As Christmas and New Year's have past and we role on with 2015, you might be thinking about this year's climbing plans, places you want to visit, routes you'd like to get on. Maybe you're thinking about heading out on sea cliffs and are a little unsure of what's what. I've put together a kind of "How to" guide below; What you should be aware of in the planning stage, when you arrive at the crag and what to do if things go wrong. Hope it helps and gives you a clearer idea of what's involved. Have a great 2015 on the sea cliffs!
"How to go" Sea Cliff Climbing...
Sea cliff climbing can be an amazing and rewarding undertaking, although it can also throw challenges at us that we may not be properly prepared for. In this article I have tried to piece together the skills which make sea cliff climbing a safer, more enjoyable experience.
What to check before you go.
Look at the tide time table for the local area. Some areas such as Swanage have fairly small tidal ranges, some such as Pembrokeshire can have tidal ranges of up to 8.5m. You will want to take this into account when deciding on where is an appropriate venue to climb:
It’s obviously a good idea to check the weather, not just to get an idea of whether it’s going to rain and what temperature is predicted, but also to understand what the state of the sea is going to be. I’ve had to re-think my plans, even when it’s been sunny and the tides have been low at crags, as the waves at the bottom have been crashing up the cliff. Surf forecasts can be very useful guides to indicate what to expect from the sea, a day or two in advance:
Know where you are planning to climb.
Sea cliffs can be notoriously scary places, often you can’t get a great view of where it is you are abseiling into, so even before leaving home build up a picture in your mind of what you’re expecting to see. Examine the guide book carefully: How do you find the top of the abseil? How long is the abseil? What are the tidal considerations? What identifiable features are you expecting to see when you’re down the abseil? How can you locate the start of the route?
When you arrive at the top of your crag, try to get views of where it is you’re planning to go. Can you see your route, the line of the abseil? Can you see the bottom and if so what is the sea doing? Try to identify large features on the cliff to help you confirm the line of the route you are planning to do. The clearer picture you have in your head about what you’re looking out for, the more positive and confident you’ll feel about doing it.
Instead of taking the guide book with you, you can a use a digital camera to photo the pages you will need for the route - this saves weight but it is important to have a good read though first and try to understand the area you are abseiling into and the route you are expecting to climb before committing to the abseil. Make sure that the camera has sufficient battery power for the day and is attached to you by some form of lanyard - so not to have the embarrassment and expense of dropping it into the sea (this has happened to me..!).
In case of emergency, information you should be aware of: Area and crag you are climbing at, as well as route names. A map grid reference will also be helpful if you have to summon help.
If you do need to use your phone to call for help, before dialling 999, have all of the above information to hand, as well as the number of people in your party, type of and time of accident/incident and what safety equipment you have with you. When you call 999, ask for the Coastguard. Let the operator know which county you are calling from, so they don’t contact the wrong county Coastguard station! You can also call, or more importantly TEXT your emergency to 112 http://www.112.ie/112_SMS_Service/142#.U3UWCl7oYfE
Know your climbing partner.
“Trust is earned” - Is it sensible to set off on a committing sea cliff adventure with a partner you have only just met?! If you are climbing with a new partner, check before starting that they go through the same climbing procedures as you do (climbing calls, setting safe belays etc). Start off in non committing areas to get a feel for one another. Make sure you are aware if they have any important medical conditions that could become an issue, and if they require specialist medication. Also know where they keep it and how to administer it if they need you to do it for them.
Equipment to take with you.
Most sea cliffs will require an abseil approach. You will normally get away with using a 50m static rope for this, although having a 60m static gives you that bit extra - especially if you are using it as part of the anchor. Rope protecters can work well on sharp edges or rough sections that the rope will be weighted on, although these can be improvised using a back pack or spare clothing.
At the bottom of the abseil it is worth clipping a Gri-Gri and a Jumar to the abseil, incase you need to ascend back up your abseil rope. This makes thing a lot easier and quicker than using prussic loops - and feels a huge amount less sketchy!
Make sure the bottom of your abseil rope is not going to be effected by the sea - the last thing you want is to have the bottom of the rope jammed in the rocks by a rising tide swirling it around.
On your harness you should carry the standard pieces of safety equipment: A couple of prussics, a small pen knife and a whistle.
On longer multi-pitch routes you may want the second to carry a small, tight fitting backpack. In it you could carry a small amount of food and drink, a light weight belay jacket, hat and gloves (depending on the time of year), a mobile phone in a dry bag, a small practical first aid kit, a pen and paper, a couple of small head torches and a day smoke flair. Obviously weight will be an issue, so trimming down is important but I think these items can be pretty useful if things go really wrong.
Get prepared for some of the best and beautiful climbing adventures out there!
Henry Castle has seen his fair share of sea cliff epics and adventures, he is a full time rock climbing and mountaineering instructor and runs the guiding and skills training business Climb Pembroke. Henry also delivers sea cliff climbing skills courses on behalf of and subsidised by the BMC for climbing club members www.thebmc.co.uk/clubscourses. He lives in Pembrokeshire, Wales with his wife and son.