Trip Report – Mount Buffalo Epic

26 01 2010


Climbing is all about adventure, and getting out in the wilderness to experience the world in a very real sense. Somehow the combination of being out in the wilds and challenging oneself can make the whole experience much more meaningful, and definitely more memorable. And sometimes, when the best laid plans go out the window, and you find yourself in situations where you have to draw on inner strengths you never knew you had, the memories can become etched in your brain. I think this will be one of those adventures.

Chapter 1 – The Pintel and Other Stories

Mount Buffalo is just stunning. Up in the high plains of the Victorian Alps, The Buffalo Plateau is a massive expanse of boulders and rock tors which expands over 31,000 hectares. In 2003 and 2006, bushfires ripped through the area leaving much of the park’s oldgrowth Snowgums looking like white bones, skeletons of the past forest. In recent years though, the park’s plants and wildlife have made an immense recovery, and the undergrowth is thick with vegetation, in some places so much so that to traverse this wilderness either takes extreme willpower or a big machete (but i only had some nail clippers)!

View over some of Mount Buffalo's rock gardens - Photo Hayley Franklin

View over some of Mount Buffalo's rock gardens - Photo Hayley Franklin

We arrived at the top of the mountain at 4:30pm with the intention of getting in some climbing before dark. The crew was our usual bunch, Richard (the General…), Luke, Hayley and I. The heat of the day was not so bad on The Plateau, about 10 to 15 degrees cooler than in the valley where we were camping, but a lot of the rock had been in the sun all day, so we wanted to find some faces in the shade. We eventually settled on a climb called The Pintel, a grade 16 (5.8) 3 pitch trad route right up the tallest point on the mountain, a peak called The Horn.

The Horn - Mount Buffalo

The Horn - Mount Buffalo

This was an awesome climb. We rapped off the lookout, much to the bemusement of sightseeing tourists, straight off the edge for 80 or so metres. We decided to climb in pairs, so I teamed up with Luke, and Hayley and Richard were the other team. Luke and I abseilled to the bottom of the first pitch, while Hayley and Rich made their way to the Pintel Left Hand Variant, which was the second pitch of the climb.

Rich was leading off from the first belay point, Hayley on belay, while Luke started at the very bottom, while I belayed. The first pitch of The Pintel is a pretty easy hand-crack which makes its way up towards a roof. Luke made easy work of this, placing a cam or a hex every few metres. It was on a decent gradient, not so steep, so progress was quick. Meanwhile, Rich had set off on the second pitch, The Pintel Left Hand Variant, which from my viewpoint 25 metres below, looked like it was going to be a challenge.

Richard and Hayley at the base of The Pintel Variant

Richard and Hayley at the base of The Pintel Left Hand Variant

I heard a couple of grunts and groans from above, as Rich made his way up the first few placements.  At one point, near the top, he yelled, “I’m gonna make it!” Luke yelled back to Rich encouragingly “Famous last words, Rich!” and chuckled.

Rich was soon at the top, and Hayley seconded, while Luke set up at the first belay point. I missed seeing Hayley’s ascent as I was already climbing. I quickly made my way up the crack of the first pitch, hand and foot jamming, collecting the gear as I went. The only thing that made it a bit sketchy was the fact that there was a fair bit of vegetation in this crack, and my feet would slip occasionally.

Once at the top Luke tied me in, and I was belaying him on the 2nd pitch. It was only now that I could see what was in store for us both. The Pintel LH Variant was a long fingercrack under a metre thick flake, forming a corner into the main face of the climb. It started on a slow but gradual upward curve, the flake getting thinner as it rose, but the crack widening to hand sized. I could see Luke, as he ascended, placing gear into the crack, small cams, medium cams, and medium nuts. There was very little for his left foot to stand on while he did this, so a lot of his balance depended on his left hand jammed deep under the lip of the crack.

Soon he was out of my sight, and i heard similar noises from him that I’d heard Rich making earlier. I was starting to get a little nervous. If both Rich AND Luke had trouble on this, I was screwed!

