Thursday, January 17, 2013

Arenig Fawr and the loneliness of the Mid Wales pioneer

Mid 90's climbing chic! John and Liam Appleby pioneering on the northern fringes of Arenig Fawr

I was interested to read online about plans for a new Mid Wales guidebook from the CC, including for the first time, hundreds of new climbs and dozens of new crags way down south in Radnorshire. The last guidebook which covered this area was the 2000 Meirionydd guide which was equally extensive; covering John Sumner's old Mid Wales territory but also including the Moelwyns ,the crags around the Lledr Valley and Betws y Coed and making their first GB appearance, hundreds of new climbs on Arenig Fawr and in the wild Rhinogs. In truth, it was a bumper fun book too far. 

Geographically, it was a bit of a nonsense in that it covered too extensive an area and to my mind, it would have made more sense to publish it in two volumes covering the north and the south of the area. Now that's been rectified and although the guide has reverted more or less to John Sumner's original Mid-Wales area-with Radnorshire tacked on- The Moelwyns have been taken out and the Gwydyr Forest crags are going into the next Carneddau guide.

Climbing in mid Wales and my own experiences new routing on Arenig Fawr warrants a lengthy article in itself; however in this blog post I just wanted to pick up on comments made online regarding the lack of traffic on Mid-Wales routes. Again, you could write a lengthy article covering, the social and cultural reasons why some quality crags remain unfrequented while others become honeypots. Some of the reasons are obvious, others, less so. It is an eternal truth however, that climbing in Mid-Wales is, always has been, and always will be unpopular, regardless of its quality.

Back in the early 1990's I made a couple of first ascents with an old hippy friend called Ed Fisher, on a big vegetated but impressive buttress on the north western side of Arenig Fawr called Daear Fawr. Arenig was just on the cusp of a new routes explosion led by enthusiastic mid Wales climbing devotee Terry Taylor and the Lakes and Wales veteran Harold Drasdo. This was all unknown to me at the time when I climbed with Ed. During this period, all the new routing activity was taking place on the eastern Simddu Ddu cliffs.....again, unknown to me. Despite moving across the mountain to join the feast in the east, I did return back to what became known as the Pen Tyrau cliffs and with various partners- but mostly, by this time with fellow Arenig explorer Harold Drasdo-(See Harold's Too Cold for Crow). I went on to make the first recorded climbs on cliffs like Arrowhead Buttress and remote Craig Hyrddod.

This brings me to a UKC thread about the forthcoming guide. One of the first routes done on the aforementioned Craig Hyrddod was a HVS route called Hurricane Wall. I originally graded it E1 but it was downgraded by the guidebook writer...Hissss...but given two stars.. Yayyyy! Anyway...Hurricane Wall got a mention on the thread and the contributor told of how he had spent an hour trying to clean the route before giving up. This is strange for when I made the first ascent it was climbed ground up with no pre cleaning and didn't seem too dirty. What's going on? Some suggest global warming. Milder winters and wetter summers leading to a greening of the danker north facing cliffs? I don't know? Strange though,how these north western crags on Arenig- as elsewhere- have returned to nature apace.

Paul Ross...'repeat ascents?...frankly my dear I don't give a damn!':Photo PR Collection

Last year I was telling the Lakes veteran Paul Ross about a visit to this area and how neglected it was with probably,99% of the new routes I'd done here never receiving a second ascent. Paul who has plenty of experience climbing on dank north facing crags in his old stomping ground of Borrowdale, was philosophical. Claiming that he wasn't at all bothered if any of his new routes received a second ascent, as for him, it was all about the satisfaction of pulling off the project. Seeing a potential new route; throwing himself at it and feeling that blast of satisfaction when it comes together and he pulls over the top. Who cares if it returns to nature and no one else experiences it.

With that philosophy he would certainly feel at home new routing on Arenig. You've more chance of bumping into Lord Lucan than seeing a climber on the north western fringes!

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