Later, on reflection and in hindsight, it’s often difficult to remember what exactly made you think something was a good idea in the first place. For me, the idea was to string together all four of Ken Wilson’s Classic Rock ticks on the Idwal slabs and walls above and complete them in one day’s outing. How I came up with this gem I cannot in all honesty remember but I knew that in Andy I had the perfect partner in crime and abject lunacy to undertake such a project.
As soon as I put the plan to him he was bursting with such enthusiasm and ideas that I began to wonder what I was about to unleash. I can only liken it to pressing the button and then, as you watch the cloud swell and continue to mushroom, wondering if pressing the button really was such a good idea after all!!
So the plan was set and in the weeks that followed the Classic Rock book was read thoroughly; we also studied three different guidebooks and one map (waterproof naturally). And then at last we had a finalised plan.
On the day itself we awoke at 4am like a couple of excited schoolchildren, but decided to stay abed until the allotted hour of 6am. A rare sight for an IMC meet greeted us as we emerged from our tent – IMCers were up and about; but rarer still, the sun was desperately trying to break through the clouds. Porridge was made and consumed, sandwiches packed and everything received a last check. And then we were off.
We arrived at the Ogwen Cottage car park at 07:16 – OK so the plan had slipped a bit, but it then took us less time to walk in than anticipated and we were cragside at 8am and seriously concerned that we would be excommunicated from the club for such keenness.
I elected to lead the first pitch of Hope as a) I had done it before and, more importantly, b) because I had seen the twin cracks at the beginning of the next pitch and had decided they were ideal for Andy!
Bearing in mind that things had not been going too well so far this year I wasn’t sure whether the slab start was the best idea, but I went for it anyway. And of course once that first piece of gear is placed the world seems a much sunnier place.
The first pitch was dispatched fairly quickly and Andy came to join me on my party ledge. We swapped gear and Andy set off on his pitch.
I must add at this point that the “bursting-at-the-seams-with-enthusiasm” persona was not limited to me. I began to wonder what I had agreed to as Caroline proceeded to organise the day’s assault on Cym Idwal with military precision. I was surprised that she had not brought along a Nobo Flip-chart to further enhance my briefing. I was getting concerned, very concerned, for our future with the IMC for not only were we planning arrive at the base of climb by around 08:30 hours but we were also planning to be back at car in daylight! As it turned out we were early, arriving at Cym Idwal at about 08:00 hours. After a quick gear faff (it’s tradition) Caroline was off, gliding up the first pitch. The race was on; looking back a swarm of climbers could be seen converging on the area.
A quick gear swap and I was off up the highly polished twin cracks that Caroline had generously presented me with as my first lead of the day . These turned to be quite pleasant with holds just where you wanted them even if one or two required a bit of a stretch. I arrived at the belay alcove and set-up ready for Caroline to attack the cracks which she did in fine style. So at this point I’ll hand you back over to Caroline.
Then came the third pitch. Quartz. Some sharp. Some polished. Some crumbly. Gear placement is not difficult on these classic routes. In fact it is trickier to find a gear placement that hasn’t been used time and time again. I was enjoying myself so much that I think I went past the belay ledge and kept going until Andy pointed out that I was rapidly running out of rope. I scouted round for a suitable nesting spot and prepared to bring Andy up. Another gear-swap and then Andy started the final pitch.
The third pitch as a “second” was a right little piece of sheep dung as the rope decided it wanted to nest in the crack just where the route turns a corner. No amount of “nice” words, threats of torture or bribery would persuade the rope to slither out of its little hidey hole so I had to climb up to free it before moving on. Luckily the second rope behaved itself.
The final pitch went on for ever and a day, turning out to be much longer than the view from below implied. However Caroline soon joined me on the more than ample ledge below Holly Tree Wall. We had a bite to eat and then Caroline was champing at the bit to crack on with Lazarus.
First tick completed we were ready for something to eat and had a quick snack while we perused the start of Lazarus.
It was my lead, but I messed up somehow and got myself in to a position from which I could not continue. The ledge below had become very crowded and some bloke was shouting his head off at something. At me apparently. I was off route. I belayed from where I was and Andy joined me to take over the sharp end. At this point some random bloke decided that he was leading Lazarus and started climbing towards us! His friends told me later that every time they go out with him he annoys everyone else on the crag. I cannot understand why they continue to climb with him but can only applaud their loyalty.
A wee bit of confusion was had in the start gully, Caroline was going the right way then some “gimp” started giving (unwanted) route advice which meant Caro’ was directed off route. The belay was set-up on second step of Start Gully, where gimpo had directed us. The move to start the second from this position was more like a 4c move as opposed to an un-graded (technically) Severe. A couple of up-and-down moments and I off. The random bloke who was making an effort to join me on Lazarus took the rather unsubtle hint that I wanted him **** off and elected to do another route nearby. The traverse bit is exceptional value at this grade and I can see why this is in Ken Wilson’s Classic Rock.
At my turn to second Andy’s pitch I had a mammoth struggle. The section that Andy had led I couldn’t climb and because the rope had got wedged in somewhere Andy could not take it in to protect my falling. Another climber downclimbed his own route, un-wedged our rope and I was able to do the move with a little help from my friend. I have no idea who the chap was but he has my most grateful thanks.
The Arête was my lead. We had watched some people previously coming in from the right and working left to the arête. Closer inspection revealed why. Guidebook consultation demonstrated that this was the designated route. At least I would have some gear placements. This route is extremely good value for VDiff. Towards the end I reached a section that was quite tricky. There was no gear and while I could get my hand on the hold, and the hold felt very positive, my back was screeching in protest. In normal circumstances I would have been able to stand on tippy toes, reach the hold and then smear like crazy to move up. My lower back was telling me in no uncertain terms that this would not be happening today thank you very much! I downclimbed a short way and stood and surveyed the situation. Ping! There it was. A small intermediate foot hold. Now if I could just get my foot on to that… As I topped out in whale-like fashion I felt a tremendous feeling of relief and achievement. The photo says it all.
As we made our way towards Grey Slab we decided that enough was enough and that it could wait for another day. A good decision as it turned out as the lads who had gone over to it told us that there were two teams on the route already and neither team were climbing very fast.
We returned to the foot of the Idwal Slabs and devoured the food that we’d left there.
Paddling in Llyn Idwal a short while later we decided that it had, after all, been a thoroughly good day out!