I heard Luke yell “You’re on belay Marty!”, so I dismantled the belay station, and stood up gingerly to see this climb properly. This looked like it was going to be difficult. The first move off the deck involved some high-stepping, pulling up onto the crack and stemming out my left foot onto a 2mm edge, trying to find some sense of balance. Then upward toward a break right in the flake as it thinned. I slowly edged my feet up, removing gear as I reached it. Thankfully, the crack was wide enough to fit my hand into.

The next thing I knew, the crack tapered out to nothing… Luke had placed 2 very small wires in the end of the crack, then it disappeared completely! Looking up I couldn’t really see any good holds, and hardly any edges for my feet. Looked like this was going to be a slabby finish. I find slabbing to be the most challenging part of climbing, mostly because I spend too much time in the gym, so whenever I’m presented with a slab, I get a little nervous.

I stopped and collected my thoughts, before committing to the moves, and then noticed that the rock just above me was covered in irregular features, mini tufas, sharp edges and the crack even seemed to reappear. Moving slowly I stepped up and took hold of one of the tufas, and a couple of moves later, I was at the top!

“Woo! That was great!” I exclaimed, Luke and I exchanging a high-five as he gathered up the remaining rope. “That was great!”

The sun was beginning to set by this point, and I’d had my fill of climbing for the day, so I made my way up the last easy pitch on top-rope, while Rich and Luke were preparing to tackle Peroxide Blonde (20***, 5.10c) on top-rope also.

Luke was first, and he made his way up the arête with ease, laying back off his left hand and finding feet where he could. He was up in minutes, making it all look too easy.

Luke on Peroxide Blonde top-roped

Luke on Peroxide Blonde top-roped

Rich followed up, luke belaying from the lookout and he was at the top just as the sun was setting. The bogong moths were out in force that evening, and kestrels swooped down from the sky to grab a meal in the sunset. It was a brilliant end to the day.

Hayley in the Sunset

Hayley in the Sunset

Chapter 2 – The Descent

The plan was simple.

Wake up at around 6am, drive to the Hump, abseil off and start climbing. We’d be done by midday hopefully so the sun wouldn’t be too harsh. The Initiation (18, 5.10a) is on the 150m west-facing wall, so the sun would reach that wall in the early afternoon. By all accounts, this climb was meant to be a mega classic, 80+ metres in 4 pitches of varied climbing, including slabbing, hand-jamming, layback flakes, traversing and bridging. Sounds great!

We arrived at the carpark a little after 8. The walk-in was meant to be about 40 mins on well maintained tracks, so we were hoping to be on the wall and climbing by 9ish. And this is where we found our first stumbling point. The secondary track leading off the main track was quite hard to find. The undergrowth here was very thick, the track appearing and disappearing underfoot as we went. Eventually we found what we thought was the top of the climb. Looking out from this vantage point was breathtaking! The valley below dropped away steeply to a field of boulders and skeletal snow-gums spreading away as far as the eye could see.

Luke atop the abseil chains

Luke atop the abseil chains

We had some trouble locating the abseil chains. We looked around for half an hour, finally finding them on the front of a large capstone that overlooked the valley. So, stashing all our packs, except mine, we worked out that the descent would involve a 2-tiered abseil, one by one on doubled-up 60m ropes. Each of us would descend the first part, and all meet up clipped in to the rap-chains halfway down the face.

So with that, Rich (our trusted Captain, General) tied the ‘european death knot’ and went first over the edge, then Hayley, then Luke. I was last to descend. I threaded  the ropes through my belay device, double and triple-checking that I had them also threaded through my locking carabiner, and that it was locked off. Nerve-wracking stuff. one false move, or incorrectly threading my belay device, and I’d go cartwheeling down past the other three without time enough to say goodbye, and be smashed on the rocks 150m below us. (very dramatic!)

Moving over the edge, the going was slow. Twin ropes make for immense drag on the belay device, so it was all I could do to push my way downward. I could see below me the other three, connected to the wall by a mess of slings, ropes and quickdraws, about 20 metres down. It wasn’t until I arrived at this rap point that I realised what we were staking our lives on.

