Believe it or not, I have never climbed at Pembroke!
With hundreds of 3* routes, loads and loads of amazing e6’s and 7’s next to one another, usually with good pro and good holds, Pembroke is without doubt one of the best trad climbing areas in the UK, if not the World. However, there is one small problem, at least it was a problem for me in the past...
...because of all the good holds and good gear, the routes here tend to be quite pumpy for the given grades! Trad climbing for sports climbers – if you can place wires and are fit, there are few places better. The trouble was, being a predominantly a grit climber and boulder, fit is something I definitely was not, and so I avoided it like the plague.
When I first moved to Austria in 2009, my original plan was to develop my sport endurance to improve my trad climbing for my scheduled return in 2010. The move to Bristol never happened, but my original idea remained strong and for the last year and a half I have been beavering away in foreign lands waiting for a time I would be inspired enough, and feel ready enough to return.
Late 2010 brought me the inspiration I had waited for, and all that remained was to put in a few month graft to get in good shape. With the help of someone cute and French, my sport climbing progressed faster than expected, soon surpassing the level I have hoped to achieve. With 2 months still to go before my planned departure date, it suddenly dawned on me that my distant plans made 2 years before, could actually materialise. All I needed to do was not get injured, and then not get scared...
With a couple of weeks to go, I felt it was a good idea to re sharpen my pro-placing skills and so spent a day in Cadarese climbing some sport cracks on trad gear. You can read in detail about this day in an old blog post, but for those short on time, I will sum up the day by saying I was surprised at how different the same route feels when you climb it on bolts or gear. Even with solid, regular protection, the route is an entirely different proposition, and the overall difficulty increases significantly. This concerned me a little, and left me wondering how I would cope with fiddling in small wires and then running it out above...
We raced down to St Govans on Friday afternoon. Even with a potential 15 days to spend here, I was so excited to get on the rock we literally ran to the cliff to make the most of the final hour of daylight. “Ghost Train” (E6) was to be the route of choice, but as we neared the top of the ford, things looked a little soggy. I wasn’t exactly sure of the line and hoped that on closer inspection I would find the wet patches just off route. Sadly, the wet streak began just above the infamous runout, and continued down the wall to just above the first big threads soaking everything in its path. The holds looked big and so I considered my chances anyway as Keith abed in. It was a momentary case of excitement overruling common sense, but Keith raised his concerns, which was enough to convince me it was a bad idea.
The next morning dawned sunny and warm. On arriving at the cliff, the route seemed to be dryer, and so once again we set up the ab rope and lowered in. Holds at the end of the runout were still wet but the section below seemed almost dry and I decided the light was green. Wow, its a good old way between those two threads and the final holds were a little wetter than expected! Fortunately I was very happy to find myself fit enough to relax and treat them with care, as I cautiously made the final slimy moves to safety. “Ghost Train” is such a fun route, and with all those threads it is “practically” a clip-up. One wire in 45 meters is not too bad – I highly recommend it.
After a pleasant E5 with Keith and a break in the sun for lunch, the time again came to drop into the Ford for the final route of the day. “From a Distance” (E7) looked like a good route to try for a sport climber as it is well protected by nuts and threads, but at a suggested sport grade of 7c, has the potential to be quite pumpy.
On sighting is always much more difficult than other styles when sport climbing, but when trad climbing it has the potential to be even trickier. Not only do you need to find the line of the route, which is not defined by a series of shiny bolts or perma-chalk, you then need to find the correct holds, the gear placements, and then the correct piece of gear. Even before setting off on the climb you are faced with complex decisions of what protection, and how much of it to take. Unlike sport climbing, it is nearly impossible to look at a route and judge what protection is required. The last thing you want is to run out of a crucial piece at the end of a long run-out, but at the same time, setting off with an unnecessary 10kg of surplus gear is far from helpful.
I guessed “From a Distance” had not been climbed in a while, as the route was completely free of chalk. The few tatty threads gave me an idea of where to go, but apart from that, climbing the route involved lots of feeling around and searching for the right holds, resting in awkward places only to discover a jug two moves higher. The route was quite a journey and packed in a lot of different styles throughout its length, from a bold lower wall, to a well protected boulder problem, awkward to read shuffling, a technical slab and ballancy run-out upper wall.
I was psyched to on-sight it, but more psyched to feel comfortable climbing tricky moves above my own gear. Whilst I still feel I lack a little speed in selecting and making placements, once I have good gear in place, I am completely confident about climbing past it and am able to focus entirely on the climbing. This is a good starting point to be at, and I am hopeful things will get better and better over the coming week.
One final thing, just before I go, is to warn any future repeaters about the loss of holds from the crux. This occurred under the heavy hand of Keith whilst attempting to second me. I’m not sure how much it affects things, but he seems to think it was quite a big piece of rock. I guess I will find out tomorrow when I try to on-sight “Point Blank” (E8), a wild looking route just to the left, sharing the same start.