I’m not sick of climbing, but I am sick of injury. I’ve tried to work around it as best as possible, and this has meant I’ve done a bit of sport climbing and a bit of power endurance training down at the wall. But when my fingers seemed to be getting no better I knew I either had to take time off or drop in switch. I probed my phone book and found the most likely partner I could for my next adventure. It was time to hit the sea cliffs of Pembroke for a bit of trad action. It’s been ages, way too long in fact, since I’ve been trad climbing. I decided some trad bumbling would be great fun and I hoped it would act as a holiday in some way. My trad hero partner of choice was none other than boulder extraordinare, Sam Cattell (a.k.a The Dog, Mule, Number 1, biggie, and other flattering nicknames). Sam is actually a very well versed climber, although he is probably most known for his incredible strength, his chronic injuries, and having the voice of an angel.

The two of us arrived in Pembroke psyched for good times. We didn’t necessarily want to climb anything specific, just to go out and have fun like two wild men let loose in a jungle of pleasure. Kind of like climbing used to be. This was my first time in Pembroke, so I had plenty to go at, and every day brought a new adventure and many laughs. I’m not going to go through a day by day account as it would be long and fairly boring, but I’ll include some of the highlights as they make me chuckle even now.

Watching Sam pumped out of his mind on Bloody Sunday, E4, at only 4 metres up, yet manage to grapple his way to the top in the most beefy of styles. It was magnificent. Also in Huntsmans was the sight of my utter dismay on The Minotaur, E5. I’d reached the crux, pulled over to what I had hoped would be a decent hold only to find a terrible wrong way facing sloper. Faced with a ridiculously hard match move or an all out throw to what I hoped would be a jug, I launched. The scream began as one of terror as I expected to come flying off and then ended as one of joy when I latched a sinker and scampered my way at warpspeed to the belay. That provided many laughs…

Also in Huntsman’s was a 10 sigma event. Sam and I, an unlikely trad pairing at the best of times were gearing up and noticed someone else abbing in down Monster wall. This person arrived at the bottom and began coming towards us… I don’t know who was more dismayed when we all realised who it was… none other than trad superstar Paul Bennet with Nat in tow! I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. Me, Sam Cattell, and Paul Bennet in Huntsmans… what have we become.

Another highlight was a solo ascent of Pleasure Dome, E3. The day before, Sam had tried to lead the route but had got so pumped that at the crux he basically couldn’t move. His mind was telling him go, but his body, his pumped body was saying noooooooo. Whilst watching him on the route, I began to suspect we’d gone wrong, that this wasn’t an E3 as the position is just so wild. The ropes left my belay device and seemingly reached the sky before they reached sam. They were blowing about in the wind, the waves were crashing underneath, and I thought it looked genuinely wild. I seconded him up it, and was surprised by just how wild it felt even on the safe end of the rope. The next morning Emily joined the party and she fancied doing some stuff as Stennis Head, so I somewhat jokingly blurted out that I would go and solo pleasure dome. It took about 3 seconds for the half joke to become a dead set reality. Once I’d heard my own voice saying that I would do it, my mind was deceived and it joined the party too. It’s hard to describe the route exactly, so a  (randomly found on the internet) picture works better here;

That is just after the crux, after a long juggy traverse to get you nicely pumped. Soloing for me is a really nice activity, as I feel so sharpened, like my senses are heightened. I definitely don’t climb as relaxed, I’m not sure many people do, but I like that I have to be aware of that. The necessity to measure your own ability is something that is tested to the extreme when soloing. When you’re sport climbing, or trad climbing for the most part, you can just try hard without knowing exactly where you are in your performance level. It doesn’t matter if you’re at 78% energy or 80% energy when you reach the crux move, as there is no need to be that aware when a fall will only clock up some airtime. When soloing, you have to know EXACTLY where you are at all times. As you push further out, your ability to reverse to safety becomes less and less likely. When you stare up at the crux moves, you need to know for certain that you’re going to arrive there with enough energy to be able to do them comfortably. You have to know how much energy will leave your body between now and then. All of these things are subconscious routines that go on whilst I’m soloing. I like to try and be aware of them though, as if I’m monitoring an oscilloscope of power. Trad climbing this week also reminded of “how” I climb when I’m out on the cliffs. I look up and see nothing except the next handhold, and when I look down I see nothing except the foothold I want my foot to be glued to. I don’t hear the sea crashing down below or the seagulls whining over head. There are no what if’s, there are no umm’s or ahh’s, there are only definite movements towards the top. Soloing an E3 is really no big deal, but soloing pleasure dome gave me a great feeling. It reminded me of an aspect of climbing with I dearly love. Some might think it’s foolish, and that’s fair enough, but for me it contains an intrinsic reason why I love climbing. It also means I won’t get Parkinson’s. The feeling when you arrive at the top is incredible, breathing just a little bit too hard, taking in nice deep lungful’s of air, and letting your body relax back into the safety of terra firma. There are some other routes I’d like to solo in Pembroke, although it’s always a strange situation doing it with other people around. I don’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable, so perhaps I’ll get to them on a lonely day at the crag when it’s just the sun, the sea, and me…. which reminds me of something I muttered to myself as I ab’d in alone to Stennis Ford one day “If a rope snaps and a climber falls into stennis ford but their’s no one around to see him, does he really fall?”. (N.b. I hate abseiling.)

The days at Pembroke have invigorated something really deep for me. I forgot how fun trad climbing is. I’ve been so focused on the move, on the difficult, that I forgot it exists within a much wider sphere of “climbing”. Climbing is many things to many people and trad’ing it up in Pembroke just reminded me of another side to the dodecahedron. I’m mega keen to go back for more, to make the most of summer, and the most of easy access throughout the whole of August. There is plenty there I’d like to do, but the bottom line is that I’ve found a new challenge and can see so many avenues to improvement. Yes, trad climbing is ridiculously easy, but it feels so complete. It’s great to bring it all together, and I think that’s why I had so much fun. Plus I didn’t fall off, which means I definitely wasn’t trying hard enough…