Friday, 2 April 2010

George Abraham's...On a new mountain.....Part Two.

Climbers Club Ogwen guidebook author Mike Bailey on the second pitch of George Abraham's 'West Ridge'....second ascent ?

We were repeating the experience of other parties. However, what was probably the most continuous-looking ridge was found at the western end of the crags, and this we decided to climb.
The beginning of the West Ridge as we called it, should be unmistakable. A cairn was built on a conspicuous, large mass of rock, which pro­jected from the grass terrace or rake that ran along the foot of the cliff. The ridge was com­posed of three main steps. The first of these rose directly above the rocky projection ; it was steep, but firm, and full of footholds. The second was somewhat tower-like in structure, nearly eighty feet high, and split en face by a narrow chimney, which held many loose flakes of slaty rock delicately poised. My companion made a clean sweep of these, and we left the place in excellent repair.
The crux of the third obstacle consisted of a curious, slanting groove in the front of the tower. Its repellent-looking, slimy smoothness led me to attack the vertical right wall. Thereon I had a sufficiently prolonged perpendicular poising to make me realize that the direct way up to the groove was advisable. My companion in due course quickly justified this view, and soon we were hurrying up the easier, quartz-marked  crest of the ridge where a final cairn was built.
Unfortunately, it was now raining steadily and there was just time to race over to the top of the main ridges on the Creigiau. The actual central point of the principal mass of the cliffs has not yet been climbed but to the left of it as we looked down, the strangely shaped edge of the Tower Ridge was visible. Excepting our West Ridge, that was the only course on the westerly side of the summit.
One of the Edwardian cairns built to mark the start of their routes. Still untouched after 100 years.

In the easterly direction or on our right the finishes of two distinct ridges were noticed. Both had cairns. That to the right we proved later to be the Great Ridge proper, and the other was the easier variation of the same course. From its distinctive character a separate name would perhaps be advisable for the latter, because, though the start for both seemed to be the same, higher up the two ridges divided unmistakably.
Then, as the rainstorm chased us down along the mountain crest, numerous small ridges and gullies loomed through the mist. Some of the former might give short and indefinite problems, for most of them seem to divide bewilderingly, but the gullies on Creigiau Gleision are not of interest. They slope at easy angles, will contain mostly grass and the debris from the retaining ridges.
Some details of another day's visit to Creigiau, Gleision may be of interest, because on that occasion we reached and ascended its most fascinating and prettiest problem. This was the Tower Ridge. During the approach a fruitless effort was made to discover other routes made by former parties. Thus from the sheepfold we walked up the screes and into the Mushroom Garden Thence a series of grassy ledges led across the face at some height until we soon gained a great scree-filled recess about midway the full length of the crags.
Those bound for the Great or the Tower Ridge by the ordinary lower way would reach the foot of the scree-filled hollow by following the base of the cliff. At the corner of approach, where great masses of newly fallen debris poured out from the rocky hollow, there was a striking view of the serrated sky-line. On the extreme right there was the West Ridge. Then, with one's gaze following upwards to the left, the tooth-like spire of the Tower Ridge attracted immediate attention. Its right-hand vertical wall was cut sharp and clean, but on the opposite side lay the gentler angle up which we must climb. A black, undercut portion of the ridge with a jutting nose of rock above it, was very obvious.
To the left of the Tower, which rose in curious,slanting form almost parallel to the lay of the face of the crags, there was a deep, vegetation-choked gully. Overlooking this the top of the Creigiau rose steeply, and farther to the left the two crests of the Great Ridge, by comparison, stood forth somewhat mildly. To the east  again some off-shoots of the lesser ridges formed a sky­line of " Coolinesque " contour. Their import­ance and size were apt to be overrated because of their nearness.
Daisy Hobson nears the top of Central Arete.V Diff (US 5.5)

