Friday, 1 May 2015

The Baron and the Bolt Fairy

Today, Calum Muskett and myself climbed "The Baron" E4 5c,5a,6b,- in Twll Mawr. This line was one that Joe Brown attempted, and a line he still remembers to this day, one that got away.
He was thwarted in part by this death block, threatening to take out the entire party:
 .. Which I booted out on abb when cleaning the line in October. I'd been psyched for this line ever since Mr Brown had pointed it out during the slate guide research, and now that it was clean, I was just biding my time until weather, drainage, and a Monday or Friday morning aligned.

I will confess to dragging Calum along, as I didn't fancy a siege, and the top pitch did look a bit spicy.. I was however, going to give everything on the offwidth pitch.

This proved to be everything that I was hoping for, and as I arrived at Joe's high point I felt humbled; both by his efforts, and the gaping maw above.
Joe's Highpoint (hopefully to remain insitu)

Getting stuck in

This was my first lead since Twll love, and I felt fully out of my depth. Calum talked me out of cheating, and with the Camalot #5 pushed as far as it would go, I committed to a series of jams, heel hooks and expletives (in my head). This resulted in a scraping rockover full of rope drag, lifting me out of the maw into the sun above. I was Chuffed.
The drag was a bit too much to push on, so I belayed there and brought Calum up, who pushed on through instead.
The Baron follows a seam that slices the full height of the back wall in a clean direct line,

As I seconded the amusing "bramble crevasse" pitch (no bridge present, so you have to jump across) I noticed Calum was belayed at the Twll Love belay. The poor one.

I joked across about how many RP's he had in.

He replied "None, I'm clipped into these Bolts".

Deep in Bat Country, the Bolt Fairy had visited. It didn't stop there, the sharp arete immediately left of The True Finish now had a line of shiny 12mm's. Now this arete was the right wall of the seam we were following, the seam with abundant cam placements. The seam in a historically adventure trad area.

I didn't cry. I did moan. I knew this pitch well as I'd already cleaned it, and two things were clear to me at this point, Calum was going to have to lead this pitch as I was knackered, and this trad route was going to be spoilt a bit by bolts.

It was, but that shouldn't detract from Calum's efforts, the route follows the crack until a wild leap catches the arete, truly cool move. Once on the arete, its thin and unbalanced until you arrive back at the crack at the end of the steepness. trad gear then returns, but the bolts don't stop here. To my great sadness they continued up the line I'd cleaned, even up the easy and protectable dolerite finish.
Calum resisted clipping the first bolt he came too, but as things got spicy, he wasn't foolish enough to pass on some 12mm steel, and 2 bolts got clipped.

So there we go. A great line eyed for generations, spoilt by a sport route in the sky, I shudder to think what they were thinking.
However, as there was also a line of drilled holes and an insitu rope over by Long in the Twll, the pessimist in me concocts a worst case scenario of a line of bolts right across Hamadryad continuing through the crux of Twll Love.

Calum reckoned this pitch would have been E6 boltless.

Being nice
The sport pitch does look great, we did climb half of it anyway. its follows a great feature, one eyed by many and tackled in part by The Direct Finish. If only it was bolted a bit more sparingly and sympathetically with area and with its history, it would be a great, safe, and a sporting E4.

The Twll Love belay has made Twll love a lot safer, without removing much of its seriousness.

Bolt do have their place on this part of the back wall, Just Not Sport Routes.

Being cross
Don't people talk any more!! Don't people respect an area so steeped in adventure history, and fairly abundant in gear, that they think they can bolt anywhere they like.
Both previous bolting expeditions up the back wall have been characterised by active consultation, consideration and respect for the area. This seemed more like smash and grab.
Its not the first time; Igam Ogam, the Weetabix Connection... yes the routes they spoilt were already established, but the attitudes the same. Selfishness.
Just because its the quarries isn't a carte blanche to do what you like, regardless of what's gone before, and its potential for the future.

The Baron E4 5c,5a,6b,- 125m

1. 40m 5c. Follow Razor's Edge to the first bolt (best to run these first two pitches together now for RE as the belay tree has been dead for many years). Continue straight up to the offwidth bomb-bay chimney (Cam #5). Pull out left to a slab and belay above on a ledge. Thread and cam belay.

2.20m 5a. Follow the seam up to the Twll Love belay, via an amusing hop left over the seam, and a pit of brambles.

3. 45m 6b. Go up the crack until on top of the pedestal, where gear and some tecky fingertip jams allow a lurch onto the jug on the right arete, follow the arete to where it rejoins the crack, gear, and continue up the dolerite band above to belay on a ledge. Once on the arete you have the choice of clipping many bolts.

4. 20m -. Scramble off as for True Finish.

Calum Muskett, Mark Dicken 1/5/15

...So there it is Tick 1 complete.


  1. Chop them? An ethic is an ethic, and a principle a principle.

    1. Not sure I have the energy for that fight.. But the North Wales scene being as it is, I'm sure something will happen. I love Twll Mawr, but I can't be its sole defender.