Saturday, April 7, 2018

Best places to climb in North Wales for beginners


I have spent quite a bit of time in North Wales recently even though I have only come for the first time last August. Before that, I was always keen to explore Scotland or other places as Wales didn't sound that exciting. (I am very much ashamed of that now!). I guess you could say that I was stuck in an adventure rut a little bit. It is easier to do things and go somewhere you know, right? But after spending some time learning to trad climb last summer in North Wales, it didn’t take me long to get utterly and completely hooked. Because no matter if your chosen climbing discipline is sport, trad or bouldering- there is just so much of it. And if you strive to be a Jack of All Trades like I do and have a go at all three, well, there is a lifetime of quality climbing just in North Wales alone.
            Bomber gear = happy face! One of my first trad pitches at Hollyhead Mountain

The great thing about climbing in NW is that there is usually somewhere you can find dry rock even though it is pelting it down, 30 miles away. The best way to get around is by a car as you can literally follow the weather and climb at different crags based on what the forecast says each day. And if you are unlucky and it is raining in the whole of North Wales (it does happen I am not going to lie) then find a climbing wall or just sack it off and go surfing. A good day out will be guaranteed either way.



                                        ''The Drying rack''

My current favourite crag is usually the one that I am climbing at any moment in time, however, I had a go at picking some of those places which have stood out to me the most and make me want to come back again and again. Living in Sheffield can make you feel spoiled sometimes, why go climbing somewhere else when you have Stanage 10 minute drive away? It is really good to push yourself and find different places as it will give you a fresh perspective, especially when you are starting out. All of the places that I have picked are suitable for beginners but can be enjoyed as you progress through the grades for many years to come.



1.Tremadog – Trad



                        Tremadog has lots of good tree belays which you can use for abseils too


Ah, what a place. I think this is a good contestant for the ultimate favourite. Whenever I go, I feel the British climbing history etched in the invisible vibe that this place has. I can imagine generations of climbers coming to Tremadog, staying at the famous Eric’s bunkhouse, living and breathing for climbing and just trying hard, matching themselves against the Dolerite rock. I can only compare the feel of Dolerite to a mix of limestone and grit. You can smear like you do on grit but you have proper holds for your hands which is nice! 


 My climbing buddy James about to breeze up the last pitch of Christmas Curry/Micah Eliminate 

The crag is pretty much roadside and a few minutes walk from the campsite/bunkhouse. Don’t get fooled, it is actually pretty hard work to find the right route! The trees are blocking the pitches which in turn make it difficult to see the whole route. When you get past the first 1one or two pitches and you emerge from the trees, you have amazing exposure and views. A good guide book should do the trick of helping you find the right route or if not, just ask Eric for the recommendation. He is just as big part of Tremadog as the rock itself and over the course of his life has achieved some incredible things both in climbing and base jumping. Although he doesn’t own the campsite or cafe anymore, if you are staying in the bunkhouse, he will still come at 8: 30 in the morning and unapologetically wakes you up (hangover or not) and tell you to get out there and go climbing. 




         First multi-pitch top out on Hail Bebe- definitely worth it for the last pitch alone! 

If you are coming over the weekend and you want to get on some of the amazing top 50 routes, I would recommend getting up at the crack of dawn and get there first as these routes get really popular. Some of my favourite routes are Hail Bebe (Vdif)- Bramble Buttress (Vdif) Christmas Curry/Micah Eliminate(HS) and Kestrel Crack (HVS). Hail Bebe is one of the first multi-pitch trad climbs that I have done and although the climbing is not that strenuous, the exposure on the last pitch makes this a memorable experience. I think that is what is so special about Tremadog- that no matter how hard is your hard climbing, you will be able to have an amazing day out. There are really good tree belays on lot of the routes as well so it is a good place to start if you are getting into multi pitch trad. 

2. Dinorwic Slate Quarries (Llanberis)– Sport and Trad Climbing 



                      Climbers are artists - they see beauty in what is essentially waste


The home of the famous Johnny Dawes Quarryman climb, the quarries are the most unique and unusual place that I have ever climbed at. The first thing that you notice when you enter is the sheer vastness of the place. It feels almost apocalyptic in there. When the sun hits the quarry, you really feel how it warms both your cold hands and your heart, poring optimistic hope into your mind telling you that actually, there is no apocalypse and this place is actually magical. 


