/ Idwal stabs as a three
I'm looking to climb idwal slabs with two competent single pitch seconds. Having never climbed there I was wondering if there's any of the easier routes that do or don't suit a three person team.
I think most of the easier routes would be ok.
Be very careful when you reach the bad bit on the descent. Your seconds may be tired by then - either physically or psychologically. So may you. Easy to relax. Don't.
If it's 'stabs' on Idwal you're after then perhaps Javelin Blade would fit the bill?
The belay ledges are generally spacious enough for three but how’s your ropework for climbing in a three, with you leading every pitch? It’s very easy to get rope spaghetti at every stance if you don’t do it right, which at best will take lots of time to sort and at worst could cause safety issues with inexperienced seconds (people unclipping / untying things which they shouldn’t do in order to get round rope twists). It’s basically MIA / guide level ropework, which I didn’t have a clue about even as an experienced climber, until I was taught it as part of the BMG training courses. I’ve spent all summer practising and it took a long time to get it right - and it’s not just me who finds this tricky. Basically the best advice I can give people is don’t climb in a three on multi pitch routes unless you know what you’re doing - especially with people who are less experienced. I know this might come across as a bit negative but I think it’s best to avoid ropework problems and enjoy the climbing... which is much easier in a two.
As Mick says, the descent is far from trivial and you’ll need to manage it if your seconds are tired physically and/or mentally. Would recommend pitching the scrambling sections on the ‘easy way off’, which is a mini route in its own right. You then have the downclimb or abseil. The downclimb is polished and very dodgy if wet. The abseil is steep, so can your seconds abseil independently with a prussik or can you safely manage a stacked abseil for them? Take a few metres of tat for the abseil spike in case there is nothing in situ. There’s an alternative descent but you need to know the way and it still involves some downclimbing.
Idwal is great for views and the mountaineering feel but Tremadog is a gentler introduction to mutipitch climbing - you can walk off the top, which makes life a lot easier...
Dislikes!! Some people have no sense of humour. Enjoyed watching the crumbly climbing in Oman. What sort of grade would you give the route?
Could I respectfully advise you to reconsider the venue for giving your friends a first multi-pitch experience. As you clearly state you have not climbed on the slabs before you would either have to find the way off after finishing the main slab routes, (Faith/ Hope etc) or carry on and do the upper continuation routes which would be a much longer day. (At this time of year take head torches). The route off at the end of Faith etc is not obvious and involves further scrambling upwards before you locate the actual descent point, which itself can be a granny stopper for some people.
My other concern is that as they are multi-pitch newbies you cannot guarantee that one of them will not have an attack of the vapours when faced with the exposure of the slab routes. There is also the matter of rope work competence which as a threesome should be practiced before hand. If you are intent on Wales I would recommend the Moelwyns, Craig yr Oen, which will give you a good choice of shorter but good quality multi pitches, such a Slick VDiff, which gives 4 pitches all ending in spacious ledges, and no problem with the descent route.
If you are intent on doing Idwal slabs, please find time to fit in a quick visit to little Tryfan and pick a two pitch easy route to practice the rope work and (finally), if finishing at the top of Faith etc, please keep yourselves on rope and protected until you have completely cleared yourselves off the ledge/path. I know of one fatality which occurred from this finishing ledge when a novice was untied at the end of the 'technical' climbing.
Go and do ordinary route.
Route finding is relatively easy, the grade is well within your capabilities, it is climable when damp, you can split the pitches into short ones if you want to, there’s plenty of protection, your partners will be in sight for most of the route, you can use a single rope(s) which helps keep things simple for beginners
As others have said the scramble off and descent are harder than the climb up.
All routes on the slabs should be climbed as a three or four or five, IMHO.
Yes, the dislikes surprised me too. I thought either people were skim reading and didn't spot the telegraphed signals that it wasn't a serious suggestion, or I've collected some stalkers!
About Oman: Very hard to grade crumble because I seem to take to it rather more easily than most, but I'd probably give the crux pitch E5 5c/6a. Ish.
Your seconds are competent. You have 11 - 20 years climbing experience. You should be able to manage the ropes.
Just do it!
