by T Eveleigh
The annual journey to the end of Wales took place somewhat earlier than usual this year. Normally a fixture of the August bank holiday, this year we found ourselves pitching camp at St Petrox on the late May bank holiday. While Pembroke really comes into its own in August as the bird bans lift and the Army lay down their weapons for the summer, the timing of this trip coincided nicely with one of the three annual Range West briefings. Nick took it upon himself during the drive to convince myself and Emma that Range West should be our destination for the weekend, although this mostly consisted of him passing me the guidebook to check out the pictures and some routes. I was sold!
Saturday morning found us standing next to one of the two battle tanks flanking the entrance to Castlemartin Army Camp at 9am with perhaps 50-60 other adventurous climbers awaiting the briefing. The briefing lasted about an hour during which time we learned not to kick, play with or otherwise interfere with any munitions or unidentified metal objects, not to climb on crags with bird bans, and more about the new Search-and-Rescue helicopters than we knew we wanted to know. Catch one of us in the pub and we can tell you all about the seating arrangements in the new AgustaWestland and Sikorsky choppers! Once free of the briefing, a short queue at the Guardroom won us our passes onto the range for the day.
We hiked in past spent shells and rusting tanks to Pen-y-Holt Bay for a look at Cabin Door Slab but with an incoming tide decided that Bulliber Wall offered a better, less tidal, selection of routes. A check of the guidebook and a quick count of the belay stakes, we rigged the abseil and over the edge I went and shortly after over the lip of a large roof. Hanging in space, I had a look around. I was expecting to be abbing down the line of our route, a VDiff with a couple of Severe variations that we thought would make a good warm-up. I can’t recall many VDiffs that tackle large roofs. Never mind, at least there is a ledge at the bottom. A quick look around while Nick abbed down to join me on the ledge and we’d spotted a likely looking line. Nick lead off easily until he rached the move right around a block. It began raining. Here he paused. For some time. This should have been a warning that we may not be on the correct line but he persevered, figuring out the off-balance move to reach what we all assumed would be easier ground above. What we hadn’t expected was choss. Not a solid bit of rock on the top half of the roof! By the time I’d joined Nick at the belay his heart-rate had at least begun to settle and the speculation began as I searched for an easier line to throw a rope down to Emma who had backed off Nick’s line and was quite keen to rejoin us at the top! That was enough for the day so we decamped to the pub to study the guidebook and decide what had just happened. As far as we can tell, Nick had just made the first ascent of a new line and after a discussion on grade a anme was unquestionably settled on.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – VS 4c
Start at the foot of the cave that houses Route One. Climb the right-hand side of the cave easily to the roof then make an awkward move right around the block to gain a sloping ledge. Finish up the chossy ledges above. Repeat ascents are not advised!
Sunday morning saw the other two cars strike camp and aim for a better weather forecast in the Wye Valley. We stuck it out and headed back to Pen-y-Holt Bay and were rewarded by a day of glourious sunshine and lovely climbing. We hit Jennifer’s Daisy Chain (VDiff *) on Cabin Door slab as our warm up that we missed out on the previous day and then spent a while eyeing up the long routes on the strata that form the back wall of the bay. Emma pointed out a line that looked good, so I jumped on it and put up a variation start to Old Fossils (VS 4c). The climbing was lovely, great situation, good gear and big moves! Following this we moved to Forty-Foot Wall for some non-tidal routes on solid, more familiar feeling, Pembroke limestone!
Old Fossils Variation Start – VS 4c
Start right of the corner under a roof. Climb the wall until under the roof then traverse left on a ledge to gain the corner taken by Old Fossils. Follow this to the top.
Monday morning saw our last chance to get out on the Range before having to head for home, so with a favourable tide and a newly lifted bird ban we headed to Christmas Chasm on the Western Walls. Half an hour of rain dampened the mood slightly on the long walk in so we dropped the bags at the top and had a wander along the clifftops checking out crags for a future visit. By this time the rock was drying out, especially the east-facing walls that were catching the morning sun. Of course our route faced West! Not to be deterred, we rigged the abseil once more and headed for the base of the cliff. It was Nicks turn to lead again, but there was no mistaking the route this time. A short while later and Nick was looking very proud of himself at the top of Bellringer (S 4a ***)
Now we just have to find time for a return trip before our access expires at Easter next year.