Llanberis Slate – Finding A Rainbow

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Love at first sight

I was completely blown away by the size of the slate quarry, as we came around a bend in Llanberis, on our way towards to our campsite for the weekend ahead. Dave kindly pulled over so that we could marvel at this incredible man-made site. I’ve been so excited about getting to the see and touch the slate first hand ever since watching videos of climbers such as Pete Robins, Johnny Dawes, Steve McClure and Hazel Findley tackling impossible looking routes that usually require a mixture of the following: incredible technique, ultimate balance, razor sharp crimping skills, mega rock-overs, weird moves and usually all wrapped up neatly with a bold cap pulled tight over ones head!

Before we get too stuck in, i’ll tell you right now that this write-up will only be a slice of the cake! There’s so much history seeping out of this crag and Llanberis, that I most certainly won’t be able to give it the justice it deserves at all, but i’ll most certainly give it my darn best shot to inspire at least one person to take a step onto the almighty Llanberis slate 😀

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Good morning world

Before we even start with the climbing, i’d like to point out that just the campsite alone was leaving me with my mouth wide open at every moment. Just look at that view! What is there not to like! I couldn’t have felt more at home that weekend with the mountains surrounding us in all directions with their tall standing pride. For anyone wondering where we stayed: Nant Peris, it’s a basic campsite, but it does the job at a very fine price of 5 golden coins a night.

After hours of guidebook noodling and planning the evening before, me and Will eventually settled on the idea of a Grand Day Out – This involves heading to the Australia sector and climbing up every tier until you eventually get to the Skyline. There’s many variations that can be done, but we were opting for some trad and some sport. In total we had a 5 pitch adventure planned out to get us from the bottom to the top.

However, before we got to Australia, a bit of exploring was in order – it’s essential protocol when arriving at any new crag right? Mysterious and dark tunnels were lurking around most corners and were all too inviting! I was having flashbacks of being a kid again on entering each tunnel, it was fun not having the foggiest of ideas as to what was lurking in or ahead of each mine! I’m sure if you found the right ones, you’d probably end up finding a secret crag or two. It’s like playing super mario or something 😀

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A Grand Day Out

Turns out our tunnel explorations decided to throw us a glimpse of what was to come! Here’s the almighty Australia sector with a tier system that gives you a 100 metre’ish climb up to the summit.

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The infamous tube! (Tier 1)

This could have been the first lead of the day for me, but I opted not to jump straight on it as i’d actually never climbed on slate before and didn’t mind the idea of some easier routes to warm up on and see if I even liked the rock type! Always a good idea right? Also, I wasn’t in too much of a rush for this route as it was my ‘main event’.

To get things rollin’, Will jumped on Just For Fun (E2 5c) for a warm up.E2 certainly isn’t something i’d usually climb and this was my second ever E2. I surprised myself loads in the fact that I had no real issues with the climbing and the moves for this route. I was seconding though, so I didn’t have to worry about the spicy run out from the first bolt to the second. Next up, I lead Sad Man Who’s Sane (VS 4c), steady climbing but only two bolts on this route too. I’d already began to see a bit of a trend here – spaced bolts. It’s something I had previously read about; that the slate is pretty renowned for having quite bold climbing, which is protected by spaced bolts. This isn’t to say that every route is like this. Some of the tiers above Looning The Tube are well equipped, with bolts every metre or so, making them a much safer proposition.

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Crimping hard on Goose Creature (E3 6a) Copyright Andrew Stelmach – UKC

As people started to pile in to queue up for the Tube, Will decided to jump on Goose Creature (E3 6a). I literally thought it looked almost impossible before he jumped on it, but in a weird way, I find those climbs so appealing! Most people around us mentioned that there is a hideous rock-over move that stumps most people in the middle of the route. Now I was even more fascinated to have a dabble on it! After Will finished the route after only having one fall on the crux, it was now my turn to second it!

