Trip Report – Mount Buffalo Epic

26 01 2010

Prologue

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.

“SQUEEZE THROUGH, I WENT UP! I THINK HAYLEY WENT DOWN!”

“WHAT THE FUCK?! THIS IS SHIT!”

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.

Stuck. STUCK! I’M FUCKING STUCK!

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

Advertisements




Trip Report – Emu Wall, The Grampians

7 09 2009

A day trip to The Grampians is not for the faint hearted. To get to any decent climb, or even a decent hike, the drive from Melbourne is over 4 hours. Up the Western Highway, through Ballarat to Ararat, then west or south-west to the rocks and national park areas. The Grampians (or Gariwerd in the indigenous language of the area) is an amazing area of compact and polished sandstone cliffs and crevasses, which according to thecrag.com has over over 5,000 individual climbs on it (I’m sure there are probably many, many more than this).

We left Melbourne at 5:30 am, before the birds had made coffee, and hoping to streamline the journey, Hayley and I met Luke and Richard at an all-night pub’s carpark which was on their way and we set off. We made several short stops on the way. The forecast for the day came in 3 parts: “Showers, clearing, top of 16C.”  The very first part of that forecast turned out to be the theme for the day. We drove through low clouds and showers for most of the trip up. At this point I thought I was going to be writing a “failed trip report” rather than a “trip report”!

After 3 hrs we arrived at the Grampians, stopping in Ararat  for some bakery treats and coffee, and due to my dubious navigation skills, and two very out of scale maps (excuses excuses), we drove for a further hour plus on dirt and barely sealed roads. We were very pleased when we finally found the “small clearing on the roadside 200m south of the creek” as mentioned in the crumpled printout which was to serve as our guide for the day.

The approach

The approach - Emu Wall can be seen in the background in the right image

I think at this stage given the weather, none of us were sure if we’d get any climbing in, but we decided that after such a long drive we’d better go check out the wall anyhow. Off in the distance we could see the huge shield of Emu Wall, above the Muline crag (a beautifully bright red and heavily overhanging sport crag with climbs starting at grade 26!), and this spurred us on to make the long walk in, regardless of conditions. We bush-bashed our way on our “40 minute approach” which took just under an hour, the going getting harder as we went on, the search for the “path” becoming a desperate vigil to find cairns among rubble through dense scrub and very spiky wattles and hakeas. We sang stupid songs to keep us going and Richard provided an inspiring ‘infomercial’ on ‘pose walking’ and discussed the theory of statistical variation, while Luke channelled his “Inner Animal” for the climbing ahead.

View across the Grampians in the rain

View across the Grampians in the

Finally we arrived at the base of Emu Rock. It was vertical! 150m of vertical red and grey sandstone standing out as a proud shield above the scrub and bushland. But it was still raining, and if the rock we were standing on was any indication of the rock above us, wet rock was going to be troublesome. So we had lunch.

Luke looking up at Emu Wall

Luke looking up at Emu Wall

What would you do? We’d just been travelling for 5 hrs to get here, and at this point it was clear there were a couple of things against us:

– It was continuing to rain, then clear, then rain, then clear, then rain then clear, so the friction of the rock was in question,
– Luke felt like crap
– the general consensus was that there was to be no climbing today.

Would this stop us from climbing? Not bloody likely! We were beneath one of the most juggy, vertical, high friction pieces of rock I had seen, and it would be a pity to let the trip be a waste. Richard stepped up in style so we decided to climb. In pairs Rich on lead while I cleaned up and then Luke on lead with Hayley seconding.

The 2 lines we were looking at were Patagonia, a beautiful looking 126m 3 star 16 (5.8), and Sahara, a 90m 3 star 16 (5.8), but we opted given the conditions to do a slightly shorter climb called Whipping Boy, an 80m 2 star 16 which traversed from the higher left wall to the right, then from the first belay it busted up diagonally across the vertical face to an obvious weakness at the lip. Because the climb starts uphill from the rest, the exposure is terriffic after only 10 or so metres of climbing, where the climb pulls around onto the main face of the wall and you find yourself 30+ metres from the deck!

Rich was the first on the wall, while I belayed him upward and onward. Richard made great progress, while my hands went numb in the cold. There were great hands and feet, and according to our fearless leaders there were good gear placement options.

