The Red Zone – T minus 12 hours

For six months of the year we can only marvel at its splendor, crisp red rock punctuated by soft sandy lines of weakness. For the devotee this is where Gogarth climbing its at. Steep and sustain climbing with just enough gear to keep you going, the climbing is rarely ever desperate, but the sustain nature of the routes both physically and psychologically make this a place that I have been drawn to for sometime.

It is no sweet shop down there, the routes are never easily won, as you do battle with soft sandy rock and harder red rock, the moving in and out of the mediums make it a difficult place to adjust to.

For those six months we are barred from entering this arena of the unwell, the cliffs are home to a menagerie of sea birds, birds that only return to land for those months to raise a brood and help them fledge before they head to the skies and the sea one more time.

Internationally it is one of the largest known breeding sites of sea birds in Europe, and twitcher’s come from all over to marvel in the natural wonder of thousands of birds lining every available perch. The rock is turned white with guano, the air filled with the cacophony of calls, and then like clockwork at the end of July the birds fledge and the site is left abandoned.

In a form of vertical hot desking as one tenant moves out another moves in, the climbers who dare to play there bizarre and risky game move onto the walls and start to add there own sharp calls that break through the sound of the waves and wind.

Climbing here is nothing if not adventurous, there is gear, but how good it is one would not like to find out. The routes have reputations, and like the supporters of various football clubs, some are more notorious than others. Abseiling into the red zone is like teleporting yourself into the thick of it, on the top of the cliff is life and all the worries of existence, below is a world where the next 6ft are all that matters.

Some love the place, others will never get to grips with the style of climbing, as adventure climbing is a strange world, where all the skills of a climber come into play, the belays are hard to arrange, gear can be a joke and the climbing so delicate and absorbing that like Alice you can lose yourself down there. It is another roadside attraction for the brave, whilst holiday-makers and bird lovers watch from Ellen’s Tower with their ice creams you are locked in a battle that can feel like life and death.

As you descend the abseil rope to the base, the gravity of the place take shape as you hang in space feet from the wall watching the holds pass you by. By the bottom your pulse is racing and the excitement is starting to reach fever pitch, as you wait for the whistle to blow and the game to start.

Bring on the Red!



Spent a lovely day up the Llanberis Pass, we climb opn the Plexus Buttress again, as the weather was so pleasant. We climbed the easier left hand one of the of the …xus’s. Lovely climbing, and no harder, if anything slightly easier after the wobbly jug, wobbled itself free.

After that we nipped up Diagonal or something similar, as never sure which first pitch is which without a guidebook. Instead I just go where I feel likegoing to get to the belays. By the afternoon the pass was looking dark and grey, not sure what that means for tomorrows weather, Totally knackered now.

Alzheimer’s Onsights

With age comes experience, and I would like to think I have accrued a fair amount of that over the years, and there are routes that I climb regularly and each hold is like shaking hands with an old friend. The gear is just there, the routes goes this way, and the routes are no longer unknown but more of a well remembered dance. Kind of like the margarina, but hopefully more stylish!

Anyhow, today we went to Tremadog, and I got on routes that I don’t do that much, well not all of the route anyway. Thinking I was good we ‘warmed up’ on The Plum. A great E1, only to find that someone had made the start desperate, and the rest just sustain. As well as being psychologically underprepared for the route, as I had envisaged walking up it, I was also overdressed, and by the end of the first crack was sweating heavily.

This was much to the amusement of Matt who was working on an adjacent route, who just saw my eyes out on stalks as I turned the arete, trying to place a runner, whilst the sweat blinded me. Anyway it was great after that, and I had full forgotten most of that route, until the crux on the arete, from which point I was back to familiar territory.

The next route I suggested was Vector, one of the Classic must do E2’s in Wales, and one that I am often found on when its raining, as the rock is so steep the second pitch often stays dry. However it was llion’s lead so he took that pitch leaving me the final hard pitch.

A pitch that I have avoided for many years, it is actually on a route that amusingly gets E1 called Diadec, but because you approach it from a different directions the climbing is actually easier. Anyway I stood below this groove, utterly perplexed. Almost convinced I was going to have to reverse to the belay and admit defeat. One very interesting grunt/scream/shriek later I somehow managed to morph my body into a position where upwards progress was possible, and ran up to the belay.

