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 🙂
You can check out what other stuff we’ve been up to on our Facebook page
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.
What a busy start!
We’ve had all sorts of courses going on….
A couple of Mountain Leader training courses including one with a little bit of snow and one with overnight winds of 95mph!
A few Single Pitch award courses both trainings and assessments where we’ve been super lucky with the weather.
The third Original Mountain Month has just finished which was, as always a great success! We climbed some awesome routes at loads of different crags, from Gogarth to Tremadog and loads in between, plus had a good few mountain days looking at navigation, rope work and wild camping.
In amongst those there’s been an intro to scrambling course, an ML refresher and some D of E work.
Outside of work I’ve had some cracking days climbing in North Wales and over the winter some absolutely stella days mixed climbing in the snow and ice of Scotland,
Now the suns out in North Wales it’s time to really start making the most of it!
For loads of shots, check out the Facebook page!
It’s been a while, but I couldn’t not do a ROTW piece after climbing Scavenger on the Main Cliff at Gogarth. What a mega classic!
Scavenger is a 3*, three pitch HVS with pitches of 4c, 5a and 4b, even the approach is a bit of an adventure which just goes to add to the whole experience. Identifying the right line as you traverse accross (having checked the tides!) is the second obstacle, the first is negotiating the fairly spicy decent….
The first pitch is a short one, about 10 metres of 4c up to a big ledge with good gear for building a belay. It’s steady climbing and the main event of the second pitch lays in wait.
Anthony leading up P1
The second pitch is so good it’s almost ridiculous. It’s about 45 metres of absolute joy. Above the first belay there’s corner with a stuck nut, the first few moves are a little tricky but the gear is good so just keep bridging on amazing rock. At the 10 metre mark look for your exit to the right, around the arete and onto slopey ledges keeping an eye out for two rusty pegs. I equalised these with a sling, they’re ok but not great, it’s no drama though as there’s plenty more good gear around.
After chilling on the ledge for a minute, enjoying the surroundings, it’s time to get going. The cracked groove above is the stuff climbing dreams are made of! The Ground Up guide suggests you float up this, I think you’re better off bridging and pulling on mega holds in the crack, which has more than enough gear opportunities, mostly medium sized kit.
All to soon the pitch is over and you arrive on a small square ledge, I think I place a Blue Dragon high up and used a sling over a spike to belay on.
Anthony reaching the top of P2
Pitch three is ok, a bit broken with some loose bits, we kept this short and then ran out a 4th long scramble – grass pitch, definitely worth staying roped up on for sure.
What a route! I really enjoyed it and to cap it off we went and did Britomartis on Wen Slab, another very good route.
Check the tides, carry a normal rack of about 12 ‘draws and standard rack of nuts, cams and slings.
If you’d like to learn the skills necessary to climb routes like this or would just like guiding, get in touch! For photos of what we’ve been up to lately work wise, check out our Facebook page.
Prompted by a thread on UKC I decided to put a list of routes together that represented a selection of various styles of climbing, a list that if you ticked your way through, you’d be happy in the knowledge you can look at any VS in a guide book and know you could confidently climb it.
My knowledge of North of the border climbing isn’t great, so rather than blag it I thought I’d stick to routes and areas I know fairly well. I’ve climbed all of them, some several times, but as time passes my memory does become a little hazy so some of the descriptions may not be quite as accurate as guidebook entries…
These are all, in my opinion, great routes, not necessarily the best in each area and some areas are missing altogether, but for the purposes of this list I think they’re all worthy of their place.
Little Brown Jug, Bosigran
Undeniably one of the best cliffs in the UK. It has fantastic feeling granite, bright blue seas and being in Cornwall a good chance of sunny skies, it’s just a beautiful place to climb. Little Brown Jug has three pitches to enjoy – 4b to start (or a nice HVS variation), then a 4a pitch then THE pitch which goes at 5a. The final pitch steepens up and then you pull through an overlap, place some gear and then launch up the magnificent layback flakes, these final moves are simply awesome.
Kinkyboots, Baggy Point
This route is famous for it’s “Falling over the zawn” start! If, like me, you’re tall it is less of a fall and more of a reach, place a bit of gear then step across. My girlfriend assures me it’s pretty intimidating if you are more vertically challenged!
The rock here is so nice, a hard sandstone, slabby crag, it feels like you’re climbing on sandpaper. The first pitch, after the step, is a traverse to the right in fantastic surroundings, especially on a sunny day with calm seas. The second pitch isn’t quite so great, you reverse the first pitch to the peg and then pick the cleanest line to the top.
