Pembroke Peninsular Surf.

A breathtaking beautiful place, filled with golden sands and sunshine… I honestly can’t believe it has taken me this long to visit this wonderful place.

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Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire.

Heading off with five boards, five people, all five people’s luggage, and the tents in a little car felt like a proper cram it all in and go adventure. We were off on a mini summer holiday with a good surf forecast and an equally good sunny weather to enjoy. Thus, we arrived and awaiting us at Freshwater West on the first day was some epic surf…

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Matt warming up by the flags.

Landing upon the beach was the promised forecast of 3-5 foot waves with on-shore winds (the wind blowing into the shoreline creates a nicer cresting curve to the wave) meaning the waves were more big and barreling onto the shore. The sea wasn’t lumpy at all, it was strictly linear waves rolling in with a precise order, making it super easy to pick out each amazing set, then ride the crest of these big waves all the way back to shore.  It was so cool to be out there bobbing around alongside friends with waves crashing over our heads, experiencing the freedom it brings to be on, or in, the sea.

You look off to the horizon awaiting a wave and think what is out there on the hazy horizon. Sometimes a large cargo ship, or Irish passenger ferry, would pass by in the distance and, then it would bring in thoughts of what was even further out there, I was looking out to Ireland and even past that the Atlantic with America’s east coast staring back at me miles and miles away. However, not just what is out there in terms of distance, but also what is in the depths below, the endless ocean full of amazing sea creatures, notably huge jelly fish which Lindsey and Matt saw while sitting out back waiting for a set to come in. It didn’t happen while we were out in Pembroke this time, but in Aberystwyth, seals and dolphins have been known to come up and say hello. We have seen the seals while out in the harbour kayaking; the local university sailing club have has the Dolphins come up alongside the bow and journey alongside them on some trips.

Even though I saw no animals or sea creatures, it was still fun for all four of us catching waves in the sunshine. Matt caught a few big enough to even attempt some aerial moves off the top of on this first day, and we have more fun over the next few days sticking around Freshwater West and venturing to Manorbier Cove one morning where Joe and Matt decided to out over the reef to catch the biggest waves on the beach, while the rest of us enjoyed the sun on the beach. The best part for me was paddling out and happening to suddenly realise you’re sitting right close to a friend, both waiting for the same thing. An epic wave to track you back to shore, feeling the wind and water in splashing in front of you. Many times I came rushing in on a wave and could only liken it to what it must feel like to fly.

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Manorbier Cove, Pembrokeshire.

A Modern Slate Head.

There is no denying that the Slate is great… in my humbled opinion some the best, and most interesting, routes you’ll get in North Wales.

Now, don’t misunderstand, climbing wonderful Trad routes at crags like Tremadog, Tryfan, and in Llanberris Pass in the sunshine are all equally enjoyable. However, the unique techniques and skill sneeded to climb the Slate is what draws me back to it again and again in an almost obsessive manner; meaning before I’ve even done the first few climbs of the day I’m already seeing other nearby routes I aspire to do.

Currently, comfortably climbing at 6a+ keeps me on my toes (literally!) with many routes to try within the grade. One of the lesser know, but greatly technical climbs withing this grade, is ‘Fresh Air’ in Nuremberg area of Never Never Land . This hidden gem is a slabby masterpiece made up of many high footed rock-overs with the final, rather hidden ledge is a miracle jug after trusting a completely blank section and trusting your feet to reach the lower off. This is a brilliant route to start off on before attempting some of the harder climbs in area, such as another sport route  ‘Swiss air 6c’, or alternatively the trad routes ‘Breaking Wind’ or ‘Hot Air Crack’ both HVS. However,  I could almost guarantee is was this singular climb that cemented my love for this imposing, yet magnificent, landscape which suited my flexibility and strengths in climbing perfectly.

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Clipping on ‘Fresh Air 6a’. Belayer Patrick.

Since this moment climbing many other routes has led me to even surprise myself. Noteably, a route on the ‘Above The Rails’ level in ‘Australia’ called ‘Surprise Surprise’, which I can only guess is a reference to the huge mantel shelf at the top of the route. A wonderful surprise when you reach for it, or in my case pull a mini-dyno across to it as I was slipping on the sloper of a foothold below. However, I triumphantly made it to the top and can say it is one of my proudest climbs. This isn’t due to this dramatic finish, more the blocky bouldering style start to this climb. It starts with an impressive right-handed side pull, while jamming your toes into a little triangle hole, then jumping up to the positive jug and locking off to then reach up and over to a rounded ledge, finishing with a massive heel hook up and over… I almost wanted a bouldering pad below. Then right there was the first clip so onward and upward I went. After looking at this route all morning it felt sublime to clip the anchor and turn round to enjoy the epic view all the way across ‘Australia’, and out further over to Llanberis with Snowdon in the distance.

Of course, the danger of falling is there when pushing yourself on this dynamic rock type with it’s many tiny holds and slippy foot placements, and therefore, it’s something I’ve grown to become more comfortable with. Trusting bolts and Trad gear alike, and becoming willing to try harder routes with increasingly complex sequences requiring more than a simple onsight attempt, with less fear is allowing me to push my grade further and understand not only the limits of my technical abilities but also the limitations of my mind and the fears with in it. No one wants to fall, there is always the risk you will keep falling and splat! Though it is this fear which helps me climb on upward in many cases, the little bit of knowledge sizzling away in the back of your mind that you simply can’t let go pushes you further above what you thought possible of yourself, and even further outside of your comfort zone.

