Guest Editorial: A Pembroke Saga

© jalapeno
Trevellan Pillar E4 6a, Pembroke  © jalapeno
Trevellan Pillar E4 6a, Pembroke
© jalapeno, Aug 1987
Following on from recent forum discussion, Ian Smith casts his mind back to a fixed gear issue in Pembroke that began some twenty years ago. He looks to the past to perhaps offer solutions, or at least ideas, for the future.

I was fascinated following the 'pegs in Pembroke' thread. Firstly, because I went through a similar process about 14 years ago. At the time I was editing the double volume Pembroke guide for the The Climbers' Club. In 1988 we had seen the vast majority of drilled gear (bolt and pegs) removed. Quote from the 1995 guide follows: 

    Finally, at the end of 1988, the drilled gear saga was brought to a head. An increasing swell of feeling had built up against the use of such tactics on many cliffs in Britain and later discussions involving the BMC have seemed to resolve the controversy reasonably satisfactorily. It was probably the events in Pembroke more than anywhere else in the United Kingdom that allowed discussion to flow and a sensible compromise to be reached. So far as the climbs in Pembroke were concerned Steve Monks, Dave Viggers and Mark Hopkins spent a wet weekend removing all the drilled gear they were aware of and could get at. More points remain that are known but hopefully these will also be removed in time. Moreover, because drilled peg placements and hold improvements are more difficult to locate it may be that there are other climbs affected. Mark actually designed and made a special device to remove drilled pegs. Since then many of the drilled routes have been re-ascended and to his particular credit Gary Gibson has made a large contribution to these rejuvenated climbs. 

However, a good number of routes with such drilled protection removed had not been re-climbed so a decision had to be made as to what to do about describing these routes. Should they be included or left out? Discussions followed with the guidebook team, Pembroke activists and the CC's guidebook producing committee and the solution was to keep abbreviated route descriptions but add a further written description of their condition and history and to give them a different appearance on the page. With the benefit of hindsight this may be seen a decision that was made by a small group without a majority mandate, but the truth is that this was often how it was done back then. You tried to get as much consensus as possible but even though it's a relatively short time ago communications were restricted by circumstance and technology. Example follows, bearing in mind that the design of guidebooks was much simpler and produced purely in mono back then: 

Climbers' Club Pembroke Text #1
© Ian Smith - CC

So there the routes were and, of course, made for obvious and clear challenges and most were re-climbed and some were described in the Pembroke Supplement of 2002. Sample shown: 

Climbers' Club Pembroke Text #2
© Ian Smith - CC

Now, as far as I remember, there was little or no criticism of this decision. It made, if you like, the best of a bad job. It clarified what had been done and what had changed and laid down a marker that the sea cliff climbing of Pembroke should be bolt (and drilled peg) free, a policy that has now become set in stone (excuse the pun). We are now attempting to address the issues around pegs and threads and hopefully we will see Pembroke free of all 'fixed' gear one day.  

Secondly, what the internet thread has made me realise is that we are now seeing a considerable expansion of the discussion process. Back in 1995 we didn't have internet forums, we couldn't, as Alan has been doing, widen the debate into a public area where all interested parties can, if they wish, make their contribution; what you could describe as a democratization of ethical debate. We consulted as widely as was feasible at the time and I suppose we were fortunate in that the decision ended up meeting with pretty universal approval, it might not have, although we were confident that it would. In fact, the action of Steve, Dave and Mark was the defining one, by removing the drilled gear they felt that they had the majority support and even though it was a unilateral action they were confident that it was, as it turned out to be, the right decision.  

So, what goes around comes around, be truthful and honest in your reporting and in another 14 years it probably will have sorted itself out. The routes will have been climbed by a new generation, doubtless at higher grades, and the debate of 2009 will have passed into history, the way that the one in 1995 has now. Additionally the challenges left by the adoption of no fixed gear policies will also have been climbed or remain to inspire others. Historians warn about relying too much on the 'lessons' of history but knowledge and understanding of what we've been through before can't be anything but useful.

