Part 2 of the Pabbay and Great Arch adventure.

20th Jun 2010

On Pabbay, it seemed to work out the we didn’t really get going until mid morning. The days were so long that there was no major rush and the crags needed a bit of sun to dry out the dampness.

So we set off up the hill at about 11am, with Tim lugging up all his photography gear. He was very psyched to photograph this route and had brought two 100m ab ropes so he could ab down the line. But as it turned out he didn’t need them. There was a very handy grass ridge that looked onto the route at all heights, so he could adequately photograph it from here. One of the previous afternoons he’d abbed down to the roof to check out angles but had said it wouldn’t have looked that great. And as it turned out, he would probably have been hanging there for a very long time (we spent about 9 hrs from start to finish on the route), so he’d have got very cold and bored and probably got DVT to boot. Although, he did have a special hanging seat with him that would’ve helped prevent this.

We got to the grassy ridge and had a look through Ste’s binoculars at the pitches. It was very hard to grasp the scale of the route as we tried to piece together the pitches.

A walk through a jumble of boulders got Ste and I to the bottom of the line and it was only then that we realised just how gigantic the wall was. Unfortunately, we were on spring tides and this meant that the start was getting sea washed and was too wet, so we had to start about 8m to it’s right. We worked out a way of getting to the route on it’s second pitch by taking a new line. Ste set off up this for the start of our Great Arch adventure.

This long pitch turned out to be around E4 6a. The difficulties came after a squeeze up a flaky chimney in the form of a horizontal traverse that was harder and looser than it had looked from the ground. The start of things to come?

Seconding this not so easy traverse was a little unnerving especially as the rock wasn’t awesome, I just hoped it was going to get better- from a distance the rock looks amazing- lots of different layers, colours and striations. Ste had taken a hanging belay which was half way up the original second pitch and below a roof. This pitch was 6b and I remembered watching a video of Cubby and Lynn trying to climb it and it looked very entertaining. So I was psyched to have a go.

Within a move I was pumped! It was horizontal with no feet. The break leading to the apex of the route was good if a little shaly but seemed very powerful. My arms were complaining as I put in some cams and pretty quickly I rested on the rope. Hmm, I wasn’t that disappointed but just wanted to get on with it- I hadn’t even got to the hard bit! So trying to thug my way over the roof, never a technique that works for me, I had a to have a few more rests. I’d only gone about 10ft (!) and still had to do the crux. This turned out to be a devious rock over/heelhook/mantle which initially I thought wasn’t too bad as I nearly did it first go. But then I proceeded to have about five more goes trying different things, until I finally did it. And with all these things when I did do it, it felt easy and wondered why I hadn’t done it first go, hey ho! It was fun though. Also the sun was shining on me at this point and although I was falling off a lot, I was enjoying myself. I wish I could say the same for the next section.

Instead as I’d hoped that the rock would become more solid, it deteriorated quite badly. I found myself climbing very slowly up a wall feeling every hold and kind of wondering what I was doing there. Poor Ste, I took a while on this bit going up, then coming down and trying different ways, until I found a way to go but didn’t have the right cam- the No.3 was in the belay. The gear I had in was rubbish and I really wasn’t happy about carrying on without one good piece. So, I decided to climb down a bit, take a not great belay and get Ste to come up with the cam. He duly led though, placing the missing cam and got to our next belay. Again, to get to his belay I had to second a horizontal traverse, which wasn’t pleasant at all, given 5c but not that easy. So next up was me again. This pitch had a 10ft section of climbing on it that I don’t think I will ever forget. It was basically a hanging chimney/niche that I can’t imagine anyone over 5ft8ins and bulky be able to do. I got to the bottom of it and looked at it and just thought well there’s no way it goes up here, this looks impossible (maybe I should’ve put more time into grit v diff grovels)! So I shouted down and asked if the description mentioned a chimney, Ste shouted back ‘yes’, so unfortunately I was in the right place- damn.

I was very baffled but had to get moving, so just kind of forced my way up into this thing getting tighter and tighter kind of hoping that some sort of technique on how to climb this feature would present itself. Well, it didn’t, so I just kept squirming. Then you had to go sideways, completely locked in this thing while the bottom just fell away to the sea. Your body was jammed in but there was nothing for your legs, it was a complete hanging chimney, very bizarre. So, I huffed and puffed, grunted and snorted, squirmed and squeezed (almost dislocating my hips in the process), until I finally got out the other side and onto a beautiful slabby wall with holds, yes! And so a pleasant amble across this wall, led me to a hanging groove 80ft below the main event. Finally, we were nearly there.

Ste seconded across and led up to the last belay and so to the location of some very hard climbing indeed.

At last we had reached the main event. It was late but the sun was shining and I could relax for two reasons; finally, we were nearly at the top (my tummy was grumbling) and the next pitch was Ste’s lead!

