Report: Jacopo Larcher
A couple of weeks before our departure, I came up with the idea of a short trip to the UK in order to trad climb. Indeed, beside the poor weather, the UK is known worldwide for its strict climbing ethics and trad climbing history. I had read a lot of stories and wanted to experience it first hand.
Probably one of the most famous climbing destinations in the UK is the Peak District, but, because it’s too hot there in summer, I searched for another destination. That’s how Babsi and I ended up gazing at pictures of some impressive sea cliffs, which seemed to be a famous trad climbing destination in South Wales. It looked so good and different from all the other areas we’d visited before, we knew we had to go.
Lara Neumeier on “Point blank” E8/6c, Pic: Sartori Paolo
Roland Hemetzberger on “Chupacabra”, Pic: Sartori Paolo
So, the destination was decided … but we needed to find someone keen to join the trip. That wasn’t a hard task as Roland Hemetzberger and Lara Neumeier were motivated to team up with us for a two week trip to Wales.
That’s how everything started, with just some pictures in our mind and without a fixed plan of what to do.
On June 22 we flew to Cardiff, as we decided to start our trip in Pembroke. We got a guidebook, rented a place and drove straight to the cliff. We were welcomed by the typical English weather: wind and drizzle. Not the best conditions, but we didn’t care too much, as we were super motivated to sample some of the classics. Our motivation didn’t help us for long, however. After a few hundred meters we were stopped at one gate by an officer; apparently most of the cliffs were situated on a military range and we couldn’t enter because they were firing. Bad news, as we had planned to spend the first five days of our trip there! Luckily the firing was supposed to stop at 4.30 p.m., so we went to a cliff nearby in order to get used to the rock and wait for the gate to open.
Babsi on “Chupacabra”, pic: Paolo Sartori
THE SEA CLIFF EXPERIENCE
Climbing on sea cliffs was definitely something new for all of us. First of all, you have to abseil down to start a climb, which can be tricky since the top of the cliffs are completely flat and grassy … and without any bolts. Luckily the Welsh hammered some poles into the ground, which are used as belay stations. I have to admit it was quite weird to rappel down on them at first!
The setting was nice, but honestly we weren’t amazed by the routes and the rock. After a couple of pitches we opted to go for a tea and wait for the gate to open. A few hours later we finally managed to enter the range and we walked straight to the famous sectors. Normally as you approach, you can see the cliff from far away, but the weird thing about the sea cliffs is that you can see them only when you’re standing on top of them.
We were randomly walking on the field, when we saw a huge canyon in front of us. We smiled like kids in a candy store. The rock looked absolutely amazing and completely different from the cliff we climbed just before. The motivation was back again from just looking at the smooth black rock, the chalk emphasizing the different lines. We kept on walking and 100 meters further, a second canyon opened up in front of our feet, and this one was even better! The rock seemed to be different from the previous canyon; it was wavy orange sandstone, marked by some big huecos. The cliff looked like a world-class sport climbing crag … but without bolts.
We didn’t know where to start, but we knew that we wanted to extend our stay in Pembroke. The only downside was that the first meters of the climbs were under the water. That’s how we got our second lesson of the trip—if you want to climb on sea cliffs, you also have to learn how to deal with the tides! Military, weather, tides, protection. There were already so many aspects to manage.
Apart from some easy routes at the very end of the canyon, it was impossible to start from the ground because of the high tide. But we couldn’t wait anymore and immediately started to top rope some routes, which drew our attention. The climbing was so good that we left the crag at the very end of the day with the last light, and with big grins. Everyone found a project and we were already looking forward to the next days. Luckily it was Friday and the military range is open during the weekend, which meant we had two full days of climbing ahead of us.
The following days were all about battling with different routes, managing the tides and trying to avoid getting wet in the rain. Everybody sent his/her project and found a harder one. The original idea of spending two weeks just climbing on easier stuff was already abandoned.
We didn’t want to change our plan to visit other crags, so after a couple of days we decided to leave Pembroke and we drove north. The landscape was completely different and it was really nice to get an overview of the country. In Wales everything is green (of course it is … it rains most of the time) and there are sheep all over the place.
We wanted to check out the crags around Tremadog and their historical routes like Strawberries, but the weather had been very bad for the whole length of our stay. So we rested a lot, we had a nice session at the local climbing gym (Beacon Climbing Center) and recharged our batteries for the last part of the trip. In fact, we all got very motivated to drive back to Pembroke, first because we were all tired of just hanging around and waiting for decent weather, and second because everyone had a route in mind.
Babsi on “Muy Caliente”, pic: Paolo Sartori
SENDS ALL AROUND
It rained during the whole drive, but thankfully it stopped exactly when we arrived in Pembroke, so we went straight to the crag and everybody went to work. We were all psyched again after a lot of resting and driving so we climbed until the very end of the day.
The next days were really busy. Roland got back on his project Big Issue (E9 6c), which was definitely one of the best routes we’d been on during the trip. It’s a huge overhanging wall, which stands straight above the ocean and seems completely smooth at first sight, but which has just enough holds to climb on it and place some gear. It’s a real gift of nature.
After a couple of days he made a really spectacular ascent of the route, almost falling from the very top!
Roland working “big issue”
After taking the biggest falls of the trip, Lara made a very impressive ascent of the bold Chupacabra (E8/E9 6c)—one of the most famous routes of the area. It was awesome to witness her attitude during the trip, as she was the only one of the team who basically hadn’t trad climbed before. This route was as her second hard trad climb ever. Pretty impressive, isn’t it?
Lara on “Chupacabra”, pic: Paolo Sartori
Babsi rocked everything as usual. Her proudest ascent was probably the repetition of Tim Emmett’s Muy Caliente (E10 6c), a climb where a mistake at the end of the hard section would probably end with a ground fall. I was quite stressed while belaying her! After that she also managed to climb the stunning Big Issue (E9 6c).
On my side, I spent the first ten days of the trip wondering if I should give a flash attempt on Muy Caliente, but after a lot of hesitation, I preferred not to. After Babsi’s ascent I top roped it two times and fought my way to the top on my third go, messing up some beta and making the runout a little bit spicier. After that I spent the last few days working on some other routes and I also managed to climb the five-star Big Issue.
“Muy Caliente”, pic: Paolo Sartori
We still had one day left after everyone sent his or her project, and the weather was perfect. We wanted to climb some more classics, but the military range was closed again and it seemed like there was a war going on inside. So we enjoyed the sunny day and some of us did more climbing outside the range, the perfect end to a nice trip.