Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Salt, The Spray, The Gorgeous Undertow.

For me climbing is about adventures rather than difficult routes and pushing grades; it's about getting into situations out of the ordinary and experiencing a little taste of the buzz of exploration. Sea cliff climbing offers all of these things, and in Britain we are shaped by our relationship with the sea and blessed by the quality of our coastlines. Fantastic climbing can be found the length of the country, Cornwall, Devon, Pembroke, Gogarth, and Scottish sea stacks stand out in the mind, classic routes like A Dream of White Horses, Riders of the Storm, Doorpost, and The Old Man Of Hoy.

I've just got back from a extremely enjoyable trip to the Pembroke Coast in south west Wales, an area of beautiful coastline and fantastic coastal climbing. The sea makes a climb hugely more atmospheric, looking down to see the waves breaking against the rock below makes the situations feel much more exposed, and the abseil approaches often required make the climbs feel more adventurous and committing. I personally feel much more connected to nature on sea cliff routes, the sounds, the smells, the colours. One can see the influence of the waves on many classic sea cliff routes, both A Dream Of White Horses and Riders Of the Storm are named for the influence of the sea on the atmosphere of the first ascents.

The view from camp in the morning.

Saturday morning dawned cold and clear, breath steaming in the morning air. We headed over to Stennis Head to have a go a Manzuko (E1 5b) a classic route which weaves it's way up the buttress. Wicks lead the route, I seconded. The holds were always there although they were often small and the climbing was quite sustained at 5a and above. Footwork is crucial on limestone and a succession of small edges and pockets could always be found allowing you to drop your body into a new position and gain the next hand hold. 

Not a bad view from the belay.

Huntsman's Leap is a deep narrow chasm running in from the sea which contains some of the finest hard routes anywhere in Britain. Dan wanted to have a go at Just Another Day (E4 6a) so we abbed in feeling like we were descending into another world going from bright warm sunlight to a cool slightly oppressive space where you feel dwarfed by the cliffs towering above you.

The view into the Leap, Just Another day climbs the wall
on the right.

The leap from half way down the abseil.

Dan really went for it, I could tell from the sharp breaths that the route was testing him to the limit,  making me slightly nervous as to my ability to follow the route on second. He almost made it on-sight but unfortunately fell on the last hard move. After a rest the last moves to the belay were completed and it was my turn.

Huntsman's Leap

It did not go well, I got about seven meters off the ground before play was stopped by the first 6a sequence which I did not have the skill/strength for. This left us with the small issue of stripping the route which took much of the rest of the afternoon and involved tensioned diagonal abseils and then prusisking up the abb rope (I had been telling myself for year to practice climbing a rope before I needed to do it in anger and had never got round to it). Climbing (prusiking) a rope is one of the most tiring things I have ever done: pull up sling prusik, stand in sling, pull up waist prusik, sit on waist prusik, realise you've moved about 20 cm, repeat, collapse of exhaustion after about 5 m.

Restored to the golden sunlight having escaped from the pit of the Kracken, we then wondered over to Saddle Head to join the rest of the our party and watch the sunset over the sea. Blues, golds, and pinks fade to give a sky full of stars and a cold crisp night.

Sunday was another beautiful day, clear blue sky and a warm autumn sun. Wicks and I headed over to Flimstone Bay, an area I had wanted to visit for a while having spotted it whilst spending too much time looking at routes on UKC. Yesterday had been the hard day so today was to be the easy day and I was enthusiastic to get onto Bow Shaped Slab which has three routes at HS4a/4b.

Flimston Bay

Looking down the slab.

I lead the centre of the slab and the right hand corner route, Wicks took the left hand route through the overlap at half height. All three routes were a joy to climb; easy but delicate moves on good holds and with reassuring amounts of gear, and at over 40m long, each gave you plenty of time to enjoy the situation, and savour the moves.

Abbing in to Bow Shaped Slab

As I sat at the base of the slab belaying Wicks the warm sun radiating off the rocks I had one of those moments of complete contentment. The sea lapping and gurgling in the caves and gullies just below me, the cliff towering above me, the spectacular views across the bay to the neighbouring headland. I feel immensely lucky that I have these moments and experiences in my life, they are my most precious memories and I value them hugely.

New life on old.

The slab tiny pockets and ledges at the base of the slab are littered with limpets and tiny sea snails some of they clinging to the fossilised shells of life from another eon which also dot the slab. This and the slab itself, seafloor now twisted through to about 70 degrees testify the the  beautiful complexity of the processes that form our landscape. Sitting on the belay I can see the past in the strata that now forms the corner of the slab.

Rock strata above the slab.

What a brilliant weekend, Pembroke has never let me down I've been here about seven times over the last ten years and each trip has had it's special moments. I'll be back again; so much more to do, and the memories will live long and bring a smile to my face as I swing the car north on the long slog back home.

Camping: St Petrox
Pub: St Govans Inn, Bosherston
Supplies: Pembroke Dock
Recommended climbs (not all first hand): Climbs Sea Mist (HS) Myola (HS), Blue Sky (VS), Riders of the Storm (HVS), Star Wars (E4), Bloody Sunday (E4).
Look out for: The MOD own much of the land and firing may take place during the week, with associated access restrictions.

Some more memories.

 Pembroke Coast

Tom on Sea Mist




Blinking Lights

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