David Noddings above wild seas on the breath-taking top pitch of The Fascist and Me (E4) at Trevallen, in Pembroke.  © Alan James
David Noddings above wild seas on the breath-taking top pitch of The Fascist and Me (E4) at Trevallen, in Pembroke.
Alan James - UKC and UKH, May 2005
© Alan James

Ian Smith reads Descent in to Darkness at Kendal 2008  © Henry Iddon
Ian Smith reads Descent in to Darkness at Kendal 2008
© Henry Iddon
Ian Smith is a past President of The Climbers' Club and has been involved with UK guidebooks for years. Previously the deputy editor of High magazine and then Climb magazine, Ian now works for Allcord as a marketing coordinator?? and is a regular contributor and valued advisor to">The Climbers' Club and has been involved with UK guidebooks for 28 years, working on both CC and BMC guides. Previously the deputy editor of High magazine and then Climb magazine, Ian now works for Allcord and Rosker as a marketing coordinator and is a regular contributor and valued advisor to

He has been climbing in the UK and beyond for 41 years and although his favourite climbing area remains Peak gritstone, he says "the sea cliffs of the South West do tempt me away from the grit sometimes".

Support UKC

As climbers we strive to make the kind of website we would love to visit, with the most up-to-date news, diverse and interesting articles, comprehensive gear reviews, breathtaking photographs and a vast and useful logbook system. As a result, an incredible community has formed around the site - we’ve provided the framework but it’s you who make the website what it is today. If you appreciate the content we offer then you can help us by becoming an official UKC Supporter. This can be a one-off single annual payment or a more substantial payment paid monthly or yearly which includes full access to Rockfax Digital and discounts on Rockfax print publications.

If you appreciate then please help us by becoming a UKC Supporter.

UKC Supporter

  • Support the website we all know and love
  • Access to a year's subscription to Rockfax Digital.
  • Plus 30% off Rockfax guidebooks
  • Plus Show your support UKC Supporter badge on your profile and forum posts
UKC/UKH/Rockfax logo

26 Jun, 2009
That's a useful article, and I think that the solution decided on when the previous guide was published was the correct one. However, Ian describes a different problem from the one which we are currently addressing. It was decided at that time that any routes climbed with the aid of drilled gear were invalid and should be included in a form which made clear that they had not been ascended without drilled gear. We are currently facing the issue of routes whose first ascent relied on fixed gear placed without the aid of a drill. Even though the consensus is that no further pegs should be placed on the Pembroke sea cliffs, no one disputes the validity of the first ascents of the routes in question since they were climbed according to the ethic that prevailed at the time. Undoubtedly many of these routes are now harder than when first ascended due to the rotting away of the pegs, but I do not think that the answer is to include their descriptions in a form that suggests that they have never received a legitimate ascent. The real question is how can we identify the routes in which the deterioration of the fixed gear has affected the grade so that we can include a warning in the text?
26 Jun, 2009
With a 'peg' route-symbol ( ) and a note in the intro explaining the ethic and deterioration/unknown condition of the fixed gear? jk
26 Jun, 2009
I'd just like to point out that although TREVALLEN PILLAR (the route chosen to illustrate this thread/article, see OP) sports a fixed thread, it was not present on the First Ascent. Neither myself or Ian Parsons placed it - it appeared on an early repeat. It has always been a mystery to us... so, come on if it was you, it's time to own up!
27 Jun, 2009
I was discussing it with Alan - we both thought that maybe it was time pegs were 'banned' on new routes in Pembroke. Impossible to enforce of course but it seams ridiculous to put routes up that are going to become unknown quantities/death traps some where down the line. Chris
27 Jun, 2009
I quite agree Chris, they're time bombs. However, I don't think it's unreasonable to ban them - if someone does a new route, they WILL report it. If it has pegs in it then they can be found and removed. My point in the previous long thread on the subject was that it was unreasonable for anyone to expect Alan to report on the state of each and every one, and if alternative protection was available - especially with his deadline fast approaching. But, back to Trevallen Pillar, the Rockfax implies that the E4 grade is for the second pitch, the crux on the first being well protected by the thread. However, when Ian and I made the first ascent, there was no thread (and pretty poor gear in that area) and the E4 applied equally to the first pitch. I actually mention it in the CC book first ascents list. I've got nothing against the thread in principle, (and would probably welcome it if I was to lead it now...!) but it's not the same undertaking it was when I led that pitch in 1981. I remember removing it once, and was criticised for tinkering with an established route - my accusor didn't know it was my route and the history of the thread. I'm just curious as to who placed it...?
More Comments
Loading Notifications...
Facebook Twitter Copy Email LinkedIn Pinterest