It was my first view of the roof and crux pitch and it was pretty immense but I could see some holds. But at the end of the day it was about fifteen-twenty feet long and completely horizontal and there was a thirty foot section to climb to even get to the roof. I had a nice comfy belay from where to watch the fun and games- let the battle commence.

Ste seemed to steal himself and his composure changed, he was ready for action. All I could do was belay and shout up encouragement and will him to climb well.

So off he went, into who knows what. He climbed quickly up a rising crack to reach a hanging coffin feature. He looked around for gear and all he found was loose rock. He decided he was probably heading too far left, and tried to make his way rightwards. He seemed to get gear in and mumbled something about the feature being loose but carried on in a composed manner, so I just thought everything was ok. He then found himself on a big undercut feature, directly below the roof and started looking for holds on which to move upwards. He was on the undercut for ages trying to find a way up and eventually made a big move with his right hand up to a hold I couldn’t see. He was starting to leave his gear behind and again mumbled something about the hold not being very good. But essentially he seemed in the zone and his focus was very much on moving up. He swung his right foot up over the undercut lip onto nothing, his left foot swinging in midair. His left hand was just palming on nothing in particular, it looked like desperate measures to get any sort of help. Then the next thing, Ste was dynoing up, making an outrageous move in the hopes of catching the break below the roof. I had my heart in my mouth watching, it felt like it was do or die. But thankfully he caught the break and I knew I’d just seen an amazing feat of climbing there and then; the commitment required to even think about doing that move let alone actually attempt it took real BALLS! It was incredibly impressive and I gave a whoop of appreciation, along with Tim from the sidelines, he could see through his lens what was going on.

But the roof was still to come, so Ste arranged some gear, composed himself then launched into the roof. He was soon horizontal on big flakes and yarded out to the centre and managed to stop to put gear in. It looked a crazy position but he looked very at home. He somehow shook out and got himself ready for the next desperately hard move. The feet looked difficult to arrange and keep on but he sorted something, moved into a rubbish undercut, matched it then made a big burly move up for something- No! His shout of disappointment echoed around the Arch, as he fell into mid air. It was such a shame, he’d done the whole route up to that point with no falls and was robbed at the last hurdle. He pulled back up and did the move straight away and carried on to pull round the lip, doing what looked like more hard climbing. I felt sorry for him but was also glad that we were nearly at the top and with the sun setting was starting to notice my lack of food and drink. But I wasn’t up yet and had to do some of the scariest climbing/aiding ever. Mentally I wasn’t up for anymore climbing, I just wanted to get off this wall, it had taken it’s toll, so pretty much from the off I was pulling on gear. I had to do some climbing in between but once I reached the loose hanging coffin, I became fairly terrified. There was no communication between Ste and I and I felt lonely and intimidated, carrying the rucksack and bits of gear was also a burden. I got to Ste’s piece of gear he had put in before the dyno move and was shocked to find it was a tiny cam, who knows if it would have held in the shoddy rock. My only choice was to take this out and just let go of the wall and hope Ste held my fall. This was very unnerving and I was thankful to be on two ropes. Then the only thing to do was to prussik up one rope to the next piece of gear and repeat this process. It was heart in the mouth stuff and the steeper it got the more scary it felt, as I was swinging out horizontally. I had to do this 3-4 times and was feeling very frazzled by the time I reached the lip. I had a chance to look at the holds and they weren’t big. The hold he fell off going to was a weird stuck on pocket, that required precision to hold. It looked desperate and he did incredibly well doing this move second go. All that was left was for me to do another pitch to take us to the top and our adventure came to an end nine hours after we’d started- phew, it was a day to remember that’s for sure. I have to admit, not one that I’m keen to repeat but certainly one I’ll never forget!

We got back to camp around 11pm and Clare had kindly cooked the three of us some dinner which was most welcome. Tim had been very cold all day, as he was in the full on wind but he’d stuck it out and got some fantastic shots. Sleep didn’t come that easily to me that night, I was buzzing and my mind was whirring with the days excitement.

So I felt a bit weary in the morning but as it was our last day, we were psyched for Pink Wall, again, which is very impressive. I started on an E5 6b and had a silly foot slip on the crux which was annoying, then Ste did an E6 called The Bonxie, which was a fantastic route and I finished up a pumpy E4 5c. Which probably felt more pumpy as I strung the two main pitches together for a stunning 50m pitch- it was a lovely end to our final day.

We all rushed back down to camp, packed up and Donald came to pick us up at 9pm. I was sad to leave Pabbay and felt I was just getting into my stride (isn’t that the way?) and had so many more routes I wanted to do but it’s not going anywhere and I will definitely be heading back there at some point. The boat journey was lovely, we got to see a basking shark which was exciting. The evening was calm and the sea air was refreshing and I really felt at home and happy. It had been a great trip, with nice people and brilliant climbing, what more could you ask?