Long, lonely climbs

Long, lonely climbs – A return to Graianog

The Atlantic Slab

The Atlantic Slab

It was a year almost to the day when last I found myself in lonely Cwm Graianog on the eastern flank of Carnedd y Filiast. In the company of Nobz and Juggs I had climbed Left Edge and over the course of the day I became a fervent enthusiast of this neglected mountain sanctuary. Its neglect is no tragedy; On the contrary, it provides one last haven of tranquillity for the lover of solitude in a valley that swarms year round with rock polishers. A stiff walk in allied with a grim reputation repels all but those in the know and connoisseurs in search of adventurous days in glorious isolation. Here, one will discover the longest climbs in Wales. In some parts the rock is as perfect as you will find anywhere, in others it is vegetated and not beyond suspicion but in Cwm Graianog, nowhere will you come across a polished hold or worn gear placement. Furthermore, vigilance is required if adequate protection is to be found at all.

Peter Lane on the old A5 beneath Cwm Graianog

Peter Lane on the old A5 beneath Cwm Graianog

The centrepiece of the Cwm is the massive Atlantic Slab, allow me to quote the guide book…”This is a vast expanse almost too large to comprehend; it is waved with a gentle undulation, and the run-outs are so long that you can suffer from loneliness when trying to find a way”. Indeed, those who think that long welsh slab climbs reach their zenith in Cwm Idwal have a gap in their education. The Atlantic Slab will play its part in filling that gap. But for now, that is enough talk of the main course; let us first consider an aperitif to whet the appetite…The Red Slab.

The author in Cwm Graianog. The Red Slab can be seen just above my head

The author in Cwm Graianog. The Red Slab can be seen just above my head

Peter soloing below the Red slab

Peter soloing below the Red slab

The sun was shining and as far as October days go it was nothing short of perfect. Big Peter Lane and I were keen to make the most of it and from a distance the Red Slab looked perfect for a warm up route or two. In its particular setting it looks rather insignificant but on closer inspection we found it to be much larger than we had at first thought. 300ft of perfect, smooth rock set at an amenable angle and blessed with friction such as to make gritstone feel like slate. Peter, a slab aficionado was mightily impressed and thanked me for saving him from a choss bothering exercise on Creigiau‘r Dena.

First we tackled the imaginatively named Route 1 which was a delightful 240ft Vdiff and just the thing for an introduction to the crag. Next up was Central Route, a 280ft severe which proved just a little too spicy for me to lead. I had padded up about 70ft of the first pitch until the lack of protection became too much for me. I down climbed and sent Peter up to the first stance where shortly thereafter I joined him. The second pitch elicited excited whoops from my usually taciturn partner and upon following him up it was clear to see why. It had been a bold lead by the big man; the climbing was very easy but the run-out sections were completely blank and required total faith in friction. We both agreed that it was a marvellous little route and Peter vowed to return again one day to introduce others to its delights.

Peter enjoying the view after climbing Central Route

Peter enjoying the view after climbing Central Route

On a day such as this pure rock climbers would have had their lunch and continued to squeeze as much out of the Red Slab as possible; however, I am no cragrat and had my eye on bigger things, knowing that I wouldn’t be entirely satisfied until I was at the top of the mountain. With that in mind we traversed unstable boulders and scree to the foot of Atlantic Slab and our route to the top, ‘The Ridge’.

Graded moderate it is an easy climb but a long one giving 1000ft of continuous climbing. The time was 2.45 and to pitch it would be a protracted affair taking many hours. The only sensible option would be to dispense with the rope and climb solo which we did without encountering any difficulties. It was an absorbing climb with entertaining ridges, airy hand traverses and bold slabs. It was not until nearing the top that I realised how outrageous our position had become. Above us two walkers spent a few minutes watching, the first people we had seen since leaving the car. I paused to take in my surroundings and felt very small indeed. 2500 feet below was the road, to our left the Atlantic Slab was seen in true perspective, above and so very close was the safe vantage point from where we were being observed. A magnificent situation but all good things must come to an end and ten minutes later we were sat on the lip of the cwm knowing all too well that we had experienced a special day in a special place, it was four O’clock. With not a little smugness we walked down to the car where our weary bodies enjoyed the rush of well earned endorphins. Follow our example and visit Cwm Graianog, the unfashionable venue for unfashionable mountaineers.

The author on The Ridge

The author on The Ridge

Peter on The Ridge

Peter on The Ridge

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