“A great experience awaited us and one which forever set at rest any doubt which we could have had as to the wonders so near us” Conan Doyle, The Lost World
Around half past two on a late August afternoon, Mel Griffiths and I having brewed up outside Erics café generally dismissing roped climbing activity (Mel was recovering from a serious biking accident, the result, person nil, tarmac ten, stitches many) found ourselves toiling footpath steep in Amazonian like forested hillsides where, if either had been felled by a blow pipe dart tipped with curare, it might not have conceded surprise.
Suddenly a toucan exited through sunlit canopy startling us to take a breather. Ok, the bird was a Jay and I should explain we were en route to Moel y Gest quarry, a largely forgotten hybrid crag blasted in amphitheatres arcing that mountains summit slopes. It is situated a mile or so as the jay flies, opposite tremadoc’s Craig y castell.
Reaching an overhung zenith at 60 metres on the gestimate barometer, the quarries left hand mosaic academy was strafed by the now iconic holliwell brothers in the late 1960’s. With Dave Mossman and Frank Quigley they put up around twenty rarely repeated climbs, almost all graded HVS but requiring some aid from pegs removed during first ascents. Doug Scott, perhaps mistaking Y Gest for Lhotse Shah also weighed in a similar standard route duo during this period, which along with their compadres have suffered a schizophrenic existence in various Tremadog guidebooks ever since. Go there and the phrase ‘new blocks on the kid’ springs to mind.
Still, with a flexi friend rack and some shotcreting equipment, this yakuza sliced rock jungle might just clean up to show what a pathetic band of triple layered latte drinking fools relatively modern climbers have all become (“speak for yourself” I hear you say).
There is a suspicion however, that even those entranced by Ibogain might be found screaming for sounder Tremadog neighbours whilst immense benefit could be gained from Ipods containing the village peoples 80’s classic ‘so macho’ played on a loop throughout any forthcoming ascents.
Further right along this lost plateau, visibly compact rock (granite or rhyolite but definitely not slate) in untouched varying heights rose between crew cut heather, offering obvious sport climbing potential. Such walls were undoubtedly ripe for climbing both at extreme sustained angles practised by gibbon limbed ubermench together with less perversely steep enclaves favoured by aspiring stick clippers like me.
At front the landscape bore only minor graffiti, a few entombed inspection pits, a weird unroofed concrete bunker. A sparsely ironed winding house standing forlorn as a ruined Aztec temple above its own dramatic incline tending towards chaos in a quarter mile drop. We then discovered several signs of recent activity posted on partially bush obscured whale size boulders sunk into the quarries overgrown floor. Three bouldering mats had been hidden in a kind of plato’s cave, their owners philosophy written in chalk on hunchback arêtes and fierce lipped out highball roofs above spartan landings.
We came, we saw, we walked away and despite initial enthusiasm did not return until twelfth September. This time we were accompanied by mid Wales specialist Terry Taylor and a few cordless Bosch Demons (the technical committee) ready to turn up the juice.
First Terry and Mel set about difficult rappelling to reach a slightly overhanging barrel chested buttress, broad in width, short on crimps. With a line bolted, Terry began trying it, only to be stopped on red point by the final move. Tying on for a try I was in no shape for.
Steep climbing and a cameo outing to Penmaenbach tunnel crag a month previously had resulted in disastrous pump, the routes were overhanging and I overhung but Streaky dragged me up despite being heckled by tinnie drinking cyclists, steroid big on the path. “If he falls off now, he’ll die” they had said, as I pulled over a bulge aided by Streaky’s patient tight rope. It was however a good day out and at least for me a few training moves between quick draws.
Concerning training I am reminded that a friend who spent a day confined in a Prague dungeon being used as a human coffee table in his own words, “trussed up like an old turkey” (this cost extra) reckoned it was better preparation for climbing than a Neil Gresham masterclass. But I digress. Failing low down on Terry’s line, my short-lived attempt did little to give him respite and in the end it proved a forty-eight hour nemesis. He eventually nailed Dr Faustus F7a, the inaugural y Gest sport route, a gift from the sloper gods, a Gelignite Sonata.
