Friday, August 2, 2013

Heart of Glass: When friction becomes fiction!

 Shiny Happy Person:Tom sets off into the wide blue yonder.

For more than a decade or so I’ve found myself climbing in North Wales’ unfrequented backwaters. Both through choice and through guidebook work. Most climbers would probably see this as drawing the short straw but for myself, it’s been something of a labour of love and a ‘task’ I’ve been only too happy to take on. However, last night, I had the opportunity to turn back the clock and climb one of North Wales’s most popular trade routes. A route which feature’s in Classic Rock with Chris Bonington doing the honours. A climb and indeed a crag which I hadn’t set foot on in nearly twenty years. The climb was Direct route on Milestone Buttress. I was with Tom Hutton of Trail magazine who hadn’t done the climb before and as it was a perfect balmy evening after a day of wall to wall sun and blue skies, I was up for something easy and mellow.

First thing to say is, what a shock to the system it was to climb on something so polished! Forget grades; I’m sure most climbers would feel more comfortable on a climb several technical grades harder but on nice rough rock than this low grade mirror. There’s something disconcerting about trusting your feet on a highly polished small rounded edge although the sharp hand holds and solid protection compensate somewhat.  Despite its low grade, Direct Route is not a route I’d like to solo. I think at least a suggestion of something resembling friction would be a prerequisite of any solo activity. I can still recall the late great Jimmy Jewel falling to his death off Poor Man's Pueterey, a 'severe' at Tremadog and another low grade classic which has been polished to a smooth sheen.

 The author after seeing his reflection.

After saying all this, Direct Route is a fine steep route which takes you into some spectacular positions- A rite of passage for all budding leaders. If you can cope with the polished glassy holds and the exposure then you are doing OK. Around the corner on Idwal Slabs, the classic routes hereabout are suffering equally from their popularity. Routes like Hope shine in the evening sun. You don’t need a guidebook for these routes, just ask someone where Faith/Hope or Charity start and follow the polish and chalk...yes chalk! Talking of soloing easy routes hereabouts; climbers have died in recent years falling off these polished classics so if you’re thinking of padding up a route on Milestone or the Slabs in your 5-10 approach shoes...take care.

As for getting back on trade routes after all these years...why not? After all,climbing on glass edges can only improve your technique!

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