Thursday, 4 June 2015

Gramps, Piles, Bungers, Gibs and The Blues.

Sounds like a series of diseases straight out of Africa, right?

Alright, so it's been over a month since last I updated this. Obvious excuses aside, I've been busy climbing (not necessarily climbing WELL, but undeniably climbing LOTS).



After my last update I headed down to Victoria, and spent my first week down there in The Grampians, battling dubious weather and even more dubious climbing partners (not doubting their abilities to climb or belay, but certainly questioning their sanity at times, as evidenced by the below picture).

Pictured here (clockwise from Top Left): Strong Jeff, SilverFox, Pommy, Bulldog, JengA, Mitch and The Cleaner (me)... Apparently these guys have REAL names, but I don't actually know them.

Me on the crux move of Pitch 2 of World Party (27)
Me flashing the astonishing Pitch 3 of World Party (24)
Despite the obvious hardships of being a full time climbing bumb(bly), I managed to tick Mr Joshua (25 - 2nd shot), The Invisible Fist of Professor Hiddich Smiddich (26 - 3rd shot, battling rain blowing onto the crux on previous attempts), Medusa (25 - flash) and all 3 pitches of World Party (21 - Onsight, 27 - 5th shot, 24 - Flash) on Taipan Wall.

The others had their own successes, in particular Pommy ticked Chasing the Shadow (27) at The Gallery; Strong Jeff ticked Serpentine (29), Monkey Puzzle (28), and Like a Koala In His Eucalyptus (29) to name a few; JengA ticked Super Mario Bros Direct (27) at The Tower, All 3 pitches of World Party, and Not Too Bad (28) on Spurt Wall.


After the Posse Comitatus headed back home, Rob Medlicott and I headed over to Mount Arapiles for another week of climbing, and met up with some other friends (Zack-Attack, Dennis the Menace, Chris Simpson, and Evan Freame). The weather was -for lack of a better word- abysmal, and almost every time we got out the bouldering pads or racked up for a lead, the heavens would dump a deluge on us, and it would be a prompt retreat back to the car to re-dry our gear... again. Amongst this rubbish weather, I still managed a fair bit of climbing, of particular note I had successes on Orestes (23 - Onsight), Birdman of Alcatraz (23 - Flash), Strolling (23 - 2nd shot), and a few others. I also managed to do quite a fair bit of free soloing of the various multipitch routes less than gr14 (no small ask, despite the relatively easy grade... Arapiles packs in a LOT of climbing into a grade 10!); some bouldering; and some easier rambles with various climbing partners. Not a bad week, all in all.

Yes, Ladies, I am this awesome! (on a grade 20 climb).
Dennis loving the weather on an "Active Rest Day".
Me ticking Strolling (23) and trying not to think about the crucial gear placed behind the moving block.



Back home after that, with a brief diversion to The Rock (near Wagga Wagga) for an afternoon of climbing with Matt Brooks at The Rock, I returned to The Blueys for a few days before making my way down to Bungonia Gorge with JengA for 3 days of climbing.

An archive photo from a day of climbing at Bungonia with
Neil Monteith last year.

If you've never climbed at Bungonia (one of only a handful of limestone climbing areas in Australia, and certainly one of the most intimidating), it's not the sort of place to ever underestimate. Even after having done most of the major routes there now, I still descend the hellish Red Track to the base of the gorge with a sense of trepidation and dread, feeling timid and dwarfed by the 300m+ high limestone walls on either side. The climbing really STARTS at gr22 in this place, and it's usually run-out, mixed climbing with tricky route-finding (sometimes dirty, sometimes chossy) gr22 climbing.

Me setting of on Pitch 2 of Iron Curtain (22).

We were rained out of Bungonia on the Friday, but found an alternative in climbing at Wingello. Saturday, however, JengA and I hit up Asteroids, the longest climbing route up the main part of the Gorge in all of Bungonia. To climb Asteroids, after reaching the base of the gorge via the unforgiving "Red Track" (no small task in itself), you start up Iron Curtain (21, 22, 22, 19), a low-angle limestone slab with spaced bolts, the odd bit of gear, and very pronounced thin cruxes. I'd climbed this previously and had found it quite challenging last time. This time, despite being rather hungover (drinking 1 litre of red wine will do that, apparently), I felt completely solid and fairly cruised up it, hands fondling congealed air-particles masquerading as holds, and feet smearing on invisible footers.