I tied in for a seconding session and climbed as though I was leading. I managed to work my way up to the crux in the middle of the route and didn’t feel too confident that i’d actually be able to stick the rock over. A minute or so later, after trying to figure out a sequence, I began transferring weight into my left leg, and to my surprise, I was worming my hand up to the safety of the crimp above and grabbed it! Wow! I could do this clean, just maybe? Unfortunately not, my progress got halted just after the tough rock-over crux by an extremely crimpy section (pictured) that guards the ‘jugs’ to the the finish. After I gave it a good shot or two, I came down to rest my now sore fingers before my next lead. I was gutted but yet psyched for more crimpy and balancy good stuff 😀

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Looning The Tube (E1 5a)

More like A Loon Above A Tube. Here’s me embarking across the impeccable Looning The Tube. I’d heard so much about this route from Dave, he love’s it and I must admit it’s every bit as impressive as I wanted it to be. Delicate thin edges lead you across a superb traverse that begins to feel a tad bit run out just before you reach the chain, as the holds get smaller and smaller. Once you reach that big fat iron chain though, get it clipped, take a nice deep breath or two to soak in your traverse victory and then head up the well protected slanting crack above.

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Skipping our Grand Day Out

We only did two more routes on our Grand Day Out challenge, so a total of 3 out of the planned 5. After Looning The Tube, we headed up Orangutang Overhang (6a+). It’s described as a technical groove with an entertaining roof, that’s pretty much spot on! I think there’s a photo of me somewhere pretty much doing the splits on route! Wish I had the photo to share. Haha. I bet this route could be a right stumper for some people though, it’s not exactly like another other 6a+ i’ve done before. Get your funk on and give it a try.

Once we reached tier 3, we weren’t too inspired by another 10 metre sport route with all our trad gear and 120 metres worth of double ropes, so we opted to miss the next two tiers and head straight to the skyline to go tackle some 40 metre routes. I think we may have missed a potentially nice E1 arete climb on the fourth tier, but with it being such a massive crag, sometimes you just gotta pick and choose what you wanna do and go with your gut feeling.

To anyone contemplating doing the Grand Day Out, my suggestion would be to take a single rope, a lot of quickdraws (ready for the 40 metre routes at the top) and stick to the the sport routes all the way up – nice and simple that way 😉

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Tony high up on the Skyline Club (E1/E2 5c)

I didn’t take many photos of the skyline as it is huge and couldn’t capture it all up close and personal with my pansy camera phone. Nevertheless, the picture above gives you an idea of how airy these routes get – most of them are around 40 metres. There are two bolted routes at the end of the crag and I fancied jumping on Plastic Soldiers (f6a). It’s a well protected route with about 14 bolts, but it didn’t look like a 6a from the ground.

It’s very hard to read a route that is this big and there was some blank looking sections after about 20 metres or so. This made me a bit nervy, but I thought i’m well protected with all those bolts running up the wall, so I decided to head on up to go and inspect the route. It’s nice crimpy climbing all the way and has a crux exactly where you want it to be, at least for me it was. At about 30 metres up, I stepped out of the face into an alcove then had step back out onto the face where the soldiers await your presence to march to the top.

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Lunchtime time and back into the guidebook
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Back on the hunt for more slate goodness
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This place is MASSIVE
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Will found exactly what he was looking for: Manatese (E4 6a) – Rainbow Walls Area

After fuelling our bodies back up, we decided that we’d go and try hunt down Manatese, which was to be Will’s ‘main event’ for the day. It was located miles away from the skyline, but the walk was just spectacular, as you may agree from the photos above 🙂

Manatese is a fierce little number and goes to show that it’s not all just crimpy climbing on offer at the slate quarry. Will did an excellent job at leading this monster crack and kept his cool all the way. It’s very well protected and damn pumpy! I was mega surprised that I ticked this one clean on second. I was in a world of pump just after the cruxy first slanting crack! My poor slab arms. Haha. There is a semi-rest just after the first crack though, which gave me enough juice back to crank a few more moves out to the second rest on route. Then you motor up the finale layback crack to the top section. I don’t want to spoil too much, but wait till you get to the top, just when you think your finished…

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This photo is from UKClimbing – German Schoolgirl (E2 5c)

I was really tired by this point now. After cranking really hard on Manetese to get in clean, I wasn’t sure if that was me completely done for the day. However, Will somehow convinced me that I should go and lead German Schoolgirl. He gave me a proposition that I couldn’t really refuse: if I couldn’t do it, he’d get the job done, as this was potentially going to be my second E2 lead. To top it all off, you abseil into the route, so your head pretty much instantly goes into sending mode straight away to ensure that your getting back out!

