Wednesday, 12 July 2017

(T)radical Testpieces in the Blueys

So, I've been back climbing again (post-injury) for a while, and lately I've been feeling somewhat guilty...

Guilty about the amount of time I've spent putting up new bolted routes and climbing sporty sport, at the expense of my favourite disciplines: Trad, Multipitch and general Obscurity.

Neil Monteith's photo of me working my
Wonga Pigeon Project. The hard part is
where all the chalk is on the arete.
Don't get me wrong, I love developing new routes, and I thoroughly enjoy Sport climbing... but I believe that climbing is an all-encompassing activity, best enjoyed in its many varieties (much like a Whitman's Sampler, whereby lately I've been eating only Peppermint chocolate and missing out on all that hideous, hideous Turkish Delight lying in wait just around the corner, haunting my nightmares)...

And thus, having mostly mended from my injuries, and being well into the process of growing some muscles (again), I arbitrarily decided to dedicate the next month (or so) to repeating some of the hard-ish Trad testpieces of the Blue Mountains that have somehow managed to escape me over the last 8 years.

The thing is, so many of these classic Trad routes -especially the somewhat harder ones- get talked about by all of us Blueys trad climbers all the time. We make bold statements like "Hell yeah, I'm up for that! Let's do it mate! Let's sort a date to lock it in!", and then we just never get around to climbing them. I'm certainly not excusing myself, I'm as bad (or possibly worse, since I have no life outside of work and climbing, and thereby have more time to get his stuff done). Lately, I've grown sick of waiting for all of these stars to align (read: trying to get other psyched climbers to fully commit), I've become tired of the procrastinating and speculating from others. One way or another I was going to get these routes done, and if I couldn't sort out steadfast climbing partners, I would call in my trusty belayer-on-call: my dad!

Grasshopper (70m 2-Pitch Trad 25)

Simon Carter's photo of Mike Law on
Grasshopper (70m 25), taken from his
Blue Mountains Climbing - 2015 Ed.
Anyone who has seen Simon Carter's photo of Mike Law on this stunning route knows the appeal of it. Though relegated to a small corner-photo in the 2 most recent editions of the guide, the image presents a stunning 50m pitch of varied splitter crack on a vibrant orange face, which narrows to a hairline seam-crack in the top 20m. Somehow escaping a first ascent until 2008 when it was climbed as an aid route at M5, Mike Law worked it on top rope and freed it placing all gear on lead in 2002, and since then it's had clean repeats from Zac Vertrees, Tom O'Halloran and Tom Samuels (I haven't heard of any others), all of whom are -would you believe- kinda strong-ish (I guess).

I knew the route well, not only from frothing gallons over the photos of it (Simon was kind enough to send me some high resolution versions of his photos for me to obsess over quite a few years ago), but from having looked across at it for literally hours while developing 2 new bolted routes on the blank face to the right (Cicada and Cricket) a bit over 4 years ago. It had escaped my efforts because of its reputation: the crux is often quite wet, it looks hard, and because a good friend of mine had had a bad fall at the crux a few years ago, in which he ripped gear, injured himself and bailed. Needless to say, I was rather intimidated, and so had joined the ranks of the procrastinators: "Hell yeah, I'll have a crack at that... one day... maybe..."

Thom Samuels flashes Grasshopper back
in 2012 (photo: Ben Jenga).
With my new resolution to get these routes done, I raced out to Pierces Pass after a morning dental appointment (hooray for wisdom teeth, right?), and hiked in from the top to inspect the climb. I knew the way in via Rigby Hill well from my previous bolting efforts in the area, and soon enough I had my rope running the length of climb, and it was time to check out my objective.

A quick aside here, if I may:

To be honest, I really struggled with whether or not to try for a true ground-up attempt at the crux pitch. Normally, ground-up is my strongly-held belief when it comes to trad, and I agonised about what to do before heading out there for the inspection. My rationalisation for the top-down inspection was based on knowing that the crack is often wet and vegetated at the crux, being concerned about the fiddly, specific and spaced gear, and apprehensive that if -like my friend- I had a mini epic getting up it (or took a bad fall), I might be demotivated and -also like my friend- never get around to coming back for the tick. At any rate, now that I've confessed to my inferior style of ascent, permit me to continue my story.

Looking down the line of
from just below the top.
On rap I chalked up the key holds, sussed the gear I would use (all of which I was going to place on lead: there would be no pre-placed gear on this one, meaning that the gear would be quite spacious at times), pulled out about a kilogram of vegetation from the crux section, and dried out the now empty crack with a chamois. In the interest of being straight about my approach to how I climbed this, I admit that I also did a giant lap on Top Rope Solo which -over the course of about 1.5 hours- allowed me to figure out my various sequences for this 50m monster, add a bit more chalk, and decide how I was going to place the gear. Most importantly, though I didn't have all the moves "dialed" as such, I knew roughly how I was going to try and approach them, and had enough confidence to wholeheartedly tackle the runout crux section where my buddy had previously called it quits. At that point it got dark, I bailed, and went home.