You then link into Pitch 6 of Screaming Tribesman (Trad 23), which I'd also climbed before and found it utterly desperate at the time, but mind-blowing in it's steepness, exposure, and "exciting" gear. This time, starting up it, I became flustered at the first crucial pre-crux gear placement, and muffed the crux another move or two up, taking an exciting fall onto gear 140-odd metres above the ground. I landed back on the no-hands rest before the real climbing (about 6m up from the belay), and started climbing again, this
On the belay at the end of Iron Curtain P4, and before
starting up Screaming Tribesman P5 (23).
A rough topo I drew of the route, from Iron Curtain Pitch 3 to the
Asteroids Topout. I took this photo last year during yet ANOTHER Bungonia wash-out.
time cruising to the top and having no problems finding gear whatsoever. Damn, I really should have lowered back to the belay ledge so I could have scored the tick. It was quite disappointing to get flustered and make such a silly mistake, and I really don't know how it happened. Suffice to say that -in something of a rarity for me on this STYLE of climbing- I lost my head, and -subliminally, not overtly- I got scared.

After that, you join Asteroids proper, consisting of pitches graded 26, 16, 20, 24, 20, 23. JengA had a go at freeing the 26 pitch, but the moves off the ledge are kind of unpleasant, and utterly desperate. In the end he pulled up to the 2nd bolt (which is a nice, sustained gr25 to the top from there, following a radical steep line of tufas) and tried to go for the 25M1 send, finally taking a whip only a few metres from the top. Following him up, I also came to the conclusion that the opening moves are nails and torturous, but -more importantly- the rest of the pitch (climbing on link from the 2nd bolt) is impossibly sustained, pumpy, and exposed in a bizarre Verdon Gorge (France) meets Terradets (Spain) kind of way. Unfortunately, like so many of the routes at Bungonia, it was also a bit fragile/chossy, and rather dirty (this is due to a lack of climbing traffic, and also a fine "dust" that settles on much of the rock due to the nearby limestone quarry. Suffice to say, even aiding to the 2nd bolt, I still didn't manage it clean to the top, with the last "slab" moves on the grey limestone being particularly malevolent in their hold-less intensity.

Next up was a doddly vegetated traverse pitch, with a grand total of 2 bolts on the entire 30m pitch, with the crux coming in the form of a rather sketchy down-climb to gain the next belay. It was fine on lead (since you clip a bolt ABOVE the down-climb, you're essentially protected on top-rope for the moves), but when JengA came to 2nd the down-climb, unclipping the bolt meant doing the down-climb unprotected. In classic Multipitch jiggery-pokery style, the solution was to LEAVE the rope clipped through the last bolt (leaving a 'biner in situ, thankfully someone else had already done that), and down-climb on top-rope, then build an improvised belay at the base, untie, pull the rope and re-tie-in, before finishing the traverse pitch.

JengA then lead the gr20 pitch, a very sustained pitch of varied climbing that ALMOST spat both of us off. Suffice to say, that for a face-and-slab pitch, it was sustained! Unerringly technical, and -in its sustainedness- rather intense. Getting up that clean, I then lead the 24 pitch, which was a great long pitch of slightly-steep face climbing on MOSTLY good rock (which unfortunately deteriorated towards the top). In classic ground-up, unchalked, unworn, on-sight style, I was on it for quite a while piecing together the lower and middle crux, before finally pumping out just after the middle crux and falling off. Disappointing, but it was a good battle, and the upper crux (which was rather sequency) MIGHT have spat me off anyway without the rest I received by taking the fall. JengA got it clean on 2nd. The bastard.

The next gr20 pitch was a doddle, and I failed to see how it got the grade. Finally I lead the last pitch of climbing, a whopping 50m pitch which tops out, then continues up a scrub bash to a safer "plateau" further up the hill. We knew that communication would be difficult on this pitch once I'd topped out, so we went with the "logical" system of non-communication belay change-over (as opposed to the "rope tugs" system, or whistles or any of the other more easily misinterpreted signals that it's safe for the person on Second to start to climb. This consists of the belayer taking me OFF-BELAY when only about 3m of rope remains between us (since, at that point, the belayer himself IS now the belay device), with the idea being that only after I'd built the belay, and set up the belay device to bring up the Second, would I take-in the remaining rope. At that point the former belayer counts to about 100, then climbs a move or two up to see if the rope is taken in. If it is, he dismantles the belay, and climbs up a bit further, all the while checking to verify that the rope keeps being taken in... Logically, at that point, one can deduce that -even without communication- he is on belay. I've used this system on at least 100 other multipitches, and (in reality) it can't be improved upon without bringing radios or whistles.

