Early in October I loaded up the car again and headed for the paradise that is North Wales. A regular occurrence, it appears, but this is definitely one of my favourite things to do. The drive can often be a little on the ‘slightly too long’ side, but having often thought about this, I have come to the conclusion that this is why I enjoy going to Wales so much. It is the very fact that it is slightly far away that makes this more of an adventure for me.
Fortunately, the same group as last month were able to give up a weekend and join me on what was to be a fantastic weekend scrambling in the hills. Steve had the genius idea booking a mountain guide in order to explore some unknown and perhaps slightly out of our comfort zone routes. Gary Smith was an outstanding guide, although at times I think he was more out of his comfort zone that us, especially when I was clinging onto grass instead of rock to perch myself up on a rock step – I can’t say I blame him to be honest! He taught us, and especially me, a lot of basic scrambling techniques, which not only make the day safer, but it really helped me in my constant quest of overcoming my slightly irrational fear of heights.
Gary took us up the Main Gully on Glyder Fach. This is a Grade 1+ scramble which means it is similar to routes we have done before, apart from one rock ‘step’ which requires a safety rope and belay to be set up. This was ideal for Gary to be able to show us how to set such belay up in a ‘real world’ situation. After this, we scrambled up all the way to the plateau on Glyder Fach. From here, we trekked across to the East side of Tryfan. Being one of my favourite mountains in the world, I was really happy to be learning another approach to the mountain, which at the time I was praying to god that Gary wasn’t going to take us up a ridiculously steep rock face which would have made the already challenging day very difficult for me. Luckily, he was able to judge our abilities spot-on. We scrambled up the magnificent North Gully which is a grade 1 scramble. It was just perfect for me, slightly scary and precarious – I like to be able to push my limits but at the same time enjoy the climb knowing that it is, even if not by much, within my ability.
Upon reaching the summit, we descended down to civilisation via the East Face of Tryfan, which is a lot shallower than it sounds, and actually a perfect way to come down if you want to avoid the long trek which awaits you if you take the route down to the saddle via the South of the mountain.
It was a perfect day, we learned a lot and I felt a lot more confident in myself, even if Gary didn’t, after learning some basic techniques to ensure that a slip wouldn’t result in sudden death.
We spent the night in a barn near Capel Curig, which was amazing. We even managed to get mobile phone reception to be able to listen to England being knocked out of the rugby World Cup. It took us about ten hours to get the stove going, but after it warmed up we knocked back a gorgeous bottle of Malbec and pissed ourselves laughing at the ridiculous guest book. Farmer Thomas was somewhat of a saviour to wet campers who were surprised that their poorly set up tent was leaking. Some of them even went onto complain that the barn was cold. Yes, you are in the middle of the mountains in North Wales and you are in a stone building with no insulation – did you really think it was going to be warm?! A ‘simple’ fire was all that it needed for us to be more than comfortable and it sure beat all the messing around that comes with setting up tents!
The next day we finally got to tackle the magnificent ridge on Crib Goch. I have wanted to do this route ever since I turned around defeated in 2013 during a winter attempt. I told myself I’d try the ridge in the dry before another winter attempt, and boy, and I glad I did! The initial scramble up to the actual ridge was hairy in places but more than doable. The weather was some of the best you will see that time of year, perfect blue sky and the air was still, very still. Perfect weather for one’s first knife edge ridge walk. When we reached the ridge, my initial thought was wow! This was shortly followed by a thought that went something like this – bollocks.
I knew it was going to be exposed, I had seen the route many times on YouTube, but this was quite a lot for my scared-of-heights-brain. The trick was to go slowly, very slowly. Apart from a very polished summit that got me on my hands an knees, in hindsight the route wasn’t actually that bad. In fact, I’d love to do it again just to get another shot at conquering it. Most of the fear was the anticipation of what the ‘tricky bits’ were going to have in store for us. I knew there were two tricky bits but I didn’t know exactly what they were. The worst once involved an exposed move which required a stretch which was that little bit too far for comfort (see the video below, which does no justice at all to what it was actually like!) -but other than that, it was a fairly safe route. Nick made it a little more interesting for himself by climbing the pinnacles, he is definitely not scared of heights – at all (see header photo).
Winter is now just around the corner and no doubt there will be many winter missions to come. It would be nice to squeeze another dry run in before the end of the year but we’ll have to just wait and see if the opportunity presents itself.
That’s it for now, I’d definitely recommend both routes, especially if you have conquered a couple of grade 1s and you’re looking for the next challenge, although I’d definitely also recommend hiring someone like Gary to teach you a few basics, including the ropework.
You can find Gary at www.gethigh.co.uk, although your work computer may block the site for obvious reasons!