|Merry Xmas... I'm studying in an|
empty burger stand... which is
|#VanLife? - I know you're dying of Van Envy.|
I've been living down here in my van since early
|Mid-crux on the stunning Angel of Pain (26/27) at|
Bare Rock. This bit doesn't look like the crux... but
it is. The line goes through all the steepness above.
** - Some or all of this sentence might be bullshit.
I've spent a lot of time at Bare Rock, siege-ing away at my Project "The Obsidian Obsession": 25m of some of the most amazingly intense climbing up an immaculate black streak, situated 150m above the ground. But that's a story for another day (when hopefully I'm closer to ticking this monster), instead, I wanted to share with you some of the more successful outings I've had so far.
Aside from ticking my old nemesis Angel of Pain (30m mixed 26/27) and the technical poetry of Velvet Morning (33m 26) at Bare Rock, I've spent time trying to tick some of the harder "classics" at The Organ Pipes (such as The Colour of Magic (Mixed 26), Blank Generation (Trad 22 - once regarded as a death route, but okay with C3s), the Tower of Power (60m 25 arete) and Mildly Amused (35m Mixed 25 - which I was stoked to Onsight). I've also hit up the more conventional cragging areas (well... as conventional as it's possible to be in Tassie) of The Paradiso and Duck Reach at Cataract Gorge, and climbed almost all of the harder sport Multipitches going up the guts of the 200m black face on Bare Rock (Sapphire Rose (3-pitch 22), God Monster (4-pitch 25), Black Fire (4-pitch 25) and Into the Mystic (5-pitch 25).
But in the more familiar territory of obscure adventures, two really stand out:
The Candlestick is the monolithic pillar that looms over the almost insignificant Totem Pole, dwarfing it in size, but without the reputation (or improbably geometry). Having Onsighted both pitches of The Free Route (2-pitch Mixed 25) last year, spent a full day working The Freed Route/The Ewbank Route (4-pitch Trad 27), and accompanied friends out to the Tote as a photographer of their ascents, I've spent an awful lot of time starting at The Candlestick, and enduring that nagging feeling that it was a disappointingly blank space on my Aussie Adventure Climbing Resume.
|This is the beginning of a new fashion in|
Rock Climbing... Ladies, can you believe
that this guy is single?
On Saturday the 2nd January, Hugh Sutherland, Scotty Wearin and I decided to break in the new year in a particularly memorable way. Commencing the walk in from Fortescue Bay at 0630hrs, we arrived at the Cape Huay lookout at about 0730hrs, and were at the rap-point opposite The Totem Pole and The Candlestick by 0800hrs. As I was going to be doing the swim, I went down first, stripping down to my speedos, my harness, my approach shoes and not much else, much to the chagrin of my comrades.
|I have to swim across that? |
Me: not looking even slightly nervous...
|Arriving on the wet slab below The Candlestick.|
|Hugh arrives at the belay right as a wave |
breaks below him. "Don't get my clothes
|Scotty taking a moment to soak in the atmosphere.|
|The Totem Pole looms over us... Like the Sword|
|The lower Tyrolean Traverse past the Totem|
|At the sea-level belay below Pitch 1.|
|Hugh, high on the brilliant first pitch (grade 18).|
The next pitch (solid gr17) was another great pitch, though with somewhat deteriorating rock. It blasted up a beautiful golden corner system with more conventional vertical crack climbing, before making some funky face-moves out left to gain the belay. All 3 of us powered up the pitch, and then it was my turn to tie into the lead-rope as I started up a hideously loose chockstone-filled offwidth. The pitch is supposed to be grade 15, and it might well be, but after about 6m of climbing (and struggling to avoid killing my friends with all the loose blocks trapped in the offwidth), I decided to traverse out right onto the face to gain a steep hand-and-fist crack, and climbed that to the top of the pillar instead. From the top of the pillar, it was an alpine-style adventure-wander up a thin crack, a corner, some huge blocks, and eventually across a narrow rock-bridge to the belay below the final headwall.
|Scott starts up Pitch 2 (grade 17).|
|Scott seconding Pitch 1, while I dismantle the lower|
Tyrolean. Note the original 70m rap rope still clipped
to my rear belay loop.
|Hugh belays Scott across the final section of Pitch 3 (15)|
while I rig the Upper Tyrolean.
|Our adorning fans.|
|I belay Hugh on his variant Pitch 4 (the original|
route takes the low-angle blocky corner seen at the
top left of the photo).
