Right on our doorstep on Holy Island, there is world class climbing at your fingertips. The famous sea cliffs of Gogarth and north stack, stand high in the echelons of the climbing world. The towering cliffs are a formidable test of courage and stamina for any climber on the weathered granite rock. Once committed to descend, there is no turning back and you must climb or swim. The amazing sea cliffs of Gogarth where at the very centre of the climbing era, back when it began in UK many moons ago, with the likes Joe brown cutting their teeth on the exposed sea cliffs there, back in the early days.
They attract thousands each year to test their metal on the sheer vertical outcrops. But the Holy island mountain area is more than just that, it’s an area of outstanding natural beauty, a wild reserve and a world heritage site, along with Ynus Llandwyn (Llandwyn Island) and Rhoscolyn on Anglesey.
I know South Stack lighthouse well, incredibly well in fact. We have a few generations of my family who where lighthouse keepers there, who resided there for many years and held the fort for trinity house. As a child many stories where told over the Christmas table of huge storms and power cuts.
If you every visit south stack, you’ll know its a special place, it has a rather unique feel to it. Anyhow at South Stack, there are some of the more well known climbs on the sea cliffs, which are marked well by the Elis tower (now a RSPB) reserve where the climbers Abseil in from, more on that later.
The south stack cliffs then go round the bay to the north stack reigon over to the east, it is a rugged coastline and has some other world class climbing on the main “Gogarth” climbing area. Climbs like ” dream of white horses” there are woven into the dna of the area, and are flagship climbs of north Wales, if not the world over.
The back drop of climbing here has the outstanding holy head mountain to its east and the Irish Sea to the west, veering off into the distant horizon, being 300ft up you get some great panoramas over the whole region.
It was back in September, if I’m not mistaken that friends come over from the Netherlands specifically to go climbing. They climb hard, very hard, way harder than I do! I met the two brothers while out ice climbing in Italy in a place called La Cogne in the Aosta valley- if you ever get the chance you must go, its a beautiful place. The Two twin brothers Kevin and Thomas, where living in there camper van in a car park. They had been there for maybe two weeks, living in temperatures down to -30c. These guys where tough as nails and didnt think twice about the discomfort of their dwellings after a long and wet day ice climbing.
We had great fun together and although we didn’t rope up, (I was way to new to the sport and these guys where like pros)- we had a few beers together with my older mentor Rob white and got to know one another. Rob and I go back a long way maybe 20 years, as I used to drive the holyhead sailing club launch to his yacht many moons ago. He was the instigator of the trip and a catalyst in me taking up some great adventure sports. A bold guy himself, having solo climbed the matter horn and done a good few expeditions to the Himalyeas and Greenland Sailing.
One of the Dutch boys Tom was over with his friend Ronnie on holiday and asked if I wanted to climb ” lighthouse Arete”. It’s an entry level climb on the sea cliffs under castle Helen that is not too stiff to climb but, certainly gives some serious atmospherics to mentally contend with.
We set off from our place mid morning and parked up at the car park at Ynus Lawd, “South Stack lighthouse house”, unpacked the climbing kit on the the car park floor and shared the load of ropes, metal work and kit out between three. The walk down to the abseil point is not far at all, five minutes max down a stepped path that leads down to the tower.
If you have not stepped right close that abseil point 300 ish feet up with he waves crashing below you, then its an expirience that you may wish to have in your life. It’s a tie between terror and excitement- in a good way. The drop is uninterrupted all the way to a rocky reef all that way below and is unmistakably very high up (in my world). I do climb and I’m pretty au fait with heights, but this got me.. I had to say I had chickened out of this climb once before with Rob white (mentioned above) I never lived it down, I remember the night before waking up in cold sweat know that the next morning we where off to do it!
Anyhow we all got our harness on and kitted up with some mild banter about the climb and abseil in. Tom and Ronnie are both very strong and able climbers, this was many pegs below their level and I kind knew that maybe they where just doing this route for my benefit to get me onto the sea cliffs.
Tom prepped the long abseil rope which we would leave in situ incase of any drama, connected up it the loose bits tat (climbers talk for left in situ rope), which where anchored to the granite wall by what I’m my estimations was some very sketchy old rusty metal work (climbers talk for – I DID NOT TRUST IT IN THE SLIGHTEST) Anyhow Tom could test it out first as he was heading down therefore me.
