How hard can it be? Well, according to the guidebook…

Andy finds a V. Diff with attitude

Any Hansler – December 2007

After a flurry of emails and texts it was agreed that my partner in rock climbing excellence, or should that be rock terrorism, Mr Rafe, and I would meet at the infamous Dol-gam, Capel Curig campsite. Yes, the famed campsite that comes complete with quadraphonic sheep sound effects (steady Mr Krug) and the dulcet tones of a handy built-in running river. Oh, and not forgetting the farmer who appears smiling at your tent entrance wanting payment at some ungodly hour in the morning.

After packing most of my kit the night before with the idea of an early start a self-induced disaster slowly began to overtake all my plans and good intentions!

After a series of delays I was successfully ambushed by my World of Warcraft PC game (I only meant to check my emails, honest governor). After a sustained tussle I was able to escape this torrid virtual landscape and re-enter the real world. Oh crikey, fiddle sticks and all that; I was behind schedule and much, much worse Mr Rafe was on my case! He had sent a text message to say he had already arrived at the campsite. I was shocked as he even had the audacity to ask deep and penetrating questions such as what time was I expecting to arrive there.

A hasty text, and an even hastier exit, and I was off and running; the car was revving, its stereo cranked up to the max heaving out Scandinavian black metal vibes, and my leaden right foot stomping on the accelerator hard. I didn’t exceed 100mph once, well maybe once but don’t tell anyone.

Good progress was made until opportunistic feeder Andy was led astray and, as if by magic, drawn into a midpoint service station for some of their world-class cuisine (not), a suitably large coffee and an even larger bill out of all proportion to the meagre peasant-level fodder produced. Fully caffeinated up I was suitably wired to carry on towards North Wales at breakneck speed.

I finally descended on the campsite at 23:30hrs or was it 00:30hrs where Mr Rafe, the hero and scholar that he is, was still awake and able to offer a tin of beer which I felt duty bound to accept so as to honour the rules of hospitality. My God, this was North Wales in October and I able to put my tent up with no rain; had I entered a strange and mysterious alternative Wales? Apparently not – I had missed the rain by a few hours as was evidenced by my now slightly soggy camp shoes. Some discussion was held with talk of an easy first day with an easy (beer talk there) VDiff up on Glyder Fach main face as a warm-up to be followed by something harder.

Retiring not soon afterwards we were to be kept awake by lashings of rain in a much more traditional Welsh setting. Alas we ended up rising a bit later than planned; oh well, “best laid plans” and all that. I must stress that the late start was nothing to do with sheep or beer. Every cloud has a silver lining as we opted to use this as the ideal excuse for a trip to the gear shop and a deluxe, super-healthy (?), heart-attack-inducing fried breakfast. Once again both gear shops were sold out of the items I wanted, although this didn’t in any way hamper the bumper gear fondling session, one shop was even visited twice! After re-lacing my boots and carefully stowing my recently purchased energy bars in Dave’s glove box we were off.

We set off from the car park at about 10:30 – 11:00hrs for the hike up to Glyder Fach. We took a fairly direct line of attack yomping up past Milestone Buttress on Tryfan, then contoured off towards our target just before the Bristley Ridge / Bwlch Tryfan area. On route to the Glyder Fach main face area we came across a fantastic looking bouldering area with oodles of crack problems, from finger to hand to full-on off-widths. We may enter the dark side and return here at some point for a dedicated boulder session as this looked like far too much fun to ignore.

Gaining a bit more height we were able to cross the scree slopes at their narrowest points; always a disappointment that, as we all know much fun scree slopes can be. We were at the base of the climb by about 12:30ish. It was at this point I now remembered that my energy bars were still in Dave’s glove box, in Dave’s’ car at the blinkered blink blank car park. But Mr Rafe being a total gent offered me some of his grub. Geared up with both ropes flaked we were ready for action! Dave was especially excited as I had managed to coerce him into a first taste of the dark connoisseur art of big boot climbing.

