Escaping the rain on Sentries Ridge

Sentries Ridge

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Nobz high on Sentries Ridge

It was a sorry situation. There we were, Andy, Nobz and I sat in the car at Tanygrisiau with a brand new copy of Meirionydd in hand but little chance of using it. With every mile driven through the Lledr Valley the clouds had grown darker and the rain heavier until at Blaenau Ffestiniog we admitted defeat; there would be no climbing today.

So, what to do? Back to Ogwen which we had left cloudy but dry? I addressed ‘Team Desperate’ with a conviction that betrayed my pessimism, “Let’s make our way to the Vale of Cwellyn, I’ve a feeling it will be dry there and as it’s on the way back we have nothing to lose. I know of a fantastic wee scramble that will be right up your dark, dank passages”. Groans issued forth from my desperate cohorts, after all, I had been the architect of plan A which had brought us to this grey, sodden outpost, forsaken by Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri and the hoards that swarm around the Pass of Llanberis and Ogwen. Plan B needed to be good and in theory it was but the best laid plans etc, etc…only time would tell and indeed it did.

Call it a miracle or just plain good luck but at Rhyd Ddu the road and dry stone walls were parched, our mountain cloud free and ready to climb. “I told you fellas, I know how the weather works around here but thank me later, we’ve got work to do”. More groans from Team Desperate! And our mountain? That wonderful free standing lump Mynydd Mawr. Our scramble? That tottering pile of choss, Sentries Ridge. According to those in the know, ‘Sentries’ is no ordinary pile of choss, no, it’s a high quality adventure where mountaineering nouse is more important than the ability to crank out 6a moves on a polished roadside boulder. The fact that one of our number could barely crank 5b and at least two were no strangers to the inside of a sea king our choice of route could have been a cause for concern…only time would tell etc, etc! 2
Now, let me tell you that forestry tracks are not among my favourite approaches to the hills and the last time this particular incarnation of team desperate visited Cwellyn we became involved in a protracted head torch fiasco in Beddgelert forest. Happily our route through the trees was less fraught this time and was in fact positively pleasant with fine views over the llyn to Moel Eilio and a mist shrouded Cwm Clogwyn. After a short ramble we left the plantation and gained the open fell where Craig y Bera’s shattered frontage burst into view. Dominating that view was the seldom climbed diff ‘Pinnacle Ridge’ which I immediately added to my ‘to do’ list, a list I later considered revising when on closer acquaintance it appeared to be in an advanced state of decay.
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From the plantation we followed a narrow path traversing the steep hillside with an outward vista of great charm across Llyn Dywarchen to the Hebog group. In years past all the paths in Eryri must have been like this and I wondered if there was anyone still alive today who could remember a time before the eroded pedestrian highways scarred the more popular mountains hereabouts. Maybe they are a small price to pay for the enjoyment of continued access into these precious places and thankfully, at least for now there is no sign here of the wind farm, that sickening scourge which threatens to encroach into every salubrious panorama bringing with it the ugliness and cynicism which inhabits the hearts of those who seek to profit from such abominations.

Anyway, I digress. Leaving the grass in our wake we hopped, skipped, slithered and tripped across the scree, with every step our surroundings becoming more impressive though taking on an air of seriousness with the pulverised shards beneath our feet hinting at the active disintegration of the rickety towers above. With this in mind we decided that although only a grade 3 scramble we would rope up for the ascent and take regular belays.
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On the first ‘pitch’ I ran out 50 metres of rope up broken rock with heathery intrusions aplenty before coming upon a fine stance equipped with a dubious bollard for a belay. Whilst bringing up desperates Dann and Nobz respectively I had plenty of time to survey the adjacent Pinnacle Ridge which exhibited a compelling line, especially above the eponymous pinnacle where a narrow crest soars upwards taking on a foreboding demeanour of apparent insecurity; one day I may report back on the accuracy of this impression though in all probability I will wait for winter conditions before venturing upon the beast.
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The next 50 metres were led by Andy and proved to be the real meat of of the route which he greedily gobbled up for himself, gorging on a series of gendarmes before a mini alpine ridge and awkward step around a final policeman spat him out onto a grassy col. This is where Sentries Ridge proper (as climbed by Archer Thompson in 1910) terminates but above lies a daunting spire which inspired in me a streak of selfishness and quite forgetting that Nobz had yet to lead I jostled to the front of the queue pausing only to hand the camera to my incredulous friend whilst advising on the optimum position for securing some decent photographs.
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I quickly got to work neglecting to place any protection until I met with a wall a few degrees steeper than vertical. I could easily have skirted this obstacle but the prospect of the superbly exposed position I would attain had me reaching for my trusty rock 9 which I slammed in…bomber. Traversing in from the right I was committed, finding jug after wonderful jug until only one move remained, a strenuous pull on a large spike, the integrity of which would remain in doubt until the deed was done. I took a moment to savour my situation high above two hungry gullies waiting to swallow me up and glanced down at my trusty rock 9 which was speedily making its way back down the rope to an amused looking Andy. I felt the frisson of uncertainty known by all climbers who find themselves high above their protection (aka fear) and made the move; I was up.
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First to follow was Nobz and then Andy who thought it appropriate to kiss me full on the lips much to the delight of a chuckling Nobz who snapped my reaction for posterity. Nice! It was then that the weather decided to take a turn and a moist wrap enveloped us the moment we packed away the rope. We would find above us two more steps of doubtful and now greasy rock which we carefully soloed before reaching safe ground. It had started to rain steadily but we weren’t done just yet for a visit to the summit cairn was in order to complete our ascent.
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Back in the valley we reflected on our good fortune or was it my good judgement which had afforded us such a grand day out? We’d had the mountain to ourselves and snatched a route from the jaws of defeat while many had undoubtedly retreated to cafés, club huts and the slate museum. No, it was nothing to do with judgement, we were just very lucky boys.
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