My climbing has been going really well lately, I’m loving it and getting some great routes ticked, like El Guide Direct E3 5c in the Pass, The Weaver E2 5b at Tremadog and Quartz Icicle E2 5b at Gogarth. Recently I had a few days work in Swanage…
I spent a really enjoyable three years living in Swanage once upon a time, the climbing there is amazing – steep and juggy but loose and a bit intimidating. I remember my first time climbing there, me and my skinny arms got utterly spanked and it made me think I was the worst climber in the world!
Whilst I was living there I worked my way through most if the climbs that I could, got hit by the odd rock, watched a mate fall in the sea, got dive bombed by various sea birds, tapped a lot of rock to see if it was solid (usually it wasn’t) and was often scared out of my box! By the end of my time there I felt like I’d had my fill of Ruckle climbing and any visit back to Swanage mostly resulted in sport climbing at Winspit or Hedbury. There were a couple of routes that were still on the “to do” list though, one of which was Elysium E1 5b where the crux moves are very “un-Swanage” – being a crack and a crimp rather than the usual brutal roof.
Having spent a winter down the wall I’ve managed to fit in plenty of climbing this year, so I really wanted to tick Elysium. I was down there for the week and managed some after work sport climbs but one evening was definitely going to be a Ruckle trip.
Me and Matt abbed down the free hanging 40m line to warm up on a VS called Heidleberg Creature which is ridiculously steep for the grade, I’m pretty sure it would be HVS anywhere else. I followed Matt up the first pitch and whilst it was easy, it was certainly a fierce reintroduction to Swanage trad! The second pitch was easy again, with the standard loose top out – having done the warm up it had to be time for Elysium.
Abbing down again for the main event I was psyched to finally be getting on it, although I was a little concerned that the very start of the route looked harder than expected, until I realised I was looking at the wrong bit..!
I’m a bit anal when it comes to my climbing kit and racking up with Matt’s kit was a little off putting, it’s all fine but it’s a bit of a motley collection compared to my nice matching rack of stuff.
The start is super steady and after about seven or eight metres you end up on a nice ledge where you can place a couple of good wires in readiness for the crux crack section which had a bonus newly stuck number 3 nut and the slightly dubious peg which I tied off with a sling. The crux involves using a small crimp to exit the crack into the halfway horizontal break, which was super soapy in the still evening air. After crimping hard on it with plenty of chalk on my hand, I was soon past it and traversing the break after placing a monster blue hex at the end of it.
After the crux the route goes through what’s described as a strenuous roof and that passed without any drama, ending in a welcome hands off rest which I milked as I was expecting the next section of small roofs to be a bit cheeky. Thankfully the holds are all good and even high up the rock is surprisingly sound for the Ruckle, the only struggle was the amount of rope drag I had as I hadn’t extended one particular piece of gear under the first roof.
I was super happy to have cruised this route as it had been on the list for so long, it felt like unfinished business.
Bringing Matt up on second was an extra work out, hoofing the ropes through with the drag fighting back, but before long he appeared at the top super happy to have followed it clean, but knackered – the standard Ruckle result!
Next time Billy Pig will be the target, another E1 I never did involving a mega roof which you cut free on…
If you want to learn the skills necessary to lead sea cliff routes or just want a taster of this amazing type of climbing then get in touch and check out the Facebook page to see what work we’ve been up to lately.
The theme tune to The Littlest Hobo starts playing, I love that tune and the lyrics seem to resonate with me, so it’s been the ringtone on my phone for years.
“Er hi! Is that Jez”
“Are you available for some private guiding during the week after the Bank Holiday?”
“Let me check the diary, I am, what have you got in mind?”
“I’d like to get some climbing done, but I’d really like to get a little more familiar with Lliwedd, especially Bilberry Terrace…”
At that moment I had flashbacks to my Mountaineering Instructor training, we did Bilberry Terrace, it was wet, green, involved tricky route finding and is on one of the biggest cliffs in Wales.
“Sounds good! I’m up for that!”
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I meet with Shane who was the man on the other end of the phone, who’d ended up booking three days with me and the focus of day one was to guide Shane up as much rock as possible getting him used to the exposure of climbing and getting used to tying nots, clipping in to belays etc., so we headed to Carreg Wastad on a beautifully sunny day.
