North Wales: Getting lost on Tryfan

‘A climbing trip to Wales is inevitably an unexpected adventure.’ Those were my thoughts as I stood completely lost on the top of a mountain, contemplating the scramble down and wondering if we should use the rope as protection for this bit…

We came to Wales for a long weekend at the end of April, when the weather is really hit and miss, hoping for the best. The plan between me and my climbing partner Valentina was to do some easy trad routes on Little Tryfan (which was conveniently located just outside our hut!), and then jump on a longer multi-pitch route later that day or the next. The weather forecast was looking worse for days two and three, so we were hoping to get a lot of climbing done on the first day.

Naturally, Wales had different plans for us…

Little Tryfan
Little Tryfan

After a play around on Little Tryfan (pictured above), we decided it was time to move on to Tryfan proper and do a multi-pitch route that day. By this point, though, our other climbing buddies had already gone up, so we decided to follow them. 

The guidebook wasn’t very clear with directions of how to get to the bottom of the routes, so we asked a climber at the crag how to get to the ”Heather Ledge’, where the multi-pitches begin. “I never manage to find the Heather ledge,” he said. “When you’re on it you don’t realise you’re on it.” 

That was an encouraging start. “Well, what’s the worst that could happen?” we shrugged, and headed off anyway. The book told us to go along a path until we reach a fence, then turn right until we reach a steep gully. So we set off in the direction we thought we were supposed to be going in. After about half an hour Valentina, who was leading the way with guidebook in hand, turned to me and said: “Can I ask you something? What the hell is a gully?” I had to admit with shame that I didn’t really know exactly what it was either. We laughed, and then continued looking for the gully…


It turned out we were going in the entirely wrong direction, when after 2 hours of traipsing up the mountain we had to admit we were completely lost, and exhausted from carrying the whole trad rack (several kilos of heavy metal) and our 60m rope on our backs. Not your usual walk up a hill! 

We found some hikers, who confirmed that we were, indeed, on the completely wrong side of the mountain. “Just go straight from here and then turn right and you’ll get there,” they said.

Easier said than done…another hour of scrambling over heather, (which covers the entire mountain, by the way, not just the elusive ledge), and muddy puddles, and we weren’t much closer to anything that resembled a ledge (or rather, everything looked like it might be THE ledge). 

In desperation, we look up at the top of the mountain and suddenly saw two of our friends, waving at us frantically. But the feeling of elation at having located them lasted only a few seconds, until we realised they were still pretty far away, and by the time we finally made it to the (by now almost mythical!) ledge, it would probably be too late to start a multi-pitch route, which usually take upwards of 3 hours for three pitches, especially for someone with relatively little previous experience, like us.

Top of Tryfan
Top of Tryfan

When we finally arrived on the ledge, it was going on 4pm. A long route would have been a push at this stage, but we were both so exhausted that climbing of any sort was out of the question anyway. We stood and looking up longingly at the rock, and were then forced to trudge back down, slightly defeated by Tryfan. The journey down took another hour and a half of scrambling and sinking into wet ground. When we reached the bottom of the mountain we both collapsed on the grass and lay there in the sunshine, which was thankfully still blasting, unaware that our bottoms were getting wet from the soaked ground underneath us. 

Needless to say the day was a bit of a disappointment, though if we had originally set out for a scramble, it would have been wonderful! But when you go on a climbing trip, you want to climb, and even if the day has been a good one, the lack of climbing real rock leaves you with a bitter taste of disappointment, which even the wine that night failed to fully dislodge. 

That first day reminded me, however, to temper my expectations, especially when I’m going to Wales, and keep an open mind. Yes, it could have been an amazing day of climbing, but equally we could have got stuck and needed rescue, which would have been very embarrassing. So in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t such a bad outcome. And we still had two more days left…

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