Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Hardly Sporting Steepness

Author's Note: Alright, so much of what I've posted on here lately has merely been an Ode to Paul's New Routes in the Blueys... After this update I'm off for 2 weeks to the Grampians (or maybe back to Tassie, depending on the weather), and when I get back to the Blueys I promise that it'll be a return to normal Obscurist programming, as I finally get back to traveling the Climbs less traveled, and having some obscure, adventurous, horrorshow epics...



Alright, so when last I updated this I was in the process of Top Rope Soloing 2 routes that I'd bolted out at The Sporting Complex, Medlow Bath ready for the First Ascent. Well, on the 28th June I went back to the Sporting Complex with Neil Monteith, Lee Cujes and Sam Cujes for a day of Sendage.

For those unfamiliar with the crag, here's an improvised Topo I designed with the help of Microsoft Paint, and in the vein of the current Nowra Guide (I'm channeling my inner Rod Young):

The Green line is Neil Monteith's project (which I bolted for him in a marathon night session). It goes at 24/25.

At any rate. after doing a warmup at home (including a Theraband session, Gripmaster finger workout and drinking copious amounts of coffee), I jumped straight on Leviathan as a warmup, and despite battling finger-freeze I managed to score the First Ascent first shot of the day. Luckily for me, Lee was abseiling past me as I went through the crux top bulge, and managed to score these amazing photos of the showstopper finale:

The drive-by move to initiate the crux sequence.
Crimpy goodness.

Some crazy footwork to finish the crux. This is my favourite move on the route.

I also managed to grab the following stills from a GoPro video I made when I returned to The Sporting Complex the following day with Stephen Varney to tidy up the area a bit:

The super-crimpy bottom-crux. Launching off two match-box crimps.
And a different perspective on the funky crux footwork. Did I mention that I love this move?

This route is called Leviathan (after Thomas Hobbes' famous novel on Social Contract Theory) and goes at 25/26.

The lower crux (at about 8m height) is a sustained 7-move sequence on microcrimps with tricky footwork, leading to a no-hands rest. The middle-crux (at about 15m height) is again very crimpy, but this time it's about extreme body-positions around a small rooflet and flake to gain the length and height necessary to reach the next tic-tac hold in the sequence. This again leads to a no hands rest and easier, sustained gr20 thin slabbing on grey rock. The top -showstopper- crux is technical, pumpy, awkward, thin and powerful as you launch through the steepest headwall on The Sporting Complex via a rounded flake, a series of weird pockets, and some small (but positive) crimps.

The quality of the cruxes is -in my opinion- better than the cruxes of Life of Riley (THE line of this crag), but Leviathan isn't as sustained as Life of Riley (hence the 2 no hands rests) and the easier climbing on grey rock isn't particularly memorable (nor the rock quality as good as the easier sections of Life of Riley). So, on merit, they are about equal, or perhaps Life of Riley is slightly better. Regardless, I would rate this as one of the best climbs I've ever put up.

Here's a video I made of the climb:

Neil attempting the In Absentia Project before its
re-imagining. At this point in time, I'd bolted the
route to continue up the orange streak in the
headwall to the left. Never fear, despite the misleading
perspective of this photo: No Cracks were Retrobolted
during the Making of this Climb!

With the rest of the posse ready and rearing to climb on one of the finest slices of rock in the beautiful Blueys, Lee Cujes set about onsighting Smoko (23), and then scoring the very proud onsight of Life of Riley (25). After a lash at Get a Black Dog Up Ya (24) and being misled by a red herring bolt (the last bolt on that climb is about 1.5m too far left, and actually tricks you AWAY from the holds you need to use), he and Sam climbed out by onsighting both pitches of Like a Cut Snake (21).Neil, on the other hand, threw himself at a line I bolted for him in absentia (consider it something of a present to a New Daddy... Climbing isn't over for you, Neil, you merely have more worthy activities to fill in the blanks between climbing (some would say that I worded that list of priorities back-to-front, right Kathy?)). The joys of trying to bolt someone elses' vision, is that the odds of misinterpreting that vision are probably reasonably high. Suffice to say, Neil and I had different ideas of how the top half of his route should go, so despite having 3 very worthy shots at the route as *I* envisaged it (which would be in the vein of hard 25), Neil presented an alternate option (requiring a few more bolts) which meant that his new line didn't go down this day. Since then, while adding anchors to some other routes at The Sporting Complex (quite a few of the lines are bolted specifically to be topped out, and bring up your second, which makes it hard to work some of these routes), I've since added the bolts to Neil's Project, and it's now awaiting the first ascent... hurry up and send it Neil!

