It’d been five years since Lucy Creamer had last climbed at Pembroke and since then she’d done very little trad climbing. A lengthy and frustrating period of injury culminated in a shoulder operation in 2012 followed by the necessary rehab. Last year was her first full year of climbing since the operation. But on her recent return to the trad nirvana of the ‘Shire’ she managed to fight her way up Point Blank (E8 6c) at Stennis Ford. Here’s her account:
I hadn’t been to Pembroke since 2010! It felt like a lifetime, it was somewhere I'd spent a lot of my formative climbing years and I was missing it. So when Nick Bullock and I were in Spain in April, a vague plan was concocted and in mid-July we met-up there.
It was great to be back, it felt so familiar; the smells, the views and the routes. But there was also an unfamiliar feeling of being, shall we say, a stranger. Not only had it been a while since visiting Pembs but I’ve barely trad climbed since then either, mainly due to my shoulder and leg operations. Having mainly sport climbed whilst I’ve been recovering, I was therefore intrigued to see how my head would cope...would I be able to climb E5 again?
The first few of days were a bit of a battle as we had a few things against us. Initially conditions were poor and the rock was damp, which meant my ‘warm-up’ on Tangerine Dream
felt even more exciting than it should’ve done but overall I was pleased with how I felt.
We also had very strong winds, which made feeling relaxed quite hard work. The tides weren’t the best and to top it off, the military were firing in the range all week, even at night. My poor dogs were not impressed and spent most of their time shaking in fear.
So in a nutshell, the routes that we had our eyes on just weren’t accessible until practically our last day. This meant it was hard to get into a flow and finding dry rock sometimes meant a trek further afield.
A highlight though was a supposed E4 that I led in Raming Hole. This day had seen us troop to three different crags looking for suitable climbs and on the way back to the van, we looked into Raming Hole and found it was surprisingly dry. I’d never climbed there, so headed down to do an E4 called Zero She Flies. What a route! Very involving and quite an experience. Not always obvious where to go and in someways not a three star line but definitely a three star encounter.
This climb made a big impression on both of us and you had to do some inventive and challenging climbing to get up it. A word of warning though, all the in-situ pegs are barely in-situ, in fact I would say they are only there in spirit! They are crucial for the E4 grade, consequently it’s now E5 6a and IMPs are needed!
One evening they didn’t fire in the Range, so we got into Stennis Ford and threw a rope down Point Blank
E8 6c. I had wanted to try and onsight some E6’s but as I don’t really headpoint and we hadn’t done any hard climbing, the lure of some hard moves was inviting.
Point Blank starts up an E7 6c called From a Distance that I had very annoyingly come off a few years ago due to Pembroke smeg. To this day, I am still seething about this, as I had got through the crux at the bottom and was almost through the upper crux but the condensation was working it’s way down from the top - how does that work? I had no choice but to keep climbing, even though I knew it was getting more damp and the inevitable happened. I greased off onto a dodgy micro-wire but it held.
So it was interesting getting back on From a Distance and it felt hard, I was impressed with how well I’d previously done on it. That’s the annoying thing, I knew I was climbing really well at the time, hey ho. This time it was a bit greasy on the first crux but improved higher up. I had a rest near the top of the E7 and then flashed the E8 section all the way to the top. One rest first go, not bad. So if there was a window of chance, it made sense to give it another try.
The next day was an appalling washout and this wasn’t good for positivity but it did work well for psyche. It looked like Saturday was going to be our only good day, so it was all go.
Nick had been up for Ghost Train (E6 6b) from the start of the trip and this was his first real chance. Amazingly the rock in Stennis was dry, even though the River Nile had fallen out of the sky the day before! So we warmed up on the über classic E3 Mysteries and then Nick started up Ghost Train.
I have to admit to being pretty terrified belaying Nick on this route, it’s not a reflection on his climbing ability but more my ‘sprinting over large boulders’ ability! There is a potential 80ft deck out on the route and it'd be up to me to stop Nick hitting the ground.
Thankfully, he climbed it well and got through the run-out section without me having a heart attack and I was mightily relieved when he got to the top. He was a happy man too and it was now my turn to go back down Point Blank. This time I looked at the gear more closely and tried to get it all sorted and then top roped it. It went clean, which was pleasing, although it now meant I had to give it a go on the sharp end.
It’s a safe route with one slightly scary run-out, so there wasn’t really a reason not to give it a shot.
I abbed down and took all the gear out, racking it on my harness, trying to remember where it all went, Nick came down and off I went. I was enjoying leading and was feeling strong enough on the crux start and soon found myself at the top of the E7. I wanted to shake out here before heading left on the E8 traverse as it’s got a very pumpy section that ends the hard climbing.
I was hanging there, having a look at the gear on my harness and then to my horror realised that I had left behind a crucial cam for the slot at the end of the traverse. Without this, I was looking at a monster fall. So there was no alternative, I had to hang there and lower down about 20 metres of rope to Nick and then pull it all up again one-handed! What a numskull! To say this got me tired would be fairly accurate, fortunately my forearms are pretty fit at the moment but this isn’t what I needed on this route.
With the crucial cam on harness, I set off. It all felt great on the traverse, I got the cam in and headed up the slappy, side-pull pumpy bit. I realised that I hadn’t worked this bit at all and had essentially onsighted it both times, meaning I had a rough idea where the holds were but getting between them was a little baffling.
I suddenly got very pumped but there was no way I wanted to blow it at this point. I was looking at quite a fall and there was no more time for another go. I’d got myself into a precarious position on slopey side-pulls and felt like I was going to barn door off and was looking up at the next hold which was a small crimp. There seemed little chance of holding it, my fingers were uncurling and I just slapped for it wildly. Somehow my fingers latched it and I didn’t fall off! Wow! I snatched for the next 'non-hold' and got that too. Suddenly, I had footholds again and I started to feel more human. Blimey, I hadn’t expected to get that pumped on it and have to start slapping but I guess when you don’t know something very well and you ‘forget’ your crucial bit of gear, something’s gotta give.
Anyway, suffice to say, I’m pleased with doing the route although I didn’t feel it was particularly hard, maybe even hard E7, but as I have only been on about two E8’s, it’s difficult for me to comment. But it felt like we both salvaged something on our last day and this is the hardest trad route I’ve done since about 2008, so all good.
The weather drove me back to Sheffield which was disappointing but if the summer ever rears it’s head again, I will be heading back down to those lovely Welsh sea cliffs.