A promised climbing tale. This was once published for real in the Oxford University Journal of Mountaineering…aka by my mates…and for at least one Anglesey aficionado follower…you know who you are, no need to call you out (the horror! the horror!) but I imagine your Anglesey adventures are MUCH saner than this.
It was raining in Wales again and there were two options: point the car towards Anglesey and hope for the best, or literally shovel shit all day. Peter Hill’s friends had graciously opened their barn to Chris Bull, Rob King, and myself for a long weekend in Snowdonia, and if we didn’t go climbing, well, there was a barn full of cow shit that needed “‘tendin’to” as we would say where I am from. Being from a small horse farm in Kentucky, I have shoveled my fair share of shit, and its about as bad as it sounds. So we packed up and headed to the island. The rest of the crew was keen for Gogarth. I was not. Had we gone there I am sure we would have still been shoveling shit. Mine. Thus we settled on Holyhead Mountain. While not actually raining when we pulled into a abandoned parking lot, the fog was as “thick as split-pea soup.”
No matter, the routes were short, so epics seemed out of the question and, in contrast to Gogarth, the approach was a no big deal. Until we couldn’t find Holyhead Mountain. And by couldn’t find I mean we spent an hour stomping through soaking heather peering into the mist thinking we saw a mountain. Yes, Holyhead Mountain is the only mountain on the entire island. We ought to have realized this was a bad omen, and I was already suspecting that the sun and moon had aligned just right for a dreaded “high gravity day,” but no one was willing to admit we couldn’t find Holyhead Mountain. Eventually we located said crag and even found some nice looking routes on dryish rock.
Rob and Chris made quick work of King Bee Crack, HVS 5a, with Rob getting the flash. Peter and I had dispensed with the Super Direct on Dinas Mot, E1 5b, with ease a day earlier and given the seemingly short day and my lack of psych Peter decided to give Bran Flake (E2 5b) a burn as it looked like straight forward jug hauling and jamming. It was, but several other things became apparent: Peter is a great trad climber, but unfamiliar with steep terrain as evidenced by his ‘double-bent-arm-ass-out’ rest technique, the route was steeper than expected, and I think the higher than average gravitational pull was affecting Peter was well. That said, he maintained composure and decided to go for broke about 2/3 of the way up the route, 2 meters above his last cam. As we say back home in Kentucky: “Sometime you go for broke and sometimes broke wins.”
This was also the moment I realized Peter’s trad acumen and history taught him to be bold, but the lack of steep climbing never taught him the important lesson of never running the rope behind you leg. The gambit had failed and he initiated Aussie style rapid gravitational assisted descent: the dreaded headfirst whipper. He also was not expecting a soft catch, which having been brought up a sport climber was always taught to give so as to allow the climber/faller time to get upright in the air. So after a good 4 meters, one good helmet safety check, and ending up far closer to the ground than his highest piece, I lowered Peter back to terra firma. His first comments “I think I just fell.” That would be correct. At least though, Peter followed the one sacred rule of Red River Gorge sport climbing: never let go. In fact he had ripped his hands open trying to jam/layback when took the howler. After a harrowing bit of gear retrieval, we somehow relocated our car, drove back to the farm, and shoveled some shit.