This article first appeared in the June 2014 issue of Climb Magazine.
The archetypal and bold wall climb of Right Wall, situated high on the east side of the Llanberis Pass, is worth the wait.
Steeped in history, Dinas Cromlech stands proud and tall on the hillside below Glyder Fawr. Its iconic walls spread wide like an open book and command a view. At times I feel like it’s extending its gaping arms, welcoming me in. At others, an impenetrable fortress conjured by from Tolkien himself. The intricate journeys to the top of the wall are to be enjoyed, savoured.
The names that echo around the crag are imposing. Brown, Livesey, Fawcett, Moffatt - it’s impossible to ignore the foreboding history of each route. They have all opened a page of the Cromlech, to begin their journey towards freedom and making their mark. ‘He climbed it in socks!’ ‘Tied off his ropes...’ ‘Come on arms...!’ ‘Soloed.’
What gives these routes their classic status? Perhaps it’s the setting: clean, perpendicular walls which provide the perfect amphitheatre for you to play out your performance. The featured rock, with its pockets, spikes and crozzles? It could also be the rich atmosphere and history. It’s most likely a combination of these factors, mixed together to produce a crag like no other.
A few routes, however, stand head and shoulders above the rest. Right Wall’s history, climbing and grade make it something special, not to be rushed. On the first ascent, Pete Livesey tied off his ropes at the Girdle Ledge, soloed up Cemetery Gates, practised the final headwall moves before retying and finishing off the route! It is a testament to the tour de force and visions of Livesey, and illustrates the complicated route finding.
I deliberately tried to save Right Wall until I was ready. My original intention was to climb it at the end of my three years at Bangor University, but time waits for no-one and I missed the opportunity. Saving a route for another day is often wise, but there comes a point where you must confront the demons.
I found myself back in North Wales two months later, and knew it had to happen. A run of good form even gave me the confidence to do the inconceivable - I started telling my mates that I was going to get on it! I began to regret this when I passed up a sunny day (it was too hot in Wales - what are the chances?!).
A day was set and the demons inside my head began to stir. They circled like vultures and I weakly battled back. ‘It’s just a route, it doesn’t matter!’ I retorted, knowing that I’d waited for a long time. I was certainly affected by the route’s standing and didn’t want to blow the onsight.
Calum kindly offered a return belay and we walked up there, trudging up the scree. Was I dragging my feet, or just struggling to keep up with him? I warmed-up on Left Wall Direct (the first time I had led it), relishing the exposure and running it out. ‘I can do this,’ I repeated. Glancing across at Right Wall, it looked ominously unchalked and, unfortunately, still there and ‘un-ticked.’
Back down at the sloping ledge, I stumbled about, my mind elsewhere. ‘Just get on with it!’ Calum enthused, chuckling at my windmilling arms and pointless dithering.
The noise inside my head grew louder, almost thundering. The wind howled, nearby shouts intense and harsh. I stepped onto the wall and... silence.
‘Climbing,’ I said.
It’s just me and the rock. Everything else slips away as I become absorbed in the moves. I feel as if I have blinkers or soft, framed vision, and the route gloriously disappears beneath me. Slings are draped on spikes, wires slotted in perfectly, the route falling move by move. I am barely aware of the run-outs, partly because I don’t look down!
At one point, I see a line of pockets lead away from the gear. ‘I think it goes out left,’ I mutter to myself. ‘Ok, right,’ my brain responds, confirming the direction and ready for the commitment. Going left on Right Wall - whatever next?
The pockets and jugs re-emerge as I approached the Girdle Ledge, and I’m shocked to find it big enough to sit down on! I consider taking off my boots and lying down, just for the sake of it, but I don’t want to lose my flow. This ledge must have seen some legends.
The ‘porthole’ feature took some effort to reach. Uncertainty crept around my mind; it was hidden and misshapen, like it had been crushed under years of pressure.
Hanging from its fat bottom lip, however, I almost laughed - it had a perfect shape when viewed from 2 feet away. It could have been crafted by a master stonemason and I peered into it, hoping to get a glimpse of another world, deep inside the Cromlech.
A final haul past the hole and I am flying high - not airborne in a climbing sense, but perhaps more emotionally. Above me there is only the lip of the crag and then... deep, bluesky forever. It feels as if I am about to mantle the edge of the world, a square-cut lip into another chapter.
Before my thoughts run too wild, however, I receive a final reminder from the laws of gravity. I look down (classic mistake), realise my gear is miles below me and my heart flutters. I plug in the cam and prepare for life in the horizontal again.
Sitting in the sunlight at the top of the crag a short while later, I fill my lungs and bask in the afternoon warmth. Contentment washes over me as I survey the world from my perch. This was the perfect time, the perfect place. The route was better than I could have hoped, each hold perfectly positioned, maintaining interest throughout.
Once more, I have opened the Cromlech book and started to write, going higher and higher into the unknown. The story twists and turns, only unfolding move by move. Topping out, unscathed, this journey is complete and another chapter draws to a close.
It was certainly worth the wait.
Right Wall. E5 6a. Dinas Cromlech, Llanberis Pass.