Deep water solo pioneer Neil Gresham has added a new testpiece to Forbidden Head in Pembroke. Olympiad takes a savagely overhanging wall above perfect deep water and at 8b is the Uk's hardest deep water solo. Climb caught up with Neil to find out more:
Congratulations on your first ascent of Olympiad. How does this route compare with the other big routes in your career?
Thanks very much. I’m really delighted with this one. I’d put it alongside routes like Indian Face and Equilibrium in terms of satisfaction level. I was completely shocked when I topped out – after so many splashdowns I’d started expecting to end up in the drink rather than running around on the cliff top.
Exactly how much effort did you have to put into this ascent?
It took me 5 trips to Pembroke in total – 2 last year and 3 this year and a total of 7 days on the route. However, a lot of this time was wasted making mistakes, as is often the case with new routes. For a start it took me a while to figure out that neap high tides were better than springs, as the bottom of the route stayed dry. This meant that I was able to ditch my homemade portaledge and traverse in from the cave on the right, hence creating a more ‘ethical’ start. It also meant that I didn’t have to start warming up at 6.30 in the morning, which was a bonus! In terms of training, I started to prepare specifically in May. The usual stuff – replica problems & circuits at the wall and cutting out flapjacks!
How does it to compare climbing a deep water solo 8b as opposed to redpointing a more typical sport 8b?
The issue with Olympiad is that it’s very steep, so to work it you have to place trad gear on abseil to keep you in to the wall. You can only try the moves individually as you’re constantly swinging off and having to jumar back up. This quickly becomes frustrating and tempts you to ditch all the ropes and go for it well before you’re ready. The exciting part is that you have no idea how the link is going to feel until you try it for real, and with Olympiad it felt harder than expected. The other thing is that the approach is a little more involved than visiting the average sport crag. I suppose you could always swim up the river to Raventor or Malham to practice!
Yours and others DWS efforts over the past few years have revealed a whole new side to Pembroke, how would you see the venue on an international level? Is there more to come? Any more hidden walls?
I really like the way that some of these new DWS routes in Pembroke work just as well as trad routes. The tidal range in Pembroke is huge, so you can solo them at high tide or do them at low tide on gear. San Simian (E8 6c / F8a S3) is a classic example and all the new DWS’s at Forbidden Head, including Olympiad would also work in both styles. Olympiad actually has pretty good gear, although there’s no way I’d have the strength to place it! The main thing is that these Pembroke DWS routes compare in quality to some of the best in Majorca or Vietnam, so internationally the crag stands up. The question is whether people are prepared to monitor the tides and conditions and risk disappointment with the weather. I guess it’s comparable to Scottish Winter climbing in that respect. And regarding amazing hidden new walls, there definitely aren’t any, so don't bother looking!
You worked Olympiad on a rope. Do you think it’s possible ground up or even onsight-able?
I could list at least a dozen people in the UK who’d be capable of doing Olympiad ground-up and a handful who might be able to flash it. It’s really sequencey so an onsight would be an extraordinary effort.
Any more plans for this year?
I’m still holding out hope that we’ll have a late Summer in the UK, but failing that, I will be heading back out to Santa Linya in November. I’m trying to push my sport redpointing at the moment and this crag is a brilliant place to be humbled and inspired at the same time.
Neil i sponosred by Sherpa Adventure Gear, Icebreaker, La Sportiva, Petzl, Beal and Mule Bar