Ben Silvestre adds The Dispossessed, a thin finger test-piece in Ogwen
June 1st: 2019
Earlier this week Ben Silvestre did the first ascent of what Alex Mason, the second ascenionist, described as ‘the best finger crack in Wales’. It’s a short but visually stunning looking thin fingers crack weighing in about E7 6c/F8a. Fresh from his Gogarth exploits earlier in the month, Alex Mason was straight in for the second ascent.
Ben Silvestre on The Dispossessed. Photo Jethro Kiernan
Ogwen, perhaps the poor relation of nearby Llanberis Pass, has traditionally been known for its slabby/necky climbing typified by the older routes on Suicide Wall. However, over the years a number of steeper and harder testpieces have changed that view. Routes such as John Redhead’s Wrinkled Retainer, Neil Carson’s Mission Impossible, Leo Holding’s Rare Lichen, Nick Dixon’s The Gribbin Wall and latterly James McHaffie’s The Ambassador have both elevated Ogwen’s standing and kept the cognoscenti entertained.
Ben told CLIMBER a little about the new route: 'It's a slightly overhanging face and totally smooth, very compact with lovely ochre colours. Not enormous - about 20m wide and 15m tall. The ground drops away steeply below which gives the route a much bigger feel. The left hand side is characterised by three parallel diagonal cracks; The Dispossessed takes the central crack. The right hand crack is the project Alex wants to climb and the left crack is unprotectable. There is another project on the right of the face which is very hard with a bold start and unfortunately escapable from mid height. There’s no routes on the face apart from that. We didn't place any pegs but there are a few old ones on the face, including a stainless steel one at the bottom of the crack we climbed, which seems to be in relatively good condition.'
As a thin fingers crack we presumed it was well protected but it’s always worth asking the first ascensionist to describe the climbing and the gear and then how it compares to other cracks in the area: 'Yes, being a finger crack it is very well protected, although the initial section prior to gaining the crack is slightly bolder. It is possible to place a wire in the bottom of the crack, and to clip a peg, which protects a great technical sequence to gain the crack. A good rest here provides a welcome chance to get motivated for a few metres of relatively straightforward but pumpy finger locks (sustained British 6a), which leads to another good rest below the crux. The crack above becomes slightly thinner, and without the pods which tend to characterise British finger cracks. A hard 6b move sets you up for the actual crux - a big slap off a back three tips lock. Magic. In all the climbing amounts to something like F7c+ / 8a. It'd probably be a 5.13 in America, though its hard to say - 5.12+ finger cracks are pretty nails! We need a crack pro like Hazel [Findlay] to climb it and tell us whether or not we're total punters! The only thing I can really compare it to in Wales is Pretty Girls Make Graves. It's a similar length, but a good bit harder. The quality of the climbing is at least the same.'
And does Ben think that The Dispossessed will become an Ogwen testpiece classic? 'I think it will become a classic test piece - it certainly ought to. It's one of the best cracks I've been on in Britain, and a very good one to try and onsight. An onsight would be very impressive, the crux isn't super obvious even if it is a crack climb. Could be similar to Strawberries in that sense.'
Ben also explained how the project came to fruition: 'I first tried it with Calum Muskett. I think big Tim Neill told him and Alex about it. We went up at the start of May and gave it a good clean, and had a bit of a play, managing to do all the moves but struggling at the top due to some mild seepage at the crux. I think seepage here could be a problem, but not too bad - probably worth waiting a few days after heavy rain. It's pretty sheltered so stays fairly dry. After the first go we returned a few days later and gave it some further cleaning, but it was too humid to make much progress with climbing it. Soon after Calum returned in secret with Luke Brooks and gave it a first lead go, falling at the crux. After that we sort of got distracted by other things, and I got involved in another project in Ogwen. I'd lined up a belay on that with Alex Hazlehurst, but he was unable to make it so it didn't go ahead. Fortunately, I had another offer that day from Alex Mason, who had asked me to belay him on a new route in Ogwen. Obviously I was intrigued - Calum knew that Tim had told Alex about the crack, so I carefully accepted Alex's offer, to see where he wanted to go. Of course, he was headed for the crack project, so I went along to see how it was going for him. Calum and myself were returning the following day, and I figured it was only fair to match his secret session with Luke. I spent most of the session remembering how to climb it, but managed to get a lead go in, which didn't get me very far up the route, but settled the redpoint nerves a bit. Next day me and Calum both had a good go, falling off the crux a couple of times each. Calum ought to have done it really, but the final move is a real heartbreaker! That was it for Calum - he was going to the Alps for the summer and wouldn't get another chance. With rain on the forecast I dragged my wife Tessa up the following day, but it was humid as sin and I was too tired. Daft really. Two days of heavy rain and me and Alex were wondering if it would still be dry. Alex had the evening free so I said I'd go up early and check conditions. Last minute, Tess decided to come too. We were expecting it to be soaked, but somehow it was still dry, and with a cold wind promising good conditions. Warming up it felt a lot easier without sweaty locks at the top. I had a good rest, waiting for Alex to arrive, but then I decided I just had to go or I'd get psyched out, and it went like a dream!'
We also had to ask Ben about the name - how did that come about? 'The name, The Dispossessed, is the title of a very good book by the late Ursula le Guin. It's about an anarchic people living on the moon of their capitalist planet of origin. But it's also about what constitutes a home and what gives our lives meaning. I've recently moved to the Bethesda area and those themes are very much on my mind, especially as Brexit unravels and people face the possibility of being displaced from the country they call home. The name also touches on the amusing competition to claim the first ascent - unlike the adventurous nature of, say, a new alpine route, climbing a head pointed single pitch route like this before anyone else adds nothing to the experience. To be the first on a route like that is a matter of ownership, but no one really owns a route. I didn't really care about being the first, I'm just psyched to have climbed it. Nonetheless - it's pleasing to have the thing to my name, and its amusing to dispossess the lads.'
Finally here’s the route description.
Climb boldly up flakes past an old peg, until a technical sequence grants access to the the crack itself (stainless peg). Make sustained moves up the crack to a good rest a few metres below the top, then psyche up for a boulder problem crux, culminating in a wild slap to a jug.”
Click through here to see more of Jethro Kiernan’s photography