One of the best things about North Wales is that when the weather’s bad there are plenty of areas to go which might be in the rain shadow of the mountains, all within a 40 minute drive of Llanberis. With this summer being one of the wettest on record that’s meant a lot of journey’s to North Wales’ fine and varied collection of sea cliffs. Seeing as North Wales has roughly 400 miles of coastline it makes sense that there are many sea cliffs; in fact, enough to fill four climbing guidebooks! The climbing varies from single pitch sport climbing on excellent quality limestone to great big adventurous routes on shale cliffs equally as good but perhaps a little less to everybody’s liking.
My favourite sea cliff is undoubtedly Gogarth on the north-western tip of Anglesey. It is a true climber’s playground with a lifetime’s worth of climbing on mainly solid quartzite rock. It’s sunny aspect and often plentiful gear placements make it a good choice for a long day out whether you’re in search of a committing adventure or an easy day’s cragging. Perhaps the two most classic and sought after routes are the famous A Dream of White Horses and Conan the Librarian. A Dream of White Horses is famous for the wild position of its main pitch tackling ground normally associated with much more difficult routes and should be on every ambitious VS climbers tick list. Conan the Librarian on the other hand tackles probably the ultimate line of Gogarth up the big sea arch of Wen Zawn. Having climbed A Dream… years ago when I started climbing Conan had always cried out at me to be climbed and I finally found a climbing partner and picked a date to try it last month. We couldn’t really have picked a much worse day in terms of the greasy conditions that often plague this part of Gogarth but I decided that I might as well go for it then as I didn’t know when I’d be back to try it next.
The climbing is excellent, a lot more intricate than your typical Gogarth route with tenuous and well protected bridging up the first groove to an exposed and uncomfortable hanging belay in the break below the second pitch. Unfortunately I fell off the first pitch- and then pulled a big useful hold off higher up the pitch but it was still great fun. Steve seconded and racked up ready for the next pitch, a much easier but bold corner. I placed his first piece of gear a metre right of the belay to get him going and Steve made steady progress above placing quite a few wires, none of which he seemed happy with. He began to tackle the last difficult sequence of the pitch but ended up calling down to me to take in as his holds were so greasy he could barely hang on. He fell off stripping every piece of gear as he went apart from the first cam I placed in the break. A sure fire 60 footer leaving him stranded in the centre of the arch beneath me and directly above the sea. After a lot of faffing we retreated with our tails tucked between our legs having had a good adventure and keen to return at a future date.
Gogarth isn’t the only good adventurous sea cliff though, in fact for real adventure you need to go to the Lleyn Peninsula, an esoteric area which is always sunny and often scary! The rock quality in places is often poor requiring a connoisseur’s appreciation but some of the climbing and positions are excellent. I haven’t seen another climber there on one of my visits yet. Craig Dorys is the best developed crag on the Lleyn with many challenging routes and all are single pitches (not to be mistaken with Stanage though!). I’ve had a successful few visits there climbing most of the classics and repeating some of the harder routes; Cripple Creek (E3), Byzantium (E4), Trebizond (E5) and Tonight at Noon (E6 6b) are all fantastic routes and should be on the tick lists of those climbing at the respective grades. Dorys also requires a big rack of climbing gear. I placed around 40 pieces in a single pitch on both Rust Never Sleeps and The Gross Clinic E6 and E6/7 respectively. I also had a go at making the 2nd ascent of a Stevie Haston E7 called Harmony recently. I attempted the line on-sight originally getting up to the crux but simply couldn’t see what to do or where to go so down climbed. I ran to the top and abseiled down quickly in my trainers finding some hidden holds which I chalked up to help me out. I led the line next go and there’s an outrageous long reach on it but fortunately a well protected one. I later found out that this was in fact a new route as I’d started in the wrong place and headed out left from the crux of Harmony which might suggest why the climbing felt so dynamic. Anyway, it’s now called ‘Discord’ and graded E7 6c.
I’ve had other adventures on the Lleyn as well recently on even more impressive sea cliffs and I managed to make the first ascent of a really fun new route in Twll Mawr on the slate which I called ‘The Hunted’ and it weighs in at around E6 or 7 6c. Off to the Alps next- let’s hope the weather gods are kind!