Thursday, 10 September 2015

Momentum and The Black Rose

Lucky and I climbing The Nose in
4 Minutes (22)
at Mount Alexandra a
few years ago. Photo taken
by Simon Vaughan.
Before I begin, I'd just like to say a few words about the recent passing of Toby Benham/Lucky Chance.

I knew Lucky briefly at school, and climbed with him quite a lot as he continued to recover after his accident in France. In recent years, I've kept in contact with him to some extent, though we haven't climbed together for quite a while.

The fact is, that in his demise, Climbing and Adventure Sport in Australia has lost a unique (and some might say: iconic) character. He lived every moment of his life in a manner that made him happy and gave him purpose, regardless of how others might perceive his actions. I think that that is an ideal more people should strive to achieve.

In the days to come, there will doubtless be criticism on social media sources about his life and how he came to this end. There will be commentary offered by people living beige lives (and with no desire to achieve anything more) who feel that they have the right to offer uninformed subjective judgement on the correct path to take through life. There will certainly be a typical over-the-top, knee-jerk reaction from various authorities trying to mitigate the "fallout" from this accident. But the fact of the matter is that in pursuing the things that made every day worth experiencing, Lucky was living his life, and making it so much more worthwhile than those who unquestioningly follow the predictable path set before them.

Was he crazy? Bloody oath he was, but that was what made him unique...

Lucky and an eclectic crew of climbers about to start up the iconic Clocks (22) at Balls Head, a few years ago.

Impetus (means Momentum)

Well, sort of:

The force or energy with which a body moves.
Synonyms: momentum, propulsion, impulsion, impelling force, motive force, driving force,continuing motion... (etc)
Interesting Factoid #1: The rap anchors
for The Sporting Complex are on the
near rock pagoda, just left of the middle
in this shot.

So, as regular readers (should I call you obscurists, or perhaps merely masochists?) will know, I've done a fair bit of new route development at The Sporting Complex in Medlow Bath. And when you're at The Sporting Complex, looking across at the wall immediately opposite (the Pole 28 crag), there is a single line that draws your attention.

The line in question as seen in the surrounding photos is the steep face on the lower tier perpendicular to the photographer's position, and after many days at The Sporting Complex (and with the rest of my bolted projects completed) I finally decided to go and investigate the line. I spent 3 days rapping different potential routes on the steep face, before settling on a plum line up the guts of the face that would become The Impetus Project.

On the basis that all falls are over clean air (due to its steepness), the climbing generally consists of long sections of steep, thin moves separated by "okay" holds, and that you rap directly over the route (more or less) to get to the belay, I made the decision to bolt it "sportingly". As such, there are 7 bolts in the entire 30m climb, with the first 3 close together at the start (to stop a potential ledge fall), and the last two close together near the top for the same reason. So, as you might imagine, there is the potential for some pretty exciting airtime. From this, the name for the line became clear: big falls... momentum... Impetus

Looking at The One Line (to Rule Them All!) which would become Impetus. If you can't spot it: perhaps it's time to give the game away and take up croquet. Interesting Factoid #2: The crag above Impetus is the main Pole 28 crag. The walls to the right of Impetus host a number of reasonably good gr22 pitches of climbing.
Abseiling the slab-arete to reach the belay ledge.
After practicing the route a few times, I dragged out Jason "Ninja" Nguyen (one of the younger generation of climbers who had been introduced to the world of outdoor climbing by being dragged up all manner of ludicrous adventure routes with me... to his credit he stuck it out for the duration), and we rapped in to tackle the route. Based on my previous laps, I estimated my chances of ticking it at 60% for a full day of work (about 3 laps, which was all I could handle considering the intensity of the route). As such, Jason was briefed and prepared for the possibility of catching some monolithic falls.

"Fist bump for good luck!". Ninja looking forward
to gaining some Impetus.
The route begins with some easy climbing through a 1.5m roof (which is exposed, especially since you start the pitch 40m off the ground), then launches straight into the lower crux as you turn the lip. The hardest move of the crux is just before you get your feet out from under the roof and onto the wall, and is followed by a long sequence of consistently pumpy technical thinness with no opportunity to clip. After battling through this (and dealing with the psychological impact of the potential airtime if you blow the last moves of the crux), you reach an "okay" hold and a clip, before following up with a few more powerful moves to some better holds and an awkward no-hands rest.

