Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Obvious Elbow... OR How I Sent My "Magnum Opus" Project On The Last Day Possible Before Heading To The Grampians

Last time, on The Climbing Obscurist:
"When I climbed I Have a Dream (25) at Pierces Pass last year [...] I spotted a line which -to me at least- seemed to be more aesthetic than I Have a Dream, and possibly on better rock. [...] So, 2 weeks ago I finally decided to inspect this prospective golden line. [...] Fortunately, despite almost half a year of coveting this arbitrary piece of rock, it was as spectacular as I'd hoped. [...] I think another day or two or Top Rope Soloing it and I'll be ready to get on the sharp end. The first challenge, however, is to work out how to convince the weather gods to stop all the damned rain! [...] I've got another 1.5 weeks before I head down to the Grampians/Arapiles for 2 weeks, so hopefully I can get this beauty sent before I depart. Wish me luck!"

The Line of the Magnum Opus Project.

So, the rain finally stopped (briefly), and I headed out on Monday for a quick recon lap of the Project to see if it was actually dry enough to climb. The fact was that if it was still wet, then the Project would need to wait until after I got back from the Gramps, and possibly (depending on how quickly it gets cold up here in the mountains) until Spring. As luck would have it, it was bone dry. I did 3 more complete laps on Top Rope Solo, yet despite some excellent sections of linkage (including linking it in 2 overlapping sections) I never managed a complete link from start to finish. By the end of the day I was so tired that my trip to Penrith Climbing Centre to "train" became a social outing only.

After a rest day on Tuesday, and taking a chance that the forecast for crap weather wouldn't come into fruition, I headed back out on Wednesday with my Old Man -Glen- in tow once again, this time to see if I could scare myself into leading it successfully where Top Rope Soloing had failed.

The Gr3 access traverse from Lunch Ledge. Exposed!
After a warm-up on the top half of I Have a Dream (a really good way of getting prepped for a proper lap on I Have a Dream or my own Project), I rapped the line to equip it (20 quickdraws, and some looooooong runners essential) and Glen walked in via Lunch Ledge, and my bolted "grade 3" traverse.

After sketching out appropriately, shaking violently, and trying to crawl the entire length of the narrow "cave" system (seen in the photo to the left) rather than walk along the footledge, my Old Man declared that this particular experience had "crossed the line" of what he was willing to do to belay me. The fact is, that while he's done some multipitch before, and some fully-hanging belays, and climbed harder grades... Doing a balancy traverse above 200m of air is still bloody intimidating. It probably also might have helped if I'd swept the traverse free of rubble. Don't worry, I'll do it once I get back from the Gramps...

Doubting my ability to lead this Monster.

I tied in for the lead, and tore up it like a Man Possessed, cruising the first difficult section (about 6m 23), smashing out the pre-crux crux (5m 24), and making it to the last move of the crux still feeling quite good. The final move is a desperate deadpoint to a slippery 2-pad flat hold, which I've fallen off before when trying to link from the belay in the past. For whatever reason I didn't hold the move and took a 9m flight through the air past 4 draws. I was so busy swearing for having failed to stick the move that I didn't even have time to contemplate the fall itself, nor the hundreds of metres of air below me. Lowering back to the ledge, I had my doubts that I could link the route today, feeling that perhaps my power-endurance wasn't quite good enough to maintain such a high degree of intensity for such a long time... and I hadn't even started on the pumpy traverse (which comes immediately after the crux) and the committing hyper-crimps after it.

After a rest and some food, there was enough time (and energy) for 1 more shot. The initial section of climbing is about grade 15, up a 2 small overhanging corner-systems with ledge-breaks in between.

The "Pre-crux" crux... Grade 24 crimping.
Once you mantle onto the 2nd ledge (via an awkward undercling move) you go straight into reachy steep face climbing on pretty good holds which culminates in arriving on a big slippery flat hold. This section is about Gr23.

When you leave this flat hold, you enter the "pre-crux" crux, consisting of a difficult match on a small sidepull, a crimp, then a serious of rather tricky crimps on twin side-pull flakes. I usually regard this section as about Gr24, and it is probably the hardest ACTUAL climbing on the pitch.

