Martin Cathrow has made a peg-free ascent of a classic E6 in Cornwall on Friday 29th April.
Martin takes up the story, "I was looking for a suitable challenge and spotted Wolf at the Door, located in the beautiful Pendower Cove area on the south coast of West Penwith. This route was first climbed by Mark Edwards in 1990 and in the process he placed six stainless steel pegs to protect the line, he gave it an unconfirmed grade of E6 with the pegs. In the Edwards' Cornish Rock guide it has been given the four star accolade to suggest it as the best route of its grade in the area - which I agree with.
"I thought it would be 'interesting' to lead the route without the pegs and I set to work over the winter, revised moves and sequences until I finally made two lead attempts in mid April, initially utilising the pegs. Eventually a successful lead in this manner gave me some confidence to go for a peg-free ascent."
Without the pegs the start had become an S2/3 deep water solo involving a dynamic lunge before getting any gear. Martin took two falls from this section on his initial attempts. Above this relatively easy climbing followed, with the odd cam for gear, until another crux involving a painful fist jam. A good rest can be had at a horizontal break (where he ate a pre-placed whisper bar). The top section of the route is still sustained and quite bold.
Commenting on the grade Martin said, "I'm not really sure on the sport grade, but it is probably up in the high sevens. As for a trad grade it should be around E8/9?".
We asked Martin what had motivated him to climb the route in this way.
"I am pretty sure this was the first peg-free ascent, in a way it does seem a bit strange to want to do it without the pegs but I felt the route could not be fully appreciated by using them. The pegs themselves are in very good condition and seem to have been placed in naturally occuring cracks. The pegs protect all of the difficult sections of the climb and the remainder is protected primarilly with small cams, I did climb the route initially with pre-placed gear and in this way it felt more akin to a sport climb with minimal mental involvement (no disrespect to sport climbers).
"I have left the pegs in place and in keeping with the recent BMC policy I see no need, and have no desire, to remove them, this would undoubtedly cause further damage the rock. Also, Wolf can now be climbed in two different ways depending on personal preference."
The story has echoes in the Cad Saga of the 1980s where Stuart Cathcart made a solo ascent of The Cad, a bold E5 on North Stack wall at Gogarth with a single bolt for protection. The route had been initially protected by 2 bolts placed by Ron Fawcett in 1978, one of which was rapidly eliminated by Pete Whillance. Cathcart removed the remaining bolt after his ascent for which he was criticised since it had been there for him, albeit a solo ascent. The bolt was replaced in the route which then went through a series of stages including a solo ascent without the bolt in place by the late Jimmy Jewel. It was finally lead with no bolt by Nick Dixon to establish the bolt-free E6 which remains today.
Hopefully Wolf at the Door will not suffer from such a controversial history as this and Martin has played this aspect down.
Martin lives in Redruth, Cornwall, with his son Josh, he has been climbing worldwide for over thirty years, and he works for Truro College as a climbing lecturer and enjoys chocolate and tiger lycra! He would like to thank the following for their support and suffering: Erin Bastian, Chris Hall, Jake Nichol, Nige Braddon, James Forbes and Billy Ward.