The last pitch is supposed to be grade 16, but Hugh was less inspired by the blocky corner system you're supposed to follow, and instead decided to start up a steep jam crack (maybe grade 18?) and then traverse left under a rooflet near the end of the pitch to regain the original line to the summit. Though a bit loose (due to a lack of traffic), it was certainly far more interesting than the original doddly line and made an entertaining way to finish the days climbing. Scott and I joined Hugh on the summit of the Candlestick for the obligatory photos, before abseiling back down to the belay below the headwall.
|Scott on the Summit of The Candlestick.|
|Aaaand Hugh on the Summit of the Candlestick.|
|Looking down from the belay above Pitch 4 at Scott and I.|
The tensioned rope to the left is the Tyrolean back
to the mainland.
|Hugh starts up his variant to P4, while I|
belay and Scotty Wearin looks on.
Photo taken by: Colin Loo
Now it was time for the 3 of us to get off this sea stack, and this is where things become a bit more complicated.
Bear with me if this is stuff you already know, but to those of you who've never seen a Tyrolean Traverse performed before, in the instance of The Totem Pole or The Candlestick, it requires that you trail the abseil rope (that you rapped in on) the entire length of the climb (you might have noticed us trailing it in some of the photos above), then slide across it (sort of like a flying-fox) under horizontal tension back to the mainland, and retrieve it in the same manner that you would a retrieval abseil. Suffice to say, it's bloody exciting, but in the case of The Totem Pole it's a mere 10m Tyrolean... on The Candlestick it's quite a bit longer.
Normally, you're supposed to abseil again from the belay below the 4th pitch of The Corner Route, and find the anchors below Pitch 3 on the Normal Route, then do a 30m Tyrolean back to the mainland... but since none of us could work out exactly where the anchors on the Normal Route were (and we didn't really want to go abseiling into the unknown and swinging around to find them), we opted to do the Tyrolean from the belay that we were on, which meant that the Tyrolean would be at a 30 degree decline back to the mainland, and necessarily longer than 30m. We'd found a section of 9mm static rope that had been abandoned between the mainland and our belay upon arriving at The Candlestick (which had likely been left in a non-retrieval setup and abandoned when the climbers realised that they didn't have enough rope to do the Tyrolean and retrieve their rope), so I removed that and with Hugh using one of our spare ropes to lower me under tension, I started to traverse across the void.
|"Wow... That's a steep Tyrolean."|
|It was right at this point where I realised that|
our Tyrolean rope wasn't long enough. The
other rope blowing horizontally in the wind
is the chopped rope that we retrieved.
We'd been hoping that our 70m rope would be long enough (especially with stretch) to bridge the gap, but it turned out that it was still about 10m short. And so, swinging around 10m above the summit of The Totem Pole, I used the section of rope we'd retrieved to join the end of the Tyrolean rope that I was trailing, and use that to make the distance back to the mainland. Once there, with the help of my Grigri and Jumaar to tension the Tyrolean rope, I managed to get it tight enough to completely remove this chopped section of rope (with the help of my cordalette), thus returning the Tyrolean to its original one-rope retrieval setup.
Scotty Wearin came across next, once again under a controlled lower-off by Hugh on a spare rope. Then it was Hugh's turn to show why he's a qualified climbing guide and the rest of us are just punters: once fixed to the Tyrolean rope, he used the last of our spare ropes doubled-over (retrieval-style) to lower himself across the void via an abseil. Obviously the doubled 60m rope wasn't enough to bridge the gap, so halfway across he had to pull and retrieve his abseil rope, and complete the traverse on his own. All in all, it was a pretty funky piece of technical ropecraft in a rather extreme location.
|Hugh shows The Totem Pole who is really king|
of the hill... Here he's about to pull the spare
rope he's abseiling off.
|Hugh begins the 30 degree abseil/Tyrolean back to the|
Once back on the mainland, we made the walk back to Fortescue Bay, and celebrated a great day out with some of my infamous unnecessarily warm beer (I can't be bothered leaving the fridge in my van running all day), and headed to Nubeena for a pub feed and more booze. The whole day had taken us about 11 hours car-to-car in a group of 3, and we certainly weren't hurrying.