It's a friendly place to climb, as long as people are happy with slabs. When you stand underneath it, you can pretty much see what you're getting yourself into. It's super busy though; it's kind of disgusting. If you're used to climbing somewhere where you get the crag to yourself, it's like going to McDonalds or a shopping mall. Expect queues and dogs and children - en route, as well as at the base of the crag. Linking a route into the Holly Tree Wall and Continuation Wall, followed by something else (Cneifion Arete?) is a good day out though. But, if your pals are really inexperienced, they might find polished slabs hard work. Tryfan East Face also good. Milestone Buttress is very easy and pleasant.
p.s. It really isn't as anxiety inducing as some posters make out. Just take a 240 sling or two, read the guide carefully and when you're scrambling around consider whether or not to stay roped up. Tennis Shoe is the best of the slab routes.
Theres a fairly clear 'batting order' in Ogwen for complete beginners climbing as a threesome (of course, this is just an ideal recommendation):
1. Little Tryfan. Very tame, easy climbing, but excellent for practicing rope-work/belaying
2. Milestone Buttress: Ordinary and/or Direct.
3. East Face of Tryfan. North Buttress. Much longer, but not too steep and very easy belaying (huge spikes, blocks, nuts all over the place)
4. Idwal Slabs. (Much smaller belays, tricky descent)
(2 or 3 could be omitted, but not both)
Ordinary route on the Slabs was my first experience of multipitch climbing when a young but very experienced climber offered to take me and a mate up the route. We had both done very little single pitch stuff and I had certainly done no leading. Prior to going into Idwal he took us to Tryfan Bach for a quick spin up a 2 pitcher. By the time we got to Idwal, it was pissing down with clogs on, and we climbed in big boots with water cascading down my sleeves every time I reached up.
At one point he decided he couldn't fit all three of us at the same belay point and shoved a krab full of nuts at me telling me to carry on up a short way and 'make myself safe'. Teeter, gibber, teeter, gibber.....we had a great day.
FFS, some of the replies on here are staggering. If a bloke who's been climbing at least 11 years can't lead 2 competant seconds up the Idwal slabs then they should pack up climbing and take up crown green bowling. (No disrespect intended to the OP).
Multi pitch doesn't get much easier or less intimidating than Idwal. Why don't we recommend he hires a fully qualified mountain guide, better still three, one each. As well as safely instructing them in the intricacies of ropework they could make sure they've fastened their shoelaces properly and have enough chalk in their chalkbags and their sandwich fillings are the right flavour.
Why not hire a team of sherpas to lay a line of fixed rope to the foot of the climb, there's quite a few uneven bits on the approach path.
Sometimes I despair at what climbing has come to. Its an adventure sport with an element of risk. If they have any problems en-route they'll have to deal with them, that's what the brain is for (and I'm sure they'll cope admirably) and you won't find a much more benign place to learn this than Idwal.
To the OP, get on it and have a great day.
> Why don't we recommend he hires a fully qualified mountain guide
Where's Brave Dave when you need him.....?
I don’t know how experienced the OP is. He may well have the skills required to look after two seconds on a multipitch route. The fact that he is asking about whether the Slabs are suitable shows that he is thinking about safety considerations etc but equally it suggests that he may have limited experience of taking two seconds climbing and/or is unfamiliar with the venue. As others have pointed out, the ‘descent’ (actually more ascent followed by descent) is serious and there have been rescues and fatalities there over the years. A route with a simple walk off descent is a much better idea.
As a general comment, years of climbing experience don’t necessarily mean much - how often, at what grades, what type of climbing and so on. I’ve seen someone with 30 years of climbing experience (according to them) set up a fairly dodgy belay for example. That was on the Slabs. Just because people get away with incompetence most of the time doesn’t make them competent. This is just a general comment on people saying ‘I/you have X years of climbing experience so will be fine’, not a comment regarding the OP.
I do genuinely think that climbing in a three on multipitch routes (especially with less experienced people) is a bad idea unless you really know what you’re doing. Too much potential for things to go wrong (which the inexperienced seconds might not be able to deal with themselves while the leader is at the other end of the rope) and at the very least it will take a lot longer.
My previous comment has attracted a fair few dislikes and I suspect this one will as well. That in itself is telling. I’m all for the British approach of the trad apprenticeship with more experienced people and learning from mistakes as you go along. However you’ve got to stack the cards in your favour and try to avoid problems where possible. Going on the Slabs with two multipitch novices might work out ok. Or it might not. You can make your life a lot easier by finding another leader or only taking one second, as well as going to a venue with a less serious descent. The Slabs will always be there for next time after all.