Immediately after the rest, you encounter The Dyno: a ridiculous jump move from a crimp, to a crimp, which -even at my height of 186cm/6ft 2in- I have to lose both feet to achieve. One you stick the dyno, you're then forced into some extreme body positions to make a number of very small, hard-to-hold, crimps a long way apart work for you.

A sequence-shot of me sticking the dyno move on the First Ascent.
From there to the top it's thin, techno-crimping, which requires poise to pull-off, and at which point -on the First Ascent-, finding myself literally shaking with stress, I had to force myself to hang on a tolerable "finger jug" to regain my composure before making the final moves up the headwall.

Yep, I was rather excited with the First Ascent... Don't worry,
it's chalk and will wash off in time.
Fortunately, I managed to keep it all together, and scored the first Ascent of Impetus (26) on my first shot of the day (after having warmed up at home), which is particularly good, as I'm not sure I would've had the disposition to have another lash at the whole climb if I'd fallen off on the top headwall.

Suffice to say, I was pretty excited to have succeeded, and after Ninja attempted to second the route (confirming that it is indeed hard in the process), we did some easier climbing for the rest of the day, then raced back home to meet up with the rest of the The Mount RiverCrew™ who were christening the newly constructed ShredShed™ (see my previous Blog Update) with a barbecue and beers... Not a bad way to end the day!

Ninja attempting to second Impetus.

Pulling the opening moves of the crux.
Learning the meaning of the route name by falling off the last hard move of the lower crux.

And here is a short composite video I put together of the First Ascent of the route (in the Red Shirt), and of another lap on it (in the Green Shirt). The crazy Dyno is at 1min 46sec:



The Black Rose

The Black Rose (27) at Hanging Rock is a route I've wanted to climb for a long time, mostly due to Simon Carter's iconic photo of Richard Rogers learning to fly:

Taken from the 2002 Blue Mountains Rock Climbing: 3rd Edition guidebook.

A unique view of Hanging Rock (taken from the
belay at the bottom of The Black Rose).
How does that thing not fall down?
The route has an intimidating reputation as it features a fully hanging belay situated over 150m of air, is relentlessly steep, and at a grade that guarantees some exciting falls. Furthermore, as Hanging Rock is in the sun for most of the day (and therefor only climbable in winter), features a 1-hour walkin, and a 50m jumar out at the end of the day, it's not a route to commit to on a whim. Despite years of admiring Simon's photo and coveting the line, this is the first time I've really felt strong enough to give it a proper lash, and as it will be Summer by the time I get back from my upcoming trip to Yosemite Valley (and thus too hot to climb it), I knew that this would be my only opportunity for quite some time. Considering the high levels of commitment this route demands, and no guarantee that I even could tick it, I decided to make this a rope-soloing mission, rather than drag out a belayer.

Despite my best efforts, it still took me the better part of an hour to hike out to Hanging Rock. More time was wasted as I struggled to work out exactly where the abseil needed to be made from (there are no anchors, and no clear line-of-sight on the route), but after an hour of cocking around I managed to make an abseil anchor by slinging a dubious bollard and backed it up off a nest of dubious half-placed cams. At this point intermittent showers were passing by, and the wind was so strong that it was at the limit of what I would consider tolerable for rapping in to this type of route (in the selfie photo below you can see the abseil rope coiled over my waste to stop the ends blowing around the arete and getting snagged), but eventually I found my misplaced testicles, gathered my fortitude, and committed to the abseil.

A totally bomber slung-bollard!
A totally bomber nest of half-placed cams in dinnerplate ironstone.
The top 50m of the Hanging Rock cliffline is almost entirely composed of vegetation, dirt, scree, shale and general choss, necessitating that the 1st abseil rope be left in situ, and you Jumar out at the end of the day. After arriving at the bottom of this abseil, I rapped again (using my 2nd rope) over the top pitch (gr20) of The Black Rose, and finally had my first view of the money pitch of this infamous line.

