Pembroke, Gogarth and Lundy are the best UK sea cliffs I've climbed on.
Over the 3 visits I’ve had over the last 12 years many memories stand out:
>Looking down from the crux sequence on Watching the Ocean at my last runner and partner Leanne, wishing I’d put in more rather than face a fall down most of the Diamond. That Steve Findlay did the bugger without chalk shows where Hazel got her granite gecko genes.
>Struggling and cursing to clean the green mariners grass off the crux of the Fifth Ace contemplating backing off with Dan freezing on the belay but with the certainty that Littlejohn would no way back off.
>Drinking whisky in the empty lighthouse on a final night on the island with Neil Youth, Simon Tappin and a gang from Bristol with the rain and wind lashing against the windows.
>Having a pint in the Marisco tavern with Pete Hurley and looking out aghast at the ghostly apparition stumbling down the hill towards us, slow, coughing and looking more dead than alive.....it was Neil Kershaw still recovering from a rave in Swanage.
I was pretty taken with the Diamond at the time and can say that for technical and bold climbing it is a world class venue giving climbing which feels akin to routes like Bachar Yerian in Toulomne Meadows. Some of the bolder climbs can feel unnerving when you see a small hole where a bolt used to be, letting you know there may be trouble ahead.
We took in lots of classics across a spectrum of difficulties including: Satans Slip, Darkpower, Indy 500, Cullinan, Ex-Cathedra, Olympica and most routes on the Diamond. Some of the things that impressed me about Lundy were: the variety of climbing, the number of Gibson routes, Steve Findlay doing Watching the Ocean without chalk and the solo ascents made by Dave Thomas. It was at this time as Nic Sellers completed the hardest climb on the island, Amygdala, being both hard and amazing looking, it unfortunately fell down recently with half the zawn.
On the final day myself and Mick Pointon were on a belay in the Devils Limekiln to attempt a new line between the 2 existing routes, The Exorcist and the Antichrist. I’d soloed the first and the 2nd had felt quite easy but my vague memory of the new one was that it was serious. Halfway up I called down to Mick a few times as every time the ropes hit the face bits of loose rock seemed to go down and I was concerned he’d been hit. After what felt like an eternity he answered my calls and I continued to the steep grass and the top. I don’t have much desire for this type of climb nowadays as at the time I saw old age as similar to London, a place I’d prefer not to go.
Micks car broke down on the journey home and we eventually made it back to Llanberis in a RAC van.
The climbs prior to this trip involving Neil had a similar theme. Neil would go for a lead, take a terrifying fall and end up seconding. This trip was the start of his body catching up with his imagination and in the following years he repeated loads of the hard Lundy routes as well as adding his own, culminating in a very serious lead of Hey Gringo without its 5 bolts giving what sounds like a granite version of Indian Face, Quetzalcoatl, on the serious Black Wall.
He always made me think about how close to your physical limit you can take it on routes where a fall on much of the climbing would be serious or terminal, possibly the best person I’ve seen at breaching this instinct led gap with Nick Wharton also coming to mind. It is a curious mindset for the more dangerous routes or indeed why people climb them at all, through ignorance, escapism, for acclaim, mental absorption, a tick, a ‘spiritual retreat’, meditation or even just to give death the middle finger when you top out. There is always a fine line between confidence/adventure and arrogance/misadventure, the person who pushed their boundaries and the person who overstepped them.
A friend was at North Stack Wall on Gogarth a few years ago with a group of handy foreign climbers and the general theme was that they didn’t understand or desire to get on the routes. It made me laugh as John Redhead knew how to keep people from his climbs and although The Bells The Bells is an iconic route it will rarely get climbed each decade. The Black Wall on Lundy is comparable to North Stack seeing more Mariners Grass than climbers. Having minimal impact on the rock face may mean you have to risk making an impact, no pun intended Hazel. It’s worth remembering that it’s not that many years ago when most climbs were comparable with the North Stack climbs for danger, having the odd sling for gear but knowing you should never fall.
We didn’t do anything dramatic during the week but had a great time. On the first day after climbing Metamorphosis and Emergency Ward Ten we abbed in to Two Legged Zawn. Neil led the first pitch of Voyage of the Acolyte and I set off up behind being impressed with his lead as conditions weren’t ideal. Nic Sellers and Harry nine toes had joined us in the zawn and had set off up The Dog Bollox, a Nick White and Foster masterpiece.