Would you trust this belayer? Actually,
I'm not even climbing yet and already
he's showing more attention than any
climber at Villawood ever did.
The following Saturday (1st July) I headed back out to Pierces Pass East Side with my trusty belayer in tow. My Old Man had previously belayed me when I'd sent the first of my bolted routes here (Cicada, 65m 2-pitch 24/25), so he knew the score. It's so easy to walk past Grasshopper as you head down the main Pierces Pass walking track, as it's positioned at a strange angle to the track, and the splitter crack isn't immediately obvious without a decent inspection (perhaps that's why it went for so long without being climbed), but every time I head down the track -even if for other objectives- I always pause to stare in admiration and pay my respects. In my not-so-humble opinion, Grasshopper might well be the single best "line" I've ever seen in the Blue Mountains.

From the base of the route there's a short, poxy gr15 dirty, shallow corner to a cosy ledge and the start of the crack proper. With my Old Man properly installed and comfortable there, I racked up and set off...

Looking down the lower (gr21ish)
section of Grasshopper.
The first 25m is about gr21, and makes for a great warmup both physically and stylistically. It follows a fairly continuous crack line that harbours some genuinely tricky moves as you move about in the crack and on the face. There is great -spaced- gear throughout, but the gear is very specific and fiddly, and both of the hard sequences on this section (including the punchy final crux, which is at the top) has you pulling moves above (good) gear. I oozed my way up this section, thoroughly enjoying the journey and placing all gear on lead, to find myself halfway up the climb at a small ledge (with a set of loweroff anchors off to the side). There's a no-hands rest at this stance, so I chilled there, shifted the (surprisingly small) rack of gear on my harness into its correct place for the next section, and composed myself.

3m off the stance is the gear that protects the crux. The gear is only "okay" (being in polished, rounded, somewhat wet and muddy rock), but I plugged in numerous pieces and equalised them together in the belief that "something would hold" and reversed back to stance. In hindsight, looking at Simon's photos of Mike on the crux, I realise that he must've dug out even more vegetation than I did, as it looks like he got different gear in the seam-crack at this section, which may have been superior to what I was using. At any rate, my harness was now super-light: I only had a total of 5 Wires and 1 cam to protect the entire top 22m of the climb, which contains all the hardest climbing.

The start of the crux. Soooo awkward.
All too soon it was go-time, and I was off. The crux starts by moving your feet to the same height as your gear, then an awkward move as you try and layback off the edge of the tips crack. From there you get a slippery, narrow "podded" part of the crack, (where you could pre-place extra gear, but literally cannot place gear on lead), and now you're at the crux of the crux: trusting a "dot" for your left foot and a trifle bigger dot for your right foot, standing tall off slippery hold and pouncing to a good fingerlock and some gear. I'll readily admit that I hesitated a moment before committing to the pounce (a fall from here is still safe, but quite big, and you have a chance of hitting the slab on the lower section in the same way my friend had when he injured himself), but made the move despite my doubts, and stuck it with a cry of relief.

A view of the crux section.

Wacking in a bomber wire, the following moves are super-sustained gr22 slightly steep face climbing, with only a few (read: 3) worthwhile wires in 10m of climbing. The moves are classic Blueys thinness -featuring beautiful rock in a classic position-, but -best of all- you're doing it well above stonker gear, following the hairline seam to the anchors like some sort of yellow-brick road to the Emerald City. Absolutely beautiful.

5m from the top you reach a stance where you can chill (and get your dad take photos), wack in another wire, and commit to the upper crux: a gr23ish boulder-problem with a small wire at your feet protecting the move. It's not too hard, but its the sort of move you really have to "want", as it culminates in a very snatchy pounce from an awkward body position. Hesitating again as I eyed off the victory hold, I coiled, pounced, and it was done!

Chilling on the jugs before the upper

A few fairly juggy moves protected by an RP lead to a stonker #3 cam, a rather thrilling slopey mantle to reach the top anchor, and I'd sent Grasshopper 1st shot on the day as a giant pitch, placing all gear on lead. I'll call it a tick on the "2nd lap" (but with the caveat that my first Rope-solo lap was a loooooooooooong lap).

Looking at the clock it was only 11am, so I lowered off and stripped my gear (which is quite easy to do when you have an 80m rope), shared a victory sandwich with my dad (huzzah!) and decided to try and tackle another trad testpiece (and old nemesis of mine) in the arvo. We blasted back up the short-but-intense Pierces Pass Walking track, and were on the road again by midday.

Victory Sandwich (or Salad, according
to this photo)!
Regarding the route... Well, I think I've probably heaped enough praise on it already, but I will say a few more words about it: It's probably middle-tier 25 if you do it placing all gear on lead, maybe hard 24 on pre-placed gear (and a bit less scary through the crux). The climbing is 3-star mega classic, but the sections of "less than perfect" rock and somewhat wet and muddy patches (especially through the crux) do devalue it a bit -in my opinion-, so I'll settle for 3-star classic (as opposed to Mega classic). It's not dangerous, but the gear is spaced and is very particular, especially if placing it on lead. A ground-up attempt (especially now that I've gardened it) is totally safe, but -unless you're a Zac Vertrees or a Tom O- be prepared to aid past the crux to get the rope above it to work the moves, as it's sequency, bouldery, and committing. It's quintessential trad following a crack, but doesn't really have much crack climbing in it (though some crack skills will help). If anyone wants any beta, or my gear list (or even the full video of my Send for some live-action beta), feel free to hit me up for the info.

