Loose Crampon Gully: A tale of pensioners in the arctic landscape of North Wales.
Cold Climbs by Ken Wilson is a brilliant, awe inspiring coffee table book rammed full of tales and adventures of the best of British ice climbing. It is a book to be enjoyed next to an open fire with a drink in hand, whilst planning future trips when the conditions allow. It is the closest I get to train spotting and Munroe bagging; ticking the routes off.
One such route eluded me back in 1995 when I persuaded a colleague at work, a novice to winter climbing, but he had a car and a pair of crampons. This era was before the age of the internet and exchange of latest information on conditions and ascents. It just seemed that the weather pattern would produce enough ice.
Clogwyn Ddu sits in the upper part of nameless cwm above Idwal and usually provides good climbing conditions. Nowadays it is the area of the hard men where routes at grade V11 exist in the modern style of mixed ascents. The classic route I wanted was the Left hand gully given a grade IV in the old guide book. 120 m consisting of 4 pitches, the second one being the crux.
My partner for the day assured me he had the latest lightweight crampons and I had given him a spare pair of axes so we were all set.
The first pitch is a gentle affair at about grade 3 with plentiful rock runners and a good appetiser up for the main course. This next pitch can be a bit of a shocker as it is solid water ice and rises up a vertical 30 metres. Anyway with my partner anchored to a solid rock belay off I set placing what limited screws I had with the occasional rock runner, very reassuring as I edged up until the belay stance, thankfully another rock spike .On bringing my second up his crampon fell off which ended our day. So I was pleased with the two pitches I had climbed, but disappointed we had not topped out.
20 YEARS LATER
Keeping an eye on the internet, the climb was again in condition and what better choice of companions that Pete (photographer) Poultney and Mel (have a go at anything) Evans. Leave home 5.30 Ogwen 8.15 walk in 2 hrs. What could possibly go wrong?
Geraldine has always been intrigued what we all talk about all day when we’re away climbing, well Gel prepare to be disappointed!
The walk in time is 2 hours and the topic of conversation for one hour 50 minutes was the benefits of keyhole surgery over “the full Cut” in hernia operations. In addition to this delightful topic, I was also enlightened on recovery techniques and timings, a full list of club members who had joined the salubrious club, (perhaps we should suggest a tie), and a full description of the different specifications of the diverse meshes available.
Whilst thinking for a moment I was on the set of “Last of the Summer Wine”, to my surprise in the middle of this misty secluded cwm, Pete’s phone started to ring. “Gorra take this it’s the hospital.” Were due a break before the last rise into the upper cwm , so we sat down listening in to Pete sweet talking the hospital receptionist attempting to get an earlier appointment.
“Hang on love, just gorra put on a crampon” is probably the first time Russels Hall staff have heard such a phrase. After 10 minutes of discussion Pete decided on the key hole.
“Good decision” says Compo, “you’ll recover much better”
I considered my meagre first aid kit and really did wonder if it would cover emergency crag side hernia operations...
Finding the start of winter climbs is often the first difficulty and so it proved in a heavy mist, but after 10 minutes of searching we set off up the first pitch. It was as I remembered: pure delight, steady climbing with good runners and a rock main belay. Compo and Clegg followed me up each on a separate ropes about 10 metres apart.
Ensconced on our cosy belay, I asked Compo to take a look at the next pitch, 30 metres of gleaming solid vertical ice, just in case he didn’t fancy it, but as I expected, no decision needed onward and upward. So off I set, armed with several ice screws and a full rock rack. This pitch is very steep and started with a section of mixed climbing, fortunately with a couple of runners and then onto the ice. I placed screws into the ice when I felt comfortable and spotted a rock wall where there appeared to be a crack which would take a couple of wires. Once these were in, I was just about to step back onto the ice wall when I noticed my left crampon flopping around.
Putting a crampon back on one handed whilst getting tension from the rope proved to very problematic. Needless to say, after 10 minutes of expletives and grunting I managed to secure it back on.
Fortunately there were no further dramas as I continued up using all of my screws and reaching the belay to find another solid rock spike around which I placed large sling. Mel and Pete followed me up, hernias temporarily forgotten, and joined me on the cramped stance.
“Well I’ve never climbed anything like that before” says Compo. “Flippin Steep” says Clegg.
Anyway, the third pitch eases off a little up the gully before another steep wall of ice and the final chimney, but as I worked my way up I noticed the final section was bare so I belayed over to the left near the Pillar Chimney stance, wondering what to do to complete the climb.
I shouted down I was safe and Mel and Pete set off again climbing about 10 metres apart. Mel’s head pops up first and just as he prepares to tackle the ice section he shouts: “watch out Pete!”, as his crampon hurtles down the gully out of sight.
Only one decision possible and that is to lower Pete back to the stance, he re makes the belay, followed by Mel. Once they were both secured, I rearrange the double ropes for a 30 metre abseil down the gully to join them on the stance. Pete had a good belay of two slings on separate blocks, we did some maths and calculated that we could get down with one abseil of 55m with our 50m ropes!
By the time we were all safely down and found Mel’s crampon, it was 4.55pm, dark in 30 minutes, headtorches at the ready and pockets full of food we set off on the descent.
We reached Ogwen at 7.15
A truly great mountaineering day out with some tough technical climbing, bostin’ company, and a safe multi abseil out with no panic.
Memorable, indeed, but I still haven’t completed the climb!
Any takers for next year must undergo a full medical and a hernia check.