Thursday, March 20, 2014

Stone Free: Last great problems in north Wales

I was looking at Terry Taylor’s Mid Wales climbing site the other day and I noticed in the Craig Ddu/Moel Siabod section, his reference to the Great Prow of Craig Ddu still being unclimbed. This section was a bit out of date and he did mention that hot shot Calum Muskett had been active in these ere parts, but I haven’t heard anything on the north Wales grapevine to suggest that it’s been vanquished by Calum or anyone else for that matter. I contacted Calum to see if he or anyone else had liberated it and it appears not. To be fair, he does not appear to be particularly impressed with the crag or project but then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It's true that Craig Ddu (Black Crag) lacks the grandeur of a Cloggy or Cromlech, being more a scruffy mid-wales crag in character, but I've always thought it a grand spot myself.

I’ve always taken a proprietorial interest in Craig Ddu because I discovered it in the 90’s, made the first ascents there and tipped Terry off about the crag. New crags are always being discovered, particularly in out of the way places like the Carneddau or Mid Wales, however, Craig Ddu was unusual for two reasons. The first that it was on the flanks of one of our most popular mountains-Moel Siabod- and secondly, because it was so big, relatively speaking. Little single pitch craglets are being developed all the time, but Craig Ddu was different as it was a good 45m high or 150 feet in old money. 

Unusual as well, in that it offered multi pitch routes. A rarity these days. I discovered it through simply looking at a 125/OS map and noticing a sizable cliff marked. Fortunately, it was on the rarely visited south west flank of the mountain and the approach from the Roman Bridge was rough ,pathless and involved crossing a boggy plateau. Not the sort of terrain to tempt most walkers and climbers.

Climbing the serrated knife edge of Brigate Rosso on the far left tier.

After surprising myself at discovering such a sizable crag, I persuaded my old friend Harold Drasdo to join me in attempting to make a first impression on the crag. That first impression was ‘Zenturion’ a three pitch VS climb which could be seen as having ‘minor classic’ potential in that it found a way through some unlikely terrain at an amenable standard.  The final pitch took off up the vertical headwall, with the ground falling dramatically away beneath your feet. It looked unlikely but each pull delivered you to another hold until you pulled out on a stone pavement. At this point you could just walk off but I regret not putting up a fourth pitch on a short tier above. When Harold joined me he exclaimed..’well, you can live off that for the next six months!’ 

We did a few more routes on the crag and Harold and his brother Neville ended fifty years of new routing together with their ‘Two Against Nature’ on the far right hand buttress.( The crag is split into three areas with the main cliff flanked by smaller crags to each side).  I realised that the crag offered more potential for better climbers than myself and told Terry about it. It’s fair to say that TT was not disappointed and quickly filled his boots . In fact, Andy Cave, amongst others, made a guest appearance up there with Terry. However, despite climbing high into the E’s, the prow it appears, is a step too far. Even for a talented and prolific new router.

So just how hard is it...E9/10...11!!! The actual overhanging section is not that long..15 metres maybe...but the rock is compact and doesn’t offer that much in the way of protection or comforting holds. Zenturion tracks to within a few metres of the Prow but those few metres offer a world of difference with mere verticality tipping into a yawning gravity defying test of physical and mental toughness.

Last great Welsh problem? I doubt it myself. There’s always going to be another desperate problem just around the corner which will tempt that tiny minority of elite climbers who crave to go where angels fear to tread.

Craig Ddu Main Cliff

Monday, March 17, 2014


Alas poor Eweric...I knew her well
After the wettest UK winter on record, nine rainless days of blue skies and sunshine continued in north east Wales. Time to take a break from an intensive period of work restoring an old cottage and get out into the hills. I chose somewhere nearby; somewhere I’d only discovered in the past few years despite its close proximity. That is the great wild cwm of Gylchedd with the option of bagging Carnedd Filiast and enjoying some of the finest mountain views in Wales.

The wild and wonderful Cwm Gylchedd 
I left the quiet Blaen y Cwm valley in glorious sunshine and broke off the old drovers track to head into the cwm as a band of mist separated the blue sky above from the dun moorland landscape below. On a sunny Sunday, a walk like this is the antithesis of the crocodile crawl up Snowdon or Tryfan in the company of thousands. You are as likely to meet a yeti as another human being within this wild trackless land.

Skirting the edge of the cwm I gradually gained height and aimed for the ridge which contains the cwm at its head. As I reached what I believed was the main connecting ridge I was by now held by a cold clag. Visibility was measured in metres and the usual outstanding views from up here could only be guessed at. At least Carnedd Filiast summit was but a stone’s throw away. However, after wandering in the general direction and without a map, I decided it was time to dig out my iPhone. I might not be able to see my hand in front of my face but I’ve got ‘Apps’ ! Yes,an OS GPS gizmo, an altimeter gizmo and a compass gizmo...what could go wrong?

Bringing up the OS map I could see the summit was not far away but up here it was impossible to discern any features. The high ground of Gychedd is a strange and almost unique plateau of extensive peat hags, small tarns  and of course heather. On a clear day it’s a great place with fantastic views all around, however today, the peat hags and tarns carried a spectral air. Ghostly impressions which hove into view before disappearing.

Despite the cwm head being so close from the summit, I somehow managed to wander around for an hour or so, continually missing the summit and at one point wandering in the opposite direction. I’m never that concerned about getting lost in the mountains. After all, it’s north Wales not Alaska we’re talking about,however, it is a bit disconcerting, wandering about in a strange twilight world of shadows and blurred topographical features.

Eventually, the strong westerlies whipped the mist into submission and revealed a blue sky. When I reached the summit, the vistas were beginning to emerge from the mist. Cwm Hesgin briefly appeared before the mist obliterated it from view, then, to the north, the main Snowdonia mountains were revealed. I had brought an old SLR film camera with me to test it out and balanced it on the trig point. Cold fingers struggled with the lenses and various dials as north south east and west, the views were revealed before the mountain mist blew across and smudged them out.

Eventually the sun won its battle and the mist dispersed which meant I could make a beeline for Cwm Gilchedd which I reached in less than 10 minutes. I realised just how far out I had been when I first reached the ridge and headed in what I thought was the right direction. So much for my uncanny sense of direction and map apps!