The ‘Extra’ Ordinary Route
Morning broke beautifully in the Welsh Highlands of Eryri but no concrete plan did we possess. For our first mountain route of the year we wished for the impossible, a classic climb on pristine, sun kissed rock in a magnificent cwm far from the madding crowds. However, it being the first of two April bank holiday weekends the honey pots of Ogwen and the Pass of Llanberis would be teeming with the great unwashed. I couldn’t think of anywhere that would see our wishes entirely fulfilled but I did know of a place where relative quietude might be found.
For Lucie it would be somewhere new to explore and for me a return to one of my favourite places in the principality. So with no time to lose we set off on a magical mystery tour where scenes of great beauty would unfold one after the other and introduce to my better half a Snowdonia, the existence of which she had never suspected.
En route to Waunfawr her first treat was the sight of Mynydd Mawr and the dark and shadowy Cwm Du. Then into Cwellyn where verdant pastures, woodland and the mirror still llyn coalesced to give an atmosphere redolent of Lakeland, a far cry from Ogwen’s bare austerity and the awesome desolation of the pass. The girl was impressed, enchanted even and then more so at Drws y Coed where the road drops down into the charming Nantlle Valley, to the left its eponymous ridge walk and to the right the shattered frontage of Craig y Bere where the old bones of the earth are seen to be in an advanced state of decay. And soon onto the coastal plain before a narrow single track road takes us as far as motorised transport is permitted, Bryngwyn Farm.
Once there all was revealed; in the distance the secretive mountain sanctuary of Cwm Silyn called us to its inner sanctum and being only too human we were powerless to resist. On our way along the grassy track we came upon gwartheg duon cymraeg, fine and curious beasts bidding us a friendly welcome into their homeland. Further still and the copper blue waters of Llynau Cwm Silyn were revealed, sparkling below the brooding precipice we had come to climb.
Up the scree we then did toil until beneath the imposing Great Slab we met with Ronald and Clare who had come to climb the wonderful Outside Edge route. The sun had yet to touch the rock which stood in shadow so we chatted awhile, thoroughly enjoying the companionship of likeminded souls in their natural habitat, that of the connoisseur. Before long the sun illuminated the uppermost rocks starting the slow transformation. We watched patiently as a lifeless pallor was gradually replaced by a warm, golden glow. The huge wall above still held an intimidating presence but was no longer repellent. On the contrary, in its new found garb of radiance a more attractive playground I could barely imagine.
By now other suitors were advancing so we got ourselves together and started on our climb, ‘Ordinary Route’ the original way up the crag first climbed in 1926 by Everest pioneer Odell and friends. From the off I was beset with doubts about my ability to find the correct way up as the choices available were myriad. Some way above the Sunset Ledge would be found where ‘Ordinary’ converges with Outside Edge and that was our target which according to the guidebook we would reach in two pitches. Three short pitches later it was nowhere to be seen but would surely be underfoot after another. I’d gone wrong somewhere and I thought I knew where. When advised to follow a broken groove I had been confronted by two broken grooves and had climbed the wrong one. On a ledge the size of an ironing board things were becoming fraught with my fair lady and I recriminating with hearty enthusiasm. I quickly tired of our squabbles and in the interest of domestic harmony climbed on until 30ft below me I could see Sunset Ledge; oh bugger!
Now then, access the crucial ‘delicate, exposed slab’ is gained from Sunset ledge via an open corner so I found myself in a bit of a quandary. If I couldn’t somehow get across to the slab we would have to reverse the route or abseil off. At over 200ft above the scree and in an exposed position neither option held much appeal. I brought Lucie up to join me and we discussed our options before deciding that an exploratory foray would give us a better idea of where we stood.
So up I went and with great relief soon saw the slab above and to the left of me. A rising traverse brought me to its foot and I relayed the good news. The slab turned out to be both delicate and exposed but a complete joy. Only climbers can know the excitement of being high on a big cliff and the feeling of total freedom and control of one’s immediate destiny. I recalled a poster I had once seen picturing a climber in a similar position to the one I was enjoying. On that poster was a short sentence, “If it is to be, it is up to me”. Those ten words distilled everything I felt about climbing during those brief but glorious minutes in which climbed that airy pitch.
With the slab done and dusted I felt all the tension of the past hour or so draining away knowing that our successful ascent was now but a scramble away. Lucie came up and gunned for the top where the alpinesque summit ridge awaited us. There we sunbathed and admired the view out to sea and across Anglesey all the way to Holyhead Mountain.
Before commencing our descent down the great stone shoot we found a vantage point across the cwm to survey our achievement. Tiny specs of colour gave a sense of scale to the wall we had just climbed which is surely one of the most impressive and beautiful in Britain. One day we will return so Lucie can experience the wonderful Outside Edge route. Until then, we will live in dreams of our special day on Craig yr Ogof.