Transition to Trad

I said my goodbyes to Northern Spain at the end of April after a fun but rainy week in Rodellar with friends from Manchester. Unlike in December, it felt right to leave as I felt I’d achieved most of what I’d set out to do. I was excited to test out my fitness from sport climbing on the trad and what better place to do so than on the long, limestone sea cliffs of Pembroke – probably my favourite climbing area in the UK.

Climbing Sopa de Ajo (7b+) in Rodellar with a very silly suntan – Photo by Jennifer Slater

Fun times with Jen on our last day in Spain!

Fun times with Jen on our last day in Spain!

The 40 hours between arriving back in the UK and heading down to Wales were a blur of many showers, finding clean clothes, and re-familiarising myself with how cams work. Finally we made our way south and set up camp in the vicarage field at Bosherston. In the morning I met up with my partner Justin, a guy I’d agreed to climb with, via email, off UKC. While travelling in Spain before Christmas, Tom had advised me to climb with someone better than myself who would bestow confidence rather than psyching me out at the belays. One of my previous arguments for not pushing myself on trad had been “how am I meant to start leading E4s when I don’t even know what they feel like to second?”, and I was keen to get rid of this excuse.

Our first day climbing was a Friday, and the range was closed, so we headed off to Mother Carey’s. To start the day, Justin lead Strait Gate (E1). I’d done this route a previous year but this time the climbing felt much easier despite the initial clumsiness associated with half ropes and the faff of removing gear. I then lead Sunsmoke (E2), which felt surprisingly easy, before we went on a walk to check out the crazy looking Space Face. This 40m overhanging wall is covered in routes all given the scary “black dots” by Rockfax, so I was glad it was Justin’s lead. An E5 called Just Klingon looked mint, bold and techy at the bottom then steep, (hopefully) juggy climbing above with lots of threads. The guidebook said it was about French 7a+ which although is a grade I regularly onsight in Spain, I expected UK grades to be much harder (previously, the hardest UK sport route I’d redpointed was 7a). Plus the idea of 7a+ without bolts sounded like a bit of a crazy notion! Justin agreed to give it a go and I was psyched to try and second it clean.

I don’t know what happened but somehow we ended up swapping over the gear at the bottom and I was tying into the sharp end. I suppose I must have admitted that it was definitely “my style”, and anyway, what’s the worst that could happen?! As I started climbing I felt pretty shakey, not because it felt difficult, but because I was just nervous. My head was screaming “you don’t climb E5, you haven’t even done an E4 yet!”. I climbed slow and kept shaking out on all the jugs – I wasn’t tired but kept expecting the 6a crux (I can’t climb 6a!) to come up soon. However, before I knew it, I was pulling over the final bulge and there was only some techy choss to the top! I didn’t get pumped at all although I still think no way can I climb E5 – I doubt most are covered in huge jugs and kneebar rests! Still pleased to do this cool route however!

I later seconded Zeppelin (E3) and thought the 5c crux was much harder than anything on the E5, but I suppose if the grade was E5 5c, nobody would get on it?

Testcase E3 5c - Photo by Jennifer Slater

Testcase E3 5c – Photo by Jennifer Slater

Testcase E3 5c - Photo by Jennifer Slater

Testcase E3 5c – Photo by Jennifer Slater

The rest of the weekend was spent on the range doing lots of cool E3s, my favourite being Test Case at St Govan’s (actually got pretty pumped on that one!). I also did Sunlover (E3), ironically in the rain, and found out that Pleasure Dome (E3) doesn’t make the greatest warm-up!

Thanks Justin for a great week. 🙂


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