I nod my head to Neil in the hope he thinks I like the sound of what he’s telling me. A slider, what bloody good is a slider? So its 7c+/8a to get to this gear at 15m. A fall anywhere near the end of this first runout would deposit him on the ground. From this gear, all placed at the same point hard and dynamic moves lead right and then straight up for another 5m to a crux slap. From here 2 more wires are had, small offsets before more hard moves lead to easier ground.
I’d known about Neils Pembroke project as long as he’d had it, since about 2011. It sounded pretty epic but I’d expected something looking similar to The Big Issue, a steep face with a load of good looking pockets and good gear here and there. Standing beneath Neils route it only shared the steepness. There were no juggy pockets, only some small spaced calcite crimps which Neil informed me was the easy part of the climb! Higher I could see it looked very hard with a dynamic crux move at the end of a lot of hard, bold climbing. It was obvious looking up at it that only a meticulous climbing performance would get up the devil.
Behind me I heard Ryan cracking open one of the cans of Guinness, we’d brought 4 down to the beach with us thinking to share a celebration with Neil and his partner Nathan. It was the end of mine and Ryans road trip and having done a lot of climbs from E5-7 in the Lakes and Pembroke we were both toasted and enjoyed going to lend moral support to Neil and watch the show.
I knew Neil had put a fair amount of effort into it but Ryan brought it home mentioning Neil had often driven the 5 hrs to Sheffield and camped on his own to go and work this project. On many of his efforts over the years the conditions have been too gop to attempt it. On hearing about Neils efforts against shite conditions I thought having a project like it an extremely poor idea as I couldn’t be arsed having sport projects on the Diamond in N.wales due to the gop, let alone a venue 5 hrs drive away.
His body sags a tiny bit and he falls outwards as his fingertips tickle the jug. A big fall brings him downwards and Nathan his belayer upwards till they are level. The cluster held, obviously. After stripping the gear Neil gave it one more go. Climbing smoothly again past the first runout to the nest of gear. Unfortunately seepage had set in and a wet hold chucked him off a little after. Even though Neil didn’t have glory that day his performance was a very inspiring one.
What if it got wet and he didn’t get it this year? The thought disturbed me on Neils behalf, having to start again next year, getting fit enough to do 3 laps on an 8b+/c, re-working the moves, psyching up again.
I’d asked Neil to message me when he had success and to give me the name. I was on the way back from the Lakes having caught up with family and climbed a few classics on Pavey Ark and Goat crag, the opposite end of the scale from what Neil was doing.
“Hi Caff. Did it today! Amazing conditions. E10 8b+, name Choronzon. It’s a mythical demon that lives in the abyss of one’s mind. It tries to reinforce the negative thoughts going through ones mind”
An appropriate name although I’ve never required a demon to supply me with negative thoughts. I’ve climbed a few routes graded E9 in a session or 2 with speed of ascent and minimal inspection being one of my main aims on routes I couldn’t onsight, hence the odd failure due to lack of preparation. It was obvious this was a different proposition to those climbs requiring a whole lot ‘more’.
I think it’s probably the hardest trad style climb in Wales and England with routes like Equilibrium deserving a grade of E9 7b perhaps, being hard but not as big a lead. I know Neil would have voted yes if given the chance as if Scotland became independent Choronzon would be the hardest in the Unitedish Kingdom. As it stands it will be one of the hardest 3 in the UK; Rhapsody, Echo Wall and Choronzon. All very different routes in different venues but they’ve one thing in common, it took 2 great climbers a great deal of effort and dedication to climb them.
Nice one Neil.