Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Adventure climbing: Beyond the world we know


He's a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

The Beatles

One thing that’s always struck me about Pen Llyn-The Lleyn Peninsula- is just how relatively unexploited the areas climbing potential is. True, in the past, people like Joe Brown and Tony Moulam have thrown up a few routes and Pat Littlejohn has certainly made a mark on the sea cliffs hereabouts, but apart from visits from latter-day rock jocks like Calum Muskett and James McHaffie, there is still whole swathes of rock which awaits exploration.

Take the area around
 Nant Gwrtheyrn on the north-west coast. Driving down into the village I’m always amazed by the massive cliffs which capture the eye as you negotiate the zig-zag bends. These admittedly rather dank and vegetated cliffs which face out towards the sea must be at least 400‘ high. A cleaner section on the left-facing in- certainly looks like it would go but belays at the top look worryingly hard to find on the steep, heathery ground above.

If this section looks too much trouble to clean and equip with anchor points for an abseil return to base, what about the natural outcrops and quarries which sit above the village to the west? Looking up, its hard to take in just how much rock there is up there. Buttresses abound. Pale granite cliffs and man-made quarried areas tumble down the hillside in such a haphazard way that it’s difficult to focus on a particular area. It’s as if the climber’s brain cannot compute this much information and becomes literally stoned!



Perhaps that is why there is no history of climbing in these parts as there is just too much to take in? Although I suspect that more prosaic reasons are behind the areas’ neglect? For a start, access is not easy. The crags and quarries are scattered across the steep hill side in such a haphazard manner that getting from one area to the next is not easy. When I set off to look at a promising face, I found myself on a moving belt on loose scree and ankle snapping larger rocks which had me most of the time on all fours. Grasping at larger rocks, heather, and bracken as I set off small avalanches of scree with every footfall. Once I had reached my destination, weighed up the potential and set off across the hillside to look at other areas which looked promising, it became easier said than done. Some of the quarries had sheer drops which meant that you had to re trace your steps and try and find a way down. 

Finding myself on one quarry face, I noticed that it tapered down towards a gully at the far end. Perhaps I could scramble down and reach the scree at its foot. Taking my iPhone out of my back pocket in case I slipped back and smashed it, I carefully put it in a lower front pocket of my cargo pants. ‘Carefully’..not quite. Next thing I noticed was my phone tumbling down the gully to fortuitously land in the bobbing fronds of a clump of bracken which had rooted on a ledge. Tantalisingly out of reach, I downclimbed as quickly as possible and just reached it at fingertip length before it disappeared down the gully.

All these exertions were taking place on the lower reaches of the hillside. Exploring the higher slopes was not an option with the autumn sun fast disappearing over the horizon.It would take an age to take in every possible area of rock with climbing possibilities.

I doubt very much that the climbing potential of this area will ever be realized given how modern climbing is increasingly focused on accessible, established areas and no one these days is interested in the type of adventure climbing that the crags and quarries hereabouts, lend themselves to. Perhaps a new climbing ethic will develop in the future? Climbers will tire of polished crags, sports climbs, and chalk-stained boulders and actually seek out these obscure, unexploited areas?

Virgin Llyn Granite

Perhaps in 2050, adventure climbing involving death-defying approaches, gnarly descents, dubious rock etc, all undertaken without having reference to information online or in a guide, will appeal to future climbers? That voyage into the unknown. Where just reaching a virgin cliff is an achievement in itself.Even before the climbing begins. Possible I guess, for as the world becomes more overcrowded and the great outdoors shrinks evermore. Battered by tourism, wind farms, pylons, dams, new roads, housing, forestry, shooting, and fishing, etc. Perhaps by then, these hard to access places will come into their own as places of sanctuary and sanity in an increasingly mad world and become-in a tiny country like the UK at least-the last redoubts of adventure.



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