Monday, 30 March 2015

Grouse Grossness

Alright, so I plagiarised Neil Monteith's Facebook post for the title of this entry, but I'm simply not sure that it can be improved upon.
The 3 major lines of Mt Banks main face.

On Sunday 29th March, Neil and I decided to head out to Mount Banks (a seldom climbed at area, in the modern climbing era) to repeat one of Mike Law's obscure "classics" Grossness (24) on the main face. As far is it goes, Grossness consists of 6 pitches amounting to approx 210m, and in the usual vein of Neil and my adventures, we're not too sure it's had more than 1 repeat since it was established back in the year 2000 (or so). Mt Banks is particularly notable for being the longest uninterrupted face of rock in the Blue Mountains (in other words, there are no major ledges, buttresses of vegetated outcroppings to interrupt the ridiculous exposure), yet it still is scarcely developed or climbed on.

My pushbike being dead as a doornail, I got to have the pleasure of the 1 hour hike into the climbing area (Neil gleefully rolled along on his pushie -it only takes about 15min if you ride in), where we then abseiled down each of the 6 pitches to the ground.

In his ad hoc guide (found here: ), Mike wrote in reference to the rap in: "some of the glue was dodgy so use all of the anchors", which -when Neil managed to dig out chunks of glue from around the bolts with his fingernails- really doesn't didn't do much to fill me with confidence. The entire route -barring the anchors- is on bash-in mild-steel carrots, and quite runout. The crux 24 pitch is 45m long, had a total of 11 carrots on it, and featured a 6m runout from the belay to the first bolt. This is high adventure territory... for a "sport" climb.

The first 2 pitches were runout though thoroughly enjoyable slab climbing on surprisingly good rock (though a bit dirty from lack of traffic), and both went at Grade 20. The 3rd pitch -which was mine to lead- was the crux pitch at Grade 24. It was actually really good climbing, quite sustained at about grade 22 with perhaps 1 or two grade 23 moves amongst it's continuous and exposed thinness. I managed to onsight it and Neil followed me up it clean, the challenge being to find these miniscule and unchalked/unworn holds amongst all the blankness.

Now that's a bombproof anchor setup, right?

Neil then lead the Grade 23 pitch, which featured 6m of hyper-thin grade 22 edging off the belay before you even got to the first bolt. Though sometimes he can be a bit soft (he lives in The Shire, that weakens a man's resolve), the shaking and whimpering that accompanied his high ball bouldering off the ledge was understandable: I thought the moves were insecure on second!

Me seconding Pitch 4 (23)
Neil led the pitch in fine style, with the first 1/3rd being sustained, thin and technical, with a particularly memorable airy traverse right underneath a rooflet. At which point the climbing got quite a fair bit easier (20 - 21?), and the bolts became ridiculously runout. The guide mentions an "optional cam out right if you're scared". Seriously, the cam isn't optional. Even from 15m up the pitch if you break a hold or slip off the moves you're going to take a proper whipper. All the clean air in the world isn't going to stop you from mangling yourself if you fall 25m+.

Pitch 5 (22) had a hardish start off the belay, but was generally rather straightforward slightly steep jug hauling with big moves inbetween good holds (and big gaps inbetween very rusty bash-in carrot bolts). The pitch deteriorated to Ironstone "dinnerplate" jug-hauling to the end of the pitch, which I then decided to link into the top "exit" pitch when I saw how rubbish it was. The final pitch (15) was the only downside to the route: vertical gardening up vegetation, loose rocks, scree and minimal protection. An unfortunate and unavoidable aspect to Blueys adventure multipitching, but one which is always very depressing to come back to after some of the stunning multipitch climbs in Europe and Tasmania (though bearing some similarities to some of the climbs at Mount Buffalo). 

The theme of the day seemed to be great rock (for the Blue Mountains) with next to no choss, holds that stayed attached to the wall (who would've thought???), and very little "ironstone edge pulling" which I find tedious and uninteresting. The exposure -as the photos surely attest- was monolithic, and in reality, for quality of climbing this was one of the best "harder" multis that I've ever done in the Blue Mountains.

Which leaves us with a conundrum: Fix up the rubbish anchors, replace the mild-steel bash-in carrot bolts with stainless steel rings, add 1 bolt to the runout between each of the belays and the 1st bolt on each pitch, and -on 2 pitches only- add 1 bolt to eliminate the need to bring cams along at all... and it would be a proper classic. With some promotion, even leaving the majority of the route "safely runout" this would be a great mid-tier multipitch for those who have already done Hotel California (10-pitch 23), Weaselburger (6 pitch 23/24), Burgermeister (3 pitch 23), Rutger Hauer (4-pitch 23), Slipstream (6-pitch 23) and the other existing classics in that vein.

