So I couldn’t stay in north Wales anyway. I had things to do, a cat to feed, revision for some exams. I did all of that and looked at the forecast: Totally stunning for the next two days. I had to go back. I saw a friend had posted on UKC looking for a partner in the Peak, so sent him a message. “Cloggy? Gagging to do Great Wall!” My luck was in, and a few hours later we were back in the car heading west.
This time there was no messing. Get to Llanberis, grab a pint in the pub and walk up the hill. We arrived at the crag at about 2am under the stars and pitched up for the night. By the time I woke properly there were people arriving at the crag. A pair were already on Great Wall and we decided to warm up with another Hard Rock tick, Vember.
When we returned to the base a queue was starting to form, and it didn’t stop. Great Wall was occupied for most of the day until it was finally free in the evening, when I felt too tired to get on it. Tomorrow would be different, we’d just get up and get on with it. So we did. I set off up the first pitch after stretching my legs and swinging my arms around a bit, and was surprised to find the start a little bold. Not to be deterred I pressed on in the hope that better gear would appear. It did, and the climbing became steeper and more technical. I bridged my way up the ever shallower groove until a move right to a flake and into an undercut constituted the crux. The next hold looked a long way off. I arranged protection and took a look, but my calves were pumping and I was tired. I stepped down a move to shake out and drop my heels, before taking another look. Still too far, I decided to reverse a little further for a better shake, and felt my legs wobble as I moved down with smears for feet. I was gone. Before I’d had time to think my left foot popped and I was airborne. I fell all of ten feet, but I think most of the people on Snowdon heard my profanity as it echoed round the cwm. I could have cried. It meant a lot to me to onsight this route, and I was totally gutted to have blown it in such a stupid manner. I was worried now that maybe it was too hard, if the top pitch was harder and bolder I really didn’t want to fall off up there.
Either way, I had to get to the belay. The crux passed in a breeze second time up, landing on a huge jug with tricky but positive climbing for another 20 feet to the belay. John followed up easily, only having trouble with the gear I’d fallen on and I started to look up at the well chalked top pitch. It didn’t look too hard from here, and unusually, by this point I wasn’t at all concerned about it. Perhaps the tension had been relieved by blowing the onsight already?
I swapped over on the cramped stance with John and set off. I was concerned about the possible lack of gear, so took every placement I could get, with about 10 pieces in by the time I got to the crux. It was small gear, but reasonable placements and I felt pretty sure that most of it would hold a fall. My calves were starting to pump as I approached the crux. As I placed the wire before the move right I realised that it was such a good bit of gear that I should just go for it. So I did. I moved up into an undercut with high feet and slapped up right for the start of the sidepull, it was small but positive. Pasting my feet on I edged across and brought my left hand to match. It was a bloody jug! I was in! The ledge turned out to be a little disappointing to start, being slopey and a little unhelpful, but I didn’t care now, I swung carelessly across for another 15 feet to the jugs at the end and pulled on, elated. I slotted home a good wire and composed myself, but I was giddy with excitement at what I’d done. I wanted to make sure I didn’t blow the easy climbing to the top, but it was fine and I made it to the Green Gallery with a huge grin on my face.
John followed the pitch clean. I’d been hoping for some ego-boosting yells of “Take!” and more huffing and puffing, but he breezed up it. We finished the day by scrambling up to the Pinnacle to climb Shrike. (Actually, John had wanted to climb Octo, but my inability to read a guidebook landed us in the wrong spot.) Shrike was another route I’d always wanted to get on, I was surprised at how many of the holds creaked and that the line was slightly odd, but the position is amazing and it packs in a few great moves.
I don’t feel too disappointed on blowing the onsight on a route which was so important to me. I guess the consolation is that the first pitch was well within my grade now, which is good to know. It’s frustrating to make elementary mistakes on big routes, but it’s all part of the experience. I was lucky to have a second who was willing, and to get to lead both pitches and given that it’s taken me so long to get up there I’m just glad to have been! I revelled in being on that face and finally seeing its intricacies up close. There’s also still the prospect of climbing the direct start and finish to get another taste of the wall. Another line up there has also caught my eye, which still has aid points on it, I’d love to investigate closer and it would be brilliant to be able to add a little to the history of the cliff with a first free ascent.
I understand better now Drummond’s finishing statement on the wall, commenting on Pete Crew, the first ascensionist: “He was still in love with that wall. Lovely boy Crew, arrow climber. Wall without end.”