Guest Editorial: A Pembroke Saga

by Ian Smith Jun/2009
This article has been read 6,858 times
Trevellan Pillar E4 6a, Pembroke, 94 kbTrevellan 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., 194 kbDavid 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, 30 kbIan 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".

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