As soon as I pass through Betws-y-coed, I start to feel a sense of excitement. The drive from Capel Curig to Llanberis, passing lake Llynnau Mymbyr and over the Pen-y-Pass is one of my favourite drives in the UK. I suddenly get that sense of belonging. I have driven over the Pass in all weathers and times of the day. But, normally in the evening once most tourists have gone back to their comfy abodes. This I am not complaining about – it always gives me a sense of arriving at a home away from home.
I wondered what I was about to encounter as I drove through atrocious weather in Betws and saw the foreboding low dark cloud over the pass. However, no matter what the weather, the landscape never ceases to amaze me. As soon as I got to the top of the pass, I could see into the next valley. I was treated to the most ominous but inviting landscape of dark clouds with the sun peering through. Being amongst the mountains brings lots of happy memories and I always know that I will have a fantastic time.
Arriving in Llanberis this time was no different. I checked into the B&B, Glyn Afon, which has become like a second home to me! The owner, Elaine, is lovely – and you must try her breakfasts and the most delicious selection of cakes. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so will say no more, other than they are all homemade! I unpacked, and settled into my room, looking forward to the next four days of climbing.
I was spending the next four days with Paul from Paul Poole Mountaineering. Now I have done numerous things with Paul, from my Mountain Leader Award, climbing weekends and also trips abroad. During this Paul has become a good friend, and I was looking forward to catching up with him post lockdown. Now without any bias, Paul really is a fantastic instructor and coach, and I would highly recommend him. He is very personable, patient and has a great sense of humour, and knows his stuff! Oh, and cakes are a must! For this trip I made chocolate orange brownies, but Mars Bar Krispy cakes also go down well!
Day 1: Slate and Clogwyn Bochlwyd
Paul met me at the B&B, and over our traditional morning hot drink and cake, we discussed the day, knowing we could properly catch up later. It was going to rain in the middle of the day, but we knew we had a window of opportunity. So wanting to grasp this we didn’t hang around too long enjoying Elaine’s selection of cakes and pastries!
We decided on bus stop quarry near the Llanberis slate mines. It is a lovely little sport crag, 2 minutes walk from the car. This allowed me to get back into climbing, with sport being the last climbing I did back in February. We also had the place to ourselves! There isn’t loads of routes here, but there is a nice selection of various grades. The slate was dry and we managed to get in 3 climbs before the rain came. ‘First Step’ was the name of the route. This seemed appropriate for my first climb since February! So with the weather now doing what it said it would, we retreated to the car. A hot drink, and possibly more cake, was calling us back to Llanberis.
Once we had given the rain enough time to ease, we headed to Clogwyn Bochlwyd. Paul knew the rock was likely to be a bit drier round there. It seemed luck was on our side today. With the park being overrun with all the staycations we wondered if we would find a parking space. However, there was a perfect slot right in front of the entrance – it was like it was waiting for us. We had a short boggy walk up to Bochlwyd. I learnt my lesson that going high isn’t necessarily the best idea to avoiding bogs. Squelch, and yes my right foot had sunk right in up to the ankle! Thankfully I had a spare pair of socks with me – don’t ask!
Arriving at the rock, and bonus, we were the only ones again! Bochlwyd is trad and made from Rhyolite. It is what I call nice rock, and has lots of holds. There is once again a variety of grades available generally from Severe upwards. There is also a mixture of single and multi-pitch routes, with some of the multi-pitch being doable as a single if you have a long enough rope. Paul led the routes, enabling me to get my climbing head back on, and back into trad.
We did four routes in total. I had the option of doing the fourth route, wall climb, or finishing after three. Wall climb has a little traverse on it, and these are not my favourite. However, Paul explained how it was a very short traverse – basically two steps! So, I thought, what the heck, what have I got to lose! And actually, it was a nice route – and we both climbed the traverse very differently. Paul stepped down, but that mentally made me feel less safe, so I stayed higher up – but it all worked. By this point we had got the descent route down from the top of the crag sorted, so we were quickly on our way back to the car. It was a great day. I felt I had got my climbing mojo back and was ready for what the next few days would bring.
The day was then nicely finished with a proper catch up with Paul and Kelly (and not forgetting Mags the dog!) over dinner.
Day 2: Castle Inn
Today we went to Castle Inn Quarry (of course after coffee and cake!). Paul’s partner, and my great friend, Kelly (Kitty Rocks), also joined us. And not forgetting the most important crag member – Kelly’s dog, Mag. Be aware that there has been a rockfall which meant that the main face, and carpark are out of bounds. So we ended up parking in Mynnydd Marian Nature Reserve car park (free) and walking into the crag. For directions on how to access this carpark, click here.
It was an incredibly gusty day and walking to the crag certainly woke us all up. Thankfully we had a very easy little scramble down into the crag, which made it more sheltered. Castle Inn is a south-facing limestone sports venue. It is perfect for all climbers with a good distribution of grades especially up to 6A. After being introduced to Castle Inn by Paul a year or so ago, I knew it was the nicer end of limestone, and a lovely place to practise lead climbing.
Today we looked at what we decided to call nice and naughty steps. Paul got me doing one nice step (good foothold) followed by one naughty step (basically not a foothold at all and hence we debated if it should be called naughty or cheeky!) However, this technique improved my footwork and allowed me to get up some roots I had previously struggled on.
Kelly and Mags were great crag buddies – encouraging and supportive, belaying, taking photos, oh and making sure they were dressed appropriately! I mean you have to look the part don’t you – and Mags, the PataPoochy, certainly did! I can also tell you that cucumber and water infused with a lemon slice is not up to Mag’s usual standards. I’m not sure I have ever seen a dog turn her nose up so quickly! Mags had purposefully made Kelly and Paul forget her water bowl, so that she could share my homity pie (much more her taste) and then use that container as a water bowl – she really is a clever dog!