The sun beat down on us and having both attempted the 2nd pitch but without the necessary commitment we were back on the belay. I looked down forlornly to our bags which attached to the abseil rope were now wafting about submerged in the sea. The Sellers/Pennels team were having a similarly difficult time, having given up on the original plan we were a blockage to their nearest exit so they traversed leftwards into the next route beyond and I think ended up carrying on going somewhere out left. Once the sun had left the face we continued to the top, impressed with the Dave Pegg and Thomas route. The week continued in a similar vein with the youth making a bold statement by missing out any bolts found on certain pitches and me feeding him out loose if I thought he might struggle seconding. After a good last night celebrating I left him on the island and headed back to North Wales where I learned that chumming on Lundy was poor preparation for the Pedol Peris fell race with Noel Crane. Neil continued his good form when I’d left, climbing the awesome arête high in Two Legged Zawn, naming it The Penitent Man. The main route I’d wanted to try was still there to go back for, Nick Whites and Dave Thomas’s: The Flying Dutchman.
The journey down included a nice variety of UK climbing. Starting on the Diamond in North Wales I blagged a lift with Bransby to the Peak and had a day out on Staff grit doing Painted Rumour and Caesarian with POD and Angeles before heading down to Pembroke with Dan Mcmanus. The highlight of Pembroke was doing a Gary Gibson classic on the outside of the Cauldron, Dreaming Again has 2 exceptional pitches with the top being a crack next to an arête and should be regarded as one of the best in Britain with good protection. We did do a new route on the Green Bridge which though it covers impressive terrain became less and less wholesome as height was gained, like many institutions.
We managed to find the worst possible bivvy on the drive down to the ferry the night before and I received a disappointing txt off one of the organisers of the week who had decided to bale last minute. I forget the main gist of the txt, something about busy being a full time donor of something or other.
It was a fine little crew who made it down. Adam Long had dragged Bransby along, Lee Roberts and John Orr, Wesley Hunter and the Sheffield contingent of Pete Hurley, Ryan Pasquill, Neil Kershaw and Rob Clifton all fresh from a rave in Swanage. When they were kids I used to pick Pete and Ryan up from Lancashire to do trips to the Peak and Wales and it was obvious none of us had grown up too much.
However unhealthy I was during the stag week when contrasted to some members who had been to the rave I felt like a fad-diet-yoga-training-health-climber that you find around Sheffield. When Ryan started telling me about his 3 week training plan when he got back to Sheffield I just nodded and drifted away to Ben Eltons revelation of TTO in his book; Stark, about poisoning planet Earth. Ryans foundation before his training appeared to be built around an embodiment of TTO: Total Toxic Overload.
I think Adam Long would have to get the prize of the most psyched climber, doing classics all over the island with his 2nd generation grit skills coming into play and giving Bransby no respite. Widespread Ocean of Fear and Antiworlds got numerous ascents. Dan did a fine lead on The Dogs Bollocks which again received a few ascents, giving brilliant, sustained and well protected bridging. There was an awful lot of talk about trying the Penitant man from one member of the party but an effort never materialised!
It never ceases to amaze me how many good hard climbs Gary Gibson put up in both Pembroke and Lundy. The final 2 days involved 2 of them. We climbed American Werewolf on Lundy, a brilliant and positive face climb before heading over for the Fifth Ace in Deep Zawn. Dan did a good lead on a slightly damp and dirty 1st pitch and I led the top pitch after getting over a bout of TDS on the somewhat dirty crux. I was pretty close to backing off but having seen Littlejohn in action on the Lleyn once I knew he’d of gone for it and was determined not to let Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome get the better of me. It feels a bit like a turbo version of Comes the Dervish but on granite, definitely deserving of some traffic.
The final day me and Wez headed down to the Black cliff and did Intensive Scare before heading over to join Dan on the Battery to try The Flying Dutchman. We finished the trip by doing this again although not without a near miss of replicating Nick Whites big fall at the end of the runout near the top due to ‘being spent’.
The following day Adam, Ben, Ryan and Rob climbed Olympica and some of us just spectated.
Some general thoughts on this last day were:
Lundy has a ton of really great climbs.
Paul Harrison did a great job of the guidebook and I can see why he loves Lundy.
Dunne and Birkett have missed a trick as there is a lot of potential for new big lines.
Littlejohn and the clean hands gang were correct, for most routes if they are chalked deduct a grade from the guidebook one, so much easier to read and commit to.
Mariners Grass is very pretty but can be a real pain for finding holds.
Ryan should give his body to an immunology research lab.
I’ll be going back next year.