Luke pulling rope through on the hanging rappel

Luke pulling rope through on the hanging rap point

Two 5mm bolts, connected by a stainless steel chain, fixed into the face. Who knows how long they’d been there, how deep they go into the rock, how secure the surrounding rock is, or how much weight they could take? All four of us, clipped into these 2 points of steel, still a good 40+ metres from where we wanted to be, and well over 100 metres from the base of the cliff. Rich said jokingly “oh I don’t like the looks of those bolts! we’re putting a quarter of a tonne on those things!” We all laughed, but secretly we were all filled with trepidation.  Luke said ‘nobody move’ as Hayley took him deadly serious and told everyone not to move…

We hung there like bats, trying not to weight the bolts too much, as Rich and Luke pulled the ropes through from the top, threading it back down for the remainder of the decent.  Rich rapped the rest of the way down, then Hayley then Luke. “First on, first off” was the rule of the day. Eventually after mucking about with the ropes, cleaning up the remaining gear, I made my way to the bottom and, with a sigh of relief, unclipped from the rope, happy to have my feet on the relative safety of the rock ledge on which we were all now perched.

Chapter 3 – The Initiation

I waited well over an hour before I started climbing. The first pitch was a 14m fingercrack with limited feet placements, the crack arching slowly rightwards as the flake it was behind thickened to a 15cm ledge above. The sun was already peeking over the face. I looked at my watch. It was already 11am and none of us had climbed yet. (We were not going to finish this climb in the shade.)

The first pitch of The Initiation was the most difficult. Graded 18, it involved a committing pull-on move, followed by working your way up a thick flake, maybe 10cm…

(interuption…guest blogger Hayley Franklin has taken over the airwaves to tell it like it really happened!)

Luke stepped out onto a boulder (quite exposed) to make the first move onto the slab of The Initiation and steadily worked his way up the grade 18 pitch of the climb, finding placements in the narrow crack until he reached the first belay point.   As intimidating as it was from the ledge, Rich tied me in to warm up in the sun before I set off.

Hayley + Rich in the sun

Hayley + Rich in the sun

After finally convincing myself to commit to the first move onto the wall I worked my way up the crack, not long after my left calf was on fire as I collected Luke’s gear and made my way to the first belay ( a smallish but welcomed ledge on an angle).  Luke tied me in and Richard set off below as Luke and I tried to be efficient with re-racking while balancing on the belay ledge.  After we organised ourselves we realised that the sun might catch up to us and bake us onto the wall like pear slugs in the sun, so Luke set off on the second pitch. As I belayed Luke, Rich made his way up but I was not quite in a position to follow up the second pitch as Rich arrived at the ledge – so he waited patiently (like a gentleman) and precariously (….i imagined the pain in his left calf) until Luke yelled ‘Safe’ and I could make room for Rich.

Hayley on the first pitch of The Initiation

Hayley on the first pitch of The Initiation

The second pitch was just lovely – a great hand crack traverse with friendly feet which was a welcome relief.  Luke and I shared some water and sang a little disco tune while we listened to the sound of howling wild dogs (or maybe dingoes) somewhere in the expansive wilderness below.

Luke and I were not sure where the third pitch went so yelled to Rich and Marty (who had the guide in his backpack),  for some direction – the wind carried away every second word but Luke confidently made his way up the continuation of the handcrack and over a small overhanging flake. As I belayed I loved every second of being out here – so beautiful.  Luke kept moving and I lost sight of him but the rope kept feeding and he finally found the bolts which secured a traverse.   I could hear Luke telling to me that he was at the chimney which ‘had to be’ to next pitch according to our wind swept instructions.

I set off on the third pitch, removing Luke’s gear and heading upwards finally to a rest point to see the bolted traverse – time had passed and we were in full sun although the breeze was lovely and I was still climbing in my jumper (I was hot but I mainly kept my jumper on to protect myself from the granity crystals! – i have delicate skin – haha!).  The traverse was quite exposed (i thought) and after making my way across I could finally see the smiling face of my belaying brother – and a bit of a hairy down climb before reaching a grassy belay ledge.

