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Dolphin Sonar and Other Things Welsh

Posted on: June 9th, 2011 by Luke Bauer

Jay Hack Photos from Wales ClimbingThe American Alpine Club loves to provide all kinds of opportunities to its members. Jay took off to Wales last month for the British Mountaineering Council’s Summer Meet, after being selected from a number of applicants.

See more of Jay’s Photos on the Great Lakes Section site.

Abseiling, kits, tie-offs, #4 Rocks, yelling Safe—confusing terms for an American climber who is used to rappelling, backpacks, runners, #4 Stoppers and shouting Off Belay—but all part of the learning that went on at the British Mountaineering Council’s 2011 International Meet in Northern Wales. Looking back, I suppose it could have been a problem assembling 65 climbers of varying levels of climbing experience and ability from over 30 countries and turning them loose on the craggy countryside that is Snowdonia. Yet it wasn’t a problem at all; you can call me a sucker for cosmopolitanism and internationalism but it was one of the most beautiful expressions of diverse peoples coming together to bridge cultural and geographic differences through our shared love of climbing.

All this set against the backdrop of seven wet days sending—and sometimes falling—on well-protected limestone, run-out slate, sea cliffs, and mountain crags. Did I mention it was wet? All seven days provided some form of precipitation from hail to rain to thundershowers.

Strangely, the rain never dampened the spirit of our group, the participants were much too psyched for that. Our soon-to-become tight knit crew kept each other optimistic with stories of their own adventures. My new friend Andreas from Italy told us tales of opening granite walls in the Valle D’ Orco. Yoshi from Japan had been working on freeing El Cap. My bunkmate Jonas the Swede was a filmmaker who was documenting some of the sickest hard crack climbing in Scandinavia. Radek, a UIAGM mountain guide on holiday from the Czech Republic, showed us how he climbs in the cleanest style possible—placing and removing perlon knots for protection.

We all stayed together at Ynnys Ettws, the Welsh name for our hut accommodations (Welsh, by the way, is a language that is only slightly more comprehensible than, say, speaking dolphin sonar). At the hut we shared our meals together and had tea, which is a part of every Welsh climbing day (as is a pint of beer). At night we had either group discussions about bolting ethics and climbing styles, slideshows on climber’s home countries (Pakistan was particularly dramatic), and mostly just good old conversation and kickin’ it in the hills.

Climbing in Wales at the BMC's Summer MeetDuring the day we chased the sunshine, climbing in microclimates that let us get six hours of climbing in here or three hours in there; bouncing from the striking white, green and orange sea cliffs of Gogarth and Rhoscolyn to the hard limestone of Tremadog and the Slate of Vivian. One particular highlight for me was leading the last pitch of “Dream of White Horses”, an HVS or roughly 5.9 (don’t ask, after a week of confusing British grades I am convinced they are slightly less intelligible than the Welsh language: see dolphin sonar).

The climb was spectacular, rapping down towards the Atlantic Ocean, the first few pitches followed what looked like an unobvious hand rail until you were right on top of it. The last pitch was almost a full sideways traverse with spaced-out pro; under roofs and around the occasional semi-blind corner. My very American “straight in crack” know-how was turned upside down by the tremendous amount of traditional face climbing and connecting insipient seams and discontinuous cracks for pro…some days it was terrifying. Yet, our tiny global crew seemed to dig deep every day, we took turns going for it, sometimes far above our pro, trusting in our newfound friends and pushing our own limits.

I would like to thank both the American Alpine Club and the British Mountaineering Council for allowing me the opportunity to go to Wales and participate in truly what was an experience of a lifetime. I will always remember seeing climbers from the US, Israel, Pakistan, and Europe roping up together and proving that as countries we may have our difficulties, but as climbers and friends, our similarities are far stronger.

—Jay Hack

Stay tuned to Inclined for a report from Laurel Fan, the other member who attended the meet.

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