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!

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