Monday, March 4, 2013

Fifteen year itch

Setting off on Blackadder, The HVS climb which spanned the Millennia: Photo Al Leary

Harold Drasdo once penned a famous article- 'The View from Platos Cave'- which was first published in High in the early 90's and republished on Footless Crow in 2010, which detailed a 15 year campaign to subdue a humble 200' VS climb above Llanberis Pass. Yesterday I had my own 'Plato' moment when a personal project which I had first tentatively fannied around on over 15 years ago, finally received it's first ascent on a bright March day.

In the mid 90's I had discovered a superb little outcrop in central Snowdonia which was a totally virgin and untainted by a climbers' chalky mitt. Hidden from view, this small steep crag was set amongst oak and birch woodland, south facing, sheltered and with a beautiful outlook from it's rounded dome above the woodland to take in the encircling mountains. Appropriately, two early routes were completed with the aforementioned HD who was amongst a small select group of friends who I took up to this secret white citadel in the forest.. One friend-a guy called Phil Livesey who is always mistaken for Pete on first ascents because of the shared initial- did an excellent HVS -Titania- with me on the day I first tried the line which first ascent spanned two millennia! 

The section of cliff here is deceptively steep. In fact, hanging a rope down from the top of the crag sees it swing about 8' out from the crag at the base. It's also has an equally deceptive rightward tilt which taken with an unhelpful run of sloping smooth holds and poor protection means that to get established on the face, you have to endure a gravity loaded skitter across the overhanging wall. The line itself was as natural and inviting as they come. A steep narrow chimney crack which looked juggy and well protected in the main but to it get to meant either a serious unprotected approach with a nasty landing or-the eventual solution- by following a rising diagonal weakness from the left. A start which had first been used by Carneddau guidebook editor Mike Bailey on a route he called 'Snakes Alive'  E1/2 and completed about 18 months previously.

March 3rd was the excuses. Two weeks of dry weather and with the sun set fair in a blue sky it was do or die. Midday and I finally stepped up onto the face and immediately felt gravity tugging at my heels. The break across the face is obvious but the holds are rubbish. Sloping down and following the crag's rightward tilt, they offer nothing more than a precarious sequence of moves where you find yourself out of balance and wondering when gravity will finally bite. I was getting pumped hanging around so instinctively I set off. At one stage my foot slipped off a tiny edge but momentum was carrying me across the face. It seemed no more than 50/50 that I would reach the crack...but I did... somehow? 

Hanging to another sloping block at the end of the traverse, I wangled a sling over a spike and found a nut placement. I could breathe- albeit heavily- a bit more easily. Above my head the crack looked steep but it suggested better holds and pro the higher up I got. And so it turned out. Just passed the half way mark, after pulling into the crack using a hollow sounding wedged flake it dawned on me that I was going to do it. It was just steep VS climbing by now and the higher I got the more I felt the sun washing down the face as I emerged out of the forest shadows. 

And finally that was that. I pulled over the top, let out a barely discernible 'Ye-Ha!' and wopped a sling around a small birch sapling ...finito.. 

With the main difficulties behind it's nearly 'Ye-Ha' time:Photo Al Leary

Provisionally called 'Blackadder' and at HVS-5a, it might seem excessive to spend so long on a line which a lot of modern climbers would consider little more than a scramble but then again, I'm no Dave Macleod and it pushed me close to my decrepit limit. 

It's a good natural line. Very trad and entertaining, providing you don't fall off the crux traverse at the bottom! Unfortunately, my weak right shoulder is wrecked this morning and I had to gobble strong codeine painkillers last night to try and get some sleep. But it was worth it. Look out for it when the crag and it's delectable routes are finally revealed in the new Carneddau guidebook.

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