Traditional climbing is where my roots lie but sport is an easy tick, fitting in easily around work and kids and a desire to perform rather than be scared. As the grades go up the amount of gear goes down making hard routes that can be onsighted hard to find. But I still needed the adventure, it feeling more distant with every soggy summer that passes. Pabay has been on the list for a while, "hard pumpy climbing with excellent gear on amazing rock" was the word.

.               photo - Tim Glasby

 This island is where The Great Arch lives, not the objective
of my trip but becoming the assumed one by everybody else. It was blasted to
fame in the Scottish Climbing film a while ago. I’ve not seen the film, which was
probably poor preparation as usual on my part, because seeing this massive
feature made me want to climb it, standing out as one of the biggest natural
challenges I’ve ever seen. I knew it hadn’t been climbed without falls and that
the roof was the crux so I abbed down to the lip figuring if Lynn Hill and
Cubby couldn’t do it there was no chance of me onsighting it. I was right, a
complex arrangement of poor holds that you’d never see from under the roof
looked to be the crux. 95 metres off the boulder field below with the waves
crashing and a freezing gale blowing the ropes all over the place and tangling
up slings and jumars and other bits of random kit I roughly memorised the
position of these holds before I got the hell out of there and kind of hoped it
went away!

I wasn’t really there for any of this, I was after quality
onsighting and a thoroughly nice time. The Arch felt like a job in comparison;
it was going to be hard, long and scary! But it was already too late, I was
hooked, the only thing that could save me was a lack of partners, and Lucy
Creamer was up for it!

So we set off, already rattled by the very first move, wet
from sea spray. Not good with 6 pitches to go! Deviations around nesting birds
added difficulty and extra loose rock to the guide book description of ‘the
rock on pitch 3 and 4 is very loose and unpleasant’. I’m bad on loose rock. It
took a long time to get up to the arch, swinging leads Lucy put in some big
efforts and I was pretty glad I had someone competent to hold my hand. However,
reaching the final pitch, the roof pitch, we both had the feeling that this
route was a route for the sake of it. A much better path is to the left,
staying in the corner and avoiding the roof. Solid E5, and amazing if you can
handle a little rubble. However we were at the main event. 8 hours of warm up
for one hard pitch, not your average stroll down to the local sport cliff. The
lip of the arch was a long way up, a safe haven, a target to aim for. Holds
that I’d seen despite their size gave me comfort. Even the final unprotected
wall, snappy and hard would be a breath of relief simply because I was sure I
could do it. Up to there was a mystery. I set off following my nose, as you do.
Pulling on a flake the size of a car it moved, my gear was behind it and my
ropes under it. Not good! Heart beating fast; a scuttle left. This looked like
the way. More gear a long way out and moving up now to the holds. But the holds
are falling off, bits the size of bricks coming away. I have gear behind these
bricks. I take it out. Another plan. I’m traversing a long way right now, gear
in a sugary crack. Maybe there’s another way but its’ too late to find. If I
fall off now I’ll probably be OK. And I will fall off because there is no way
up. Totally blank. Stopped dead I wait for the inevitable, I want to fall off, but
a hold appears, sloping and small, at the max of my reach. Somehow, stupidly,
I’m pulling on it and committing to something. I’m trying as hard as I can, it
could be the crux of an 8b sport route. Then I’m facing an all out slap for
what looks like a hold. A complete deadpoint that has to be perfect but my
chances are slim. No chance to think about my position, my gear, the slab below
or anything at all in fact, with my whole world shrinking to a point resting on
an edge about a metre above me. I make it, I can’t describe how close I was to
not making it. It was one of those real climbing moments that don’t come along
very often, where everything comes together and it all comes good. This was the
route for us. If I’d fallen, even if I’d been OK I doubt I’d have had the balls
to try again, just getting to that move had already shattered my feeble nerves.
A 70m abseil would have been in order or rescue if it was longer. But here I
was at the back of the arch, good gear greedily thrown into solid cracks. Then
out over the roof, more flakes the size of tables creak under my weight, good
gear maybe, but not behind them! Easy climbing at least. Then at last another
solid runner and the start of the hard climbing. I can see the lip, only a span
away, a relatively easy move to the sanctuary of hard moves on bad holds,
familiar though, I’ll be happy there. Then I’m rushing it, feet all over the
place, wanting this all to be over, and suddenly I’m in the air. The gear
holds. I’m cursing. No fear now, just utter disappointment. I pull up the rope,
and back onto the big flakes and this time straight out to the lip with ease
and through the hard lip moves and so to the top. Lucy follows with a
combination of climbing, prusiking and fear. There is no time for another go as
I’m already watching the sun set over the sea and the wind is whipping over the
arch and making me glad to be wearing performance kit.

So the Great Arch still awaits a no falls ascent. We could
have gone back to ‘redpoint’ the last pitch but that proves nothing to me, a
relative formality with gear sorted and fear removed. However, even if I did
fancy it, who would sacrifice their last day in paradise to belay (as the next
day was our last). And I could never have even asked. Would I go back again for
this? No chance! I don’t need to. I went to Pabay in search of adventure, and
for sure that’s what we got!