Monday, 31 March 2008

Cosmic County

Cosmic County, 30-03-2008

Having been to the Freezer a few times this year, and periodically gazed across to the majestic walls of the County, it was inevitable that I should make the effort to return to what used to be (about 15 years ago) my favorite crag. Not exactly sure why I have given it a wide berth for such a long time – probably a combination of access (now quite a hike) and my memory of sustained crimping on wafer thin holds which would have surely all been dislodged during the intervening years. In short, I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to climb anything there any more – well, the thin grade 21 walls in particular that I used to like so much.

I needn’t have been nervous – the routes are still there, and all the holds too (mostly). Had an awesome day – can’t believe it took so long. We started on the 80 minute hour (18), which Anita led without much fuss. Much more enjoyable than I remember, although we both avoided the bouldery start – which now looks more like 23 (I think a few more edges have disappeared). Next on the menu was Clip or Die (21), a lovely climb on the awesome main wall with a hard traverse finish that I have always struggled to get through. This time however, I seemed to have the wood on it, and did it the easiest I can remember. It’s amazing to think that all those amazing fine-ironstone crimpers and incuts are still attached to the main wall – just a joy to climb. Hadn’t quite had my fill of these, so launched up Colditz next (21), which I was expecting to be sharper, but wasn’t too bad this time. Must be climbing OK. After lunch, Anita got the sharp end of Exploding Zombies (20), which is actually quite sustained in places, and perhaps should also be graded 21 (in keeping with the theme of the main wall). With one climb left in me I decided to give “Build a better mousetrap” a go (22). I have got this on second (just) previously, so was keen to see if it had become any easier, now that I seem to have a bit of form, and because for some reason it has been downgraded from 23 to 22 (surely that makes it easier!). Not so. Unfortunately had to have a couple of hangs to work out how to negotiate the crux, and I got spat off a little higher where the route turns into a pump on what were now tired and worn tips. Anita threatened to do to me what I used to do to Neil (get a climb clean on second that he had rested on during lead), cleaning through the crux without issue, but came a cropper higher up in the pump section, where a reach problem (reachy for me) turned the route into a substantially harder prospect for a short Mudge. She eventually got it, and we bailed as the sun was just about to dip past the horizon. We left behind a group of 4, one of which was being rescued high up on “I’d rather be sailing” (19) – a victim of poor pro (still), massive fall potential, and shot nerves. So keep that in mind if you find yourself taken with this fine line.

Anita high on "The 80 minute hour" (18)

Ultra-thin excellence - Colditz (21)

High and dry on "I'd rather be sailing" (19)

Monday, 17 March 2008

Dirty Rotten Pig

Dirty Rotten Pig (95 m, 19, 19, 15, 14), 16-03-08

A party the night before was followed by a refreshing dip in the ocean at Bronte, before heading up to Katoomba for an afternoon climb at Boars Head, just west of the Narrowneck peninsular. Dirty Rotten Pig was another multipitch sport route recommended to me by a Katoomba local whilst climbing at Boyce a few months ago. Only the access for this one was a little more interesting than most. Although the cliff is only a few hundred meters from the car, the descent involves 4 abseils (although two of these can be combined). The first abseil drops you into the gulley separating the Boars head massif from the main cliff line. A short sidle on an ever narrowing ledge has you traversing almost 2/3 rds of the way around a buttress – in fact into the chimney formed between this buttress and the next, and out the other side, all with a tremendous drop between your feet down a chimney on par with the Darkside chimney behind Mirrorball pinnacle at Pierces Pass (NB: if desired this traverse can be led on rings which periodically adorn the traverse). Three abseils later (all off obvious chains) we emerged at the bottom of the chimney and skirted another narrow edge to the base of the route (the true bottom being still way down yonder).

The start, as it often is on these multi-pitch sport routes, was a little goey (questionable footholds), but in no time I was scooting up what turned out to be a lovely pitch and probably the best of the climb. 40 m of well protected (all U’s) generally solid rock with varied and interesting climbing. The crux was at about 30 meters where impending steepness is negotiated by pulling on a hollow flake through to good jugs and an easier finish to a triple U belay.

Anita led the next pitch (also 19) which first involved gaining the arête not too far to the left. Once gained it was sobering to realise that the façade of good rock on our wall was hiding a massive orange chalky chossmonster interior on the other side of the wedge, which one gets only a brief glimpse of on the first pitch (the rotten core of the Dirty Rotten Pig). Anita moved back right onto the main face, as dictated by the line of rings, and was about 4 bolts up when off she came! A handhold on an already relatively blank section had given way. Once again, I think Anita ended up leading the most difficult pitch of the climb – involving a relatively blank section with smaller sloppier holds and more coarsely grained rock. I was fortunate to be able to use my go-go-langles reach to negotiate this section, but the brief insecurity I experienced unsettled me as I finished the pitch, nervously selecting which iron-stone edges and plates were worthy of trust (get in while it’s still 19). Regained my mojo on the next pitch (only grade 15), the crux of which was really just choosing which ironstone plates to trust. Didn’t beak any, but it is reassuring to know that the entire route is ring bolted should you break something off and get some air time. Having gained the summit of the main wall, a short meander on more narrow ledges got us back to the base of the first abseil where a short grade 14 pitch (3 U’s, actually pretty full-on and slopey for 14!) got us back to terra firma proper. Car to car ~ 4 hrs 20 min. Overall, a nice adventure up a very impressive headwall which is "cleaning up nicely" (not too much loose stuff).