I often prise myself with a reasonably good memory for routes, moves and gear, however I think I managed to prove that given enough time away from a route, then you can actually forget most parts of them. My head has now stopped aching, but body has taken over in sympathy.

It begs the question, how long do you have to wait until you can ‘onsight’ a route for a second time?

RAC Boulders and California

Well, despite my rather emotional morning remembering my friend and the worst times in my life, I can assure you that I am OK. So I hit the RAC boulders in the afternoon, did the circuit in rapid time, and managed for the first time this year the complete circuit of the pump traverse. I had fallen off the drop down move everytime I had tried it this year.

I then met up with llion and headed up to the quarries and into California. It was a lovely evening and it may have been too hot in the sun so we headed into one of the holes, where it is usually cooler, but even there is was pleasantly warm, but not too hot.

This was another of a favourite haunts of my friend, and there is a tree planted in his memory, sadly it was looking rather sorry for itself, although probably as much to do with the lack of direct sun this hole gets. It holds so many nice memories, and tonight was just another one of those.

We started by repeating one of Ian Lloyd-Jones new routes, a great F6a to the right of Tambourine Man. With any luck before too long the new guide will be out, so keep your eyes on the Ground Up website and V12 Outdoors, as they will be the places to get an early copy. Alternatively visit the slate wiki site, as these routes are documented in there. I have to say that ‘We Speak No Americano’ was one of the better routes of that grade in the Slate quarries. So much so after I lead the top pitch I lowered off and made llion lead it as well.

After that there was much debate as to what we could do, the back wall looked rather too challenging for us today. Not that we haven’t had our fun up there, I have climbed the two classic E5’s with Llion, as well as other friends and Central Sadness is my favourite slate route of all times.

Looking around it was looming over me, and had been there since we entered the other world of California, it was most recently used as part of the recent Clash of the Titans film. You can’t help notice it as you enter the quarry, a 40m high arete of slate, cutting a line from the skyline to the scree strewn floor. It is though, virtually devoid on any protection, making it more of an extreme scramble/solo.

Setting up the arete, I mantel onto a roof of a hut that straddles a quarried arch at its base, ahead are a line of large handholds that lead out to the arete proper, the rock is slick and virtually devoid of foot holds. Scampering right to reach the arete is always nerve wracking I remember the first time of hoping and praying that there is no more climbing that hard up there. On the arete I control my breathing as you are poised on a knife edge and the serrated edge lead to the sky, the holds are ample, but the setting instantly exposed, and you need to be calm and composed up there.

Edging upwards the world below shrinks and I am alone on the crest of a wave that suddenly rears up. One high step is all that guards the upper easier climbing, and reaching up I feel like I am laybacking the sky. The moves start to blend into one as I dance upwards and round the arete and into the blinding sunshine, pausing for just a moment to saviour the peace and calm of the airy setting.

I bring Llion up on the rope that for all intents and purposes was there for comfort rather than effect. He joins me and we reteat off. His memory of following our friend up the arete make it a fitting route for the day.

Sitting down we look into the quarry, and I remember watching the first ascent of Fruit of the Gloom, as Dave had to follow up the most rediculous off-width/chimney that is invisible from where we are sat. As I took photos of them climbing the rock was just cascading off the face.

Similarly, a few friends headed in here a few years back to celebrate the life of our friend. What better way to do it than with fireworks. Like naughty children we would each take a turn to line up a rocket with the tunnel mouth half way up a cliff, ‘Fire in the Hole’, and whoooosssssh………bang, as we missed the hole am basically put surpressive fire down on the cliff which we all love to climb on.

Whoooossssh……Bang, and then the sudden realisation that we have set fire to all the gorse bushes on the ledges of the wall. Sniggering like the children we had regressed to, all was well in the world, as we were sure it would have met with approval.

Tomorrow its raining, so back to start the second edit of the slate chapter for RF, of which the topo shot for this crag is in my opinion stunning, and now I can re-write a couple more route descriptions.


I had lay in my bed for three days, locked the door, turned off my phone and as I shut out the world behind a thick curtain, my world faded to black. Sporadically I would cry on and off until I had run out of tears. Life, as I knew it was as painful as it was pointless. Loneliness was my only companion, and I had reached my lowest point.

Sat in a room full of friends the feeling of emptiness, sorrow and despair overwhelmed me. As friends grew concerned, the line between sadness and depression blurred. When you cross that line, you are unaware of where it is anymore, it’s like being emotionally weightless, you loose site of where up is as you drop deeper and deeper into oblivion.