The penultimate move of the Grade 25 crux. Next move: the slippery throw.
From here you have another slippery flatty to clip from and take a few deep breaths, then you go into the crux proper. It's about 4m of actual movement, up super-thin water-polished sloping crimps which are quite a fair way apart. At one point even I use a mono-finger-stack in a shallow slippery pocket as a crucial hold! All of this culminates in a long reach to a hideously small sloping crimp, some crucial tic-tac footwork, and the lunge to the slippery flat hold that I'd fallen off on my previous shot. I usually regard this sequence as about Gr25 (soft-ish), particularly due to the slippery, sloping nature of the holds. 

A photo of the traverse, just after I bolted it. Gripping!
Half-anticipating another whipper, I managed to hold the throw, and -shaking as the adrenaline of what I perceived as an imminent fall wore off,- I upped my focus to make the pumpy traverse left. The traverse itself isn't too hard, just long reaches between good holds, but the feet are utterly terrible and it's crucial that you don't slip on the dots masquerading as footers. Due to the dog-leg, the traverse is also strategically bolted to minimise rope-drag, hence it's a bit gripping (especially when you're pumped). At the end of the traverse is an okay handjam (though you're still on your arms, so rest is minimal), at which point you slap up the arete to get your feet above the rooflet, and trend up-and-right back to the centre of the face via one last hard sequence of tiny crimps with big reaches in-between, and rubbish footers. On my best link from the belay on Top Rope Solo previously I'd fallen off on these crimps, pumped utterly senseless. This time, I made it through and arrived at the "balancy" no-hands rest point at about 3/5ths of the total climb height.

As I camped out on the no-hands rest, trying to recover for the remaining climbing (about 20 metres of pumpy Gr22ish climbing, with one tricky 23/24 move right near the top) I felt it beginning to rain. Apparently the forecast storms had decided to arrive right at that moment. Wearily I continued on, fighting the pump and trying to stay focused. I made it to the top crux of I Have a Dream and passed it surprisingly easily, but only 1 bolt from the top I started battling with the rope drag (which wasn't too bad, really) and managed to completely forget how to do the final moves. After a minor crisis of footwork ("Where did all the bloody footers go?") I mantled out over the top of the cliff to the ecstatic audience of a single goat investigating the gear I'd stashed there, and licking moss off a rock. Strangely my victory cheer didn't seem to bother the goat at all.
The view from the topout. Spectacular!

My ecstatic audience... once the crowd departed to the other side of the cliff.

So, the Magnum Opus Project was completed, and finally I could reveal it's real name: The Obvious Elbow of Aristocrat Arthur Decanter (58m Gr26).

My reasoning is this:
  • It's a direct parody of The Invisible Fist of Professor Hiddich Smiddich right down to the word structure and rhyming.
  • The Invisible Fist (or Invisible Hand, according to Adam Smith) is a term used in Economic Theory in reference to the effects within the Economic Market. Likewise, in our "anti-1%" and "anti-capitalism" modern society, an "obvious elbow" of a higher class of individual (a 1%er, or an Aristocrat) could be construed to be a similar play on the dual meaning of the name.
  • And finally, the climbing line itself has a rather obvious dog-leg (or elbow, if you will) smack-bang in the middle of it.
So, as you might imagine, I'm pretty bloody stoked right now. Thanks muchly to Glen for enduring his abject terror long enough for me to achieve the send (he actually managed to fall off the traverse while traversing back to lunch ledge... good thing my bolts and ropes are good); Thanks to the weather for waiting until I was back at my car, before turning a "shower" into a torrential downpour that has lasted several days; and thanks to Satan for letting me sell my soul for this Send (I still think I got the better end of the bargain).

Here's a video I made after the FA, just showing two of the major crux sections with the help of my GoPro, my helmet, and some climbing tape.:

A quick addentum before I depart: During the day I managed to stop a minor fall onto a stick with the help of my right-eyeball, and by the end of the day the pain was so severe that I could no longer keep my eye open. A visit to a doctor and an Optometrist reveals I've managed to lacerate my right eye... No one can say that I don't suffer for my art!

I am thus transformed into the Pirate I always wanted to be. Yarg!

Tomorrow I head off to the Grampians. Catch you all when I get back.


  1. Fantastic job Paul. I always find it interesting to read about how much time and effort go into creating a new line but the reward is all worth it.
    The 'welcoming party' at the top was a classic and you did look very tired at the gym on Monday.
    Look forward to reading more about your next adventures in life. Catch up with ya when you're back - James.

    1. Hey James, thanks for reading, and for your comment. I just got back from the Gramps/Arapiles, and hadn't seen your comment until tonight. Catch you at the gym soon!