As Rich was about 15m off the belay, we heard him yell “OH FUCK!” Our hearts jumped!

A rock the size of a toaster he had just pulled on had snapped off and was balancing on a shelf in his hand! “Is there anyone below me?” he yelled. “No you’re right!” we answered. “ROCK BELOW!” he hollered as he pulled the rock right off and we watched it fall about 50m to the rock shelves below and shatter. This was a sign to us to be extra careful when choosing holds and stances, if a fused piece of rock of that size could snap off when barely weighted, then we didn’t know what to expect but it made it all the more exciting!

Richard leading Whipping Boy

Richard leading Whipping Boy

Rich continued up the face for about 20 more metres, where he set up the belay. My hands were still frozen and I tried frantically to  warm them up. Donning my shoes and a helmet, I stepped up to the face and began climbing.

The climb started out with an easy traverse, to a point where I had to pull myself onto the wall proper. This was great! The friction was amazing, even smearing felt like standing on a good hold. There were feet aplenty, and big juggy hands, so I was pulling myself up the wall reasonably easily. But each easy move was becoming more difficult.  It was starting to wear on me.

Me on Whipping Boy

Me on Whipping Boy

I thought i was going well until I came across a nut that was quite stuck. While I struggled with my nut tool trying to loosen the stuck gear, I started to feel the old familiar pump in my forearms. I was pumping out for real!

“Bloody hell,” I thought, “this is a problem.”

I kept struggling with the nut until eventually it came free, and I started breathing again. That is until I looked down and realised I was well above the deck, on a slight overhang, and that I still had a good 10 metres to go before the belay. The juggy hands and feet gave way to more marginal feet and a crack  for hands, and I was sure I was going to pump out completely!

The only thing to do was to push on, so jamming my left hand in I started climbing again, the burn getting worse with each move, hand over hand, removing the gear hastily and just trying to keep my composure enough to keep moving.

I arrived at the belay with a pump in my arms that I’d only ever felt in the gym.

“That was cool!” I puffed as I clipped in to the belay, hoping that the next pitch was going to be a little less pumpy.

By the time Rich had lead the second pitch, Luke had started leading below me with Hayley on belay. I could hear them yelling back and forth to one another, but couldn’t hear what they were saying. They were probably singing – there’s always singing on our trips for some reason. The cold wind was drowning out their words, and I could see across the valley that the rain was coming. After about 5 minutes of drizzle, and rain that was going upward on the wind, it stopped again. It kept doing this all afternoon.

Luke leading and Hayley belaying on Whipping Boy

Luke leading and Hayley belaying on Whipping Boy

Soon I was on the wall following Rich, the pump had subsided, and I had either hit my stride and was climbing well, or this pitch was easier. Either way it was about 40m of thoroughly enjoyable climbing, stepping up onto hard seams of quartz, good feet everywhere, solid hands and a just-on-vertical incline.

This was some of the most fun I’d had on the rock ever! This sandstone was sublime! I got into my stride and quickly found myself mantling over the lip, elated I had finished the climb.

After Luke and Hayley finished their climbs, and we were all back on the ground safely, we all agreed that this was one of the best climbs we had ever done. We were only a little annoyed that the weather denied us from climbing more during the day.

With that, we set back on our way for the 1 hr walk back to the car, then the 4 hr drive back to Melbourne, with several more short stops on the way. Next time we come here, we are looking at climbing Patagonia and Sahara.

This was a great introduction to what Gariwerd (The Grampians) have to offer a climber in any style. An epic day for sure, but what a day!

Click here for more photos of the trip.





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”





Why I love climbing pt 1

22 07 2009

…or “How I gave up my slothenly ways and learned to love bruised legs, rough hands and stinky feet.”

I’ve never really been much of a “sporty” kind of person. As a kid I played a few seasons of baseball, in the lower division, always outfield, at the bottom of the batting rank, or simply playing “left-right-out”. Played some footy, again in the lower divisions, couldn’t kick well, mark well, or tackle. Tried volleyball, athletics, soccer, hockey, played a couple of seasons of lacrosse, but I pretty much sucked at everything I tried. I was that kid who had a wardrobe full of the paraphernalia from a dozen sports, bundled away haphazardly, a graveyard of forgotten ambitions and half-assed commitment.

