Appointment With Fear

The long abseil into red walls

Well, today was the day, I had been tracking it my diary since the middle of last month. It sat there like a veritable red-letter day. It read only ‘The Glorious First – Red Walls?!’, it was the first time for a few years that I was able to both not be working and have a climbing partner.

The day was a grey one, and it was drizzling in Llanberis, and according to the BBC, Met office, Met Guess and the Heights Hotel weather slate, said it was drizzling on the island as well. It was not looking good, but the charts also promised improving weather, so we drove through a few light rain showers and arrive at South Stack at about 11.30.

We head to the wall half expecting to see a mass of people rushing down there to get the first route in of the season. From the viewing gallery we saw a bare wall. As we racked up in the car park another climber rush to see if we were heading to Castell Helen and Light House Arête, much to his relief and ours we weren’t going to be fighting over our chosen routes.

I know the place is scary but I damn near jumped over the top of the cliff as I walked to the abseil, when I nearly trod on an Adder. I don’t know which of us was more scared; I’d like to think it was me. So by the time I had rigged the abseil the adrenaline was already coarse round my body.

There are two ways to reach the base of the wall, both are terrifying, with a 100m abseil rope we headed straight down the wall, which is quick and reasonably painless, however you get to see the cliff for and angle that really doesn’t fill you with confidence. Those large holds look looser from 1m out on space, the wall is steeper and the climbing looks insane.

Llion lead of first and manage to find pretty much every ledge, but the right on to belay on. Which was of course a major hilarity to the whole day. As we had taken a North Wales Rock first edition, where the topo for right hand red wall, is about the size of a postage stamp, and does more harm than good, as the topo lines are about the width of four climbers!

Anyway Llion basically led the first pitch of blue remembered hills and then reverse down to another ledge, before deciding this was the wrong one and finally finding the right one. I of course had to follow his meandering that turn out to include reversing the first 40ft of the second pitch of Red Wall.

By this time I was convinced that what I thought I knew about this route was wrong and we were in fact on a harder neighbour, as I started my vertical shuffling, only when I saw a peg did I realize that I was on a route at least.

It is only when you see that peg the real route finding starts, and for the life of me I couldn’t see a way through. For a while Bamboo was ascending faster than I was and for the life of me I couldn’t remember which way to go, as all looked utterly unappealing. For some reason I remember a foothold out left and thought it would be a good idea to stand on it, only to find another foot hold further left. As I inched my way left away from the last thing the was trying desperately to resemble a runner, there was only one thing going in my favour, and that was I could no longer see how bad the runner was. Despite my trying to visualize it as a bolt, the crumbling sandy rubble I was holding onto was making that quite hard.

Contender for the 'Worst Belay in Wales'

Eventually I am above what was below, and stood in balance on a ledge covered from head to foot in sand and dust. I have not felt that dirty since I watch Baywatch as a teenager, this thought amused me as I made the last few move to the belay. Well I call it a belay, the guidebooks call it a belay, in reality is somewhat like that toilet in Train spotting, in that as you pull onto the ledge a large typeface appears in front of your eyes that simply reads ‘The Worst Belay in Wales’, or it would if it wasn’t for the belays of Cilan Head.

Three tied off pieces of rust, a poor cam lodged in sand, a spike and what I can only described as a braced stance similar to one you might take if you found yourself in that toilet in Scotland, and the lock was bust. Pushing up and inwards with you feet whilst trying not to shit yourself is not the best belay I found myself somehow attached to.

Llion follows whilst I dig that heel in!

Llion follows and joins me at the stance, I encourage him not to look at the belay, as I am worried the pegs might snap under his glare, as they are barely holding the superlight DMM quickdraws that I used to clip them and tie them off. He disappears up and over more rubble and sand; this isn’t a place for builders, as it would just feel like work.

As he tops out the relief that the end is in sight for me as well as him is a bittersweet pill to swallow. As this is serious type II fun, the kind of experience that becomes better through the rear view mirror of life, but as I follow the pitch to freedom, I am left with the overwhelming feeling that despite the loose, sandy rock, the run outs the feeling of being adrift on a turbulent ocean of rock, that somehow that was a fun day out.

Everyone one else this season will have to eat my chalk on that route, although you’ll probably also eat a good half-kilo of sand, if the grit in my mouth was anything to go by. A nice day and great to open the Red Wall account this season.

Llion exiting the crux traverse on pitch 2