Get on it!

Bad Moon Rising (35m Trad 23)

Okay, so maybe it was a bit ambitious, but I was riding on a high from the Grasshopper send, so I gunned it back to Mount Victoria, out to Zig-Zag crag, past the malevolent (and frankly, downright evil) Transcendental Meditation (35m Trad 22) (while, quite deliberately not looking at it for fear of breaking into apoplexy), and all the way to Bad Moon Rising, an intimidating steep crack with a very hard crux.

A photo of me attempting Bad Moon Rising back in January 2014.

It's an intriguing-looking climb, with the hideously disgusting shale-choss start (that makes Dogface look good) soon forgotten about when you cross the threshold into the initial pleasant stemming corner. The corner steepens and gets progressively harder, before launching into a fully-fledged tips-undercling traverse beneath a large roof, culminating in extremely bouldery moves to gain a hold past the lip, turn-the-roof, and get established on the headwall above. It's a particularly outrageous crux, as the end of the roof forms an arete with the opposing walls, producing one of the most exposed positions you can find in climbing.

Giles Bradbury on Bad Moon Rising (35m 23), placing the
crux gear mid-crux, the same way that I do it.
First climbed in 1980 (!!!) by Rod Young and Ant Prehn, it was once regarded as a testpiece trad route (there's an iconic photo of Giles Bradbury on the crux, clipping the fixed wire that existed there once-upon-a-time), but is now largely forgotten about. I'd had a crack at it 3.5 years ago, and Onsighted to the main crux, battled at the crux for about 45min, eventually gotten past it and gone to the top. At the time I'd written it off as "too hard for me".

But that was years ago... I'm stronger and bolder and -frankly- far more awesome than I was back then... This route should be easy now!

Yeah right!

The sweet stemming corner at the start.
Photo from back in 2014.

Still belayed by my father (who wasn't very impressed with the disintegrating shale-ledge stance, and distinct lack of any real belay anchor), I had him keep me off belay until I got a few pieces of dubious gear behind the shale-features, as I grovelled up a landslide of rubbish rock to gain the crack proper. Fortunately, there's a hard-to-spot stonker bit of gear here which stops you going splat (from about 6m up), and also protects the challenging V1 boulder-moves that follow. Once in the crack, it's all sweet... Seriously, if it weren't for the manky start, this would be yet another Trad classic.

Whipping off Bad Moon Rising... An
exciting fall as you swing around the
arete (followed by much cursing!).
At this point the rock is great, the gear is good (lots of small-medium wires) and the climbing is fun. The stemming gets a bit more strenuous as you get higher, the corner gets steeper, and the vegetation gets a bit more... um... pervasive... Yes, up until this point fun times are had by all. Then you reach the point where the corner stops at the roof, and you follow the thin crack outwards under the roof to the lip. This section of the climb is notorious for being quite vegetated, and I was dismayed to see that it was far more overgrown than it has been when I'd tried it previously. Gardening on lead as I tentatively traversed out from the safety of the corner, tic-tacing my feet on small holds, and tenuously using the intermittent underclings I could find amongs the vegetation. I gave up trying to dig out enough space for gear and just gunned it to the end of the roof, where I stitched it up with so much gear I probably could've hung a portaledge from the nest and had a ledge-party with all my mates. After procrastinating ("I'll just shake out on these bad holds for a bit longer"), I eventually committed to the crux, totally punted it, and went for the lob. D'oh!

Pulling back up, I did some more gardening (unearthing a crucial undercling that still had chalk on it!), and then proceeded to bumble around the crux sequence for another 30min or so. I could do the moves, but not at anything near 23 (try 25++), and I was trying to find a way of climbing it at roughly the grade of the route. In the end, I settled for a sequence which I would regard as solid gr24, but was doable -albeit committing- and was going to be the way I tackled the route on the Send.

Mmmm... vegetated... "Damn horticulture
crap... some Global Warming will take care
of you!"
Photo from 2014.
By this time it had gotten dark, so I stripped the route and bailed, but was back again the following Sunday 9th July, this time belayed by a very hungover Rene Provis (who had been at a wedding the day before, and was struggling not to vomit as watched me while I climbed). I knew the gear I needed, I knew the moves, but despite this I was still doubtful that I could Send it due to the hard, scary and gymnastic nature of the crux. I didn't really feel "mentally" warmed-up enough to succeed.

Looking from the corner out towards the
crux (after all my gardening efforts).
The tick in the roof marks the hidden
Nevertheless, I was off-and-running. I sketched my way up the mank start, laughed my way up the stemming corner, appreciated my way through the roof traverse (it was great being able to have actual holds and gear to protect it, now that the vegetation was gone), and suddenly I was back at the crux, stitching up the last bits of small gear and eyeing off the move. The crux itself commences by stepping up onto a really high, small, slippery footer and fingering the undercling crack. You do a quick foot-swap, hump the arete-feature (using the leg wrapped around the opposing side of the arete to keep you stable), take a small undercling-sidepull in the roof, and span past the lip of the roof blindly to gain an "okay" hueco feature. From here you core-up and release the left hand, cutting loose to match the hueco, at which point I flick my right foot up and get a heel-toe cam above my head. Now totally upside down I place a 0.4 cam (where the fixed wire used to be), then switch to desperately trying to rock over my right heel while pressing with the outside edge of my foot on the (mostly) blank wall to gain some upward momentum. Eventually I tag an okay ringlock, rock a bit more, and make a biiiiiiiiig stretch to a mega jug. Another piece of pro, and then it's exposed jugging to the top.