Luke and I looked at the chimney, about a 3m chimney shimmy to a chockstone – how to protect this? As Luke discussed tactics he tied me in perched on a boulder in the shrinking shade.  Luke placed a couple of pieces within reach so he didn’t go sliding off the mountain and moved up to the chockstone, tried a sling, tried again and then wedged a cam under the chockstone and against one side of the chimney – Luke moved up, tangled himself by turning around and then untangled himself somehow without falling and swore at himself for his ballet moves!!!  and off he disappeared into the crack.  The rope kept feeding as Rich arrived at the belay point – saying how ridiculous the down climb was!  Luke was away, after a short while the rope stopped moving… and I yelled out to him….no response…the rope was moving as I yelled again…Luke replied “I think I’m stuck…” in a giggled voice.

oh…what happens if someone gets stuck?  oh….’

The rope kept moving as Luke made his way further – “this is horrendous” came echoing out of the chimney filling me with no great desire to follow!…and then eventually…”safe!”

Off I set.  Rich coached me up to the first chockstone and into the fissure i went.  Luke shouted that I might want to put all my gear on my sides.  I looked into the crack and edged my way along, drop off below, crack of sky above.  As I moved through, the width reduced in the middle, i kept moving until I REALLY THOUGHT I WAS STUCK!

(We resume our commentary by Martin Pribble here…)

Half way up the third pitch, the climb took a sharp right turn, to a traverse across a smooth slab, protected by 3 bolts. I am not the world’s best slab climber at the best of times, but the struggle I’d had getting up the first pitch had my nerves all shot, and my self-confidence was shaky. “Remember, bum over feet!” Rich yelled across to me.

Looking across to the large belay ledge where Rich was standing, I could just see Hayley’s feet disappear up a dark chimney. I made my way down the quite scary and unprotectable angled terrain, probably a drop of 4 metres, down to the belay point below.

I heard Hayley’s voice coming out of the darkness that lay ahead, “I think I’M STUCK!” I looked across at Rich. He was laughing.

This pitch looked odd. A 1.5 metre wide chimney, which closed up to about 60 centimetres after a metre or so. It was about 15 m high with chockstones hanging here and there through it. The first move was a chimney move up 3 metres to a mantle onto a pointy chockstone. The walls of the crack were covered with thick lichen and moss. Looked tricky, and we were all running out of energy. It was 4:30 by the time Hayley had made it out the other end of the chasm. Hayley had left all the gear placed on this pitch to help speed us through it. I could hear Hayley and Luke giggling like schoolgirls on the other side of the fissure.

Then it was Rich’s turn to lead this pitch. He pressed his back against the left wall while inching his feet up the right. I had him on belay, although he would surely hit the deck if he fell. I  moved myself into the best possible position, right underneath him, so if he DID fall, he’d at least fall on me and not on the pointy rocks below. After numerous unsuccessful attempts at attaining the first chockstone, Rich decided it was time for some aid-climbing. “This is shit!” he said angrily.

He hooked a sling through one of the quickdraws which was jammed under the first chockstone, hooked his foot into it and mantled successfully up. He was exhausted, the single move had sapped all his energy, and he took several minutes to recover.

After resting, he made his way into the crack, moving from one chockstone to the next, clipping the rope and squeezing between the ever-narrowing opening between the rock faces. Soon he was out of my sight. I could hear him grunting and groaning, the occasional expletive making it’s way from the darkness.

Then “LUKE! WHAT AM I MEANT TO DO HERE?!” he yelled up to the other party.



I kept feeding rope from below, but then it stopped. “You right Rich?” I yelled into the crack.

No answer.

Luke yelled to him from above “How you finding it Rich?”

“FUUUUUUUUCK OFFFFFF!!!!!!” Rich was angry! He’d spent at least 40 minutes in the darkness. Peering into the crack, I could just see his feet about 20 metres ahead, and 8 metres off the bottom of the chasm. His feet were touching both walls! With a groan, I saw his feet starting to move up again. Then he was out of sight completely.

The rope started moving again, and I knew he had made it out the other end. Peals of laughter were coming from Hayley and Luke on the other side, but not a peep could be heard from Rich.

