The Quarry Man
I’ve wanted to try the Quarryman for years, but it’s not something to casually walk up to. For a start there needs to be a willing partner, someone with the same desire. And the weather needs to be right; slate is instantly wet with a drop of rain and good edges become useless in the sun. Six days in Llanberis with 5.10 athlete Neil Mawson on the Marmot Rock Trip this was my chance.
The weather was all over the place, with torrential rain breaking to unbroken sun within hours! A weather window dawned sunny so we had a slow start. Our main mistake was totally underestimating the first pitch. Both of us for some reason just thought it would be a warm up! My flash go was rubbish, and continuing up placing RP’s with long run-outs took ages, especially with that ‘first go’ fire totally extinguished! We had both abbed into the bottom of the route at 1pm, and we were both still there, with no pitch ticked, at 4.30pm!
The Quarryman is really all about the famous groove pitch. An incredible natural feature; huge in both stature and status. Intimidating as hell! Entering the groove is the easy bit, but requires faith in poor footholds and contortionist moves. Then it all starts, or ends! The holds certainly end. Slate is famously smooth but the side walls of this groove seem to have been buffed to a sheen. Upward progress is the same as on a diff chimney, but somewhat harder! It’s all pushing, all of it. Within seconds the whole body is sweating and breathing sounds like you’ve sprinted the 200m. Then some holds come, all kind of in the wrong place, and actually barely any really, but at least it’s a chance to pull! Footholds are minute, match edges would be welcome! We were both wearing ‘The Whites’, and this gave us the edge, the perfect shoe for slate.
A lead looked very unlikely but I went for it and somehow made it past all the pushing expending all my energy in about 3 minutes. Breathing hard before the last hard move I realised I had no sequence, I seemed to be sliding down more than going up. Then an unlikely sequence started to come together, all bridging, smearing and palming right on the limit of friction. The finish hold was in reach. But the rule of slate is never over-stretch, keep it together. I over-stretched and my body collapsed out of the groove as contact from every limb disappeared.
Neil had a thorough go too, breaking triceps and legs, but we were out of time, darkness requiring a rapid jug up the abseil rope. Thank God it was there!
Weather totally stopped play for a few days, but first chance we had we were back. We set off amongst showers at a more considered time, and were quickly up the first 2 pitches. The groove pitch looked just as desperate as it had before. I went straight for it, and expended an entire fried breakfast before getting my feet too high and actually pushing myself downwards! I flopped off. Anyway, I needed to know what to do at the top of this pitch, because if I ever made it through the start again I definitely didn’t want to fluff the top! Next go was just as desperate, but somehow the belay appeared. I don’t think it ever gets easy! I’ve climbed 8c in shorter time and with less effort!
Neil needed a bunch of goes, the initial moves harder for him being taller. But eventually he nailed it but would have probably needed a few breakfasts for the amount of effort! I appreciated the rest! And the last pitch, famously desperate, UK 7a and described as ‘your mates big lead’, was almost a disappointment as I flashed it first go, making up a sequence on the spot. But that took nothing away from the elation. This is more than a route. I’d become a quarryman!
All that was left was for Neil to bang it out too. But crimping and stretching on the wafer holds to within inches of glory he was stopped by a flapper. A very definite end for sure! I owe him a belay. On a route like that there is no worries about going back!
Photo courtesy of Tim Glasby