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The Perfect Day

The Cyfrwy Arete, Cadair Idris.

The Perfect Day

My perfect mountain day will always involve a big climb on a big mountain. Out of preference, the line will be clean, distinct and in places airy, yet it needn’t to be too technical, I tend to leave those routes for folk more gifted than myself. I’d start somewhere near the foot of the mountain, preferably after a long enough walk-in to leave the crowds far behind, and then finish close to a worthwhile summit. Ideally, it’ll be sunny or, even better, sunny with perhaps just a little low cloud swirling around, to add atmosphere and to afford the odd glimpse of a brochen-spectre or two, as my companion and I make our steady progress up the rock. Then, of course, I’ll wake up and find that it was all just a dream.

Only this time, just for once, it wasn’t. It was early July and I was lying in my tent, plucking up the energy to assemble the stove for a brew, whilst my rather hazy mind was working overtime trying to filter dream from reality. It kept coming back to the same conclusion though, it really had happened.

Now, before anyone starts accusing me of being jammy, I think it’s worth pointing out that my first successful ascent of Cadair’s mighty Cyfrwy Arête came only at the third time of asking. The first ended before it began with a 2-metre stroll to the window of King’s Youth Hostel to be greeted by a world made up almost entirely of an opaque grey matter penetrated only by a constant barrage of bullet like rain drops. The puddles on the ground confirmed my worst suspicions and I snuck back under the covers to contemplate the long drive back to the West Country.

The second sojourn was slightly more successful, we actually found the bottom of the climb before the rain came tumbling in again. This time, the cloud lowered itself so quickly that we had problems even relocating Llyn y Gadair. We continued to the summit anyway, only this time by the easier, but often treacherous, steep screes of the Foxes Path.

So, it was to be third time lucky, although we had no way of knowing that as we left the soaking wet tents at Ty-nant and trudged, one more time, into the thick grey murk that shrouded the mountain. We broke away from the main trade route at an iron gate and followed our noses, in the rapidly decreasing visibility, to traverse the boulder strewn boggy plateau that guards the lake. The walk-in was by now a formality and although we feared yet another failure, we made good time to the foot of the climb.

There would have probably ensued a long, “shall we-shan’t we”, conversation followed by a cup of tea and a lot of prayers but, before either of us had time to open our mouths, the clouds directly above us pulled back and revealed an almost luminescent patch of clear blue sky. That, coupled with the fact that the rock wasn’t too wet, spurred us on and, without any debate at all, we hurriedly sorted through our gear, opting cautiously for rock shoes rather than walking boots as we’d originally intended.

Within ten minutes I was away, making the first few moves quite easily before, somehow and rather typically, wandering slightly off line and adding considerably to the overall challenge. A balancy traverse to the right saw me back on the true arête and with Tim chuckling away to himself merrily below me, my only regret was that I hadn’t placed a runner over there, sending him that way too! I slipped casually into a steep but easy groove on the right and pulled up onto a small ledge where I brought him up join me.

By now, the weather had made a complete change and, apart from the odd wisp of cloud straggling behind, it looked as though our biggest worries would be sunburn and dehydration rather than rain and poor visibility. Tim led through, winding his way delicately around a jumble of pinnacles that defined the crest of the arête, and placing the odd sling to be on the safe side. The rock then steepened again and he placed a good runner before scaling a short wall, with good holds, onto the slabby surface of The Table.

Now, this might look flat from below but, when you’re on it, it’s a different matter altogether and it’s actually quite awkward to move around on. A few useful cracks offered themselves up for nut placements and sensibly signified the end of pitch two. I joined him on the top which also seemed like a really spot-on place to crack open the flask and grab a cuppa – bathed as we were now, in glorious sunshine.

The next pitch consists of an easy, though committed, climb down from the lowest point of The Table. There is actually a really good ledge for your feet but it’s not easy to see as you kind of reverse mantle into the void. A few easy steps, in the gully beyond, lead to a rising traverse to the right. And this, in turn, gains a huge pinnacle at the foot of the steepest and the most exciting pitch of them all.

Tim chose to lead again. Motivated, I suspect, by the fact that he’d be the one that was well protected on the down-climb and also that we’d swap again before the steepest pitch, leaving me to do battle with that one. He made easy work of the scramble down and, from the darkness of the gully, shouted up that there was no need for further belaying until we made the pinnacle. I followed him down, dangling momentarily in space before finding something to put my feet on. We then continued easily to the left to locate a fine fault line that traversed right to the foot of the pinnacle.

The pitch looked steep and thin and I set off rather nervously, keen to place a runner as soon as an opportunity presented itself. I needn’t have worried; it was one of the most enjoyable pitches I’ve ever climbed, with great holds, excellent protection and wonderful positions. I triumphantly pulled up onto the platform above and set up a stance whilst enjoying some huge views over some of Wales’s finest mountain scenery. The towering crags, which make up the northern escarpment of the mountain, looked imposing and impenetrable from here and the blue waters of Llyn y Gadair glistened in the sunshine, a long way below.

Tim grinned broadly as he approached the belay and, with most of the hard work behind us now, we lingered for some time, recalling regretfully our first two failed attempts and blessing our luck for sticking at it so doggedly this time. Tim then led off again, over easy ground. Athough I had him securely on belay, he soon shouted back that it would have been all right to move together on this section. He placed only one runner, a sling, before wedging himself safely beneath another short, steep arête. I moved easily up to join him and take over the sharp end again.

I led the arête with Tim belaying and, although progress was easy enough, it was probably worth the effort we’d taken to stay protected as it was still quite exposed. We then moved together for a short stretch, threading the rope around pinnacles as we went. This easy section terminated at the foot of another steep wall with two chinks in its armoury; a steep grove to the right and an exposed ramp to the left. I chose the latter and tip-toed as nimbly as I could along the slanting ledge, showing, I suspect, all the grace and style of a wooden legged elephant climbing at E2.

This really was the last hurdle. Although the arête continued up for a few more rope lengths yet, it was easy to see that we were pretty much home and dry. In celebration, we took another short break. Then, it happened. A small bank of cloud drifted across the chasm below us, etched on top of it, the shadows of two miniature climbers, wearing giant rainbow-like halo’s – a Brochen-Spectre. It’s difficult to think of a finer way to end a climb than in the company of such a fine ghostly apparition. I scarcely had time to point the camera at it before it was gone but it seemed to us as though our perfect day had now received an official seal of approval. We continued, still roped together, along the narrow crest of the ridge.

A few minutes later and back on terra-firma, we swapped rock-shoes for boots, put the rope and rack into our sacks and made a sharp left for the summit of Pen y Gadair, where we met a handful of walkers that had also braved the early bad weather. Predictably, they were as chuffed with their good fortune as we were and went on their way with a distinct spring in their step. We savoured a final cup of tea by the trig point and, ravenous by now, quickly devoured the remains of our food. We then set our sights for home and enjoyed a leisurely but very contented stroll back down the Pony Path. A ring ouzel darted across the path in front of us. It was the first I’d seen this year and it rounded the whole thing off beautifully. It really had been a perfect day.

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