Tremadog - a star is reborn

Posted by Jim Kelly on 21/06/2010
Tremadog. Photo: Mark Alderson.

Occasionally, crags and rock faces can be compared to fallen actors and musicians. One minute they are ‘right up there’ in the ‘A-list’ popularity stakes with everyone wanting a slice of the action. Next minute, no bugger gives a toss and they fall from grace, losing their identity and role.

When this happens to an area of rock, mother nature tightens her grip allowing invasive plant species such as Sycamore trees and ivy to encroach which, over time, can lead to routes becoming effectively ‘lost’ and un-climbable. The knock on effect is that this serves to deter climbers even more and things just go from bad to worse.

Unfortunately, over the last 15 years or so this is what has been happening at Tremadog’s ‘Craig Bwlch y Moch’, in North Wales.

Some of this problem originates from the fact that traditional climbing in the 1990’s went into the Doldrums. The explosion of bolted routes and indoor walls meant that even previously popular venues such as Tremadog received a lot less visits. Even with its easy access (routes can be reached from the road in times varying from 10 seconds to 3 minutes!), great technical routes, sheltered location in the ‘rain shadow’ of Snowdonia’s high mountains, pleasant coastal views and a café run by the legendary Eric Jones, Tremadog still fell victim to this neglect. Like an ‘A-list’ actor where the phone just stops ringing!

In addition to this, over the last thirty years or so, the whole area of crags at Tremadog has suffered with access issues with both local farmers and the Nature Conservancy Council. The specific details of these can be extracted from any of the Climbers’ Club Guides to the area. However, Bwlch y Moch differs somewhat in as much that ownership of this particular section of crag was passed to the BMC in 1979, giving to climbers security of access for the future, but giving the BMC all the responsibilities of maintaining and managing the ‘property’. Apart from trying to keep climbers happy (an unenviable task if there ever was one!), the BMC also have to balance the interests of all the other agencies involved with the area such as, Forestry Commission Wales, Snowdonia National Park and the RSPB.

The big area of concern for BMC Cymru Wales was the state of the, what you might call, ‘general housekeeping’ of the site. Invasive trees and ‘climbers’ had grown upwards with ground weeds and shrubs, spreading outwards. At the height of the summer growth period, Bwlch y Moch was becoming more like a scene from the film, “Jurassic Park!” As a result, the few visiting ‘dinosaurs’, still using the area as a climbing venue, began to forge their own pathways and ‘dead end tracks’ through the undergrowth on their quest to locate routes. The whole place was becoming a mess. So, four years ago, BMC Cymru Wales under the Chairmanship of Mike Raine, decided to organise an annual, weekend ‘festival’ with the aims of tidying and cleaning routes, rationalising the network of footpaths and tracks along with any other general crag maintenance, deemed to be required at the time. It was during this first year clean up that the right hand areas around Yogi were ‘re-discovered’ allowing lines such as “Borneo” and “Rio” to be established. In addition to this, measures were taken to thin out some of the trees, especially the Sycamore. Lengthy negotiations with the Forestry Commission for Wales followed, which resulted in the BMC managing to secure a 75% grant to enable this work to be carried out. After actioning a tree management plan and several environmental surveys, the permission to ‘chop’ was, finally, given in 2009. Mike states, “The cut timber has been recycled and used to ‘delineate’ where to go. Dead-end paths have been deliberately blocked, allowing the vegetation to regenerate, but in a controlled way.”

The weekend of 24th and 25th April, 2010 saw the 4th and, regrettably, the final BMC Tremadog Festival. As in previous years, volunteer climbers from all over the UK turned up at Eric’s Café to trade their crag clean-up and makeover skills in return for a great social weekend, free raffle, free beer, free audio/visual lecture and après-climbing, evening campfire.

Although numbers were slightly down on last year, the volume and quality of the work carried out was commensurate with previous years. The ‘teams’ who dealt with the areas of rock around “Axeminster” (120’ Hard Severe) and “Yogi” (120’ Severe), did a particularly great job removing much loose rock and soil. In the meantime, many other teams performed very valuable work by climbing some of the crags’ other popular lines and giving them a much needed ‘spring trim’.

Mike goes on to say, “The last four years have pointed the way and shown climbers that it is okay and permissible to trim and control vegetation on crags in order to preserve their access for future generations. In the past there has been some hesitancy where this is concerned. Hopefully, not any longer and the last four years have proven the point.”

The glorious spring sunshine also provided the Climbers’ Club Guidebook Team with the opportunity to grab some last-minute photographs for the new, definitive guide to the Tremadog Area, courtesy of the ‘lensman’ himself, David Simmonite and the ever-youthful, colourful, Yorkshire hippy, Graham ‘Streaky’ Desroy posing on (and off!!) the rock for pictures.

Due to hit the shelves in early summer, the new C.C.Guide promises to be superb in every way. Compiled by Peter Stirling, Steve Long, Don Sargeant, Andy Boorman and a whole host of other contributors, the guide, as Andy puts it, “Will be a revelation! More accurate descriptions, high quality artwork and a comprehensive historical section and interviews with Joe Brown and Eric Jones.”

The evening events commenced with the celebratory opening of the beer barrels, kindly sponsored by the Climbers Club and the BMC. The lower turn out also meant there was more ale to go round with the Editor of the new Ground Up ‘Llanberis Slate Guide’, Simon Panton, showing the younger climbers how to get “seshed”, as they say! (hic!)

The raffle proved popular as ever with items kindly donated from V12, Ground Up, Joe Brown’s, Pete’s Eats, DMM, C.C.Guides, BMC Maps, Eric Jones’ Café and Climb Shop Derby. Following on from this, everyone was treated to a superb audio-visual lecture by climbers, Matt Traver and Steve Beckwith. Matt and Steve, with grant funding from the BMC, Welsh Sports Association, DMM and Beast Products, described their amazing 5 day ascent of the unclimbed, West Face Route on the “Dragon’s Horns” granite spires, situated on Tioman Island off the coast of Malaysia. New to ‘big wall’ climbing, they described how they managed to free climb and ‘hook’ their way up this 400m monster in 30 degree temperatures and 100% humidity avoiding, not only loose rock, but millipedes as long as your forearm and woodlice that would curl up the size of a tennis ball!!! The resulting route is simply named the “Beckwith-Traver Route”, 400m, E1 5b/ A3, 14 pitches.

It was as good as anything I saw at the recent Llanberis Film Festival in March and demonstrates a shining example of two, likeable, university friends fuelled with determination and a spirit of adventure, who just went out there and dealt, yet again, with what mother nature threw at them. Whether it be using one’s to initiative to spend a weekend cleaning a major crag venue or scaling some remote unclimbed granite spire, both require an energy and enthusiasm to make a difference and create something. It’s this energy and enthusiasm that still makes British climbers the best in the world!


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