Tuesday 23 August 2016

The Obsidian Depression

The Obsidian ObseDepression

Photo Credit: Ant Harris ( http://antsclimbingspace.blogspot.com.au/2013/09/bare-rock-at-fingalnorthern-tasmania.html )

Long term readers will know of my prolonged battle with a route I bolted in March 2015 at Bare Rock, dubbed the Obsidian Obsession Project.

Located on the top tier in the center of Bare Rock (off the "Orange Crush" ledge) in a rap-in, climb-out area, Obsidian Obsession climbs a beautiful bullet-hard black streak of dolerite, featuring sustained climbing on small, slippery, slopey blocky holds that demand intricate footwork and precise body-positions to make usable. The soaring position atop the Great Naked Rock leaves you with 150m of air below your feet, and the company of the local Peregrine Falcons (and Wedge-Tailed Eagles) to cheer you on in your many, many, oh so many red-point attempts.

Gerry Narkowicz's current Topo to the sport-climbs on the middle section of Bare Rock.
Obsidian Obsession follows the blue line in the upper-left corner of the photo.
Crux: Moves 1 & 2 (match this small, slippery, down-turned crimp).

The climb starts with a 10m section of Grade 26 climbing, very slightly overhanging, but extremely technical and precise, with sustained open-handed sidepulls, and increasing intensity all the way to the point where the crux section begins.

Crux: Move 3 (a big span to gain this
small, sharp sidepull).

With no rest from the opening section, the crux is 6-moves that form a V6+ boulder problem, where every move is harder and requires more precision than the last. Upon sticking the crux you reach a "token shake-out" hold (which also happens to be the only "okay" hold on the route), then blast into a bizarre V3 sequence featuring a "fall" onto an open-handed gaston, and a stand-up using an undercling crimp that is initially located above your head.

Crux: Move 4 (fall onto this
hideous sloper-sidepull).

Next is a tolerable sloper to shake and clip, then the upper V4 crux: a few small slippery edges, place your left foot at the same height as your hands, and rock-over to glory. Right at tipping point you snag a -literally- fingernail-sized edge, and complete the rock-over to a 1-pad edge that I can just creep my fingers onto at full stretch. Now all that remains is some grade 22 thinness, a megajug, and a final grade 22 crimp-ladder through a roof bulge. By the end of my time on the Project this year, I estimated the route at grade 29, using my experience and the other routes at Bare Rock as the benchmark.

Crux: Move 5 (my Nemesis!
From a huge throw, catch one of the
worst holds I've ever held in climbing,
build up your feet, and launch to a good hold.)

For me, ticking this thing would be a huge step forward in my climbing, and considering the mini-epic just to access and descend from the route (never mind climbing it), it would prove to be a big step forward in my patience as well.

The abseil to gain the "Orange Crush" belay Ledge. Obsidian Obsession climbs the black streak
directly above where I am in the photo.

A photo of me working the route on Top Rope Solo back in
March 2015.
I had 11 laps on it back in 2015, and made some progress but was completely shut-down by the main crux (and found the upper crux to be touch-and-go, even off a prolonged rest). This year, despite a brief lap on it while climbing a multipitch that goes the length of the face at Bare Rock (Black Fire, 4-Pitch 25) with Carlos in December, I committed myself to the true long-term siege in mid-January.

Initially, the route felt impossible, and early-on while Top-Rope-Soloing it into submission, I expressed my doubts that I could ever tick it. But as time went by I started to make breakthroughs. I dialled the opening section, perfected the V3 section (to a point that I never fell off it again in all my subsequent attempts), and sorted out some new, final beta for the V4 upper crux. The route was achieving a degree of perfection, but I was still struggling to get any linkage on the crux boulder even in isolation, never mind as a part of the full route. My lack of progress was starting to wear me down, and a massive flood in February coated much of Bare Rock (including my route) in a film of mud that required a complete rescrubbing of every square metre of rock. 

