UK Classic Rock Climbs – Sub Cneifion Rib

The Ogwen Valley, is one of the most distinctive and iconic of the great climbing valleys in the UK. Whilst not the most rugged, it framed at one end by tremendous Tryfan whilst the other by Pen Yr Ole Wen and the Nant Ffrancon guards it entrance, as a result the place maintains a sense of an alpine playground about it. The shapes are very glacial and it is a combination of that and the underlying geological strata that give the area such an array of classic routes.

Whilst the highest concentration of classics routes are on the Idwal Slabs, they are more often than not swarmed by novice and intermediate climbers wanting to have a classic day out on one of the greatest slabs in the UK. You will often hear of Faith, Hope and Charity spoken excitedly by climbers, but there is an alternative to joining a vertical queue, where belays are often hot desked in a one in, one out kind of way. You could add another virtue to those three if you want to climb one of those routes, patience.

Not far away from the maddening crowd is another alternative that whilst from a distance lacks the grandiose of the slabs, it certainly has more substance and on closer inspection you’ll realise that the route is almost as long as its neighbour. Being tucked away above the main event it took over a decade for the rib to be first climbed compared to those on the more obvious Idwal Slab.

It took something of an anti-hero in my book, John Menlove Edwards to first climb it in 1931. Whilst other have apotheosized him as one of the great climber which he undoubtedly was, as the list of his first ascents shows he was every bit at the forefront of his sport. I feel there were bits of his story that are hidden and potentially for good reason. Whilst he was a homosexual in a very difficult time as it was illegal, at 28 he was in love with a 17 year old schoolboy Wilfred Noyce and of all things a child psychologist in Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. As such I wonder whether in the modern era he would have been seen as a paedophile or caught up in operation Yew Tree. Either way like Micheal Jackson and music, Menlove’s legacy to climbers is outstanding.

Sub-Cneifion Rib, is one of Menlove Edwards hidden gems and requires looking beyond the obvious. The route starts high on the side of Cwm Idwal, giving more commanding views of the valley and leads up to Cwm Cneifion, a hanging valley that translates to the Nameless Cwm. The approach is fairly obvious as the rib can be clearly seen above you as you follow a track up to its base. You can either leave you bags at the base or take them with you. Taking them will allow to add on the classic grade 3 scramble of Cneifion Arete can make the day feel much more alpine. So plan ahead when packing for your day and maybe leave the kitchen sink at home.

The initial pitch up the rib follows an obvious line in and out of cracks. Making it well protected and more intricate and involved than rocking over left and right on the slabs. The climbing is reasonable sustain for the grade but never desperate and as you crest the rib you reach a belay just below easy ground. This is where the route lets itself down as whilst the logical and easy way is to climb straight up in doing so you miss some climbing in favour of an easy and vegetated walk.

In order to get the most out of this ridge you need to head out left to another rib with some more interesting climbing to reach a rocky platform and belay. Now another peculiar traverse right leads to the routes rather dramatic conclusion. A problematic start round a small overlap onto a sloping ledge perched on the edge of the buttress, this has barred the way of several weak parties over the years to the final arete. If you get here and find yourself intimidated by the way ahead up the rib then you can make an easier escape to the right. If you stick with the main line you are rewarded by some highly technical and rather demanding climbing for the grade and some fabulous exposure.

As you pop over the top to the grassy meadow to belay, you can saviour the atmosphere of the climb and the new view of the Nameless Cwm. On a clear day you can easily see the Cneifion Arete and if you have the time then do this as well. The ‘out there’ nature of the cwm adds to the remote feel. The route is easy compared to what you have just ascended, with only a couple of moves on the first pitch resembling anything like rock climbing, above the route turns into a scramble on what feels like the edge of forever. As whilst the Sub-Cneifion Rib, feels like the glacier has smooth and blunted the rib, up here the arete is a near knife edge in places and whilst you climb in comfort on it left to the right is a very sudden drop off that stabs at you every time you venture too close to the tip of the blade.

On a fine day this is one of the most amazing easy days out climbing that the UK has to offer, it is alpine in scale and traverses over the type of ground that makes for exciting climbing, but never too bold or technical as to put you off your stride. More importantly it is attainable for so many people that I do wonder why it see so few people compared to Idwal Slabs that is virtually crawling with climbers on any day that the weather is dry.

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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.


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