Friday, February 28, 2014

The search for Greenland Rib..... Lost and Found?

Photo sent by John Hunt to John Jackson.
Driving up the A5 in Snowdonia yesterday, I reached that point where the road straightens out briefly near the Siabod Cafe and you emerge from the bends and encroaching foliage to get an uninterrupted view of the mountains ahead. As I approached the junction which I would take en-route to the Lleyn Peninsular, the prominent ribs and slabs of Creigiau’r Gelli were delineated by a strong morning sun. For years I had looked up at these imposing crags, wondering if they had any routes on them?  The North Wales guidebooks certainly didn’t carry any information at the time so if they did they must be unrecorded.

Given their proximity to the Plas y Brenin Mountain Centre I guessed they just had to have been explored by the centre staff over the years, but in all the times I had travelled up and down this road, I had never looked up and caught sight of a party on the cliffs.

Miriam Tierney on'The Temptation of St Julitta'.Creigiau'r Gelli.
As I passed by, I recalled an interesting old photograph published in the North Wales Mountaineering Club journal in 2005 which illustrated an obituary for former club member John Jackson. John had been head warden at  Plas y Brenin in the early 1960’s. The photo carried some intriguing information surrounding a lost route ‘Greenland Rib’ which had been completed with Sir John Hunt in 1961. At the time of photographs’ publication, The Climbers Club were in the process of bringing out a new Ogwen guidebook under the authorship of Mike Bailey. Despite a forensic examination of club archives, old journals and appeals for information, Greenland Rib remained and indeed still remains a mystery?

Luke Appleby on P2 of 'St Julitta'.
However, I have a hunch I know where the route is, although this more based on a theory rather than pure detective work and hard evidence. In fact, I may have even made a ‘first’ ascent of the route myself! This brings me back to Creigiau’r Gelli. As previously mentioned, the crags stand pleasantly above Plas y Brenin, facing south and catching the sun. Or at least it catches the sun on those rare occasions when we actually see the sun in North Wales! It's a pleasant 15 minute stroll to reach the crag which at present has but four routes recorded which  follow the most prominent features. A retired PyB instructor confirmed that instructors had indeed climbed up there and named one climb as Diamond Slab, which as it turns out is a very good E1. He suggested that a Lakeland climber-I think it was Tom Bowker?- had also made first ascents up there but again no written information to confirm this?

As someone involved in the Ogwen guidebook  team at the time, I went up there one day with the author and we were immediately drawn to one of the most obvious ribs which we climbed, and after being surprised by a fox which offered some dramatic bridging moves up a neighbouring groove, it was named ‘ Basil Brush’ ! Again, another nice little route; this time at a sustained VS-4c. My theory is that Basil Brush and Greenland Rib are the same route.

The photo taken on the day of the first ascent (above) show Jackson and Hunt standing in front of a farm gate. This I’m sure is just up the road from Plas y Brenin with the backdrop being the lower slopes of Cefn y Capel. The crags of Dyffryn Mynbwr (formerly the Ricks and the Racks), lie just to the left and Creigiau’r Gelli just out of shot to the right. The script on the photograph which sent by John Hunt to his friend, says, John, The day of your appointment as Warden of PyB! Happy memories and good wishes for the future...John Hunt.

Underneath it is captioned....’Photograph sent by John Hunt after my appointment as Warden of PyB’ Person unknown has added... In 1960 they went out and climbed a route they named as Greenland Rib in 1961 following their 1960 Greenland Expedition.

To add to the confusion, in 2008 I climbed another rib further right with a couple of my off-springs. This was a pleasant three pitch V Diff which offers itself as a perfect route to take a novice. It was named ‘The Temptation of St Julitta’. St Julitta’s is the lovely little chapel next to PyB by the way. Could this be Greenland Rib? I don’t think so somehow. The latter is a rambling escapable route while Basil Brush is a striking line following a sharp, knife edge rib. I'm sure the two Johns would have been much more inclined to tackle the more imposing and harder line.

Until I hear evidence to the contrary, then I’m sticking with the Greenland Rib/ Basil Brush theory.Any further information gratefully received.
Tony Pearson on Basil Brush...or is it Greenland Rib?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Hydro Power development to go ahead above Llanberis Pass.

Cwm Glas-Site of the hydro-electric development

I am indebted to north Wales climber, Mark Reeves, for bringing to light a development within north Wales’ iconic Llanberis Pass; to wit, a hydo- electric scheme which will be constructed in the remote high cwm of Cwm Glas on the flanks of Yr Wyddfa. The application from local entrepreneur- Mr. Wyn Jones of Bryniog-Isa, Melin y Coed, Llanrwst, Conwy, LL26 0TR ; Agent listed as Greenearth Hydro Limited  Company Contact Name: Mr. Liam Brown  Address: Bronafon, Bridge Street, Llanfyllin, Powys, SY22 5AU- will see considerable environmental upheaval within the Pass during the period of development.

The scheme which has been waved through the planning process- will see the construction of an intake weir and a turbine house down in the Pass beneath the water outlet, and the laying of underground pipes and cables.  A similar development has taken place on the other side of the mountain where The National Trust have built an even bigger hydro power plant above Nant Gwynant and right next to the popular Watkin Path.

