Dave Birkett on the second ascent of The Brothers Karamazov (E9 6c, 25m), St. Govan?s Head, Pembroke, Wales. Dave Pickford (in May) and Birkett (on June 5) headpointed the line, which has a peg, insterted less than a third of an inch into the rock, as its last piece of protection before the crux headwall section above this bulge. [Photo] Alastair Lee
Carrying on this golden year of difficult and committing trad ascents in the United Kingdom, Dave Pickford established The Brothers Karamazov (E9 6c–comparable to 5.14R, 25m) last month on the sea cliffs of St. Govan’s Head, Pembroke, Wales. Dave Birkett repeated the climb on June 5, bolstering his recent ticklist that includes the first ascent of Skye Wall (E7/8 6b), reported in the May 10 NewsWire.
St. Govan’s head is a premier crag in South Wales, but tides and wet conditions make the climbing fickle. “On the day Dave came to lead the route the bottom of the cliff was wet and all of the route quite greasy,” filmmaker Alastair Lee said. “There was no air movement and lots of sunshine so the moisture was being drawn from the rock but not drying off–so it was a bit greasy. Dave was going to leave it until the next day but some clouds came over and the conditions became climbable.”
Karamazov begins on an existing E6 corner, then splits right up a bulge to the headwall, where a peg–pre-placed for psychological reassurance more than safety–marginally protects difficult moves on slopey edges above. Pickford rehearsed the line on top rope, pre-placed the peg on his ascent, then removed it so it wouldn’t corrode. Birkett did the same, top-roping the climb two weeks before his ascent; he climbed it cleanly on his third try on toprope. A lack of a peg kept Birkett from attempting the lead immediately after his rehearsal, and he returned on June 5 for the send.
Although Birkett considered the route slightly soft for the grade, Pickford responded: “It remains, however, for other climbers to decide if this is an accurate guide to how difficult the route would be for an onsight ascent. This, after all, is what our excellent UK grading system was designed for in the first place.”
Pickford recently established an E8 at Bosigran, in Cornwall, another of the UK’s finest sea cliffs. Birkett has made eight first ascents of E9 climbs; none have been repeated, including If Six was Nine (E9 6c), established on Iron Crag in 1992.
Birkett on his June 5 lead of The Brothers Karamazov (E9 6c, 25m). Birkett is one of the UK’s strongest climbers, having established eight new E9s in the past fifteen years. None of them have been repeated. [Photo] Alastair Lee