A newcomer to the mountains
The Bouncing Czech ‘monsters’ Eryri
Lucie Sedlářová is a cocky piece of work. She’s one of those people that seem to be capable of anything they turn their hand to. If their natural ability was tempered with a modicum of modesty and grace then less able folk would find them much easier to be around but no, not our Lucie. Is there anything she can’t do?
Our first ‘date’ was at the local climbing wall where I explained that a good start for her would be to “traverse around a bit” in order to get a feel for the holds. Before I could say “Come down from there at once” she had soloed up and down the overhang. It was a similar story at Birchen Edge. Impatient and bursting with energy she couldn’t wait to get started and once again she was off, this time soloing a Diff for her first outdoor climb. By the end of the day she had cruised up a Hard Severe (seconding I hasten to add) and made a mockery out of the chimney on Powder Monkey Parade where two lardy punters had resorted to aid and combined tactics. Despite these episodes, which in me had inspired pride and exasperation in equal measure there was still the question of how she would fare in the mountains. So, with a welcome but unexpected pass from work we headed off to Eryri for a three day introduction to scrambling.
Day One – Tryfan
And so came the day I had long been waiting for with Lucie, the mountains and I coming together in glorious communion. For lively and ambitious souls a long, lonely tramp around the Carneddau just wouldn’t do so for the second time in as many weeks I was bound for Tryfan, the posturing punk of the Ogwen scene.
From our palatial digs Harlech we chart a course North East through Gwynant and pass cloud capped hills. The forecast is for deteriorating conditions and I fear that Lucie’s introduction to the mountains would be a soggy one…I needn’t have worried. Past the Mymbyr lakes then Pinnacle Stores we enter Ogwen. I begin to feel that I am coming home and as Tryfan reveals herself piece by piece from behind Gallt yr Ogof’s heathery frontage the bouncing Czech squeals in delight.
Beneath the Milestone Buttress we find ample parking and a relative dearth of humanity, who likely are away to sunnier climes after gathering pessimistic reports from MWIS and the Met Office. It’s a chilly one in the valley and Lucie throws on as many items of clothing as she can find, little knowing that in ten minutes she will be taking them off again.
And so it begins and for me it is always the same, through the kissing gate and slowly up the polished steps, looking up at Soap Gut only to turn away in revulsion though secretly harbouring a desire to scale its green walls. I digress. Already the bouncing Czech is less bouncy and has quickly learnt that trying to leave me behind in her wake is counter productive. Ten minutes later we are already high above the A5 and shedding layers. Well, some of us are.
So, a jug pull up the introductory gully followed by a brief tour of the peaty, labyrinthine path finds us looking for a breach in Tryfan’s castellations. We find one and it’s a new way for me, a fifteen foot corner which in my mind I grade as Severe. I commence an exploratory foray and realise that it’s a stiff little pitch and should I get up it there could be problems if Lucie can’t. I try to outline the situation but it’s too late, she’s already half way up it, committed and hanging one handed from a sloper. Her legs are in a wide bridge and her feet perched on nothing footholds. “Lucie, come down from there. We’ll find another way” is my appeal which falls on deaf ears. I position myself, arms outstretched beneath her buttocks for I am sure she’s coming off. Happily I’m fussing over nothing and in following her up I try so very hard to make it look very easy which it isn’t…I’m supposed to be the expert here. “What did you think of that Loopy. A bit of a tricky one eh”? “A piece of cake” comes her reply.
So the girl has proved her physical ability and as a free spirit there is no point in trying to contain her any further so I send her forth to seek out the route ahead which she does with the uncanny knack of the goats that roam free over these Glyderau hills. Soon we’re at ‘The Canon’ and it’s time for the obligatory photo session. She demurs at my suggestion that standing on its very tip is the order of the day and male pride is partially restored.
So now it’s one of my favourite bits, the little chimney and she’s straight up it pausing only to marvel (without any prompting on my part) at the wonderful bubbly rock. On the quartz pavement we get our first sighting of the meaty upper ridge, the intimidating North Tower which instilled such fear in me when first we met all those years ago. No fear from our Lucie though, just eagerness to get to grips with its delicious steeps.