Here's where it FAILS, however.

The final pitch was mostly about grade 20 climbing, essentially being slightly-steep jugging on reasonable rock (only deteriorating right near the end of the pitch), but with a boulder-problem crux through a bulge near the top. Being rather worn-out at this point, the solution to the boulder-problem was to climb it in a Buoux-style pocket-sequence starting with my hands deliberately crossed up, so that they would unravel to reach the final crux holds in just the right order. Somehow it worked, and I Onsighted the pitch and began the gully-bash.

The description for this pitch says to belay off obvious trees, so I continued unprotected up the gully (I'd left my trad gear on the belay, and had run out of slings and quickdraws on the pitch), looking around for a viable belay tree, when I hear JengA shout out from below "off-belay!" It would seem that I'd gone beyond the "usual" belay point, and had now climbed 57m of my 50m pitch. It ALSO meant that I only had about 100 seconds before JengA would start testing to see if I was on belay (climbing a few moves, and waiting to see if I took in). In reality, the only thing that could go wrong here would be if JengA somehow managed to pull on the rope (falling, getting it caught in something, etc) with enough force to pull ME off, at which point (with no protection for about 20m of gully-bashing) I would be in for the catastrophic whip of my life. Still unable to find anything resembling a "belay tree", I opted for a collective mass of "emergency belay shrubs", and in about 20 seconds slung several shrubs using my prussiks and my own daisy chain. Within 1 minute I had my "anchor" built, and was on belay... Fortunately before JengA started climbing (it's worth pointing out, that even though we couldn't communicate, my army-trained voice managed to shout out "don't climb yet" enough for him to know to wait, when he first took me off-belay)

So, no harm no foul. Nothing went wrong, and in reality it was a relatively minor incident... but an interesting one to consider nevertheless. Also one that I'd never experienced before.

Arriving at the top with JengA after completing all 11-pitches of Asteroids. Check out my awesome belay shrub!

We topped out, hiked back to the car -arriving right on dark, for a 10-hour climb, car-to-car- and headed back to camp, utterly shattered with weariness. In that classic "overtired" mindstate, despite being starved I couldn't eat, and despite being desperately tired, I couldn't sleep. It was a strangely haphazard end to a mega-day of climbing.

For our last day in Bungonia, we hiked back down The Red Track and spent most of the day doing various single pitch routes of varying degrees of quality off the gorge floor. We ended the day by Jumaaring up an old fixed rope of Neil Monteith's to "Big Greenie" ledge above Palenta Pumper, in order to climb Attack of the Clones (25), quite possibly the BEST pitch of limestone in Australia, and capable even of standing up to other quality limestone routes in France and Spain.

Unfortunately, Neil's fixed rope put us one barely protected and rather sketchy traverse pitch away from where we wanted to be (soon rectified with some interesting climbing on marginal rock, and some creative "gear" placements... Thanks heaps Neil), but eventually I started up Attack of the Clones, going for the Onsight. Suffice to say I battled, but was stumped at half-height when I failed to see a "sneaky" hold that is rather crucial to the crux, and took another fall right at the final boulder-problem below the anchors. Disappointing, sure, but bloody oath is it ever a quality pitch: an awkward slab start leads to a Chimney/Stemming corner, then committing moves up slopers out right, then back left unlock a stunning series of linked clean tufas, with the hardest moves coming when one chandelier tufa ends, and you need to gain another one. Outrageous movements between "blobs" of hanging chandelier tufas (one of which you can sit on, legs spread either side like you're riding a horse), and funky solution pockets that arrive RIGHT when you need them, and not a moment too soon (or too late). Utterly, freaking, MEGA.

Naturally, JengA ticked it first shot today (he'd tried to onsight it about 3 years previously, but hadn't been on it since). The bastard. =P


Me at the top after doing the First Ascent of Slow Gulpa (24).
The Pink Rope shows the line (the red rope is our rap rope).

A brief diversion down to Mount Gibraltar (near Mittagong) was necessitated by meeting with my prospective climbing partner for a trip to Yosemite in September - Stephen, from Wollongong. I've climbed at Mount Gibraltar quite extensively over the years, and ticked of pretty much everything there with stars attached to it. It's an interesting granite/trachyte crag, featuring many granite-style low-angle mixed routes, split by an imposing 40m high main face of beautifully featured and coloured rock consisting of mostly Trachyte (which is situated directly below Mount Jellore Lookout). Of particular note, it is host to the novelty route Big Bird (3-pitch 20); One of the best gr23 pitches in New Wouth Wales - Sluj Gulpa (3 pitches - 21, 22, 23), and a unique climb of two halves - Slow Twitch (Original - 20, Extension - 25), the extension being one of the most ridiculous stemming corners I've climbed in NSW, eerily reminiscent of Johnny Dawes' "The Quarryman" in Wales.