Gronk, Avon Gorge
People will tell you Avon Gorge is a noisy crag with mega polished limestone to climb on and to be honest they’re not wrong. I love it though! For me I soon forget about the road noise and although the rock is pretty polished it doesn’t really detract, there’s always just enough protection to be found including a few dodgy looking pegs. But the walk in is measured in seconds not minutes…
The first time I tried to do Gronk, we didn’t even start. We arrived at about 1100 and another pair had beaten us to it, we left the crag at about 1600 and they were still only halfway up – we got plenty of other stuff done instead.
It’s five pitches are really varied, there’s strenuous bits, delicate bits and traversy bits and although the only 4c bit is straight forward, finding gear throughout the route requires more thought.
Nibelheim, Wintours Leap
A four pitch route on a big crag (over 300 routes) where it takes a while to get your bearings because the starts of the routes are hidden from photos in the trees. The surroundings here are really pleasant with nice views over the river Wye and it’s nice and peaceful unless there’s a horse racing meet on when you can here the commentary drifting over the country side.
The start takes in some small overhangs with some rather polished footholds before finding a tree belay. An easier second pitch leads to the crux pitch with feels pretty bold for the grade but there’s at least one peg in addition to natural gear, keep a steady head and you’ll be cruising. It’s quite common to abseil from here, 50m doubles just reach the floor.
Amorican, Craig Caerfai
OK, OK, this isn’t VS, but if you want to be cruising VS, you need to through in the odd HVS and this is an absolute cracker. 40 metres of some of the best slab climbing there is, all on lovely hard sandstone in Pembrokeshire, one of the most scenic places in the world.
Romp up the initial crack, placing plenty of gear as you go, before things get a little thinner. Then there’s a small overlap to negotiate before the climbing eases off, but keep your concentration because the gear to the top is pretty minimal.
The Heidelberg Creature, Boulder Ruckle
So you’ve mastered slabs and technical climbing but haven’t done much steep stuff? Swanage is the place to come and test you’re nerve and muscle power! The Ruckle has a reputation for steep climbing on slightly dubious rock with even more dubious top outs and as with most reputations it is well founded. Committing, tough and adventurous.
This route is a super steep corner (bridging is your friend on the Ruckle), but on big holds and with as much gear as you have the energy to place. The steep corner leads to an overhang and more steep corner climbing leads to a belay on the halfway ledge.
The technically easier second pitch climbs through another overhang before a crack and corner to the top. This pitch, like a lot of Swanage needs care with the rock.
Hargreaves Original, Stanage
Do you trust your feet smearing on slopey but grippy holds? Can you cope without positive handholds? Climbing on Gritstone will answer this question!
My advice for this route is to take some cams to protect it, but as you’re climbing it thinking “thank God for cams”, remember this was first climbed in 1928…
The start, pulling on to the slab is probably the hardest move, but staying calm as you teeter up the sloping breaks will test your nerve.
Best enjoyed mid week when Stanage isn’t quite so busy.
Kirkus’s Route, Cwm Silyn
This was the hardest route to pick, N Wales has so much variety that I didn’t know what to go for. A climbing in the Pass, Tremadog, Slate, Ogwen, Gogarth etc? I decided on a remote mountain route in the end and anything by the pioneer Colin Kirkus is worthy of a place on any list.
This route has four 4c pitches and a 4b, a bit of a walk in and requires some thought with regard to route finding. It feels like a route I shouldn’t write too much about so as not to spoil the adventure, suffice to say it’s an exceptionally fine outing on great rock.
Eliminate A, Dow Crag
Possibly the finest multi pitch VS in the Lakes? It’s about an hour to walk into the crag, but you are rewarded by stunning mountain surroundings and fabulous climbing.
Six pitches and fairly easy for the grade but the climbing is just absorbing. The first pitch doesn’t have stacks of gear, but the other pitches all have plenty, the climbing then gets a bit steeper for the second pitch. Then you’ve got a delicate traverse on P3, an easier but nicely exposed traverse on P4, P5 traverses back the other way before on some sloping holds before taking on a steeper groove on really positive holds. An easier final pitch leads to the top and self congratulation of completing a mega VS mountain route.
If any of this has inspired you to learn the skills necessary to tackle these routes or you’d like to be guided up one of them, have a look at my Rock Climbing Course page and get in touch.
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.