Pembroke Dreaming, part 2.5

So, the real reason I was so keen to climb in Pembroke this Easter, and also keen to get a few quiet days there, was to investigate my pipe dream.

Oli Grounsell on From a Distance, E7 6b, Point Blank follows the chalk to the top of the photo, and then heads left.

I feel like I’m always saying “I’ve wanted to climb this for years!” – which is true, but perhaps a sign that I’ve been climbing for a long time now. Routes in Pembroke like Pleasure Dome, Bloody Sunday and Zeppelin were on my horizon for a long time before I climbed them. I’d seen photos of all of them before I saw them in the flesh, and knew they were the classics to aim for at a grade which seemed attainable.

Point Blank is slightly different. I first became aware of the line when I walked past Stennis Ford for the first time a decade ago, before it had been climbed. It’s the first really impressive face you see as you walk west from the carpark, and it was the first really impressive, steep and blank bit of rock I’d ever seen. I was totally struck by the smooth wall. “Cauterised by a laser” is how Tim Emmett puts it, it’s such a striking challenge. I was amazed that it hadn’t been climbed – I never really thought I’d be able to climb it, but I’d never been so struck by a challenge like that.

Oli Grounsell on From a Distance, E7 6b

Dave Pickford made the first ascent in 2009 – leaving From a Distance after its second crux and questing off leftwards into the blank wall. I was surprised that it was “only” E8, not a superhuman grade. It still seemed off the radar, but I slowly got fitter from sport climbing and it turned from a pipe dream into something which only my own indiscipline and motivation could prevent me from doing. After climbing Yukan II last year, and getting close on Body Machine, I decided I should target at least giving Point Blank a good go this year.

My first foray was a brief visit on a cold, but sunny, day in December. I abbed the line and checked the gear and some of the moves. Verdict – It seemed feasible.

Selfie in Stennis Ford – Point Blank is the face slightly left of the pink rope

Then over Easter I abbed it again, this time looking more closely at the upper wall, which I’d avoided before on the basis that if I couldn’t climb the first 2 cruxes, what was the point in trying the third? This time I looked closely, I brushed a bit of chalk on some of the harder-to-see holds and worked out a plan. I wasn’t very hopeful, it was covered in poor footholds and sidepulls, it looked a bit unlikely. I decided next go to just try as hard as I could with the sequence I thought would work, and really surprised myself by linking the section from before the last gear to the end of the hard climbing. I was totally elated! It was so unexpected I couldn’t believe it. I had another go and refined the sequence, but this was really starting to feel possible.

Looking down the wall from the finishing crack of From a Distance

The following week, after the bank holiday crowds had left, I dropped the rope down it again. Over the weekend it had seen a number of ascents, ground up attempts too. It was well chalked and this helped me to see some other possibilities. I started to work on the lower section, with one particularly hard move, and tried to link from the good rest through to the easy climbing, with limited success. I think I’ve had a better idea for how to shake on this section though, and despite my initial concern, I found a way to clip the good thread at the end of the runout before doing the hard sequence past it.

So the state of play at the moment: I reckon I could get From a Distance done on the next visit – I’m a little undecided about whether to do this and take the safe tick, or to just go all out and go straight for Point Blank. The latter makes sense, but it’s good to have progress markers to motivate you. A few fruitless trips could be frustrating.

The headwall on Point Blank

So now, I can’t get the moves out of my head. I’m nailing it every time I visualise it, which is promising, I’m nursing a minor wrist strain at the moment, it remains to be seen if I’ll get a chance to head back before heading for a summer in Squamish, but I’m looking forward to returning.

Tired but positive

Here’s a short video of the headwall:

Notes: I’m using two ropes – one’s a static line that I’m attached to with a Petzl mini-traxion directly to my belay loop, the other is a dynamic rope with a Petzl Grigri. The rock is very rough and I didn’t want to risk stripping the sheath off a rope, so wanted to make sure I had a back up. I was also quite keen to work this route on my own – I guess partly because it seems like such a pipe dream that it felt embarrassing to ask anyone to waste time holding my rope on it, but also because it’s probably easier to work it this way as you can rebelay at a few points and keep the rope away from the roughest rock.

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