Sending Bad Moon Rising!
And like a dream I was at the top, once again ticking the route placing all gear on lead. As Rene was too unwell to second the route, I had the joy of jumaaring back up the route on second to to get my gear back, but by midday it was all done and dusted, and we were off to climb some easier stuff at Zig Zag (stuff more suited to Rene's present state of sobriety).

I can see why this was once a hardman testpiece, and I can see why it's out of fashion. If it got more laps to keep the roof clean of shrubbery (and maybe a bolt belay to start, since there isn't really any gear of note for the first few meters), I don't see anything to prevent it becoming a classic on every crack-climbers ticklist once again. Sure, it's super-cruxy, but the crux is gnarly, acrobatic, strenuous and ridiculous for a trad route Most importantly: it's immeasurably memorable. I'd definitely recommend the route as a "lower-tier classic" even with the rubbish start. What do you guys think, would a bolt belay below the route be acceptable?

So, two rad trad crack testpieces done and dusted... Why not try one more and go for the hat-trick?

Supercrack (70m 3-pitch Trad 24)

The original Rock edition with Lucas Trihey
climbing Supercrack.
Another of those "every crack climber knows about it, but no one ever climbs it" kind of climbs. Lucas Trihey scored the First ascent with Bruce Cameron back in 1996, and purportedly described the crux pitch 3 as "Australia's answer to Separate Reality" (in Yosemite Valley). I'd heard stories of a 9m perfect-hands roof-crack which needed 8-9 x BD #2's to climb, and I can only imagine that Lucas was frothing when he saw it, as it is quite the find indeed. I also couldn't really find any info on anyone else actually free-climbing it clean in recent years, which -of course- piqued my interest further. Having said that, considering Lee Cossey cleaned up a long-standing trad project nearby (at grade 28, no less) and some of the other strongmen who've passed by it on the way down the gully over the years, it seems likely that it has, in fact, been repeated (probably by some local crusher for whom it's "no big deal").

"It's up there!", Steve points to
Supercrack P3 (20m 24) in the
background, with P2 (20m 17) to his
Well, a punter like me climbing it clean would be a "big deal", in my opinion.

My friend North-Face Steve (Tangent: apparently his real name is Steve Winnacott... I once had an embarrassing experience when I was to meet up with a "Steve Winnacott" in Biship, California, and didn't actually know who "Steve Winnacott" was -as I've always known him as "North-Face Steve" (can you guess which company he works for?)) has been working hard to free a rad trad project of his, but was being stymied by some strenuous hard-trad pitches. He confided that he was looking for some burly crack training, and it just so happened that I had the perfect candidate for him...

Steve Old Skools his way up P2 (20m 17).
Consumer Advice: Bring some BIG cams.
We made our way out to the Gardens of Stone National Park bright and early on Saturday (8th July), and down to the Rain Cave. If you haven't been to Rain Cave, it's an impressive weatherproof feature, quite deep and sheltered from all but the most determined of wind-backed rain. But -more importantly- it has a smattering of well-bolted and interesting sport routes in the gr22-24 range, all of which are well worth your time when the Blueys is properly flooded. Mega or not, Sporty Sport was not our goal for the day, so we exited the cave and continued down the overgrown and loose gully in search of a Separate Reality look-alike. It's not a long hike, but it is a bit of a scrub bash if you remain in the gully proper, so here's a Top Gear Top Tip: If you scramble along the ironstone slabs on the left side of the gully all the way down from the Rain Cave, it's faster and easier to get to Supercrack.

At any rate, eventually we found our way to the start of the route. Pitch 1 (25m 12) is just a dirty grey grade-nothing slab which can -literally- be walked around, which we promptly did. Now on the tier above, we could see that Pitch 2 (20m 17) looked pretty good, but -surprisingly- it could also could be scrambled around, bringing you all the way up to the money pitch. We resolved to tackle Pitch 2 as a warmup because -as opposed to P1- it actually looked funky and consisted of real climbing. We did, however, scramble up to the belay below P3 to deposit our gear before skittering back down to begin the climbing.

Steve was up, and as it turns out P2 is pretty gnarly for a 17. An easy trench leads to some wide stemming with tricky pro (unless you remember to bring a #5, which we'd managed to leave in our packs, now on the belay above us). Committing to the moves above some rather dubious gear, he discovered that the climbing isn't as hard as it looks, but is -in fact- super old school, as the steep bridging becomes chimneying, accompanied by a spot of ye olde Body Squeeze. He polished it off, feeling much warmer now, and got his first real look at "Australia's answer to Separate Reality", where I soon joined him (yes, I climbed P2 this time, I didn't just walk around it again).

