Wednesday 16 March 2016

Sojourn in the Far South

Alex and Daniel (from Coffs Harbour) on
the mega 60m crux pitch of Aqualung (21) at
Stacks Bluff... Alex is in the major corner near
the top.
It's been a very long time since I updated this, and that's not from lack of desire to make a new blog post, but rather because I'd been hoping to have some positive news about my long-term project: The Obsidian Obsession on the upper-tier of Bare Rock. Alas, despite a protracted siege, it still remains unsent, with some intermittent bad weather (including a record-setting flood at Fingal), coupled with unbearable heat (for hard climbing) and a general lack of my own hard-climbing fitness (too much time slabbing in Yosemite, and it's been almost half a year since I've trained properly) making it a tall order to score the send. And so, the siege continues.

Fortunately, however, I have had some other adventures that I'd like to share with you.

Amongst the more conventional climbing I've done in the past two months, I've spent some time at various places on the Ben Lomond Plateau, successfully repeating some classic testpieces at Pavement Bluff (Howitzer (22) and Road to Ballyshannon (22 - going on hard 23)), enjoying the long and varied Aqualung (6-pitch 21) at Stacks Bluff, as well as some of the more conventional Ben Lomond cracks at Frews Flutes (Rigaudon (20)) and Local Loser (Hidden Secrets (20)).

Me on the First Ascent of Godhead's Lament (24). The camera
angle doesn't convey the steepness (though it does show the
I  also bolted and Sent a new line at Bare Rock on the underside of the God Monster arch, which went at 24/25 and I named "Godhead's Lament" (in keeping with the general theme of song-related route names at Bare Rock, and the God-theme of the arch in question). When I sent that line it was a contender for one of the Steepest routes in Tassie, and though it's not of the quality of the routes on The Boneyard at Bare Rock (nor many fabulous long steep routes at The Paradiso), it was still thoroughly entertaining steep climbing...

But then I decided to extend the route to remain on the underside of the arch in question, producing a 35m route which overhangs by about 15m over the course of it's length, producing an even stronger contender for the Steepest Route in Tassie award. Though generally consisting of pretty good Finger-Jugs the whole way, the 4 cruxes are all on sections of slopey holds or minuscule crimps, and the nature of the dolarite means that a lot of the moves encompass far less conventional thugging than the majority of the steep routes I've done. It's also -predictably- incredibly pumpy. It took me 7 shots to tick it, but finally Influence of a Drowsy God (26 - 35m) was done. Again, hardly the best climbing at Bare Rock, but incredibly entertaining, and no one can argue that it's not an amazing feature to climb.

The pumpy traverse right, where Godhead's Lament and
Influence of a Drowsy God separate.
Influence of a Drowsy God (26) climbs the underside of the arch, starting
at the bottom left corner (behind the trees)
and finishing at the hanging white rope.

Eyeing off the top crux on the only "good" hold of the
route. I skipped 3 draws on the Send, and took some
monstrous whippers on previous attempts trying the
same tactic.
Mid-way through the top crux, pumped out of my mind
and preparing for a big fall if I blow it.

Me free-soloing Lace Thunder (50m gr12)
at Whitewater Wall. The diagonal pink Aplite
Streak is Apline (70m gr12) which I also
Solo'd, and is possibly the best easy climb I've
ever done!
Nestled inbetween trips to The Organ Pipes on Mount Wellington, Hillwood and Cluan Tier near Launceston, new routing with Gerry Narkowicz in various places, and a whole bunch of training at the Hobart Climbing gym (trying to get fit for my BIG Project), my friend Vladi and I teamed up with two Coffs Harbour Climbers -Alex and Daniel- in Freycinet and spent a bit of time tackling the amazing porcelain white granite of Whitewater Wall, the soft salmon granite of The Star Factory (yet again), and -more importantly- the hilariously illogical Sea Level Traverse (16):

