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 This section was a bit out of date and he did mention that hot shot Calum Muskett had been active in these ere parts, but I haven’t heard anything on the north Wales grapevine to suggest that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

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