It is always pleasant to recall the successful ascent of a climb and whilst admitting defeat is painful, memorable and worthwhile experiences can arise from the escape.
One such a day presented itself to us over the Christmas break in 2002. The holiday period usually gives us some sort of a day out, whether on rock or snow and ice. 2001 was on snow and ice with a traverse of Crib Goch followed by a classic gully climb. This year was to be on rock, wet rock at that, but still an easyish route might allow passage.
Settling for a day with the best forecast during a poor period, we aimed for Tryfan.
When we arrived in Ogwen the cloud base was down to Heather Terrace, which is a prominent scar on the east face of Tryfan left by the glaciers of the last ice age. The remaining 1000 feet of the mountain was shrouded in mist and this is where the majestic rock buttresses lay waiting to be climbed upon. To add interest to the approach we intended to include a practice climb on Tryfan Bach, which is east of the main mass of the mountain. Climbing this three hundred foot slab of rock and its following ridge would gain some height and allow time for the mists above to lift. The rock was surprisingly dry and even with our heavy sacks we soloed the route easily, following the deep crack line up the left side of the face, then we followed the ridge (which includes an awkward move) to the slopes of the main mountain.
The next objective was Heather Terrace where it intersects with South Gully. Tryfan is a popular mountain and is riddled with tracks and paths all over the place, but the biggest path, Heather Terrace, has always been the hardest find. On previous trips we’ve been too high and too low, it’s obvious from the road, but close up it’s a devil to find.
Anyway this time we were 200 ft too low and gaining the terrace was a struggle, fighting aching thighs and coughing bouts from a heavy cold. We arrived at South Gully and looked up through the mist to the crags above. The rock faces that faced the dim light glistened, whilst those that faced away were black, the rock was saturated. Gashed crag was the chosen objective, which has a huge overhanging roof (the Gash) on the crag at the left hand side of the gully.
We decided to give it a try, because Fortune Favours The Brave as the saying goes.
I made a start and climbed the initial groove 200 ft below the Gash, then over a chockstone to a good stance at the first major steepening, where I set up a belay an called for Graham to follow. The mist swirled around eerily, creeping around from the other side of the mountain, enveloping every nook and cranny, but away to the east the sun shone on the clouds high. We could hear faint calls from one other party that were on the central crag and I suspect were having their own little drama.
I started on the second pitch which felt fairly dangerous, due to the soapy texture of the rock. The holds and runner placements didn’t come to hand quickly and I was relieved to arrive at a small stance overlooking the gully. The going hadn’t been easy and doubts had crept in after looking at the smoothness and lack of natural protection on the next pitch. When Graham arrived we checked out the series of shallow ribs with clean cut angles, that had been polished over the years by the passage of many boots. With no foot holds, it was a pitch that would rely on the fiction of a good Vibram sole on dry rock, alas, after a half hearted attempt, failure was imminent. Graham with his usual philosophical approach commented that Tryfan always felt like a friendly mountain but today it wasn’t like that.
A careful rappel from a shallow spike gave us an escape into the depths of South Gully, where a plan to salvage an ascent of the crag was formed.
The gully is split in its upper reaches by a large buttress and its right fork appeared to show some interesting signs of weakness, having a long, open chimney that was free from running water, while the left branch was more broken with a small stream running through it. The gully has a guidebook grade of Difficult and is therefore easier than Gashed Crag, so we should be able to bag a proper climb if all went well.
We short roped up, Alpine style, through wet awkward corners, 300ft to the base of the 70ft chimney. We set up a belay and I lead up the first few feet, bridging to each side on the available pockets. A fall from here would see us sliding and tumbling 500ft back to Heather Terrace. Cracks for gear placements were few and it was nerve wracking, hard work with cold, wet hands, trying to get the nuts to bite in the shallow cracks. I moved higher and with at least one good runner below I stepped into the back of the chimney and reached up to place another runner in a part grass-filled crack. I moved higher on fragile flakes and fractured rock, carefully exerting weight onto them so the holds would not break. One more solid runner in place followed by a couple of short moves and I was up, only to look back and see the last piece of gear lift out and slide back down the rope. Graham followed pausing slightly to remove the runners that had managed to remain seated and arrived by my side. It then started to hailstone. We sheltered below a small overhang, just below the south summit to feast on rich fruitcake topped with icing and marzipan (Graham loves it, he thinks its great). The question is, was it a DEFEAT?