“A forty minute walk in” he said, near Arennig Fawr.
“Arennig Fawr” I replied, already imaging dropping pothole deep into trackless wasteland in an area surely preserved for hardcore hillwalkers, outlaws of the honcho footpaths, stoics with massive calves, a plethora of stories regarding mist, knee injury, the ethics of ski poles and mobile phones.
Entering this world without a large plastic covered map dangling from cord suspended around the neck might, I feared, constitute a kind of trespass. “I am not George Borrow” I tell him, though partial at times to wild ales.
Sinking a few in the Merry Leper I recall Nan, she’s there in black and white doing a move, a sort of upside-down pressup kissing the Blarney Stone, caught forever in Kodak time. Terry has kissed it too, so nothing can be done about Arennig, but agree to go.
Temporarily like Achilles, we march weighted with bouldering armor and coffee flasks over the moors. Mel Griffiths and Mari Rees are with us. We stand at ease by the lakeside. Glad I came this fine May morning. The scene across Dragonfly waters emanates raw beauty, enchanted and hysterical, like the face of Tippi Hedren in “The Birds.”
Beyond the Llyn with the arms of the cwm wrapped green around them, emerge the crags. Simdde Ddu’s black chimney shows why, in the greatest expanse of rock tiers it is so named. A Jason Cooper winter ice route when first ascended, yet a Harold Drasdo/ John Appelby VS in summer. Bryn Dyfrgi’s three-facet tower sits lower but prominent amongst the block strewn hillside, a scree funnel to left and behind enhancing isolation. Higher and left again the pharaoh-like tombstones of Y Castell’s shadow world completes the Augustus John Bohemian Arc.
Lord Sanenori said “in the midst of a single breath where perversity cannot be held, is the way.” If so, then the way is one, but there is no one who can understand this clarity at first. Purity is something that cannot be attained except by piling effort upon effort.
Yamamoto Tsunetomo, the book of the Samurai.
I did not know it yet but soon got the sit-rep. After side stepping thirty minutes by the lakeside, then following Dr T’s footsteps uphill, Bryn y Dyfrgi’s lower east face showed true what distant vision could only hint at. And there it was, cool to the grey rock touch, linking between the verticals on the otters’ dreaming corridor, the once and future clings which had become legendary in mind since Terry told of its existence two years ago; and Callum Musket more recently said “there’s a traverse there to do.”
Within a minute, I developed hiraeth for this top dollar excursion, a kind of pump at first sight, which would not, by any stretch Armstrong of the imagination, be easily won.
Gramatton Errol Partridge in Equilibrium, deeper and deeper into the widening gyre becomes the boulderer going about such business. A business that in many metres would have only the vaguest of rest positions and generally involved continuous crimping and pocket pulling throughout that length. There it was again, the indelible inked logo of the crossed armed baboon. Slab angle it wasn’t.
Some weeks ago I gave up on a classic sloper rail problem found on a block we called the Sugar Cube. Realizing there was an unfeasible reach, more though the levers were wrong for my size, so almost immediately I passed on to the chaps what I thought would be very fine send.
Here at the Dyfrgi Tower there was at least no dead horse flogging so that after careful checking no physical barriers could be found other than those demanded by stamina. Gorillaz, we got the power, singing in the rain, top hat that would be the key, watch the footwork, Fred Astaire, Twinkle toes between the manta ray moves. Slick quick steps, no rests, a flow to hit some jugs about halfway and chance for a shake. There would have to be momentum in the rhythm of a gymnastic dance, kind of glide kip motion controlling a lemur elasticity known in these parts as Aberhart Ginga.
So what, I made the weigh-in, a boxer doing so has before him or her the coming fight. Preparation begins. Pre-empting catastrophic finger strain Terry and I learned the art of taping, not hands, but base of finger joints. What did Tony Yaniro say? “Never miss an opportunity to get pumped.”
One look at this problem underwrote a guarantee that there would be ample scope to fulfill such an adage. Think Parisella’s cave left wall route times three, or Homage to a Hound times four and you get the picture. Had such a monumental armbuster lay near a crag further north it would, I imagined, already reside in the classic power-endurance test piece category, but it didn’t. Instead, it was placed at roughly the 600 meter contour line in the Arennig Mountains, benefited from shade after midday and remained largely unknown to the bouldering fraternity.
This is how it went: Sticking with Lord Senoris Tennant, piling effort upon effort, five or six visits meant there was a chance of a link. Fifteen meters taking in the central part of the wall. Pull on at two holds where the trad route Third time lucky, an obvious crack, goes straight up. The blockhead is of course on a different bus, loping right along ok’ish holds before the first harshness bites. A two-finger pocket stretched for, cross through to a lower flat-edged hole. Release the wild physique and come in for a much closer cross, your back manta ray shaped, or grotesque silhouette uber-enhanced like a Klaus Nomis shoulder-padded opera jacket. You get next a good diagonal edge and it is enough to lean off. Build feet and go high right, then a W.B.Yeats-a-pinch setting up for a flag and throw for a jug having covered about 8 meters. Time to rest, call it that at least. After all if you hadn’t guessed, the situation is akin to refueling in mid air.