The Sea Level Traverse

Daniel on the first "crux" of the day.
"Mmm... friction-y".
So, if you're unfamiliar with the Freycinet Sea Level Traverse, it's essentially the ultimate Girdle Traverse-meets-Canyoning-meets-extreme hiking adventure. Starting from Sleepy Bay, you essentially traverse along the coastline to Wineglass Bay, sometimes scrambling, sometimes hiking, sometimes free-soloing, and sometimes swimming. Though there is only a brief section at about Grade 16 and a few other easier graded moves, much of it still consists of free-solo friction-slabbing (with the associated insecurity) up to 50m (at times) above the water. It was a route that I'd always been interested in doing (if only for the novelty value), yet never really been willing to devote any time to accomplish. As fate would have it, with Vladi after an easier-grade adventure (and wanting to visit Wineglass Bay), and Alex and Daniel up for something suitably ludicrous, it just seemed the thing to do.

Departing the carpark at Sleepy Bay at 7am, we began the days adventure by starting up the Skyline Traverse walking track (which summits all 3 of the "Hazards" peaks), before detouring back down to sea level just after the "Underworld" microcrag. Initially, there is no obvious traverse line, merely some "angled walking above the sea", and we had a few false starts before finally recognising the first "crux" of the traverse as outlined in the Climb Tasmania guide: a friction slab traverse 8m above the sea.

Another view of the first "crux". Daniel in the
cave "post-crux", Alex traversing, and the
consequences of a fall here are now obvious.
To be honest, we actually weren't entire sure that it was the "horizontal chimney step-across" outlined in the guide, but -feeling adventurous- I decided to quest across above the turbulent sea and discover if the friction slab traverse went free at a reasonable grade (or to fall unglamorously into the sea, which certainly would have amused my companions). It was committing at first, especially as the hardest moves were the first real climbing moves of the day, but fortunately it wasn't particularly hard, and soon enough the rest of the posse were following suit.

Committed now to the traverse, we powered along. Most of the traverse can be defined as "angled walking on slabs", with many sections of low angle, polished granite slabs that necessitate some "cautious footwork", but without really requiring your hands. A lot of the difficulty is simply in the route finding (and the recent record-breaking storms meant that many sections of the slabs had running water across them, which necessitated moves more in common with ice-skating than rock-climbing), and identifying the crucial segments of "actual climbing" that crop up from time to time, without committing to something ridiculous. "Common sense pathfinding" is probably the best way to describe the route, except for the undeniable fact that a girdle traverse is -by its nature- kind of ridiculous, as is free-soloing on slippery slabs above the sea. And, well, when you encounter a climbing crux like the ones Alex is pictured on below (which is a part of the correct route) you start to wonder when exactly it was that common sense fell by the wayside.

Alex, tempting fate on the "crux" of the entire route. True granite friction slabbing at about gr16, 15m (or more) above the sea. The running water didn't help.

Alex: still alive... Somehow.
Slabby! Daniel and I traversing, with the Star Factory

The grade 10 Offwidth/Chimney thing, quite some way above
the sea. Daniel starting up, Alex at the top of the lower crack,
and Vladi following behind.
As the traverse went on, probably the next biggest challenge was dealing with the intense foot-pain from wearing climbing shoes for such a long period of time. When the traversing got easier, we often went barefoot (and for sections of the harder stuff, approach shoes would've been fine, though we all had crappy shoes with us since they would inevitably get wet later on), but for much of the traversing, an okay set of rubber was mandatory for security on the polished granite, and none of us had "comfortable" climbing shoes.

Eyeing off the route The Meaning of Life (25)
on The Gonk. We probably spent more time
staring at this than anything else all day.
But like battlers, we soldiered on, passing by the rarely climbed-at "Gonk" (which, despite lacking a large volume of lines, looked bloody awesome!) and around onto the "Flowstone Wall". Here, the route-finding became a maze of down-climbing small inlets, meandering around enormous boulders, and climbing back up the other side of the aforementioned inlet, in a choose-your-own-adventure kind-of way. Though our pace slowed, there was more consistent scrambling/low-grade climbing, which made the whole journey more engaging.