The red line is Neil's In Absentia Project. To the left is me attempting the First Ascent of Being and Nothingness (25), and to the right is Lee Cujes Onsighting Life of Riley (25).
I then jumped on my other project at The Sporting Complex, tentatively called Being and Nothingness (after Jean-Paul Sartre's seminal work on existentialism). The line starts a few metres left of the open-book corner you can see in the above photo. It begins with an easy slab (gr17?) to a no-hands rest. From there you go straight into the initial crux, which involves some desperately small square-edge crimps off a bit of a ledge, leading to easier climbing (gr20) to a no-hands rest below the bulge beneath the orange streak on the top headwall. In the photo above, I've just reached the jug at the end of the initial crux.

The top headwall is the upper crux, and is quite sustained, as it wanders between the vibrant orange streak and the vague black streak on crimps, slimpers, and weird pockets. On my first attempt of the day, placing the draws, I actually made it through the hardest moves of the top crux, and was on-track for the send until I had a foot slip and went flying past Lee, who -as in the photo above- was still in the no-hands rest of Life of Riley, watching me fighting my way up my route. After finding some improved beta, I sent it solidly (though very pumpedly) second shot of the day, and gave it gr25. The top moves to the anchors are "sportingly bolted" and quite committing, despite not being very hard, creating potential for some big air. While working the moves on my first shot of the day, I fell from right near the top of the orange streak, to below the bulge beneath the headwall (Neil did a good job paying out enough slack as I fell to make sure I didn't HIT the bulge)... exciting!

As for the quality of the climb... unfortunately it's a mixed bag. The top headwall is brilliant, and if that was all the climb was judged on, it would be a classic. But the initial easy slab, the somewhat unpleasant (and slightly scary) initial crimp crux, and the slightly doddly (by comparison) middle section (which utilises the crack as necessary, only because it would be contrived to regard it as "out" considering its proximity) means that as an overall route, though still of Very Good quality, it can't truly be called a classic, especially considering that Life of Riley and Leviathan sit just a handful of metres to the right.

Stephen Varney on Pitch 1 of Like a Cut Snake (21), the
following day.
With that done, and Neil too trashed for another lash at his Project, we all climbed out via Like a Cut Snake, a two-pitch 21 which -despite some dubious rock- has great exposure, and very straightforward, pumpy climbing up a steep arete-feature.

Lee managed to catch this photo of Neil as he climbed out of the crag, which perfectly captures the beauty of the location, the stunning position of the climb, and makes a good fullstop upon which to end this recount of the day:

Neil Monteith leading Pitch 2 of Like a Cut Snake (21) to exit the crag. No one can deny the beauty of the position.



After another 3-day trip to Nowra (this time featuring less spankage than I usually experience in that haven of burliness), I investigated and ultimately bolted the last line in my "little black book" (thanks for popularising that term, Mikl) of prospective "high quality" climbs to develop/bolt. This time, and as something of a rarity, I put up a sporty-sport route in the vicinity of popular megaclassics, at a well-traveled crag: Bardens Lookout!

Ticking Haystack Madness (20) back in 2011,
and wondering whether that face and roof
to the right would go free.

When I ticked the outrageously steep crack Haystack Madness (20) back in 2011, I remember looking over at the face and crazy roof-cap to the right of the crack, and wondering: "how come there isn't a route there?" A recent re-visit to Bardens reinforced that question as I spent most of the day walking back and forth trying to get perspective on the prospective line.

2 weeks ago I went out with the goal of seeing if there was -in fact- a line there. Long story short, I'm utterly rubbish at the logistics of bolting roofs, and this was a bloody big roof. It took me 2 days to rap and pin the line, rope-solo it to make sure it actually went free, bolt it, and "prepare" it (removing loose blocks, scrubbing and tick marking crucial holds).

With the route ready to go, on Saturday 11th July, I went out to Bardens with Gene Gill (my climbing partner on the Totem Pole) with an eye to doing the First Ascent.

