Edmund Morris has made the third ascent of Neil Gresham's Olympiad (8b) (8b/E10 6c) at Forbidden Head, Pembroke, in deep water solo style. Neil climbed the route in 2012 as a deep water solo and graded it 8b (UKC News). The second ascent was made on trad gear by Steve McClure in 2021 (UKC News).
The line climbs a compact, overhanging wall that has been described as one of the great DWS challenges in Pembroke. Ahead of his first ascent, Neil Gresham worked it on an abseil and considered this method "perhaps more strenuous than soloing the route" due to the swinging and jumaring required on the steep wall.
Neil attempted to solo it by launching from a make-shift portaledge at sea level, but in retrospect decided that this was ethically flawed and managed to find an alternative traverse from a cave on the right.
He named the route Oympiad after climbing it on Friday 27th July, the day of the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.
Edmund, a keen all-round climber who works at the nearby Manorbier Youth Hostel, belayed Steve on his trad ascent. Two years later, he returned to try it himself.
The line is Edmund's first 8b, but it was also a significant personal milestone following a life-changing Type 1 diabetes diagnosis. We sent him some questions to learn more about his recent ascent.
You belayed Steve on his ascent. When did you set your sights on the route, and what appealed about it?
I'd just started working at the Manorbier YHA when Neil Gresham climbed his DWS mega project below the hostel 11 years ago to the day. His enthusiasm for what became Olympiad was infectious, but the route was comfortably enough out of reach to consider.
Two years ago I belayed Steve McClure on the second ascent, it was a stunning display of tenacity in less than good conditions. He asked me if I fancied a go and I declined, feeling a bit sick, mumbling something about not being an 8b climber. This winter I had some surprisingly productive sport trips abroad. Then one evening a few months back I thought I'd just have a look at the moves out of interest, possibly as a deep-dive pipedream project. I only managed about 3 moves on a Gri-Gri but realised how jaw-droppingly good the moves and line were.
It was your first 8b, but have you done much DWS before?
Until last year I was really scared of the sea, and everything in it! I started deep water soloing more last summer with my friend Adam then later my friend Remus, two very driven individuals whose infectious psyche rubbed off on me. I found it to become less and less scary with every fall, to the point where the style felt like highball bouldering. I managed to repeat a couple of Neil's 8as as my first UK 8s and was hooked.
Why did you go for the solo rather than trad style?
It is one of the safer DWS routes in Pembroke with all of the climbing above deep water (4m) on a neap high tide. The hard climbing ends at 10m. Soloing it seemed the more fun, slightly easier, safer option. It's got ample viewing platforms large enough to lay out a picnic and a straightforward swim out as long as the sea is calm.
How long did you spend trying it and how did you go about working it (on a rope or not etc.). Did you take many falls?
I had 11 sessions trying it off a Gri-Gri on an ab rope. The faff factor was pretty engaging and small wins in rigging beta felt pretty satisfying with the exception of the 'bomber' 000 cam ripping and hitting me in the face! You can only really do two or three moves in a row before having to unclip a directional runner.
On the first session from the start, Steve Quinton and I kayaked in from Church Doors Beach. I pinged off the greasy undercuts twice, limited to two goes by the number of kneepads I own. We packed up and went for a 2-hour paddle along the coast towards Tenby. The next day I climbed it on my second try of the day from the start via an abseil down the adjacent wall then a Tyrolean traverse to the starting cave.
Over 2/3rds of the sessions were in less than good conditions. The fact that Neil was living in London when he did it is pretty remarkable, I'm sure there were plenty of wasted journeys.
Can you describe the style of the moves/crux?
It's three boulders linked by one good kneebar then one bad kneebar on a perfect 45-degree overhanging wall. The first is a technical beta-intensive jamming crack; I spent a whole session not doing that move and almost packed it in that day.
The second boulder is a burly, bunched undercut traverse into a wild throw for a small crimp!
The third is a really crimpy flamboyant sequence on the lip of a textured runnel, the last move being a long slap to a crozzly jug then a bucket just above. After another kneebar the top is around French 6c.
You wrote in your logbook that the top-out was emotional. What was going through your mind?
I don't think I ever fully believed I'd do it, possibly by the end of the summer if everything aligned? I'd been trying it because I enjoyed the climbing on it so much. I felt completely removed from the possibility of finishing it. I'd felt sheepish when I told friends I was attempting it.
It's not been an easy year with coming to grips with living with Type 1 diabetes and climbing Olympiad felt like confirmation that diabetes doesn't have to rule my life.
After topping out on the send I ditched my shoes and chalk bag, jumped off the top and swam to the viewing platform. It felt special to share the moment with my friend (and boss) Martin in a damp hug!
What did you think of the grade?
It felt miles harder than any route I've been on, though that's not very helpful! I think Neil said hard 8b and Steve reckoned at least 8b. It's essentially a large Moonboard above a diving pool, much like board climbing, as problems get wired they get easier as you get really specifically strong on them making it easy to forget how unreasonably desperate it felt on first acquaintance.
You recently got diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. What impact has this had on your life and climbing?
Initially it led to serious mood swings, lots of stress and general anxiety. As I have improved my insulin dosing and monitoring it seems to be more and more manageable.
I'm tentative about being too confident though as hypos (low blood sugar episodes) are still very unsettling when they happen. Thankfully climbing seems relatively unaffected so long as my blood sugar is stable before I set off.
I'm always extra vigilant to keep my blood sugar slightly higher when I'm climbing, checking regularly. I make sure I let my climbing partner know where my glucose gel is and what to do should I need it.
What advice would you give to other diabetics?
Give yourself a head start by looking after yourself with diet and exercise as you can't afford not to. Insulin is more effective after aerobic exercise. Try not to worry excessively when you first get diagnosed. Don't try to have perfect blood sugar all the time as you will do nothing else with your life. Ask for help from other diabetics who do the same things as you - I found this really helpful in getting me through the first few months of learning the subtleties of insulin therapy.
What's next for you?
6 weeks of busy hostel work during the summer holidays! More falling in the sea and a summer in Pembroke trad climbing, so no change there then! I've a few routes in Stennis Ford and The Leap I'd really like to do. My younger brother Stefan has a photo book (The Pembroke Bond) coming out in the next month celebrating the reasons why Pembroke is such a special place for so many like minded climbers.