Shane had climbed a bit in the past and has lead up to VS, but that was before work and kids put a stop to it for a while, so most of the stuff we covered was just a reminder really. I lead Shane up some cool routes working through the grades – Wrinkle a three pitch V Diff, Crackstone Rib a super classic two pitch Severe, Skylon stepped it up a bit to HS 4b and after that I asked if Shane was still in his comfort zone “well it’s had to get scared on the second isn’t it he replied”, so I took that as a challenge! Next up was Lion, a pretty stiff four pitch VS 4c, Shane had a couple of falls on the crux but battled through and on reaching the top he admitted his comfort zone had definitely been stretched a lot!
On the second day we went to Tryfan Bach looking at lead climbing skills before a quick visit to the slate quarries so we could get some footwork thought going on, ticking Equinox at VS and Solstice at HVS.
Day three was the main event – Bilberry Terrace.
A slightly earlier start was required for this one so we could get parked at the Pen y Pass car park and I think we pretty much got the last space at 0800.
The walk in to Lliwedd is about an hour, it’s pretty easy going until the final scree slope up to the start and we didn’t have too much kit to carry as the weather was once agin brilliant and we only had a small rack of kit fo the route, I took a set of nuts and a few cams, along with the usual few slings and krabs plus a skinny 30m rope. On the walk in we stopped to look at the cliff and guidebook so we could work out the route, this always gets harder the closer you get and I made sure Shane was involved in this as well as it was part of his goal to be able to come back and do it without a guide at some point, the route takes a devious line though some really impressive terrain. The Stevie Ashton scrambling book (jokingly known as the little book of death..) has a really good description for this route, which I was super useful considering this wasn’t a route I had much memory of in terms of route finding.
The start is a steep, tricky rock step so Shane put me on belay for this bit and I placed one runner on the way, a red nut before getting to the first of many direct spike belays. From here you follow the terrace easily enough so we moved together for a little bit until there’s a cheeky corner with a chockstone to thread as a runner, this was the only other bit I pitched during the route and to save faffing with a sling a chucked a gold cam in before reaching a nut belay.
So far so good, we hadn’t got lost yet, the rock was bone dry and although there was plenty of vegetation and some loose rock, it was nowhere near as grim as I remembered! The key now was route finding so we looked at the book regularly and to my surprise were able to follow obvious signs of wear from other people who had prevuoisly adventured this way, in the form of cleaner rock and worn away steps in places. Don’t be fooled though, this is not a polished path like many scrambles and the weather was being extremely kind to us..
Before we knew it we were at the half way point and for virtually every section I went ahead leaving shane attached to a spike belay before finding another spike to belay from, mostly scrambling about 20 metres each time. The route takes in some absolutely fantastic positions and the views to Snowdon, Crib Goch and back East towards England were absolutely breath taking. Shane was loving it all, really soaking up the atmosphere, the only near miss being him dropping his phone which thankfully only went a few metres down on to a ledge!
The rest of the scramble went nice and smoothly and I think I was enjoying it just as much as Shane was, two hours after starting the scramble we were stood on the summit bathed in sunshine. A celebratory handshake and a few photos later it was time to make our way back down, I decided to carry on a bit further on towards Snowdon before heading down a quiet grade one scramble called y Griben so we needed to concentrate a bit longer before reaching the super highway of the Miners Track, which always proves a bit of a slog back to the Pen y Pass.
Shane had wanted to do Bilberry Terrace for about 20 years after someone mentioned it to him all that time ago, so I was really psyched to have been able to help in facilitating this adventure. Lliwedd is a great cliff and you’re guaranteed solitude even though you’re in the shadow of what is apparently the busiest mountain – Snowdon.
If I’m lucky enough to guide anyone up there again I’d take a similar amount of kit, even though I used very little of my rack, in worse conditions I expect I’d place more kit and you never know when you might need to run away! If this has inspired you to go and do Bilberry Terrace take care, it’s a serious place to be and you need to be well versed in roped scrambling, if in doubt seek instruction!
To cap the day off I went climbing after work and ticked Mabinogian E2 5c in the Llanberis Pass.
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I was at school when I got in to climbing and mountaineering, when I was 16 – 17 my parents very kindly paid for me to go on a couple of courses at Plas y Brenin where I not only learnt loads, but realised the job of being an outdoor instructor actually existed. In my quest for more information about this career I got the Mountaineering Instructor Award and Mountaineering Instructor Certificate handbooks from Mountain Training and they are still somewhere in a box in the attic. Looking through those handbooks, I was hooked on the idea that I could be working on a cliff somewhere teaching climbing, but as a novice climber it seemed like a life time away and I wondered if I would ever be able to get the prerequisite experience.
