Friday, 1 August 2014

The skeleton of a bird was scattered across the grassy ledge. The main carcass formed a large oval shape, clean white bones and long black feathers. The skull was a short distance away, smashed in two. An explosion of feathers spoiled the ledge. Putrid and foul, a faint smell of death hung in the air. Carelessly devoured, the true ten-inch frame of the bird had been revealed.


This little bird and I had a lot to talk about. I was emotionally wrecked. Wasted. After a harrowing two-hour lead through blank slabs, dangerous run-outs and a series of loose roofs, I no longer cared. It was almost fitting to be sharing the belay with a skeleton.


My belay consisted of six pieces, all in booming, wobbly rock. I ran out of carabiners on the fourth piece, resorting to ‘frigging’ the rest. Since my grassy ledge was only three feet long by 12 inches wide and sloping down into space, there wasn’t much choice. The rope drag had crippled me, forcing me to belay at the earliest opportunity.


My heels were screaming, angry red with pain. Slipping off my rock shoes, I braced my right foot against a branch of heather and faced outwards, left foot dangling in the air. I prayed the belay would hold and began to haul up the ropes, inch by tortured inch.




The guidebook had given little information away. A faint line which linked major features, there was ample opportunity for error and I had to fight hard straight from the ground. ‘Only E4, this should be straightforward,’ I had thought. I had become complacent.


Stuck on an inch-wide foothold at 25 metres, I remained in place through some bizarre balancing act on the minor concave slab. To my right I had clipped an in-situ micro Alien, clearly over-cammed and buckled. To my left I had equalised two RPs, both in suspect chips of rock and twisted into place. Above, a shallow cam hung straight down, well-seated as long as the thin wafers of rock held. Eyeing the next sequence, it looked resistant: tenuous smears, three-finger crimps and a lunge for a hanging crack.


After trying several methods I stepped quickly down to my original position, fingers a bloody mess, mind exhausted from mental stress. My whole body shook with fatigue, the massive fall potential becoming ever more real. ‘This is shit, I’ve had enough! It’s total bollocks!’ I shouted to no-one in particular, venting my outrage. Dan commented later: ‘I knew something was going wrong; I’ve never seen you that stressed before.’


Finally, perhaps an hour later, moves passed in a blur. Fingertips clawed, feet smeared against smooth rock, breaths drawn in sudden, shallow sips. Grabbing the hanging flake as my heart thumped, I hauled myself onto better holds and protection. To be honest, I’d rather forget what happened.


As Dan seconded the pitch he accidentally kicked off a television-sized loose block. I watched it silently spin in the air, thundering into the ground with a boom! It bounced and the next time it landed, it smashed into the stream some 50 metres below the crag.


Pulling over the lip of the final roof, Dan’s eyes said it all. He looked at me with a wild gaze, shock across his face. Normally quiet and reserved, he summed up the route: ‘that’s got to be pushing E6!’ I nodded grimly.


Castell Cidwm is not a hidden gem. The broad, overhanging hulk of rock can be seen from the Beddgelert road. The crag is described in detail in the North Wales Rock guidebook. Many have heard about it, even read about the overlaps and roofs decorating the crag. Perhaps they’ve even heard of the 50-metre free-hanging abseil from the top of the crag. But how many people have actually been to Cidwm?


Hidden, no. A gem? It would be better to describe this historic, hard crag as ‘dynamite.’ I can’t wait to return.


I was only an hour late for work.




According to the Climber’s Club ‘Cwm Silyn and Cwellyn' guidebook:

Equinox, 37 metres, **. Castell Cidwm. ‘Good, varied climbing.’

“Interesting” E4 6a, but the UKC grade of E5 6a seems more appropriate.

Tom LivingstoneComment