Thursday, 10 March 2011

Everyone knows this is nowhere

Shadow Ridge on Clogwyn Du.

'The Tregalan Couloir'. Not sure why my former climbing partner always referred to this isolated place on the flanks of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) by the French term. After all, we have a perfectly good name in Welsh for such a topographical feature...Cwm. In fact, there it is on the OS map..Cwm Tregalan.
When I first heard him refer to 'The Tregalan Couloir' I imagined it was some remote Alpine valley discovered by a Cornishman.....and Tregalen was swept to his death by an avalanche in the couloir which bears his name to this day.
Back to 'Cwm' Tregalen; most outdoor activists who have sought out our highest places will have at the very least fringed the edges of the cwm. It's eastern flank carries the ever popular Watkins Path to Snowdon's lofty crown while to the west, a great ridge which separates the cwm from Cwm Garegog connects Wales' highest summit with shapely Yr Aran and carries tens of thousands of walkers down its wrinkled spine each year.
As for the cwm itself, well,it's pretty much a backwater. A few old mines attracts the odd visitor and a disused mine track links the desolate cwm with the pastoral charms of  Nant Gwynant but apart from the odd wild camper and explorer of industrial ruins, the cwm is more looked upon than visited. However, I should mention that in those rare hard winters the odd winter party slogs up here to take a look at those lines listed in the winter climbs guide, not least the starred Shadow Gully.
And then there are the the rock climbs. 'What rock climbs' I hear you ask? Good question!
Even the most eagle eyed mammologist with his eyes trained on the cwm's big cliff Clogwyn Du is unlikely to have his attention taken by the sudden movement of that most rare of creatures hereabouts.....the lesser spotted crag rat.( Climbus imbecilicus). In a pantheon of rarely visited North Wales cliffs, Clogwyn Du offers itself as a leading contender.

Appointment with King Arthur:Scott Lloyd sets off on pitch one of Shadow Ridge.

The 2000 Tremadog guide offers a cursory mention of the cliff with the briefest of  route descriptions. Explaining...the cliff is loose and broken but offers long mountaineering routes which unfortunately degenerate into loose scrambling at the top . Routes have been described in outline- their quality not deserving of detailed description. *

* The latest 2010 Climbers Club guidebook to Tremadog  thankfully now offers a more detailed and objective over view of the climbs hereabouts.

The thing that drew me to Clogwyn du was the fact that one of its explorers was Paul Work. A minor figure in Welsh climbing but a fascinating one nevertheless. As someone who started climbing in the 1930's, Merseysider, Paul Work was proposed and seconded for membership of The Climbers Club by none other than those great icons of pre-war Welsh climbing-Menlove Edwards and Colin Kirkus. Despite never being in the same league as Edwards and Kirkus as a climber, Work,by contrast appears to have been,one of those climbers who are content to beaver away at their own limited standard and create their own little climbing fiefdoms in areas far from the madding crowd.

For Paul Work it was those quiet places around Nantmor and Beddgelert. The rust red crags of Dyniewyd, the great vegetated hulk of Diffwys on Moel Hebog; the verdant and dramatic Aberglasllyn Gorge and of course Clogwyn Du. The only routes I expect most climbers might have heard of of his are those little esoteric minor classics, Christmas Climb  on Craig Dyniewyd and Canyon Rib on the side of Aberglasllyn Pass. Both now graded severe.
Apart from his modest climbing career, Paul Work was essentially a hill  farmer who eked out an existance on the remote farm of Carneddi on the side of Moel Dyniewyd with his wife Janette Ruck whose books Place of Stones and Hill Farm Story anticipated the deluge of 'escape to the country' books written by townies seeking the good life by about 40 years.
Interestingly, Jim Perrin featured Paul in one of his On the Rock With...series of articles in Climber in the early nineties. There he was alongside Stevie Haston, Johnny Dawes and Joe Brown. Fame at last !

 One of the other Clogwyn Du and indeed South Snowdonia pioneers along with Work was the late Climbers Club archivist John Neil whose Crystal Rib was described  as the route which takes the steep buttress ridge immediately left of the hanging gully and follows a sharp little quartz ridge with jolly pinnacles, giving altogether about 200' of climbing on good rock with pitches reminiscent of Tryfan's East Face. Sounds quite good does it not !
It was to John Neill to whom I turned to seek out complete routes descriptions. Just six weeks before his death he sent me back the most detailed  handwritten notes of all the routes on Clogwyn Du.
Apart from John's 'Crystal Rib', it was Paul Work's Shadow Ridge which caught my fancy. A 600' Diff described by the guidebook author as a poor route. So why, you may well ask, did it take my fancy if it was a poor route ? have forgotten.  Thanks to John Neill, I have Paul Work's original description....
Shadow Ridge Diff. The climb is well worth doing as a route up Snowdon. It has an Alpine character with reasonable continuity of idea.  What follows was a detailed route description  with approach  notes and little snippets like delightful climbing thrown in.
As a guidebook team member myself, far be it from me to cast aspersions on fellow guidebook writers but would it be so controversial to suggest that perhaps not all these obscure low grade routes are actually climbed and re-assessed ? In this instance I was tempted to go with the first  ascentionist's description.
Scott Lloyd on the second pitch of Shadow Ridge

