I wrote this piece in 2016 for CLIMB magazine and after rediscovering it this morning thought I’d add it for anyone interested in seeing how an 8B (at the time of writing) boulderer got on spending a day at Gogarth in North Wales. Enjoy!
I am boulderer; my apprenticeship was in bouldering and that’s what I enjoy. I have dabbled in gritstone trad for a month or two over a ludicrously warm and wet winter and I tried to like sport climbing once in the Frankenjura but my heart lies in pulling hard on small holds on steep overhanging rocks.
I think if I were to delve into another side of climbing it would definitely be trad, and not just grit ‘place apiece of gear and run away from it’ style trad but the more adventurous stuff. The stuff with big walk-ins; lugging all your gear with you, camping under the stars in the wild before setting off up a whopping, great chunk of granite in the middle of the back of beyond. I realise that this is the polar opposite to bouldering, and I would need to be babysat andI would find it extremely hard but the adventure really appeals to me, or at least I used to think it did.
This summer we ended up booking flights to Australia; I would mainly boulder, but the routes looked so good that I couldn’t (k)not tie in, excuse the pun! But here’s the catch, many of the routes here are a mix of bolts and trad gear. Having placed very little gear between us, Mina and I thought it wise to get a crash course in how to fiddle in a wire and place a cam correctly. That’s where our housemate, well ex-housemate now, Katy Whittaker, bravely stepped in to help us…… or maybe rescue us would be a better turn of phrase.
My word count is slowly creeping upwards so let’s fast-forward to a beautifully sunny weekend in mid May. North Wales is our chosen destination; a day at the Grochan in Llanberis Pass to break us in and then off to Main Cliff at Gogarth for the meaty stuff. Everything I have ever heard about Gogarth is positive; from the situation and the rock, to the movement and the sense of adventure that it brings to the intrepid. Needless to say I was frothing; however upon arrival the psyche and froth quickly fizzled out only to be replaced by intimidation and fear. Main Cliff was huge, even the walk down to the base of the crag left my knees wobbly, my teeth chattering and my heart somewhere, well somewhere it shouldn’t be. My macho façade, I’ve climbed E9, was nowhere to be found and I was really worried about the prospect of leading a route. Now some might say leading rather than seconding my first route on Gogarth was a foolhardy idea but both Mina and I wanted to learn to place gear, to decide where was best and what piece was most suitable, so leading seemed to be the best idea.
Alex Haslehurst chose our route for the day, Resolution Direct, and in hindsight it was a great choice; (mostly) bomber rock, lots of gear placements and a whacking great belay ledge with enough room to swing a cat, have a party or hold up other climbers trying to squeeze in an extra route before tea, sorry Andy and Brian.
Alex, having done the route before, was confident that “the boys” would go first, which meant me leading off into the unknown, as the guide didn’t make it too clear where the belay was and Alex couldn’t quite remember; “errrr somewhere up there and left I think” was his answer. The girls could see the fear on my face; I had never climbed 45 metres before and not only that but I had to place my own protection to stop me plummeting towards the ground when my forearms gave up in a ‘pumped out of my mind’, ‘chicken winging’ mess! So here is where I say thank you to Mina and Katy for suggesting that perhaps they should go first; after all Mina can hang on for much longer without getting pumped and therefore figure out how to place that fiddly piece of gear and not plummet to the floor.
After a ridiculously long lead, Mina reaches the belay ledge and Katy seconds her up. It’s my time now and so off I set into the unknown, well slightly known after watching Mina and Katy waltz their way up it. And do you know what? It wasn’t too bad after all; Alex said mostof my gear would have held a fall, and I only got a little pumped and I even got a chance to pull on that infamous Gogarth beard along the way. However in stark opposition to Mina, and most trad climbers I imagine, when I got a bit scared or started to feel the lactic acid creeping into my forearms and calves I just soldiered on without placing gear with that “the sooner I get to the top the better type attitude”.
At the end of our 8 hour mission, yes you heard me correctly, 8 hours on one route and as the sun began to set I looked back on a day filled with mixed emotions. I was proud of what I had achieved but disappointed at how little I was able to enjoy the experience. I know practice makes perfect and practice is what I need to not be intimidated. Having said that I haven’t been trad climbing since and I am not sure I’ll be rushing back to it but maybe when I get bored of smaller rocks or too injured and old to pull as hard as I want I’ll try again, after all trying is all we can do.
Huge thanks to Katy and Alex for their patience, knowledge and taking the time to teach us a thing or two.