Articles - Trad climbing in North Wales - part 2.
Photos: Baggy Richards
It was early one July morning as Neil and I headed along the A55 across Anglesey on what had become known locally as the Gogarth Expressway. Our initial plans, had been to go to Cloggy a high mountain cliff on Snowdon, this however, was stopped by the weather. The previous week had seen blue skies, but now the mountains were covered in a blanket of low cloud, drizzle and it was extremely windy all of which beckoned a coastal venue. Three choices spring to mind for many climbers in this situation: escape to Tremadog near Porthmadog, the Orme near Llandudno or Gogarth the big sea cliff off the West Coast of Anglesey on Holy Island. All these crags are famous for their relatively benign climate and are often dry when the mountain crags are streaming.
There was no drawn out debate about which route to do – a friend had been raving on about Concrete Chimney – two pitches of 5a, with an overall grade of HVS. The Gogarth guide suggests it’s first pitch is the finest of it’s standard at Gogarth – I wondered why I hadn’t climbed it before?
The fastest approach is from North Stack car park, across the headland to the promontory overlooking the Zawn. From this point you start to realise that Gogarth is a majestic place to climb. Concrete Chimney takes a superb line up left edge the stupendous 90 metre Wen Slab, which rises straight up from the sea in Wen Zawn. The place is renowned for routes like T Rex, Quartz Icicle, Wen, the audacious Conan The Librarian and finally one of Wales’s most famous climbs, the outstanding A Dream of White Horses.
The guidebook describes two approaches to the routes on the slab, the most common being by abseil down the seaward end. This is especially the case if there is a rough sea or a high tide.
I set off down the abseil first and soon entered the full force of the wind that was roaring straight into and up the zawn. Once I was established at the start of the route, Neil quickly joined me and asked to lead the first pitch. While sorting out the rack we eyed a team on the last pitch of Dream up above us, the leader being buffeted by the wind and looking very exposed. Not long after Neil set off he turned round, started laughing and shouted to me “this is absolute wild”.
Huddled on the belay, back to the wind, paying out the slack, I was watching Neil climbing slowly and cautiously making steady progress up the arête, when suddenly a really strong gust came out of no where and turned me round 180 degrees. This took me my surprise and looking quickly towards Neil I noticed he was oblivious to this event, wrapped up in is own world.
Shortly after, peering out of the slit on my hood I noticed Neil starting to set up the belay. When finished, I watched him mouthing what seemed to be the words safe. Maybe the birds above will hear him! I got the thumbs up from Neil and set off. As I followed a line of small but positive holds heading leftwards up to the arête overlooking the chimney, I felt like I could just open my arms and get blown up the pitch. At the arête I stopped for a moment to soak in the atmosphere. With waves crashing into the base of the zawn, the wind howling up the slab, birds swooping around my head and looking up an immaculate wall that I would be able to climb on good holds in fine position I thought, beat this!
I became so absorbed in the climbing that it came as a bit a shock when I arrived at the stance so soon. What a pitch, was it one of the best at this grade? I’ll let you decide for yourself! As Neil and I exchanged laughter and gear, another climber on Dream passed by. He informed us this was his first route at Gogarth – the look on his face said it all. . .
The second pitch goes up and leftwards over some overlapping slabs. This felt steeper and more exposed than the first pitch, but good runners and positive holds beckoned me into a groove that led me out of the cocoon of the zawn to the top. As I watched Neil come up, ropes arcing in the wind below me, I realised what an awesome pitch this was. Gogarth at it’s best.