I am not sure whom I broke down in front of first, but it was inevitable, as depression to me was a very private thing. I would come out and put on a front, trying to project a different version of myself, but behind that mask was a real fight, a spiraling helter-skelter of self perpetuating fear and loathing, of what I was and where I was going. Hiding it from friends, acquaintances, colleague, clients and bosses was as draining as the apparent loneliness.

It is that trying to a brave face on it that is most costly, the trying to fight the constant negativity, is mentally draining. Trying so hard for so long, the inevitable stick that breaks the camels back will come along, and it may be a major event but is just as likely to be a minor one, you just never know.

Being male, sharing my feelings with my friends has always been hard, it was those friends made me go see my doctor, and start to piece my life back together. Today, I remain a fighter, whilst I am a million miles away from being alone in that darkened room, seeing nothing worth living for, I am still not sure whether I have slain my demons. My depression is linked to suffering from Tinnitus, which will never go away, I have learnt to live with the ringing in my ears as well as my depression.

Occasionally I still have minor dips, but at least now I know I can help myself and get support from my friends and doctors.

If you’re wondering why all of a sudden I am making this confession. Well last night I climbed a route with one of my close friend who choose the route because of an old friend, who 7 years ago yesterday decided to take his own life. He will never realize that his death was a major turning point in my life.

In that I got up from a place where I wasn’t happy, and started to slowly turn my life around, in those seven years I have had highs and lows. In fighting it I have tried to keep myself busy, and in doing so have managed to write a book, complete and MSc, changed my career from working as a receptionist in a climbing wall to becoming what I hope is a great mountaineering instructor and coach. The challenge to remain above that line is one that never seems far away, but one that I can now face head on and win more often than I lose.

During my MSc I looked at the reasons for participation in high-risk sports, and whilst there are several reasons that are being unearthed. One of the underlying reasons is that some participants suffer higher levels than a ‘normal’ population of anxiety, depression and emotional instability. We engage in our risk based sports to escape those feelings. I know that I am never happier than when I am climbing; totally absorbed in the moment the world and my worries fade to grey. It is seen as a self-regulation of your emotions.

* * *

This is possibly the hardest thing I have ever written and posted. My hope is that in reading this you are either helped or at the very least more aware of the problems associated with depression and people suffering from it. If only one person benefits from my admission then it was worth it, as 1 in 10 people in the UK suffer from depression, its worst if you’re female as 1 in 4 women suffer from depression at some point in their life. Men are more likely to commit suicide, partly because they are less likely to seek help. Depression is an illness and not a weakness; there are treatments for it, you just need to go seek them out from your GP.

For more info or help on depression see this NHS page or visit your GP.

RIP my friend, and thank you for all the memories.

Crouchan Evening

Well, the weather was and still is amazing over here in Wales! I did try to get out during the day bouldering but the Pass was rammed so went shopping instead. Then headed up after work with Katie to climb on the crouchan.

For once there wasn’t a million teams getting some after work action on the cliff. There was though one team on the route Katie wanted to lead so I nipped up Brant Direct. I say nipped up, what I mean is worked my way up as confidentally as possible, as it is always a fight, but still a great route!

After that Katie try SS Special, unfortunately Katie doesn’t do too much leading so was pumped out by the final roof, so ended up doing what I dub the SS Sickle. I guess we can sometimes forget that if we don’t lead for a while then it becomes ever harder.

One of the reasons we headed up there was in memory of a great friend that we both shared many routes and memories with. This song is for him.

Olympics 2020: What Will It Take to Put a British Climber on the Podium?

With the news that climbing has been short listed for the Olympics in 2020, I thought I’d ponder a situation that on the one hand is hypothetical, but on the other if climbing reaches its Olympic Dream; then is the UK capable of attaining a podium is a reasonable question to ponder.

As unlike world championships, commonwealth or other sporting competition, the Olympics has a special place in the history of the sports that make up both summer and winter Olympic games. The reason for this is whilst the world championships are held on a regular basis, the Olympics 4 year cycle, makes the athletes from around the world go the extra mile.

If we take stock of where we are in the UK and the current time, then to be honest if the results from the recent IFSC (International Federation of Sport Climbing) World Climbing Championships, means that we are more likely to be an also ran than a winner. In lead climbing we seem to be lucky to make the top 50, whilst bouldering we have made it into the top ten and even a recent podium for team events when we were on home soil.