I was dreading this. I was last in, so I knew it could be done, but even still this looked horrendous!

Well, no point in hanging around! I had to go through there, there was no other choice. I quickly dismantled the belay, while the rope came tight from the other end. “THAT’S ME!” I yelled through to Rich.

Hayley yelled “There’s no way you can wear your backpack through there”. Luke added “You’ll have to tie it onto the rope about a metre in front of you, and kick it through!” OH GREAT!

I thought I’d try a different approach. Instead of back on one wall, and feet on the other, I bridged across between the wider section, and moved up into the thinner part, my hands just reaching over the pointy chockstone. Heaving, I mantled on, and had to reach back over the stone to collect the cam wedged underneath.

“That wasn’t so hard,” I told myself with false confidence.

The next few moves were OK, just pushing against both walls, and moving form one chockstone to the next. I noticed as I went, there was blood on some of the sharper crystals of granite. Not a good sign.

Then the walls closed in.

It couldn’t have been more than 20cm wide at the narrowest point, opening up above and below, and dropping away beneath about 8 metres or so. It wouldn’t matter if I had slipped, there was no way I’d fall, but I did fear being wedged in there and spending the rest of my days as a human chockstone! I attempted to move forward.


I managed to back out of the gap, unable to look where I was going as I couldn’t turn my head around. Try again (Note to self: A peaked cap under a helmet in a confined space is a no-no).

STUCK! I was panicking! “FUCKING HELL THIS IS SHIT! I HATE THIS!” I yelled.

I could hear the other three laughing on the other side. Hayley yelled to me “JUST PRETEND YOUR A STUCK NUT, AND WORK YOUR WAY OUT!”  They all laughed at this, but I was in no mood for fun. This was like a nightmare, being stuck between a mountain and a giant boulder, with no way out but forward.

At this point I was so over this pitch, that I just committed and PUSHED.

I was through. I was THROUGH!

“FUUUUUUUUCK!” I yelled in relief. “I HATE CLIMBING! THAT WAS SHIT! FUCK THAT!” To which Rich replied “I wouldn’t call that climbing…”

It was 6pm by the time I made it out of that hellhole in the side of the mountain. I was scratched and bruised, as was everyone else, they were in good spirits, but I was broken. I’d only spent 20 minutes on that pitch, but it seemed like an hour.

Chapter 4 – Realisation on The Real Initiation (or Outrageous Incompetence)

It wasn’t until we’d packed up and walked 40 minutes down to the car that we checked the guidebook to see what it said about that last pitch. We all agreed, the 4th pitch was an awful way to end a “classic” climb, who in their right mind would finish a climb like that? Luke and Hayley mused that it might have been an “in-joke” among climbers, a kind of trial-by-fire which you had to pass in order to be “Initiated”.

In the guide it said of the 4th pitch “DO NOT make your way down to the grassy ledge below.” Instead it said to go up onto the LARGE chockstone and climb the beautiful handcrack to the top. (WE’D GONE THE WRONG WAY!)

Expletives were thrown around, mostly aimed at Luke for taking us up what was possibly the worst pitch of climbing ANY of us had encountered. Hayley and Luke both found this hilarious (must be some weird genetic quirk in the Franklin DNA).

We laughed that Luke had made a First Ascent, and therefore could name the climb. “I’ll call it The REAL Initiation!”

Rich answered, “No Luke, I’d call it Outrageous Incompetence!”

Epilogue – What we’ve learned

1. You should always know what you’re climbing yourself by studying the guide before your start.

2. If it looks like you shouldn’t climb it and you don’t want to climb it, then don’t climb it. (someone else must have climbed this route before but perhaps would rather pretend it never happened…)

3. Luke learnt that adventure climbing is fun!

4. Richard learnt that he has a new benchmark for incompetence

5. Marty learnt he was claustrophobic

6. Hayley learnt that small spaces are hilarious once you have made it out, even if you are missing some skin

7. Hayley and Luke calculated that we climbed at 16 metres an hour

8. Luke wondered why people like to climb chimneys for fun and also that he would like 6 mini jam donuts

9. Rich learnt that his sunscreen was not ‘non-ghosting’ however lasts for 10 hours and makes him better looking.

Future report: Richard’s Driving Dossiers : (or why 4wds should not be allowed on the road) and other assorted conversations that take place on long drives


Trip Report – Dog Rocks, Mount Alexander

22 09 2009

… or “I hope I learn from my mistakes” … also “Far from Painless at Dog Rocks”

For me, climbing is about challenges and overcoming them, facing up to fears, and achieving things beyond your expectations. But sometimes we learn lessons we never thought were on the cards, and learn something about ourselves in the process.