Standing on some tic-tac footers through the roof.
In reality, it probably does overhang about 9m, measuring from where it first gets steep to where you've turned the lip and are established in the juggy chimney above, though -to be honest- its not a true uninterrupted roof crack. This is because the roof itself is a huge bell-arch, and consequently there are often little tic-tac footers on one side of the arch or the other. Regardless, it's a soaring and inspiring line, and after getting a good look at it I was inspired and confident: I love thuggy cracks (especially roof-cracks), but they are few and far between in our neck of the woods.

Double-Fist Jams to glory!!!
With the high winds and the low temperatures, it was full arctic as I set about the Onsight attempt, which commenced with some easy low-angle climbing before the crack switched gear from slab to roof almost immediately. Double-placing pro to protect these moves (I wasn't sure I'd be able to stop and place more gear), I launched into the crack, which featured almost perfect jams and enough features for me to heel-hook or press against without having to jam my feet in the crack proper. After the first few moves there was a beautiful sculpted jug outside the crack which was perfect for placing more gear, then it was back into the bowels of the earth for a for more moves before gaining a small tic-tac footrail, from which I could get into an extreme stemming stance and place some more gear. At this point the jams widen to perfect fists, but with "reasonable" footers the jams were still great, despite the angle. After some more stemming and more gear, I transitioned to facing the other direction in the crack (with a stylish cut-loose, of course), and was now facing the final moves to gain the lip.

Me turning the lip... and fucking stoked!
Though I was definitely getting pumped, I was feeling super-solid (let's face it, if you've got the guns and the technique to jam a roof crack, a #2-sized jam is basically the best jug in the world) and was plugging in gear all over the place, expecting it to get hard (in which case I'd be running it out, rather than trying to place gear). But at this stage, it wasn't the pump that was going to kill me, it was the frigid cold, as I couldn't' feel my hands at all and my forearms felt "sluggish".

Steve splitting his groin to achieve the bridge on his flash.
Launching at the final sequence, which -bafflingly- involves climbing down around a blocky feature to gain the lip and a hidden jug, I was fairly confident that it was in the bag. From the stunning position right at the edge of the roof, I plugged in one last cam, grunted through a few more steep jams, and it was over; I'd onsighted supercrack! The easy ironstone chimney was dispatched with no great effort, I built an improvised anchor on a bollard at the top, and lowered back down the route so that Steve could have a crack at it.

Steve on his way to flashing Supercrack.
His effort was awesome, to say the least. Just back from an injury, and without the experience at steep crack climbing, he was full of doubt and kept talking down his chance at success. But by Jove he put his critic (namely: himself) to rest, as he scrapped his way through the roof, somehow contorting himself into utterly ridiculous positions in his desperation, but battling on anyway. Despite being shorter than me, he managed to get the same stemming stance in the roof (I can only assume he literally performed "the splits" to achieve this, since *I* was ripping my crotch seam to achieve it at my height), and then -once again- going all Cirque De Soleil as he pretzeled himself at the lip of the roof. By his own admission he was almost "off" several times, but somehow stayed on and kept battling. He made noise and fought hard, and I totally got into the spirit of things as I cheered and harassed him up the route.

Steve's victory roar: "roar!"
And then, impossibly, he too was in the chimney above the roof, panting like he'd just run a marathon and whooping for joy. Steve had managed to flash the route on my gear. Hell yeah! After topping out, he decided that he was too destroyed to try and back-climb the crack to get the gear back, so -after he returned to terra firma- I went up again for a gear-retrieving "victory lap".

Steve's tape job. Notice how un-mangled his hands are?

Now, regular readers will know my stance against taping for cracks, but in this case I'd made a tiny exception to the rule: I'd used (literally) a single layer of tape (so < 1mm of extra thickness) to my hands, knowing that this sort of sharp rock and this type of climbing would shred my hands if they were totally unprotected, and possibly prevent any chance at a redpoint burn if I blew the onsight. Furthermore, because this sort of crack is one that is definitely easier with a few layers of tape (or hand jammies), I didn't feel like I could consider the challenge of the crack "complete" if I applied any real volume of tape. While this "almost no" tape mentality was okay for the Onsight lap, and I came down with only a few scratches after the tick, the second lap was a total hand shredder, and every jam was torturous as more and more layers of skin were devoured by the rock. As the gear was already in-situ and I'd already ticked the route, I went for the "speed repeat", and hammed it up a bit more with some crack-campusing and unnecessary cut-looses (how often do you get to do that while double-jammed in a roof crack?), but suffered for it as -after downclimbing the route and removing the gear-, I returned to the ground with shredded meat masquerading as hands, for which my planned career as a hand model was forever over. Even at work now, I regularly get comments by colleagues about my beaten up and bloody hands. But regardless, I am satisfied that I tackled the crack (size) as the it was presented, with nothing to make it easier by amending handsize (even if only co-incidentally).

Notice how mangled my untaped
hands are... 5 days after the
With the double-send done and the gear retrieved, we headed right down the gully to the Main Wall, where another classic hard-ish trad testpiece -Sacred Ground (65m Trad 23) resides. It was too late in the day to have a crack at it, but we were both inspired, and made plans to return in the next few weeks to launch up that one as well.

