Friday, 14 August 2015

a² + b² = c² in Gariwerd

"Since of all things numbers are by nature the first, in numbers they (the Pythagoreans) thought they perceived many analogies to things that exist and are produced, more than in fire, and earth, and Avater; as that a certain affection of numbers was justice; a certain other affection, soul and intellect; another, opportunity; and of the rest, so to say, each in like manner; and moreover, seeing the affections and ratios of what pertains to harmony to consist in numbers, since other things seemed in their entire nature to be formed in the likeness of numbers, and in all nature numbers are the first, they supposed the elements of numbers to be the elements of all things."

- Commentary by Sir William Smith in 1870 on the Pythagoreans, the philosophers who studied under Pythagoras.

a² + b² = c²: 


Let's face it, who wouldn't want to climb this?
Anyone who has been blessed enough to climb with me in the last year or so (basically, since I went to Eureka and ticked Archimedes Principle, and subsequently wet my pants at the mere site of Pythagoras Theorem) has had to listen to me frothing over a return trip to the Grampians National Park with the sole objective of ticking that reputable, ridiculous grade 26 Trad stemming corner. If you can't look at the photo to the right without peeing yourself in awe (or terror, I'll also accept terror), then you need to surrender your climbing gear and take up croquet.

So, with about 1.5 months to go before I leave for Yosemite, I seized on the famously stunning weather (read: hideous weather) at this time of year to team up with my old buddy Scotty Wearin from Natimuk to lay siege to the beautiful Eureka Walls in the Grampians.

As predicted, the weather was utterly shit. But amidst arctic conditions ("welcome to VictArctica, New South Welshman"), freak storms that destroyed Scotty's tent on the first night and blew away my Gazebo-cum-TentCity structure, I managed to spend 6 days up at Eureka Wall tackling Pythagoras Theorem and a number of other routes.

Scotty Wearin modelling VictArctica attire:
400 layers of clothing and an expression
of despair.
Eureka Wall is famous in particular for the spectacular Archimedes Principle (25), an improbable 45m face-climb all on Trad gear that tackles the aesthetic black streak up the guts of the wall. For the sake of a few laughs, I've included a video of Ben JengA and myself taking some big falls on our Onsight and Flash attempts on Eureka last year, a bit further below.

Pythagoras Theorem is the other "mega classic" route on this wall, and, for a trad climber in Australia is a very big "tick" to aspire to. Working this route is no small task, with a 35min uphill slog each day to get to Eureka Wall, the route in question is 40m long and on gear (although it does have 3 carrot bolts after the crux, which -funnily enough- are harder to equip than the trad gear), and it's in the Victoria Range part of the Grampians, which is more popular as a Sport Climbing destination then as a trad destination, in particular because it's quite a drive from world famous Tapian Wall. Regardless, it's worth pointing out that Eureka Wall is covered in Classic routes (even aside from Archimedes Principle and Pythagoras Theorem) which are extremely rewarding to climb in their own right, for anyone who will put in the effort to climb here.

Extreme stemming on Pythagoras Theorem.
At any rate, aside from tackling a few other climbs in the area, I threw myself at Pythagoras Theorem, blowing the Onsight at the lower crux (some tricky laybacking), and getting utterly shut down by the main crux: a 3m section of near-blank slippery Grampians rock, with holds that are only usable in the conventional sense of the word holds at about Grade 30... but with some tricky footwork, can be exploited to climb the corner at a more reasonable Gr26. On the Second day, I finally figured out the crux, which involved (for me) an 11-foot-movement sequence to negotiate 3m of climbing, smearing my feet and hands and doing my utmost to form the hypotenuse of this ridiculous corner feature, and thus demonstrate the c² of Pythagoras Theorem (a² + b² = c²). The stress on my groin and hips of this extreme stemming became so bad, that on the morning of the 3rd day working the route, I fell out of my van as I attempted to step out of it and my hips simply gave out, landing flat on my face. Good Morning Victoria!

