Wednesday, 24 September 2014

This is Bat Country....

After my taste of adventure with Calum Muskett in Twll Mawr, I must admit something clicked inside of me. A quiet reawakening, like a clock in a long silent room, suddenly resuming its slicing of time, tick tick tick tick tick. Or maybe like a long term vegetarian after a drunken kebab, I don't know...

I was keen for getting in the driving seat for some Adventure new routing, Twll Mawr had caught me again. Now I know that this was what I was doing with Calum, but going in packing a wad is a bit like cheating really, and I was keen to be fully immersed.

When I was Putting together this section for the Llanberis Slate guide, I was fortunate enough to go for a panad with Joe Brown. During our brew he pulled out some photo's and drew in the "almost" lines, adventures and probings that turned into retreats and memories. The Antiquarian, followed one of these lines (The Antiquarian Direct; pulled off by Calum and Jez Leong 5 days after our trip, straightens this and is a fine effort at solid E5). The old bolts we clipped, however, were on a corner line that Joe had attempted, to be turned back by loose rock. Having climbed in this vicinity with Cal, I was sure I could potter up this and with the Direct now done, separate out the lines.

With Ben sorted for a Monday attempt, I spent the weekend, plowing through pics of Twll Mawr, sussing potential weaknesses, planning the rack, and enthusing at all and sundry. Monday came around and the ticking in my head was almost audible, so pumped up for a step into the unknown. This is climbing. To me at least, the opportunity to put yourself into an unknown arena with unknown assailants and hidden obstacles, to succeed through planning and instinct and wits. Well, that's what I do it for. Now I can get that through bouldering, especially discovering new boulders, and climbing something outside of my comfort zone, but the type of adventurous new routing that Twll Mawr provides is the Colosseum to their playground skirmishes.

Pitch 1. 35m 5b. Start as for the Antiquarian. at the crack ascend this until it runs out then follow the slabby side of the corner above until a bolt is reached. Belay here with whatever else you can find.

Ben's pic of P1

I felt a lot happier leading this than with Cal as it was still in the shade and I found a Cam 3 slot at the start which prevented some feeling of doom, once out the top of the crack it all went into forced focus, and holds bright and hand drawn, looseness and threat doubly so, However, the drip feed of gear kept the tick tock at bay and eventually a lot later than I'd mentally rehearsed the bolt arrived.

Pitch 2. 25m 6a. Continue up the corner until it is possible to gain the slopey ledge on the left. Arrange meager gear, and force a rising traverse back right, dynamically across the corner (doubtful rock) to snatch a clean ledge on the steep side. Wriggle, throw and flop onto the ledge above. Belay of well equalized small wires.

Cal though this section of the Antiquarian warranted E4/5, I was with trepidation then that I lurched across the wooden corner. I would always agree that it is best policy never attempt something that you can't reverse. However, sometimes I disregard best policy and go for self belief, optimism, aggression and possibly a little carefully calculated psychopathy. However, a little goes a long way, and in this case it went a little way up instead of a long way to the floor. The nature of the back wall of Twll Mawr is that protection tend to be either solid faultline seams (rare) wooden and punkish corner faults (more common although less reassuring) or the cracks formed by massive chunks slightly separating from the back wall's main bulk. This belay was the latter.

Pitch 3. 30mish 5c/6a. Follow the left hand arete of the corner behind the belay easily at first with poor gear, until a committing step up to a sloping ledge (Cam 1 hidden on left) either take a large stride left and grapple into undercuts, or pull boldly upwards to a some poor gear and then scamper leftwards to a good foothold and undercuts (wire in a corner). Undercut wildly leftwards to the penultimate bolt of TDOS and mantel upto the bolt belay.

After pitch 2 I had originally intended to go up the cool looking crack line behind the grey slab of the true finish. Up close and personal it was clear this would need a clean on an abb before I would be prepared to commit. The same goes for the unifying crack system its part of, that arises out of the first pitch of Razor's Edge (indeed another Brown sortie repelled by death daggers, that led to the aid bolts and creation of Razor's Edge). The continuation of the corner system we were following was wide. the corner itself was wooden and bottomed out, the right arete a series of large blocky ledges of varnished slate, easy moves maybe, but past experience told me no gear and difficult to retreat from. The left arete looked full of holds and was a reassuring solid grey colour. Off I went, extolling it virtues while slotting away the RP's, then the slopes started, and the woodenness encroached forcing me away from the corner into steepness. Once I'd found the Cam 1, and remembering the benefits that pushing through provided on the previous pitch I laid one on and pinched my way up into the fins, hoping the steps would recommence. Nope, its flutings and eff all.

