Smash and grab. | Great Escape. Nick Bullock.
A unique shot of the Craig Doris set taken by Jethro Kiernan via a drone. I've been fortunate enough to have climbed a reasonable amount, (given everything in the world, and my shoulder) over the past few weeks, but only climbed three rocks; Craig Doris, Craig y Forwyn and Rhoscolyn. I avoided the Llanberis Pass […]

A unique shot of the Craig Doris set taken by Jethro Kiernan via a drone.

I've been fortunate enough to have climbed a reasonable amount, (given everything in the world, and my shoulder) over the past few weeks, but only climbed three rocks; Craig Doris, Craig y Forwyn and Rhoscolyn. I avoided the Llanberis Pass and other rocks which are usually busy, not wanting to have the weirdness of the interaction - who walks where, how do I cross this person, don't shake hands, don't hug! I mostly climbed Craig Doris, with a few trips to Forwyn and one to Rhoscolyn. Rhoscolyn was the busiest, but it was still relatively peaceful.

I have read lockdown stories from people saying they enjoyed the seclusion and quiet, personally just kept going because it was a necessary evil, although now that the roads are busy again I have to admit that I miss peace and calm and the clean air. I miss the hard edge of the hills which usually only happens when there is an airflow to the north. Until lockdown I never really enjoyed the noise explosion and mini hurricane caused by the vehicles. Until lockdown, I didn't appreciate the need for drivers to reach their destinations at breakneck speed, but here we are again, vehicles driven by tight lips and furrowed brows; the lives of cyclists and other road users are threatened by impatient drivers crossing solid white lines on blind bends.

Craig Doris is still a sanctuary, a rickety, rubble-strewn recluse, an oddity stuck on a windswept peninsula. Gulls, fulmars, crows, caps, kestrels, pippets, skylarks, buzzards, pigs, they all frequent the promontory, I find their cries and song evocative. It's fascinating to sit and watch the fulmars with their wings set, grazing the cliff at the same height as my feet hanging over the edge. Charms of goldfinches attack the heads of thistles on the shore under the rock and the large field mushrooms look like moons shining through the tall grass. At sea, in the gaping mouth of Cardigan Bay, above the waves with their white caps, northern gannets, oystercatchers and cormorants, cross and cry, and under the waves, almost every day at 4 p.m. hours, a pod of dolphins pass, it is as if they have an understanding of the weather. Mick Lovatt and I can't wait to watch the dolphins, the basket is eight or nine strong, adults and calves. We usually stop whatever we're doing and watch them. Mick sometimes ruffles his backpack to find binoculars and gives me a comment. Sometimes an adult enters the water and the clicking noise at the start of the school year warns us of his presence. They chase the fish by causing an explosion of blue bubbles and alert the birds to a possible windfall. But eventually they pass and swim out of sight, going wherever they go. There is always a void in the conversation, a time for quiet reflection after their passage. I don't know anything about dolphins, I'm just another ignorant bettor who finds charismatic megafauna a joy.

The lockdown is here in Wales for now and visitors can travel freely again. I've read people complaining about the influx of people, which I understand, but I also see the benefits for a family or individuals who need to take a break from the usual in this crazy year, we all need a break! Who has the right to say, no you cannot leave your area and travel to the countryside or to a beautiful place, let's face it, most climbers are tourists and the financial benefits for the local community are useful and necessary ?

Mick and I went to Doris on a Sunday, the first Sunday since the lockdown ended, it was eleven in the morning when we stood on top of the rock. There were several boats in the bay, the first one we had seen in a while, but they were anchored and the people inside were reasonably calm. But, as we were getting ready to climb, the first of the jet skis appeared, followed by the others, their engines at high revs and their bump, bump, bump as they hit waves, jump, hit waves. As the day progressed more and more jet skis, some had loud music. The call of the birds was now engulfed by the sound of the engines and the beating of thunder. The gannets were nowhere to be found. By 4 p.m., the donut madness that was happening just off had reached a new level of howling fervor. I sat on top of the rock to keep the dolphins away, but just in time the pod appeared. They took their usual course, occasionally breaking the surface, dark shiny skin, a blow of air, but were separated by jet skis cutting through the middle of the pod. Two dolphins turned to swim in the direction they were coming, the others continued their usual path. After several minutes, the larger pod of dolphins followed a boat and a jet ski flotilla a few feet away and the two separated dolphins swam in circles somewhere behind. Having heard nothing except the sound of running engines and music all day long, I watched the dolphins being disturbed and felt like locking in again. After all that people had been through for the past few months, I was hoping we could have gotten a deeper understanding and consideration for wildlife and other people, but in a way, to some it seemed the opposite, now it seems to be a success. , ignore everything and everyone, get it while you can before the “good times” are over.

The flotilla follows closely and disturbs the dolphins.

