In the first of our series of Local Climbs, Angus Kille tackles the iconic Quarryman for a big-wall training challenge just five miles from home.
After spending weeks locked inside training and making ambitious trip plans, I expected to burst out of lockdown back into climbing. But of course restrictions were lifted very gradually, which demanded a patience that passionate climbers aren’t really known for. To further slow things down, on the eve of lockdown easing – perhaps in over-excitement – I injured a ring finger whilst training.
It seemed unlikely that I would be able to train for hard big-wall climbing with an injured ring finger whilst remaining within the Welsh 5-mile restriction. Fortunately, I live within 5 miles of the Dinorwic Slate Quarries, and I could think of one well-known pitch with barely any holds to stress my injured finger. In fact, there were four pitches to this famous route that rarely get climbed in a single push and would make a great big-wall training challenge.
I ended up working this route with my partner Hazel, abseiling and jumarring around on fixed lines in the great wall of Twll Mawr – it really felt like a scaled-down big wall. I also replaced the bolts on the route with modern glue-ins, which was long overdue since the 35-year-old bolts were drilled only 1cm into the soft slate. It’s remarkable that none of them ever ripped out.
Climbing the route was great fun, especially after so long spent cooped up inside. Thanks to the thin nature of slate climbing, most of the holds are too small to fit more than two fingers on anyway, so I was able to find a way to climb the entire route barely using my injured finger at all. The frictionless groove is famous for good reason – it requires subtle climbing, brutish thrutching and quite a lot of creativity all in one pitch. The video of Johnny Dawes captures this perfectly as he wriggles up the groove and spans between the walls with his entire body. But The Quarryman does more to earn its status as an iconic route. Aside from the wonderfully esoteric groove, the other pitches pack some first-class quintessential slate climbing into one long route.
As restrictions eased a little further, I attempted to lead the route in a single day. It turned out to be quite a lot to get right in one push, and knowing that any small mistake would set back the whole ascent, it had the feel of a big objective in just four pitches. It all went surprisingly smoothly – I even missed out the marginal gear for the very tenuous finish to the first pitch. I slipped once from a fully horizontal position in the groove, but I was glad to climb it the second time around as there are only so many times you can press yourself between those glassy walls before you run out of steam for the top. I managed to keep a cool head for the finishing slab, which has a brilliantly technical sequence before the final run-out, and I topped out as the weather began to turn.
It was a fantastic day out. Hopefully it won’t be long before we can have days like that on bigger adventures further afield, but lockdown has really made me appreciate what’s on my doorstep. As restrictions ease I look forward to seeing everyone else coming back to the hills and crags here and having the adventures they planned in lockdown.