Traditional climbing on sea cliffs

Posted by Jane Thompson on 16/06/2015
Photo by Henry Castle

"There is something amazing about abseiling into a sea cliff climb for the first time, the excitement of discovering what’s down there. I can’t wait to get on the abseil line and see what I find." Rachael Ashdown recounts her experience on a weekend sea cliff climbing course in Pembroke:

My excitement is tempered by my questions, peering over the edge. Am I in the right place? I can’t actually see the climb, how will this unfold? Will I be able to find the belay? What if the start of the climb is under water! Are my abseil anchors OK?

I decided I needed to find the answer to these questions.

Enter the BMC and their course “Traditional Climbing on Sea Cliffs”. One of a range of courses designed for members of BMC affiliated clubs to help members learn new skills. This course was to focus on the skills specific to sea cliff climbing and aimed at enabling us to venture with confidence onto the committing spaces where the sea meets the land. This was exactly what I needed!

This brought myself, John and Malcolm to sunny South Wales, where Henry Castle from Climb Pembroke would be teaching us about sea cliff climbing. We started with a chat about planning, which provided useful information on how to interpret sea state and swell charts, tides, and possible access restrictions. Then we were off to the cliffs along Range East.

Soon we were busy building anchors and discussing how best to cope with the challenges of sea cliff climbing. Henry gave us a range of scenarios and pointed out important considerations to think about when making decisions on sea cliffs. Henry’s experience soon became evident as he made slight adjustments to our Anchor-Belayer-Climber (A-B-C) alignment or tweaked the method used to equalise the anchor points – we immediately found our stance was more comfortable and our systems were running more smoothly and effectively. Our anchors had been fine-tuned for peak performance!

Now it was time to get physical. Having safely abseiled down to the sea ledge, we began learning how to ascend and descend an abseil line, and how to hoist the climber using both assisted and unassisted hoists.

The next day we had the opportunity to put these new skills into practice. Henry chose a difficult area for us to set up our abseil anchors. The experience we gained the previous day was particularly useful in helping me to build my own methodology when assessing anchor suitability and construction; although all three of us did experience the uncomfortable consequences of not quite getting our A-B-C correct when hoisting the climber!

I left Pembroke feeling very happy. It was an excellent introduction to the skills needed to safely climb in this unique environment. We’d packed so much into the weekend, and learnt so many new skills, yet I didn’t feel overwhelmed. John, Malcolm and I were able to share ideas and experiences, with Henry’s enthusiasm and knowledge always guiding us in the right direction, and ensuring we could apply the new skills we were acquiring.  

Armed with these skills and the experience gained from the weekend I feel I can go a long way in finding the answers to my questions, and to quell those anxious thoughts. Welcome to the world of sea cliff climbing. I’ve already planned my next trip to Pembroke!

Rachael Ashdown
Traditional Climbing on Sea Cliffs, May 2015

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