Monday, May 23, 2011

Climbing in Wales

I am leaving the UK tomorrow, barring any complications from volcanic ash, and since the world has not ended, it is back to life in Colorado in a short while. The Welsh portion of the trip finished with a day on the slate quarries and an early run/hike up Mount Snowdon before heading to Sheffield. Slate is a very interesting surface/medium on which to climb as it looks very steep and difficult from below yet upon actually climbing you discover that typically the angle is 80 degrees and many small sharp edges emerge. The rock can be anything from mirror-smooth to sharkskin-rough and all on the same route. It is very reminiscent of many areas in New Hampshire that feature fussy steep slabs, such as the South Buttress of Whitehorse Ledge.

What is particularly striking is the landscape and approach. An entire side of the valley above Llanberis has been transformed by terraces and slopes of excavated slate. Hidden from immediate view are the huge bays, holes and caves that form an underworld of gigantic proportions. We didn't get to explore more deeply here but Mark Reeves, Llanberis local and climbing author regaled us with stories of the history of the place. It is an evocative place, shaped not by the impersonal and natural forces of wind and water but by the minds and hands of human beings. There are vast walls, terraces, buildings, platforms and other structures, creations that lead one to wonder what the lives of the miners were like. The Llanberis Slate Museum, which I didn't have time to visit, has an excellent website to get an idea of what this era was like. The Dinorwic quarries closed down in 1969 and a sense of the past, especially of the 19th century, is particularly strong as you approach the cliffs.

The next morning I got up early with the thought that I might climb Snowdon before breakfast. The hope was that despite a relative lack of hill-running fitness, some memory of previous seasons could provide inspiration and lead to the summit. As it happens, Snowdon from Llanberis is a stout excursion, especially after about 2/3 of the way. If I had known that it was 9 miles round trip, I might have reconsidered but the chance to immerse myself, if even briefly, in the heart of the Welsh mountains, was too important to pass up. Even if I could barely walk the rest of the day. Strangely a side trip to a small sportclimbing area proved that climbing is perhaps the easiest of physical activities. I was easily able to climb a few 5.10s while the 5 minute walk to the cliff was agonizingly slow.

More on my visit to the gritstone edges in the next installment.

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