"Sure mate, I'll do it. Let's lock in a date to make it happen", right? Hopefully not. I think we're both pretty psyched to get it done!

And in other news, Steve is back on his mega Wolgan project next weekend, so with any luck he'll have some positive news about crushing the crux pitches on that, aided by his newfound muscles from climbing Supercrack.

So, my review of the climb itself:

Me on the Send of Supercrack, climbing into the sunset...
I can't comment on P1, but it looked rubbish. P2 isn't very hard, but it's a cool (and slightly intimidating) line, and made for a totally worthwhile warmup, which I thoroughly recommend doing. P3 is -obviously- the money, and is completely unique in the Blueys (in my opinion). Though probably soft at 24 (even for the true onsight), it is the sort of pitch that would definitely be even easier with decent taping. Having said that, if you don't mind devaluing the difficulty of the route, I'd recommend taping properly, as my ruined hands are a testament to what happens when you fail to do so. In some ways its the Gas Krankenstation (Nowra Route) of Blueys trad: It's all mega jugs (assuming you can pump and jam #2 in the same way a normal climber can hang off a bucket-jug all day long), it just comes down to having the endurance to slog it out and carry the extra weight of the gear, and having the head to deal with placing and climbing "above" gear. Though harder than Gas Krankenstation (Krankenstation also has mega jug feet the whole way, to say the least), it carries the same novelty and outrageousness that goes with climbing horizontally for such a length at a relatively tame grade. I don't think it compares to Separate Reality, and it's not without it's faults, but damn it's fun, and I recommend it for sure. I'd suggest bringing 6-7 #2's, 1 x #1 and 1 x #3 for the route itself (though you could safely and confidently do it with less, for the onsight I was glad to be able to double-place and commit to each sequence confidently), plus some extra gear for the belay and a top anchor.

I also had the chance to spend yet another day sieging away at my Wonga Pigeon Project (<sighs>). With any luck I'll have some other RadVentures to share in the next few weeks. I've definitely got plans in that vein.

For now though, be safe.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Back in the Brown (trousers)...

Wow!  Apparently it’s been almost 6 months since I posted an update to my blog. 

There are a lot of reasons for my prolonged silence: 3 months of downtime (with no climbing or training due to my elbow injury) and the inherent depression that comes with such a forced restriction; starting work at a new job (and consequently having to come to grips with being back on the “road most travelled”) in an office in Parramatta, commencing a new Uni Course (this time in Business Law); and simply not having many worthwhile stories to share.

Redpoint Day 34: Currently stumped by the infamous
Spreadsheet crux... No progress. Feeling this
project is hopeless. Thinking about giving up.
Lately, I seem to have been embroiled in a 5-days-per-week epic redpoint siege, with no clear end in sight. For a time, I thought that perhaps I was actually just doing “repeat laps for training” (as I have a brief perception of success at the end of each day of effort), but I’ve ultimately come to the sad conclusion that I am in fact redpointing. The sort of redpointing where you fall off the same move again-and-again (for nearly 6 months, in this instance), and go home with no feelings of satisfaction, completion or improvement. And like any good redpointing epic, despite my misgivings I find myself right back at it the following day.

Nearing the end of the 5am approach..
Ready for another day of redpointing.
Compounding the frustration is the tedious approach, which consists of a short drive to the parking area, followed by a long journey (about 45min to 1.5hr, depending on what sector I’m redpointing at) in a biologically hazardous environment (with the sole advantage that I can sleep during this stage of the approach), and concluding with a 15min walk, and an 8-story ascent up a fixed cable. At the end of each redpointing session, I reverse the process to return home, at which point I pour over climbing Biographies, Instagram posts, Guidebooks, and my own nostalgic photos of RADventures™ from times long past. Rinse and repeat, ad infanitum, ad nauseum

I’m not entirely sure how to gauge success on this redpointing process, as the obscure ethics for a valid tick and flick aren’t entirely clear yet, so it seems that I just keep on throwing myself at my goal, while waiting for some external entity to declare final success or failure.

Regardless, in the meantime I need to stick with it (maybe out of a sense of masochism?), and so the siege continues, with no specific end in sight (though if I move to Tasmania permanently within the next few years, the siege will have to end out of necessity).

But aside from that particularly unfulfilling siege, we have:

Tientel (200m 6-Pitch Trad 21 R)

After several months with no climbing (but a tonne of stretching and strengthening exercises, and a veritable plethora of anti-inflammatories), I felt like my busted elbow had recovered enough to return to more interesting climbing-related activities, and –for some ridiculous reason-, I talked the irrepressible Neil Monteith into having a crack at Tientel (200m 6-Pitch Trad 21 R).

Why Tientel? Well, first of all, the old guidebook made it sound spectacular, tackling at “soaring line” with plenty of roofs, and quite sustained in the Trad 20-21 range (not to mention a hefty assortment of stars), but also because a few other trad climbers of my acquaintance had mentioned interest in climbing it, which –naturally- piqued my own curiosity. A bit of fast talking and Neil was hooked, and so it was that (a few months ago) we found ourselves once again descending the main Pierces Pass walking track in pursuit of obscure game.

