Gogarth diaries – the best seat in the house.
It was my last day in Wales and I woke up in the South Stack car park. The weather was a bit shitty, but I hoped it would clear. I had a couple of brews to warm up, packed my things, texted Jimmy Big Guns to arrange a 6pm belay, and set off at a trot toward the Main Cliff. It was late morning, leaving me enough time for a bit of soloing before Jim came and we roped up.
The scramble down to the cliff always feels more dicey than it should, and I find myself questioning my ability on rock, after my inability on the approach path. The cliff seemed dry enough, but sea mist was swirling in and I was hesitant. But I was aching to be up on the Main Cliff headwall.
I crouched under the first pitch of Positron and collected my thoughts. They went along these lines; Do I want to do this? Oh yes I do. Hmm, it would be cool to have a photo. God, do I want to do this so I can show off photos afterwards. Hmm. I don’t think so. But maybe. God that is weird. Maybe I can take a photo of myself when I get to a big hold. Christ what if I fall off trying to take a photo of myself soloing. But if I don’t take a photo, perhaps no one will believe me. So, that means I care if people believe me. I shouldn’t care. I don’t care. I’m not taking a fucking camera. Jesus.
Whilst thinking the above load of nonsense I put on an old pair of rock shoes, enjoying their well-used feel. I over-filled my chalk bag and set off up the route. It was greasy, covered in that fine film of slipperiness that all Gogarth climbers know. Not wet as such, but what we call ‘goppy’. I told myself that the headwall would be dryer, as it’s further from the sea, and I pressed on a little higher.
Then, as quickly and haphazardly as I started, I reversed, it was too slippery. My thoughts on the headwall being dry were not true, and somewhere deep in my mind, I knew that today wasn’t the day.
After hot-footing it back up the approach path, I moved left and soloed across the top of the cliff on an easier girdle route, a HVS called Cordon Bleu. It was damp so I was on a go slow, a 60m drop and some loose grass and rocks were enough to make me maintain 100% concentration.
Arriving at the sloping ledges above the main cliff headwall, I sling a spike, toss my rope over and abseil down the wall, checking the dryness, and looking for the right line to take to link two pitches together, to create a new link-up route that tackles the centre of the main wall.
The rock is by this time soaking wet and I am hanging 60m above the sea, in the middle of perhaps the biggest cliff in North Wales, and I am glad I have my rope. My earlier decision to back off from soloing was the wisest move I have made for some time. I smile.
I feel at ease on the rock, in this place, with myself. The sea is giving its constant rumble, that almost unnoticed backing-track to all sea cliff routes. I look out at the boats in the distance, and I feel happy. I switch from abseiling to an ascender, and start climbing out, the ascender following me up the rope, offering me protection if I fall. What a funny place to be shunting routes, I think to myself. But it feels like home. I love the texture of the rock, the holds, the shapes, and with the comfort of my rope, I enjoy the slippery dampness. The exposure is wild and I can taste the clamminess of the billowing sea mist.
I hear noises on the ledges above and I freeze. Climbers are on the easier route, where I have left my sling that is holding my rope. I tug on the rope and it seems solid, so I jump back on to it, using my weight to make sure that the climbers above don’t take off my sling. There are lots of spikes above the hard routes of the main cliff, and it is quite common to leave slings and carabiners there to abseil from, especially if you want to do several routes in quick succession. It has happened to me several times that climbers on the traverse have crag-swagged my gear, as I have been just 50m below, gearing up for the next route. I was worried that those above me now might do the same thing, and my safety line that I was just a few moments ago most happy with, would go whooshing down past me and pull me off in to a watery oblivion.
The climbers passed, and said hello. I knew them and it seemed odd to see some familiar faces in this place, in this weather. I continued climbing up the headwall, pausing a moment to sit on the bucket seat belay, a tiny bum shaped ledge, perched at the very apex of the headwall.
I didn’t realise either of my climbing ambitions that day. In fact I didn’t climb anything really. But I did have five minutes alone on the bucket seat belay. The best seat in the house.