So I sup’d the last of my water, ate the last of my snacks and headed down to get to the base of the route. Fortunately we had plenty of micro wires! It’s a teeny crack pretty much all the way up, which widens a little with height. The crux pretty much slaps you in the face straight away! It’s one of the most unusual cruxs i’ve ever done too or at least how I did it was! I pretty much managed to mantel a good ledge on the right hand side of the wall with both hands and feet with a twist somehow. Supposedly this route is a bridging test piece, but I managed to climb most of the route in many weird shapes and forms. I think this was mainly because I was shattered though. Thankfully a bit of tenacity and stubborness dragged me up it. It’s an impressive line and i’m glad it, just about! 😀

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Time to go large at Pete’s Eats

That pretty much wraps up Saturday’s climbing antics with Will. I had an incredible day out and I pushed myself into a new world that is slate climbing. Not gonna lie, I absolutely adored it! It’s everything I wanted it to be and then it’s just topped off with the setting and scale of the place.

Sunday turned out to be a bit of a completely different proposition. I think my body and mind were trying it’s best to consciously tell me that I was pretty much juiced out, so that left us with the decision: what to do? Well, to start the day we all gobbled are faces full of the finest grease up at Pete’s Eat, an absolute must if your in Llanberis. We then headed back up to the slate quarry and settled on the idea of undertaking a big circuit walk around the quarry. I can assure you, this is quite a big undertaking, but it is well worth it!

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The rainbow that shines all year round.

This is what I was wanting to see up close and personal. The wonderful slate rainbow that can be crossed for those who dare! This has to be one of the most unique features i’ve ever seen on rock before and it’s so enchanting. I can only dream of crossing it at the moment though, as the remarkable Rainbow of Recalcitrance runs at a bold E6 6b. Of course you will have already watched this countless times before, but lets grab a brew, then watch it together: the fabulous Hazel Findlay crossing the second pitch of the rainbow at 19 years old…

Is that the easiest route on there you ask? Well, the easiest line on the Rainbow Slab wall is Pull My Daisy at E2 5c, which looks lovely to start with as it’s a crack and will most likely swallow plenty of runners, but from a distance, it looks like that crack fades out and may hold your last pieces of protection until you reach the top. Furthermore, the ‘entry-level’ route on the main section that involves the rainbow is Poetry Pink at E5 6a, which does not look easy. Overall, a very inspiring wall indeed, but not for the uninitiated! Gonna have to earn my merits before jumping on any of these beauties – one day!!

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Soaking in more of the slate vastness
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Gnarly big slate multi-pitches including the impeccable Quarryman (E8 7a)

Just incase you haven’t seen the Quarryman before, this is an absolute must watch! Some of the most bizarre climbing you may ever possibly see, an acquired taste and style no doubt.

How have we ended up at the un-thinkable grade of E8 7a? Well, not to worry! I used to think would I actually be able to climb anything at the slate quarry after watching all these incredible videos involving routes with high E’s next to there names. I’m wrapping up say that it isn’t just for the pros, us mere mortals can have a lot of fun too! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an introductory crag by any means and the slate is definitely an acquired taste for sure and it does definitely involve some boldness even in the lower grades. I think there’s loads to go at if your around the E1 mark with routes such as Looning The Tube, Gnat Attack, Fools Gold, Seams The Same and Bella Lugosu is Dead. Bumping it up to E3 and there are some absolutely remarkable looking routes such as: Colossus and Comes The Dervish.

As always though, do your own additional research. I’m only giving you a glimpse of the slate from my first-hand experience and hours of shuffling through the guidebook. Nevertheless, i’m hoping i’ve given you a snapshot at what it’s like, what to expect and best of all, some inspiration to go there for yourself so you can tell me how amazing it is 😉

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Oh and be prepared for your fingers to take a right trashing from those beautiful sharp and fragile edges 😉

Happy climbing future slateheads 😀

Naf.

 

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