Friday, December 21, 2012

So this is Christmas.....and what have you done?

Christmas Curry: HS-4b. First ascent Xmas day 1953.Photo Don Sergeant/The CC

I've always wanted to make a first ascent on Christmas Day. A rock climb as opposed to a winter climb that is. I'm not a huge fan of winter climbing although I've enjoyed the odd foray on the white stuff, I'd much rather feel the sun on my back and be climbing warm rock in a T shirt and shorts than dressed up like the Michelin Man with ironmongery strapped to my frozen appendages. Not that you get many days in December that you can don summer apparel but you can get out (rock) climbing though.

I was thinking that a Christmas Day first ascent might just be a possibility this year. A rather ferocious crag we've been working on has a line which I've cleaned up which weaves an easy way through difficult ground and only looks about V Diff. I was thinking...if Christmas day is dry, I could shoot up to the crag about 14 miles away,solo up the line and get back before lunch. Well...it's a possibility but given the endless rain in north Wales,it will more than likely be  dank,cold and dripping.

They have been quite a few Christmas day first ascents in North Wales though; the most famous of which is Tony Moulam's Christmas Curry at Tremadog. This three star Hard Severe is possibly the most popular route on any of the Trem crags.A fine steep little affair with an excellent 'Micah Eliminate' alternative finish.

Another starred Christmas route is Paul Work's lovely little severe, Christmas Climb on the isolated red crag of Craig Dyniewyd above Nantmor. Put up on Xmas day in 1947 it's route worth seeking out. Paul Work was a fascinating character who farmed in Nantmor not far from the crag. Proposed and seconded for membership of The Climbers Club by none other than Menlove Edwards and Colin Kirkus he is another of those fascinating fringe figures in Welsh climbing like John Kerry. Not a hard climber like Kerry, Paul Work's creative output was concentrated on the esoteric crags of central Snowdonia, where he made a series of easier long routes on obscure crags like Moel Hebog's Diffwys and the verdant Aberglasllyn Pass.

Menlove Edwards was in fact a neighbour of Work's at one time.Living on the other side of Moel Dynywyd in Hafod Owen which was owned by Colin Kirkus. In Perrin's Menlove biography,he mentions Edwards following Paul Work up Christmas Climb in what could only be described as an unstable mental state! It's worth mentioning that Paul Work's wife,Ruth Janette Ruck wrote a couple of proto 'good life' books..Hill Farm Story and Place of Stones which are worth seeking out.
 
I had the pleasure of putting up a slightly harder VS direct version of Christmas Climb with one of my son's Liam, 50 years later. Sadly the first ascent was in July not December so make that a half century to the year not the day. Still...I remember it being an excellent steep climb which I keep meaning to go back and repeat.

Traditional Route: S-4a: First ascent Xmas day 1964.

Another Christmas Day climb which I've done at least half a dozen times is Traditional Route above the Swallow Falls between Betws y Coed and Capel Curig. This nice 4 pitch severe was done on Christmas day 1964 by the Drasdo Brothers, Geoff Roberts and Malcolm Feeley. The party sauntered up from the Towers outdoor centre -did half the climb-returned to the Towers for Christmas dinner and went back in the afternoon and finished the climb. By the time they had finished it was in pitch black and it became every man for himself as the party by now, were spread out all over the crag. The successful team then headed into the Gwydyr Forest to enjoy brandy with John Disley who lived nearby. Sounds very civilized and almost Victorian in it's hedonistic concept although it's probably a record for the time taken to complete an 150 severe!

Christmas Retreat in The Arans is possibly Wales's remotest climb. Done on Boxing Day 1965 this is a route which I've stood under and worked out possible variations. Unless you are staying over the top in the Bryn Hafod mountain hut though,this is one Christmas Climb which is guaranteed to remain in splendid isolation.Certainly an idea I had for a direct version of this climb has remained on the back burner. Having done the first three mentioned Christmas climbs I can confirm however, that they are all crackers!.....Did you see what I did there?...happy winter solstice wherever you find yourself.


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