The Big Scrambling Weekend...FAIL!

Jason Jones and I have had a plan in place for some months. A plan that involved waiting for a 'good weather window' coupled with a weekend when we were both available. This combination finally arrived early in June so we loaded the car up with climb

Graeme Stanford

Jason Jones and I have had a plan in place for some months. A plan that involved waiting for a 'good weather window' coupled with a weekend when we were both available. This combination finally arrived early in June so we loaded the car up with climbing and walking gear (and a few beers to drink in the club hut) and set off for Snowdonia with our sunglasses firmly on!

I'm getting ahead of myself though. Let me tell you a little more about the plan.

I've been walking and grade 1 scrambling on and off for over 30 years and during most of that time I've always fancied taking the next step up to grade 3 scrambling. I've found myself looking at routes like Pinnacle Ridge (on St Sunday Crag) and the Cneifon Arete (on the Glyders) and thinking "I'd love to have a go at that !". With that in mind I was chatting to Jason Jones a couple of years ago and he said he was happy to come with me and literally 'show me the ropes'. I had a taster of the skills required from Oliver, on a skills weekend last year, and Jason and I decided to try a long weekend involving three grade 3 scrambles all with a climb at the start. We settled on the Cyfrwy Arete, The Cneifion Arete and the Clogwyn Y Person Arete. All three classic routes are normally out of my league and all three have the option of a 'diff' climb at the start. Basically I put myself in the category of "all the gear and no idea" here so I was looking forward to learning a whole load of new skills while possibly scaring myself silly. (a little like my first crossing of Crib Goch, in clag, at sweet sixteen… terrified!)

We loaded up and set off for Dolgellau on Friday morning in bright sunshine and after an uneventful journey, and a little head scratching over a Gucci new 'pay & display' machine we set off for the walk in. We'd laid out all the gear in the car park and Jason had talked me through what kit we were, or were not, likely to need. He was carrying everything but the kitchen sink whereas I had my belay plate, a few slings, a few karabiners, a set of nuts and a shiny unused nut key. Oh… and a 50 metre rope. The walk in to the Cyfrwy Arete is pleasant at first and the arête is silhouette the whole way so there's plenty of time to contemplate the day ahead. Once we finally scrambled up the [unpleasantly loose] scree to the base of Table Buttress we got the guide book out and began trying to identify the start of the climb called Table Direct. This is a diff climb up the opposite side of the buttress from the scramble approach. In theory it would deposit you just below 'the table'. Needless to say the weekend started as it was to continue. We could not identify, with any certainty, the correct place to start climbing. After a bit of conference, which mostly consisted of me saying "I don't know mate… I'm following you!" we decided that it was safer to miss the climb out and just do the scramble. This meant traversing round to the other side of the buttress and scrambling up to the arête, where somebody had helpfully scratched CA into the rock.

Once we'd arrived at the arête proper we geared up and Jason set off up the route. We had already decided to 'pitch it', regardless of what we found (I've been told by all and sundry "you don't need to rope up for that!"), so I was belaying. Jason repeatedly shouted down that the gear placements were rubbish and he didn't really trust any of it. We did two pitches this way and arrived at 'The Table'. On consulting the guide book again and finding it vague as a vague thing we had a dilemma. The face you're confronted with from the table does not look like 'a scramble' but the guide book implied going straight up it. Once again I resorted to the very helpful "I'm just following you" strategy which probably didn't help. With the combination of being unsure of the correct route and the looseness of all possible gear placements Jason declared he wasn't happy to continue. In my view, with a lack of experience, it would be unhelpful to argue so we decided to retreat. This involved two abseils off rock spikes on a doubled rope. The first went ok but once Jason had gone off the second I could tell we would be unable to pull the rope down after us so I had to sacrifice a sling. We walked back to the car happy with the decision (but a little disappointed) only to find that the book we had left at the car gave a clearer idea of how to proceed from the table… bugger!)

On the first evening at the hut Andy Brown and Cath turned up closely followed by Dee Sedheva and Jo Cheung. We all talked over the next day's plans and Jo and Dee expressed an interest in coming with me and Jason. We mulled over whether we had enough rope and it was decided to make the attempt with Jason leading on a 60 metre rope. Dee would be in the middle of the rope with Jo at the end (pulling the remaining 50 metre rope up behind her). I would belay Jason then come up on the 50 metre rope. No problem. (Best laid plans and all that!)

Saturday morning saw the four of us walking up the LLanberis pass from the last remaining parking spot within a 300 mile radius. It was an hour and a half approach to the Clogwyn Y Person Arete and once again the weather was fine. We were soon sweating buckets.

On arrival at The Parson's Nose we prepared all the gear, donned harnesses etc then scrambled up the first 20 metres or so unroped. Once the angle increased we set up a belay, roped up as planned, and Jason set off up the crag (déjà vu kicks in at this point.) Once Jason was approaching the point at which he would need to bring Dee up he realised that there was no stance big enough for four people. With only the two ropes our options were limited. He called down the problem and my response was as helpful as always "don't be a hero mate. We'll only continue if you're sure it's safe to". That worked. NOT. It was his turn to sacrifice a sling. Once I'd lowered him down we toyed with the idea of still doing the scramble but decided not to. If we'd felt the need for roping up on the arête (which personally I would have) then we would have the same predicament. Instead we contoured round Cwm Glas to the col between Crib Goch and Crib Ddysgl. Then crossed Crib Goch and descended the East Ridge to Pen Y pass. This was followed by the road walk to end all road walks back to the car. We consoled ourselves by stopping for a pint at Plas Y Brenin and then, after showers and ablutions went for dinner in the Tan!

On Sunday morning, once I realised I'd overslept, Jason and I set off for the third and final failure. We stopped at Oggie base on the way and completed the entry process for the Oggie 8 challenge in August. When we were parked up at Ogwen Cottage we soon realised that going for the Cneifion Arete would make the day too long. I wanted to be home by early evening and we were already eating into the day. Jason suggested the first half of the North West Face route on the Idwal Slabs as an alternative. So that's what we did. It's a grade two scramble but we roped up and did it in three pitches, taking our time to enable me to get the benefit of the skills in use etc. The weather was with us again and we had a cracking few hours climbing. A walk off on a climbers descent down a scree chute saw us back at the path and then it was a hop skip and a jump back to the car.

All in all a great weekend in which we achieved precisely none of our objectives. We did, however, have a good weekend in the mountains and I certainly have a clearer idea of the logistics involved in using climbing gear. I'm not in any hurry to return to the Cyfrwy Arete, although I surely will at some stage, but the other two are still on my 'must do' list. My thanks go to Jason for being my 'tutor' for the weekend. Don't feel guilty at "not getting me up any of the scrambles"'" mate… they're not going anywhere… as Arnie says "I'll be back!"

This article was written by Graeme Stanford and published on this website on the 10th January 2015