Articles - Bouldering at Porth Ysgo: The Lleyn Pilgrimage
Chris Davies catches the first of the three hard moves on the sit start of Truth
In spite of the decidedly cosmopolitan,‘surf dude’ atmosphere of Abersoch, the Lleyn Peninsula retains an air of detached mystery. Its steep and loose sea cliffs sit right out on the fringes of mainstream climbing tastes, most of the crags possessing a quiet air of seriousness,out of proportion to their relatively diminutive scale. I dare say that a quick stroll along the base of the intimidating Craig Dorys on Cilan Head would be enough tosend your typical Pennine cragger scuttling back to the familiar and friendly haunts of Tremadog.
Yet, nestled in a bay just beyond the Rhiw headland that guards the entrance to the vast sweep of Hell’s Mouth, lies a seemingly unique collection of sea washed boulders. Here amongst these stacked blocks of blackstone, that very same Pennine cragger may feel more at home. There is something of a grit-like ambience to the place. The rock itself is a quick-drying, bullet-hard gabbro, running from an ultra smooth, wave-and-pebble-polished sheen on the lower boulders and undercut bases, to rough-as you-like friction higher up.
Its relatively remote location has done little to discourage visitors of late. In fact the procession of incoming climbers on a dry weekend does echo the Christian pilgrimages made in times past to the nearby Bardsey Island. Of course the spiritual healing on offer at Porth Ysgo is one that I can vouch for – many is the time that I have felt the knots of my troubled mind unravelling as I have sat and contemplated in these serene surroundings.
The boulders are only semi-tidal and the weather often surprisingly kind, however the landings are invariably rocky, so do bring a pad (or two) and a friendly spotter.
The Truth block is a suitable kick off point for the first-time visitor. The left arête is V1, with a brutal slappy sitting start to come back to later (if you are feeling bionic). Over the back of the block the faint groove of the Ysgo Flange (V2) presents itself, an attractive feature guarded by a thin start. 30 metres to the right in a small bay is the Higginson Scar (V4), an obvious quarried face.
Further left (facing out to sea) a prominent square block beckons. The seaward face has two classic problems, Perrin’s Crack (V2) and the Incredible Shaking Man (V3), which can be extended with a hard V7 sitting start.
Continuing through the boulder field, past a high block wedged against the retaining hillside, the unmistakable Closer block comes into view. All the problems, and eliminate variations on here are worth attempting, but it is The Ramp (V3) itself,or its direct start, Unmarked Grave (V3) which attract the most custom. Just across the way the tempting highball line of Ysgo Crack (V1) awaits. The crux is low down, but do stay focussed on the upper section. Johnny’s Slab (V4) to the left also requires a certain coolness, whilst, left again, Floppy’s Arête (V0+) is thankfully blessed with a reasonable landing and an easy upper section. Lip Flip (V6) breaks somewhat awkwardly through the lip of the cave; a desperate V9 start (crossing the roof from a hand jam on the left wall of the cave) was recently added by Ben Bransby.
A scramble out the back of the cave leads to an undercut slab – the delightfully named Ugly Women (V3) blasts straight up from the juggy flake to wrestle with unnerving slopers (cycling fans may spot the trick, thugs won’t care). 20 metres on sits the campus move classic, Fast Cars (V5). My top tip for those struggling with the second move, is to take the ‘holdless’ arête as an intermediate – trust me, the rock is so rough it just works.
Moving on you can’t fail to notice the ‘monkey-up-a-stick’ sitting start to Mutant Child; Anaconda rates about V9 when it’s dry. Just before the end of the main boulder field the distinctive yellow face of Popcorn Party (V5/6) reveals itself. The difficulty of this fantastic problem is somewhat dependant on the shifting boulders that occasionally clog the sitting start. Tucked against the rock ridge that marks the boundary with the next bay is another must-do problem: Jawbreaker (V5).
Skipping over the ridge, a moment should be spent sampling the obvious roof problems on the adjacent large block. A choice of exits shifts the grade from V4 to a reachy V6.
The final block, and the end of your pilgrimage, can now be seen on the far side of the bay. Trons Brown (V4) tackles the rather wild back arête, whilst Made in Heaven (V4) solves the puzzle of gaining the hanging crack on the jet-black face to the left.
If you have any energy left after that lot, there is one final trial: the Porth Ysgo challenge as seen on the Stick It film, has become a popular test of strength. In reality it is more a test of stupidity; the difficulty of pressing out one of the rusted axles, depends entirely on which one you choose.
The more battered and spindly looking ones can be less than half the weight of an adjacent, and similar looking chunky one. But don’t let your mates know – it could be worth many pints if you orchestrate the situation correctly.
Who‘d have thought it?
The mines that you pass on the approach once yielded more than 100,000 tons of manganese. They were intermittingly active from 1840 to the final year of World War II. At the time an impressive jetty ran down the incline from the old winding house, stretching out into the sea for over 50 metres. This has long since disintegrated, although remnants of it can be seen around the boulder field. Check out rhiw.com for some remarkable black and white images of the jetty.
There is a National trust honesty box here. Follow the sign post down and follow the path leftwards through a small kissing gate to reach the old winding house, as above. If you follow the stream down the steep retaining hillside at the back of the boulder field, you should pop out at the Truth area shown in the topo. This area has many classic and easy problems and provides a good starting point for a visit.
For a full break down of the problems check out North Wales Bouldering (Northern Soul, 2004) and northwalesbouldering.com