Snakes and Ladders

Nearherewayaway snakes and ladders 11

The route described is unsafe, requires (trad)climbing skills up to grade HVS, and involves trespassing. The author does not encourage anyone to follow the route, nor are they explicitly saying that they have completed the route.

Through the mines of Dinorwig slate quarry in North Wales travels a classic climbing route which is unlike any traditional climbing route. It is an exciting, life-size game of snakes and ladders. Think about Wizard’s Chess in Harry Potter but replace the chess pieces with ladders and tunnels, ropes and chains.

Without a game plan, you are not going to get far. The internet harbours several good route descriptions of which this is the best. However, one or two things have changed between 2001 and 2019. If you follow me, I will take you to the mines and guide you through the caves and climbs. We will pass through California, Australia, Lost World, and Mordor. So, hang tight.

IMG_5985Dali’s hole

We arrive at the Dinorwig bus stop promptly after porridge explodes in the microwave and forgotten car keys are retrieved from a locked hostel room. The track from the car park passes a large, derelict building and a sheep gate from where we can see the first abandoned quarry of our route: Dali’s hole. But wait! A high metal fence is blocking our way. We throw our backpacks and a rope over the fence and follow gracefully without getting stuck on the spikes from our harnesses.

California sun

The first tunnel stares us from the back right of the quarry. It takes us to California via lush, little Eden. After the enclosed darkness of the tunnel, the high slate walls of California seem endless and the sun immensely bright. It is time for the most difficult obstacle of the game. On the left-hand side wall, a few meters off ground hangs a thick, rusty chain. This is the only part that requires lead climbing skills, but luckily the chain takes a sling or a lock-in carabiner, and the metal spikes along the way offer another place for protection. However, to reach this co-operative chain, you have to perform a few bouldering moves. I don’t want to lead this sketchy climb. Why is the bottom half of the chain missing anyway?

Dali’s hidden hole

Up the chain and through the tunnel, which leads to Dali’s hole. Again! But now we are higher up on the slippery slate slope, and our next tunnel hides somewhere below us behind the rocks. We find a little tree, decorated with a sling and a maillion, and abseil down. Without much effort, we stumble across a hole in the ground. The old wooden fence indicates that the tunnel is out of use, but we squeeze in, drop down to the bottom, and feel our way through the blackness. Puddle. Watch your head. Who has the head torch? No one?

Big old Australia

Suddenly, we are in Australia, the vast, multi-tier quarry where faint yells of frustration give away teeny tiny climbers on the other side. We turn our backs to proper climbing and balance over a loose scree slope. We are looking for terraces and ladders. Can you see any terraces? Is that a ladder? Sorry, it’s a pipe. Where are we supposed to go?

The first ladder leading to the terraces is defunct. A pile of bent bars. We scramble over a rock ramp to the first terrace and find a functional ladder: a wobbly iron construction leaning to the wall. This is a short one. The next structure we reach is made of a few sets of ladders. Do not check how the top ladder is anchored – if you made it up, you don’t need to bother yourself with that anymore. The ladders climb out of Australia past several little stone cottages where quarrymen used to shelter. Now they serve as goat toilets.

The creatures of the Lost World

As we emerge from Australia, we get a nice view of California from above before we reach the top of the Lost World. We are peering into the 90’s wonder world completed with vegetated cliffs and shadows of flying creatures. We listen to the eerie shrieks echoing from the slate walls as we downclimb big boulders to a tree which serves as an abseil anchor. Are you sure these creatures are not pteranodons?

We don’t use nor see any downclimbable ladders – maybe they are buried underneath the boulders covering the rocky bottom of the Lost World. However, a 60-meter rope is just about enough to reach down to a reasonably even, but loose, ground. I wish we didn’t leave our helmets in the car.

Mordor’s stairwell

The left-most tunnel on the bottom of the quarry leads to cheery Mordor. We are almost at the end of our journey. Frodo and Sam must have thought so when they neared Minas Morgul. But just like the little heroes, we have plenty of vertical steps ahead of us. A rickety line of old ladders, on which some absent rungs are replaced by ropes, leads out of the quarry. This long climb keeps on going but isn’t quite as bad as the Stairs of Cirith Ungol.

Once out of Mordor, we can see the finish line. Since the Bridge of Death, a line of railway tracks hanging over a void, collapsed years ago, there is no need to do any more reckless balancing acts. The track from the cable drum spits us out of the game. Winners?


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