So you've ticked your way through a bunch of the Rockfax top 50 classics. You've fondled the relative polish on Army Dreamers, struggled to find early gear on The Arrow (E1 5b) and thought, 'blimey that's a big roof for E1' while flaking your ropes under Rock Idol (E1 5a). You've descended into the chasm of Huntsman's Leap and realised that's is weirdly less intimidating from the bottom. But what if you're after something a little less popular, something may be right under your nose or at a different crag entirely.
Deep water soloing at Trevallen and huge abseils into the Greenbridge/ Stack Rocks Area area are just a couple of the lesser known pleasures to be had in this summer playground. I'm not going for anything super obscure, so many of these will probably be known to a few. Rather suggesting a couple of alternatives. But first, a couple of pictures from those fabulous classics.
Trevallen Cliff is well known for its fantastic selection of everything from 'The Hole' aka Oh-god-get-me-out-of-here-I-want-to-go-home', to 'Ships that Pass in the Night (E5 6a)' via a whole lot of 'Facist and Me' hero arete in between. Despite being no ones first thought as a DWS crag, it boasts a fun little adventure in the form of 'Rock around the Block (E3 5c)' E3 5c / S0 6c. Best saved for a sweaty summer day when you've sacked off everything because its too hot. Don your most fetching swimming costume and put your chalk in a dry bag. Walk down to chapel cove and swim out to the huge block off the Big Bruiser area of Trevallen. Starting at the blocks' northeast corner the route does a full anticlockwise lap of the block. Just high enough to be exciting but low enough to be safe at a good high tide. As a friend who did it this year put it: "As much fun you can have with your pants on."
Possibly the closest crag to the car park, the Big Bruiser area is one of the lesser frequented parts of Trevallen. This crag contains 'Vogage to the Bottom of the Sea (E5 6a)' E5 6a, a relatively short but rather good pitch beginning with an airy step out over the sea. A very careful approach is required for the ab in and top out which, even by Pembroke standards, feels a bit like a tottering house of cards. 'Stem Them' is adjacent, begins on the same belay ledge and is a good exercise in hard E4. I backed off.
At the very opposite end of Range East is the winter 2018 edition of the Greenbridge of Wales. Here the routes are big, stakes are spread very sparsely and building belays takes time and a little creativity. Please avoid hammering anything into the ground though, there is a very real risk of hitting live unexploded ordnance that may be under the surface. As unlikely as this may seem - some historical unexploded and live munitions dating back to the second world war was found last winter, less than six inches below the ground, just a few meters back from the top of St Govans!
Beginning on a short toe of rock reached by a huge free hanging abseil, New Age Traveller (E2 5b) E2 5b traverses an imposing wall between Stack Rocks and The Greenbridge.
"That's the best bit of adventure climbing I've done this year!" beams Henry (pictured above) as he tops out in a fetching Hawaiian shirt. His client had asked for something a little more adventurous than the St Govan's classics they climbed the previous day. It clearly has the desired effect as 20 minutes later Ben picks his way over the top and cracks a grin to match Henrys.
But what if it's midweek, not August and the Army are letting fly on the range?
The crags surrounding the Penally contain some excellent low angled slabs, perfect for beginners taking their first steps. Eleven years ago I would spend many afternoons there, clad in army surplus camo trousers and a baggy sweatshirt figuring out how to place a nut and rig an ab rope. It took me a few years to realise it wasn't all about the slabs. There are some really interesting routes in this area, the obvious candidate being 'The Magic Flute' where you climb into and then out of a tube running up the inside of the wall. Towards the end of Giltar head is 'Chimera (E2 5c)'. A steep crack into a technical slab followed by a burly roof, giving a pretty tough ride for E2 5c.
I can already hear the shouts of 'but Penally is a firing range too!' Yes, but thankfully not all of it. Head west from Chimera past the guard post towards Lydstep and you'll find fence walls, home of 'Gladiator (E3 5c)' E3 5c. Fence walls doesn't look like much from the cliff top, a steep rubble covered slope and a dubious looking top out. But gingerly lower over the top and it offers a pair of routes both featuring slab, chimney and crack climbing. Gladiator is the star of the place, but 'Triceratops (E2 5b)' E2 5b is worth doing if you fancy the bottomless chimney but not the swing out onto the face.
Still further west, past Lydstep and Mother Careys is Skrinkle car park. Favoured park up spot for van dwellers and boy racers, it overlooks Skrinkle Haven and the stepped roofs of 'Hungry Heart (E5 6b)' E5 6a, plus a massive amount of brambles and gorse.
'Get me down.." Edmund dangled in space after taking a sizeable fall inches from the end of the crux on 'Gorak (E5 6b)', E5 6b. "..Get me down NOW!" rapidly lowered to the floor, he keeled over on all fours dry heaving before rolling over and curling up on the barnacles where he remained for a few minutes. Louis tentatively leaned over to check he was okay before glancing up with a positive nod.
It had been a great fight to watch. A committed, guns blazing on-sight attempt. I stashed my camera and got ready to swing in and strip the gear.
Apparently, there is a stake for this crag, but despite a few painful attempts to find it in the undergrowth and myself having to swim out from the belay, we're still none the wiser and have had to opt for alternative anchors a couple of times. On this occasion, my photo perch was rigged off Edmunds van in the car park with 120m of static.
If Mowing Word is Stackpole Heads little brother, then that must make Gun Cliff the runt of the litter. Maybe that's a little harsh, but looking over to it from Mowing Word and it seems rather innocuous. Being relatively short, pretty good and with a couple of threads, 'Reformed (E4 5c)' E4 5c is the most popular route of the crag. But around the corner is 'Double Glazing Salesman (E5 6b)' E5 6b. Cursed with that odd Limestone that you can never quite tell if it's dry, this route is well endowed with pegs and threads… and a V3/V4 crux. Edmund (pictured abbing the line below) commented that he felt he 'Climbed well despite the grease on the lower wall'. His second, Louis, was a little less sanguine in his assessment
'It was greasy as f*ck. Lanky b*stard just pulled straight through the slime!'
I realise I've barely scratched the surface of different route options but I've tried to offer something at every grade E1-E5. I hope this has been seductively illustrated enough to encourage a closer look at the guidebooks. One final recommendation is the chip van found outside Penally Army camp most summer evenings. I'm a big fan.
Thanks to Emma Alsford, Paul Donithorne, Viki Harvey, Edmund Morris, Steve Quinton, and Justin Lowman for route suggestions and photo contributions, I'm sorry I could only include a few.
- ARTICLE: So you want to be a Student Winter Climber? 5 Dec, 2016
- ARTICLE: My Pembroke - A Local's Perspective 27 Sep, 2016