North Wales Spot Guide
From rugged crags to alpine boulder fields, North Wales’ miscellany of diverse rock types continues to highlight it as one of the best bouldering, trad climbing and scrambling destinations in the UK. Following a recent four day venture to Snowdonia by a few members of the AIC team, our reflective North Wales Spot Guide pieces together a first-hand account of some of the National Parks most favoured mountaineering and bouldering spots as well as places we’d recommend for food, coffee and wild swimming.
Shortly after arriving in Dolwyddelan we went for a climb at Rhiw Goch Boulders, a crag not far from Betws-y-Coed with accessible roadside parking. We started by climbing ‘Steve's Arête’, a highball boulder problem on the trad section of the crag, which was reached after 10 minutes of bushwhacking our way through ferns, brambles and an army of midges.
The landing for the route had already been cleared when we got there, allowing us to climb the fun laybacks up the arête, which with two small pads felt higher than expected. After removing around a dozen ticks we headed to the main block, which had comfortable landings, less foliage and slightly fewer midges. We climbed the classic 6C ‘Gaps of Rohan’, an overhanging dyno finished by holding a swing and an awkward top out.
Other notable climbs here are ‘White Rider 7A+’, ‘Ride the Wild Smurf 7A’ and ‘Moria 7B’. The climbs on the main block are of a really high quality, however during the warmer months we would strongly recommend bringing insect repellent and a tick remover.
We decided on Hangin’ Pizzeria for lunch, a short drive away in Betws-y-Coed; a great spot with good food as well as both vegan and vegetarian options. After a short rest we continued on to Pont Gethin, a picturesque riverside bouldering venue with 12 climbs across two main blocks ranging in grades from 6A to 7A+. I climbed the 6B ‘Only God Forgives’ which lies on the bank above the river Lledr. A relatively small platform below allows for a few pads to be placed, but it still feels as though you’d end up in the river if you were to fall. The river itself is deep enough to swim, making it a great spot to cool down after a climb.
Meanwhile, Charlie used his knowledge of trees and his ropework expertise to set up a Tyrolean traverse across the river - it turned out to be more daunting than he had expected. He proceeded to explain how he ‘didn’t know if it was going to work’, whilst clipping himself in and hauling himself to the centre of the rope which hung about 20 feet above the river. After realising it wasn’t going to collapse we dangled around for a bit and then disassembled it, all in a swarm of midges so extensive that it felt as though we were going to be carried away.
We had been told but proceeded to ignore the horror stories of people being driven out of the forest crags by midges at this time of year. But the first evening put us in our place as we walked back to the car exhausted and bitten. We will pass on the recommendation we received on not visiting the riverside or woodland crags until spring or autumn.
- For really good quality bouldering with fairly good landings try Rhiw Goch Boulders, just remember to bring insect repellent and tick remover.
- Pont Gethin offers fun and picturesque climbs right next to the river Lledr, a great spot for an after-climb swim. Best times to visit would be spring and autumn.
- If you’re looking for a fun highball boulder with a range of both easy and hard problems, then Craig Braich Ty Du is a great spot. Be aware that the landing is predominantly rocks, so the more pads the better.
Friday morning started at 6am and we headed into the Ogwen Valley and to Idwal Slabs. We walked about 20 minutes up from Ogwen Cottage past Lake Idwal to the base of the perfect looking mountain crag. We climbed ‘Hope’, known for being the most classic of the classics and arguably the second most popular route in Wales - first climbed by Emily Daniel in 1915. We climbed all five pitches as a group of three, myself and Charlie swinging leads at each pitch. Jay seconded with confidence which was exciting as it was the first trad route he had ever climbed. Climbing as a three and accidentally wandering off the route a few times slowed us down a bit, but we made it to the top and abseiled back down and returned to the base of the climb at around 1:30pm.
There are a plethora of classic routes up Idwal Slabs, notable mentions are ‘Tennis Shoe - HS’, ‘The Ordinary Route - D’, ‘Charity - HVD’ and ‘Faith - VD’.
We made our way back to Ogwen Cottage where we bouldered at the roadside crag ‘Idwal Cottage’, which caught our interest after seeing a photo of a boulder problem called ‘Idwal Squeeze’ - which was more caving than climbing. After all of us trying our hardest to crush our bodies through the rock without getting stuck or having a panic attack, we retreated and climbed the 6A+ ‘Idwal Slab RH’, a delicate and fairly high slab climb that again felt sketchy with our two small pads. There was a good amount to climb at this venue but we would recommend bringing at least three pads as the main boulder is of considerable height.
