Helen and I have been organising the annual Rucksack Club Gogarth meet, on Holy Island, Anglesey, for about 15 years now. The formula is pretty simple: take the best crag in the world; stir in options for paddling, pedaling, bird-watching and sun-bathing; warm gently for 36 hours in one of Britain’s most benevolent micro-climates; sprinkle liberally with burgers and beer and stir in a shed-full of nice people. It’s not rocket science but it makes for a great weekend!
With all the bantering, shopping, carrying, chivvying and barbecuing it sometimes feels like a bit of an effort to actually get much climbing done, but this year I was on a mission – Yellow Wall is perhaps my favourite crag at Gogarth and I’d been wanting to do The Cow for years.
It needs a good while to dry out, so the current drought presented an ideal opportunity. Stan was easily persuaded as I floated the idea over a full English in the south stack café, and we were soon rapping into the weird upside down world of adventure that lies incongruously hidden just a few hundred metres away.
The Cow is so named because it “jumps over The Moon” (the classic E3 that traverses much of the wall and has been variously described as “strictly Space-Walking” and “the best route in the world!”). The first pitch of The Cow follows a striking diagonal crack for 30m of unrelenting thuggery – despite the good connies the crack was still pretty damp (and getting damper with my general sweatiness!) but occasional finger-locks and cunning footwork provided just enough oomph to get me established in the overhanging groove. Beyond that it’s an all-out battle to keep a lid on the building lactic acid and keep making progress. A break halfway along the traverse provides a semi-rest / kneebar (all my tufa tussling coming into play) which it’s best to milk before moo-ving on for another section of slippery jams.
Gasping for breath and udderly pumped, things finally start to relent as you approach the belay on The Moon – it feels like a path when you join it for a few feet (remarkable how perceptions change). Pitch 1 in the bag – a very sustained 6a pump fest on generally decent rock (for Yellow Wall) and with great gear (double up on small to medium cams). Just time for a couple of pics of Barry as arrives around the corner on The Moon.
Pitch 2 gets 5c and is described as one of the best on Gogarth – it blasts straight up (and out!) from The Moon belay where that route shuffles off rightwards. However, due to the intricacies of the UK grading system it’s a bit of an unknown quantity (bracketed in under the E5 umbrella of the first pitch) – is it a well protected E3 5c on solid rock or an E5 5c terror-fest… It’s certainly a contrast with P1: really technical and thoughtful moves are required to get established in the overhanging V-groove which looms above the belay, and the niche you arrive in presents little in the way of holds or a rest. Glancing down you get a real sense of exposure a hundred metres straight down to the sea. Fiddling a nest of okay gear in, you make a committing big pull over another roof – not desperate, but much of the rock is now the consistency of a baked sandcastle and feels far from reassuring. Urgent moves yield a ‘slab’ (ie no longer hideously overhanging!) and some more typical Yellow Wall moves on the dark brown crusty bits buried amongst the sandiness. Beyond that, a delicate romp to the inevitable top-out on quartzite Jenga blocks and the sanctuary of the horizontal! How hard…? Definitely a step up from the main Dogs of War top pitch, which gets E4, but maybe a bit better protected. Perhaps top-end E4?… and certainly a fitting finale.
On top of the crag various tourists give me a funny look as I emerge from the depths, gasping. More importantly, Steph, Barry’s girlfriend, is waiting for him to finish The Moon. I say he’s going to be a while yet, so she decides to nip back to the cafe for an ice-cream and comes back with one for me too! Now that’s what I call service!
Helen, Pete and Chris return from a family ascent of Slipper on Holyhead Mountain (an aggregate of over 200 years on the rope!) and we decided to quit while we’re ahead and start setting up the BBQ.
This year surpassed all previous records, with 90 of us gathering on the beach at the end of Saturday, no doubt fuelled be a fabulous forecast. It was wall-to-wall sunshine all weekend. Hundreds of sausages,
burgers and beers were consumed and the banter continued long into the night around the bonfire.
Sunday was scorching,
so we lowered the tempo a little and Helen, Martin and I teamed up for a route on Main Cliff – Simulator (not really recommended) followed by Bezel (classic!) gives a total of half a dozen pitches of VS running the full height of the crag, all be it with a vertical flower bed in the middle.
Fab views down to crystal clear, millpond smooth waters below and the usual spectating seals.
Back at the car park and Google Maps reports holdups on the A55, so no point dashing home – just time to chill and relax and polish off the dregs of the beer from the BBQ.
“How do you feel about the weekend, Dom?” “I’m over The Moon!”