So as a nation we are far better at bouldering than routes, which is interesting, and possibly explained if we take a look at two of the big guns in the Competition Climbing scene, Adam Ondra and Roman Julian. Both have been on the podium for more than their fair share of the limelight. Both are also phenomenal outside as well, with multiple F9a and harder routes under their belts. They also climb full time, and tour the Europe’s best sports climbing venues as they move with the tour.

So the most obvious differences seems to be the ability to climb full time and access to simply thousands of hard sports routes across Europe. Just a look at the new rockfax guide to Provence when your next in an outdoor shop, and some crags have more F7c routes and harder on them than LPT has routes. Ask yourself if you are going to stay motivated to climb at your limit would you a. do it in an indoor wall on another route set for that week, month, year or do it outside on routes that have an internationally recognized name, grade and reputation?

The access to hard and challenging routes is a difficult one in the UK, as our traditional ethic and not to mention the lack of the steep limestone venues that are two a penny on the continent simply aren’t in abundance in the UK. However climbing outside certainly seems to help the top climbers on the circuit, and whilst it must help physiologically, I also suspected that it also helps keep climbers motivated to climb at their limit week in week out, as the added incentive of climbing classic hard routes, keeps many of the top climbers on the circuit motivated to a higher level, than it can possibly be indoors. Why, because there is a greater chance for the ego to be polished, not that these guys are egotist, it is just a human trait that we can’t ignore.

Without a ready access to hard sport climbing then the UK based competition climber needs to have an excellent training facility. Sadly there are few appropriate lead climbing venues in the UK, Ratho in Scotland is probably the one that is the closest to an international competition wall.

However in terms of bouldering we are not only getting there in terms of our performance but also really starting to mount a good fight. This is probably due to the facilities in the UK. First we have now got many dedicated bouldering walls like The Works in Sheffield. More than that though whilst we don’t have those steep overhanging limestone, we do have some of the best bouldering in Europe on a massive variety of rock types and styles.

So other than Money to free up a potential climbers time to train on facilities that are few and far between in this country. There is also the question of who is going to coach this new breed of competition climbers, fortunately the Mountain Leader Training Boards have been tasked with developing coaching awards aimed at developing the grass routes coaching of children and others. However they won’t be about until a few years from now, and in any event these awards will at best help people coach regional teams.

The current GB team, has a great selection of volunteer coaches whose knowledge is excellent, however what can be done to improve this ad hoc base of skill and knowledge to bring it together into one cohesive base, for international training?

The question is whether British Climbers are willing to front up the money to either send our climbers to ‘training camps’ in Europe, or build some better lead climbing walls. Not to mention front up some money for the GB climbing team for coaching and training. As at present not only do some of the team need to maintain motivation, but also there is a certain amount of self-financing that goes on.

Trikes on the Roof of the World

Ex-local and climber, Paul Pritchard is trying to raise funds for an epic journey across the Himalaya on a recumbant tricycle. Paul rose to fame in climbing cirlces during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, when he put up a few new bold and ultra serious routes across North Wales and the World.

Paul wrote at the time for On The Edge magazine, and many of his articles were touched up and put inside his first book ‘Deep Play’, which showcased his extreme life as a rock climber and mountaineer. He was one of my motivations for climbing when I started out, reading his account of the slate and north wales, made me move to Bangor, where I have lived everysince. One of the most moving pieces from this book was ‘A Game, One Climber Played’, which was a very evocative account of a near death experience Paul had when he fell of the route, Games Climbers Play in Wen Zawn at Gogarth. If you haven’t read this book then I advise you to do so.

It was nothing short of a miracle that he survived, but he went onto to climb hard again, and travelled the world on a trip with his then partner Celia Bull. During this trip Paul again had a brush with death, when he pulled a block off onto his head on the Totem Pole in Tasmania. The epic build up and recovery from this horrific accident is captured in his second book ‘The Totem Pole’.

This accident left him with similar disabilities to a stroke victim, in that one side of his body is partially paralyse. This has never seemed to put him off from challenging himself, and has climbed Kilimanjairo with another disabled mountaineer Jamie Andrew.

