Wednesday, 7 May 2008

A Bank Holiday Weekend at Gogarth

Graham, AndyG, Gail, AndyC and Richard all journeyed to Anglesey on Friday 2nd of May to discover the delights of Gogarth. A trip that for most of them was their first ever experience of sea cliff climbing.

Saturday the 3rd of May saw us parked at the South Stack Cafe bright and early. We had a brief look at the cliffs, and their resident sea-birds, before setting off to find Holyhead Mountain for some warm-up climbs.

The crag is divided into a series of slabby buttresses referred to in the guide book as "ramps". We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the quartzite rock and did a variety of climbs including Plimsole which was Gail's first trad lead.

(Ramp C)
Pigeon Hole Crack 28m Severe 4a (Graham led, Gail & AndyG 2nd)
The Wandering Primrose 30m Severe 4a (AndyC led, Richard 2nd)

(Ramp D)
Teenage Kicks 30m Severe 4a (AndyG led, Graham and Gail 2nd) (AndyC led, Richard 2nd)

(Ramp E)
Plimsole 27m Diff 1* (Gail led 1st pitch, Graham led 2nd pitch, Andy solo.) (Richard led, AndyC 2nd)
Cursing 22m VS 4c 2* (AndyC led, Richard 2nd)

Time passed quickly and before long we were already late for lunch which naturally consisted of coffee and cake in the cafe. Then it was time for the main business of the day, Lighthouse Arete in the Castell Helen area of the South Stack cliffs.

This requires an abseil descent to a niche not far above the water. Then, after you have pulled down your ropes, all that is required, is to climb back up again. It couldn't be simpler.

It's also incredibly exciting. The crashing waves and rising tide lend a certain sense of urgency to the procedings. Fortunately, AndyG had done this route before with PaulV so he was able to lead the way.

Unfortunately, when it was his turn to lead, Graham got a nut stuck whilst building his belay which caused considerable delay. AndyC and Richard, who were still waiting far below in the niche, must have wondered what on earth was going on. Eventually, we got going again and AndyC was able to follow, although it was getting late before he and Richard arrived safely back at the top of the cliff.

South Stack (Castell Helen)

Lighthouse Arete 80m VS 1*
P1. 20m 4a (AndyG led, Gail & Graham 2nd)
P2. 15m 4b (Graham led, Gail & AndyG 2nd)
P3. 15m 4c (AndyG led in one with P4, Graham & Gail 2nd)
P4. 30m 4a
(Also followed by AndyC leading and Richard 2nd)

Despite Gail complaining about the unflattering photography, everyone seemed very impressed with their first taste of sea cliff climbing and announced that they wanted to do "A Dream of White Horses" the next day.

Sunday the 4th of May started grey and damp. We drove through Holyhead and out to the car park in the Breakwater Quarry Country Park. Despite the deepening gloom and the odd spot of rain we walked over the headland and descended to the promontory overlooking Wen Slab.

After surveying the route and discussing tactics we decided that we not happy with the weather and that we would walk over to Holyhead Mountain to do something easier while we waited for the weather to improve.

In less than twenty minutes it was hammering down with rain and we retreated to the cars for the short drive back into Holyhead where we took shelter in The Internet Cafe which did Coffee and Tea Cake for only £1.

Eventually, the rain eased off slightly and in a fit of enthusiasm we drove through the fog to the cafe at South Stack where AndyG again showed the way with a very scrumptious Coffee and Carrot Cake. Finally, after awakening Gail from her slumbers, we decided that despite the persistent fog it should now be possible to climb something since the rain had finally abated.

So we set off through the fog to try and find Holyhead Mountain again. Surprisingly, not long after we started climbing, the fog cleared to reveal not only a beautiful sunny late afternoon but also the unanticipated arrival of Jonah and Steve and several other parties whose approach we had been unaware of.

(Ramp E)
Teaser 22m VS 4c 1* (AndyC led, Richard 2nd)
Pleasant Surprise 23m HS 4b (AndyG led, Graham & Gail 2nd)
New Boots and Panties 22m Severe 4a (Graham led, AndyG & Gail 2nd)

(Ramp F)
Duffel 30m HS
P1. 12m 4b (AndyC led both, Richard 2nd)
P2. 18m 4b
Sump Direct 25m HS 1*
P1. 15m 4a (AndyG led both, Gail & Graham 2nd) (AndyC led both, Richard 2nd)
P2. 10m 4b

(Quartz Wall)
Tension 25m VS 4b 2* (AndyC led, Richard 2nd)

So we made the best of the day climbing until late into the evening, when it was time to sample the delights of a Holyhead chip shop.

Monday the 5th of May started early, at about five fifteen in the morning, when the fog horn at the South Stack lighthouse could be heard booming around the campsite. After waiting till a more reasonable hour, we got up, struck camp and drove back through Holyhead for another look at Wen Slab. There wasn't much to be seen in the mist but we decided to continue since the forecast was good and no rain was predicted.

Leaving the others, AndyG and Richard descended to the end of the promontory overlooking the slab and abseiled down a chimney in the seaward face to a small ledge, the start of Britomartis.

At first it was gloomy in the mist and all that could be heard was the crashing of the waves and the booming of the fog-horn. After thin and committing moves around the arete and out of sight of the initial belay the route slowly and strenuously ascended the steep wall until it reached a small sloping ledge with a few rusty pitons for protection.

It was a stunning position, looking straight down onto the sea and the passing kayakers who appeared out of the slowly receding fog.

After going off route by following an inviting line of juggy holds which led further up the steep wall above, we eventually found the right way along and up some ledges which led to the final corner and the top of the cliff. An excellent route, not technically difficult and with good obvious holds, but also steep, a little strenuous and very committing.

Britomartis 58m HVS 3*
P1. 36m 4c (Andy led both, Richard 2nd)
P2. 22m 4c

By now the weather was much improved, the fog was clearing and the sun was already blazing down from a clear blue sky. Then AndyG got some prussiking practice, after having to descend again when the abseil rope got jammed in a crack when we tried to pull it back up.

Then it was time to have a bite to eat and enjoy the views whilst photographing some other climbers who were just starting up the slab above the jumbled boulders exposed by the receding tide.

Meanwhile, the others were making good progress on "A Dream of White Horses". Ably led by AndyC, they had missed out the first pitch due to the high tide and abseiled straight to the belay at the start of the second pitch, with the delicate and insecure step across just before the next belay. Graham led the next pitch, up the big flake and across to the Concrete Chimney. AndyC took the lead for the final traverse across the headwall above the arch. Although not technically difficult, many people find this the most entertaining pitch because of the exposure and the consequences of falling in such a position.

The intrepid crew, including Gail who was on her first HVS, all arrived safely with big cheesy grins on their faces. The next time AndyC and Graham are on Anglesey the tide tables will be receiving close scrutiny because there is the first pitch to be climbed before they can claim the full tick for the route.

North Stack (Wen Slab Area)

A Dream of White Horses 150m HVS 3*
P2. 25m 5a (AndyC led)
P3. 35m 4c (Graham led)
P4. 45m 4c (AndyC led)
(Approach by abseil, Gail "piggy in the middle")

After all that, we decided not to rush back home in the hope that we would avoid some of the bank holiday traffic. The sun was warm, we ate the last of our food and we watched seals swimming near North Stack.

All good things come to an end and eventually our stomachs got the better of us. So we packed up ready for the drive home, via the chippy in Conway.