Thursday, 9 April 2015

Mythical Birds

Alright, so as my buddy Zack pointed out on last week, The Phoenix, Archeopteryx, Quetzalcoatl and Жар-пти́ца (Zhar-ptitsa - The Firebird, in Russian folklore) aren't all actually mythical birds... But I like the title for this blog, so you guys will just have to forgive me this little bit of creative license.

So, after I tore my hamstring in 3 places (while Rock Climbing, naturally) back in 2012, I was unable to climb for months on end, and spent my recovery time pulling vegetation out of the Blue Mountains Classic Crack "The Phoenix (20)", and slashing a new access track from above (the original track was a 1-hour leach-infested slog to rival the Kokoda Trail). Here are some archived photos of my Before and After efforts for posterity:

Extreme Gardening!
Now a megaclassic!

Since I was also learning to bolt at this time, I also bolted 5 pitches worth of climbing in the vicinity. 3 of them I freed back in 2013 (Archeopteryx (2-pitch 21), and Quetzal (very bold 50m 21). But the Direct finish to Quetzal (tentatively called Quetzalcoatl) felt so desperate at the time that I was convinced that it was a solid gr24 powerslab and doubted of my ability to send it. I also never managed to convince a belayer to come back to belay me on the other 2-pitch line on the headwall above The Phoenix that I bolted: Жар-пти́ца (The Firebird).

Looking down at Gene Gill on Belay after doing the First Ascent of Archeopteryx (2-pitch 21).

Me on a repeat of The Phoenix (50m 20) back in 2013.
Gene attempting to repeat Quetzal (50m BOLD 21)

Now that I'm back home from Tasmania and on a crusade to clean up all of my old unsent bolted projects, I figured that it was about time to complete my unfinished business out at The Phoenix crag. Naturally, the poor individual that I cajoled into belaying me was my old man, Glen Thomson, (who seems to show a remarkable ability to remember his previous "Project Belaying" experiences with me via rose-tinted spectacles), and so it was that on 8th April 2015 we two went back into the jungle.

First up was Жар-пти́ца (The Firebird) (seriously, that's the route's name), which -to avoid the long traverse access pitch which I'd freed previously- we rapped into from the very top of the crag. The main pitch (pitch 2) traverses left across the overhanging headwall above The Phoenix, then climbs up the steep (but juggy) arete to the top of the cliff. In my picture of Gene on Quetzal above, that steep prow at the top of the photo is the line it climbs.

With the wind blowing directly on the headwall, and it snowing out at Oberon, it was proper arctic as I went for the send. But the climbing is quite easy, though somewhat runout, even with a few supplemental pieces of gear. And -as you will see from the photos below- the exposure is quite monolithic for an easy climb.

To the right is a panorama photo I took from halfway up the climb, looking down at my old-man on the semi-hanging (or sitting, if you're scared, right Glen?) belay at the start of Pitch 2 of Жар-пти́ца (The Firebird).
The line of Жар-пти́ца (The Firebird) heads up the "holey" arete.

It went first shot and I scored the First Ascent, choosing to give it gr19. As I said, it's quite easy, the position and exposure are radical, the climbing is good, and the bizarre arete feature is out there... But -to be honest- the rock quality on the "holey" section of the arete is pretty terrible. I don't mind admitting that I was a bit scared, but mostly of breaking something off and going for a fall into the void. Regardless, though, it's an awesome adventure, just not a great climb.

Next up was the Direct Finish to Quetzal, called Quetzalcoatl.The original line of Quetzal avoided the direct finish (because it is substantially harder) and traverses right a few metres to join The Phoenix at it's top crux, making an awesome 52m pitch of bold, mixed slabbing. Quetzalcoatl refuses to cop-out when the going gets hard, and forges straight up the slab as it approaches vertical via a line of congealed air particles masquerading as holds.

To get to it we rapped back to the belay above The Phoenix crack. I rapped in to the line itself (which climbs the steepening slab to the left of The Phoenix) and did a quick refresher lap on Top Rope Solo (and to tick up the crux holds, my chalk having been washed away by the torrential flood of the last few days). It went pretty easily, so my old man rapped in to join me on the fully-hanging belay, and I tied in for the First Ascent.

A quick Top Rope Solo lap on Quetzalcoatl.
Despite the "business end" being kind of short (about 12m, or so, with 40-odd metres of gr20ish slabbing on the lower pitch), the actual moves are pretty exciting. In particular, a high, square heel-toe-catch on the side of a tiny flake feature, which I then rock over, relying completely on the heel and the edge of my toe to keep me attached to the rock. It's also extremely thin and balancy, though -being a slab- it's possible to take your hands off after every few moves. Consequently, I really have no idea what grade it goes at. Back at the start of 2013 I was convinced it was solid 24 slab and it felt utterly desperate. When I did a few laps on Top Rope Solo last week, I thought it might be middle-tier (or a bit soft) 23. Yesterday, after doing the First Ascent of Quetzalcoatl, I decided to log it as a 22. Probably a sandbag, but it could be called 22 in the same vein as Chase the Lady at Centennial Glen, or Dragon Egg at Porters Pass (both are actually gr23, but constitute sandbagged slabs even at that grade).

Approaching the top of Quetzalcoatl, post-crux. Thin-as, bro!

The crazy square-heel-toe-catch-rockover move. Yeah, those are tic-tacs I'm crimping.
And so, with Quetzalcoatl (22) done, that's the last of my "bolted but unclimbed" lines in the Blue Mountains done and dusted... Well, all bar a certain linkup on Grasshopper Wall (tentatively named "Green Grocer"), but that thing is a proper cock-around to get to, and the crux holds are under the main waterstreak down that face, (in 3 separate trips to climb it I've only seen it dry once). I'm almost happy to call that one an "open project"... Except that I have another 2 projects at Pierces Pass (a bolted but unclimbed line offered to me by a friend, and my "magnum opus" line that I've scoped but not bolted), so as I'll be in the vicinity anyway... it might we worth a lap. 

I'll let you guys know in the next few days.

The Red Line is the "Green Grocer Linkup. Blue is Cicada (3-pitch 24), Green is Cricket (1 or 2 pitch 23).


No comments:

Post a Comment