Thursday, August 11, 2016

Crow and Stone

Stonecrop: First Ascent.Craig y Wernas.Nantmor.

But by now the stone is dust-flying in vain,
And Crow has become a monster-his mere eyeblink
Holding the very globe in terror. 

Ted Hughes: Crow and Stone 

In the late 90‘s, after spending some time with veteran climber Harold Drasdo, exploring and developing many of the remote, vegetated cliffs on Arenig Fawr,the time had come to move out of the wind and into the sun. In this instance, away from the dank, beetling cliffs of Arenig and head out west, to the relative tropical belt of Nantmor whose high points look out to the sea. The cliffs hereabouts had not seen much activity apart from Showell Styles and friends ‘more rabbit than tiger’ establishing a few dozen lower grade climbs on the cliffs of Yr Arddu. Another local activist, Paul Work who lived and farmed in the shadow of Moel Dyniewyd with his wife Ruth Jannette Ruck-author of a clutch of ‘back to the land’ books in the 1960‘s- climbed Nantmor’s best known route-relatively speaking- Christmas Climb.

A lovely little three pitch severe this, which snakes steeply but easily around the left edge of Craig Dyniewyd. Put up on Christmas day, 1947 with ES Trickett. In 1997- Fifty years on minus a few months- I did the direct VS version of the route with my son Liam and an excellent little route it was!

Exactly a year later, I had wandered down the valley to investigate an unclimbed buttress which looked to have potential. Just under 100‘ high and looking reasonably clean and sound, a couple of easy routes were chalked off before I took a look at the extreme right edge. A really interesting looking knife edge arete erupted from a blunt lower rib. Hard to guess how hard it would be but surely no harder than HVS?

I dragged my long suffering friend Harold D along to take a look. Through a haze of cheap cigarette smoke he offered a bemused smile in the manner of someone well used to my hyperbolic descriptions of my latest Crag X and slipped the ropes through his Tuber....remember them?

The first pitch went easily enough and landed on a heathery ledge from which I could look up at the knife edge and survey its potential. It looked steep but surprisingly amenable. Unfortunately, a great rotten looking spike of rock guarded the opening moves onto the arete.It would have to go. A few cursory heaves with my foot offered nothing more than a slight tremor. Holding its jagged top in both hands, I effected a rocking motion. It was moving slightly but still rooted like a rotten tooth in a scabrous jaw.

I decided to leave it for now and climbed indirectly up the back of the arete which required one dynamic move to gain what was an unseen hold. Given the lack of protection and the tenuous nature of this one move, I graded it E1. Harold watching me skitter about like a wolf on a lead declined to follow!

A week or so later, I returned with one of my sons-Liam- and his friend Henry, intent on extracting that rotten molar of rock and ascending the edge directly. As before, the blunt lower rib was ascended and I had time to tie myself off and concentrate all my efforts on removing the large flake which stood about 3‘ high. With Liam ensconced below at the foot of the slabby rib, I repeated my previous exertions, Rocking the flake back to front-side to side-back to front-side to side. There was definitely more movement.

With enough momentum, the flake would fall into the containing gully on the right. With Liam safely tucked away 45 degrees from where it would fall, I concentrated my efforts into rocking it back and forth. Every push increasing the wobble factor by an inch or two. Finally, the hideous fang ripped from its socket but to my absolute horror, it defied gravity and twisted away from its intended destination and in an explosions of grass and shards of splintered rock, headed straight for Liam!

At this point, Liam was about 30‘ away at the base of the rib and I still had time to scream a warning...What was it..’LOOK OUT’..’BELOW’..’RUN’!!!...who knows. Whatever I shouted,it was enough for Liam to press himself into the rock as the rotten flake glanced off the rib just above his head and practically parting his hair-he swears he felt the wind rush as it passed over- exploded into the field of scree beyond.

White faced and white knuckled with horror -as was poor Henry posted on the arete opposite where he was on photo duty- in the words of the man 'I got my shit together' and on auto pilot, completed the route as Stonecrop (Direct) .

Years later, I still shudder at what might have been. There are some things far worse than death and accidentally reducing your child to a pulverised mass of blood and shattered bone is one of them!

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