I Am Not A Rock Climber

A few years ago, on holiday near some mountains, they called to me and I managed
to get in a day’s walking in the hills. Despite the fact that I hadn’t been let
loose in the hills since being a student in Wales over twenty years previously, I
had a really good day. Ten hours worth of sunburn and aching legs from ten hours of
walking after twenty years of inactivity didn’t detract from my happy mood.

So I was hooked again. Hill walking was now my thing and over the next few years
I managed to get the occasional day in the hills, mainly on holiday when I could
get away with leaving my girlfriend browsing the shops or whatever it is they

Time went by as it does, until one October weekend a year and a half ago, when I
decided to do a leisurely Welsh 3000’s over three days. This inevitably meant that
I had to do a bit of scrambling: Tryfan’s North Ridge being the first, then the
Crib Goch traverse. The latter was a somewhat slow and careful traverse on my part.
As the rest of the party disappeared into the cloud and rain, I picked my way
carefully, noticing how the little spikes on the crest of the ridge were loose, and
struggling to find the sparse and slippery footholds that were somewhere below and
mainly out of sight due to my fervently hugging the rock in front of me.

Time again passed by, during which the ordeal of my traverse of Crib Goch had
expanded into an epic tale of one man’s struggle to overcome all adversities and
difficulties to eventually triumph… The next summer, I went back to do a
scrambling weekend, led by the same guide as before (let’s call him Ian, as that’s
his name). First I went back over the Crib Goch traverse on my own. I’d like to say
that what had looked difficult before now looked easy, but I can’t, as it was both
raining hard and blowing the best part of a gale. I did the whole of the ridge
without seeing another soul and spent most of the time wishing that I were
somewhere else. Anyway, we then went on to do three days of scrambling in mostly
nice weather and I have to say that it was fun. I was now hooked on scrambling. At
one point, we returned over Crib Goch, having done the Clogwyn Y Person Arete and I
couldn’t help noticing how enormous the ledges and steps were or how little the
sense of exposure really was. Oh well, another epic tale diminished!

Over the next while, I did more scrambling, got a bit better, got to lead a
grade three scramble under supervision this last April and generally got to know my
way around the rocks and ropes. Having said which, I haven’t found it that easy to
make rope work second nature or to think of putting protection in at the right time
and think of all those things that have to be right or you die. I am, I think,
getting better.

At any time so far, when asked or for that matter not when asked, I always made
a point of saying that I’m not at all interested in rock climbing, it’s just not my
thing. In any case, I always knew that in truth I wouldn’t be any good at it.

So that brings us to the month of June. A friend, called for reason’s that will
remain unexplained ‘Boz’ and who had been dabbling in rock-climbing, arranged with
the aforementioned Ian to meet us at Ogwen at 9.00 one morning, which we did. Ian
brought a spare pair of rather old rock boots, which were only one size too large
for me but I was grateful nevertheless.

So we set off up the path, hoping to do one of the classic easy routes on
Tryfan’s east face. As luck and the fact that it was a Wednesday morning would have
it, Grooved Arete was left carelessly unattended, so we stopped at the base of it.

As I tried to work out which way up my harness went and for once got it right
first time, I looked up at the start of the route. Now, I reckon that for most of
you climbers, the start of Grooved Arete is about as intimidating as a fluffy
kitten. To me however, it looked hard, like a scramble that had all the footholds
removed and had been tilted up by some unexpected movement of the mountain.

Ian attached himself to two ropes, with us tied to the other ends and set off up
the first crack. I realised from his effortless progress that it was all an
illusion; it was all really easy. Once he’d belayed and we’d exchanged the usual
shouts of ‘That’s Me!’ and so on, as us experienced climbers do, Boz set off. After
a minute or two of grunting and struggling from Boz, I realised that it wasn’t
going to be all that easy after all.

In fact, the only real difficulty that I experienced on that first pitch was
getting my left foot jammed in that first crack about six feet from the start. Our
shouted climbing exchanges now included ‘Hang on’ and ‘I may be some time’. Apart
from that, things went well, with me pulling back to get as much weight as possible
onto my feet, probably giving me about three times the grip that I really needed.
Anyway, ‘exhilarating’ is the word that’s needed here.

At this point, Ian very kindly offered me the lead on the second pitch, a chance
at which I grabbed with enthusiasm: “Err, I suppose so, err, all right then.” With
Ian watching over me like a man on an abseil rope, I set off up the second

Anyone familiar with Grooved Arete will know that the second pitch is the
easiest on the whole route, as I later realised. It’s also one that Ian could
abseil directly down alongside; he obviously didn’t intend to let one of his
charges climb into trouble. The only real difficulty was that Ian insisted on me
putting in just about all the protection that he’d loaded me up with at the start,
at intervals of about six inches (or so it seemed, standing on tip toes wanting to
make one last desperate effort to reach the belay point). In reality, like all the
pitches, the right word was ‘exhilarating’. I managed to set up a belay and bring
Boz up on two ropes without apparently making any mistakes, not that I can remember
much of it.

After that, Ian led us up the remaining six pitches. I recall that somewhere in
the middle where there’s a short scramble between pitches we stopped for a bite to
eat. I said that what I really dreaded was open exposed slabs, which seemed to
cause some amusement on the part of Ian.

A little later, as my head appeared above the edge of what looked suspiciously
like an open exposed slab, Ian told me that this was called the Knight’s Slab, the
route having been likened to that of a knight’s movement across a chessboard. ‘Oh
really!’ I said, stepping up onto it. In fact this turned out to be quite easy but
it certainly looked good. I think the hardest bit was actually a bit below there,
although for me, when we got near the end of the last pitch, I managed to make
strenuous work of what was probably quite easy, so I was blowing hard when I
finally got to the end.

So, I’ll have to revise my position on this topic. I now don’t want to be a rock
climber who does anything much harder than that. Perhaps a bit harder, I’ll

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