Amidst a fairly unspectacular summer, the forecast for the Rucksack Club’s annual pilgrimage to Gogarth wasn’t looking particularly auspicious. I’ve been organising this gathering for almost 20 years, and not had a washout yet, so another tremendous turnout awaited at South Stack. Mild anxiety had accompanied the drive through drizzle along the A55 (what do you do with half a tonne of sausages at a rain-swept beach BBQ?) and there were a few sceptical looks as people shivered in the icy wind. However, the famed Gogarth micro-climate once again delivered, and by lunchtime a brief blast of summer (all be it a windy one).
Jake and I rapped into Easter Island Gully for a grapple with Super Crack, E3 5c (not an ideal warm up, with a really burley first 10m made tougher by the clinging dampness).
A frustrating search for the rap point for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea yielded this bird ban sign
It’s not banned in the guide or the BMC database, but we figured we’d change plans just to be on the safe side. Great view of a big team on Wen and Britomartis.
… and on Main Cliff
Instead we headed over to Upper Tier where Jake pulled out all the stops with a smooth ascent of Run Fast Run Free, E5 6a
…and we “crossed tracks” with Dave and Tim on The Underground, a huge traverse of the crag
Time to head for the beach to set up the BBQ and await the arrival of the 60 or so members and guests who braved the inauspicious forecast and were rewarded by sunshine on the crag and the beach BBQ. Special thanks to the barbecue helpers and burger flippers!
As well as the beach fun there had been a fair amount of climbing to be had, with ascents on Main Cliff, Upper Tier, Rhoscolyn and Holyhead Mountain, not to mention pedalling and paddling.
Sunday dawned bright but soon clouded over, and the wind hadn’t abated. Teams headed off in all directions in search of shelter and dry rock, and Jake and I decided on a day on Main Cliff. After a 15 minute stop in a handy cave, sitting out a major downpour and contemplating a trip to a cafe, our blind optimism was rewarded with a major about turn to “grande beaux temps”
We had the whole crag to ourselves and made a speedy ascent of Resolution Direct, E2 5b/c in two monster 40+m pitches (here’s Jake on the first)
It was still cracking the flags, so we dashed down for another blast before the forecasted rain at 4pm.
Upping the stakes considerably, Jake had his eye on one of the classic big Main Cliff E5s, Citadel. It takes the wall right of the obvious stepped overhangs running up the left of the cliff
before forcing a way through the roof via a very bouldery 6b sequence (protected by a recently replaced peg – very welcome). Here’s Jake contemplating the crux before crushing it!
By now the first spots of rain had arrived and things were getting damp as I hauled on the peg to follow. A frustrating retreat was the only option, but at least Jake had managed the rarely-onsighted crux.
With the forecast improving on Monday we stopped over an extra night with a view to having an adventure the following day – Castle Helen is the accessible, friendly face of Gogarth seacliff climbing, with the classic VSs of Lighthouse Arête, Rap and Pel making perfect introductory routes in the genre. It also has a more serious side, with the excellent True Moments / Freebird and Kalahari being great outings at E2 and E3 respectively. Between these two lie some big adventures, including Hanging Out at Glastonbury, a committing 4 pitch traverse through the major bands of overhangs below and to the right of TM/FB.
We bumped into a couple of Bangor climbers: Owen and Beau, who were doing TM/FB (nice to have some company!)
The first traversing pitch of 5c/6a leaves the corner of Atlantis and voyages out along a diagonal fault just above the lip of an overhang. Here’s the view back to Jake on the belay (with Beau heading up behind to reach the higher fault on TM/FB)
Somewhat techy to the arete and then you build a nest of whatever gear you can assemble (small sideways wires and tiny cams) before working up the courage to head round into the unknown. Here’s Jake poking his head around when following the pitch
A very committing move sees you round onto outrageously overhanging territory and shuffling across a juggy rail, looping slings over handholds and hoping they don’t slip off. It’s also oozing with wet – Hint: it’s probably best for a late afternoon once it’s had a chance to dry out.
Hard moves across a rotten corner then lead down onto a “slab” and a belay amongst the rotting detritus of ancient rusting ironmongery (with a bit of imagination it’s actually a pretty solid stance).
We’re now trapped between overhangs above and below, with E4 pitches in either direction – despite this, I feel a sudden almost euphoric rush of wellbeing, having knowingly committed ourselves into the situation and confident in our ability to extricate ourselves.
The next pitch is even more outrageously exposed, pulling through a hanging wall suspended above the crashing waves.
Hint: Place gear in the groove to stop the rope getting stuck and belay immediately above the roof.
We’re back in the sunshine and the right side of vertical (just) and catch up again with the Beau and Owen
Our final 40m of 5b is no walk-over but highly enjoyable, and we’re soon topping out and high-fiving. A grand adventure.