We then walked to ‘Craig Braich Ty Du’, a pretty big boulder by Lake Ogwen that we had spotted from the car. We climbed a relatively easy f4+ highball called ‘Ogwen Arete’ which had a downclimb that felt harder than the actual climb itself. There are around 18 boulders at this crag, ranging from f4 to 7A+, as well as some trad routes and Grade 1-3 scrambles.
- Idwal Slabs is a classic multi-pitch climbing crag in the Ogwen Valley steeped in history. The incredibly long slabs offer a range of easy grade routes, whilst the pretty big ledges allow for easy belaying and abseiling on the descent.
- Another multi-pitch route would be Sub-Cneifion Rib. Although slightly stiff at a grade of VD but good fun with exciting levels of exposure.
- Clogwyn Tarw (The Gribin Facet) offers a number of good crack climbs and bold routes that are fairly rare for the UK as well as a range of other trad options ranging from Diff to E9.
All three spots are located within a 15 minute walk of each other allowing for them all to be climbed in a day if quick enough.
Saturday started with a trip into Llanberis and a visit to Rumdoodles, an outdoor store & espresso bar located at the foot of Mount Snowdon. After exploring the shop and the ancient looking climbing pegs and pebbles, we got a coffee and some local beans from Heartland Coffee to use on the hob. The coffee and the shop itself was lovely and was located just next to Pete’s Eats, a breakfast cafe founded in 1978 that’s undoubtedly embedded in North Wales’ climbing history and known as being a go-to place for many climbers before setting off.
We headed back to the Ogwen area to climb the HVS ‘Herford's Crack’ which Charlie recognised the day before. We sat on a hillside, made coffee and put the Yeti mugs to the test whilst sitting in the portable Helinox chairs. Charlie sipping on his third coffee of the day and reading the extensive list of cams that the UKC website recommended for the route was enough to get his heart racing. He anxiously shook just over half of the recommended cams into his bag and we headed for Ogwen’s equivalent of Indian Creek.
Charlie climbed the route well despite it being fairly run out and once at the top he basked in the July sun as he made an anchor and belayed me up the route. After I struggled up the route, we all celebrated the fact that Charlie hadn’t hit the floor and headed just round the corner to climb ‘Sub-Cneifion Rib’, a 3 star, 4 pitch, V-Diff trad route.
The route was first climbed in 1931 and like many of the older routes, the grade suggested it was going to be considerably easier than it actually was. Climbing as a three felt trickier on this route, the climbing itself felt more technical than the climb we had done on Idwal Slabs and in some ways more exposed. Jay weighted the rope and had a short lie down on one of the slab sections in order to ground himself and then continued to the top of the first pitch. We finished the route at around 6.30pm, sunburnt and dehydrated, and then slowly made our way down to Lake Idwal where we swam and rested surrounded by views of the Devil’s Kitchen.
Additional Food + Coffee Recommendations:
- As mentioned Hangin’ Pizza is a great spot with vegan and vegetarian options available too, whilst Rumdoodles is a wholesome cafe located in Llanberis showcasing a broad range of climbing memorabilia, apparel, books and gifts.
- Pete’s Eats is located close by and is known for being a top spot for breakfast before tackling a day of climbing or walking. With Caffi Caban Cafe just 10 minutes away; a cafe, shop, artspace and allotment serving mainly organic produce in a relaxed setting.
- For coffee aficionados, we’d recommend trying Heartland Coffee and their Guatemala Fedecocagua - a local roasting company with a focus on sustainability. Other North Wales roasters include Poblado Coffi located in Caernarfon and Mug Run Coffee in Rhyl.
On Sunday morning we packed up our things and went for one last swim at ‘Fairy Glen’, a beautiful gorge located not far from Appley Bridge village that’s steeped in Celtic history and associations with mysticism and folklore. After making a coffee with the Heartland beans, we swam down the gorge which was lit by the midday sun giving the whole scene a magical feel.
We got out feeling cleansed and floated back to the car where we spent 6 hours driving back to Devon in a hot car with a temperamental clutch and patches of heavy traffic and minor road rage.
- A short drive from Betws-y-Coed, Pont Gethin is a forest swimming spot around a 10 minute walk from the nearby road. Fairly accessible within a picturesque setting although midges can be bad during the summer months.
- Lake Idwal is located at the base of the Devil’s Kitchen. Surrounded by mountain views and at the foot of all the trad climbs mentioned above, this spot is ideal for swimming after a day of walking or climbing, plus there’s only a short walk of around 15/20 minutes to the nearby carpark.
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