Eventually though, we arrived at real crux of the route: the ocean swim. You see, it gets to a point where it's no longer possible to traverse under the enormous arete at the far left-hand end of Flowstone Wall, and so you have to wack all your gear in a waterproof drybag, put on your Speedos (something you'll remember I've been getting good at while down here in Tassie, if you've seen my previous Blog Update) and swim around the arete and towards a "ramp" on the far end of another inlet. Thinking that we wouldn't be able to traverse any further, we chose the "ideal" spot to launch, bagged up our gear, and plunged into the water in unison.

Downclimbing one of many small "inlets" beneath Flowstone
Wall. This whole section is a "choose-your-own-adventure"
routefinding process... Unfortunately, these guys were stuck
following my chosen adventure.
Though not too cold (especially compared to my swim on The Candlestick), the exposed ocean is an intimidating proposition, and with the chop of the sea and the currents throwing you around the place, it's a much more tiring than you might imagine. Wearing a harness and dragging your gear along in a drybag, while wearing shoes against the barnacles, doesn't do anything to help either. And then we have the added bumblie factor: that is, we'd actually launched into the ocean far too soon, and the 150m swim was -in reality- closer to 500m by the time we dragged ourselves up the ramp (with the help of some enormous sea-weed) on the other side. Alex, dragging that majority of his and Daniel's gear, was utterly destroyed, and the shock of the cold water left him with severe cramps that put him out of action for almost an hour. But, somehow we had survived, and once dry, continued on.

Looking back on flowstone wall, with Alex waving (or
drowning) in the sea.
Selfie at Sea. Harder than you might think.

Swimming (really?). Daniel and Vladi in front, with our
goal (the ramp) in the distance between the two.
Alex continues swimming (read: drowning), while
Vladi waves for the camera, and Daniel does his
best to keep it tasteful (Statue of David, style).

At this point, we believed that the challenge of the day was more or less over, and it was now merely an "angular slog" to Wineglass bay. Unfortunately, it was at about this time where it all went to shit.

Aaaand out comes the ropes and gear. A
rather dubious trad-belay on half-placed
cams and wires in dug-out seams running
with water.
So far we hadn't needed to rope up for anything -despite carrying ropes and a small rack of gear just in case-, but now the vast majority of the friction slabs (even some ludicrously low-angled ones) were covered in water and mud, and were terrifyingly slippery. We explored every possible avenue trying to find an alternative, before finally building a super-dodgy belay on gear and roping up. Recalling my gritstone days, I set off on an almost unprotected 40m rising traverse across wet granite and streams of mud, before downclimbing to a suitable belay stance. The others followed across my line (which we fixed at either end, before Alex was stuck with the unenviable task of seconding the pitch), and promptly ran into another hurdle.

The next inlet is normally traversed about 50m above the sea, but this section was also wet, and with no gear (or possible belay) at either side. I attempted to solo a flake feature near the sea-level , but was eventually stymied a few metres up, and had the arduous task of reversing the moves to the ground. In hindsight, we should've just jumped back into the sea and gone for another swim, but we decided instead to head higher up, to try and traverse across at the treeline above, and hopefully downclimb back to waterlevel afterwards.

Low angle, sure... But also running with water and mud.
Vladi traverses tenuously across my fixed line, while Daniel and Alex watch, and I serve as the bodyweight anchor at the other side (while taking photos!).