In the middle of the monster chimney

finally, the base of the climb is attained

Anita near the end of the first pitch

Exposure kicking in

Anita gains the rotten arete a few meters before a wee tumble on friable rock

At the second pitch belay

mid 3rd pitch, looking down the route, which is steep, but on generally huge jugs

topping out

The Boar's head, although we thought it more like a Hippo

The top 2 headwall pitches take a line just to the right of the cheesecask arete

victory beer (and chips) - better consumed here than in the dingy confines of the "Katoomba Family Hotel"

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Bunny Bucket Buttress

Pierces Pass - Bunny Bucket Buttress (270m; 18, 18, 18, 8, 8, 17, 17 17, 14)
(Sunday 2/3/08)

BBB is one of those huge multipitch routes I’d had my eye on for some time, but always balked at, with fears of not being fit enough, or simply being overwhelmed by prolonged exposure (in space, no one can hear you scream). With my climbing fitness better than average, and the days rapidly getting shorter – and with a reasonable forecast – it was now or never. Anita was also willing and keen to swing leads. We departed from the Pieces Pass carpark at 9:10 and headed for the Mirrorball abseil. The walk in was punctuated by the sound of parachutes ripping the air. We counted 7 BASE jumpers who like lemmings threw themselves off Walls Lookdown – kind of made me feel ill. Fortunately didn’t have to witness any casualties. The Mirrorball abseil is precariously situated at the end of an ever diminishing slopey ledge with a few poxy-looking trees as anchors. One such tree serves as the anchor which drops you down 45m to the top of the Mirrorball pinnacle. A second double-rope abseil off rings gets you to the base of the cliff. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the number of large trees which had recently departed the ledge (most likely due to heavy rain) – some of which were considerably bigger than the tree we were to use. Hopefully someone will install a chain anchor soon before this tree does a number on someone. Despite my reservations (we were there) we slipped down the abseils to the base of the cliff and sidled along till we found the start of BBB.

After a bouldery start the first of 3 consecutive grade 18 pitches was under way. I led the first and the third (and all odds for the rest of the climb), whilst Anita led the 2nd and the rest of the evens. The first drops of rain started to fall as Anita started on the second pitch. “Did you feel that” was about as much discussion transpired about the weather – we pushed on hoping that if it were going to get ugly, it did it soon, rather than another 5 pitches up where escape would be a nightmare. Fortunately, it didn’t get any worse although remained overcast for the bulk of the day. After 3 great grade 18 pitches, a shallow slab (grade 8) led to a poxy belay from a tree which has definitely seen better days (surely this one will disappear soon too – along with the entire ledge it is attached to), followed by another pitch which is a bit of a jungle bash but gets you to the base of the big cheesecake section and final awesome headwall, which afforded lunch and Anita’s turn to lead through the roof (grade 17). This she did with aplomb (for me it was the hardest pitch of the climb – complicated by my left hand intermittently cramping). No sooner had she breached the roof (much sandy nonsense) she called down “jug city!” and raced up the rest of the pitch on one of the most amazing head walls I’ve seen. The following pitch was great fun – big jugging on good rock (bunny buckets!) in a very impressive position to a hanging belay. Next time it would be worth running this pitch together with the following (also 17) to eliminate the awkward belay. Finally, a loose and meandering grade 14 pitch lead to the summit. We wisely carried everything with us so didn’t have to return to the Mirrorball rap to retrieve gear. Followed the faint track along the ridge back to Bell’s line, and along this back to the car. Car-to-car 8 hrs 10 min. A thoroughly out-there but enjoyable day.
I suppose it was officieally no longer summer
The Mudge chillin at the top of the second pitch. The exposure is starting to kick in, although at least the rain has stopped.
Early during the 3rd pitch (18)
- which traverses a little before blasting up an arete. Many of the pitches benefitted from double ropes
Anita pushing through the mank to an awesome headwall (Pitch 6)
At the top of the pitch 6 belay
Topping out (?) at the 7th pitch hanging belay
The last serious pitch (#8, at grade 17) and the finish to the fantastic headwall (3 pitches long)
Pitch 8 belay
Finally some sun for the cruise back to the car.