So, what about the route, is it worth doing?
Hell yes! Though not particularly hard, it is a true all-encompassing adventure-route that epitomises Tassie climbing. Obviously the level of Ropecraft skill necessary to get through the day without drama (or having an epic) is quite high, as are the number of external factors that can affect success or failure (wind, rain, sea-levels), but the quality of the climbing on every pitch (except perhaps P3) is surprisingly good for an adventure route at the arse end of the world. To me a route like this feels like a final assessment of everything one might learn as an adventurous climber, with multiple ropes to manage, two Tyroleans (one just metres above the sea, and the other ordinarily requiring 2-ropes to facilitate retrieval), gear management /efficiency (especially the change of clothes for after the icy swim), and adventurous trad in an intimidating location. Lots of people attempt The Totem Pole each year (even though a lot of people don't tick it) without incident, but there's a reason why the Candlestick doesn't get the same kind of traffic: because it demands an adventurous spirit. Get on it!
Talk is Cheap
I was on the 3rd day of the siege of my Project, residing at my improvised campsite atop Bare Rock, when Gerry Narcowicz called me up with a proposal to climb Talk is Cheap (10-pitch Mixed 24) on the Mount Brown main face, at the Tasman Peninsula.
Talk is Cheap has an amazing reputation as one of the harder predominantly sport adventure multipitches in Tassie, and it's a route that I've been trying to get on for almost a year. Put up by Garry Phillips and Simon Young, it is relentlessly overhanging, extremely committing (it's not really possible to bail one you commit to the rope-pulls on the abseil in), and with a fairly decent chunk of hard climbing... all of this over the sea.
Abandoning my siege of The Obsidian Obsession, I met up with Gerry at Mount Brown, and on 17 January 2016, we set about proving just how cheap talk really is.
|Aaaannd my rope goes into the ocean... dammit!|
12 Seconds at the start of Talk is Cheap (10-pitch Mixed 24), Mount Brown, Tasmania. from P T on Vimeo.
|Gerry Narcowicz abseiling in through ridiculous steepness.|
I continued up into Pitch 2, which starts with some funky slabbing to the first of a series of roofs. Turning the first roof was both a shock to the system, and downright outrageous, with gymnastic, leg-flicking moves to gain a steep crack out left and a ludicrous high-heel rockover to get established on the face above. Continuing up the enjoyable face I encountered the second roof, which begins with powerful moves up a double-flake system to a pumpy stance, and a difficult decision...
|The belay from the platform at the start of the climb.|
The waves break directly below you, propelling
whitewater past the belay platform.
I hesitated for quite a while, moving back and forth between the two possibilities before finally deciding that I wasn't psyched on taking a potentially huge swinging fall onto the slab below (and believing the right-hand path to be off-route), and attempting the left-hand line above the bolt. I made it to the final deadpoint, reaching the horizontal break... and grabbing a handful of gravel (that had accumulated on the break), before hurtling off into space and smashing into the slab. I took this unpleasant fall 2 more times (both times making the break, but just grabbing debris from the delaminating dolerite) before the horizontal was clean enough to stick the move, and I continued upwards, turning the final rooflet with some funky laybacking and gaining the belay.
|Gerry, just after the main crux on Pitch 2.|
Gerry soon joined me at the belay, struggling a bit because of his severely injured right wrist (he's finally decided to have surgery to get it fixed!), and I set off again on the sharp-end to tackle Pitch 3 (22). This pitch begins with a funky slab traverse and into a steepening face which leaves you in a stance below a square-cut roof. Some engaging and thin moves lead you further right under the roof (with your feet toeing another undercut roof), before you enter the crux: getting all horizontal via a huge undercling, and a bouldery move past the lip to gain the slab. There's an interim belay here if you feel like using it, but I'd been careful with my rope management, and continued upwards, linking Pitch 4 (16) into Pitch 3 and soon arriving at the belay.
|Captain Mullet leads the rather unpleasant |
Pitch 5 (20).