Aside from a new route put up by James Bultitude, which I was interested in doing the first CLEAN repeat of, I'd previously eyed off a linkup between the original Slow Twitch (20) into the top pitch of Sluj Gulpa (23, thereby avoiding the 2 "not as good" access pitches) via a 5m traverse (of NEW climbing) to make a giant single-pitch mega-route. To this effect I arrived early, rapped in, sussed the traverse moves to link the two climbs, and added an additional bolt to protect the traverse.

Stephen arrived, we determined through the course of the day that we get along well (climber-speak for: we probably won't murder each other after 4 days on a Big Wall in Yosemite) and I sandbagged him onto the various classics at The Gib. I managed to tick my mega-pitch linkup 2nd shot, for the First Ascent of Slow Gulpa (24), arguably the single best pitch of climbing at Mount Gibraltar. Featuring the weird friction slab start of Slow Twitch, and the steepening but juggy corner system near the end of that pitch, the rather bouldery hyper-technical gr24 traverse that I added, and the steep, technical thin-corner system on immaculate black rock that comprises Pitch 3 of Sluj Gulpa. All in all, I was pretty happy with the effort.

At the end of the day we climbed out via Modern Masculinity (14, 21, 19, 20), a predominantly trad route put up by James Bultitude. I'd led P1 previously, so Stephen had that pitch, then I linked Pitches 2 & 3 Onsight for a nice long pitch of very traddy trad climbing (read: a super-thrutchy and awkward crux) up a series of corners and through a final undercling roof-feature. After getting lost on the last pitch (we weren't too sure EXACTLY where it tackled the famous "beak" feature of The Gib), I got the final pitch clean as well. The last pitch, aside from being exposed, falls into the category of "weird", in that you are friction-slabbing on granules but trying to surmount an awkward overhang which comprises the beak feature. It seemed kind of desperate, yet when I did it RIGHT it was relatively easy. I really have no idea what grade it is.

All in all, a good day at Mount Gibraltar.


So, now for a few weeks back home before I head off... somewhere (exact destination still to be determined). Since I've been back I've done a bit of trad (Gemini (19), Solomon (2-pitch 20), played around on a few hard routes (Vanity Case (28), Whores Du Combat (28)) and done a bit of Sporty Sport climbing at Porters Pass and Shipley Upper.

I've also bolted 2 new lines out at The Sporting Complex at Medlow Bath, one of which tackles the orange-speckled face to the LEFT of the vegetated crack (a few metres left of Life of Riley) and should go at about 24/25 (tentatively called Being and Nothingness), and one which starts up Smoko to a traverse line at a few metres, hand traverses right to gain a dihedral, then heads up this and up the vibrant black streak that runs the length of the crag to the top, finishing between Smoko and Get a Black Dog Up Ya and will probably be about 24. This one is called Leviathan. I actually ran out of bolts to bolt the bottom part of Leviathan, so only the top half has rings and is tagged at the moment.

When I get back up the mountain, I need to finish bolting it and get those FA's done... Because I've got some suitably obscure TRADventures brewing at the back of mind, which I can't wait to sink my teeth into.

Tomorrow at 0600hrs I head down to Nowra for the long-weekend... the one climbing area I've ever climbed at in the entire world where the drop in the maximum grade I can red-point is actually quite substantial. We've managed to get together quite the posse, featuring Ben JengA, Mitch Perkins, Will Monks, Neil Monteith, Zack Swander, Kent Patterson, Jason "Pommy" Smith, Matt Brooks and maybe even Jason "Bundy" Lammers and Stephen Varney...

Huh... I guess I do know their names after all. Weird...


  1. Great writeup... Gee you have been busy! Really sorry about the weather while you were down south. Instead of the traditional autumn windless days with blue skys; you got 10 days of misery. I think it cleared up just as you left ;-)

    1. G'day Goshen. How did I managed to forget you're amazing ascent of Anaconda in my list of my friends ascents during the Gramps trip! Sorry, bud!

      Yeah, the second week at Araps was depressing (enough that one of my partners even went home several days earlier, cause the weather was great in the Blueys). But I still got some climbing in, and had a great time with my friends.