While this trip was a bit of both, what I learned from the day’s experiences was key.

Mount Alexander is about an hour and a half from Melbourne along the Calder Highway. Hardly a mountain, it overlooks the Harcourt Valley with its acres of apples and pears. Skirting around the summit it is ringed by a series boulder outcroppings. Dog rocks is one of the largest, and has a very short walk in.

Consisting of rough granite, this was the location of my first ever onsight climb in February this year, so I was already familiar with some of the climbs on offer. But it was Luke who stepped forward and suggested we “warm up” on a climb called “Painless”.  It turned out to be anything but.

Rich Luke and Hayley at the base of Painless

Rich, Luke and Hayley at the base of Painless

The guide called it an 18/20 (5.10a/c), and looking up at it I could see why. It was only 10m high but the face was just under vertical and offered little in the way of hands and feet. This is the sort of climb I might call “near my upper limits”.

Luke was first up with Rich on belay. The climb involved mantling up onto a ramp, then gingerly forking up the wall to a wide bridge to the left, moving steadily up on thin feet and small crystals. The guidebook said to “be careful on the undercling flake”, but it was nowhere to be seen. It would have been very helpful, but it had met its use-by, the scar still evident on the face. I wouldn’t have liked to be the poor sap that pulled that one off, or the belayer below! For the most part the hands were extremely thin, and called for full crimping to stay on, and extreme trust in feet. He managed to send it, but it looked like hard work! Luke came down complaining that his fingers hurt, and that his right arm had pumped out.

Hayley on "Painless"

Hayley on "Painless"

Next on the wall was Richard, while I belayed. “Whose idea was this for the first climb of the day?” he asked, as halfway up he was hugging his finger under his armpits in pain, complaining I’d short-roped him (sorry Rich!) He gained the top, but not before badmouthing Luke for his choice of “Painless” for a first climb, and set up belay. Hayley tied into the middle of the rope and began up. She had been sitting at the base for the better part of an hour, and this “warm-up” was difficult, but she managed to hit the top eventually after trying a few moves a few times… and nearly getting ‘botanical’ in an overhanging tree. Then it was my turn. I tied into the end of the rope and mantled up onto the ramp.

Me on Painless

Me on Painless

Man the rock was COLD! And sharp too! From down below I had no idea that the crystals and crimpy flakes the others had used were this thin! After a botched attempt at the start, I got on the wall proper and cranked. Pushing my fingers HARD in to the features of the rock in full crimp, and scuttling my feet up inch by inch I managed to hit the top too.

Looking at my white bloodless fingers with their ends smashed flat and square, I was glad I hadn’t volunteered to lead this climb, it was a tough one! I hope to come back to this wall and lead it one day. I’m sure it’s not completely out of my reach (maybe).

After this we headed down the hill, and Hayley and I took advantage of the chance to lead some trad. Both of our mentors were here, and there were some reasonably low grade climbs. We split up into pairs, Hayley with Luke and Rich with me. The climb itself wasn’t difficult or hard, but that’s a good thing, I wanted to be able to concentrate on placing gear, not cranking! It was great, both Luke and Rich were gracious trainers, and showed us how to set up a belay at the top also!

The day had warmed up somewhat, so we decided to up the ante a bit, and try something a bit harder.

“Little Bo Peep” is a 10m near vertical slab of rock with a sharp arête on the left hand side, with 2 bolts and a double-bolt belay at the top. It’s graded at 21 (5.11a) and it lives up to it every bit.