From the bottom looking up. Beneath the 1st
bolt you can see clipped is 2 more horizontal
metres of steepness.
If I'm honest, I'm not particularly good at climbing very steep routes. I have great endurance and can hang on for weeks, but my roofing technique has never really been perfected mostly because I so rarely get on roof climbs. And this new line of mine was a proper steep roof. Consequently I was extremely nervous, because unlike other climbs I've bolted (whereby I don't mind a long journey to the First Ascent, because they're more in a style I enjoy), I knew that a long siege of this would become quite stressful. For my psyche alone, I really needed to Send it today.

The line in question starts up an easy slab, which lands you beneath a bouldery move past the 2nd bolt (the clipped bolt in the photo to the left) to get established in the steepness. It then heads straight up the middle of the steepness, with big moves between enormous jugs and ironstone breaks. At the lip of the 1st roof, you come to the crux, which involves a tricky move to get established on the face, then a powerful series of moves left on a thin rail to gain the crack of Haystack Madness. You climb the crack for a metre or so, then traverse back right into the middle of the face. It was on the traverse left that I fell off on my first shot of the day, pumped silly and uncertain of how to use my feet to make the burly moves left to gain the crack.

Looking down from the anchors after doing the First
Ascent. Notice how far out the trail-rope is hanging?
Despite knowing that I could do the moves, I doubted that I had the steep endurance necessary to tick the route. Nevertheless, I started up the line again, and this time (with some outrageous footwork, involving using my left leg to meat-wrap a horn-jug and produce a fulcrum to rock-over and gain the crack) I managed to make it back to the middle of the face, pumped but feeling strong.

The line is still surprisingly steep as you head-up the face, via a few long moves on thin holds, which eventually lands you underneath the big roof cap. A tricky move on a pocket then lands you in the middle of ridiculously juggy roof climbing. The entire roof-cap features quite-possibly the biggest jugs you'll ever fall off, as you climb almost horizontally to gain the anchors (about 1m from the lip of the top roof-cap, as the rock turns to sandy choss beyond that point). Fortunately, I kept it together and scored the First Ascent. I called the route "But the Raven, Sitting Lonely..." and gave it the grade of 24... which may or may not be a sandbag, depending on whether or not I really am as rubbish at Roof Climbing as *I* believe that I am.

The name itself is taken from the first line, of my favourite Stanza from Edgar Allan Poe's epic poem "The Raven":

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered –
Till I scarcely more than muttered "Other friends have flown before –
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said "Nevermore."

Aside from the fact that I like the poem, I was intrigued by Mitch Warren's nearby route name "These Terrors be but Arguments for Children", which doesn't make sense out-of-context (despite sounding pretty rad), but is actually (at least as far as I can tell) a paraphrased quote from the Life of Sir Thomas More, and actually goes: "My Lords," quoth he, "these terrors be arguments for children, and not for me..." So, it was in that naming trend that I chose to name my route.

A rough topo of where the main lines go on that
slice of cliff, taken from the Red Sails area. I
appologise for the crappy photo quality.
So, how good is the route? I'd say that in the vein of steep climbing, especially considering the relatively tame grade, it's an almost classic. Unfortunately, the fact that I had to traverse a few moves left into the crack, then back into the face again to make the line go free ruins its purity as a line. The traverse moves are actually heaps of fun, and it doesn't detract from the quality of the climbing, but it does taint the line itself. I spent many hours trying to go direct, which encompasses a huge move to a 1/5th pad mono, some desperate footwork, and a "loft" move to a mega-jug. Despite my best efforts I never managed to do better than getting my finger tips on the jug, and this single 2-move sequence would go at 26/27, in a route which is otherwise 24ish.

However, Gene Gill proved (on the day) that the move DOES go free. It seems like it is easier if you are extremely strong and shorter (than me, at least) or significantly taller (and only as strong and me). Regardless, even with revised beta I was still unable to do much more than circumcise my finger on the mono, so I'm more than happy to leave the "direct" version of the route as an Open Project. Though it will be a more "pure" as a line, I think that the original McDougal version will remain popular due it's sustained nature and kind difficulty (especially for those wanting a taste of this sort of extreme steepness).

At any rate, I'm off to The Gramps for some more of the best climbing in Australia, so I'll talk to you all when I get back home. Be safe.

1 comment:

  1. Great looking lines at The Sports Complex, Paul. I should head out there one day?
    Always great to read your updates and stories. Thanks, James.