There is concern within the north Wales climbing community that important boulders will be removed in the pipe and cable laying process? Although most people in the climbing community support small scale renewable energy projects, there are concerns that the planning committees are impotent in regard to the planning process and unable to refuse planning permission, as the developer simply appeals in the full knowledge that an unelected civil servant in Cardiff will wave it through. As is the case with wind farm developments.

Outdoor writer and British Mountaineering Council representative, Tom Hutton voiced his own concerns about the rash of proposed developments within and surrounding the National park recently in his article Hydro power: coming to a mountain near you

There is no right of appeal and the Cwm Glas project will go ahead. Just how many more hydro projects are in the planning pipeline-no pun intended-it would be interesting to know?


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Vale of Tears...Energy project threatens disaster


The city of St Asaph in north Wales is surrounded by flood waters. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images


With parts of the south of England still suffering the devastating effects of flooding, it’s worth pointing to George Monbiot’s latest article on the subject, and highlighting his main point. That is; that one of the main factors has been the steady removal of tree and hedge cover in the uplands, to accommodate agriculture's insatiable demand for pasture and growing land. Throughout the world, the evidence is there. The removal of trees will alter the water table, increase the flow of precipitation run off and the soil will basically crumble as the roots which bind it together are lost. Soil will be washed off the land,silting up water courses and altering river flow downstream.

With this in mind, it’s worth pointing out that here in north east wales, The Vale of Clwyd has been recognized by the UK Insurance assessors, as being THE most ‘at risk’ area in the whole of Wales for devastating flood risk. In fact The Vale with Skegness and Boston on the East coast of England, has been recognized as one of the most at risk areas in the whole of the UK. I have written about this before but given the threat to The Vale, it’s certainly worth banging on about it; the risks of flooding are about to be made worse by the construction of a huge German owned wind farm in Clocaenog Forest. A development which will involve a massive amount of clear felling, the construction of new tracks within the forest, the inundation of the fragile peat and bog surface area with hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete etc etc.

Homes in St Asaph where a 91 year old pensioner died in the floods last year.

In short, the German global Energy giant RWE, aided and abetted by UK and Welsh government planners, are cooking up the perfect storm to threaten the already at risk Vale of Clwyd from future flooding. The scheme will almost certainly get the go-ahead from the loaded planning inquiry-currently taking place in Denbigh-despite the fact that the power companies have yet to agree on the infrastructure  to carry the electricity produced-usually 25/30% of the promised output- to the English border and all points south.

It all adds up to a black comedy of ineptitude, ignorance and greed. Let’s call it ‘Carry on Flooding’. We can but sit back and watch the terrible events unfold.

Further articles on the subject

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mountaineering as a big game trophy hunt.

Still from K2-The Killer Summit:BBC

Money doesn't swears!
Bob Dylan
A few weeks ago I watched the Reel Rock Tour movie. Amongst the features included was a short film about the infamous angry Sherpas incident which involved mountaineering superstar Uli Steck. For those who missed it in the media, basically Steck, Jon Griffith and Italian mountaineer, Simone Moro caused mayhem when they attempted to push on past a team of Sherpas who were fixing ropes for their commercial employers. A situation inflamed by Moro using what in Sherpa culture was highly insulting and derogatory language. (Full details here in Ed Douglas' Guardian coverage of the incident). 

Last week on the UK’s arts and culture channel, BBC 4, another infamous recent mountaineering event was replayed in all its ghoulish, graphic detail. ‘K2-The Killer Summit’ re encountered the terrible events on K2 in 2008. Described in the programme notes as an incident where...

In August 2008, 25 climbers from several international expeditions converged on high camp of K2, the final stop before the summit of the most dangerous mountain on earth. 48 hours later, 11 had been killed or simply vanished, making it the deadliest day in mountaineering history.

What both events brought home for me was just how far we have travelled from the spirit of adventure which at one time under pinned almost all expeditions in the greater ranges. The huge commercial razzmatazz surrounding, in particular Everest expeditions, is horrible to behold. Sherpas laying down a staircase of ropes to enable their well heeled clients to tick off one of the items on their ‘bucket list’. Setting off from salubrious canvas 'hotels' at base camp where indigenous employees rustle up five course meals for their Western clients that they themselves could only ever dream of back in their humble abodes.

Even on so called serious non commercial expeditions, climbers are festooned with advertising logos in the manner of a Formula One driver. Woe betide the mountaineer that goes before the cameras not wearing his North Face cap or Patagonia duvet jacket emblazoned with motifs for Coca-Cola, Mastercard and Vodaphone!

At least there are still plenty of mountaineers who cling on to the spirit of adventure by eschewing siege tactics and who are undertaking low impact Alpine ascents. Yes, they often have commercial sponsors and as such have to play their paymasters game to a certain extent, but at least the actual activity revolves around their own logistical and technical skill. The Everest and K2 circuses on the other hand, increasingly appear to be driven by ego and money, and underpinned by an almost imperialistic idea of native servitude to Western masters.

Although this attitude has prevailed ever since Westerners started exploring the greater ranges, the main difference today is that the client is more likely to be a banker, a venture capitalist or an IT manager. It might make for interesting conversation 12 months hence in a New York loft apartment but to my mind, it’s not that far removed from an African wildlife trophy hunt.Instead of bagging lions and elephants with their wallets, they’re bagging peaks. 'It’s mountaineering Jim...but not as we know it!'.