For most people the word Gogarth strikes the fear of god into them, loose intimidating sea cliffs that will destroy the sternest of resolves. The cliffs reputation is fairly well earn, however there is a shallow end to the pool and that place is Holyhead Mountain. A mere stones throw away from the main cliff but a million miles in terms of the types of climbing you are likely to find and the number of grey hairs you are likely to give yourself. Gone are monstrous multipitch routes where you need to climb E numbers just to get to the base and in are easy single pitch routes.
Holyhead mountain then is a fantastic place for the intermediate climber with a wealth of routes either side of the severe grade. The views from the crag out across anglesey and the Irish Sea are amazing and the crag generally gets alot of sun after mid-morning, so a late start is ideal. Its one down point can be that if the wind is from the ‘wrong’ direction and it often is, then it can feel a little exposed so be warned take some warmth and windproof clothing. Although to its benefit it also has the same Gogarth effect when it comes to the weather, as on more than one occasion I have driven across a rain swept Anglesey and arrive in holyhead only to have the skies clear and sunshine prevail. Of course the Gogarth Effect only counts if you mates were attempt to climb all day and were in Llanberis in the rain all day.
As such Holyhead Mountain has a special place in the hearts of North Wales based climbers, a sort of alternative to Tremadog, with a better spread of lower grades. The crag is described in Ramps which are the various buttress that meet you as you approach the escarpment from South Stack Cafe. A good place to start because it has some slabbier routes is the left side of Ramp C. This will allow you to acquaint yourself with the rock, that is a metamorphosed quartzite. At first it appears quite loose but this is a deception. You will need to learn the grain of the rock and how best to protect some of the crack, which can take hexes better than cams at times.
Ramp C has several route three of the best are the following. Wally’s Folly a route that climbs the steep side wall via a line of weakness on good holds and is a great intro at VDiff. It righthand neighbours Pigeon Hole Crack and The Wandering Primrose are essentially both variations on a theme. The theme being the featured slab, take care as the gear and exact line of the route can be difficult to follow, especially on Wandering Primrose are the route does well wander around a fair bit.
Ramp D has another couple of splendid route, in fact they are two of my favourite routes here, Stairs and Teenage Kicks both severe. Stairs climbs the inverted staircase in a meandering fashion to avoid any really difficulty, it can be done in two pitches but it is better savoured as one long pitch which is best tackled with twin ropes to eliminate rope drag issues. Teenage Kicks on the other hand climbs the slab aerate that Stairs joins near its top. The crux steep section on this route features immaculate rock and some interesting holds.
Whilst I am skipping a whole ramp there are still routes of note there, as well as on Ramps A and B. I wanted to skip through to the Alcove the the right of Ramp E. Here a trio of routes on it left hand side will up the ante a little bit Teaser, Birthday Passage and Pleasant Surprise are all around VS in grade. Teaser in particular follows the strong line of the right facing corner and features some tough crack climbing at the top. The other routes follow the two cracks line just to the right and are just as rewarding.
If those are a little to much for you there is also New Boots and Panties another severe that wanders its way to the top of the crag. If it is an easier route with a touch of adventure you desire then The Sump at Diff should not be missed. Although don’t be tempted to run the two pitches together as the rope drag is incredible. It is worth exploring the various squeeze chimneys around here as they all seem to link with The Sump.
The next sections of crag are so good they actually gave them names, Yellow Wall and Quartz Wall. Yellow Wall is home to a host of more challenging routes. The best is the central crack line of King Bee Crack. A beast of a route for HVS with the crux coming at the very top of the steepness. It is a right of passage for any HVS climber visiting the area. You won’t necessarily be the first person to give into the temptation to rest on a runner either. Either side of this is Bran Flake a great E2 and Penny that used to be known as Katana as it seems to change names which each successive guidebook. Katana as I like to refer to it is a stunning E4 crack line that looks like it has been cut into the crag with a giant samurai sword, and once you have climbed it your hands look like they have fort the same sword!
Finally on the Quartz Wall there is another collection of routes from VS upwards. Tension and Black and Tan are fantastic routes that split left and right respectively at a roof. I personally alway prefer Black and Tan as you seem to avoid any real difficult but travel through some impressive terrain until the final pull. Thats personal choice though, try both and make your own mind up. Near the right edge of the buttress is another classic of the crag Bruvers. A steep strenuous and demanding HVS, although not as demanding as King Bee Crack it is no pushover just the same and comes at you from the word go.
If you have climbed the routes as I have described ignoring Katana and Bran Flake obviously! Then maybe, just maybe you are ready for the next step. Maybe your first E grade is awaiting. If it is then Breaking the Barrier is not only named after the modern benchmark in rock climbing but is also an ideal route to make the plunge on. It is and will always be a popular route for this. Maybe its a soft touch for the grade, or maybe it just helps draw the climber in and on to success. Either way it remains popular for stepping up to the next grade, just remember some micro wires are useful.
Holyhead Mountain Might well be Gogarth’s little brother but as a result it offers a whole lot more climbing for mortals. There are harder routes hidden amongst those I have mentioned, but personally that is not what Holyhead Mountain is for. It is a place to come and marvel at the sub HVS routes that give the place is character. Just like its neighbour Castell Helen it is also a fantastic place to watch the sunset across the Irish Sea and reflect as the day comes to an end what you have achieved, maybe you broke new ground.
As you pack your bags and head down to the track back to your car remember this one really important thing. Despite having been to the crag hundreds of times before I still get lost in the maze of tracks on the way back. So chances are you’ll end up at South Stack Cafe rather than the car park!
Book a weeks climbing adventure in North Wales
Mark Reeves the author of the articles on Vertical Life offers coaching, guiding and instruction courses across the world. For 6 months a year he is based in North Wales home to some of the finest trad and sports climbing in the UK. As well as writing Mark is an active rock climber and a qualified Climbing Coach with a Mountain Instructor Award and a MSc in Sports Science with Effective Coaching. He offers a variety of rock climbing courses at snowdonia mountain guides.