But if you take the above proposed steps to give this potential classic the treatment it deserves, do you rob it of that very aspect that makes it adventurous enough to appeal to the likes of Neil and myself? As it is now, it will never be popular (and that's probably a good thing at the moment), but for those of us who partake in its adventurous insanity, there's the reward of some spicy runouts and dodgy anchors to make it particularly memorable. Perhaps it deserves to be more popular due to its quality, but is that ultimately doing a disservice to Blueys climbing at a time where routes like Hotel California have been completely retrobolted on rings (replacing the original carrot bolts) to make it more mainstream, and in doing so making it less adventurous.

In truth, I'm undecided. What do you think?

Another shot of me seconding Pitch 4 (23). Check out that exposure from halfway up the cliff!

The Conflagration

Some New Routers like to be the first to find an inspiring piece of rock and put up new climbs on it. They like the exploring to find such places, the challenges of putting together viable access routes, and the effort (and prospects for new climbing) of developing a new crag.

I, on the other hand, like to repeat existing climbs on inspiring (and preferably almost untouched) cliffs, and then try and find a way to contribute my own vision to these places. I guess I'm better at riding someone elses coat-tails than crawling through Wall of Tree to find these amazing places.

The Top Crux of Cicada (24/25) at Pierces Pass.
 Grasshopper at Pierces Pass is a great line, and is almost untouched from a climbing perspective, so I added Cicada (24/25), Cricket (23/24) and Green Grocer (Project) to it. Bentrovato wall at Sublime Point is my favourite single wall of sport climbing in the Blue Mountains, so I contributed The Road Not Taken (26) and Diamond Falls at Katoomba is always a thing of beauty, and I was lucky to be able to do the First Ascent of The Family Jewels (26).

 What can I say, I like to build my houses on prime real estate before The Mob gets there.

A sit-down rest before going into the crux.
 After climbing The Wake of the Flood (23) at Medlow Bath Lower (one of the true Blue Mountains crack classics) and having had a shot at Mixed Business (25 - har har) on the same wall, I'd spotted an adventurous looking grand line that stretched up between the two on beautiful looking rock. Before I left for my trip, and on my first day of unemployment, I rapped the line, top rope solo'd it to make sure it would go, then bolted it. I named it The Conflagration Project for my feelings on that particular day (the world as I knew it for the previous 10 years had come to an end, and I was a pretty turbulent bag of emotions).

Now that I'm back it was time to go for the Send.

The climb is a true adventurous line of mixed climbing. 50m long, 9 bolts and (at least) 6 bits of trad gear. An easy slab, hand crack, steep angular dihedral, bouldery fingerlocking, steep jugging, cruxy super-thin face section, awkward mantles and a small rooflet to negotiate on finger-jugs. All of which is broken up by 4 no-hands rests. It's no sustained sport clip-up with continuous climbing in a specific style and 100 bolts to make it safe. This thing is old school.

Victory! Celebrating at the anchors after the First Ascent.

On Tuesday last week (24th March) I managed to convince my Old Man to come out and give me a belay as I went for the First Ascent. After getting shut down on the techy crux at about 2/3rds height, I managed to put together a viable (though tenuous) sequence, and scored the First Ascent on my 2nd shot. At first I'd thought it was solid 25 solely for the rather cruxy thin section, but it went so easily on my 2nd shot that I ended up giving it 24. It hasn't yet had a repeat, though I'd be keen to see if a climber shorter than me could do the crux at grade 24.

Thus we have The Conflagration (24) at Medlow Bath Lower. The real question is, why aren't all you guys out there repeating it?

A Tough Time to Start a Blog...

It's very hard to start a blog on returning home from such an epic trip, mostly because each of the points below probably warrants a blog entry of its own (and associated boasting and rambling). But it was during this most recent journey -instigated by being made redundant after working for Telstra for roughly 10 years- that I received enough encouragement from climbers I came across to justify creating this, and in believing that at least a few people might be interested.

The Summit with Youngie!
So, to recap the highlights of my travels since November 2014:

  • I traveled to Tanzania and met up with my friend Ben Young, and there we climbed Kilimanjaro via the Umbwe route (arguably one of the toughest routes up the mountain).

Exposed multipitching at Vilanova de Meia.


  • I then spent 5 weeks climbing in Spain with Neil Monteith, tackling the enduro limestone tufa routes of Oliana, Terradets and Chulilla; the conglomerate pocket boulders of Margalef and the marathon pockets of Montsant (with some limestone crimping in Siurana); and the mixed bag of sketchy sea-cliff climbs, monolithic mixed multipitches, conventional (though old-school) sport climbs and short and punchy cragging crags that was the Cosa Blanca region.
Sketchy steep trad above Finestrat.

Neil and I are both renowned for our ability to never stop talking, and somehow we made it through the entire trip without murdering one another. What was perhaps most unnerving was the number of my friends back home who have since remarked their surprise about the fact that we didn't kill each other (what gives, friends? I can only assume that they wanted one or both of us dead, and saw this trip as an easy means of accomplishing it). Seriously though, it was awesome climbing with Neil, because we're both obsessed to the point of climbing for 10+ consecutive days, and willing to tackle anything from bouldery sport routes, to E-graded sea-cliff traverses on the worst fixed gear I've ever seen. It was the epitome of an awesome trip.