This route can be quite stressful to work, as the bizarre movement, extreme body positions utilising muscles seldom used in climbing, and unpredictable nature of the "smear" moves, lead to some surprising (and probably hilarious, for the belayer) falls. Nevertheless, on my 3rd day at Eureka Walls, and on my 3rd lead attempt (6th lap total, including 2 top rope laps, and one Rope Solo lap to equip the route), I managed to keep it all together and score a clean lead lap on one of my long-term Climbing Goals. Can you say "dream send"? I've attached a half-arsed video below of the Send (and spliced in a bit of video from a previous attempt). Take note of the ridiculous starting move... it's not so bad when you've got the cam pre-placed, but on my Onsight attempt I was convinced I was going to die.

Me climbing Return to Gariwerd (22).
After succeeding in ticking Pythagoras Theorem, I was also blown away by a few easier trad routes in the vicinity, which I was lucky enough to Onsight as warmups on separate days. Return to Gariwerd (Trad 22) is on the Eureka Towers, about 15min extra walk above Eureka Wall, and is -in all reality- like a smaller, tamer, and easier version of Archimedes Principle. It forges a very improbable line, all on gear, up a 25m section of immaculate and aesthetic rock, and might very well be the best 22 I've ever climbed in Australia. Sailing Away (Trad 23) at Red Sail is a line which is visible from before you even leave the car (and commence your 40min walk up the hill), as The Red Sail is a narrow, proud, tower of vibrant red rock that stands out amongst it's neighboring rock outcroppings. The line itself follows a sharp grey arete for 45m on the right side of the tower, with some rather bold runouts at the start (with fiddly gear), and steep arete-slapping pumpiness (and a few spaced bolts) right at the end. Though somewhat inferior rock for the Gramps, and perhaps not as mega as some of the other more well-known routes here, Sailing Away is a line on a proud feature on an even prouder feature, and is a line I've salivated over for years.

The Red Sail. Sailing Away (23) climbs the arete
on the right up to the top roof.

The line of Return to Gariwerd (22)... Aesthetic perfection.

My rope showing the line of Pavlov's Dog (29).

Aside from some sport climbing elsewhere in the Victoria Range, the other line that utterly blew my mind was Kent Patterson's Pavlov's Dog (29), a 40m sport route up the right side of Eureka Wall. Aside from the amazing climbing, perfect rock, and aesthetic beauty of this line, it's almost as if Kent went out to bolt a line that is specifically tailored to every one of my strengths: it's ridiculously sustained (there's one "jug" on the entire route), in the "slightly steep" category, stressfully long, each of its 5 cruxes are solved with a nice mix of power and technical trickery, and it oozes inspiration from every sandstone pore. One of the best lines I've ever been on anywhere in Australia, and one that I'm almost desparate to get back to tick. Below I've attached a half-arsed video I made of one of my Top Rope Soloing laps of this masterpiece.

So, all in all, a very successful trip to the Grampians, despite the weather doing its best to ruin the experience. As Scotty went back to Uni, and the number of available climbing partners thinned due to the cold and rubbish weather, I did a few days of exploring and a number of rope soloing adventures, before eventually returning to The Blueys with the goal of trying to tackle some harder climbs (to really test myself, and actually project something properly, for once), and also visit a few of the adventurous crags which are "winter only" crags before I head off to America.

Advanced Air, Yeah Yeah!


Now back in the Blueys, I did a day working an amazing gr28 Trad route Pit Fighter at the new crag The Pit at Katoomba, and made good progress on that one; I bolted a new line below Pole 28 -Impetus-, which -aside from being a stunning, sustained, and rather bold line in its own right- is the line that you look at when looking out from The Sporting Complex at Medlow Bath; Neil Monteith sent his awesome new line at The Sporting Complex Buckley's Chance (Hard 24), and I did the First Ascent of the obvious, classic, super-sustained linkup of Buckley's Chance and Being and Nothingness, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (26); and my old partner in crime Stephen Varney and I headed out to a crag that I've wanted to visit for years: Bald Head.

Pit Fighter (Trad 28), this shot doesn't convey the steepness!

Me climbing Neil Monteith's new line:
Buckley's Chance (24).

