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Tryfan Trauma (2nd instalment)

Date: 23rd October 2005
Submitted by: Anthony Feeney

I was looking forward to this Wales trip - the plan was 2 days of climbing new routes with a few celebratory beers each evening. Things didn't start well on the Friday morning when the boss phoned about a problem at work. That delayed me picking up Ronan and Pete. Then when I pulled off at Lifford for diesel, the bridge repairs meant massive queues back over the border, so we tried to get to Marty's house in Omagh via Castlefin. Eventually got there half an hour late and kept the head down while Marty raced to Dublin.

Pete's 1970s book on Welsh climbing routes by Ron James was pored over on the journey and it was only at that point that I realised there wouldn't be any single pitch routes ths weekend. I got quite excited about some of the longer routes and was looking forward to leading a fair few pitches, something Pete had been encouraging me to do more of for ages.

Irish road signs were blamed for the minibus getting lost near Dun Laoghaire but we made the ferry. Then there were a few wrong turns on the way to Llanberris but we found the bunkhouse, unpacked and headed for the local pub, which was heavily climbing themed. So we supped and bragged and pondered the next day then headed back for a bit of a singsong, where Shane showed off his hidden guitar skills and affection for 1950s Country and Western and I threatened to sing Kumbayah.

The following morning we had a hearty breakfast, sorted out some lunch, packed into the minibus and headed up the Llanberris pass and into the Ogwen valley. Pete had chosen Grooved Arete as a classic enjoyable V.Diff. route on Tryfan for us two and we waved the others off from the roadside around 10am while they went off to Cwm Idwal. Aidan and Georgina accompanied us on the lower part of the slopes but we separated after an hour or so when Pete thought we should have been a little higher to find the route. It turned out we had been on the right path and with directions from another group we soon found the letters "GA" scratched into the rock.

Pete led the 1st pitch and bemoaned the well polished route made slippy by the previous night's rain, while I belayed and fielded questions from a few groups about the route, including one bearded old fella who was stripped to the waist in the chilly mist. As I seconded the 1st pitch a Canadian and English fella set up below me and quickly scuttled up after me. After I led the 2nd pitch they climbed quickly again to stand waiting. We'd stopped for a bite to eat and so offered to let them climb through. Pete led the short 3rd pitch and we walked the "grassy knoll" section to find the pair on the 4th pitch but going badly wrong. Instead of climbing the obvious rib they were scrambling about in a grassy gully to the right of it. After a down climb by the English fella Pete pointed out the correct route but he then couldn't find the belay point.

We were getting impatient and checking the time and I started on the route before the Canadian had climbed through his belay. I found a more obvious point slightly below them with a good stance so we didn't affect their climbing. Pete followed up and tried to make a start of the 5th pitch but couldn't do the move. He was tiring slightly after a few attempts so I had a stab and after a lot of armwork and elbow wedging got past the section only to regret ever having started. It started to rain and Pete's comment of "The hardest V.Diff. you'll ever do" rang in my ears. The rain meant that where ordinarily you could have smeared or at least found a little friction you had none and I used my arms more than my legs. I struggled to find protection and kept climbing higher to eventually find the stepover to the left where things got easier. I was well pumped at this stage and hoping things would be easier on the latter stages but Pete burst my bubble by explaining that the crux "Knight's Move" across the slab above us was yet to come.

I offered to lead this 6th pitch as well as Pete seemed more tired than I was and started off well. I found a nice groove for a largish hex and pleased that I was well covered started on the slab traverse. It was only as I reached the upper part of the slab that I looked down and horribly realised that I had clipped the wrong rope and the right hand rope had gone under the left, lifting my hex out of the groove. My last protection was now maybe 15 feet below but I could see a good spot for a friend about 3 feet above. I placed this and breathed a sigh of relief and tried not to think of the other nuts that had come out on an earlier pitch as Pete seconded. Did they come out as Pete climbed or as I passed them? Would they have held if I'd fallen? Unnerved I reached the edge of the slab to peer into a huge drop that looked to me like 1000 feet but was probably only 500. Only. The tiny belay point where I would spend the night was above me and although I found a good sling point and an average friend it was the most cramped place I've ever belayed.