Day 3 on the Kokoda, and still no sign of the enemy...
But I know that they're out there... I can smell them..."Sport climbers... ugh."
Just past Grasshopper, you break-off from the main track, and follow a footpad downhill and across a stream (essentially reversing the Yileen Canyon exit track), and past the super-popular Bladderhozen (and Neil’s far superior Iron Throne (4-Pitch Sport 24)) before arriving at the end of Yileen Canyon. From here on out, the “track” went full Kokoda, as we descended into the heart of darkness, battling through wall-of-tree, becoming properly ensnared in Aragog’s Webs (read: clinging Lawyer vines), and managing to take the better part of 30min to travel about 100m from the end of Yileen Canyon, to our ultimate destination. Even early in the morning, and still in the shade, the humidity was through the roof, and the forecast for the day could be summed up with a single word: “inferno”... It was going to be a hot one, and Neil had brought a mere trickle of water with him to get him through the climb.

Neil starts up Pitch 1... I said we were briefly inspired, right?
Arriving at the base of the route, we were briefly inspired by what was –clearly- a soaring corner-crack line heading some 200m up the face in front of us, interrupted by several imposing-looking rooflets. The key word to the last sentence was briefly as, alas, by the time we’d scrambled down to where the climb actually started from, we were considerably less inspired.

The start of Pitch 2... Mega!
The first pitch (15m 15) looked utterly hideous, and –as it would turn out- climbed as grotesquely as it appeared. Fortunately for me, it was Neil’s lead and not mine, so with a sarcastic “have fun, Monty!”, he commenced stemming up moss, vegetation and loose rock. After staring death in the face (via 8m of unprotectable loose mank), he achieved a “tolerable” piece of protection in the corner, before traversing along a shale ledge to the belay. Stitching the stance up with a barrage of dubious gear, Neil put me on belay, and -emulating his grovelling effort-, I joined him on the stance, and set about “admiring” the next pitch (50m 20).

Looking back down Pitch 2, moments after Neil was
swallowed up by the Triffids on their quest to take over
Pierces Pass (East Side).
It started with teetering blocks immediately above the belay, progressed to a completely vegetated crack at a moderately challenging angle, and concluded with a “bit of nice rock near the top, up there-” (to quote Neil). Well wouldn’t you know it, this pitch also climbed about as “spectacular” as it looked. I balanced by way up the precarious death-blocks. Whimpered my way (with minimal protection) past the overgrowth –deviating from the main crack line and climbing a more technical crack on the face to the right at one point in order to find gear-, and arrived at the “bit of nice rock”, which –If I’m honest- did look fairly good. It turned out that it was slightly loose and a bit flakey, but encompassed about 15m of worthwhile laybacking up vague steepness with ticky-tac feet to the belay.

My belay while Neil excavates half the cliff
on my head. Fun!
This experience of “lots of crap” end-capped by “a little bit of great climbing” became our mantra for the day, as Neil soon found out on his next lead (50m 20). Almost immediately off the belay he encountered a rooflet, which wasn’t particularly hard, but was committing and poorly protected. After excavating a cubic metre of mud and vegetation onto my head (unlike me, Neil is more than happy to dig-out cracks with his nutkey to find gear… I usually can’t be bothered and just keep climbing), he bouldered out the roof-turn and was abruptly devoured up by an easy-grade offwidth-cum-chimney. Despite blocks buried in the back of the chimney just waiting to brain an inattentive belayer, the steep feature itself was quite reasonable and harboured a few devious moves. The pitch concluded, however, with an exposed steep-layback to exit the chimney, which was engaging, if nothing else. Monty dispatched the pitch with ease (and a minimum amount of whimpering) and I didn’t find it too terrible (for an adventure route).

Neil digging into the bowels of the earth on P2.
He has clearly missed his calling in life: coal mining.

"Hopes were on the rise, but inevitably they were about to be crushed..."


Me seconding Pitch 3... I'll concede
that this part wasn't too bad...
Shame about the other 190m.
At about this point, Neil had finished off his miniscule supply of water and had incorporated complaining about dehydration and delirium into his act, whereas I was selfishly hording mine, whetting my tongue with a single splash of water as a reward for every pitch climbed, saving it all for the final push to the top, when the real weariness and thirst would set in (and, naturally, pretending that I didn't have any left to share with Monty... yeah, I'm that kind of selfish bastard).

Neil, clearly in the delusional death throes of extreme dehydration.

A moment of pleasant steep stemming after having
just turned the shaley death-roof of deathly death.
This photo really doesn't convey how crap the
rock really is.
Next up was a 30m 21, featuring the biggest, proudest roof on the route, split by a wide-crack, and followed by a steep corner crack, all of which looked quite appealing. Setting off, I rapidly discovered that there was no REAL gear for 7m off the belay (due to the shattered rock in the crack), and the roof itself was naught but shale, surrounded by more shale. The only protection I could find was to climb part-way into the shale roof (bridging on shale, and clinging gingerly to more shale), and stuffing the number 5 cam at the back of the wide crack (in… wait for it… SHALE!). Though it was obvious that the moves weren’t going to be very hard, I’ll admit that I was bloody terrified, and up-climbed and down-climbed for about 20min, refusing to commit or to bail. Eventually, I climbed up too far and was accidentally fully committed. Shaking and whimpering (and inventing expletives that –without the context of the moment- make absolutely no sense in hindsight), I turned the roof, feet road-runnering on the disintegrating opposing wall, and lunged for a solid jam in the corner crack. Once there, I could get a stance and some real gear, and the rest of the pitch (though continuing the theme of looseness) wasn’t overly offensive.

