Black And White By Dave Unwin

This account of a day on Cloggy on June 10th 1975 must have been written in that same year. It was re-discovered when some time ago it fell out of a bunch of old papers in my study.  From the style I infer that it was intended to be “published’” in Bowlines, the old club Newsletter, but for some reason or other it never quite made it.  The transcript has changed very little.


The original draft

There are a few references that made sense at the time which might mean very little to today’s climber that are ‘explained’ in the footnotes.  The references to the game of poker (ante, bid) reflect the highly competitive atmosphere in Bowline in those times.  Puerile, perhaps, but the competition led to some relatively high standard climbing and running.

White Slab E2 5c, 180m

It seemed a good idea at the time – blue skies, an unusually dry Cloggy, and an in-form Peter Meads to attend to the sharp end giving an almost 100% chance of success. But there were other stimuli.  Competition for Cloggy had been rearing its head in the Bowline most of the previous week, but for today Peter had succeeded in dumping Mike (Strangler) Brady on a Piggot’s project with a relative novice, acquired yours truly to hold the ropes, close his eyes, and, above all else, as a confirmed and cowardly marked man, offer no serious attempt to usurp the leadership.  

To up the Bowline ante only White1 would do, so, after the usual pretending to lose the start, Pete launched off on the famed horizontal traverse above the overhangs into the rocky heart of Clogwyn d’ur Arddu. The first pitch is not for nervous or otherwise faint hearted seconds; a plop would involve a long circular pendulum into terra too firma.  It requires careful climbing and/or rope work.  Succeeding pitches were surprisingly straight-forward and the first long pitch was disposed of easily.  Next comes the famous “cowboy” pitch on which the leader lassoes a small spike about 20 feet away across a blank slab and uses the rope to make progress. At “par four” many have been known to fail entirely, but Meads made a “birdie” three and minutes later we were on the second long pitch.  This used to have a piton for protection high up but someone had been on a fox hunt with hounds2 and removed the offensive iron.  In consequence we found the pitch hard and protection-less but it led to the familiar easy ground of the crux3 of Longlands and safety.  

Our first bid had been made.

The Black Cleft E2, 5c, 120m

I don’t know whose idea it was to complement this early morning White with a late afternoon Black, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.  Most of Black Cleft4 , one of Cloggy’s most notorious, if not difficult,  routes, looked dry and from the state of the water cress at mid-height we surmised that there had been no earlier ascents that year.  Further thought led to two ‘rational’ conclusions: (a) we should be able to bridge over the greenery using the dry cleft walls and, (b),  the technical grade of 5b given in the magic book was made assuming wet conditions so after a week of hot weather it must be easier than that.  In future we will stick to pure empiricism: both deductions were seriously wrong.  Later Pete confessed that the only people he knew daft enough actually to want to do Black would be either Ray5 or myself.  Praise indeed.

The first pitch skirts the main difficulty and soon we were looking up a greasy, wet, and surprisingly holdless, crack.  Obviously, the Cleft had been gardened for about 10m but this clearance ended abruptly in scratches down the side wall.  Someone had had an epic.  Pete led this pitch in superb style.  Rather than being a soft touch, it turned out to be continuously difficult 5b climbing on wet greasy rock in wet, greasy PAs6 past worms, slugs and possibly tarantulas.  Without the substitution of alloy technology (“nuts” to you, but only nuts; I guess yet-to-be-invented cams would nowadays make a huge difference hereabouts) for the undoubted iron nerve that Whillans possessed on the first ascent it is certain that our ascent would have stopped there and then.  As it was, Pete’s belay, standing on a patch of water cress attached to a motley assortment of tied off pegs and nuts, didn’t inspire confidence and seconding I had a desperate time.  In contrast the verdant third pitch proved easier.  Contrary to deduction, it had to be gardened every inch of the way and progress was made to the “slump” sound of great patches of greenery crashing down the crag.  Such was the rate of advance and the spectacular nature of the climbing that it seemed a pity that no other Bowliners were around to witness events.  Eventually, Pete got up to and past the little overhang from which the stream issues out onto clean, dry rock leading to the The Boulder7 stance.  Such was the celebration that the final pitch of 5a seemed like a V. Diff. and we were able to admire in comfort and at close quarters the anorak-catching spike of Baronial legend8.

White had taken about 3 hours, Black nearer 6, and it was now 9:45pm but in the Bowline tradition of running and driving, if not climbing, we made the Padarn9 by closing time.  To our intense disappointment our reeking clothing caused no special comment and nobody asked what we had done.

But a second, much higher bid had been made10 and it remains on the table. 


1: White Slab, E2, 5c : “One of the great Welsh Classics, with the other of Cloggy's great lasso/pendulums”, but is it also the best rock climb in Wales?

2: It was once said by one of the great and the good of our sport that ‘He who would put a piton into British rock would shoot a fox’.  Quite he, and why giving a fox a quick and probably for it unexpected death wasn’t thought to be preferable to chasing it for a few miles with a pack of dogs and then allowing same to tear it apart has never been explained to me.

3: The Overhanging Arete pitch off the Crevassed Stance at the very top (4c):  I may have even led this pitch.

4: Black Cleft, E2, 5c :  “Horrific and slippery climbing up the compellingly-obvious line - you have to really want to climb this one. The corner is usually wet in a summer drought, and really wet at other times so expect to get filthy”.   The Cleft divides climbers who know about it into two.  There are those few who have done it and there are those many who have not.  One hundred percent of the former will claim it to be a brilliant route, one of the best in Wales.  Almost, but not quite, the same proportion of the latter will claim that it isn’t worth even being in the book. I note with some satisfaction that the technical grade has been inflated from 5b to 5c in the current guides.

5: The late Ray Dring, former Chair of the club and all round good egg.

6: PAs, the original magic rock boots.

7: The Boulder, E1 5a joins here and shares the last two pitches.

8: ‘Baron’ Joe Brown had a famous epic on the first ascent of this pitch, catching his clothing on a downwards spike and anyhow facing the more difficult way.

9: The rowdy public bar of the Padarn Lake was in those times the epi-centre of climbing in Wales, the only place to see and be seen.

10: White has had a few subsequent Bowline ascents but not without incident and ours wasn’t the first. Prior to his moving from the LAM to Bowline, a past BCC member, unable to advance or retreat, suffered the indignity of a be-nightment on it.  Sometime after the day I describe, an attempt to match our bid led to a long fall off the second long pitch that cut through one of  the doubled ropes and led to a spectacular helicopter rescue.  To my knowledge, ours is the only Bowline ascent of Black.


Peter Meads’ UKC log describes the day thus:

White: “The first hot, dry summer when Cloggy was the perfect crag.  White Slab and Black Cleft on the same day for a bit of contrast. Has anybody else replicated this obvious combination? “

Black: “The dry summer had reduced the running water to a trickle but the crack was still full of watercress which had to be peeled off, mostly onto Dave.  A brilliant route, better than White Slab which we climbed the same day.”

Last modified: 11th October 2019 at 23:32

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