Cefn BBQ: An Austrian adventure in trad climbing

by Stefanie Kirchberger & Wolfgang Paster

You might already have wondered why two Austrians stranded in the UK don't even know the difference between nuts and wires. How can that be? Austria has lots of mountains, some are more than 3000 (meters not feet!), there is also some snow, glaciers and ROCK. (Actually we are both from the part of Austria between the Danube and Czech border which looks more like the landscape around Oxford and where the highest point is over 3000 feet, not meters).

Skiing is almost unavoidable, but rock climbing is nowhere near as popular. We had a first try at 15 on a school trip and then just climbed some buttresses in the ÖAV cellars in Vienna, & sometimes went outdoors to rocks located in the Wachau (more famous for wine…). So we were quite puzzled when we came to the UK and heard about trad or (dread?) climbing and did not know what it is all about.

Last year at the Peak meet we entered for the first time the inner sanctum of climbing: Unbolted routes, something unheard of for Austrian sports climbers spoiled by solid bolts cemented to the rock. Who would entrust his life to a flimsy little nut, placed by your own visual judgment? Well, we would soon find out ourselves... Luckily with Clare and Chris we had really competent teachers! They gave us an excellent introduction in setting up a "belay", placing "gear" like "hexes, nuts, wires & friends" and how to "abseil" (at least one familiar word). Unfortunately, we did not practice a lot apart from our winter climbing attempt on the Idwal Slabs with Aldred and Richard.

The first real test then came along at the Gower meet. It went pretty well (climbing on barnacles is fun!). There we got a first idea that there could be somehow something tempting or even slightly addictive in placing gear. So the Cefn BBQ meet was another chance to get some practice in trad climbing and meet some nice people again.

Holyhead Mountain
The OMC at work at Holyhead Mountain

We arrived at Cefn on Friday evening and after some beers had a quiet, non-snoring night. Saturday started off with a light drizzle in the morning, so the climbers made the decision to risk the lengthy trip to Holyhead Mountain. The bipedal rest of the lot went out for a lengthy walk from Tan-y-Grisiau along the river, up over the Moelwyns and back through a slate quarry. We had further rain on the way to Holyhead and as expected Ogwen Valley was completely in clouds. Luckily it cleared up on Anglesey, especially on the coast around Holyhead Mountain. Still beginners in trad climbing out in the wild, we felt a bit nervous deep down inside.

How would Anglesey be? We started off with some fairly easy climbs (some HS, VS) on dry and wonderfully grippy rock. With stiff fingers (oh boy, it was windy) Wolfi placed the first bits of gear (our recent trip to Cotswold Outdoors paid off) while trying to look confident. Having finished the first lead and successfully set up a belay on top (after fiddling around with slings and using anchor points miles away from the edge of the crag...) we both felt more confident. The rest of the morning passed by quickly (especially as it took ages to set up a belay on top...).

Meanwhile Jason, Therese and Ed did route after route, while we moved slowly but steadily on along the crag, following in their footsteps. The very enjoyable "Candlestick" (HS 4a) brought us to a well-earned lunch break. Routes of note in the afternoon were "Romulus" (VS 5a) and "Remus" (HS 4c). Although still motivated we all began to feel the irresistible pull of the tea shop around mid afternoon, while Chris and Richard were having a go at the strenuous classic "King Bee Crack" (HVS 5a). The general feeling among us climbers was that we had all had a cracking day on the crag!

A busy evening at Cefn

Back in Cefn the BBQ was already going strong, unfortunately a slight but persistent drizzle made us eat inside. Even the stove was heated up! Some hardy fellows happily boozed through the night and weren't to be seen until mid morning. Breakfast saw Chris's humble attempt on a 5 min egg get out of hand to a lengthy discussion on air pressure, boiling point and the perfect boiled egg! The weather looked rather miserable outside with loads of cloud and drizzle.

A bad forecast and with yesterdays' fine day of climbing on our minds, most of us decided to go for a walk. We headed off from Capel Curig to the summits of Pen Llithrig y Wrach and Pen yr Helgi Du. A damp day with some drizzle, limited visibility and a few midges. We managed to get some views of the Cowlyd Reservoir and the lonely Cwm Eigiau with the deserted slate works and its isolated cottage. Although both peaks were stuck in clouds and we had the odd shower or two it was a very pleasant day out in the hills rounded off with coffee and cake at the Pinnacle Café before making the lengthy trip back to Oxford.

Out on the hills on Sunday