A Preposterous Tale

It seemed such a good idea on that Saturday night in the Stackpole pub. Every
IMCer who had turned up for the May Day meet in Pembroke was there (i.e Sheila
and me) and relaxing after a reasonable day at blustery Saddle Head. We fell
into conversation with a group from the Cambridge Climbing
& Caving Club
who had managed to turn up in sufficient numbers to fill a
large table. Talk inevitably came round to plans for the next day and someone
mentioned “Having a look at Preposterous Tales”. “Wow” enthuses I, remembering
listening gape-mouthed to the account given by Martin, Steve, Rupert and John of
their adventure on PT some three years ago. And then “You can come along if you
like”. Well, by then Dutch courage was running high and HVS 4c, 5a, 4c
(according to my book) didn’t seem that hard, so the deal was struck.

It’s 10.30ish on a cold and grey (but dry) Sunday morning and three of
us (Sheila having opted to go walking) are peering down at the
streaming wet rocks forming the top of the blow hole which is the
final pitch of PT. We listen to the roar of the heavy sea as it sends
wave after wave smashing against the cave wall far, far below. I’m
wondering what on earth am I doing here. Graham has done the route
before so is the de facto team leader and is first to abseil down the
face of Bosherston Head to the starting ledge. I go next because I’m
leading the first pitch.

Graham waves a hand toward a vague arch, way off across the cliff
face, which he says is the apex of the cave entrance and the belay is
around the corner, just a few metres inside the cave. Off I go making
a rising diagonal traverse. I get to the ‘arch’ but see no sign of a
cave entrance so I look back to Graham (now joined by Rob the third
member of the team) who’s now pointing vigorously downward (aural
communication being impossible due to the roar of the sea) and then
beckoning me back. So I reverse climb, removing gear as I go, until I
reach the starting ledge. It transpires we’ve started from the wrong
ledge, about 20′ above the actual start.

We reckon it should be possible to traverse horizontally and arrive at
the cave entrance in the right place. So off I go again, but not very
far before the wall blanks out. So I climb down (getting a bit pumped
now!) to try and pick up the rising diagonal from the (proper)
starting ledge. I get to within 20′ of the cave entrance and, hey,
this isn’t 4c or 5a. The combination of hard moves and pumped arms
result in a pendulum lob. But no damage done, I’m still in contact
with the rock and able to climb back to have another go. No good
though, it’s too hard for me so back I go to the ‘starting ledge’.

Rob takes over the lead and manages to make the traverse into the
cave. Eventually my rope is pulled in and I set off noticing with some
anxiety that the only protection visible on my rope is a nut runner
before the hard move and nothing else until the corner leading into
the cave. Well, the move I failed on hadn’t got any easier and ended
with the same result, yet another pendulum lob, only this time its
spectacular. The swing takes me out over the sea and I come to rest
dangling above the sea in front of the cave entrance, at least 10′
from the nearest bit of rock (which was wet and overhanging anyway)
and with about 20′ of very taut rope above me.

Rob’s disembodied voice from the cave asks if I’m alright and if
there’s anything he can do to help. I think “Say a little prayer,
maybe” but realise there’s nothing either of them can do to rescue me.
So, out come the prussiks- very careful not to drop them in the sea –
and then a slow and tiring climb up the rope until I can grab the gear
from which I’m hanging. From here, its a squirm up through a narrow
slot into a tunnel that runs between the apex of the cave entrance and
the main cave chamber, and then a back and foot bridge across the slot
to the belay. Phew, am I glad to see Rob’s smiling face! We now wait a
long, long time for Graham to join us; but given the cock-up I’d made
I didn’t like to ask what had kept him!

And now for the REALLY scary pitch into the cave. The rock is
streaming wet; it’s almost dark, the only light being that reflected
off the sea some 100′ below. The deafening noise of the sea crashing
against the back of the cave is sending plumes of spray high into the
cave and periodically the cave goes completely dark as giant waves
fill the mouth of the cave cutting off even the reflected light. Very
atmospheric! This is definitely not the place for another dangle. But
we needn’t have worried, Graham does a brilliant lead choosing a good
line and protecting it well for both himself and the seconds. From the
belay the pitch goes along the tunnel for a few metres by bridging
across the open slot, until it gives way to the massive domed main
cave chamber. A tricky and committing move from the tunnel across the
slot to the right wall of the main chamber is followed by an about
turn and move back to the left wall. A horribly exposed traverse
around the roof of the cave to the bottom of the blow hole before the
welcome sight of daylight filtering through from high above.

The tide is rising fast now and the spray is reaching us occasionally
at the top of the cave. Rob leads the final pitch up the blow-hole
which, although wet and slippery, has the virtue of being vertical.
Graham next, then me. As I near the top of the blow-hole I see a
massive jug and gratefully reach for it. “No! Not that one” shout
Graham and Rob. Taking their advice and exiting from the blow-hole I
notice the jug is covered in crap. We presume, with sympathy and
understanding, that some earlier climber had been unable to contain
his relief. Then straight to the Bosherston pub for some much needed
nerve settling beer.

A memorable day on an amazing route, which I will NOT be doing again.

Footnote: I have since been told the latest Pembroke supplement grades
Preposterous Tales as E2 for its exposure, and the first pitch as 5b.

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