I think the problem comes when the romanticism of adventure hits the reality of the popularity and lack of competance that too often leads to hypothermic mountain rescues from queues on the descent. I'd agree that they should get on with it but if there is a queue it's good to know you can scramble up and back down (if not tempted by the Cneifon Arete) usually in the time it takes a single slow team to abseil.
I think Gordon may have forgotten that Little Tryfan, away from the scrambles, tends to have very small mid way belays or maybe he just means its good for practicing uncomfortable change-overs.
No, I didn't mean doing kinds of 'eliminates' up the slabs, but the first obvious one (as in guidebook) is the left-hand ridge. Absolutely covered in belays. And then there are at least two? (iirc) lines of weakness on the 'slabs' themselves. I remember John and I going there on our first evening of leading (actually we'd done a little bit rather chaotically on the easy side of the Riffelhorn the year before) in N Wales in 1968 and finding it almost a joke. I put 'slabs' in quotes because it's not slab climbing at all in the usual sense, but jug climbing at a ridiculous, almost walkable angle. Jugs so huge that you not only belay on them, but sit in them. I remember so strongly that it really didn't feel like proper climbing at all, a huge disappointment, but very useful for refining our ropework/belay technique. I remember then that we got tired of the rope work, with festoons of rope lying on the slabs, getting caught up in jugs, etc, that we just soloed about 5 lines up the slabs until there was quite simply nothing left to do. Next day was Milestone Buttress, that had the merit of at least feeling more like 'the real thing'. Then I think N Buttress of Tryfan, then Idwal Slabs ordinary. I've said this before, but the first climb that felt like a real rock climb to me, in the fullest sense (serious, exposed, technically demanding at its grade), a day or two later, was Terrace Wall Variant, V Diff on Tryfan. At the top of that I felt I was doing the real thing, and not pretending.
The cracks near the left ridge are in my view an easy grade rock climb, part of a grade 3 scramble where the crux is up right on the ridge of the next tier; the central gully weakness on the left slab is similar but much less interesting. The right slab has a good earth ledge belay but the climbing to it is tough for the grades (really good though). I strongly recommend a solo traverse of the slabs at night by head torch... felt nice and exciting to me when I was leading E1 more often.
> I think the problem comes when the romanticism of adventure hits the reality of the popularity and lack of competance . . . . .
Indeed, a modern problem caused by commercial interests pushing climbing as a means persuing their vested interests and a representative body overstepping its remit and actively encouraging people into the sport who probably aren't suited to it, that's why I despair whenever I read these threads. "how do I make the transition from inside to the outdoors" or "how do I make the transition from sport to trad", the answer of course is to stop overthinking it and go and get on with it whilst engaging your brain like thousands of people did before you, many in the days of bowlines round the waist and body belays etc.
The reality remains that climbing is an adventure sport with an element of risk but for someone with 11+ years experience (no matter what they've done with that time) and 2 competant seconds the risk of climbing on the Idwal slabs is about as close to zero as you will ever get.
If they encounter a problem they'll have to deal with it. Suppose their ropes do get tangled? Will they sit there like hapless lemons waiting to be rescued or will they engage their brain and work out a way of untangling it?
If they get to the tricky step on the descent will they sit there and wait to die or will they go, hey this looks a bit tricky, lets abseil off this tat that everyone has left for just this purpose?
If you don't put yourself out of your comfort zone you'll never learn anything and if you aren't prepared to take a small risk in doing so then climbing is not the sport for you.
Anyone would think the OP was asking about taking his seconds big walling on Baffin Island from the some of these replies.
I'm a volunteer for that body who recommends the excellent literature the body produces on safety, enviromental issues, etiquette, ethics, groups etc ;-)
The thing is that we'd come straight from s/e sandstone (climbing 5c), and cast off our top ropes for the first time. And had zero probs transferring to leading. None of them did I find really scary, except perhaps the totally unprotected Angular Chimney on the Gribin Facet. The next (only other? can't remember) scare on that holiday was sight-leading Brant Direct about 2 weeks later, when most of my gear (about four poor placements) fell out and I nearly came off on the final, exit mantelshelf move.
