Multi-pitch training in Ogwen Valley

Multi pitch training in Ogwen

The Toms (Boyd and Wilkinson) and me have an ambition to go and climb something in Greenland (see  Expeditions and Expedition Planning).  The problem is we wouldn't know where to start, having the climbing experience of a pod of dolphins.  

Historically, climbers haven't been stopped by this.  Many techniques to shortcut the gaining of experience have been tried, you can learn from your mates, hire a guide or get some training.  Cleverly, we decide to try all three...

Rob Prowse, at the club, has been climbing for about twenty years.  In the last few years, he's decided to have a go at imparting this knowledge, professionally.  I pick the Toms up, and we pile into the Bongo expecting to see Rob at Gwen Gof Uchaf.  

In fact we don't.  We run into him at Corley Services, Betws-y-Coed and Pinnacles Cafe.  Its like it was meant to be!  Or, we have identically sized bladders and closely matched tolerance of hunger while travelling along the same route having left at the same times and driving at comparable speeds.  I tend to doubt this last one, as the thrashing the Bongo allows you the novel experience of watching the fuel needle drop, while Rob drives like its a fucking x-wing he's in.

The weekend is drier than we had expected, in fact its not bad at all, which sets us up for the weekend of instruction.  In the interests of humour, I won't recount all the ins and outs of the training: instead I thought I would list our micro-disasters, people prefer that.

1.  Boydey leaves his rock shoes at the car-park and has to walk back from Tryfan Bach.
'have you got your shoes?'
2.  I buy a head torch from and outdoor gear shop.  It is cheap as it is ex-display: then I realise the batteries are flat because it is ex-display -it will cost double the discount to replace them.
3.  Wilkinson leads a pitch up Rowan and places solid anchors in an attractive zig-zag design.  The rope drag after fifteen metres is so powerful it threatens to twang him across the valley every time he takes his hand free to place gear.
4.  We lose communication on the last pitch of Rowan on Milestone Buttress.  Once - just once - I think I hear the faintest of faint unintelligible shouts.  Once - just once - Wilkinson thinks he hears what might have been the syllable 'ayt.'  He is unable to translate this.
Meanwhile all our shouting is heard by literally everyone else on the crag apart from us.
5.  We get our ropes in a right muddle on Tryfan Bach, while across the way, three pairs of climbers ascend the right hand pitches; with hanging belays, beautifully flaked ropes stacked neatly across their anchor lines.  The three pairs go up as if they are a synchronised team.  I would have hated them if it wasn't so beautiful.

I try and replicate the organisation of more experienced climbers.  The effort takes me look fucked.
It is great to be leading and building anchors, and Milestone Buttress has got the lot: bomber gear placements and massive stances.   It is however, north-ish facing, and doesn't get a great deal of sun in November.  On the Sunday, we climb looking out over the sun kissed flanks of Pen-y-Ole-Wen.  As the sun moves round over Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach- and as we take fucking ages- it looks as if we might just catch the last of the late afternoon sun.  

We get off the route and go down to the lower off, a belay down a gully doing a good impression of a waterfall.  We are still in shadow and I set out first: I don't mind un-fucking the rope from its many tangles where our rope-bomb exploded - it reminds me of rope access.  The descent is bloody slippy, green, and running with water.  I've got one of the belay devices that has teeth to add friction so I have to feed the 10.5 mm rope through it, which is a faff.

I hear laughter from above.  I look up and see rob and the Toms grinning down.
Me in the dark, waiting for the sun-tanned bastards.

'We're in the sun here!  You just missed it!'  Water splatters my face.

'I'm taking my shirt off!  How are you Pete?'  My prusik grips the abseil line as I give them the finger.

All in all, its been a lot to take in, but weekends like these will form the basis for what we want to ultimately achieve.  We all look at each other knowing it is a long way to Greenland, and not just in miles, but the point of all this is to get started.  Part of me is disappointed that the rope-work didn't instantly click: we were slow and uncoordinated, took too long.  But what did we expect?  

The climbing was piss-easy, its just being able to rig the belays and manage the ropes, but as beginners it is easy to see how being slow can lead to trouble.  On the Monday, the day we leave, two climbers have to be rescued from Tryfan having set out on one of the East face V.diffs too late in the day and climbing too slowly.  Each night we looked out from the campsite, up towards Tryfan, and saw strings of head torches as people descended in the dark.

Hopefully, soon that will be Us!  Must buy them batteries...

Some essential virginities lost:

1.  The Toms climb on slate.  And love it.  Two more slateheads! 
2.  For Wilkinson his first sport lead outside.
3.  The Toms go to Pete's Eats.  Wilkinson has the Massive Breakfast.
4.  Boydey sees the Milky Way for the first time.
5.  I lead trad and build anchors and for the first time feel happy about it.  Luckily the climbing is piss.

The cracks begin to show.  Day 1.

Photos courtesy of Tom Boyd, Tom Wilkinson.  Thanks to Rob Prowse