Alex staggers onto the beach at Wineglass bay (his shoes had
completely disintegrated by this point).
But, as you might imagine, things weren't so simple. Heading upwards involved some challenging friction slabbing which soon became too difficult to reverse, and we weren't presented with any feasible point to resume our traversing. And so, we continued to head further up, making our way off the slabs and into dense vegetation. Heading partway up Mount Amos in our meanderings, we probably wasted 2 hours bush-bashing through skin-ripping wall-of-tree, doing our best to parallel the coastline, before the knowledge that we were within a few hours of darkness prompted us to cut a bee-line down steep slabs and dense bush back to sea-level. In the process we managed to get briefly separated, before reuniting for the final slog to Wineglass Bay, arriving at about 6pm at night. Alex -already battling the after-effects of his swim-induced cramps- was now blessed with the misfortune of a set of shoes that completely disintegrated (like the Bluesmobile at the end of The Blues Brothers), resulting in a combination of bare-foot bushwacking and bodge-job MacGyver footware to make it back to the Mount Amos carpark. By the time Daniel and I managed to walk back to where the cars were parked at Sleepy Bay and return to pick the others up, it was almost 8.30pm... about 30min before dark.

On the beach at Wineglass Bay... finally!Vladi, Daniel, Alex and Myself.

So, ignoring our little misadventure (yes, we had headlamps, so it wasn't as much of a potential epic as it could have been), what of the Sea Level Traverse itself? Well, it's not so much rock climbing as it is extreme bushwalking, which isn't to say that I would take someone who wasn't a climber on it. By the time we'd managed to reach the coastline after our little detour up Mount Amos, I'd almost forgotten the fun aspects of the day and was instead focusing on the negative. My words at the time -perhaps a bit harsh and obviously tainted by that specific experience- probably still ring true:

"The Sea Level Traverse embodies all the best and worst parts of a big Canyon in the Blue Mountains -think: Bell Canyon, for example-... It involves some walking on slippery rocks, a whole tonne of scrambling, a bunch of swimming and getting cold, a bit of ropework, a fair amount of general sketchiness, some creek bashing, and an epic bush-bash through wall-of-tree as far as the eye can see."

Having said that, there's a reason I've done Bell Creek Canyon  and most of the other published Canyons in the greater Blue Mountains Area: There is reward to be found in the masochism that embodies adventure. And even without our inadvertent detour, there is definitely adventure to be found here.



My interim home in the Bare Rock
Shipping Container... Classy!
I'm currently sitting in my van in the dark, next to the legendary Shipping Container at Bare Rock, with my laundry drying inside it. I had a cold shower at the St Mary's Showground (for some reason the Disabled shower runs cold water, whereas the others only work if you have already paid for a hot shower), after getting a flat tire on my van -damaged during a recent descent from the top of Bare Rock- repaired by a local mechanic here in Fingal.

I just finished a week of catching up with my folks, who swung by to visit while on their own trip to Tassie. I did a whole bunch of hiking in Freycinet and on the Tasman Peninsular with my Old Man, and took him abseiling 200m down the face of Bare Rock after he belayed me on the First Ascent of Influence of a Drowsy God.

Today I bolted a new companion route to Obsidian Obsession (as both an easier exit route, and as belayer bait to entice others to belay me on the Proj) which is tentatively called Amber Allure, and feels about grade 25 or so.

Stephen: the Guardian of Bare Rock.
(He's on a fad diet at the moment, I'm not sure it's working out
for him).
Tomorrow I'm meeting up with Garry Phillips and Adam Bogus for some more climbing on the Boneyard face, and in the evening I'll be going into Launceston to meet up with other climbers and celebrate a certain Captain Mullet's birthday.

The following day I'll hit up the Mersey Cliffs near Lorny with Isaac Lethborg, before heading back to Bare Rock for 2 more days of climbing here with local Tasmanian frothers. Within the next 2 weeks I'm hoping to do a trip out to the epic Tyndalls, to climb some hard multipitch on immaculate conglomerate.

Selfie with the inspiring view from
the Summit of Mount Amos
behind me. Awesome!
Yeah, it's not glamorous, and its often a lot more lonely than you might expect... But I'm really not in a position to complain.

And besides, the Obsidian Obsession is calling...

A spotted Quoll, photographed at Ben Lomond campground.

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