A shot from the top of The Sporting Complex, looking over at my new line Impetus below Pole 28. Impetus tackles the
obvious steep face (which faces left in the photo) in the middle of the shot, with some rather ridiculous runouts.

Bald Head in Blackheath is -when viewed from the Bells Line of Road side of the Grose Valley- possibly one of the most aesthetic walls in the Blue Mountains. Its vibrant Tiger Stripes and long, blank faces, visible from over 20km away and perched high over the valley below, have called to me for years. Unfortunately, it's aspect that faces the sun for most of the day, 50min+ walkin, lack of traffic, rap-in climb-out routes, and pitches around the 50m mark has always kept prospective belayers away. Stephen, as it turns out, is a sucker for punishment, and was only too happy to investigate Bald Head with me.

Bald Head main face (Sector 1) from the ledge.
Maybe not quite as spectacular up close.
Bald Head Main Face (Sector 1). The Tiger Stripes are

Bald Head Main Face from further away. The stripes and long,
blank faces are eye-catching even from a distance.

The walk in probably took us 1.5 hours due to getting lost when the trail ended in the middle of nowhere, and finding the first climb -Advanced Air Studio (20)- likely took another 45min due to some rather crap crag/Access details in the old 2002 Blue Mountains Climbing guidebook (the last one to cover Bald Head). Furthermore, finding the main sector later in the day took us at least another 1.5 hours of rather sketchy cliff-edge bush-bashing (fortunately, I've updated all of the access and crag/route navigation details for Bald Head on TheCrag at: ), but nevertheless we still managed to get some climbing in.
You know you're totally not going to have an
epic when this is all that's stopping you
falling 150m into the Grose Valley.

Advanced Air Studio (20) is probably the only climb anyone
knows about at Bald Head, and is a 30m long sport route that starts from a small ledge you rap into, and follows a ridiculously exposed arete feature positioned 150m above the Grose Valley. Somehow, despite the fact that both Stephen and I usually carry Bolt Plates everywhere we climb, we both managed to leave them in the car, which inevitably (applying Murphey's Law) meant that the rap anchors and belay bolts turned out to be carrot bolts, necessitating some totally safe improvisation.

Stephen on Advanced Air Studio (20).
Stephen lead the pitch and I followed him on Second, to find that -despite the testicle-shrinking exposure and enjoyable climbing- the moderately crap rock leads to a pitch of climbing which isn't really the Classic it's cracked up to be. The climbing is hard at the grade, and gets continuously harder all the way to the top-out. Not a bad route by any means, but hardly worth the 50min+ walk.

Looking down at Stephen from the
top of The Dimerisation Interface (22). It's a bit exposed, no?
Next up, after losing most of the day trying to locate it, we rapped in to tackle The Dimerisation Interface (22), a 52m face route at a different part of Bald Head. I scored the Onsight on this pitch, which was thoroughly enjoyable, and climbs like the crux moves of Mirrorball (21) at Pierces Pass, again and again for 52m. Extremely long, quite sustained, and unrelentingly thin, it is marred (in my opinion) by somewhat fragile rock, and being somewhat limited in the range of moves encompassed within its length. I also thought it was quite hard at the grade, but knowing that the First Ascensionist -Megan Turnbull- is something of a gecko when it comes to thin face climbing, I'm hardly surprised.
As the day drew to a close, accompanied by quite a few dark ales, it was clear that Bald Head warrants another visit from us. We'd barely scratched the surface of the climbs here, and the aesthetics (and exposure) of the area offer the sort of inspiration that I love in the Blueys. Now that I know how to get to the crag, and how to navigate around it without the sort of cocking around we suffered today,
another trek here won't be such a mission. Hopefully I'll have time to return before I head off to America.

Stephen on the lower crux of The Dimerisation Interface (22).
In the meantime, the Mount RiverCrew (an "elite" group of climbers (and me) who -bizarrely- all live in the tiny suburb of Mount Riverview in the Lower Blue Mountains) have written off climbing this weekend so as to build a new Woody. So, prospective Climbing objectives and goals need to wait until next week, before I can decide exactly what adventures are on the cards.

I suspect I'll be able to think of something... I'll let you know what I come up with...

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