Myself climbing the new Sold Under Sin E4 5c route, on the clean white wall, over rocks and grassy ledges, between the pinnacles at the start of Pysgodyn Aur, and the crazy overhanging crack (with a nest massive and evacuated at its base) from Chosstokovitch. Photo credit, Mick Lovatt.

Mick Lovatt assisting the first ascent of Sold Under Sin.
Start with the tallest and lowest ivy-covered ledge to a small groove, to the right of the ledge, below the crack in the final head wall. Peg and good cam for sure.
Follow the easy grooves and corners, up and to the left, (with progressively better gear) to a small ledge under an overhanging red wall that has an obvious flake crack. Climb up the flake crack, take a step to the right, then a series of good, bold moves to reach two solid flat holds on the left (crux) where an ankle can be cut (if tied). A few more delicate movements follow to reach the base of the finger crack. Follow the crack up.

Mick climbing Box of Blood, E7 6b, a memorable route, first climbed by Leigh McGinley. The lower section is the first step of an E5 called Crucial Condition, NOT Doris Lite!

Mick leaves Crucial condition to get some good gear before some, eyes on rods, overhangs, climbing unprotected grooves. Mick did a great job climbing Box of Blood with minimal practice and pre-inspection.

A photo of Ray Wood from my rise to Box of Blood several years ago. This is the overhanging groove above where Mick is in the image above.


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Rock climbing is everywhere these days. From the Dawn Wall to your Instagram feed to the new gym going up in town, climbing is no longer the fringe sport it once was. Kids are starting to climb almost before they can walk, and now more than ever, there’s no reason for you not to give it a try as well. However, climbing can be one of those intimidating hobbies to begin. Many ask, “How do I get started ? ” citing fear and feeling overwhelmed with gear and safety as huge barriers to entry. We get it, and so what follows is everything you need to know to get out on the rock'n'roll.

The term “rock climbing” encompasses a great number of disciplines, from bouldering to big wall climbing, to mountain climbing and mountaineering. Before you begin, it might be important to first identify what style of climbing you are interested in, or perhaps to ask, “Why do I want to climb ? ” Do you want to summit peaks, boulder at your local gym, or perhaps learn to lead climb at the local crag ? Do you want to make friends, be outdoors, or get in shape ( or all three ) ? Once these questions are answered, you can work out the potential steps you’ll need to take to get there. Below ( in the Sport vs. trad vs. bouldering section ) we attempt to inform this decision by breaking down the various styles of climbing; each has its own specific culture, gear, and learning curve.

Climbing is a complex sport : it’s potentially expensive to get into, difficult to find mentors, and can be dangerous if not done correctly. With the evolution of climbing gyms, however, it’s easier than ever to give climbing a try : just grab a friend and head to the nearest gym, rent a pair of shoes and a harness, and jump on the bouldering wall. However, if and when your progression leads you to climbing on ropes and outside, technical skills become essential to safety. Many choose to learn from friends; however, safety is so important that we recommend enrolling in a formal class. The easiest and best way to learn the essential skills, which include belaying and tying proper knots, is by taking an introductory course at your local gym. Or, if you’re interested in climbing outside or even more specifically climbing in the mountains, seek out a class either through your gym or a local guide.

The first indoor climbing gym opened in Seattle in 1987. Now just 30 years later, there are 430 gyms across the nation, with over 50 more in construction at the time of writing. Areas like the Denver metropolis have as many as 10 gyms, all stuffed to capacity each day. Whereas climbers used to be a tiny community of mostly adult men with access to the wilderness, the climbing gym revolution has brought climbing to the masses. It’s safe to say that more people now climb indoors than outdoors. The climbing gym has developed its own culture, and climbing inside - “pulling on plastic, ” as climbers often say - is vastly different from climbing outdoors. It is arguably safer, much more convenient to access, and far more social; for these reasons, the gym is an excellent place to begin climbing. Gym passes cost anywhere from $6 to $30/day, with monthly memberships being the best option for those who go regularly. Outdoor climbing takes place on boulders, on cliff bands, and in mountains - anywhere where there is solid rock, climbers can be found. Some of the most popular genres of rock to climb include granite, sandstone, limestone, basalt, and conglomerate blends. Each of these kinds of rock'n'roll has its own style of climbing, from overhanging jugs much like gym climbs, to technical slabs, to splitter cracks. Climbing outdoors demands a higher level of spécialité than climbing in the gym, as there are more variables and risques on real rock. Weather can be a factor, as well as rock fall. Climbers will also need to possess a great deal more gear to climb outside, including their own rope and harness, quickdraws or other protection, a personal anchor and locking carabiner, and a helmet. Although many climbers begin in the gym, some learn to climb immediately outside, most commonly with the help of a guide or an instructional course.

