There are few areas that have as large a quantity of diverse climbing venues in such a small geographical area as North Wales. From adventurous sea cliff climbing to bolted limestone sport routes, through multi-pitch mountain missions to steep roadside bouldering, all can be easily accessed within an hour from the central mountain town of Llanberis. With the different venues located in areas each exposed to different climates it is often possible to find somewhere to climb, even if it is raining hard in the higher mountains. As well as excellent climbing, the area also attracts hundreds of thousands of walkers each year, who come to ascend Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain, and to scramble on the peaks of the Glyders and the Carneddau.
The mountain crags
The big cliffs and smaller crags that line the valleys and higher summits of the Llanberis and Ogwen Valleys have long been iconic in British climbing. The Llanberis pass, with the Glyders to its east and Snowdon to its west, contains a series of easily accessible crags with single and multi-pitch trad routes, including all-time classics such as Crackstone Rib (S), Cenotaph Corner (E1) and Right Wall (E5). Sitting higher on Snowdon itself is the area’s jewel in the crown, Clogwyn Du’r Arddu, or Cloggy as it is better known, an imposing, north facing wall that requires several days of dry weather for good climbing conditions to develop. Around in the Ogwen valley the popular venues of Tryfan’s East Face and the Idwal Slabs both offer great long, easy trad routes, all in a mountain setting that demands good rote finding and the ability to safely deal with exposed scrambling.
The 1980’s saw the abandoned slate quarries above Llanberis brought back to life, with climbers putting up hundreds of new routes on the blank walls, slabs, corners and grooves left behind by centuries of quarrying. After falling out of vogue, enthusiasm for the slate resurged in recent years with the publishing of a new definitive guide to the area. A unique place to climb, both in terms of style of movement and setting, the nature of the routes is juxtaposed between harrowingly bold ‘designer-danger’ lines, and more conventionally protected sport routes. The slate dries fast, making it a good choice for showery days or for the day after a storm. The access situation is tricky, so keep up to date with the current situation on the BMC website.
Tremadog offers roadside cragging at its finest, with quality multi-pitch routes at every grade from V.Diff to E7. The most south-westerly climbing area in North Wales proper, and at the foot of the mountains looking out over the sea, it often enjoys much more benign weather than the higher mountain areas further inland. In the right conditions many of the routes here dry quickly after rain, particularly on the Bwlch Y Moch buttress, but beware the more tree-sheltered areas where slick rock remains greasy for longer periods. The climbing at Tremadog is generally well protected, with good cracks taking trad gear easily, which makes up for the fact that the climbing is often technically challenging, with nimble footwork and strong fingers useful. The crag is well served by Eric’s café, with the acclaimed alpinist still collecting parking fees and serving cups of tea himself.
Located out on the north-west tip of Holyhead Island, the sea cliffs of Gogarth are conveniently situated in their own often dry microclimate. It is not unusual to drive back along the A55 after a day’s sunny climbing whilst looking inland to see the mountains swathed in black, rain-laden cloud. Adventurous sea cliff climbing at its best, the area is best understood as a series of different cliffs, each with their own distinct character. The main event is perhaps the Main Cliff, a hundred-metre high crag of steep cracks, corners and ever-present pinches, with often sound rock and reasonable gear, all approached by a down scramble that should be treated with respect. North of here lies North Stack wall with its bold, thin wall climbs, which is overlooked by the ever-popular Wen Zawn, home to Drummond’s famous traverse A Dream of White Horses. South of the Main Cliff lies South Stack, a collection of abseil-accessed cliffs. The most conventional venue here is Castell Helen, home to Gogarth’s classic easier routes, including Lighthouse Arete (VS). To either side of this lie the big, serious cliffs of Mousetrap Zawn, the Redwalls and Yellow walls, all of which demand an understanding of both difficult moves and often poor rock, with the routes starting in the E grades.
The limestone cliffs to the north-east of Snowdonia offer a mixture of tough trad and well bolted sport routes, in another often-dry microclimate. The main attraction is the Orme, a small peninsula on the edge of the popular tourist town of Llandudno. Here trad test-pieces from the 1980’s sit alongside quality sport routes from the mid 6’s all the way up to Neil Carson’s Big Bag (F9a) on the steep tidal crag of Lower Pen Trwyn. Of interest to the hardcore boulderer will be Parisella’s cave, an extremely steep, extremely roadside venue with some of the UK’s hardest problems blasting out from its depths. Away from the Orme are a number of quarries and caves with a great selection of sport routes, including venues such as Castle Inn Quarry which have good, well protected sport climbs in the lower grades.
With the exception of the popular gabbro bouldering venue of Porth Ysgo, the climbing on the Llyn is famed for its adventurous quality, with stories of hard, dangerous climbing on loose, challenging sea cliffs the norm. Not a place for your first trad climb, but a great place for those initiated into the vagaries of Gogarth South Stack-style choss who want even more of the same.
The British Mountaineering Council’s (BMC) website has up to date access information for all of England and Wales’ climbing venues.
Watch our interview with Calum Muskett in which he talks about growing up in North Wales, and shows us how to solo ‘Soap on a rope’ at Vivian Quarry.
The easiest way to get to North Wales is to head west along the coast road from Manchester, with those travelling from the south having the option to take the slower but more direct route along the winding A5 via Llangollen. If travelling by public transport then take a train to Bangor, before switching to local buses. It is possible to get to many of the venues in North Wales by Public transport, but in order to make the most of a trip here it is useful to have a car to get around to different venues to fit with whatever the weather is doing on a particular day.
Where to stay
There are numerous camp sites, bunk houses, hostels and hotels throughout Snowdonia, all catering for those who visit the area to climb, walk and scramble. The campsite opposite the Vaynol Arms in Nant Peris is popular with those wishing to climb in the mountains, as is the campsite located under Tryfan. The campsite and bunkhouse attached to Eric’s café at Tremadog is ideally located for climbing in that area.
North Wales is well served by independent outdoor shops. Both V12 and Joe Brown’s have shops in llanberis which stock extensive ranges of climbing equipment. Joe Brown’s also have a similar store in Capel Curig, and there are branches of larger chain stores in Betws y Coed. Plas Y Brenin, located in Capel Curig, is the national mountain centre, offering a wide range of climbing and mountaineering courses. Numerous other smaller outdoor companies, mountain guides and instructors offer instruction and guiding in the local area.