Next up was the grade 23 Pitch 6. For some reason I didn't bring any cams with me on this pitch, so getting to the first bolt was quite the runout through much juggy steepness (there were, however, good cam placements if you remember to bring them). It goes up through more steep terrain on predominantly big slopers, unfortunately all of which are in the process of delaminating. I'm embarassed to say that I slipped off at the 3rd bolt trying to clip it as the sloper I was holding rapidly disintegrated. After some token complaining, I had a thoroughly enjoyable battle to the end of the consistently steep pitch, which features a particularly memorable move past a pocket-slot, which -the way I climbed it- required me to remove my left hand one finger at a time, and transition my right hand into it... one finger at a time. Again, an entertaining pitch with some rubbish rock... though this is to be expected on an adventure climb in a location like this.
|Looking down from atop Pitch 8.|
If you look closely, you can see two
climbers down there on I've Heard it
All Before (23).
Naturally Bridgemaster Zero -aka, the Stem-master, though some know him simply as Gerry- loved this pitch, and with the excited grin of an 8-year old after his first trip to Disneyland, he lead the last two pitches (gr17 and gr8, respectively) to the top-out. It's worth noting that Pitch 9 harbours a malevolent mantle on slopers at the end of the pitch, which felt absolutely desperate to me.
Joining The Narcoblitz on the summit, the entire route had taken us just over 6 hours from rap-in to top-out, though we certainly weren't hurrying. Making the long walk back from Mount Brown to the carpark, and debating the merits of the climb, Gerry and I came to this consensus:
|Belaying from atop Pitch 8, right as the sun hits|
the wall... Spectacular!
- 3-star position - Exposure, location, length, adventurousness.
- 2-star climbing - Moments of brilliance, with sections of hum-drum climbing, and a few genuinely unpleasant sections.
- 0-star rock - The worst I've climbed in Tassie (up until a recent pitch of climbing I did at Pavement Bluff, Ben Lomond), and not far removed from the rock quality I experienced on Church of the Seven Samurai (4-pitch trad 24 in the Blue Mountains - covered in my last blog update). Much of it was delaminating and gravelly, other sections were just plain old blocky choss. (While we were on this route, a Hobart climber broke a jug off a neighbouring route on the main face and decked back to the ledge... good thing Tassie climbers bounce well).
I'd recommend it to anyone, but with the proviso that this true adventure climbing (in the vein of Frenchman's Cap, or the Upper Ben Lomond Plateau, or Federation Peak). Not merely "adventurous" in the sense of location, length and commitment, but with an air of Alpine climbing... that just happens to be over the sea. That is to say, that the position is the real selling point.
Afterword...So, I just got back from several days repeating some rather full-on adventurous hard trad routes at Pavement Bluff, and am currently residing above Bare Rock, waiting for the sun to leave the wall so that I can get back to the siege of my Project.
As I sit here pontificating on climbing (and avoiding doing any study) one thing that is really cool -in an egoistic, materialistic kind of way- is that the release of Simon Carter's new Blue Mountains Climbing - 2015 Edition- features several of my new routes that I'm particularly proud of.
For many people, their Legacy might be seen in their children (as representations of themselves), or in a magnum opus that they might write, or in a business they build from scratch, or in how they contribute to the shaping of their local community.
But for someone like, who -by societies standards- really has no life, and very little chance of leaving behind a conventional Legacy, the piece of me that lives on in the minds of others can be found in my routes. If -for some crazy reason- someone ever wanted to know "Who is Paul Thomson?", all they need to do is chuck a lap on The Obvious Elbow of Aristocrat Arthur Decanter (58m gr26) at Pierces Pass, and they'll "get" me.
Or I'm just a selfish, pretentious showpony... either way...
Until next time, be safe.