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Demons Abolished

Date: 24th April 2010
Submitted by: Anthony Feeney

I was introduced to the thrill of clinging to a rock face muttering "What the hell am I doing here???" by a chap named Phil Magill. But it wasn't until I met a Welsh Derry-man called Pete Smith (some of you may know him) that I was encouraged into the effervescent satisfaction of leading a climb. Then came our greatest and final adventure on Grooved Arête back in 2005.

The full story of that fated climb is written elsewhere but as darkness fell on the tiny ledge after the Knight's Move I realised how little I knew about this rock climbing lark and cursed myself for getting into a fix for which I was so ill-prepared. During that long night we both resolved we'd never be in that situation again. Pete's answer was to give up climbing altogether but it galvanised me into learning basic rock climbing skills with Bren Whelan and my climbing career properly took off from there. Although I have the above people to thank, the Grooved Arête experience was a catalyst that has led on to big adventures like the Cuillin Ridge and smaller adventures like Black Thief on a summer's day. I've always wanted to return and settle the score with the route though.

Providence made it happen this weekend via an Icelandic volcano when I was forced to drive from Derry to Birmingham on the Dublin-Holyhead ferry. PJ suggested that having a car in Brum would be a waste with North Wales so close at hand so I arranged to pick her up on the Fri night ferry and booked the hostel at Conwy. Saturday was to be the better day so we were up at 7 after a short night's sleep and ascending steeply beneath Milestone Buttress shortly before 9. We stopped for a break and realised that a) I'd brought too little water and b) PJ had left the map and guidebook in the car. Lessons to learn but sure it's early in the season! Navigating by memory I took us too high and we had to down climb to Heather Terrace and the group of climbers ahead of us.

They were scouting for the "GA" scratched rock that indicates the start of the route but we spotted it first and cheekily geared up directly beneath to make sure we were first off. No queuing for us! The first pitch is a tight squeeze up a polished chimney followed by a polished slab and I already doubted the HVD grade. From the spike above I belayed PJ and she led through another tight chimney as the other climbers tried to gain on us by circumnavigating the first pitch and veering off to our left on the 2nd. They managed to stay out of our way though as PJ led on and on and on and on and on. When the 50m rope started to run out on what was supposed to be a 30m pitch I shouted up but got no reply. Eventually I decided to climb and, as I exited the chimney, finally spotted PJ on top of the 3rd pitch! Unconventional but it put us ahead of all but 1 of the 5 other groups now attempting GA.

The 4th pitch is a grassy walk and the start of the 5th pitch was well laid back so we moved together alpine style until it got steep again and I led off. This part of the climb was surely HS at least, especially that "delicate" step across the chimney to reach the Haven and I had flashbacks of leading it in dismal drizzle last time. We were making very good time and I led off the corner up to the Knight's slab. Memory is a notoriously unreliable thing but I could have sworn the slab wasn't too much trouble last time. Not so this time. The slab itself is fine but getting onto it was a tricky smeary step across and I used loads of gear before reaching the familiar ledge. It wasn't quite as small, steep and "hanging in space" as I remembered but it is quite polished and not exactly roomy!

It was PJ's lead and she tried the corner first and then the overhead blocks and there were a few fearful squeaks before she got up and through. Maybe the corner was the way to go because I found the blocks bloody difficult too and was glad to be on the end of a rope. The final corner was not to be sniffed at either and I pulled myself tiredly over the top. Overall I'd say the route is about HS, given the polish. There was supposed to be a final pitch but our Welsh "friends" were less than helpful about pointing it out and we'd no guide book so an initial attempt on a likely line was aborted. We just scrambled up to the top of Tryfan and had lunch in the 3pm sunshine surrounded by dib-dibbing scouts who were pledging allegiance to God and the Queen. Some lily-livered ramblers were attempting the jump between Adam and Eve so I did it 3 times to show off (so not like me!). We descended to the car park by about 5pm and scooted over to Betsy-Wetsy-Cowhead for pints.

Conwy is a very picturesque wee town, just south of Llandudno, with an impressive castle and city walls, though you have to beware of aged American tourists seeking heritage and history who can keep you chatting for ages uttering phrases like "We're Finnegans from County Armagh" and "You Irish are just so gosh-darned niiiiice!" Boke. PJ spotted a sign which said "No Climbing" and proceeded to climb the forbidden tower while I pushed my heart back into my chest. I looked around for a policeman to chastise such blatant law-breaking but there wasn’t one to be found.

Saturday’s sunburn encouraged me into shorts again on Sunday but by the time we got to the Tryfan Fach slab the rain had set in so we wiled away the morning in the Pinnacle Café and Joe Brown gear shop at Capel Curig. A wee drive to Llanberis ate up more time and by 2pm we were back at the crag just as the sky cleared. Unfortunately the guide book we’d bought didn’t include this wee crag and it took a friendly Yorkshire man to point out the planned 190m Severe / VS / VDiff multiple tiered route we’d planned was on a different crag altogether!

There was nothing above Severe on Tryfan Fach but they were all 60m – 80m long and the rock was drying nicely so rather than waste time we got stuck in. The rock has excellent cracks for use as gear placement and / or holds but the face also has overlapping flakes and edges which encourage you out of the cracks for a different kind of fun. I led both pitches of the 58m Slab 2 (S 4a) and PJ led the first pitch of 80m Right Rib (S 4a). In between we had a bit of faffing rigging up an abseil to descend underneath an airy boulder and down a gully. Tip: Lock off your belay device with a prussik and just swing under.

By the time the long second route was done it was 7pm and beer o’clock so it was back to Conwy via the only pub in Bethesda with a parking space outside it.

So: decent weather, great climbing, the best company and demons abolished. I think that's Grooved Arete put to bed. With a smacked arse. And no dinner..

26 Apr 2010

Good effort you two, sound like you had a great time.

27 Apr 2010

PJ to smart for your "spend a night out with me" moves,

27 Apr 2010

Good work. I'm delighted you got the Knight's Move - you did it so well last time when it was all wet and manky.

27 Apr 2010

An excellent report, it's always good to hear about troops having fun!

28 Apr 2010

Well done to both of you. A truely satisfactory end to long going saga

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