Once down he would create the first belay station and make it safe. With another rope on his back he would, once we where all down begin the climb back up leading me and Ronnie in tow.
My turn next, I clipped in to the rope and stepped off the 300ft cliff with the rope trailing below me. Its in an interesting feeling, ill give it that, part of me didn’t want to look down and was quite content to keep my head high looking at Ronnie disappearing above me. I couldn’t get down quick enough and bounced all the way down to greet Tom. Never been more happy to see his blue eyed beamy grin!
I unclipped and Ronnie came down to join in. Ronnie has some of the best high vibe energy I have been around in years. He is a super cool guy who loves Wales and all things welsh. The boys are so in love with our climbing culture here in Wales that it spills over and gets me way more psyched to do crazier stuff that I normally would solo!
Tom set of at a feverish pace around the corner and Ronnie belayed him around. The first belay point is not too far away and it leads up a rather steady 70 degree slope but had good bold hand holds and foot holds, you didn’t need to be delicate here.
We both had a rope each, so we could climb literally one after the other as Tom managed the task of keeping our rope tight quite easily. The first belay point brought us out not the first part of the arete, which I just loved. There is something about vertical aretes that juts gets me so giddy, just love that style of climbing. Anyhow 1 pitch down 2 to go. Now the purist local climber say contest this because its a actually a four pitch route. Graded at VS (French for Very Severe) its more of a spicy route due to the nature of sea cliff climbing rather than the technicality (In my humble opinion). We didn’t really class the 4th pitch as a pitch and kind of walked off it- (pls note- do not do this and climb the route in the correct manner, it was more a mistake than a deliberate tactic.)
Anyhow Tom set off for part deux, as me and roomie took selfies on the ledge, Tom went off on a bit of tangent from what I can remember next, as he deviated into another climbs territory, meaning he want off route. Easily done and the guy had gone right out into the wilds and ended up having to do a really tough bit of climbing to get to the next ledge- and did so with ease and grace. Tom is a great climber to watch, good climbers generally are, its like watching ballet on rock, slow moves executed with precision.
Both myself and Ronnie headed up to meet him at belay three, which was now becoming quite high again, where I was quite happy to keep my backside on the ground and wait my turn to climb out. Tom headed up and out of the climb super quick, and it wasn’t long before the whole sea cliff experience had come to an end. Adrenalin pumping, smiles all round and another one ticked off the bucket list.
We headed up for coffee and some cake at the south stack cafe and had a chat and a debrief, for me that was the climbing for the day done. For the guys it was just the start, they would next head out on another climb with Rob further around the bay.
Content to have got my teeth into sea cliff climbing it certainly gave me the appetite to want to have more. Big thanks to the boys Tom and Ronnie for the great day out, and look forward to seeing them (in actually 3 weeks again!) More blogs with them to follow. If your coming
if you enjoyed this article see our previous articles on North Wales climbing by Mark Reeves & Winter climbing in Climbing in Snowdonia
**Please note Sea cliff climbing is serious stuff and do not for heavens sake juts rock up and have a go, as the whole coast guard and mountain rescue will be on standby. Both my guides are semi pro climbers and where acting as my guides. Consult some pros in the space about the climbing at South Stack and seek their expertise first and foremost. Links below**
Some useful links for you if you are coming climbing to north Wales.
Where to learn about north Wales climbing
Mark Reeves– the go to on north Wales climbing
Simon Panton- the creator behind all the local modern Ground up guide books
Beacon climbing wall for wet days
Top spots for climbers to hang out…Llanberis
Llanberis Mountain rescue
Great article by local superhero Calum Musket
If your coming to north Wales Climbing you won’t be disappointed, it has some of the best climbing, if not the most diverse in the UK. There is Trad, sport, slate bouldering and much more, in some of the most iconic locations in the UK.
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Bit about the blogger : My names Nicholas Fraser and I’m a local Marine Geologist and Oceanographer. I have moved back to the island of Anglesey for the past four years having grown up here and moved away. I am a passionate outdoor lover with a penchant for all things natural. When I’m not blogging in ofter found on the water, climbing or out in the wild in and around north Wales.