Climbing in Snowdonia does not get better than clear, crisp days in spring time. During April we managed to get out climbing in Cwm Idwal, which has some great multipitch climbing routes that are not too daunting for a returning climber after a break. Climbing in north Wales, you have so much choice, one of our easy wins is the Ogwen valley, which offers some great predictable multipitch climbing, at intermediate levels. The climbs are very accessible and used a lot by training companies such as Plas y Brenin and other local instructing bodies.
Cwm Idwal sits midway up the Ogwen valley in snowodnia north Wales. Cwm translated to English means valley, the valley system is a glacial feature left in the land after the last ice age 21,000 years ago. The Cwm, holds a large lake called Llyn Idwal, which is renowned for its pristine still mountain waters. Snowdonia, if you haven’t heard of it before is the mountainous, wild region that sits in the middle of our country and separates north from south Wales. It has 14 peaks over 1000m high, and is the prime walking destination for visitors in our region. The more famous mountain top walks are Y Wyddfa / Snowdon Summit walks.
There are two well renowned valleys you can drive up through, to experience the mountains here in north Wales. The first is the Llanberis Pass (Also known as Bwlch Llanberis) and the other is the Ogwen valley (also known as Nant Ffrancon). Both are also remnants of our glacial past, and are awe inspiring to drive through to say the least. Llanberis Pass is a V shaped glacial valley and Ogwen is a U shaped glacial valley.
It’s late spring time as I write this, its been a settled month on the island weather wise, albeit from a few peculiar weather days here and there. it seems as if the weather has been extreme favourable, which we have been taking advantage of in earnest in April and May.
A good friend of mine Ryan had invited me to meet him to do some climbing in Snowdonia, in the Ogwen valley. I had been given a few options as to what the routes where and since I was getting back to grips with it all again, I thought I might need a bit of soft route to begin with, before getting gripped with the exposure of a more full on route!.
Just for back story, Ryan works as one of those guys who dangles of wind turbines and fix the blades when they have issues. So basically he’s a climber for a living. Full respect to this guy he has a crazy job and he works in some wild inaccessible places in harsh conditions. So someone you can give your trust to, when your starting back in the game after a climbing break.
We met in Llanberis and after a quick chat, we decided to have a climb on Idwal slabs in the Ogwen valley. The choice of routes there is amazing for beginners and progressive climbers (for multi pitch routes) as the slabby nature of the rock, gives you a very easy climb but you still get the exposure feel and a multi pitch climb day out.
Its a 15 minute walk from the Ogwen cottage car park, were you can park on quiet days and pay parking meter paying your dutiful £3 fee.
The 15 minute walk leads you around the lake and directly to the foot of the climb, which is a lovely afternoon spot in April and may with sun overhead. I think we arrived at 2pm and began racking up, hydrating and picking a route. Now as the leader of the climb, Ryan gets to decide which route, and I only have my luck to thank that he choose one of the more pleasant routes on there for my re-entry into the climbing world.
You see climbing is a fickle sport of the mind, I have had some of the most epics moments when out climbing, be it through ignorance, exposure of sheer stupidity, sometimes you find your self in situations, where you really shouldn’t be. I think its an excellent sure all, of the noisy mind, where your forced to deal with your fear on there rock, there and then, with no drama, cavalry or help. If ever do get rattled these days, It’s simple breathing that wins it for me each and every time, its like a meditation practice with adrenalin thrown in.
So Ryan chose the route called “Hope” which is a VD (Very Difficult / Difficle) and it was a 4 pitch route winding its way up the right cleft of the slab and then topping out at 136m with another 50m above, where I seem to remember abseiling off in my early 20s with a uni mate. We normally find the exit when we are up there, with clear skies and no bad weather you can afford to be a little blasé with finding the route off. That said, one should always plan and prepare for the day and have at least a good idea what your doing and where your going. Since we are locals you can cut us that slack.
Ryan started out and led the first part and set up belay on the break in the rock about 30m up, just out of sight he set a belay up and I followed him up. Climbing shoes where way tighter than I remember, why the hell do I wear them this tight for I thought its bordering on sadistic?!. The route is really polished, but the gear placement for protection is amazing and its a great place to learn to lead for sure. Not that I’m a beginner on lead, I just never have climbed this route the I was big into it all back in 2010-15.
