I’ve wanted to climb on Cloggy for almost as long as I’ve been climbing. When I started out, indoors, I was naive enough to not realise the amazing resources Britain has for rock climbing. I remember some friends heading to climb “near Sheffield” and being a little baffled, I didn’t realise there were any mountains near Sheffield? I suppose there aren’t really, but I was totally clueless about the vast amount of climbing that central England possessed, and oblivious to the fact that I might want to live here.
I put this naivety right by reading voraciously. Any magazine left lying around, posters on walls and what limited information there was on the internet at the time. I spent a year working in a relatively quiet gear shop, and basically got paid to read the bookshelf. Yosemite, by Alex Huber and Heinz Zak was one of the books newly released, and I gawped at the terrifying photos in it, but it all seemed a little beyond me, and a little far away. I bought a copy of Hard Rock, and was instantly enchanted. Here were routes I could definitely do. I’d already climbed harder than the majority of the routes in the book.
One route in particular caught my eye: Great Wall at Clogwyn Du’r Arddu on the northern flanks of Snowdon. Known colloquially, with black humour, as “Cloggy”. This imposing north-facing cliff is home to numerous classics, most of which looked reasonable. Great Wall was another matter. It was harder than anything I’d done, but still seemed within the realms of possibility. The evocative write up from Ed Ward-Drummond sucked me in, his self-effacing and emotive account is part metaphor and part reality. It captured perfectly what I was looking for in hard climbing. The whole thing filled me with the queasy sense of unease that I’ve always had before a big lead. “Seal cold in my shorts I was feeling a little blue.” He talks of the wall as having a drawing force upon him, an intimate relationship guiding him upwards, tricking him, consoling him and ultimately permitting him. The piece was accompanied by a photograph that I found almost slightly disturbing. A black and white shot of Pete Crew, stretching for a hold at the limit of his reach, with the wall sweeping off into blackness beyond him. I instantly knew that this was a route I would have to do one day.The East Buttress of Cloggy, with the Great Wall lower centre.
When I started climbing I had very few real life role models. I didn’t know anyone heading off to the Alps, or the greater ranges. I knew a couple of people in passing who’d climbed E-grade routes, but didn’t realise that the difference between them and me wasn’t natural ability: it was hard work and experience. But E4 seemed attainable for a few reasons. They seemed to be generally 6a, which as far as I was concerned was the living end, but I could do 6a problems at the wall, so it had to be possible, right? I genuinely thought I would never do a 6b move, so wrote off anything as hard as that. The other thing which had caught my eye about the E4 grade came from reading the history section of the 1997 Wye Valley guide. E4 seemed to be the grade that everything got once it was freed from artificial aid. It seemed to be the natural point that the previous generation, with more acceptance of the odd aid move, had given up on free climbing. That, to me, said that this was where real, modern, hard climbing began. I wanted in.
Over the past decade I’ve climbed in north Wales several times a year, I’ve done classics on Anglesey, in Ogwen, the Pass, and at Tremadog. But Cloggy was where I really wanted to be. I’ve owned the guide for 10 years, yet every time I tried to visit something got in the way: a partner who couldn’t face the hour and a half walk in, an injury induced from putting a roll mat in a tent, poor weather, a broken down car. It was starting to get ridiculous. On seeing the news about the ascents of the Indian Face a couple of weeks ago, and finishing work for a few weeks, I knew now was the time.Electric BlueWe headed over to north Wales last Tuesday afternoon, and spent a great evening climbing at Rhoscolyn, ticking off Electric Blue, an E4 DWS that I’d fancied for a while, but assumed would be too scary on closer inspection. We opted to stay in a friend’s house near Llanberis to get a good night’s sleep and walk up to Cloggy in the morning, rather than carry more stuff to walk up that evening. The walk was hot even at 7.30am, and we sweated our way up the tourist track to the point where you arc right for a half lap of the shallow cwm beneath the crag.
This was the first time I’d even seen the crag up close and I was amazed by the architecture. The main lines are strong, defining features, and the faces between are blank and brooding. We got stuck in with an ascent of Jelly Roll in two pitches. I revelled in leading up the Drainpipe Crack that I’d read about with dread so many years before. A queue was forming for Great Wall, and we were weighing up whether to go for it. Rather than queue we opted for another E2 classic, The Troach, a bold wall climb with ample holds but airy situations as you climb out above suspect gear.
On returning to the base we looked again at Great Wall, and felt the ache in our calves and the butterflies in our stomachs. We talked about which pitches we’d take, the first being well protected but strenuous and technical, the second apparently bolder and the ultimate crux. We delayed a decision, Dave had seen another E2 he fancied, so we swarmed up Silhouette as the crag’s shadow passed beneath us towards evening. On finishing Silhouette we were faced with a dilemma – If we leave now we can make it to the pub for tea and still have a good day tomorrow. If we stay and do Great Wall we might ruin tomorrow, we might miss our tea, and, worst of all, we’re tired enough that we might fail.
We bailed for a disappointing dinner in the Vaynol and I was left wondering what might have been. The next day we trudged up to the Cromlech and managed Foil, the classic E3 crackline, before the sun came round and we abandoned for the shade of Pen Trwyn sport climbing. We headed home content, with a fantastic haul from 3 days of climbing.
But I felt there was unfinished business.