To reach the foot of the course up the Tower Ridge we climbed up the scree-filled hollow and into the stony gully under the Great Ridge where the initial cairn stood. An extended wall of overhanging rock cut us off from our goal, but after a slight descent a curiously weathered shelf underneath the dripping lintel led far across the face to the right. There a shattered cairn showed that we were following  the route of the first party. Soon a short but somewhat loose rock buttress gave access to a great green hollow in the cliff's frontage. This was probably the " Bilberry Bight " of our predecessors. After clambering up through the lush growth for fully eighty feet, a way could be made to the left to the true crest of the Tower Ridge.
The real climbing now began with a sharp struggle up a 2o-foot nose, and there we found that the ledge above it might have been gained by a simple walk up the grass gully on the left. However, this characteristic feature of so much of the Welsh climbing was accepted philosophic­ally for we were determined to make the most of the ridge's opportunities and adhere to its true crest as much as possible.
A really stiff confronting bulge had now to be surmounted. It was about twenty-five feet in height, and proved in the end to be the most diffi­cult part of the day's work. After a steep start a step to the right, followed by a delicate balancing movement back to the left, landed me in an airy situation with little for the fingers to grasp. My companion below was out of sight under the overhanging bulge. The difficulty of retaining the position of the left foot on a small hold until a loftier distant knob of rock could be partly grasped was somewhat of a strain, and even when this hold could be secured the final upward haul was trying on such sloping support.
This agreeable section would disagree with many thoughtful scramblers, Above it some easy steps led to the foot of the noticeable overhanging " nose." Its black recesses pro­vided safe sanctuary for a luxuriant wealth of beautiful ferns, whose delicate emerald fronds spread vernant in the dripping depths whilst all the outside world was tinged with the brown of autumn's progress.
The impending roof of this " hanging garden was obviously impossible. The upward way to the left was the only alternative, and there an awkward, slimy face of rock about fifteen feet high brought me into a grassy corner with the crest of the ridge towering overhead. To reach this was the immediate intention, and a steep, narrow crack allowed the plan to mature. Above the point of arrival on the narrow tip we were told by the authority to " bight the rope round a stook of bollards." The absence of a dictionary placed one in an awkward predicament, for there was absolutely nothing but the bare, thin edge of the ridge springing skywards.
Fifty feet of rope dangled from my waist. No convenience was available to warrant the ascent of my companion, thus there came a bracing swarm up the front of the knife-edge, and I was thankful meanwhile for the grip of rough tweeds on the somewhat smooth structure. After twenty feet of sensational ascent a place was gained where a curious break occurred, and there it was possible to sit saddle-wise on the cloven crest enjoying comfort and safety and a magni­ficent view. I sat facing down the ridge, a great slab behind and nothing in front but the far-off, breakered shoreline, white and lazule, beyond the golden sands of Lavan.On either hand, or foot, nailed boots overhung the depths. A sideways vault would have ended 5oo feet lower, and Cwm Goch would have had further justifica­tion of its name. The voice of my companion from far below disturbed these soliloquies. Soon he appeared astride the narrow edge, and though the rope was more ornamental than useful he showed how easily the sensational place could be surmounted.
Then a steep slab, 25 feet in height,proved to be the final problem, for it ended close to the actual tip of the tower. There we gathered together the remains of a small broken-down cairn, which was the first evidence of a former party noticed since the beginning of the climb. The big buttress of the central mass of Creigiau Gleision rose grandly on the left, but our ridge continued more to the right. Only two short pinnacles remained to be climbed ere the solid front of the mountain could be gained up a steep 15-foot buttress.
Such was a typical ascent on the new Welsh climbers' domain, a crag abounding in astonish­ing and romantic situations, and offering oppor­tunities which seem almost wholly unappreciated by cragsmen in general. For obvious reasons I have said as little as possible about the errors of the only published description of the Creigiau, but this would undoubtedly account largely for its neglect. Almost all parties seem to have had trouble regarding their whereabouts on the crags, and the place had received an undeserved ill-repute for instability. From Nant Ffrancon it looked uninviting.
Yet, once the gullies and the grassy lower reaches were passed, the true ridge-crests usually afforded sound and splendid sport. They were above the average for Wales, the formation being free from the slaty inferiority of the greater mass of Lliwedd. The man who obtains a good photo­graph of the face, and details upon it the various courses, will have a reward of thankfulness from all climbers. Unfortunately, bad weather and the lack of sun on the northerly-facing frontage prevented our achievement of this object.

After the climb over the Tower Ridge the downward way from the mountain's crest was made to Ogwen by Cwm Cywion, and so to Llyn Idwal. There, with the last gleam of sunset flashing a golden crown on the Glyder's lofty head, we lingered by the 'silver strand', stirred by old memories of unforgettable days on the great encircling crags, and soothed by the simple music of the wavelets on the pebbly beach. To some the evening gloom of Idwal savours too much of the sombreness of solitude. But to others, who hear aright, the whisper of the breezes on the heights and the full chorus of hurrying streams, the great Cwm is filled with heartsome echoes of the joy of life that is given to those who climb from valley darkness into the open light of summit splendour.
George Abraham: First published in 'On Alpine Heights and British Crags'. Methuen and Co 1916