Zing, go medieval for the double-jug, rack-stretcher body tension and another cross through. Yes, you can. Concentrate, the face of Garbo or Christiano Ronaldo, free kick and get the rip curl with all left hand fingers, this is important too; close on the edge and there is enough sharpness to slice, yet too little to power right for a pocket, then in-cuts horizontal and a foot boss. Remember The Blade Spares None. Aficionados of Golden Harvest kung-fu films may recognise such a title. Others include A man called Tiger, A Snake in the eagle shadow, Drunken Master and The 39 chambers of the Shaolin, better known as Enter the Dragon and Fist of Fury. Forget the stories, watch the movement. There’s a kind of suppleness and style in it translatable in part to bouldering. Monkey paw, swallow hand, summon the Chi.
Now, coming hard pressed near journey’s end, there’s a tight clamped pressure drop where body tension and lock-down sets up the last star-spangled span for edges allowing rotation and step off where rock meets ground and its all over, or so I thought.
Our engagement with what would become The Supercollider began in May. By mid June an exceptional dry spell allowed completion of the original intent, this in itself was a great prize. Maybe fifteen meters of overhanging wall at a consistently difficult standard placed it in the French 7A+/B grade, block to block top dollar quality. Bone dry conditions spilled over in July giving unexpected extra time. Suddenly the shorter section of wall leading into the start of the established section and obvious difficulties present themselves. Difficulties which somehow the weather Gods gave enough time to practice. As anyone who has done much of almost anything connected with outdoor pursuits in Wales will tell you a six week period of almost unbroken dryness is a rarity. Such phenomena coincided exactly with mission creep at the Collider.
Intense moves off a mono to a big pocket, where a sensational Rose and Vampire cross gains edges, and I can hear big George Smith saying “Didier is ready.” It is a good reminder not to take things too seriously. On the other hand Terry and I on our many attempts could hardly be accused of apathy, and whilst every tool we knew in the cannon of technique came into play, the sustained nature of the problem demanded one or two visits per week. This was the modus operandi.
Between visits preparatory work, such was the obsession, now learnt towards the absurd so that a netsurf entitled “ is gravity heavier at certain times of the day?” took place. This was because of a notion that such forces, even if differing minutely during daylight hours, might aid ascent. The results, at best inconclusive, seemed generally agreed that there was no real difference. Another web search, this time asking what marathon runners eat before the event, and much sideways talk kept up collider pre-occupation and if nothing else helped to maintain psyche and move memory to such an extent that by the 14th July we had sent the left hand wall in two distinct sections.
On the 19th we were back attempting a link of the aforementioned. Familiarity ,far from descending into contempt acted as a warning. Again we went through a resume of bouldering traverses all of which were considered and compared against the matter in hand. Parisella’s right wall route easier and shorter. Hylldrem original, much easier, Cromlech roadside, probably harder but shorter and of the same quality etc etc.
Each span of the wall ran between the starting holds of trad routes and provided individually four main problems, each named as follows:- The Shadow Beasts, The Torture Board, the Supercollider and Drip- fed Amnesia. Collectively we referred to the wall as the” Supercollider” because if you managed to link a couple of sections together it is not like there is a rest, but simply a collision course straight into the next lean, mean pumping machine.
Acrobatics crossing the Wall of the Shadow Beasts showed initial promise, dropping in swiftly thereafter to Terry’s Torture Board where there was a span to a flat ledge that once housed a good side pull until it exploded causing surprised ejection a week earlier. Now it’s share and reach for a big undercut, some hard tech laybacks, on, then off with a step to the big boulder and unable after resting to go any further.
Who was it said that 99% of bouldering is failure? No matter, no easy kill this. Terry gets a grip on the Shadow Beast. Reveling in Lemur crossthrough and pumping stone after that we’re gone, no juice left scenario.
A week later there was a full moon in the post, Wednesday night, clear of cloud, showed it big in the sky, hanging. Snowdonia, experiencing a blue remembered hills type summer was stripped to the waist feeding tourists and handing out parking fines. At weekends, the roads were getting desperate. Llanberis to Arennig via the Crimea pass, Llan Ffestiniog and across the Migneint was by far my favorite way, yet only taken during midweek and even then set out time later than seven in the morning invited possible hold ups or near death bike jousts which added to what already accounted for just over an hours drive. Nothing in the greater scheme of things, but a consideration for anyone Collider bound. Already 15 degrees at 7.30am the walk in was a green fern blur, familiar, yet no easier then the first time.
Doppelgangered of the Llyns mirror, the crags beyond soon Salvador Dalied the scene. Heather lip-gloss maroon, colored twice under a flat light as heat rising with the day carried an unmistakable sheen in full bloom. Unfortunately the same could not be said for ourselves.
Over the course of multiple Collider visits, we had been lucky enough to boulder away unperturbed by the summer heat. What usually caused session demise was general body breakdown due to the strenuous demands of continually overhanging rock and a certain tip burn, so savagely rough were the rugosities. Never normally the best time of year for such activity it was an extra ingredient that called time on this particular excursion. An ingredient that, most unwelcome, can make a big difference, condemning blockheads to the fingertips of the damned.
High humidity, pretty swiftly an air imbued with the moisture dominated the atmosphere to such an extent that we began slipping from holds which on other occasions held firm. Where were the blowpipe hunters and the jaguars, because all at once a cherished little haven in this unfrequented back alley of the Welsh mountains seemed to have become an adjunct of the Amazon and we, the monkeys, clinging to a raft of broken dreams like Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God, gained no other momentum then that heralded by the coming of our shutdown fate and the message hit me like a curare-tipped dart. Conditions are the fire in which we burn.
“I am not George Borrow” I tell him. Such were the scenes of Supercollider during summer 2018.
Martin Crook, Blockhead, 2018