[Photo] Geoff Bennett
On December 28, Ian Parnell and I established a bold, piton-free route with an X, 9 rating on the steepest part of Clogwyn Du in North Wales. Wide Asleep, 60 meters spread over two pitches, takes a line up the center of the overhanging face. The crux is steep, pumpy and insecure on poor hooks and has nasty fall potential should you fluff a move or fail to find gear while hanging out in a strenuous position. All the gear was placed on lead, though the decision not to carry pins was more to save weight than to take an ethical stance.
Clogwyn Du is an intense cliff, and there are few easy lines. On many of the routes, as soon as you leave the ground, you’re straight into the meat of a steep mixed climb. Most of them are steeper than they appear. It can be difficult to get a handle on the angles. Turf, solidly frozen, plays an important role in forming pick placements.
Welsh mixed climbing comes into condition infrequently and is quick to disappear in a thaw. Because of this ephemeral quality, it feels very special. North Wales is already well-known internationally for its brilliant traditional rock climbing. In good winters, the mixed and ice climbing is equally brilliant–just don’t plan any trips around it.
Our new route is steeper than the typical trad and mixed routes found at Clogwyn Du. It isn’t a jug-fest, and requires a steady approach and good fitness. Ian said it was by far the hardest thing he’s ever been on, and he’s completed many high-caliber routes over many years. If it holds the grade, this climbs will represent one of few onsights of the this difficulty in the UK. I’m still surprised it went onsight.
The ascent is certainly one of the best moments in climbing I’ve ever had, and I can’t think of many situations that compare to this one. It was hard and dangerous. While climbing, it felt like I was observing myself from deep within. What normally happens on first ascent attempts on steeper routes is you give in before you get yourself into a position where you’re in danger of succeeding. In this case, I hung on until the top.