Lighthouse Arete Direct VS 4c, Castell Helen, South Stack on Anglesey
This must be a lot of peoples first acquaintance with “proper” sea cliff climbing in North Wales. You need to be able to safely abseil in and have the ability to look after yourselves on multi pitch routes, but it’s a pretty friendly introduction to the world of sea cliff climbing. Castell Helen has some other really good routes too, Pel and Rap are both good VS routes, North West Passage a really good E1 and if you’re feeling adventurous Where Puffins Daren’t at HVS will stick in your mind for a while.
Heather hadn’t done any sea cliffs in North Wales and it was a little drizzly at home in the mountains so this was the day! I don’t have much awareness of school holiday dates, or even days of the week so I didn’t realise it was a bank holiday weekend but that became pretty apparent when approaching the South Stack RSPB car park and queueing to get in!
You can’t beat the 2 minute walk in to the gearing up area and abseil point here so no need to prepare for any mountaineering. Heather has done plenty of other similar stuff in Swanage, Cornwall, Devon and Pembroke so is pretty comfortable abseiling in above the sea, it can be a little intimidating if you’ve never committed to abseiling in before.
The abseil point consists of a number of pegs, all of which are a little dubious so its worth backing them up with an easily available nut placement. A 50 metre rope gets you down to the start of the first pitch with a couple of metres to spare, it’s a nice big ledge about 10m above the sea with a few good nut placements at the far end to build a belay. Abseiling down we could see most of the crag was seeping from all the rain we’ve had, but some guys just leaving as we arrived told us our route was dry.
The first pitch is really good, especially in the sun that we were gifted with, proper t-shirt off weather! It follows a rising traverse away from the belay ledge with plenty of opportunities for decent gear placements, don’t forget to protect your second even if you’re cruising! The direct version that we did then takes a steeper crack line, again with plenty of gear, up to an overhang which I usually belay below. The first pitch is lovely climbing, but for me it’s more about the situation it puts you in, the surroundings are absolutely beautiful and the cries of the flocks of sea birds draw your attention – and that of the birdwatching crowds above you with their binoculars and telescopes.
The next section, pulling though the overhang is the crux of the route, it’s steep and often a little damp underneath. The holds are great though, get a big nut in and then go for it, pull up and then start to bridge, there’s a rusty nut that’s been stuck here for years but better to place another decent nut nearby. Build another good belay and sit down to enjoy the view and continue to enjoy the cacophony of sound coming from all those birds to your right.
Heather cruised up to me and we swapped gear for her to lead the last pitch. It has some 4a climbing above before easing off and taking a rising traverse out right to belay at the abseil point, be careful on the final section as it is a little loose. After setting up a quick belay using the ab rope she belays me up to the top, it’s a sunny bank holiday Sunday and we’ve had the crag to ourselves, I’ve done this route countless times, but this one was pretty special.
As is customary, after pulling up the abseil rope and getting sorted, we drove to Treaddur Bay for an ice cream on the beach with the masses, it’s got to be done! Because it felt like a holiday we went out for an early dinner to, if you’re ever in the area the White Eagle pub in Rhoscolyn is well worth a visit.
South Stack is about 45mins from Llanberis, head to Holyhead and follow the brown signs to South Stack. There’s an RSPB centre there where you can park if you spend some money in their cafe or parking areas just past it. The route is in the Ground Up guide and the old Gogarth CC guide.
Abseil rope, 50m gets you to the ledge but if you’re doing other routes that start from other spots you’ll want a 60m. Make sure you have a prussik each to protect the abseil. Other than that I use double ropes and it’s a normal trad rack of medium to large nuts and a few cams, about 10 quikdraws and a couple of slings.
If you’d like to learn the skills to tackle this sort of route, or would like to be guided up it check out the Rock Climbing Course page.