Despite being quite a short climb, this arête offered up more than its share of problems in the forms of almost no feet at all, and the fact that you have to layback the whole height.

We ground clipped the first bolt, and I was first on rope. I was feeling a bit shaky, and this was pretty intimidating. I kept thinking, “gotta get feet, gotta get feet” but every time I did find feet, it was like trying to stand vertically on sandpaper.

Me on Little Bo Peep

Me on Little Bo Peep

I managed to clip the second bolt and was moving on through, hand over hand up the arête. I was starting to feel quite good, when…

Me after the lead fall

Me laughing after the lead fall

Before I knew it, I was upsidedown, vertically, my back flat against the rock, feet pointing straight up and my arms flailing beside me. The guys below gasped, “Are you alright?” as the blood rushed to my head. After a couple of seconds we started laughing after we all realised I was OK.

I worked out that, as I was falling, my right heel hooked on the first draw below me and flipped me before I even knew I was off! I hadn’t been wearing a helmet, but thanks to the quick thinking of my belayer Rich, I landed softly and was unhurt except for a minor rope burn to the ankle. I’m trying to patent “The Upside-Down Starfish Move”.

Looking back, I should have pushed away from the wall as soon as I felt I was falling to prevent my ankle catching, only I didn’t realise I was off until too late. And I will wear a helmet next time.

Hayley on Little Bo Peep

Hayley on Little Bo Peep

After I lowered down it was Hayley’s turn. She was looking really good, climbed above the second draw almost to the third and then “POP” she was off! With a somewhat more graceful fall than mine previously, she was back below the second bolt. This was hard work! She tried again and again, and was making progress, then popped off each time. Eventually she was whipped, and so lowered down.

Both Rich and Luke had tried to conquer Little Bo Peep on numerous occasions previously, and were determined to take it down this time. Luke was looking really strong, grasping the arete with both hands and cranking hard, while keeping his feet steady. He managed to clip the third bolt and clip in, looking solid, and continued to move up. The lip was within reach and he lunged upward, gained a hand on a bad sloper, swung up his other hand to a worse sloper, and grunted as he pulled himself upward. He was there at the top! He was going to make this!

Luke on Little Bo Peep

Luke on Little Bo Peep

Then he was off, dropping below the second bolt, his arms both completely pumped.

Rich was just as unsuccessful with his first attempt. I had another crack, but was off the wall from only slightly higher than I had been before. Rich took one final run on Little Bo Peep,  he had that look of determination and we thought he was going to make it clean but was denied glory once he made it past the third bolt.

Richard on Little Bo Peep

Richard on Little Bo Peep

That was it. We had been officially shut down by Little Bo Peep.

For Hayley and I, this was the first time we had been denied by this climb, but for Rich and Luke, this was a old nemesis of theirs, so the defeat was doubly sour. We’d be back. We will conquer!… one day.

Despite the difficulty we experienced in the climbs, and the shut-downs, I walked away form this trip feeling amazingly good. I was happy I had climbed a 20 outdoor, happy the guys had taken the time to instruct us in trad leading, and happy my skull didn’t crack on a razor sharp piece of granite on my lead fall. We also spotted some other sweet climbs to put on our tick-list for the next trip here. This is what climbing is about!

Why I love climbing pt2 – THE FEAR

1 09 2009

… or  “… oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit…”

Fear is defined as “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger and accompanied by increased autonomic activity”. The effects of fear can be physical: causing increased heart rate, profuse sweating, pupil dilation, the raising of hair on arms and neck, lack of motor skills and shaking, shortness of breath or a tightness in the chest, nausea or dizziness; or psychological: causing confusion, paralysis, and in extreme cases hallucinations. Fear is very powerful and most people would say it is an undesirable feeling to have, we spend most of our lives trying to create a world we can live in without fear.

However, people do undertake activities which create and feed on this fear as a form of leisure. This might stem from living in an overregulated, overprotective society, or it might be something more primal than that. I once heard it said that if, every day on your walk to work there was a 50/50 chance you’d be eaten by a lion, then you would be a much happier person every day you weren’t eaten. Makes sense doesn’t it? You’d stop sweating the small stuff and get on with oyur life thankful that you were still here.