I remember the first time coming down the descent route from the Idwal Slabs. We just down-climbed it, taking quite a lot of care. We didn't dream of abseiling. After that it was just a routine down climb. I remember the one on the Grochan being a lot more demanding, but again, that v quickly became a routine down climb. I can remember being quite proud of how fast we scampered down it, once we'd got it sorted.
PS. We were using very unsticky, even shiny, (and uncomfortable) Blacks 'Masters' boots. It was at least 2 years before I got EBs, and then I remember almost tripping over myself at the foot of the crag with the friction.
PS2. I hope I don't sound as if I'm bigging myself up. We felt ourselves to be very average, and I think we were. All the other climbers we met of about our age, who were just starting to climb then, were very similar to ourselves, often/almost always better (one was Al Rouse). There just weren't a lot of wallies climbing then; it was quite simply too serious. The few incompetent unfortunately died quite quickly, mostly on the Idwal Slabs - belays failing, going to the bottom - which is why it had got the reputation in 1967-68 of something like 'blood city' (can't remember the exact nickname). I remember a guy in the Vaynol telling us in 1968 that there was 'blood in the jugs' after the latest one.
PS3. I'm chatting a lot today because I've come to big break in writing my latest book (295,975 words so far, vastly over length and still 6 chapters to write) and am meant to be tidying my house and getting ready to go up to Skye on holiday.
From Ogwen Valleys back catalogue October 2000 I think. This couple won't forget their adventurous trip to the slabs.
9th 21.23 – 00.55 hrs. Idwal Slabs. Female, 30 yrs. Exhaustion, dehydration and swollen feet.
The woman set off up the Slabs on the Sunday morning with her partner. The conditions were wet and they were very slow climbing. They did not reach the top of the route until dusk and then could not find the walk off. They stayed on the ledge for the night without waterproofs, food or water; these had been left in the rucsac at the bottom of the climb. On Monday morning, they still could not find the walk off and decided to climb down by Ordinary route. By dusk, they were still 200 feet from the bottom and the female could go no further due to hunger and exhaustion. Her partner climbed down and raised the alarm. She was retrieved and walked off. They had not called to any party in the Cwm during the day. They had taken 39 hours to do Hope - possibly a record.
Indeed, your story is typical of how so many of us learned to climb and in so doing equipped ourselves with the self reliance to tackle bigger things in the UK, in winter, in the Alps and elsewhere.
There's more information on how to climb safely than there's ever been and equipment is so much better (and cheaper in real terms) than it's ever been. Yet people have become so constrained by the health and safety mindset that their willingness to embrace the risks (which are smaller than they've been) that they are paralysed by it and thus denying themselves the life affirming experiences that getting out there and taking responsibilty for yourself can bring.
> The woman set off up the Slabs on the Sunday morning with her partner. The conditions were wet and they were very slow climbing. . . . .
Sounds like a great adventure and one they would have learned a lot more from than any course.
Well said, I was sitting here thinking the same, feeling a bit doughy after lunch and couldn't quite summon the brain power to respond. You've put it far better than I could have. I'll have me nap now.
Yes, agree with your every word (wonderful not to be talking politics for once, isn't it? ) It's almost as if some folks have forgotten what trad climbing is all about: it's meant to be a genuine, unadulterated, quite dangerous adventure, isn't it? Why else bother with it? Just go to 'outdoor climbing walls' (I mean 'equipped crags') and clip the bolts if you want to treat climbing as a conventional sport.
Will you Mike, the OP, kindly post an update to this thread as and when your proposed expedition is attempted or completed.
Wow - I hadn't expected my post to generate quite so much interest!
Thanks to everyone for the full variety of feedback and replies. I'm well aware of the fun and games associated with the descent and the need to do a bit of homework beforehand, but thanks for the tips. My multipitch routes to date have involved block-leading everything - a bit of thought and care in ropework at belays is not a new thing to me, so climbing as a three should be a natural progression of this.
As it turns out, one of my seconds has unfortunately had to cancel, so it looks like my trip tomorrow will be as a pair. This opens up alternative route/venue options, with the option of some less 'linear' routes and maybe some longer routes too. Genuine thanks for all the advice though - I'll wait and see whether we get a practice session on the sLabs(!), or whether we decide to go somewhere else (Sub Cneifon Rib and Arete has been on the tick-list for a while....!).