                                         Stunning sunset over the quarries

There are so many tiers and levels and tunnels as well as mounts of small slate piece forming a very unstable looking small hills. A good guidebook is essential to navigate the maze of paths. Climbing on the slate is like trying to move up a piece of glass, sheer, with no chance of smearing. Small crimps which you would consider to be pretty shit on limestone suddenly become jugs in your mind. There are so many routes both trad and sport (although I haven’t done any trad there yet) that you can easily see how people become slate heads. I have this strange feeling when I climb there, a mixture of excitement and fear, the same sort of thing which I have when I go trad climbing. That makes me think that I could totally become one of those slate heads. Australia sector has some nice introductory sport routes so it is a good place to start in order to get used to this of rock and exposure. Just make sure that you bring your helmet.

 Getting the psyche up with a good brew 

Some people really dislike climbing in quarries as there is little mountain adventure element in it. I on the other hand, always feel really inspired. The reason why I love it so much is because as a climber you see beauty in what is essentially a waste product and you create an amazing and satisfying day out of it. Without climbers, these places would be left and forgotten and somehow we breathe life back into them. To me, that is what art is. 



3. Port Ysgo- Bouldering 



Bouldering on the beach does not get much better than this 


Bouldering on the beach, what more could you want out of a nice warm day? There are so many problems there that you can spend the whole day climbing, only stopping when your skin is too sore to do any more. And when that happens, you can pop into the sea for a post-climb dip! The place is around the corner from Hells Mouth so it seems like a good multi-adventure destination (climbing+surfing anyone)?

Working out the moves

The only downside is that you need as many mats as you can carry as the landings are not good and the climbs are generally on the higher side. The approach can be quite muddy and slippy so make sure that you are wearing good footwear. 


4. Hollyhead Mountain – Trad Climbing 

                                                           Stunning views all around 


This is the less scary sibling of the Gogarth cliffs and it is a good place to start with trad as it has many entry-level routes. The shape of Holly Head mountain reminds me of a tiny El Capitan for some reason. You need some basic navigational skills to get there as there are quite a few different paths leading to the crag – or at least a view ranger on your phone!




The sun's out- guns out 


The rock is quartzite which is really pleasant with lots of 3 rd routes and plenty of gear.

 5. Castle Inn Quarry – sport climbing 




     When you want to try hard but the first bolt is too high even for a clip stick- you improvise
If you are familiar with this venue, you may be surprised at my choice to include it here. In my opinion, this is one of the most friendly and least exposed crags that I have ever been to. It is literally next to a car park by which I mean that the crag is part of the car park. Where else could you drive your car to just under the route in order to gain a bit of height to clip the first bolt?

There are plenty of good routes to keep you entertained 

There are some really easy beginner-friendly routes as well as harder grades in the 7s region. I have my current project there so I will be coming to this place over the next few months. There are some trad routes too but I have never done any as I like the sport climbing there too much! Don’t take me wrong, I love good exposed routes like in Tremadog but sometimes you just want to have a go at something with no approach and easy access to your brew making kit in the car. 

6. RAC Boulders – Bouldering 

     This is what my game face looks like - it wasn't quite enough for a send though! (This time:)

Another roadside crag, located just around the corner from Plasy Brenin. The approach is 5 minutes from the car which makes it really convenient. The landing seems relatively good too and it has some really interesting boulder problems, some a bit stiff for the grade if you ask me! Unless you have a good head for high balls. This is a good place to come if you have a couple of hours in the evening of dry weather.

7. Little Tryfan - Learn how to trad climb 

     The gear placements are so good that it makes the perfect venue to lead your first MP trad routes This is where I learned multi-pitch trad. The routes are on easy slabs with lots of cracks which are perfect for learning how to place gear. A lot of instructors take their clients there as it is a really friendly and non-imposing crag, although the views are pretty spectacular and you are definitely out there in the hills. That is exactly what we have done, we had a few days with our instructor Andy Swann so that we could learn how to do multi-pitch safely. If you are totally new to trad and you want to have a go at leading, this is definitely a good place to start!

                               Andy demonstrates his ''hard day in the office'' face 

This list is in no way exhaustive. There are lots of places that I haven’t climbed at yet which I know will become my new favourites. But for now, I have had some great experiences in all of those places so if you are looking to venture out from your usual climbing local somewhere else, I hope that North Wales is giving you some psyche. Because it is awesome. Don’t wait for years like me to discover them! Grab some mates, a rack or a few bouldering pads and have an adventure. North Wales style!



A good guidebook
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