Because of a lack of “real” risks in our lives, we actively create dangerous situations and seek situations causing fear. Skydiving, rollercoasters, fast cars, horror films, video games, and literature can all illicit this feeling, some are safe, while others incorporate real physical risk if done wrong or something goes awry. Rock climbing is one of these activities, and has its own inherent and real-life risks.

I often times read comments from rock climbers saying “I wish I didn’t get so scared” or “I hate the fear of climbing.” And fair enough too, climbing can be damn scary, and for perfectly good reasons: the real and present danger of falling to your grizzly demise and being dashed to pieces on the rocks below. Yes I say, that is a very good thing to be scared of.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m no expert in the field of fear, nor of climbing, but the universal truths in climbing seem apparent whenever reading stories of others’ climbs, whether they be big-wall multi-pitch routes in Patagonia, or bouldering in Black Hill. I’ve had moments where I wasn’t 1.5 metres off the deck with a tenuous foothold, and felt more fear than the situation warranted.

The fear in climbing comes in many forms and from many different sources. There’s fear from anticipation of an unknown or intimidating climb (“Ooh that climb looks really scary from the ground!”) , fear from uncertainty as to what to do next (“Oh shit, what do I do now?”), fear of the unknown (“What if I get to that really good jug up there and it’s rubbish?”), and life-preserving fear in a difficult situation (“… feet slipping… feet slipping… FEET SLIPPING!”) to name just a few. Some fears are rational, some irrational, but your mind doesn’t know the difference between the two. To your mind, fear all stems from stimulus from a real situation of peril, so to your brain and psyche all fear is REAL.

There’s no point in me writing an article about how to cope with fear while climbing, just do a Google search and you’ll find more techniques for this than you’ll need. We all have techniques to deal with fear, deep breathing, singing, counting, checking and double checking, but in the end it’s what works for you that matters to you. For me, far from being something to avoid, fear is an active and necessary part of climbing, a part I have come to love on some level, but still loathe as I go through the motions, the sickening feeling of dread, the paralysing, gripping, gut-wrenching sensations. So I’m going to put this forward:

If it wasn’t for the fear, rock climbing wouldn’t have nearly as much appeal.

What do you think? Can you imagine climbing without it? Would you still climb?

I have read that a climber becomes more aware of the possible dangers and more familiar with the feelings associated with the trepidation of a climbing situation, a they can learn to overcome these fears, and give them less sway on the situation. As an absolute beginner climber I remember being petrified  of simply lifting myself more than a couple of metres from the ground on something that was well within my limits and in the relative safety of a climbing gym, and it took some time to simply become used to the sensation of being off the ground and in an unfamiliar situation. I had a similar feeling of fear the first time I flew in an aeroplane, or the first time I rode a bike unaided. But all these fears abated once the sensations of climbing became more and more familiar.

I could go on and on about how fear is part of our daily lives, via the influences of religion, media, work, deadlines, family, the law, terrorists, bees, spiders, zombies, whatever the fears may be. But what I love about the fear associated with climbing is it IS real, as real as a fear can be. We purposely place ourselves in precarious, even potentially life threatening situations as climbers. And why? Well I can’t speak for everybody, but for me, it’s the conquering of fear that gets me coming back for more. Sometimes I smash through the fear, other times I am whipped and walk away with my tail between my legs, but that self-same fear is the one I might smash to pieces the next time I climb. Some days after a climb, I feel shaken enough that I swear I will never do it again, but find myself wishing for more only a matter of days later. Do I have an addictive personality? Definitely. Am I crazy? Probably! But since we all have within us a need to seek fear at times, are we all just a little crazy?

The quote from Franklin D Roosevelt in 1933 “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” holds true in most situations. But in climbing we actively seek that fear, take it on on its own terms, and hopefully, are triumphant over it. And triumph over fear is triumph over the self, and in some way this is what we all strive for, betterment of self.

It is this voluntary immersion into fear, and the possible outcome of conquering and being triumphant over fear, that makes fear one of my favourite things about climbing.

see also “Why I love climbing pt1”