Lliwedd, for those that have climbed Snowdon by one of the routes leading up from the Pen-y-pass, is the big black cliff on the left that you see as you climb above the lake. It's on the Snowdon horseshoe, and gets quite a few walkers over its ridges. It doesn't see so many climbers anymore though, between its slightly forbidding reputation, perpetual dampness (north facing), walk in and general lack of trendiness.
There are loads of routes on it though – in the twenties, gnarly chaps in tweed trousers would spend entire weekends there, smoking pipes and shinning up god forsaken chimney systems armed only with a length of washing line and a few metal pegs. These all have suitably severe names, devoid of the smallest element of fantasy. We picked one called something like Horned Arete, due to the shape of the summit rocks from the bottom of the route. Our guide gave it three stars – described it as a classic even. What could go wrong? Admittedly, it wasn't an elite team – for once I was the best climber, and of the two friends I was climbing with one had eaten too many pies and wasn't very sure that he actually enjoyed climbing... However, we'd climbed Amphitheatre Buttress the day before without the slightest trouble and this was the same grade.
We got to the bottom of the cliff about midday – not early, but not excessively late, given that this was the middle of summer, with plenty of daylight. The closer we looked at the cliff, the more the features described in the guide book became difficult to place - even with a photo, it's a fairly amorphous piece of rock. Still, we'd soon found something that might be the route, or if not would do until the route came along and off we set. The first two pitches went OK – not many signs of passage though, apart from the ubiquitous mountain goats, and everybody knows you never follow the mountain goats, and particularly the ones with the long tangled beards.
About half way up, we came to a wide ledge about 50m long, and with a variety of plausible exits off it, none of which looked particularly attractive. There was a big rusty peg on it though, and we clung at that as evidence that we must be on a beaten path of some kind. The guide book sort of indicated that the way forward might be via the right hand side of the ledge, but this was wet, steep and slippery, and I couldn't convince myself that setting off up it was the right thing to do.
On the left side of the ledge, however, the cliff seemed to lean back at a much more amenable angle. If I could just get past a short difficult section... But I couldn't. One more search for a better alternative, and then our options started to narrow down a bit. All this faffing had taken up quite a bit of time and we now either needed to start abseiling downwards – not looking pleasant, given the general absence of protection, and short rope or we needed to go upwards, one way or another. Which is when the brainwave struck me – why not, erm, cheat a bit? So I went back to my left hand option, jammed a metal chock into a crack, put a tape sling in that, stood on it, pulled a bit and magic – I'd reached my easy angled El Dorado!
Except it was a bit muddy. And had grass on. And such rocks as there were, were all loose. All might have been well if I'd had a pair of sturdy walking boots on, but we were supposed to be on rock, and so on my feet were slick rubber climbing shoes, about as useful on steep wet grass as a plastic tea bag. 15 minutes and twenty verticalish metres of frantic grabbing at little grassy ledges later, I realised that were I to fall off now, not only was I going to remove all of my sticking out bits on the slide downwards, I would then finish the job by slamming into the ledge opposite and below, turning myself into the World's Flattest Man. Down climbing back to the relative security of the ledge was out of the question and nor was waiting for some form of external intervention going to help. I was going to fall off way before a helicopter or mountain rescue team could arrive.
There was, however, one small ray of sunshine in the general air of gloom. About fifteen metres further up was a large rock spike. If I could reach that, I would be safe. Desperate times called for desperate measures, and so on a couple of occasions I sank my nails into the mud in an attempt to get the necessary traction, despite this technique not being in any of the manuals recommended by the BMC1. I also distinctly remember pulling on a piece of rock, discovering it was loose, and then putting my foot on it anyway as there was blatantly nothing else that was going to help me get to the next tuft.
Another thirty minutes later (I'm guessing now – it felt much longer) and I had reached my spike. I clasped it to me, put a tape sling round it, and then sat on it for good measure. I belayed up my now thoroughly fed up partners, accompanied by groans and pants and calls for a tight rope from the lardier one. Fortunately for us, just above the spike was a ledge and from this ledge we could make out the route, which was a lot easier than what we had just been clawing ourselves up.
Unfortunately it was now dark, but with a head torch it was now still possible to make progress. Two more pitches and we'd made it to the top of Lliwedd for eleven. Another hour later and three muddy but quite relieved climbers had made it back to the car and could hot foot it back to Wrexham. Theoretically we had another day left of the holiday, but we decided that we'd had enough vertical excitement for the time being.