Articles - Trad climbing in North Wales
Photo: Plas y Brenin
by Steve Long (Plas y Brenin)
The Gwynant valley is Snowdonia’s Lake District; ancient woodlands line the banks of deep lakes linked by the wonderful Aber Glaslyn, which later gathers its forces beyond Beddgelert to erupt into the paddler’s nemesis that is the Aberglaslyn Gorge. This unspoilt valley is a poignant reminder of bygone days: nothing has changed since the days of Llewelyn, and the regular appearance of medieval film sets does nothing to dispel this sense of time warp.
Your drive from Pen y Gwryd, down the narrow lane masquerading as the A498, will often provide more than enough excitement, as you thread your way between tourist coaches and Plas y Brenin minibuses to emerge on the straights beside Llyn Gwynant. On a wet day the pale horizon promises an escape from the weather at Tremadog, but today we will park beside the lake and walk back along its shore towards the campsite on its eastern bank. Our crag is immediately obvious, looming darkly above the mysterious depths. Many of the routes on Clogwyn y Wenallt have stolen their theme from the rambling Clogwyn y Bustach (crag of the ox) that hides amongst the wild woods further upstream. The Bustach is also worth a visit, as it hosts a few esoteric gems: Gallop Step (HVS) has the unusual credentials of both starting and finishing on the ground, while Lockwood’s Chimney (Diff) is the closest experience to caving that you will find above ground in Snowdonia: utterly unforgettable but completely insane!
The Wenallt is a giant tooth of rock comprising a series of overhanging walls broken by comfortable grassy ledges. Soaring up the left edge is the fierce crack of Ferdinand, a classic Joe Brown sandbag, now elevated to E2, but the finest climbs soar straight up the centre of the cliff to provide two fine lines that with a little rationalisation can be enjoyed in the way that nature intended.
Oxine and the Botox treatment
The first pitch of Oxo leads directly up to the magnificent Bovine headwall, to give a classic VS combination that has long been known as Oxine, my recommended route. However, the Bovine groove leads straight to an upper groove that provides an alternative (superior) finish to Oxo and gives a sustained climb at HVS 5b, 5a that I have christened Botox - since it smoothes out the age-old lines!
Oxine starts below a prominent groove that defines the right edge of the largest boulder studded terrace. The groove provides the crux of Bovine, but our route forges diagonally across a black wall towards a smaller ledge with a tree belay. This pitch is not too tricky, but the shiny rock and the spaced protection make the journey rightwards feel like a journey into the unknown. Passing a detached flake with some trepidation, you continue rightwards along a gangway with renewed confidence.
Above the ledge, a series of cracks breach the headwall. None of them look like a reasonable proposition at VS, and you would be right to think so; not one succumbs at less than E2. Yet even less likely, our route soars virtually straight up the face, after swinging wildly rightwards out of the awkward groove directly above the belay! It’s a committing start, ignoring the tempting prospect of the easy slab that scuttles leftwards towards a large tree; this was the sensible choice made in 1953 by the first ascentionists of Oxo. But take a deep breath, extend a runner slotted into the groove and launch out into the unknown. You’ll be rewarded by an unrelenting series of flakes, spikes and luxurious incuts that swagger straight up the impending wall. Sheer magic! Drape a sling over a spike when you feel like it, or slot in the occasional nut – this climb rewards those who persevere beyond the opening impasse.
On a fine day you’ll be able to luxuriate in the sun for most of the day on this delightful crag, far away from the roar of traffic. An easy stroll back down the easy path out to the left is all that separates you from a difficult decision; to celebrate your success on a true classic, or to make a clean sweep of the face using Botox.
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