    7c bouldery pockets at Pinos.
  • Next, on returning to Australia, fellow Blue Mountaineers Gene Gill, Andy Richardson, Ben Lane (Jenga) and myself headed down to Tasmania for more climbing. The entire trip was a highlight in itself with such a rad crowd in so stunning (and intimidating) a location and I ended up spending almost 2 months in Tassie (with a brief detour to Mt Buffalo, the Grampians and Mount Arapiles in the middle). But amongst this mega-trip, there were a few particularly special moments:

    • Onsighting both pitches of The Free Route (25) on the Totem Pole via the Deep Play (24) first Pitch:

Deep Play (24) - The alternative P1 to the Totem Pole
Onsighting the megaclassic P2 (24/25) of the Free Route on the Totem Pole.

      Gene Gill in front of the Pillars of Hercules.

    • Flashing Pole Dancer (22) and the climbing Finger of Blame (23) on the Pillars of Hercules at Cape Raoul - Pillar climbing at the arse end of the world! It took the better part of 15 hours to do both of these climbs, and included 10 pitches of "access climbing" and 7 pitches of abseiling.

      The initial (easier) section of Dopamine.

    • Climbing pretty much anything at Bare Rock, though in particular Angel of Pain (26/27), Dopamine (25), and Ride the Lightning (25/26) were standouts. However, of particular note is a new route that I bolted at the top of Bare Rock, tentatively called "Obsidian Obsession" as it climbs a stunning pitch-black streak of dolerite with perfect moves in a super-exposed location. It will be in the vicinity of 27/28 when I get back to Tassie to send it... apparently 5 days of effort wasn't enough.

Yet another lap on Angel of Pain. It goes right up the steepness.

A video-grab of me rope-soloing the 1st crux of my Obsidian Obsession Project at Bare Rock.
Seize the Day (26) at Duck Reach.

    • Ticking Seize the Day (26) at Duck Reach in Launceston. This climb follows a stunning technical seam-crack up a beautiful face, with a malevolently thin finale that spat me off several times when victory was in sight.

      In the Photo to the right, the gentleman there is Andrew Martin, owner of the Bare Rock property and -more interestingly- the writer of the "Cheap and Nasty Guide to Frog Buttress". Legend.


  • As I mentioned before. After my first month in Tasmania I deviated back to the main land for some climbing at Mt Buffalo and the Grampians before returning to Tasmania for another 3-or-so weeks.

    Mt Buffalo was amazing and intimidating. After 10 climbing days (and 1 rest day) with Tim Shaw and Goshen Watts, my mind was frazzled from rap-in, climb-out commitment, huge exposure, granite friction slabbing, dubious gear and monster runouts. I needed to head to the Grampians for some more conventional sport climbing.

Climbing Arch Rivals (24) on the North Wall of the Gorge at Mt Buffalo.

Amanda and Me.

At The Grampians I met up with my old friend Amanda Morrissey and her posse of Brisbane Climbers who were on a climbing trip there, and did a bit of climbing, some bouldering, and a lot of being an idiot. Of particular note was my shot on the stunning (and flawed) Dance of Life (24 M1) on Taipan Wall. A stunning climb marred by a very tricky and frustrating aid move near the start, and a hideously thin boulder-problem as the last few moves to the topout.

Heading up into the unknown on the mostly-trad Dance of Life (24M1).
And so, having been gone for 4.5 months, I finally headed back home with a brief detour to The Rock (outside Wagga Wagga in NSW) and Bungonia for some Canyoning (and scoping a prospective new line/crag I've been coveting for a while). And thus, here I am now, back at my home in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia... ready for more adventures into the obscure (and downright stupid).

It's easy to hide in a place like Tasmania: it's just remote and obscure enough to be almost surreal, yet it's familiar enough to be comforting and free of "culture shock". And by hiding I mean that it's easy to forget that the real world exists, and that life isn't just a climbers playground. One needs money to facilitate more climbing, and at the moment -in joblessness- money is a resource I have, but is slowly draining away. I've chosen to take at least a year off to pursue my more outlandish climbing objectives, but at the back of my mind this newfound freedom has a definitive limitation: money.

Carpe Diem.

A quick shout-out to the facilitators of my recent climbing adventures:

For the Overseas part of my trip, thanks to Ben Young, Neil Monteith, Lucky Pascoe, Matt Pascoe, and Ro Latimer.For the Tasmania/Victoria segment of my sojourn, thanks to  Gerry Narkowicz, Andrew Martin, Garry Phillips, Ingvar Lidmin, Helen Gibson, Gene Gill, Ben Lane, Andy Richardson, Jason McCarthy, Jenna Brady, Tim Shaw, Amanda Morrissey, Kat Tree-Gypsy, Vladi Eileen Rosolova, Goshen Watts, Michael Hall, Matthew Owens, Johan Gustafson, Heinz Kreinz, Hoa, and Brendan Heywood.