Stennis Head and a reminder why they call it “Adventure Climbing”

Jake had a few days of a late Easter holiday spare, so much time was spent scouring weather apps to see where would offer the best scope for climbing. The answer was “nowhere” really, as crappie conditions were forecast for the whole UK and even the short-hop sunrock destinations didn’t look worth the effort. We settled on Pembroke in the hope that the forecasters were being pessimistic.

A slow drive, an overnight stop and a greasy spoon breakfast saw us at the St Govans carpark around noon. The overnight rain had turned to intermittent drizzle and St Govans Head was just about visible through the murk, and with the red warning flag flying over Range East we set out to do a couple of routes there until the Range opened at 4.30pm. That’s when Jake realised that he hadn’t got his rucksack in 😦

After a lot of head-scratching, Googling and phoning we established that the only way to save the trip was to make the two hour round trip to the Cotswold Outdoor shop in Carmarthen for emergency boots and harness. Aaargh!

By the time we got back to the carpark we only had a few minutes to wait until the red flag was lowered, and after a quick brew we were pestering the guard at the gatehouse to see if the “all clear” had come through yet. The museum piece bakelite phone finally rang and we were off! Judging by the state of the track, it had only just stopped raining, and we hadn’t missed much.

We figured that Stennis Head was a good option for a quick fix: short walk, easy access without an abseil and non tidal. I warmed up on Cool for Cats, E1, which felt plenty committing enough in the damp and cold, fumbling for the right sized wire with rusty trad-skills.

Jake decided on Pleasure Dome, E3, for his lead – one of Pembroke’s finest; it takes a committing traverse line high above the broiling sea, before crux moves through a bulge in a very atmospheric location. On arriving at the start of the traverse, Jake reported that it was “piss wet through” but that he’d “have a look” anyway. Here he is halfway across…

An update on conditions at the end of the traverse were even less encouraging –

I could just about catch “it’s soaking” over the sound of the crashing waves a few feet beneath my feet, as the swell, now at high tide, splashed my “non-tidal” ledge.

With Jake now about 30ft out over the sea, options for retreat were limited – lowering off clearly wasn’t an option and nor was reversing the wet traverse, so completely committed he pressed on upwards through the crux and topped out. Phew!

Seconding the pitch was equally unattractive, with a 30ft pendulum plummet in store should I come off the traverse, especially with the key piece of gear halfway along now inverted after being tugged about with the rope drag. I could have walked back out, but that would have meant leaving a few hundred quids worth of gear to the mercy of the elements and salt spray for 48 hours until the range was next open (and I couldn’t face another trip to the gear shop!) so I manned-up and followed the route – impressed with Jake’s lead and coolness in the face of some shocking conditions.

Dusk had fallen by the time we were safely back in the horizontal world, coiling ropes amongst the sheep poo, and soon afterwards we were in the St Govans Inn with a pint and a couple of Chicken Curries on the way, having just made last food orders – a good perspective to look back on a timely reminder of why they call it “Adventure Climbing”.

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