The end of Pitch 4... this is actually good
climbing, by comparison to the rest of
the route.
Yet again, we foolishly succumbed to a moment of hope, a brief ray of light cast by the next pitch (40m 21), which seemed a fairly pleasant thinning steep corner crack, tackling another large roof near the top on good-looking rock… Then Neil started climbing it, and we wondered why –after the previous 4 pitches- we hadn’t learned our lesson yet about the nature of this climb.

Don’t get me wrong, the rock looked intriguing, the line was eye-catching, and the moves turned out to be radical, all of the set-pieces were in position for a beautiful end-cap to this obscure multi-pitch debacle… But Tientel really, REALLY wanted to be certain the door wholloped us on our collective arses on the way out, and for Monty it pulled out all the stops.

Pitch 5... Vegetated and crap gear...
but surprisingly funky!
The rock was –as per the norm- quite average, the gear was spaced and marginal (often placed in disintegrating slots), and wet vegetation had overrun anything that could possibly be called a hold. Like a good soldier, Neil went into battle, and whimpered, whinged, gardened, scrapped, and thrutched ever upwards, using some impressive and improbable bridging to get around the overgrown holds (by, essentially, avoiding using any holds at all). He turned the roof of the corner, and was out of sight for a good 30min, with only a barrage of dug-out vegetation and the odd cursive comment as proof of the fact that he was –in fact- still alive on the sharp end of the rope.

Finally, after an actual eternity, he was done and dusted, and it was my turn to follow. And follow I did, doing my best impression of Neil (complete with whimpering, whinging, gardening, scrapping, thrutching and bridging), and soon I too had turned the roof and was confronted with a fused, chossy corner-system, with thin slab moves totally overgrown by lichen and vegetation. After removing the gear immediately after the roof, Neil helpfully warned me “I’m on a really bad belay here… whatever you do, don’t fall”. Thanks Neil.

Trad Checklist Item #34:
awkward dirty roof-turn... check!
Arriving at the belay (which was, I can verify, really bad), the final grade 12 pitch loomed before us. Perhaps, after a bushfire to reduce the rainforest growing out of the mank to nought but ash it was climbable as only moderately terrible grade 12. As it was now, it was transcendentally bad, and earns a coveted podium finish on my list of “worst pitches of climbing I’ve ever done anywhere ever in any style”. With no protection in sight, and very little visible rock (and with even the mere thought of touching these small patches of rock being enough for it to break off), all I was doing was pulling on small, fragile tufts of muddy grass and using my climbing shoes like crampons, as I kicked my front points into the muck and complained my way upwards. This was not the “vaguely tolerable” vegetation that we purveyors of the esoteric are used to, as that stuff generally holds long enough for you to make upward progress. No, this was a particularly sadistic and malevolent form of vegetation, that taunted you by looking “okay”, but in reality it wasn’t really attached to anything at all. Upward progress was hard, solely because it was unfathomable: “how do I go up, when anything I touch disintegrates?”

Tasty, Tasty Canyon water...
After an incalculable amount of time, and having taken my abilities in expletives to previously unfathomable height, I wormed my way over the top, and the climb was -thankfully- in the past tense.

After Monty joined me on the top, we shared the remaining 14 millilitres of water I had remaining, and descended back through the jungle by way of “vegetation surfing” down a near-vertical gully, and a full 60m abseil back to the ground. After another thousand years to bush-bash back to the start of the route and retrieve our gear, we meandered back to the cars, and the day was done.

Alright, a rating of the route...

Ummm… if you read my above Trip Report, do you REALLY need a rating? You’re gonna push me on the point? Really? Seriously? Alright, alright, sheesh…

Mmmm... Popular!
It was adventurous and seldom climbed (both positives), yet almost the entirety of every pitch was overrun with vegetation, choss and dirt. Sections of climbing were okay, but much of the gear was woeful. The approach and exit were only worthwhile if you’re keen on re-enacting the Australian soldiers’ journey along the Kokoda Track. Hence my conclusion:

Even in the “adventurous trad multi” category, I’d give this one a miss. 0.5/3 Obscurist stars (which seeks to also factor in that there is appeal in a lack of appeal amongst certain Obscurist types).

After this experience, maybe I’ll stick to sport climbing from now on…

Seriously thought, I often get asked why -since I basically spend my whole time complaining about these obscure routes, and telling everyone not to do them- I keep on seeking out and climbing them anyway... The answer is that there's an appeal in the unappealing, and in repeating the seldom repeated, and in debunking the (sometimes hilarious) stars and reputations that come to be ascribed to routes rarely climbed. There's also a special kind of lunacy that comes with both fear, and a particular sort of masochistic shared suffering. I enjoy a lot of these routes, not for the routes themselves, but for the experiences (often enjoyed through the anecdotes they form, or with the beauty of hindsight) that they produce through their hideousness.