Fast forward a year and as all my mates were off to uni I went to France to earn the grand sum of £40 a week whilst living in a tent working for an activity company where I ran taster sessions for youngsters going climbing, kayaking, shooting bows and arrows and such like. By that time I had started getting my qualifications, I had done my SPA training and I think my ML training, although may have been the next year – but being a Mountaineering Instructor still seemed very, very far away. In the early years of my outdoor career I met and worked with a few of them and I was always impressed with their experience and knowledge, to a young and impressionable instructor these people seemed almost like gods!
Yesterday, about 16 years after doing my SPA training, I had one of my best days at work ever. Rob Johnson (expeditionguide.com) emailed me last week to ask if I wanted a days work, guiding a client of his up A Dream of White Horses. Errrr, yes! The forecast was great, it looked like it was going to be sunny in the run up to the day (the final pitch can seep a lot so a dry run up is ideal) and then pretty good on the day itself – psyched. When I opened the curtains in the morning I was surprised to see some standard North Wales drizzle and wet roof tops, not quite what I was after. Oh well, no drama it’s always sunny on Anglesey!
I met Simon in the Siabod Cafe, he was excited to be getting out even though I said we may end up having to do something else if Dream was dripping wet, my mate Mike had been over at Wen slab the day before and it had been a bit damp then even in the sun. We decided to go and have a look as either way Gogarth was the best shout with the weather as it was, the drive over was sunny one minute, rain spots the next but it was quite breezy which meant although it was chilly the rock should be drying (I like to stay positive!) Walking in it was much the same, except even more windy… Down on to the promontory Simon was in awe of the crag, if you’ve been you’ll know why, if you haven’t, trust me it’s an impressive slab of rock. The last pitch had some wet patches, but nothing that looked like it would cause us a problem, Dream was on!
Setting up the abseil, I could tell Simon was a little nervous, he hadn’t done a massive amount of sea cliff climbing and Wen Zawn is quite an imposing place, but as much as he may have been a little nervous, he was even more excited! When we were both at the first belay it was time to get tied in and sort the ropes out, which I did as Simon was worried about dropping one in the sea whilst he was getting to grips with the position we were in!
The climb went super smoothly, Simon was following with a great big smile and I was constantly grinning at the thought that this was work, I’d promised Simon he’d see a seal and right on cue one popped up and floated around watching us for a few minutes! Whilst leading the big flake section on our second pitch I said to Simon that if he didn’t enjoy this section he should give up climbing – a few minutes later as he followed up he told me he didn’t need to give up climbing as he was loving it!
Before long we were at the belay by the Concrete Chimney ready to set out on the last pitch. The last pitch looks so improbable, taking in some really steep terrain and while I was happily taking a selfie, Simon was looking at it trying to work out how on earth he was going to follow me through it. As I climbed it, placing lots of gear to protect my second and extending everything to make sure nothing pulled out, I was really enjoying it and shouting back to Simon that he must remember to look around and soak up the atmosphere – it’s a special place. Before long Simon was cruising along it himself on the great holds that just keep coming and coming and through the odd wet bit, then up the final little chimney to join me at the top.
It was absolute pleasure to not only climb an amazing route, but have the privilege of guiding such an enthusiastic client on it.
I never take my work for granted, although I’ve put the effort in to gain my qualifications and to be able to climb something like Dream super comfortably so I can completely concentrate on my clients rather than myself, I still feel super lucky to be doing it. If anyone reading this is at the start of their career, working really hard for not much money – it’s worth it. The higher level qualifications are completely achievable by anyone if they want it enough and in terms of the MIA, it’s just a good excuse to get climbing!
Happy climbing 🙂
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Here’s the feedback that Rob very kindly forwarded to me:
It was absolutely awesome. I can’t believe I’ve finally done it, and it lived up to, no it exceeded, expectations. Jez was great. What a really nice guy, very personable and clearly knows his stuff. A fantastic days climbing. Shame I had to leave as would have loved to have climbed more!
Thanks for sorting.
Dark evenings, rubbish weather, and wet rock all mean one thing. Frustration!
To ward off the frustration we have to make the most of what we have available to us and for me at this year that is time. Work is less busy so I have time to run, time to get down to the Beacon climbing wall, time to use my Rock Rings and time to make plans. All of this means that when the weather does relent and show us some dry rock then I can hit the ground running.
Running: I like to run, it gives me a chance to clear my head away from admin and other distractions, I put my headphones in and get some miles under my belt. I think the cardiovascular side of climbing is often neglected, even if it only means the walk ins are easier then it’s got to be worthwhile! In addition to this though it helps burn off some useless fat and in my mind helps me feel fitter and fresher whilst on routes. If running isn’t for you maybe try swimming or cycling.