Pete started the 6th pitch but shortly found that he'd gone off route and would have to down climb before traversing. He can fill in exact details on what went wrong here but he was so convinced he was going to fall that he had me prepped for this. So as I sat with my knees round my chin I worried about Pete swinging off into the drop below and whether the protection would hold. Fortunately it didn't have to but when Pete finally joined me on the tiny ledge he was visibly shaken and I wasn't any better. He asked me to lead the 7th pitch too but having led the last 3 and being just as shaken I wanted him to climb through. The hand holds above him looked OK but again the slippy rock wouldn't hold his feet and after a few aborted attempts we swapped the gear and I tried to climb a different way to the right of the ledge but couldn't either. By this time it was dark and we phoned Marty to let him know our predicament. I promised to have another go with the head torch on but the thought of climbing an unknown route in the dark freaked me out. All our woes were rattling round my head: the gear that fell out, the slippy rock, my tiredness, the dark, the drop below the ledge. Pete and I decided that we could only get off by abseil or by top rope. Abseiling worried us the most because we didn't know what were heading down into, having traversed far right of the belay point of the 6th pitch. So we phoned Marty and asked if he could help us out. Pete knew that he'd climbed the route before and was reasonably certain he could find us.

Marty, Peter, Ronan and George selflessly headed off into the dark and rain to look for us. Can't thank them enough for this effort - it was no easy task. Meantime 2 fellas who were night orienteering had spotted our head torches and asked if we were OK. They promised to wait for Marty and co. on the summit but when the guys arrived they couldn't see any torches, so they spent the next couple of hours searching for the route and listening for our whistle. Although they could hear the whistle they couldn't pinpoint us, even with Mark in the van in the valley below looking out for our two sets of lights and trying to steer Marty to us. It then began to rain again quite heavily and we were getting much colder and so we decided that Marty should take the group down and we'd phone Mountain Rescue. They quickly established exactly where we were and explained that they'd be with us in about 3 hours. Pete had little 2-way radios with him that we'd used to keep in touch on the route earlier amd we used these to keep in touch with the MR team. We learned that the whole Irish party were hanging round the MR base worried about us and it raised our spirits that a lot of people were trying to make sure we were OK.

The ledge we were on had limited room and by the time the team got to us I'd spent 9 hours alternately sitting on my hunkers and in a half crouch while Pete spent most of his time varying between 2 or 3 cracks that he had to tiptoe on. Added to this discomfort he had no truly waterproof outer layer and was wrapped in a bivvy bag for most of the night. We kept our spirits up by talking bullshit most of the night, lapsing into verses of Kumbayah (that old favourite), Sing Hosanna and Folsom Prison Blues (thanks Shane) when the conversation ran dry.

When KC from the rescue team was lowered down to us he probably had seen more relieved survivors but we were pretty damn happy to be hooked into his pulley rope. We were hauled upward and given chocolate and hot sweet tea, which I normally don't drink but gulped down gratefully. We helped the team gather their gear, offered to carry some and started the trek down. The long stand on the ledge had taken a lot out of our legs and we wobbled and bum-slid down the mountain with ever decreasing gaps between rest stops. The team were calm and understanding and often pointed the way out and made sure we stepped in all the right places. They arranged a big fry-up to be ready for us when we finally arrived and this was quickly scoffed, our last meal having been half a ham sandwich and a few Wine Gums during the night. Marty was waiting for us too at the base like a worried father, the poor man can't have slept much all night.

After a tour of the base and a lot of handshaking and thanks we headed back to the bunkhouse for a kip, where the rest of the group were getting up. A lot of them had stayed up late awaiting news and can't have slept too well but there was climbing to be done and after more handshakes and hugs they left Pete and me to crash. I awoke around 3pm when they returned and we packed up and headed for a feed at Pete's Eats then on to the ferry and home again.

Although I've touched on it at times I really ought to thank the boys for coming looking for us and Ogwen Mountain Rescue for delivering me safely back to my own bed. Ours was not the worst predicament any climber has ever been in but it wasn't a nice experience and I'm glad to have survived it. Although Pete is adamant he's giving up climbing it's made me more determined to get things right the next time I go climbing. Looking back we should probably have abseiled off earlier when we realised the difficulty of the wet route, the failing light and our own tired condition but I was over confident that we could finish the route and have something to brag about in the pub later. It was a hard way to learn a lesson on backing out of a route, the conditions for even starting a route and assessing the situation as a route progresses but the lesson has well and truly been learnt now.

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