The Greatest Summer - Part II. Pembroke

From a Distance (E7 6b). Photo: Mikey Goldthorpe


Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The inside of the tent glows orange, too bright for tired eyes. I yawn and slide dirty fingers through unwashed hair. I can feel the heat of the morning start to warm the tent and in minutes, the cool sanctuary has become a sweating sauna. I stumble out into the sunlight, mud and grass squeezing between bare toes and a delicious breeze soothing my aching forearms. The lads are all up, breakfast bowls in hand, sunglasses on. The greeting goes round: ‘morning geeza! ‘ere we are!’ Around us, the campsite is alive with activity. ‘This is the life,’ I think. ‘Proper bo!’


It’s another perfect day in Pembroke, green fields beneath blue skies. The quiet village of BOSHerston is transformed every Easter Bank Holiday as climbers make the annual pilgrimage to purge themselves of their winter weakness and surrender to the lactic acid. We are the BOSHers but our early-season lack of strength means we will inevitably be flash-pumped on the first route of the first day. Everyone’s here this weekend and we play Top Trumps spotting the wads in the pub: ‘Look, there’s Caff and Dan!’ ‘And there’s Will!’


Each day is different but follows the same rhythms, shares the same simplicity. Breakfast every morning: ‘get your gains in, lad!’ Cereal, banana, milk that’s going off. Coffee with a familiar dirty scum on the surface. Sandwiches carefully prepared, ‘power flapjack’ stuffed into rucksacks. As the coffee kicks in we begin to resemble normal human beings, all puffy eyes and down jackets. Hennerz has a particularly sharp wit in the morning and we snigger at Jack’s yoga routine in the grass (‘is he having a seizure?!’). Secretly, I’m jealous of his stretching but I still ache from yesterdays climbing. The power-duo of Gwanna (Gwen and Anna) are quietly making plans for another day’s crushing.


Today I’m climbing with The Youth. Oli Grounsell has a unique way with words (‘deeeecent lad’) and an outrageous power-to-weight ratio. We set our sights on Stennis Ford, making use of the Bank Holiday chalk on Point Blank. I’ve been hoovering up beta over the past couple of days but I’m still apprehensive.


At the base of the Ford we stand in awe. The smooth, proud wall leans above us for nearly 40 metres, clean limestone sliced by a giant’s knife. One of the hardest lines (Muy Caliente) is attracting some attention by Will Stanhope, which is impressive to watch.


We pile the ropes between the boulders on the beach, then Oli is off: surging up From a Distance (E7 6b), easily dispatching the first crux. He clips the thread at half height before making a technical sequence, but is spat off with a shout: ‘fuck off!’


It’s my turn. Almost on autopilot, I tie into the ropes beneath the route. Although this isn’t my first attempt to climb the grade and there’s significantly more gear than the last E7 (Heart of Stone), I’m still nervous. It shows: I fail to totally commit to the lower crux and slump onto a wire, fuming. I quickly come down and pull the ropes. This time the first crux goes fine but I can feel the pump rising in my arms after five days of climbing, and there’s no rest at ‘the rest.’ Merde. ‘Push through, it’ll be fine.’ Overbalancing as I move past the thread at the second crux, I feel myself fall off: ‘shit on it!’ Fuming again, but this time I’m sure I can climb it if I’m fresh.


Oli climbs From a Distance on his second go, looking steady all the way. I narrowly avoid treading water in the rising tide and vow for a rematch tomorrow.


The following day and we’re back in the Ford. I manage to climb From a Distancefirst go, feeling calm and controlled all the way. Topping out, I felt strangely flat but intensely satisfied at the same time.


Oli quests up Point Blank and makes it well into the runout before taking a pisser, but dispatches it second go. ‘Decent, beast.’ My attempt ends in the traverse, pumping out and taking the ride. That evening we break into a beer and enjoy a familiar feeling of contentment whilst cooking dinner. ‘Wurzel on, wurzel up, proper bo!’


Other highlights of the week include taking a massive whipper on Boat to Naxos(E7 6b) mid-way through the runout. I abbed down and replaced the thread, but otherwise it felt like an onsight - and a scary one at that! I pumped out moving past the top of the scoop and decided to return another day with some size XXL cojones.


The glorious spring weather lasted the length of our trip - except the first and last days - and the team smashed. Henry, Jack, Gwen and Anna were knocking out E5s like there’s no tomorrow and it was great to see the rush and calm with the Bank Holiday weekend. The Minotaur, I See No Ships, Head Hunter, Fitzcaraldo, Just Klingon and JAD/StE, to name but a few. The conditions were a little damp at first but steadily improved.


It’s good to see the early season fitness shaping up well and everyone finding their form. Thanks all, it was deeeecent.

Tom LivingstoneComment