It isn’t just raining when we set off, but hammering down. The forecast says clearing later which, right now, is hard to believe. Nevertheless, we are on a mission, and will take the chance. A fifty minute walk time is Dr T’s prognosis. Mel Griffiths and I use mats as umbrellas, generally creating a strange yet practical look. Terry’s is of a type unsuitable for such improvisations, which is lucky since we are able to follow him, heads down with limited vision, catching his stride en-route for Gist Ddu’s lonely expanse.
The crag lies below the Aran Ridge, which, until relatively recently access agreements, was the only permitted approach. A five kilometer hike starting from Llanuwchlyn Village. It’s East face set above Llyn Lliwbran gives trad climbers some of the best routes in Mid Wales amongst which Joe Brown’s Sloose HVS, doubles as a classic hard winter climb when conditions allow. Martin Boysen’s Aardvark HVS takes a massive arête, for over eighty meters whilst John Summers Voie Sussie, a little harder at E1, also gets the three star guidebook rating.
However, we are going there because a week previous Terry had led a team up Aardvark and in doing so noticed several large boulders nestling in the cliffs baseline scree. “Windblown, clean and undercut” were the words which galvanized today’s action. It was June 2017. Fifteen minutes desultory marching saw a light drizzle usurp downpours to such extent that Mel and I quit unorthodox mat carrying yet no sooner were they strapped for normal practice we hear a worrying sound of an oncoming quadbike heading at speed towards us, which caused a halt in proceedings.
Taking ten paces forward Mel converses with the farmer in the native tongue, leaving Terry and I awaiting the outcome. Legendary are conflicts between landowners and those engaged in outdoor activities. As it happened, this was not to become one of them. Mistaking our pads for some kind of fishermen’s windbreaks, Arfon Jones was concerned we may be illegal anglers and was quickly relieved of this impression.
There then followed an episode probably unprecedented in the annals of Welsh climbing let alone exploratory bouldering in the Aran Mountains. A mathematical conundrum you could call it. The question being how do you get four people, three bouldering mats, and two rucksacks onto a quad, then pilot the machine uphill for half a mile?
The equation is thus: one balancing at the front sitting astride, one mat in a wedge between two rucksacks facing forward, two sitting at the back with a mat each strapped to their chests facing downhill, whilst the final position, taken by the driver, in whose skill great trust must be placed, stands upright pumping or reducing throttle as the beast rides rough and rude though mountainous terrain without flipping over. A contingency plan should this happen relies on further mat metamorphosis since in the event they might assist ejected passengers by cushioning their ground impact. The driver simply leaps with no such hope.
The sum of this experiment (contingency untested), equaled being dropped at the lakeside where, with the arrival of flatter grassland, risk subsided. From here we say thanks to Arfon, then, unaided, complete a far less exuberant walk around the Llyn’s perimeter to the first significant block grouping.
On the way, an amazing tomb like boulder shows potential at first, and though unlikely, a severely overhanging arête goes at about 6B+ from sitter. There is no topping out so that a thick mop of ecosystems crowning glory is left intact. Instead, a move or two in reverse is followed by dismount, owing to the “problems nature” we simply name it: The Great Arête.
Clearing weather shows the moraine oblong block that Terry has noted previously and when we get there, there is little doubt in my mind that he has brought us to Mountain Gold, for a start his personal focus, a lip traverse from right to left rising on slopers to a finish requiring delicate slap top out beams absolute quality. Underneath this is a roof which he suggested would be of some interest, and in this he was not wrong. In fact, I will spend the best part of three hours attempting the elephantiasis style roof which will in time (three more visits) become Game of Hones 7A+.
Two further lines, identified right of this, showed themselves in the upside down nails category, and we frankly get nowhere on them. They remain open projects waiting for the right shaped mutants. Try as we might, we find complete problems on the Big Lebowski. There are no easy rides.
Mel acts as spotter and coach, then summons us round to the blocks backside where above flat landing is an excellent learning wall started from sit-down by a crescent moon shaped undercut, it reveals, Bad Pit 6B, easing to a picture posing slab finish. There is a soundtrack to action, performed live against Gist Ddu’s massive amphitheater around which the three ravens croak out their classic “How to get a tercel to drop its kill so we can eat it”. The peregrine dives, turns, inverts in a slate blue cutting air movement in absolute mastery landing somewhere we cannot see. A magic in the moments of its passing.
Jutting at witches’ hat angles we notice the top of some rocks resembling that shape so dig deep tasking ourselves five minutes or so up towards a col where, yes you will go to the ball Cinderella, there appears undercut traverses, arêtes, steep walls, rough rock and good landings.
Flasks and energy levels are on the ebb tide so we try a few moves, figuring out better for next time. Mel, shooting video, catches me in bulk when a hold breaks rolling out atop mighty Joe Young, a lovely overhanging pocketed arête at 6C. Terry, compression clamping a low hanging rib without much luck, gets it with the last throw of the day. “6A+” he says out loud.