“The Llanberis slate quarries are home to some of the boldest, finest, hardest and weirdest climbs in Wales.” – Mark Reeves, UKC 

Since the beginning of 2017 this has been my goal, to rid myself of this unique fear, and become a modern version of the great slate heads of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. These pioneers  saw it a a complete blank slate, open to all possibilities of lines, and now almost 50 years on myself and many others are still venturing into areas like Australia, Serengeti and Never Never Land to complete the most popular climbs, and looking down into Twll Mawr simply dreaming (as it will always be) of a day in the future we could complete some of the impossible routes like ‘The Quarryman’, with a grading of E8 7a.

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Matt enjoying the view over the Quarries to Llanberris and Snowdon.

 

For more information on the geological history, pioneers of the sport, and greatest achievements these Quarries hold check out Mark Reeves UKC post:

https://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/page.php?id=3682

 

 

 

Ventures up Valkyrie – The Roaches

An exciting morning on this classic route in the Peak District lead onto a day of sunshine and fun climbing for all of us.

A quick plan to head off climbing was created after a days of work for all of us; Oli, Will, Lewis and I. Multiple route ideas were thrown around over the coming days and finally we settled on a mad 4 person ascent of Valkarie (VS) at The Roaches Lower Tier.

We headed up to this beautiful location, starting the day with the brisk walk up to the face. Once there we decided upon a link up of Pebbledash (HVS 5a) to Valkyrie (VS 4c) as this alternative start looked like an enjoyable extension to this Peak District classic.

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Pebbledash (HVS).

Climbing in a team of four was an interesting logistical challenge, working out leaders and seconds climbing order to create an anchor point capable of swinging leads while also incorporating two ‘spare’ people at the belay stance, even so all four of us racked up ready to go. Will took charge of the first pitch which started as an open cracked gully containing what looked like many solid gear placements. Lots of bridging got Will up this pitch and he then deftly negotiated the scary looking traverse across a rather blank section void of hand holds apart from two widely spaced cracks. He edged out towards the safe and secure foot hold, however getting there was a trusting a strechy move out on one handhold; once the foothold is gained though the move across becomes easier. Once Will made his belay spot at the top of Pebbledash, we all followed up and easily fitted all four of us on, and in, the belay stance, relaxing in the sunshine while Oli climbed on up and readied himself for the main pitch of Valkyrie.

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Seeing the ‘Nose’ of the main route for the first time from the ground was a little daunting, made only worse by Oli explaining we would have to climb up, over, and down this rocky outcrop. Not only this but also attempting to find “a sneaky foothold” under the Nose of the route complicating this already scary, yet exciting, route. He set off making easy work of the pitch. However, for the rest of us climbing this was a scarier story, the description from Oli was “just before you bottom drops out you’ll find the secret hold” and proved to be wholly correct. So, after Will had lifted me up to reach the first holds which seemed to be miles above my head, I hand railed across and down the large crack. Jamming all the way up to my elbow at points and leaning back across the gap using a side press and low undercling to inch slowly over finally stepping through, without any notion of where this elusive foothold could be, and wiggle out along a small sloping ledge. All of us climbed cleanly over the gap (eventually) at the base of the nose and then enjoyed a rest at the corner before moving on up.

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Down-climbing the ‘Nose’ of Valkyrie (VS).

After the scary bottom-dropping section is a high reaching, slabby climb which suited many of our styles of climbing. The pinnacle of this route came for me when the move required a large rock-over pulling on some small slopers, which I loved, and came up over the top to find Oli beaming in the sunshine. Lewis came up this pitch next and it was great watching someone with little outdoor climbing experience take on such a challenging climb and complete it with what looked like relative ease. Will came up next after deconstructing the anchor, Lewis and I watched from the side as we had descended from the top anchor point and enjoyed lounging in the sun for a short while until everyone was back together again. This was a proud moment for all as we looked back at the previous pitch, congratulated Oli on his lead, and Lewis on one of his first climbs being such a notable classic.

One thing we certainly didn’t realise was how long this climb would take us, and it was now late in the afternoon so we took the descent path back to our bags and had some lunch. While we were snacking Oli and I wandered off to retrieve a piece of ‘crag swag’ (forgotten gear) I’d spotted on an easy VD route. Oli free-soloed up Prow Cracks reaching the nut and quickdraw easily came out, we decided to give it to Lewis to start his rack off.

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Lewis enjoying the view after the climb, upper tier in the background.

After this short break we headed up to The Upper Tier, Lewis and I had a few routes in mind but only managed to get one done, I chose to do a lead repeat of Right Route (VD) almost exactly a year on from when I climbed this route as my first trad lead. I was able see how much I had improved not only in my climbing technique, but equally my trad placement skills. I remember the fear I felt the first time, needing to place gear every few moves, on the other hand this time I was comfortable climbing the whole thing. Especially my anchor building skills, which previously I had to be guided through, this time I was able to make quick decisions on placement and angles of the nuts and slings used to get Lewis up by me with no difficulty at all.

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Joe’s Portholes (we think?).

From what I was told, Oli and Will took on a much harder climb, an E1 Oli had been wanting to tick off for a long while we tried our route. However, they seemed to get terribly off route after sequencing an overhanging section wrong leading to an off route adventure but nonetheless had fun all the same it seems, and got some suntanning in at the belay point.

While these two quested up their challenge, we finished ours and planned another route, Kelly’s Shelf (S), however found I had the wrong size cams and nuts for this climb, mainly needing tiny ones when I had the largest ones on my gear loops, and thus have decided to go back and try it again soon. So turned to the many boulders scattered around the location and created our own routes up them using any chalked up holds we could find, and challenging each other with some crazy dyno moves as well as a sticky traverse for the final climb of the day. We all walked out and went home our separate ways with promises to be back again soon.

Thank you for reading.