“Would you give it a star Tim?” I inquire as we tick off yet another Pembroke mega classic. Having just returned from perhaps my most successful trad trip ever, I am feeling pretty overwhelmed at the amount of ridiculously good meters of climbing we’ve completed over the last nine days. So many routes that were once distant dreams… disbelief that I was actually getting on them… and now just damn good memories to reminisce about in the pub.
When I was last in Pembroke this May, I was feeling sport-fit, yet clumsy on trad. I did my first E5 by accident on the first day then spent the consecutive days building confidence on E3s, a grade I used to dream of climbing consistently. However, after a whole summer of trad, doing some great E4s in North Wales and the peak, I felt more prepared for this trip and ready to try and push the boat out a little.
Despite this ‘summer of trad’ however, I still had a few worries. In the last couple weeks I’d done a few sport sessions and was shocked to see how much of my winter ‘sport fitness’ had melted away over the sunny British summer. Clipping bolts I felt as weak as a kitten and my feet struggled to trust anything smaller than a ledge! I’d become a better ledge-shuffler than ever but was anxious about how this loss of fitness would affect my climbing in Pembroke.
Psyche, chalk, chocolate and a ticklist were packed and off to Pemby we went.
Our first route was an E1 called Piggy’s Crack at St Govan’s, which felt intimidating, greasy, and definitely harder than I expected. This did not bode well. Tim then did Test Case (E3), and despite feeling less that 100%, I then decided it was time to make headway with my ticklist, starting with the slippery Fascist and Me. It was a great route but the first pitch did not go down without a fight!
The following day I had a really gripping experience on Star Wars, a famous ‘soft touch’ E4 at Bosherston Head. It definitely didn’t feel soft to me as I slowly sketched my way up, trying to place as many half-decent runners as I could.
After the first two days we mostly got into the swing of things resulting in a pretty happy looking tick-list.
One route I’d really had my eye on before coming to Pembroke was Get Some In, a steep, pumpy and extremely well protected E5 at St Govan’s with the crux at the top. After two warm-ups it was my lead and we were looking for something non-tidal. We’d just had a rest day so it seemed like the perfect chance to try Get Some In, yet at the same time I hadn’t mentally prepared to try it that day and I was letting every possible doubt fill my head. As I’ve mentioned before, the hardest thing about these routes is getting on them, since once you start, the climbing is so absorbing that there isn’t space for extra doubts. I took my time as I climbed, placing lots of good gear and using the rests well until I realised I was just below the crux with the finishing jugs in sight. This is the moment you realise it’s so close to being in the bag that falling off now would be so disappointing. After arranging more gear I committed to the crux but was immediately baffled by sloping holds and a lack of obvious feet. Slapping around I came sooo close to falling off before frantically downclimbing for a breather and to design a new plan of attack. The next attempt went smoothly and I grabbed the jugs with relief.
The other route that meant a lot to me was Head Hunter (E5) in Huntsman’s Leap. I really wanted to do this climb but I also love routes I can load my whole rack into and the lower wall of Head Hunter doesn’t exactly fit this description. My tummy felt knotted as I tied in. The tide was fully in and we were the only people in the Leap which added to the tense atmosphere nicely. The first few moves were harder than I’d expected which was quite off-putting. I tried to place a wire but my hand filled the whole crack and I ended up downclimbing back to the starting ledge with major doubts about going up again. The next attempt went better, I managed to get a nut in and, to my relief, the next moves were easier. The slight boldness made it important to stay calm on the lower wall and really focus on placing good gear without getting too pumped! Several deep breaths and I found myself stood on the ledge with only one funky move off it and a relatively easy groove above to the top.
On another day I had a few moments of ‘witness the unfitness’ where I ended up almost aiding two E4s at The Castle. Over the Hill was particularly brutal and resulted in me sitting on just about every runner, wishing I could levitate my way to the top.
I also had a bit of a ‘mare on Preposterous Tales, an extremely adventurous E2 which traverses into and out of a dark, slimy blow hole. On my lead (pitch 2 – supposedly 5a), the only logical way I could see to go was so difficult, I knew that if I committed I would fall off and likely get wet. I must have been there in limbo for hours before I almost cried and Tim let me retreat. He took one look at where I was trying to go and decided to go a completely different way that I’d thought looked too improbable. Looking back, WHY WHY WHY, couldn’t I see that the way I was trying was clearly not 5a and that I should’ve tried something else?! I guess I must have thought it was just me being stupid but I feel even more stupid now for not realising that if I couldn’t climb it, it probably wasn’t 5a… Oh well…. one to learn from!
Aaaaah Pembroke… I’ll be back soon I hope…