Out came the guidebook for a final consultation. The trusty Ogwen and Carneddau tome describes Chasm Route ** (IMC star junkies take note) as an honest old fashioned climb that demands a workmanlike approach and according to its pages it even has a “famous” named crux pitch called “The Vertical Vice”. The new Ground Up North Wales guide even goes as far to make wild claims about The Vertical Vice typically requiring the considerable expenditure of energy and then trying to scare off would-be pundits with mention of a difficult finishing crack once past the terrors of the vice!

Oh well, how hard could it be (very difficult according both guidebooks, apparently,) and what could possibly go wrong? After all this was only a seven pitch VDiff with an easy and obvious descent route on what was to be a warm up on for an attempt on Lot’s Groove…

Things finally got off to a slow start at some unspecified time – we had both tucked our watches away in our rucksacks at the bottom of the climb for safe keeping. We decided to link the first two pitches together for speed although this was negated by Dave having an extremely fun time experimenting with the sublime skill of climbing in big boots. It must be said that his progress was assisted (not) by jocular comments wafting up from the belay stance. What was the hold-up? Why was he taking so long? Ah, now was my chance to show him how it should be done – enter Mr Hansler, devourer of VDiffs. Umm, this seems a bit thin, bold in places, crikey that felt a bit stiff for VDiff I thought to myself feeling a bit humbled. Quickly taking the gear I set off up the pitch that gives the climb its name; a steep and smooth sided beast that is greatly assisted by a crack on the right, the anatomical advantage of long arms and some slightly unorthodox manoeuvring. This was all proving to be great fun. Even more fun was finding some puddles on the ledge right were I wanted to plant my hand as well.

The next few pitches went quite smoothly but it was noted that the cloud cover was dropping a bit and it seemed darker than it should be. A quick check and yes, we had both left our head-torches in our rucksacks, obviously to keep our watches company. Dave arrived at the base of the “Vice” pitch and shouted down encouraging words to the effect of “I’m glad that you’re going to be leading that”.

I was now ready for whatever this “vice” thing could throw at me; and hah, that didn’t look like much. I squirmed into a narrow greasy chimney, jammed a boot in and wriggled my way up towards a smallish opening through which some daylight was filtering, I then did the rock climbing equivalent of the breast stroke and pulled through into a strange little cave-like affair. Umm, I thought, as I realised the squirmy chimney thing wasn’t actually the “vice” bit of guidebook notoriety.

Looking up I could see a narrowing chimney / off-width thing. Balancing on the end of a pointy bit I stood up and bang, damn, my helmet was too big for the chimney. I crouched back down. Leaning out a bit more I went up again and was squished very solidly into the chimney / off width thing – a startling insight rattled through my brain, “that would be why it’s called a vice then!”

Crouching back down for the second time I unfolded the mental drawing board for a quick re-take; the escape to the right was an obvious cop out so I ruled that out but facing left I could make out a ladder of smooth handholds. Up I went again. This is hard I thought, down I came again. Next, squatting, I lent out at full arm’s-length so I was almost outside the chimney / off-width monster and grabbed a hold with my left hand and heaved upwards in a “workmanlike fashion” and wedged my feet behind me.

What followed was a torrid battle using a technique best described as “chest and footing” that included expanding my chest so my upper torso acted as a cammng device. At one point my upper body was cranked round about 100 degrees with respect to the orientation of my legs (one of which was momentarily stuck under an unhelpful flaky bit) as I followed the handholds up and to the right. This was new, I have never been pumped on a VDiff before. But then suddenly whoa, I was free from this menace from the land of Wales and the glory days of tweed climbing. Where did I put my pipe?

Hah hah, the final difficult crack was there right in my face; a nice big beast splitting into a Y shape in its upper reaches and yes, it was polished to a very high standard. It looked like someone had really gone to town on it with the Pledge. So right at the best possible moment, as I was halfway up, the rain came down and out came a fair few swear words and up came some laughter from the belay. Wedging in I found a solid chock to pull on with another one conveniently higher and behind. Grabbing the second chock stone I was somewhat alarmed as it suddenly moved towards me and attempted to escape the crack. Luckily my feet were cammed in solidly and I had a bomber right handhold. Heart inserted back into my chest up I went again. Finally at the belay station I was able to relax and collapse into a jellied heap.

