My first hard traditional routes were usually bold and insecure. I was too weak to climb hard routes any other way, but after coming very close to slipping from a dangerous slab route in the Peak District shortly after my 18th birthday, I told myself from that day forward I would try to avoid insecure death slabs, and only climb dangerous routes when there were actual holds to pull on. I needed to know that my physical level was higher than the climb, so even if something went wrong I could dip into the reserve tank and pull a little harder to get out. You can’t pull harder on smears – if your foot slips, you are gone!
The weather in South Pembroke was a little damp and so to salvage the day we decided to drive north to the miniature city of St Davids. Flicking through the guide, we decided on Carreg y Barcud as it was possible to climb a lot of the routes at all tides, and it just so happened that Carreg y Barcud was also home to “Daddy Cool”.
After the successes of the last few days my confidence was pretty high, but at the same time I felt very intimidated by the description of the route from the guide and the internet. “Protectionless slab”, “increasingly thin moves”, “first gear at 45ft and the landing is pretty shocking” were just a few of the descriptions running round in my head. I didn’t like the idea of top-roping the route, but perhaps going for an onsight/flash was a little reckless as I was completely unfamiliar with the style of this wall and rock, nor had I climbed any slabs, let alone dangerous ones for many years.
As I popped my head over the top of the wall, I got the fear! From the top it was difficult to gauge the size of the wall, all I could see was the lack of features, the lonely peg, and the crashing waves far below. Abbing in was a different story, as to the left of the static was a line of perfectly chalked edges. Suddenly the wall changed and became much friendlier, the wall seemed smaller, the holds looked great, and I instantly found myself in a much happier place.
After un-coiling the ropes and sorting my gear whilst waiting to be joined by the others, I looked up again at the previously friendly wall, only to be greeted by terrifying blankness. I could not see a single trace of chalk, not even tell where the route lead, as all of the holds were now perfectly disguised with their surroundings. This place was like a hall of mirrors, making reality morph and transform depending on how you looked.
After warming up I began to feel more comfortable as my familiarity with the wall grew. I climbed a line to the left of “Daddy Cool”, which offered fantastic and hard climbing well protected by good wires, and was spoiled only by a tiny bit of vegetation on the upper wall. From this line, I could see some of the holds on Daddy cool and they looked ok. I remembered something Charlie had said about the moves being quite easy up until the final move to the break and started to feel a little bit more confident about my chances without pre-practice.
As Keith was taking a rest day and I wouldn’t have the comfy option of watching him try the moves, I abed back down the route to clean and chalk the holds as at least I would be able to visualise the moves better from the ground, and also be certain that the holds were free of lichen. The definitions of on-sight and flash seem clear at first, but on closer inspection become very grey areas. I believe it comes down to personal judgement and common sense, which is always going to leave room for abuse, but should also excuse us the ridiculous task of creating strict, finite criteria for an infinite number of situations.
For me, abseiling down a route to clean a holds sits somewhere between the two. As long as you don’t touch the holds/try the gear, you will receive more information than an on-sight, but much less than a good flash, where you learn the sequence, the holds, the correct gear, and many other useful little titbits.
I set off with an idea of the sequence that turned out to be around 50% correct. The other 50% was made up on the fly, which was fortunately not too taxing as there were several good crimps where you could stand a lot of weight on your feet. After placing a psychological friend in a vertical flared crack, and having a mini-moment with an “about to break off crimp, I arrived at the crux. A series of 3 awkward moves, the last of which was the most awkward of all lead to the sanctuary of the mid height break and much needed gear. I calmed my breathing, climbed to the last crimp, placed my right foot uncomfortably high on an uncomfortably small edge... and 2 seconds later, I was safe.
Rather than clip the peg on the right, and then traverse for a few more meters rightwards to the easier E6 6b, I chose to skip the peg, and climb 2 moves left into the harder E6 6c. The line seemed a little more direct, and avoided the use of (what seemed to be) the only piece of fixed gear on the wall, plus the climbing is fantastic, hard, and quite sustained which made for an overall great continuous route. The obvious challenge of the direct finish remains, but will be one hell of a piece of slab climbing!