However I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors, bushwalking, camping, fishing (I’m not very good at this either), and have done these things for most of my life. I was on skis at the age of 3, and remember skiing to school on more than one occasion when the snow was too deep to drive through. I’m not sure if any of this counts as being “sporty” though.

Federation Hut Panorama on Mount Feathertop

Federation Hut Panorama on Mount Feathertop - click for full size

So by the time I was in my mid-thirties, I had pretty much resigned myself to a life of not doing much of anything except the occasional camping trip, preferring to spend my time drinking beer with friends than do anything physical.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I was a complete sloth. I have never been afraid of a little hard work, digging, chopping, whatever. I once spent 16 days straight, from 7am to sun-down stripping off the faux-brick cladding from the boards on the outside of my house. That was hard work! I had some furious tendonitis in my fore-arms after this (screaming barfies), and didn’t sleep properly for days!

But this sort of work is just stuff that simply needs to be done. There’s little “I choose” for these types of physical activity, more the fact that tasks need to be completed. So yeah, I guess wasn’t what you’d call athletic.

I’d heard at family gatherings, Hayley’s brother Luke talk of how cool climbing was, but had a bivvy of excuses as to why it wasn’t for me (“Ooh that sounds like hard work, and I think it might rain, I’m afraid of heights, and besides my knee is really sore right now, so thanks, but no thanks”). However, Hayley took up the challenge as I knew she would.

So off to Nunawadding we journeyed, a place with a 21m wall and a lot of overhang, a great place to learn to crank plastic. My knee was the size of a watermelon that day, and I had dislocated it the night previous, so there was no way I was getting on the wall (that and the wind direction just wasn’t right, and the moon was in Sagittarius).

Afterwards, Hayley announced she was going with her brother Luke and our mentor Rich on an outdoor climb in a couple of weeks time! For some reason I was unable to go, (probably sunspots, or bad hair?) but when she returned with all the awesome stories of climbing a multipitch on her first outing, I had made up my mind it was time for me to take the plunge. This was further reinforced after Hayley returned home one day with a spanking new pair of Red Chili shoes and a Mammut harness. Jealousy of her cool gear, and the fact that I really felt like I was missing out on something special, was what finally got me into the gym, bumbling my way up a Grade 9 (read 5.1 in the American scale), sweating profusely, huffing and puffing like a steamtrain, forearms burning, toes aching, and full of adrenaline.

After the first time, I swore I wouldn’t do it again. Climbing is hard! I was sore, beaten, bruised, blistered. I climbed like shit and I knew it. But only the next day, I was hanging out for another climb. I was hooked! In fact, I started researching shoes, and I bought my first climbing video shortly after this (it was “Pilgrimage”, thus began my extensive collection of #climbingporn).

The North Jawbone at Cathederal

The North Jawbone at Cathedral

The guys organised a trip up to Cathederal, The North Jawbone. They decided on “Spiegal’s Overhang” for my first outdoor climb,  a “very easy” and popular 4 pitch Grade 10 (5.2) with a slabby Grade 14 (5.7) finish. A one and a half hour drive led into a 45 minute walk/scramble up to the base of the Jawbone. Looking up at the climb ahead, I asked myself “What have I got myself into? This looks scary! AND HIGH! I’m going to fall! I’m going to die! Oh my god I really am going to die!”

My Ass on the way up Spiegal's Overhang

My Ass on the way up Spiegal's Overhang

It was difficult, and some of the moves were hard to pull, but I was up to the task. When we arrived at the top, I said to Rich “Seriously, thank you for taking me climbing. THAT was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life!”

I didn’t fall, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t die either. My knee didn’t explode. In fact, since climbing at the gym, my knee was stronger than ever. I had tried and conquered! I was the king of the world! And Hayley didn’t feel too shabby either! It was a brilliant day, and I had a real sense of achievement afterwards. The feeling of the rock, being out in the elements, pushing my body beyond what I thought possible, facing fears, learning, thinking, activating true excitement. This was it… at this moment, at the end of several hours of climbing, I was completely addicted. I fell in love that day, and that was just the beginning of my love affair with climbing! I’d like to thank Luke and Rich for getting us involved in the best thing I’ve ever done.

Luke and Hayley on Spiegal's Overhang

Luke and Hayley on Spiegal's Overhang

Stay tuned for “Why I love climbing pt 2” coming soon to a blog near you!