From the belay at the bottom of P2, the gr27 first pitch looked intimidatingly exposed, improbably steep, and outrageously positioned. Suffice to say, I was feeling rather overwhelmed. I continued abseiling down the pitch, clipping into every bolt along the way (fortunately, the hideous carrots the route was originally equipped with have since been fully retrobolted on ringbolts in good condition). Reaching the belay below the 1st pitch (which is fully-hanging, and situated right on the very lip of the steep face, hanging above 150m of clean air), I set up my rope-soloing system, took a deep breath, and started up The Black Rose.

The climbing begins with some easy moves to a stance, then a few thin crimps to a bolt and the start of the crux. Despite being on Top Rope Solo (which is not so dissimilar from being on Top Rope), I was pretty freaked and had a lot of trouble committing to the crux initially. The fact of the matter is, that the isolation of rope soloing, the extreme exposure and terrifying steepness (meaning biiiiiig swings over the void whenever I fell off) of this climb, and the irrational fear of potential equipment failure was pushing my psyche right to the edge of acceptable levels.

The obligatory selfie taken from the belay below P2 of
The Black Rose, looking down at the infamous P1.
Eventually, though, I pushed on into the crux, which I solved with a hideous undercling and knee-scum out right, followed by some seriously tough (and sharp!) crimping with my right hand, a spot of tricky footwork, and finally a desperate blind slap to an incut crimp around the left side of the arete. At this point, your feet are getting quite rubbish, forcing some tic-tac sidepull crimping with your right hand and some trust in a few grains of sand (masquerading as footers) to throw again with your left hand to a better sidepull, and bring your right hand (and eventually entire body) around the left side of the arete. A few throws between ironstone slopers, and the crux is done.

Above this it is about grade 24 to the end of the pitch, featuring big moves between small intermediates, through continuing steepness to good horizontal breaks. This final section would be quite intimidating on lead, as -even though it is comparatively easy climbing- it is quite runout, and still terrifyingly exposed.

The sustained upper section of Pitch 1. Exposure much?
Arriving at the belay, I continued up the Gr20 Pitch 2 clean (which is fairly straightforward slab-and-face climbing, with a few thin moves to make it memorable, though with an unfortunate tendency towards being friable and a touch dirty), and eventually back to my fixed rope and the awaiting 50m Jumar back to the clifftop.

So, is The Black Rose any good?

Looking down at the crux of P1 of The Black Rose.
This section is unfathomably steep, and the fully hanging
 belay is right on the lip of the face below, directly
over the void.
If you were to rate the climb solely on the quality of its climbing, it wouldn't be worth the effort of going back for the tick. Though it has some good moves (and the sustained upper section is funky), the very pronounced short crux, extremely sharp large-grain sandstone, and an aroma of being a bit contrived (it's possible to climb up the face 2m right of the arete at about gr25, and link that into the post-crux top section of The Black Rose for a nice sustained pitch, though the current bolt positions don't allow this) don't do much to sell the climbing aspect of the climb. However, when you factor in the uniqueness of the position and features, and the obvious intimidating aura that the preceding reputation of this climb emits, it certainly warrants some attention. Though I do believe that I could tick this in a few shots, as I leave for America in a few days, I don't really have the time for it. Had this climb been a mind-blowing mega-classic, I might have scrambled all resources to get back there for the tick, but as it's not, I'm afraid that The Black Rose will have to wait until next season before I revisit it. The reality, if I'm honest, is that I'd go back to tick The Black Rose for its reputation, and not so much for the climb itself.

Beginning the Jumar back up to the clifftop, a torrential storm moved in, featuring horizontal rain blown directly onto the face and subsequently drenching the route, thus negating any chance to check out Oranges Poranges (25) or The Great Outdoors (23) nearby. Though this made for an exciting (and wet) finish to a bloody exciting day, I still had the hour long trudge back to my car before it was over. No one can say that I don't suffer for my art!

With my trip to the US of A beginning in a few days, and lasting for at least 2 months (at least 1 month of which will be spent in Yosemite Valley), this might be my last blog update for a while. Since I don't have a laptop, or a tablet, or any other similar fandangled technology, I cannot promise any comprehensive updates of my activities, but as much as possible I will try to post a few short blurbs and the odd photo or two during my absence.

In the meantime, be safe, climb hard, and pursue the obscure and ridiculous... After all, it's what I'll be doing.

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