We climbed eleven routes that day from 4a to 6a, including myself leading two 4a routes. We could see the rain in the distance over Snowdonia park, and were feeling quite pleased with our crag choice. The wind did, however, try its best to blow us off one route, but clinging on we got to the top, and then decided to retreat to some more sheltered routes around the corner.
Leaving the crag feeling very satisfied we just had the return journey over the nature reserve to contend with. We hadn’t quite realised how windy it was until we scrambled back up to the top. Poor Mags was being blown sideways! However, as we made it back to the car we were graced with a beautiful rainbow. Another great day!
Day 3: Welsh weather!
No more than that really needs to be said! However, myself and Paul had a chat in the morning, and after consulting numerous weather forecasts it was clear that it was going to be a washout. Yes we could have gone out and looked at a bit of rigging, but we knew that we would both be wet, cold and probably miserable after a few hours. A hot chocolate and a good book seemed much more appealing! We decided together that it would be best to postpone the day. Feeling like I had a migraine coming on I was secretly quite pleased about this! Never one to cancel unless I can hardly move, I would have just tried to plough on through the day!
We had a leisurely coffee and cake whilst having a chat about different climbing books, and mindset/psychological type books. A friend had recommended the ‘Chimp Paradox’ to me, and I knew Paul was currently reading it. He recommended ‘Bounce’ and ‘The Talent Code’ which Paul thought were an easier read. I always enjoy discussing mindset and how people perceive things etc, and I honestly think we could have chatted all day about it.
However, I had been tasked with going into Betws to find the Fairy Cave guidebook, and also a book of the classic routes in Wales, England and Scotland. Arriving in Betws, the weather was glorious, so I decided to make the most of it, knowing it wouldn’t last.
I have a regular circular walk that I always do when in Betws, that goes by the river and around the golf course. I didn’t pass another soul – just lots of bees enjoying the flowers and collecting the pollen. Tourists aren’t really aware of the path and maybe the locals knew the route was flooded! However, a bit of water didn’t deter me, and I got through the worst part without getting too wet! I stopped for a break on the bench by the river, just enjoying the sunshine and listening to the water. The edges of the golf course were also flooded where the river had burst its banks. However, there was lots of space for me to walk around, and the golfers didn’t seem to mind, with them happily chatting to me.
After exiting Cotswold, with the success of buying the guidebook, the heavens had opened. Sitting back in the car I felt smug that I had timed it so well. Arriving back at the B&B my migraine suddenly hit me so I spent the afternoon sleeping to get rid of it.
I was glad it had gone, as it meant that I got to enjoy the delicious Thai Curry that Paul cooked that night. I can honestly say that I think it’s best Thai curry I have ever tasted – and no it’s not the first one I have had! After a few games of connect four, and pairing card memory game (which I for some reason seemed to have the habit of always turning over the same card by mistake!), we all then enjoyed a good game of scramble.
Day 4: Upper Tremadog
Today looked to be a good weather day, so we decided to get a prompt start. This meant no cup of coffee for Paul at the B&B…however Elaine wouldn’t let him arrive and then leave without grabbing some cake. Unfortunately, the rain the day before meant there was some local flooding which had caused some roads to Tremadog to be shut. However, after a lovely tour of Snowdonia (I wasn’t driving, so could enjoy it!) we arrived.
Parking in a layby, we started the steep walk up to the crag. This certainly got the legs going. I think my calf muscles were wishing they had woken up before doing the walk-in! Be aware that the path is a bit boggy in places and there is a stream to cross over. Tremadog is often the crag that is always warm and often dry when clouds hang over the Llanberis pass. It is a trad single pitch gritstone crag, and has lots of routes from severe upwards, with the odd one below it.
We accessed the top of the crag and I had a good practice placing nuts and cams. I had wanted to practise setting up an abseil. So, with Pauls help, I did this whilst at the top and we both then abseiled back to the bottom of the crag. As I was abbing down I had a go placing gear on the route. This then allowed me to led it with the gear already in. This was a lovely way to work a route and meant I could focus on doing good placements with Paul checking them, and then leading it.
We then moved the ab point and followed the same process as the last one. I could instantly tell this one was harder. However, I always climb better if I don’t know the grade! Paul chooses the routes, and as one onlooker once said, ‘I like it, its like grade roulette’ – mentally it is much better for me not knowing! Still making sure I was doing alternate nice and naughty steps, I then went and led the last route without me having pre-placed the gear. I am glad Paul was there on a rope nearby, in case I needed any assistance, but it all went well. I didn’t feel like I was climbing to the best of my ability – but I got up it safely, with no falling off/resting on gear and the gear placements were all good, so I knew I was probably being over harsh with myself!
Feeling like we should finish on a good note, we abseiled back down and finished the day there. I think the most dangerous part of the day was going back down the path to the car – the steps were incredibly slippy. So I do advise just taking it slow and steady down the path.
Finishing the day with fish and chips, and a good old scrabble game was definitely what was needed. It rounded off the last 4 days nicely. And I won, so why wouldn’t I enjoy it!
What a great 3 days climbing. I had got my climbing head back on, led some sport and trad routes, set up some abseils, improved my foot placements allowing me to climb harder grades and become more confident. And all this was in the company of some great and fashionable friends – of course, I mean Mags the dog!
If you want to find out about working towards a qualification and improving your skills then click here to have a read about the Mountain Training Association.