With the tower behind or indeed beneath us we descend carefully into the notch and then clamber gleefully up the wide chimney onto the North Summit where Adam and Eve come into view. For the first time Lucie feels the exposure and expresses herself in words that should never but uttered by a lady. A final effort in the upper reaches of Western Gully and we’re there, the bouncing Czech has climbed her first mountain and is surprised to find we are sharing it with ten others; “You should see it on a busy day”!
Day Two – Y Glyderau
Day two dawns in technicolour gorgeousness and we can’t wait to return to Ogwen. It’s Lucie’s introduction to ridge scrambling and my choice for her is Y Gribin, a ridge so fine that if it were in Lakeland it would be at the top of everyone’s wish-list. Here in Eryri though, we have ridges in profusion and Y Gribin remains relatively quiet and today we won’t see too many folk until we emerge onto the Glyder plateau.
Once again we find ourselves by Llyn Bochlwyd where the atmosphere couldn’t be more different from our previous visit. Gone is the swirling mist that cloaked the north face of Glyder Fach and the llyn is no longer black but a glorious blue, so very enticing but too cold for a swim just yet, we’ll have to wait until summer for that.
I want to maximise the scrambling today so rather than traipse up the path onto the ‘football pitch’ we’ll head across the cwm to the ‘False Gribin’. We quickly come upon and then pass a guided group and soon we are alone to enjoy the feel of beautiful rough rock beneath our fingers. I send Lucie ahead to find the route but she keeps avoiding the outcrops on faint paths. “Why are we climbing the rocks when we can just walk around them”? “Darling, when scrambling we are trying to find the most continuous line up the rock so come back here and get yourself up there”. Ten minutes later and the penny has dropped as she throws herself at every obstacle in her way, and the steeper the better by the looks of it.
Soon we are below the final impressive tier and after a brief lecture on the perils of loose holds we’re off again and wishing it could last forever. Sadly it can’t but still Y Gribin waits for us and now the bouncing Czech will experience the pleasing exposure of a narrow ridge. The whoops of delight tell me that the girl is enjoying herself and strangely more so than on yesterday’s trip up Tryfan. But I look around and soon it becomes clear; we clamber on the edge of everything pulling wonderful jugs and feeling the air surround us, below, above and on each side. Across the cwm Tryfan smiles and the llyn glitters while keeping eternal watch over the way is Pen yr Ole Wen, the cornerstone of all things Ogwen.
All too soon we are up and my wish to sit in the circular shelter will not be granted as “Piss stained holes” are not to Lucie’s taste. I try to relate but quickly forget as I plump for a dank cave as my lunch venue among Glyder Fach’s toppled battlements. “It’s sheltered from the wind” comes my reasoning but this cuts no ice as Lucie hops and skips around the Cantilever, telling me as she is wont to do that “You haven’t got a clue Livesey”.
And then it’s off to the big Glyder where I promise the best view in all Eryri. The girl’s impressed but wants to bag ‘The Lady’ (Y Garn) until it becomes clear that a big descent followed by a boring slog will be required before she can put her 4th 3000er under her boots. “Let’s leave it for another day, I’ll take you up the east ridge. For now, I know a place you’ll really like”.
And down the unpleasant scree runnels to Llyn y Cwn we go before entering the rubble strewn slot which will take us down into Cwm Idwal. Lucie’s had a great day but it appears that we have saved the best bit for last. We are now below Twll Ddu, the Devil’s Kitchen and the bouncing Czech is floored. I’m obviously jaded with the place as I have passed this way more times than I can remember but through Lucie’s eyes I can see it anew and appreciate the appalling grandeur of those sodden black walls which a few short weeks ago were the haunt of the armoured warriors of winter.
Lower down we stop awhile a watch climbers on the slabs. I point out the routes being climbed and promise that one day we will return and climb them for ourselves. It’s been a wonderful day and if we return home tomorrow I won’t be too upset for we have had a good run despite the doom laden weather forecasts. Back to Llanberis for Chicken and Chips and then Harlech for an open fire, the sight of the sun falling into the sea and a comfortable bed.