Dave came thundering up after the belay had been set up but not without some grunting and noises of protest it should be added. Once we were both safe the belay was dismantled at the speed of light and the ropes coiled even faster. Optimistic talk was even bandied about getting to the pub for a decent meal; thoughts of doing Lot’s Groove had long since evaporated in the salivating jaws of The Vertical Vice. Damn, it was getting dark. Off we merrily went to locate the obvious and easy-to-find descent route in the now very poor light. Buggernuts! Someone had stolen it, probably the sheep.

At last we found a gully of some description and we carefully started down using the time-honoured fairy step technique. After much tentative blundering about we found a large ledge with some rather decent “ab tat” helpfully attached to a large flake. Looking across I could see where we were, height- wise, in relation to the Chasm Route. A brief consultation with the guidebook confirmed we had enough rope to reach “dry land”.

Setting up an abseil point with care I led off into the dark, down what seemed quite a steep face. Once I was clear of the ropes Dave followed. Leaving Dave to sort the ropes I tiptoed across to our base camp skirting around the top alphabet slab. Eventually the sacks were discovered and head torches recovered.

Going back was a bit harder as I could now clearly see the drop off from the traverse, or part of it as it disappeared into the mist. Dave was somewhat relieved to have his head torch back in his possession. The first rope had been pulled through, freed and coiled; however, the other rope wasproving to be a bit more problematical. Much cursing would have been heard if anyone else had been silly enough to be sheep hunting climbing in this area at this late hour. After 30 minutes of trying to free it by various and devious means an executive decision was made to abandon the damn thing.

After reclaiming our sacks and de-gearing it was about 20:30 or thereabout and quite dark. Our master plan for navigating out was to go generally right and down, not so easy as it was now darker than a dark thing and the cloud cover / mist had reduced our illuminations’ effectiveness to about 5 – 10 metres. So off we went generally forward and to the right as planned, using the slope as guidance and hoping find Cwm Bochlwyd at some point, and then to locate the path from that. After some careful down-climbing and backtracking, and possibly chasing our own tails we managed to identify a large grassy slope leading us straight down to the even larger boggy expanse in which the lake most be hiding.

After crossing a rather slippery boulder and gingerly stepping through the follow-on bog I turned to warn Dave, but alas I was too late, Dave disappeared up to his waist with a loud splosh. Of course I didn’t laugh…

At last we found the Cwm Bochlwyd from which we were able to take a bearing and find the missing path. Good progress was made until the path vanished, re-appeared and vanished again and again. But now we were on the final leg of the journey. At one point I made a snappy comment (apologies Dave) which in hindsight was good indication that the blood sugar levels were dropping due to a lack of sustenance; sugar, spice and all things nice. After a while and the odd trip we decided to have a break; no point in getting a busted ankle in the last 30 minutes!

At last we made it back to the car and wasted no time in raiding the glove box for the energy bars; feeling much revitalised we demoralised ourselves by checking the time – 00:30hrs. With no more to-do we rushed back to the campsite and set to cooking some food and cracking out some beers (cheers again Dave). Of course it decided to start raining but then stopped after we retreated to the safety of the tents.

The next day we went to Idwal Slabs for easy day; Tennis Shoe seemed a bit greasy so we opted for The Ordinary Route. We generally followed the line of The Ordinary Route, but climbed the slab to the left on the first pitch and following a more direct line higher up. This time the descent was much more civilised although the gully was a bit wet. And yes, this time we did make it to the pub for some well-deserved beer, and we stuffed ourselves stupid. Damn the temptations of the desert menu.

On the final day “Operation Rope Rescue” was launched. The offending rope was recovered without too much fuss and we were able identify our earlier descent path. Off we went to have a look at the Llanberis Boulders, but alas a boulderfest was not destined to occur as the weather finally broke. Saying goodbye and getting back into my car I prepared myself for the highly inspirational journey back to flatland Suffolk.

Anyone wanting a good old-fashioned climb should look up Chasm Route; it has a lot to offer; lots of varied climbing and an exciting and bizarre crux. Personally I would give this three stars and the not the guidebook two. But be warned, I’ve climbed VS routes with easier crux moves than this! So this definitely looks like one of those VDiff’s you should breeze once you are leading VS routes on a regular basis.