Mike (born and raised within sight of Highcliff - but now elsewhere!)
Haha - sloppy typing on my behalf there John! You can have a 'like' from me
> Yes, the dislikes surprised me too. I thought either people were skim reading and didn't spot the telegraphed signals that it wasn't a serious suggestion, or I've collected some stalkers!
> About Oman: Very hard to grade crumble because I seem to take to it rather more easily than most, but I'd probably give the crux pitch E5 5c/6a. Ish.
I’ve seen two TV programmes with you climbing in exotic places, some TRF and the desert.
Are you specialising in daring leads on dodgy rock?
And are you being modest with your grading of what looked like a crumbling horror show in the desert?
Do all your climbs involve long walk ins - I believe you even did something on Galt yr Ogof?
Thanks for the entertainment and be careful out there.
> Yes, agree with your every word (wonderful not to be talking politics for once, isn't it? )
Yes, it makes a pleasant change. Actually I've been largely avoiding political threads for a while now, it's just become too bitter.
Funnily enough, the bloke I started my climbing with is a died in the wool socialist and we've been lifelong friends. I think politics and the internet tend to bring out the worst in people.
Yes, it doesn't work well. Everything tends to get exaggerated and over-polarised. Also, I do wish people would stop using irony on the internet. It almost never works, so that sometimes I really wonder which 'side' the speaker is really on.
I'm with you 100% on that. I keep promising myself that I will not get involved but then boredom sets in and I find myself getting wound up. I keep telling myself to just respond to climbing topics. I like to think that, after 55 years, at least I know what I'm talking about with that subject.
I look back and scratch my head at either my teenage foolishness or the culture shift. We just soloed down Ordinary Route after each climb. That said, we had the place to ourselves. I'd only been climbing (with ropes) a couple of months. I'd add my voice to all the others that say just get on with it.
Will it be as good as ‘Fiva’?
My latest book? Well, it could not be more different. A truly extraordinary life story, a pilot who spends years trying to escape from the clutches of his ultra religious family, who don't want him to go into the RAF, who finally succeeds, and then becomes one of the most able pilots in history ... only to throw it all away (largely as a result of a terrible trauma in his youth, that damaged him for life.) Leads to his death. It's a very dark story, a shattering, gripping tragedy.
> I look back and scratch my head at either my teenage foolishness or the culture shift. We just soloed down Ordinary Route after each climb. That said, we had the place to ourselves. I'd only been climbing (with ropes) a couple of months. I'd add my voice to all the others that say just get on with it.
First time I climbed there was on a Fresher's Trip, those of us who had already climbed before and who had a rope and gear were taking up novices but there weren't enough of us so some had to wait at the bottom for their turn.
One lad who was already a climber but didn't have a rope had to wait as well. As I neared the top of the route he appeared climbing up towards us. I thought somebody must have been shifting to get up, back down and hand over their gear to him but then I saw he was just soloing up.
He'd got bored waiting and realised by the time anyone got back down there wouldn't be enough time left for him to climb anyway so he just set off up following his nose. He thought it looked so piss easy he didn't even bother putting his rock shoes on and just wore the pair of mocassins he'd walked up in.
That post made my day 😁
I tell you, it really is the weirdest thing, looking into someone else's life in this depth. I have hundreds of his private letters that reveal the full, true neurosis of his private self, so different from his very cool exterior. I feel I know the guy now as if I had met him, yet he died 7 years before I was born. It's a bit like prizing the lid off someone's coffin. And all these other characters have come to life too. It's quite amazing how it all starts to come into focus once you do the full in-depth research. As a writer, the world you're creating or re-creating becomes almost more real than the present world you're living in. And it's taken me to amazing locations that I've never been to, in India, Mesopotamia, Aden and Egypt, and many others, as well as the UK.
Yes, trad is about adventure but you have to manage the risks as best you can. It should not be dangerous unless you deliberately get on routes which are actually dangerous. We all make mistakes but glorifying mistakes as a bit of an adventure is not a healthy approach. It’s good to learn from mistakes (better still to avoid them in the first place) and to say ‘well that was stupid of me’ as opposed to ‘well that was a jolly good adventure’. I’m all for adventure but I wonder if people sometimes mask dangerous incompetence by referring to the experience as an adventure. Because people get away with it, the dangerous incompetence is normalised, until one day...
