I’ve fancied climbing sea cliffs since the day I put my hands on the rock for the first time. I’d even dream about it at night – long multi-pitch routes overlooking a calm sea where seals and dolphins would occasionally appear on the surface to check me out.
I never thought reality could match these amazing dreams. Actually, it outdid them.
My boyfriend and I studied sea cliff crags and routes around Wales for a while. It never seemed to be the right time to go though – the weather was bad, the wind too strong or the tides not quite right.
One day, we came across a little known and recently developed crag in the Cardigan Bay; Ynys Lochtyn. It looked like a sea cliff heaven – lots of routes of all grades on a tiny green island only accessible at low tide. It had been recently developed as a climbing venue, with most of the routes being put up since 2012. A couple of weeks after finding out about it, we set off for the Cardigan Coast on a Friday night.
We camped near St Dogmaels, arriving around 11pm, and got our gear ready for the next day. When our 6.30am alarm went off, we jumped out of our sleeping bags and quickly got ready. By 7 we were driving up to Llangrannog.
We parked by the beach and headed straight for the footpath to the headland. The landscape was stunning – a blue sea and sky, sandy beaches and lush green vegetation. The sweet smell of the blossoming gorse added to the ambience.
Once we got to the tip of the peninsula, we abseiled down a cliff and crossed the slippery terrain between the headland and the island. We scrambled up the rocks to reach the top of the cliffs and headed to the most westerly point of the island, then stopped to admire the little isle – it was our kingdom for a day.
By 8.30am we were climbing our first route – Crab (S*). We also did Call Of The Concrete Puffins (HS 4b*), Seal (VS 4c*), Heavy the Beat of Weary Waves (S 4a*), Dolphin (VD*) and Menace From The Deep (VS 5a*). They were all exceptional routes, which definitely deserved more than one star.
My favourites were Seal and Menace From The Deep. They had absolutely great rock, lovely holds and interesting moves throughout.
One of the highlights of the day was leading my first ever sea cliff route. I went for the easy but very cool looking Dolphin (VD*). It was great. I didn’t feel nervous, just very psyched and positive. I calmly studied the rock and placed the gear without any worry. It felt amazing all the way up.
As soon as I reached the top, my boyfriend shouted ‘dolphin!’ to me. I was a bit startled. ‘Yes, I just led Dolphin,’ I thought, but as I looked down, I realised he was pointing towards the sea. A dolphin! Two! No, three!
There were dozens of them, swimming and jumping out of the water. It was a big pod heading north. What a sight. We were buzzing with excitement. They disappeared from our view, so we started climbing again. That was just the first of the numerous sightings we would had that day.
Later, I abseiled into a route for the first time, which added to the feeling of adventure. Sitting on a ledge, the only way out being upwards. It was Heavy the Beat of Weary Waves. I pondered whether this should be my first Severe lead but then decided against it because finding the route looked quite difficult. Thank god I didn’t go for it! After an easy start, the crux proved to be quite tricky and I’d have found it quite scary on lead.
Route finding at the top was challenging even for my experienced boyfriend. I enjoyed the climb, but I was very grateful it wasn’t my first Severe lead – it could have put me off leading for a long time.
Later on, in the afternoon, as we both topped out on Menace From The Deep, which was the best 5a I’ve ever climbed, we turned towards the sea and saw more dolphins. We smiled, the novelty a bit worn off from seeing them all day long. Then, as we sat down to clean the anchor, we saw something huge and black emerging from the water. We froze.
Could that be a…? Was that a…? The creature surfaced again. And then again, splashing a lot of water. We could finally see its white spots and lines. It was a killer whale! A massive killer whale! We both screamed with joy and disbelief. We gathered all our gear whilst keeping an eye on the water, and then ran all the way to the most westerly point of the island to get a better view. We stared at the sea, hoping to see the orca come up for air again.
All we could see were the grey fins and smiley muzzles of the dolphins playing with the waves. We sat on a rock and enjoyed the scenery and salty breeze, taking them all in. What a superb way to end the best climbing day of our lives.