Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Dinas Cromlech For Beginners

On a sunny Saturday in June 2013, Craig and I went to Dinas Cromlech. It was to be our first multipitch climbing adventure, on our own, without grown-up supervision, so we were considering one or two classic VDiffs to gain experience "out there". We arrived at 8am, a time that we thought would be early enough, at Cromlech Boulders just in time to bag the last parking space. In my pack was my brand-new, shiny, unscratched rack, ready for action: no more borrowed gear for me! To add to the atmosphere and experience, I had decided, in my wisdom, that I should ape, as closely as I could, the gear used by the first ascensionists of these routes. So with my La Sportiva Trango Alp boots on my feet (the nearest I could get to hobnail boots) rather than tight-fitting rock shoes, we started up the access path to the crag.

Flying Buttress VDiff

Pitch 1, Flying Buttress

We chose to begin on the Flying Buttress. Flying Buttress is a classic route in the true meaning of the word: enjoyable moves, flowing rock, not too difficult, but a tangible sense of adventure (mainly through overhanging exposure). In no hurry, we allowed another pair to go ahead of us to allow us to relax and absorb the atmosphere of the Cromlech City.

Craig led the first pitch, which in reality was a steep and slightly polished scramble. I led the second, which was more of the same, but slightly complicated by a short descending section into a gully at the end. Craig's turn again: pitch 3 begins with an exciting and exposed traverse around the cliff face, before heading upward to the belay point. Then, surprisingly (to me, anyway), he didn't stop. He managed to combine the sinuous (but straightforward) pitch 4 while using a single rope and introducing virtually no drag. I was impressed! This did, however, leave the final angled chimney pitch to me. I used a combination of classic sling usage technique and modern camming (use ‘em where you can!) to gain advantage over the early 20th century gentlemen climbers. It didn't make getting into the chimney any easier though, and I found that a traditional "beast" technique eventually won the day.

Spiral Stairs VDiff (Partly)

Pitch 2, Spiral Stairs: exposure included

Having polished one multi-pitch route off to our satisfaction, we were eager for more. The next VDiff on the Cromlech, heading back toward the path, is Spiral Stairs. This has a scramble for the first "pitch", one that has since become the main access for the famous E1+ routes like Cenotaph Corner and Cemetary Gates. Eager to practice our belay building, we roped up anyway and managed to partially obstruct anyone trying to access the aforementioned famous routes.

After the scramble, the second pitch was again Craig’s honour and again an exposed overhanging traverse. He appeared to be getting quite confident at this point! I cleared my belay and climbed past him and on toward "The Forest". Here we bumped into the team who went up Flying Buttress before us, and assumed that they were again on the same route as us: Spiral Stairs. It didn’t twig that we hadn’t seen them on the first 2 pitches. I waited for them to clear the belay below a very impressive, almost vertical "off-width" crack. At least, I think it was off width: it was definitely wider than a fist, perhaps even wider than a solid, modern, mountaineering boot.

Wrong Way

Not Spiral Stairs!

"Can I lead this one, Craig? You’ve had all the exciting stuff so far!", I begged. And so, with Craig’s resigned blessing, it fell to me to lead what I thought was the next pitch of Spiral Stairs. After the first couple of moves up a short pinnacle, I was having doubts. By the time I’d climbed about 10m with very tenuous gear, limited holds and an iffy sling, I was just thinking about how to get out of there. Can we ab out? No, I’d have to leave something behind. What’s my fall factor looking like? It's okay, apart from that narrow shelf about 2m below. Where are the hand holds? Can you smear in boots? Why are there so many perfect rock shoe holds?! There’s no way I’m calling mountain rescue, I know people on the Llanberis MRT! And they're busy enough as it is without worrying about muppets who exceed their abilities. Time to "Man Up" then!

Eventually, with the mantra “trust the shoes” ringing in my ears, I did indeed "Man Up" and plumped for a boot jammed in the crack, which was only just narrow enough, and stepped up for a positive hold. Phew, what relief! Big boots do have their place, just as they did on the First Ascent in 1931. After then, the climb was relatively simple, completed by my beasting several moves further to the top. Here I found a traditional 1930s belay anchor rock the size of a small car, solid and immovable. I walked the rope around it, clove-hitched in and prepared to belay Craig. He followed up shortly with the words, “there’s no way that’s a VDiff!”. Quite.


Happy clamberers

Once safe, we reflected on the North Wales Rock guide. It appeared that our route finding had been a little off, and in my excitement to see the other climbers I’d inadvertently followed them up Pitch 2 of Sabre Cut (VS 4c), which I have on good authority is "a hard pitch at VS too". Self-sand-bagged!!

After all the excitement, we picked our way delicately back down the loose and potentially lethal descent path. Following a brief chat with a "hypothermic" Stu McAleese concerning the dampness on Cenotaph Corner, we returned to the car then toddled off to the Heights in Llanberis for a self-congratulatory pint for out-smarting Nature and not becoming a Darwin Awards statistic.

Right, when’s the next adventure?