More recently he has been climbing again, and Hot Aches made a short film about his ‘Return to the Rainbow’, and emotional return for paul to a slab where he established a few very hard routes. In this film he followed Johnny Dawes up an E1 on the slab, and a few years back I went to see it premiere in the Fricsan with live narration from Paul. read the post here

Anyway Paul’s latest challenge is to cycle 1100km along the ‘Friendship Highway’, he is looking for support on this website, and they hope to make a documentary about the journey, to help motivate other disabled people to get out there and explore what is still possible. If you can spare a few quid, I am sure he would appreciate it.

South Stack Day: No’s 94 and 95

Its been a great week, however the work stopped last night, and I enjoyed a few pints in the Heights Hotel, I will have to do a blog on the Heights, as it is just incredible. Anyway I awoke to a fuzzy head, and sunshine, but the wind is still from the North so we headed to Gogarth with no fixed plans.

It was only as we arrived at Holyhead that we decided that South Stack was the crag of choice, as it had a cafe for more panads (tea/coffee for my readers the otherside of the Offa’s Dyke). The Cafe is amazing, it was taken over last april, and now opens year round, and the RSPB people who run it are really pro climbers, they are even getting a few bits and bobs for climbers, like chalk, quickdraws and other stuff you might forget. They seem very happy for us to park in the far side of the car park and have a brew before heading on down, although they said that the car park is free for everyone, but its nice to support the RSPB.

Anyway with the crag decided we then had to think of a route, so we looked in the old 1986 guide, and I found Were Puffin’s Daren’t a high level girdle traverse from Castel Helen to Yellow Wall. It got a star, and was in the graded list. We ended up starting from the Castell Helen uber ledge, as I had started the route before from Lighthouse arete area.

The route was awesome and worth at least two stars, a bit loose in places but easy in those places. The highlights are the pitch that follows North-west Passage and then goes to the True Moment Freebird Belay. After that a easy pitch gets to the start of a rampline running across yellow walls to the exit corner of Creeping Leema. Although easy, is it nothing if not exposed.

The final pitch is meant to be a reverse down right to a good hold on the arete, before heading left up the groove, I headed direct, which wasn’t that hard or bold. After looking at the guide again I realised that due to 15ft of different climbing on our first pitch we had climb the Castel Helen Girdle a great E1, although Were Puffin’s Daren’t at HVS has an identical finishing 3 pitches. So seeing as I have climbed all the pitches I could have claimed My 94th and 95th routes at Gogarth.

However I settled for 94, the 95 route was a pokey little E1 on the left handside of Yellow Wall called, The Savage.

A great day out.

Remember there are seven days, and eight sleeps till the glorious!

Work, Work, Work……and Play

I have for the last eight or nine days. I have lost count been teaching various people climbing, from basic movement coaching to escaping the system, and everything else in between.

My last post was from Wednesday, so I’ll start from Thursday, which was another Day at Tremadog with Damien. We had a great day, despite my one major oversight of leaving my rock boots in my car. So we climbed Obleron, Rio and Poor Man’s Peutrey. I got him tying into belays As well as following.

Everything was awesome, until the last pitch of the last route, as the sky darkened I knew what was coming, and faced with a long abseil off or me getting to the top the before it rained, I decided to go for the summit. No sooner had Damien arrived with me and the heavens opened.

That evening I headed up the quarries with llion and Katie and climbed Obsession, which is one of Colin Goodey’s finer additions to the sports climbing on slate, a great 29m pitch, or two shorter ones.

The next day I was back at tremadog with rebecca on an intro to outdoor climbing, and we climbed Christmas Curry, One Step in the Clouds, Scratch Arete and Barbarian. Even I was shocked with barbarian, as it was Rebeccas 4th route outside, although I should add she boulders V4 and leads F6b indoors! So as well as climbing I had her tying into belays, and placing gear on belays.

Today, it was a choice between Castell Helen and The Pass. With a northerly wind I thought it might be a bit cold, so went for Castell Helen, forgetting that starting too early means the sun isn’t on the crag. So we climbing Lighthouse Arete in 5 pitches with more tying into belays and placing gear, followed by Rap.

We then headed over to Llanberis, and caught the first few runners back from the Up the Hill race, before walking over to Vivian Quarry to climb one final route Last Tango in Paris. Rebecca really seemed to love this route, and was buzzing afterwards.

For me it was the end of a long week of work, that has been awesome. Climbing lots of great routes and hanging out with a great bunch of people, and calling it work. Tomorrow though its more climbing for fun.