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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Guidebook Jinx

Through bitter experience, I've come to think that buying a guidebook in advance of a climbing trip is a jinx. I love to sit and read guides as I (well, you know where I'm sitting) during the months before I head off on a trip, but all too often I end up canceling and the book gathers dust. I looked through my shelves this morning and found a bunch of books that I had purchased in anticipation of a trip that never happened or was a bust for weather or other reasons: Canadian Rockies (both ice and summer alpine books), Squamish, Rainier, Bugaboos, Tuolumne, Alpine 4,000-meter peaks, Pyrenees, Colorado's San Juan Mountains and Pembroke (Wales).

The latter was a real bummer: My wife and I were traveling through Wales a couple of years ago and carried climbing gear specifically to sample the amazing sea cliffs of Pembroke—a 100 percent traditionally protected area on superb fractured limestone. But when we arrived we discovered the British Ministry of Defense had closed all of the cliffs, which must be approached across a tank gunnery range. We gaped at the rumble of artillery and a helicopter firing rockets at a buoy in the sea, but did no climbing.

Ahhh, but we are just now booking tickets to Britain to visit a friend in June, and Pembroke is back on the hit list. This time we'll call ahead to check the military schedule before driving to Wales. All we need now is a little cooperation with the weather. In any case, I'm back to salivating over the Pembroke guide.


Anonymous said...


This brings back some great memories; that photo of the guidebook and the story about the gunnery range. I was there along time ago (1984) climbing with the man, Pat Littlejohn. He took me out to Huntsman Leap (pictured on the book cover??) late in the day when the army was finished firing but the tide was coming in and the sun was setting. We rapped into the zawn and pulled our ropes as the tide rose and we scrambled to a stance about twenty feet off the deck. The ocean swept in below us. Above us was an unclimbed line, steep and intricate. Rarely have I felt more commited on a rock climb. What a fantastic place. I look forward to reading about your adventures there.

cheers, Charlie

Anonymous said...

I dont think they ever close the range completely during bombing practice. St Govans Head must have 100 plus routes (some of the best - check your guide) and is outside the military zone.

Dougald MacDonald said...

We didn't think St. Govan's would be closed, but either we were confused or this was an exceptional closure. We were told by people in the pub (and signs seemed to indicate) that we couldn't go out to St. Govan's. We did drive over to Mother Carey's Kitchen, but the tide was up and the wind was fresh and, well, we were too afraid to rap down. Next time!