Day Three – Crib Goch
I am startled into wakefulness by the familiar voice of an excited and insistent foreigner, “Crib Goch, Crib Goch, come on get up and let’s go to Crib Goch”. “OK Loopy, we’ll go to Crib Goch. What time is it”? “It’s 6 o’clock. Hurry up, let’s go”! The woman’s a phenomenon. She’s already had two good days in the mountains, has four hours of driving to look forward to but still she wants more. “Are you sure you’re not too tired? You have to drive home afterwards remember”. “What’s the matter Livesey, can’t you stand the pace”?
This is like a red rag to a bull and I race downstairs and out of the door to take in the soothing early morning sunshine. Yr Wyddfa is clearly visible and I am shocked when I see her. Snowdon has been snowed on and that could scupper our plans. Surely it’s just a dusting but we won’t know for sure until we get on the mountain. A decision must be made and after a little soul searching I tell Lucie that our plans are to tackle Crib Goch’s north ridge but if it’s iffy we’ll come down again and go to Llanberis for Chicken and Chips.
For the 3rd time in as many days we travel past Cnicht and Y Moelwynion, through Beddgelert and Nantgwynant. For the umpteenth time in three days Lucie asks me “Who is the pointed chap”? “That’s Cnicht” I reply, ever patient. We’ve fallen in love with this part of Snowdonia and at least one of us has decided that one day here we shall live.
It’s a tough slog into Cwm Glas but the dream-like scenes unfolding before our eyes fuel our tired limbs as does the salubrious camaraderie of the hills as we briefly chat with a lone walker on his way down. He’s carrying a tent and I can only imagine the night he has spent alone on the mountain and the coming of a brand new day witnessed from up high. We say farewell, wish each other the very best of British and once more we are alone in this wonderful mountain sanctuary, a very special privilege indeed.
The northern aspect of Crib Goch and the access point of our introductory ridge is under a mere sprinkling so after inspecting the sublime llynau hereabouts I give the green light and we set off for excitement with the promise of great things to come. A brief uphill pull finds us on the ever narrowing crest and I deliver a sermon on the frost shattered nature of the rock and the importance of testing the integrity of the holds before committing to a move. Lucie listens but of course I am less than sure as whether or not she will heed my warning, to quote the bouncing one “It can only go one of two ways”.
Carefully we step from spike to spike with a pleasing sense of exposure adding a frisson of nervousness to the proceedings, or at least I am nervous for Lucie is very dear to me and I would hate to see her slip and fall. After some hands on action at the notch we arrive at one of the most special places in all the British mountains, the start of Crib Goch’s pinnacled ridge. The view is as always magnificent and at this point Lucie has a new favourite mountain. “Who’s he over there”? “That’s Yr Wyddfa Lucie, Snowdon and he’s a she. Off you go darling”.
Now I’m starting to get very nervous as she walks onto the ridge and then hops along as though she is skipping along a country lane. There’s no doubt about it, the girl is a complete natural and I chuckle naughtily to myself as she overtakes a slow moving and clearly worried couple.
We tarry a while before tackling the pinnacles as to take in the ambience of the place until we are joined by another equally worried pair…it’s time to move on and I send Lucie ahead so I can take photos. Up she goes and me behind her but soon it’s all over and congratulations are in order. Did I say it’s all over? Well not quite, we still have Crib y Ddysgl to cross and another summit to bag. Yr Wyddfa will have to wait but we must visit Garnedd Ugain, Wales’ second highest summit. Before we get there though, Lucie and I wring as much fun out of our final ascent as possible and climb everything that stands in our way by the most direct route we can stomach. On Ugain’s bald pate we stop once more, Lucie is transfixed by Yr Wyddfa’s ‘Trinity Face’ and I point out the line of ‘Left Hand Trinity’ which I soloed a few short months ago. She love’s this place and future visits will deepen that love, I can see it in her eyes.
The mountains have enriched my life more than words can possibly express and in many ways have come to define who I am. To share the special joy of our hills and open another’s eyes to their magic and truth brings with it not only great responsibility but huge rewards; I am as happy as I can be. With a tinge of sadness it’s time now to say goodbye to Yr Wyddfa for we have a long journey home but sure enough we will be back soon to be with our friends in high places.
Back in the Pass of Llanberis we remove our boots, roll cigarettes and prepare to return home but first there is something we must do to make perfect the day and to set the seal on a fabulous trip…chicken and chips from Allports.