weirdest places in the whole of the quarries. Trees have grown and died, leaving white, spectral remains with water surrounding them. The water changes colour and height on a regular basis, from being a deep blue and half way up the hole to clear and shallow. The industrial remains that are scattered around just add to the strangeness of the place. Without any imagination required the place would not go amiss in a sci-fi film. It certainly lives up to its name, surreal and dreamlike. We wandered over to look at two routes, Le Cochan (HVS 5b) and John Verybiglongwords (E1 5a). I suspect that there has either been rock fall or the grade is wrong for Le Cochan as the start looked desperate and unsafe, however the upper sections look good. We decided to do John Verybiglongwords, its brilliant description in the Llanberis Slate originally written by Paul Williams made it even more attractive. A perfect arête of slate with little notched edges leading up, at largest, a foot wide fin of rock. Having done Red and Yellow… a couple of days before the run out seemed perfectly fine. The climbing is obvious but committing, with a crux around twelve metres and before the first piece of gear. Around fourteen metres you place some gear and pull over the top. A virtual solo. Set up a belay was complex and slightly dodgy, which involved the words ‘Charlie the belay is fairly sound but please don’t fall’. She raced up on the second. Topped out and declared it was an amazing route. Personally I’d recommend it but be careful and know you have a couple of grades in hand. Next was At the Cost of a Rope (E1 5b, but felt more like E1 5c). The start follows a couple of hard moves then an inch wide crack presents itself on the left, with a tri-cam placed it become safe to continue. Getting feet up near your hands becomes the name of the game. Once the challenges that are faced in relation to the corner the difficulties rapidly ease and it becomes a plod to the top. Charlie her usual good style blasted to the top. Day over we climbed back over the fence and headed back to Llanberis for another cuppa at Pete’s Eats.
|Me on Holy, Holy, Holy (E2 5c).|
|Charlie near the top of Holy, Holy, Holy.|
|Some of the delightful weirdness of Dali's Hole.|
|Me on John Verylongbigwords (E1 5a).|
|Me on At the Cost of a Rope (E1 5b).|
|Charlie squeezing under the fence.|
So to summarise: ‘Good climbing and good company often go together: each is essential to the enjoyment of the other.’ Tom Patey.
In other news:
It has been the Isle of Man TT this past two weeks. Records have fallen, especially those for the TT Zero (the electric bike race) where an average lap time of over one hundred mph has been broken, not only once but three times.
Look up Luke Tilly, captain of the British Youth climbing team. He’s been crushing something crazy recently. Best wishes go to him.
The Cold Summits team, part-sponsored by Alpkit, are in Alaska routing. Good luck Will Hardy.