Rock climbing is generally broken down into three categories : sport climbing, traditional ( trad ) climbing, and bouldering. Climbers tend to specialize in or prefer one discipline over the others, though many climbers participate in all three. Sport climbing is a style of climbing where the leader attaches quickdraws to pre-existing bolts, looping the rope through the quickdraws for protection while ascending the cliff. Sport climbs are often one-pitch climbs where the leader then comes back to the ground after fixing the rope to the anchor, though in some cases these climbs might continue up larger faces for multiple pitches. As a discipline, sport climbing focuses on difficult movement, résistance, learning to face fears, and risking a fall ( and being caught by the rope, bien sûr ! ). Trad climbing is the most rootsy and historical form of climbing, in which the leader climbs weaknesses in the rock'n'roll ( generally, cracks ) and places gear in these weaknesses that will hold the rope in the case of a fall. Although trad climbs can be single-pitch routes like the majority of sport climbs, they often ascend features that are more than one rope length and end at a summit ( these are called “multi-pitch climbs” ). Trad climbers generally love long and adventurous days of climbing in wilderness areas, focusing on movement, logistics, technical rope and gear skills, and partnership. Bouldering is perhaps the most modern form of climbing, and certainly the fastest-growing. Boulderers ascend boulders or short cliffs ( generally 20 feet and under ), using pads and spotters at the base for protection instead of ropes. Bouldering is a form of climbing that focuses on difficult movement and problem solving, and is more social than the other disciplines. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention a few other forms of climbing : aid climbing, alpine rock climbing, speed climbing, and deep water soloing. Pick your poison ( or shall we say passion ) : each has its own set of joys and défis !

One of the first things you’ll learn when starting to climb is how to choose a route that suits your ability level. In the gym, climbs generally are labeled with a difficulty rating; outside, climbers use guidebooks and often a phone app called Mountain Project to identify the difficulty of climbs. In the U. S., climbs are rated using the Yosemite Decimal System; in short, 5. 3 is a very beginner climb, and 5. 15 is an expert-level route. These ratings do not denote danger, only difficulty. As a beginner, you’ll most likely be choosing routes 5. sept and under, and often routes that can be top-roped. Top-roping means that the climber establishes an anchor from the top of the climb so that the rope is already in place, rather than leading the route from the bottom. Many routes in the gym are set up with top ropes; outside, climbers can often hike to the top of the cliff or feature to drop a rope down over the climb.

Each discipline of climbing necessitates a different set of gear. For all genres of climbing, however, a beginner will need a pair of climbing shoes. For just starting out in the sport, we recommend finding a comfortable pair of climbing shoes ( don’t be persuaded by the salesperson at your local gear shop to purchase painfully tight shoes ). Delicate footwork will come later in your climbing career; for now you will just be developing an ability to stand on your feet and trust the rubber of your new shoes. All climbers will generally want to carry a chalk bag and chalk as well, which they will either wear around their waist or keep on the ground ( sometimes the case while bouldering ). Climbers dip their hands into chalk to dry off sweat and keep them from slipping off the rock'n'roll. Boulderers will need the above two pieces of gear, in addition to a bouldering pad ( and friends with bouldering pads ! ). Bouldering pads are placed in the fall zone of a boulder problem, and the more the merrier ( and safer ! ). tera climb on ropes both in a gym or outside, climbers will need a climbing harness. Climbing harnesses come in a range of weights and specifications - some for sport climbing in particular, some with larger gear loops or more padding for trad climbing. Harnesses need to be replaced every few years for safety reasons, so we again recommend purchasing an affordable harness and replacing it when you have a better understanding of your needs. Along with a climbing harness, it is essential to own a belay device and locking carabiner. This equipment will enable you to belay your partner in the gym or outside, and rappel if needed. If climbing outside, a helmet is extremely important in case of rock'n'roll fall. The above-mentioned gear provides the basics for personal gear needed for a day of climbing or bouldering, either in the gym or with an experienced and well-equipped partner. If you are looking to buy gear so that you can be fully self-sufficient ( and not need a partner or a group with shared gear ) you’ll want to also purchase a climbing-specific rope ( 60-70 meters, 9-10mm in diameter, dynamic ), a personal anchor ( PAC ) or daisy chain, extra locking carabiners, cams, nuts, quickdraws, and slings. It is extremely important to buy new gear or to know the history and age of the gear if acquiring used. Both soft materials and metals degrade over time and with wear and should be carefully assessed before using.

We wholeheartedly recommend taking a course taught by professionals before attempting to climb or belay on your own. Climbing is inherently dangerous, though when done correctly can be very safe. After all of the proper skills have been learned, it is still incredibly important to stay on top of safety at every moment. Before leaving the ground, or transitioning from climbing to lowering/rappelling, there are a number of safety checks that must be completed.

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