Bum, I realized I was in a little trouble here.. (Ben didn't until the next day when he reconsidered the nature of the belay he was relying on) a toe hook under the fin allowed a good shake out to consider my position. First, there's a shatter block in front of my face that may take a Cam, probably explode, but its something to do... Second, Smaug's sleeping over there, I can see the chalk, I can even see a foothold between us. Right. 1,2,3 Go (the old slateheads trick) pinch, hang,  kick press and into the undercut like your prizing the lid of a sarcophagus. Hairline seam in a corner framing a fang of broken rock. Flick! RP4. Okie Dokie, now look back through the razor fins, extend that rubbish cam to get the ropes clear. Right.. Serious Shuffling, then someone else's chalk, someone else''s route, someone else's bolt.
The Bugger didn't even grapple with the fins, with his lanky legs, and the nicely extended cam, he just sauntered underneath. (mental note: when seconding, make things look hard, or at least seem scared)

P4 etc. Continue as for TDOS.

We didn't. I'd done Smaug before, was late for work, over adrenalised, and the line above too populated with bolts for a "better" trad line to continue with any worth or quality. Besides Smaug is a good route, and easy to abb off.

I Think this is certainly one of the biggest onsight leads I have done, certainly up there with Taith Mawr, although the crux pitches of TM are easier, abet with less worthwhile protection and more irreversible moves. I've been musing for a while that TM is probably nearer E5 that E4, and along with my experiences on The Antiquarian, have led me to believe I may have onsighted my First E5.

However, my own self doubt sneers 'bound to be E4', and my lack of attempts on established E5's  are causing a lot of umming and ahhing.
Then again, no one's going to repeat it anyway...

Twll Love E5 6a
Mark Dicken, Ben Ryle 22/9/14

Ray Wood's Smaug topo that I nicked and scribbled over..
Yellow is Smaug, Red is The Antiquarian Direct, Blue is Twll Love, Orange is Hamadryad, Green is Opening Gambit, and Purple is roughly Rock bottom line.
The unclimbed Brown project is the whitish groove/crack line immediately right of Twll Love culminating in the crack behind the sharp arete of True Finish (whole lot needs a clean/garden on Abb)
The space in between Hamadryad and the lines to the left should be interesting to Cal and Co....

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Twll Fest!

North Wales has a fine tradition of volunteers getting stuck in to spruce up and spring clean our more neglected and vegetable ridden rocks, be it Al Leary abbing Gogarth with his Ice axe and Yard Brush, or the more organised, beer and brush brigade such as TremFest at Tremadog.
When discussing the fineries of Twll Mawr with valued customers at the wall, the responses one usually gets is "Loose" "bush bashing" or sometimes "death". However, the reality is that the rock is fairly compact and any detached pieces tend to be just sitting on ledges, rather than loitering in the shadows waiting to pounce. Death, apart from at the hands of raptors is extremely uncommon, but I can't deny that its is the residence of some particularly malevolent bush.

Before Ian Lloyd Jones came along and invited the masses, this didn't matter much as only I seemed to climb there, and I always carried some secateurs. Saying that I did write up the back wall section for the Ground Up Guide and gave the routes I particularly enjoyed stars. One such route is Hamadryad; a magnificent E3 I climbed in 2003 with a particularly hungover Aussie Conrad. Apart from the Bastard Bush of Twll Mawr, I have no particular memories of incapacitating shrubbery, just good gear (bar the 1st pitch which was Conrad's anyway) bags of adventure and lots of pitches of real climbing. Classic Joe Brown really; awesome line, sustained entertainment, and that warm glow when its accomplished.

Imagine my surprise then, shortly after the Guide came out, to find Big Tim and the Bullock on my back wall! the first party I'd seen there without me tied to them ever... My warm glow soon dissipated, however, as their reports seemed mainly to be about brambles and bush- Oh well a hamadryad is a mischievous woodland spirit after all.

Fast forward to the arrival of Smaug, and many of the valued customers at the wall were now singing a different tune, and some of the more adventurous were commenting on the unfortunate nature of the fine line to Smaug's left, a Fine Line under the tyranny of Furze. This led me to thinking I could redeem my attribution of 2 stars, and maybe tempt some more people (apart from Big Tim and Bullock) to the delights of Twll Mawr Trad.

So yesterday I borrowed a long static rope and descended with a patio knife, well worn secateurs and a leather gauntlet. 100 and a bit meters later; with many coiffed ledges, grubbed out gorse and well yanked brambles (the gauntlet was well used) between myself and the top, I arrived just above the aid bolted crux. 50cm above the crux actually, pitch 1 and the first 20m or so of pitch 2 are not particularly hindered by veg (and I couldn't be bothered to drag that much rope anyway) but I thought I'd get the full crack clear.
50cm short...........
So I did this:

Having put in all that work, I transferred to the shunt and pottered back up. much enjoyment and watching of edges ensued..

The Bastard Bush with its new haircut. I couldn't bring myself to grub it out entirely, as we have history, and its used in the guide to show where Taith Mawr veers off (that sloping ledge beyond..)

A Nice Clean Crack.

Looking up the route from the tree on the second belay

Looking down the route from its second tree of note on pitch 3.

So there it is. It'll even have chalk on it until it rains, so get to it.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Open Project of the Month - September

This month, following a tip off from a certain stout naped gentleman, I took my first of hopefully many visits to Nant Gwrtheyrn. This former quarrying village was subsequently abandoned and recently restored to form a unique heritage center and school for those Dysgu Cymraeg. The valley it which it resides is very steep and secluded and reminded me more of the French Alps than Wales.

