Earlier in the year I was filmed for a video for my main sponsor Marmot. The video is part of a series featuring each of the UK Marmot sponsored climbers, climbing some classic routes in their favourite climbing areas.
In this video I solo the classic Gogarth route ‘A Dream of White Horses’, and the nearby ‘Electric Blue’ at Rhoscolyn.
The day out filming with Ian Burton of Image Impossible was a lot of fun, and I believe the whole series was inspired by the video I did last year of Almscliff in Yorkshire.
It was a lot of fun climbing these routes as they are both so good, and this was one of the least stressful days of climbing filming I have done. I hope you enjoy!
The ledge system at the top of the Main Cliff of Gogarth is 60m above the sea. Most ropes these days are 60m long. Now I’m no genius, but I had an idea…
The routes on the steep headwall section of the main cliff weave their way up, usually in two or three pitches, skirting slightly sideways to belay on good ledges along the way. A direct way up the centre of the steep wall, with continuously overhanging climbing, no rest and mega exposure, had to be possible, and it was with this in mind that I found myself at the foot of Main Cliff, tied in to Jimmy Big Guns. First up was a quick romp up Dinosaur, the classic E5, and a route I’d never done before, I was psyched!
Climbing through the crux, I eyed a flake out right that would take me straight in to the headwall, and not out left to the belay ledge. Aha! I made a mental note and we carried on up Dinosaur. And what a route it is. The guidebook description about needing micro cams is of course nonsense, and the route is well protected and has great moves in a fantastic position. I just love those Main Cliff E5’s!
Okay – so that’s the left hand entrance sorted, now lets switch sides, and move to the right: Alien!
Big Guns had followed the imposing corner of Alien (E6 6b) a few weeks previous and was psyched to get on the sharp end. Up he went, and I paid out the rope. In went a few cams, but then Big Guns started to look pumped. Although he got a little flustered, I saw a look of determination on his face and he forged upward, but alas, the arms were spent, and down he flew, taking a lob from somewhere near the crux section.
It’s a double edged sword taking over the reins when your mate has just taken a big fall. The good points being you already have some of the gear placed for you, and you’ve probably seen a few of the moves (although I never really pay attention). The bad points being that, well, you’ve just seen your mate, who is way stronger and fitter than you, take a massive lob…
I was psyched!
I grinned and set off up Alien. By some miracle I found it pretty straightforward and enjoyed the moves, looking ever leftwards for a way up the headwall to create a new link-up route. There was a way, but it seemed not quite as logical as the Dinosaur link… Okay, lets come back tomorrow, and we’ll see how it all goes…
The next evening, and conditions were not quite as good.
I was stood underneath Dinosaur, sporting the word’s biggest rack. Over to the side was Robbie Rocket Pants, fighting his way up Mammoth, another classic E5. He looked pumped, and as is his way, began to fight upwards with ever-increasing urgency. His rapid-fire commentary was raining down like machine gun bullets, and everyone knew he was going to take the mighty fall. Off he came, and down he went!
Dinosaur felt pretty easy, and I headed off up the flake on the right. Higher and higher I went, and then I was in to the E6 ‘The Big Sleep’. It was all going according to plan. All of a sudden my arms were pumped. I eyed up a big flat hold, busted some moves and grabbed it, just. Things were getting out of control.
I managed to wiggle in a Wallnut 1, and eyed up the runout to gain the good holds of Positron. There was nothing else for it, I had to go on, and I started snatching sidepulls as fast as I could.
Arms bursting, eyes on stalks, I grabbed the good hold of Positron with my right hand. YES! I’d made it, and thank God, as the little wire now looked very small and very far away. But.. NOO… I was too pumped, my fingers were opening on the flake. I was panicking. Instinctively I snatched up my left hand. I had both hands wrapped around the jug, but the smears for my feet were not taking any weight. I couldn’t hold on, and slowly my fingers started opening, one at a time, like someone peeling a banana. The 55m of pumpy climbing had fried my arms. I was off.
“NOOOOO!” I screamed. The boys at the base all had a little giggle. I arched through the air, and managed to scream another ‘NOOO” on the way down, landing virtually back at the Dinosaur belay. 🙂
About a week later I went back and led the route, but getting to the same position again, and being equally as pumped, I realised that The Big Sleep is a bit eliminate, so I bridged 1m left and got a shake-out in the second pitch of Dinosaur (E4). This was enough to replenish the reserves and carry me up the rest of the route, but it wasn’t quite the unrelenting pump-fest I was looking for.
Still, ‘Dinosnore’ is born, and there is still more to come from this amazing section of cliff.
Rock climbing – isn’t it brilliant!
Thanks to Ray Wood for filming this route, and Paul Diffley of HotAches for sending me the screen grabs.
Also big up to Big Guns (legend) and Rocket Pants (loveable fool) and Chamonix visitors Cautious Tom and American Geoff. Such fun times!