The Climb

Opening the shutters I screwed up my eyes against the July morning glare. Not a cloud in the sky and temperatures rising by the minute. I had persuaded Scott Lloyd  an old climbing buddy-actually he's a young 'old' climbing buddy!-into joining me for a gander at Paul Work's old mountaineering route. These sort of routes are just Scotts' cup of tea and many's the time I've cajoled him into tromping up to some great brooding buttress to check out something which might....just might, be an unappreciated classic!
I have to say though, that scorching hot days in July are not ideal for lugging a heavy rucksack full of climbing hardware up to a remote crag. The walk up from the Nant Gwynant car park is reasonable but as soon as you start ascending into the pathless cwm it becomes pretty strength sapping. Suffice it to say,it took us a decidedly snail like two hours to reach the foot of the ridge. I'm sure a fit fell runner could do it in twenty minutes.
Since I had started climbing with Scott when he was an eager 14 year old,he had gone on to become one of the UK's leading Arthurian scholars and  works such as  The keys to Avalon co-written with writing partner Steve Blake and the follow up Pendragon are considered key works in the Arthurian oeuvre.
Oh...and by the way, the real King Arthur was Welsh so forget Tintagel, Glastonbury and all that south west bunkum.Just middle ages English invention!

Back to Shadow Ridge. Scott led off up the rib which marked the start of the climb and ensconced himself behind a gendarme. I quickly arrived and after availing myself of a slice of brie and a slightly rough vin rouge bid the gendarme au revoir and set out along the crest of the gully. Some proper climbing now takes place as you sidle along the steep gully wall before a surprisingly technical pull is required to gain the wall above. More steep climbing up a slightly loose groove delivered me to a strange ledge marked by a sizeable cairn. At this point Scott got quite excited when he joined me. Remember,we are talking of an Arthurian scholar here and what we had in a totally impossible position for a walker or scrambler was a carefully built cairn not one mile from Bwlch y Saethau-The pass of Arrows where according to legend, King Arthur had fought his last battle. Later...according to legend... to be laid to rest high up in the area of Slanting gully on Lliwedd just over the saddle from here.

In fact the excitement -or perhaps it was sun stroke?- overwhelmed Scott to the degree that as I was about to set off on the third pitch he announced.'I  feel a bit weird' and promptly collapsed! An event not unknown to me with a climbing partner. At this time, mobile phones where not the universal accessory we know today. Without any means of communication I contemplated lashing Scott to a rock and scrambling up to the ridge path where an uphill slog would deliver me to the summit cafe and communication with the outside world. However,he groggily came to and declared himself fit to continue and I got back in the saddle.

Near the top of the ridge marked  Bwlch Main on the OS map, a steady stream of walkers were heading up and down from Yr Wyddfa's crowded summit. A little girl shouted 'Oh Look' and pretty soon a crocodile of walkers had curtailed their activities to take in the impressive spectacle. For some strange reason, at this point I was compelled to hang over the void by my fingernails, effect heel hooks, in fact bring into play every gymnastic device I had in my admittedly limited repertoire of  snappy moves.
Of course, I could have sloped off around the corner and probably walked up with my hands in my pockets but why spoil the show? Regrettably, all to soon the rock God had arrived at the top. Some instructors ran over and asked 'what route are you on?'....'Shadow Ridge'...'Ahh..Shadow Ridge', as if it meant anything. I could have said ' The Maestrict Treaty'  and it would have made as much sense.
By then I had been joined by  the groggy Lloyd and we descended the main ridge and took the Yr Aran path back into the cwm. There was a pint of Bass in the Pen y Gwryd with my name on it so no time to linger !

Shadow Ridge ? Well, it's a while ago since I did it but I look back now and think, yes,it was a decent route. Harder than a mere Diff. Probably a good trad mountaineering HV Diff. A route I would like to go back and do again as there are one or two sections which could be straightened out. Perhaps pushing the grade up to VS/HVS but Paul Work's original will always be an easier option.

Then there's the John Neill routes hereabouts? As Edward Abbey once said ......'The mountain is still there waiting for me.All of them out there,all of those mountains around the world,waiting for us. That's the good part......We'll be back.

Place of Stones: The weird graveyard like field of slate in the heart of Cwm Tregalan.

 John Appleby 2000/11©