For example, the story above about a day and a half spent on the Slabs is an example of dangerous incompetence rather than adventure.
So yes, let’s have adventures but the right kind of adventures.
> My multipitch routes to date have involved block-leading everything - a bit of thought and care in ropework at belays is not a new thing to me, so climbing as a three should be a natural progression of this.
That’s what I thought - how hard could it be? However a summer spent taking two people climbing has shown that it’s actually vastly more complicated than climbing in a pair, if you want to get things neat and tidy, with no rope twists/loops. The issue with twisted / crossed / looped through ropes at belays is it takes time to sort out. If you don’t sort it before leaving the stance then your seconds will have to sort it while you’re at the other end of the rope. At this point things will be out of your hands and if they decide to unclip or untie to sort out a rope loop (which they may well do if the ropes are tangled...), there’s not much you will be do and it will be a potentially lethal situation.
That's why the full title of my book Fiva was 'an adventure that went wrong'. I think it did the exact opposite of glorifying it. It was all about our stupidity. How do you think I managed to keep trad climbing for a further 40 years with no further mishaps, if I didn't learn from it? P.S. Many alpine routes are intrinsically dangerous which is why I stopped doing them after 5 seasons. I found it just too risky.
I have a very tenuous connection with your project as my father served in the RAF out in the Far East. He flew in Liberators as a ball turret gunner out of Trinconomalee in Ceylon, dropping supplies to the Chindits in Burma. He didn't much enjoy flying after the war.
I'd say the slabs is all suitable as a 3. MrsD's first ever climb was one of the routes there. Allow more time than you think you might need as a) routes are longer than you might think b) getting to the scramble down path is further and higher up the crag than you might expect.
> I'd say the slabs is all suitable as a 3. MrsD's first ever climb was one of the routes there.
Indeed! The first ascensionist of Hope was a Mrs D who led a party of three men.
75 years later it was also my first 'proper' lead (not counting a couple of unnamed routes on Tryfan Bach). One of my seconds was very inexperienced, the other knew what he was doing though, and showed us the way down.
Despite what has been said earlier, climbing as a three isn't rocket science (and is actually very sociable). Remember that most of these classic routes were pioneered by large parties.
The descent is the trickiest part of a route on the Slabs, and you don't want to be finding it for the first time in the dark. Keep your seconds protected until the end of the scrambling. Ordinary Route is good and very straightforward, so maybe consider that to give you more time to find the descent?
This reminds me of a thread a few years ago where the same questions were asked about the slabs suitability by a novice leader , the following monday the poster was on asking for all the gear he lost during the subsequent evacuation by the Mountain Rescue to be returned. The climbing is pretty friendly but the descent is tricky and hard to find.
A few years back I was passing the slabs on the way to play on the ice up by the Devil's Kitchen. I was impressed by a group of 5 females getting ready to do the Ordinary Route on the slabs. After about 5 hours I was on my way back down and found the same 5 still on the lower 3rd of the slabs, 3 on the Ordinary Route and 2 on a route on the right. The girl at the bottom of the Ordinary Route asked my if I could help. Long story short, the leader of the pair on the right had run out of rope and had not found a belay. The person leading the 3 some was a a particularly bolshie female who wanted the carry on despite it being 15-30 mid winter. I had to forcibly point out it was going to be dark in 45 min's and the exit ledges would be covered in ice and snow. The 1st thing I did was solo to the leader who had not only run out of rope who also had no gear to set up a belay. I had to lower her off down to the deck. The leader of the 3 came down under her own steam and then pissed off. I lowered the other 2 down only to find 1 had a dissociated knee!!!! Its all right ive put it back in we are all nurses she said. While walking down to Og Cot in the dark it transpired that the only climbing they had done was a course at The Brenin and it was nothing like that in June. And i had the only f****** torch between the 5 of us
And that reminds me of the rescue on Tryfans Grooved arete of a party of 3 who were all HVS leaders on grit. They had chosen GA as their first multi pitch, started late, took forever with route finding and got benighted. MRT abbed in and picked them off but had to leave their roles overnight. By the time they went to collect them the ropes had been nicked and I remember reading an item in one of the climbing magazines asking the barstewards who had nicked them for return of ropes with the warning not to use them for lead climbing as they were not dynamic.
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