We exchanged gear and joked about Ryan’s fastidious gear placements which where borderline fixed into the rock and took every bit of my might, to extract with my trusted nut key! That said, nothing wong with bomber gear placements, I would rather that, than pieces falling out here and there as I followed up! With the ropes reorganised, me on belay and Ryan kitted up he set off on the second pitch and disappeared over the rock fold above me. All you can do when the lead disappears is then sit, wait and feel the twin ropes pull out independently and cater to the pulls of the leader with your concentration. It had been a while since I have been I a multipitch belay and I had forgotten how isolated you can feel as your climbing buddy disappears off into the blue yonder and your left with 3 bits of kit holding you into the rock and a 100ft below you!
It was strange on the exposure front also, if you haven’t been up on the hills for a while and you get up high really quick with some good exposure, you can certainly feel the effects of the mind trying to rationalise the new height differential, this occurs to me some times with little dizzy spells as my head starts to get to grips with all again! It soon goes and when you get back in the rhythm of things.
Sat there on belay it reminds you of how insignificant you are against his gigantic rock face that has stood the test of time that your perched on. Everything existisitential just folds away into nothingness. I love that feeling.
Climbing up the second pitch was more challenging, there was a pillar that provided Ryan with some humour as I struggled to get my unconditioned climbing body, around it, a few curses, grabs and deep breaths later, I was up and over it and at the second belay. What a wonderful pitch that I was, I had forgotten how amazing it was to be free from the ground. We exchanged gear, foolded the ropes and he racked up for the third pitch which looked dream, with white quartz bands looming above on the rock.
The second belay stance was more comfortable than the first and the exposure was subsiding now, as the ground was 60m away. This route was far to easy for Ryan as the flew up the route, but he had not climbed it before and therefore he enjoyed it at least. It can often be like this in climbing, a simple route can provide a great adventure day even though you are just going through the motions.
The next two pitches went super smooth, they moved in the same style, Ryan led I followed. I was really tuned to how beautiful the rock is, with large quartz bands moving through the rock type, just looking at this as I’m climbing takes me to another place, imagining what it took to form such amazing formations in the rock.
We topped out at the end of the escapement neat to suicide gully, there was a interesting and exposed little section that you have to scramble up off the rope, which I looked at Ryan as if he was joking me after expecting me to follow him without the rope this time, but it was as actually ok in the end, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stay roped up for the last section of the walk out, but its not entirely necessary either if your comfortable. The only thing of note was there was a lot of seepage on the grass above so, take care walking on that, its a long way down..
There is a nice safe abseil point down off the cliff with a new sling and rope placed around a large rock, that has been left by some kind climbers, they have left with some crabs on too. So we had a quick ab lesson to remind me what was what, and to add some prussics to the rope for extra control. It’s a 40m abseil which brings you down to the edge of the gully, which is the fun part of the climb, but do take care always, dont drop your guard. You have then once down, a twenty minute walk down to the foot of the slabs, which is a nice descent amidst the bracken and glacial till.
The weather was glorious, we both where a tad de hydrated by the time we got back down, the gentle northerly breeze had been sheltered from us, in the Cwm where it can get quiet hot and sticky. Back at the base of the climb, I reflected and I realised that it what I had been missing in my life..We packed the kit up and walked down past the still waters of Llyn Idwal, past the rivers and streams and talked of more future climbs.
Cwm idwal and idwall slabs, is in the Snowdonia national park in north Wales and is a heavily frequented route which gets busy, if you intend to go climbing there go early and make sure you go on a dry spell as the slab can have a lot of seepage from water run off, which would kind of ruin your climb!
Parking is £3 in the Ogwen cottage car park for 4 hours, at the visitor centre, again it gets busy on the weekends, so arrive early.
Local climbing guides :
Location : Cwm Idwal
Route : Hope (Idwal slabs)
Grade : VD
Height : 136m
Pitches : 4
Approach : 20 mins walk up a path
Time taken : 2 hours +
Exit : Abseil off (30-40m) slings in place at the time of the blog, pls DYOR though.
Guide book : North Wales Rock (Ground up), Rock climbing in Wales (Ron James), 100 Classic climbs North Wales, (Steve Ashton). – See below for links.
Guide books :
Ryan a local adventurer and all round nut case, follow his Insta here at @ryanlister12
Photo front cover by Me. (P20-Pro)
Tan Y Tro Nesaf / Until the next time,
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