Climbing Wall: The best way to get more climbing fit is to climb! If you’re climbing at a higher level then specific training regimes are going to be the way forward and you’ll find loads of info to this end on the internet. If however you’re climbing at slightly lower levels then just get the climbing mileage in, don’t forget to concentrate on your climbing technique as well as things like clipping with a straight arm at chest’ish level. Falling off is super important too, this will help you with your head game massively and this directly translates to outdoor climbing – if you’re scared to fall off even when it’s safe to do so, you will not fulfil your potential. Try routes that you might fail on (keep doing plenty that you can do too!) and work hard on them, you’ll soon be crushing them, feeling fitter and stronger.
Get strong and work on your weaknesses!
Rock Rings: Great for snatching a quick hit on at home in front of the TV… Metolius have some great work out routines (click here for their page), but personally I stick to my own sets of pull ups, offset pull ups and a couple of types of knee raises – don’t forget the importance of a strong core, especially on the steep stuff. Mine are hanging off the stairs in the living room meaning I can either get some music on the stereo or watch yet another episode of Big Bang Theory!
Planning: It’s cold, wet and dark outside which makes it hard to stay motivated sometimes. For me my motivation comes from having a few “just out of reach” routes that I’m working on at the wall but more importantly I have a wish list of routes for the upcoming year. I’ve just made my list of routes for next year, a top 40 that I’m aiming for – I usually tick around 150 – 200 routes a year plus what I get done with clients at work.
Although I will climb all over the UK as well as abroad my wish list is North Wales centric
Well that’s my plan for the winter and it’s going well so far, back up to steep 7a+’s at the wall and managing to snatch an E3 on the slate in a brief period of dry weather this week (Goose Creature – E3 6a).
Good luck with your own winter training and even better luck with your goals for 2016, whether that’s your first outdoor lead or on sighting an 8a!
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This time of year can be a frustrating one!
The weather has been pretty grim over the last five or six weeks with the dry days few and far between, sadly. Those days seem to have coincided with work days which is great for my clients of course (we’ve been busy guiding, SPA assessing, ML refreshing etc.) and we’ve got some good routes done, but today was a day off and the weather looked ok! Having spent a lot of time in the Beacon lately I’m climbing pretty well, feeling quite strong and not worried about falling off, I’ve been desperate for dry days to translate this into quality routes outdoors.
The best option for dry rock is often the slate so that’s where me, Tim and Stu headed with Oreo in tow too. I wanted to have a look at Goose Creature (E3 6a) which I was about to jump on the other day before the rain beat me to it…
The Looning the Tube area is a great looking slab of rock, I’ve climbed Looning (HVS 5b) many times, it’s a mega classic and also the worth while direct version called Bise Mon Cul (E2 5c), Goose Creature is the next easiest.
We got to the bottom and it was nice and dry, if a little chilly! Kitted up with just a few ‘draws (it’s bolted but in slate style, not a proper clip up sport route) I tied in and put on my lovely brand new Five Ten whites which are perfect for the tiny slate edgy holds. As I was tightening up the laces Tim made a noise that seemed to suggest he’d felt a spot of rain… Sssshhhh, it’s not going to rain!
Super happy with the Whites! Five Tens fit me really well.
The start is bold, but thankfully pretty easy, an ideal chance to warm up as I hadn’t climbed anything easier to start with, you reach the first bolts after maybe five metres. There’s two bolts here so you may as well clip ’em both. After this it soon gets a little trickier and very soon you’re onto the first crux near another bolt. It’s a pretty big rockover with small hand holds, commit to it and it’s fine.
By this time the odd spot of rain had turned in to quite a few spots of rain and as Stu who was belaying said, the drops on the slate were starting to join together! A couple more moves get you into position for the top crux, foot on a slightly slopey hold, not much for your hands, the jug of dreams just out of reach! Stretch up, heal rising and less toe in contact with the slopey hold, stretch a touch more, pop goes my foot!!!
An annoying fall! Pull back on, a quick faff and chalk ball out to dry the key holds and try again. This time the toe is sticking, reach a little more and boom I’ve caught it with my left hand, match with the right and using some frankly tiny foot holds the next jug is reached. It was all dripping wet by this point but it was in the bag!
A little victory against the weather!
A quality route that I was happy to get, sadly the only one of the day because then the rain was seemingly set in so it was home time. Sadly no photos of this ascent, so sorry for the boring ones on this blog!
Good edges on your shoes will help as will thinking balancy thoughts!
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