Between this action whilst searching for the only other route claimed hereabouts, ‘Space Panic’ a HVS 5b corner crack put up in 1981 (not so far located) I noticed some disjointed niched grooves cutting aside a rouge coloured slab with only one quarryman’s’ bar mark throughout it’s length. Scrambling to a col of unconquest overlooking these features I realised they leant slightly off vertical so abbed down to find footholds and resting ledges which must surely give succour to the stamina poor on their way to a final slate style rockover.
Later Terry rewarded this find with four bolts and I managed a lead fuelled with fair-trade enhanced F6a confidence, adding ‘Flaskdance’ to our repertoire. Jade Edwards made a second ascent whilst Mel burdened by a heavily bandaged hand went on top rope, suggesting “to the niche please” tactics might be required, the phrase referring to an incident years earlier where he and I literally keel hauled a man known as the human elevator over and through crux sections of the wasp at Tremadog.
Thankfully, this tactic was not called for. Beyond the col of unconquest lay leaning walls sculpted in red stone and here I saw Terry bunched up on jugs before yarding on with the pump running then going again, silhouetted against the sky, extended. Spectacular, strenuous and overhanging when Terry finally succeeded on this ‘Tantric Skullfeeder’ at 7a, we announced the win, which although not desperate by modern sport standards with a sort of ‘come gentlemen let us away’ approach lest we too became human elevators getting the clips back.
The following Saturday, Mel, still suffering a “gammy hand” began rap bolting some slabby buttresses at the quarries right hand edge after enduring a lengthy stumbling bushwack to access their exit slopes. This bracken stomp was eventually relieved by fixing an in situ static rope which could be jugged from cliff base. Such operations take time and because further cleaning was necessary in the ‘Planet Gest’ area, I returned midweek to put in a stint with only the Yaffingale for company.
At fifteen metres it became apparent devious abrasives had cut through sheath then severed some helix in the core. With no one to tell and uncertain what strategy instructional manuals recommend in this situation I had a go at becoming Zen like light, zipped one jumar past the killer damage and then for reasons cloaked in relief said out loud “fuck sakes woodpecker”. I could not see the skull feeder from here but I’m sure it winked as normal paranoia resumed.
That night I awoke from a dream in which after buying a woodcut from Gustav Dore depicting the castle of Otranto I’d sent it to Kylie Minogue as a birthday present. You see I’d been going out with her for some months and discovered her bum was made of rhyolite before falling in love. Absurd as this was it contributed toward a certain delicacy when using rounded holds and that after planet Gests’ first ascent a few days later I could claim in abstraction that it was a F6a dream climb fit for the stars.
After admitting both Mel and I had tendered bogus claims, after first impressions led us to believe that this areas finishing slabs could be “walked up hands in keks”. Terry set out on a route demanding much greater technical élan and at 6c+ ‘Freak on a Leash’ required a balance climbing performance par excellence. Seconding on top rope it struck me similar to ‘Finnegans Wake’, difficult to read, hard to put down, somehow marvellous.
Power Rangers gain no advantage here and even those blessed by the beanpole gene might wish to warm up their calves. By adopting an almost clandestine modus operandi, piggy backing on long deserted industrial concerns our small exploratory cadre had now completed five new climbs, become regular punters in Lidl Porthmadog car park, developed andean trekking skills and at times observed parties engaged on Craig y Castell uber classics across the valley from Y Gest’s seclusion. It wasn’t not long before early winter cyclones forced a rain soaked embargo shutting down team activity, think ‘Aguirre wrath of God’ so that every anorak hooded soul in town seemed to bear Klaus Kinskeys grim countenance, marching drizzle sodden past sadistic tabernacles through tormented streets, waiting for the raft, unconscious of the slopers at dusk.
Time to give Kylie a call.
A personal account of initial sport climbing development at Moel Y Gest quarry, Snowdonia, North Wales during Autumn 2009
By Martin Crook