Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Better in that out!

February is not the best time of year to be a climber based in the south of the UK. Dreams of pristine white slopes and curving ribbons of ice must be preceded by endless hours studying the spatial variation in surface quality and number of pot-holes per km on the M5 and M6 motorways. I mean there are only so many crappy sandwiches and red bulls that can be forced down before motivation begins to crack.. Sure, there is a whole lifetimes worth of climbing around the West Country but sometimes it’s good to have a change of scenery to prevent turning yourself into a fair weather climber! The change this weekend was a compromise as original plans of a Scottish adventure were inexcusably thwarted by jobs and logistics. Snowdonia seemed like the obvious choice. The optimistic side of me couldn't risk tempting sods law and so I packed my winter gear knowing that if the weather crapped out this would probably be the main reason why..
Looking across North Stack at Gogarth on a wild winters day. Not much ice here though!
The anticipated weather in the lead up was shocking with heavy rain/snow and storm force winds forecast to batter the mountains the entire weekend. An imminent thaw threatening to swell rivers and bogs to beyond bursting point combined with that atrocious forecast meant the winter gear would be staying exactly where it was - in boot of car! This left us with one option, a visit to seemingly the only place in the UK with a 'reasonable' forecast – Gogarth. A combination of weather, injuries and personal preference (not just on my side I’d add!) resulted in a long list of squeeze chimney routes being drawn up. Perfect! Better to be inside a warm chimney than sat outside in the freezing cold!

The first route we opted for was a big chimney down by Wen Zawn with an even bigger reputation – The Trap (HVS 4c).

An extract from UKClimbing.com with some colorful commentary on the logistics of the chimney..
Looking down the notorious first pitch of The Trap (HVS 4c) with our starting ledge
being smashed by the swell. Guess we'll be saving that for another day!

Rafe gunning for the warmth of the sun on the top pitch of The Trap (HVS 4c)
The route climbs a huge open chimney/rift up the plumb vertical promontory adjacent to Wen Zawn with the climax of the route being where it narrows to a squeeze just short of a belay ledge. It then continues up the cliff along the same line however as an off-width. We tossed a coin at the top, which unfortunately for him; Rafe won, meaning he was lumbered had the honor of leading the crux squeeze. We set up the abseil and over he went. No sooner had he disappeared did the walk-talkies we were using crackle into life. Through the deafening crash of the sea and the roar of the wind he managed to communicate that we had completely neglected it being the highest spring tide of the year and that the starting ledge (usually above the high tide mark) was being battered by all the power the Irish Sea could muster. Flummoxed, he re-ascended the rope and set a belay at the top of the first pitch. With us determined to do something, I followed him down then we climbed up the off-width pitch and went in search of something a little less tidal.

Bloody Chimney (HVS 4c) climbs a varied line up behind a large detached buttress at Upper Tier in 3 pitches, sharing the last with The Vice (VS 4c), another chimney we had done before. The route was absolutely fantastic and best of all, the start wasn't under water! It was an absolute belter and a total test of perseverance.. In fact, Rafe commented that ‘being beaten up by Mike Tyson would probably be more pleasant’. I have no idea what he means.. It’s a great route and has got to be a 'classic of its genre'.  

Rafe getting involved on the first pitch of Bloody Chimney (HVS 4c) at Gogarth Upper Tier

Deep inside the cleft on the second pitch of Bloody Chimney (HVS 4c)

Usually in life your advised not to go towards the light...
In this instance its pretty fundamental!
The following day the forecast couldn't have been worse. As an outdoor enthusiast you can see through the pessimism of normal forecasts however there are occasions when you can tell it’s going to be an unpleasant day, especially when they use phrases such as ‘persistent downpours’ and ‘impeded mobility’ or my personal favorite ‘tortuous conditions’. It wasn't a day for anywhere really. The silver lining was a small weather window from between 06:30 and 09:00 on the Sunday morning where ambient air temp will be above freezing and the front containing the snow won’t have arrived yet.

A moody day in Ogwen. Walking into Clogwyn y Tawr with the storm rapidly approaching.
Running on a similar theme of masochism from yesterday we opted for Monolith Crack (S). A notorious route located in the Ogwen Valley and yet another under-graded squeeze chimney. After arriving at the second pitch, where the fun begins, we realized it might not be ideal conditions when we had to move snow off the ledge to make a belay.. We spent hours getting spat out by this pitch which wasn't just wet, it was actually alive! Clearly the inch thick greenery growing on the walls was going to be an issue out of season! Swapping leads to take breaks the weather began to deteriorate and before long outside the chimney a blizzard was lashing the hillside. With one final ounce of effort Rafe managed to beat the pitch which landed us below the crux. After seeing the level of snow pouring down the crux chimney from the top out we retreated back through the storm to the car.

Rafe squeezing up the first pitch of Monolith Crack (S)

Looking up the second pitch with Rafe fully engaged in battle! 

Me 'busting a gut' trying to get some purchase on the slime!

Deteriorating conditions just before Rafe manages to break through!

Success! An avalanche coming down the next chimney meant it was time to bail!

About the most awkward abseil in the world!

Bailing off in a blizzard

With it still being early and not wanting to finish on a defeat we regrouped, grabbed our big boots and headed over to Clogwyn y Bustach to snatch an ascent of the infamous Lockwood’s Chimney (Diff). By this point it was raining on a biblical scale so we opted for two sets of waterproofs each! The route climbs up a corner system just right of ‘the marble arch’ to the base of a huge leftward trending chimney. This then follows a devious line behind the crag to just below the top. A final airy pitch sees you at the top. It was a bit like climbing up a waterfall with icy water continually running down sleeves chilling you to the bone, thankfully however we had a strenuous chimney to warm us up! A quality route and well worth the bush-whack to find it!   

Looking up at Clogwyn y Bustach from the base in the rain. This crag is more veggie
than a vegan restaurant!

Rafe rocking the oil skins ready for the onslaught of Lockwood's Chimney!

Taking the 'direct route' into the start of the chimney pitch.
Preparing for whats to come! Should have brought some goggles.

Getting involved on the chimney pitch. I think it would have been direr in a swimming pool!

Rafe nearing the end of the 'light' at the end of the tunnel!

Looking through the gloom down the final pitch of Lockwood's Chimney. A walk in the
park compared to the 
A great weekend out in 'less than idea' conditions but we made the best of it! Thanks to Rafe for the photos of Gogarth.

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