It was my last day in Wales and I woke up in the South Stack car park. The weather was a bit shitty, but I hoped it would clear. I had a couple of brews to warm up, packed my things, texted Jimmy Big Guns to arrange a 6pm belay, and set off at a trot toward the Main Cliff. It was late morning, leaving me enough time for a bit of soloing before Jim came and we roped up.
The scramble down to the cliff always feels more dicey than it should, and I find myself questioning my ability on rock, after my inability on the approach path. The cliff seemed dry enough, but sea mist was swirling in and I was hesitant. But I was aching to be up on the Main Cliff headwall.
I crouched under the first pitch of Positron and collected my thoughts. They went along these lines; Do I want to do this? Oh yes I do. Hmm, it would be cool to have a photo. God, do I want to do this so I can show off photos afterwards. Hmm. I don’t think so. But maybe. God that is weird. Maybe I can take a photo of myself when I get to a big hold. Christ what if I fall off trying to take a photo of myself soloing. But if I don’t take a photo, perhaps no one will believe me. So, that means I care if people believe me. I shouldn’t care. I don’t care. I’m not taking a fucking camera. Jesus.
Whilst thinking the above load of nonsense I put on an old pair of rock shoes, enjoying their well-used feel. I over-filled my chalk bag and set off up the route. It was greasy, covered in that fine film of slipperiness that all Gogarth climbers know. Not wet as such, but what we call ‘goppy’. I told myself that the headwall would be dryer, as it’s further from the sea, and I pressed on a little higher.
Then, as quickly and haphazardly as I started, I reversed, it was too slippery. My thoughts on the headwall being dry were not true, and somewhere deep in my mind, I knew that today wasn’t the day.
After hot-footing it back up the approach path, I moved left and soloed across the top of the cliff on an easier girdle route, a HVS called Cordon Bleu. It was damp so I was on a go slow, a 60m drop and some loose grass and rocks were enough to make me maintain 100% concentration.
Arriving at the sloping ledges above the main cliff headwall, I sling a spike, toss my rope over and abseil down the wall, checking the dryness, and looking for the right line to take to link two pitches together, to create a new link-up route that tackles the centre of the main wall.
The rock is by this time soaking wet and I am hanging 60m above the sea, in the middle of perhaps the biggest cliff in North Wales, and I am glad I have my rope. My earlier decision to back off from soloing was the wisest move I have made for some time. I smile.
I feel at ease on the rock, in this place, with myself. The sea is giving its constant rumble, that almost unnoticed backing-track to all sea cliff routes. I look out at the boats in the distance, and I feel happy. I switch from abseiling to an ascender, and start climbing out, the ascender following me up the rope, offering me protection if I fall. What a funny place to be shunting routes, I think to myself. But it feels like home. I love the texture of the rock, the holds, the shapes, and with the comfort of my rope, I enjoy the slippery dampness. The exposure is wild and I can taste the clamminess of the billowing sea mist.
I hear noises on the ledges above and I freeze. Climbers are on the easier route, where I have left my sling that is holding my rope. I tug on the rope and it seems solid, so I jump back on to it, using my weight to make sure that the climbers above don’t take off my sling. There are lots of spikes above the hard routes of the main cliff, and it is quite common to leave slings and carabiners there to abseil from, especially if you want to do several routes in quick succession. It has happened to me several times that climbers on the traverse have crag-swagged my gear, as I have been just 50m below, gearing up for the next route. I was worried that those above me now might do the same thing, and my safety line that I was just a few moments ago most happy with, would go whooshing down past me and pull me off in to a watery oblivion.
The climbers passed, and said hello. I knew them and it seemed odd to see some familiar faces in this place, in this weather. I continued climbing up the headwall, pausing a moment to sit on the bucket seat belay, a tiny bum shaped ledge, perched at the very apex of the headwall.
I didn’t realise either of my climbing ambitions that day. In fact I didn’t climb anything really. But I did have five minutes alone on the bucket seat belay. The best seat in the house.
Well, the old finger is still pretty sore, so I have nipped out climbing on big holds.
Routes climbed have been Dinorwig Unconquerable in the slate quarries and Hypodermic on main cliff at Gogarth.
Here is a topo style shot of Dinorwig Unconquerable, which is billed as a ‘proper’ jamming crack. It’s tight hands, a great size – around cam 2. I did think the jamming was short-lived though, it’s not exactly Indian Creek (thank God!).
A late evening blast up Hypodermic was also entertaining – here’s me starting the crux pitch. Amazing sunset, evening light, all that stuff. I didn’t leave my house until 6.15 pm, so it was a real late evening mission, it feels great to nip down on the Main Cliff at that time of night. We had the whole place to ourselves and as Ian climbed I gazed out to sea, dozing. (I held on to the rope Ian, honest!).