Looking down from the car park to the cafe, and Fantan B beyond. Being a popular stop for walkers and the retired, I got some funny looks stomping through with two pads.... There is a winding path beyond, that gains the beach 50 meters below (that's elevation folks not distance, long winding path...) 
Upon arrival this is the view to the left; Craig y Llam and Fantan B, this might make an alternative approach, and I'm keen to explore Penrhyn Glas quarry next time.

To the right Avernus, and our goal; a little cluster of boulders at the beaches end. 
Yes its a walk (I'll only take one decent pad next time, rather than a stack) but the beach is serene and Groovy (certainly on this sunny day) and I shared its entire length with about 5 people. Although there is many sizable blocks here only one gave worthwhile value: 
Other blocks were okay to warm up on, but were either too easy or a bit loose. This puppy, however was worth the 2 hour wait for the tide to recede (I had a good book)
First I tackled the nose, which took a while as the Grandolorite offers good holds at awkward angles, and perfectly positioned poor ones. The result was Moli Mawr, SDS off a side pull and a nubbin (a&b), maybe F6B. the undercut prow meant that heel hook maneuvers were the order of the day, I explored the slab on the right with a couple of standing variations before setting down to try the sitters.

The obvious slanting crimps c&d required a heel rockover outside my current flexibility and are the open project for this month, as its the line of the bloc.

I did make it up Two Bites of Cherry off of d & e (a flatty hidden under neath) at about F6C

 The Cellar bloc might be of interest to some as it give steep 2-3 move eliminates with lots of poor and hard to grasp holds to choose from. (I failed to top on any of them)
Also of significant interest is the peninsular jutting out into the sea, I explored it at high tide, but the initial section would give some boulder potential, and the remained would provide some  fine sea level japes ( I was not prepared with cozzie)..

All in all, this is a really tidy spot, good for families that don't mind the odd slog, and Dads who don't want to just sit around, swimming looks good too.

I stopped to photograph this cliff on the steep hair pinned drive out, after my shenanigans in Twll Mawr last week they look really appealing (and Big), incidentally Calum returned yesterday and straightened the Antiquarian with a direct! Bon Effort, and makes me keen forth crack system to the right.

Oh and if you visit in the next few days, I left my sunnies on a boulder above the high tide mark


Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Antiquarian

An Antiquarian is a student of history, an observer of things past, and scholar of ancient artefacts. In my meanderings through the slate quarries I've always strived to delve beneath the surface and find out about the weird and wonderful rusting contraptions of quarry detritus, not just from active quarrying times, but the modern "quarrymen"; the inspection bolt of a long disregarded project, the Wedgefast nut I unearthed on Mancer direct, a peg in no-man's land.
Readers of the blog may remember talk of Twll Mawr and the efforts of Joe Brown and company to force lines up its big back wall. As They didn't get to the top, they didn't record them, and these often bold and adrenalin filled epics risk sliding out of folklore.
Today Calum Muskett took me out for a days climbing to try to stitch together some of these artefacts so that they can be remembered and valued. I don't necessarily think we completed their projects, as I don't know the line they were envisioning, but we visited some of their high points and had fun doing so. Its worth stating this wasn't an anti-bolt mission either; we made use of them when it suited us, but were keen for a trad adventure...
The Antiquarian E4/5, 5b, 6a, 6a, 5b
Bimble up the chain to rack up as for Razor's Edge.
1) 30m? Climb the pillar left of the V groove, cross the the next rib on the left and quest up to the crack for some more reassuring gear. Rise until level with the TDOS belay and bimble over to it.
2) 40m? Clip the first bolt of TDOS then enter the groove, follow until pushed onto the rib and follow until the First of Joe Browns bolts is spotted over by the corner on the right. Gain this and go up to the bolt at his high point (diff to clip as bunged up with old tat). Continue in the corner until a slightly unnerving slopey traverse gains the big slopey ledge, shuffle left on this to the TDOS belay.
3) 50m? Climb the corner system directly above the belay, to a decaying pink sling on a flake (remnant of a Ray Kay Jaunt). A rising traverse left meets the junction with the Taith Mawr Traverse (cam slot) follow this back right to where TM belays but quest directly up the corner system above the belay (plug the gear in the easy bits because its about to run out). the corner starts to shut out into the right arête, surmount the arête to join pitch 5 of TDOS just before the crux, follow this to the belay.
4) 20m Finish as for TDOS.
C Muskett, M Dicken 4/9/14

Myself leading P1, the rib of P2 is above my helmet, Took me a while to drop back into this style of fun, RPs apenty! I led 1st and last, and let calum do the hard work....

Pitch two, Joes highest bolt is a body length above me by the Veg. The black slabs of slate are a touch fragile/crumbly and make for an exciting ramble

psyching up for the slopey traverse, Calum has a little reach and height on me, so I felt a little intimidated by the space between the chalk...

I had a lot of Fun (thanks Calum) and relived a lot of old memories from my time on Taith Mawr, there are a couple of meanderings on P2&3 so feel free to claim The Antiquarian Direct!