Looking down the line of The Obsidian
Obsession, back in March 2015.

This was very nearly the straw that broke the wayward climbers' back, but great encouragement from Ingvar Lidman, Garry Phillips, Gerry Narkowicz and Isaac Lethborg kept me on the siege warfare path. I scrubbed the entire route with the dustpan broom from my van, and fine-tuned it with my bouldering brush. Over time I got the route more dialed, and started dragging belayers up to the ledge so I could jump on the sharp-end in the hope that being on Lead would give me the extra boost to push through for the Send. But I was still being slaughtered by the crux on link despite being able to do the opening gr26 section 3x clean back-to-back consecutively for training. The intermittently spoogy, wet or roasting hot weather did little to help the situation. By the end of March, with 32 laps on the route since the start of the year, I was completely over it, and had -essentially- given up any hope of climbing it.

The final (desperate) moves of the opening gr26 section of
Obsidian Obsession.
I went and climbed other things around Tassie, bolted new routes at Bare Rock, and had a blast (as you probably know, if you've been reading my previous blog entries). Eventually, in June, I ended up back on Orange Crush Ledge to belay Garry Phillips on a route he'd bolted there- the direct version of my route: Amber Allure (35m 25). Garry's route ended up going at gr27, but while I was up there I jumped back on the sharp end, and -impossibly- made a breakthrough for the first time in about 4 months: I was able to consistently and reliably do the last 2 moves of the Crux boulder (which I was previously getting through 1 in 10 attempts, even in isolation).

Latching move 5 of the crux.
The race was back on to do the First Ascent. With Ingvar Lidman back in the state (and having bolted a new route near Obsidian Obsession to justify hanging out with me on the ledge day-after-day), the last of my Tassie Objectives completed in the recent months (including doing the First Repeat of Barbarella! (27), establishing a tough sustained linkup of Barbarella into Velvet Morning via 4 new bolts and 8m of new climbing (Queen of the Galaxy (26/27)) and ticking No Space in Time (28), I was able to throw myself at it wholeheartedly. Another breakthrough soon after (using a revised, but hard-to-see footer) meant that every shot was now a potential Send, and I was back to dieting, having rest-days, strategic warmups and targeted training. My whole life revolved around this route once again.

Building up to the last pounce-move of the 6-move crux
I was getting close: falling off going for the last move of the crux on link. I was getting frustrated, feeling optimistic, dreaming about the moves, discussing them ad nauseam with anyone who would listen... but still it escaped me. The walk up to the top of the cliff takes about 45min, after this there is a 70m abseil to get to the start of the route (with several points of short-fixing to avoid the rope running over sharp edges). The route is in the sun for most of the day, making either really early or really late sessions the key for ideal conditions. To escape at the end of the day, you either do 5 abseils back to the ground, or jumaar back up 70m of fixed ropes and walk back down the hill. It was a huge investment in time and energy, and I was beginning to hate every aspect of it.

Mid-way through the weird V4 upper crux.
At this time I was reading Andy Pollitt's book "Punk in the Gym", in which he talks about his protracted siege on Punks in the Gym starting to feel like a "day job". He'd punch his metaphorical punch-card at the start of the work day, destroy himself falling off the route, clock off for the day and go drink beer. Weekends were for having fun climbing elsewhere. I could see this in my own experiences, and as time went by I was no longer having any fun. My fuse was getting shorter, and I was snapping at friends for tiny mistakes in their belaying (on this route and on others). I could now climb the opening gr26 section 5 x clean back-to-back consecutively with 5kgs of weight on my harness, so I was reaching the crux feeling pretty damn fresh on my link attempts...

But I just couldn't Send it!

Almost latching the final move of the crux... again.
Finally, one day, I reached my limit. I was starting to go backwards in my efforts, falling off before I had actually fallen off (because I'd become so used to falling, I had become well-practiced at falling in the same spot... I was training to fail), and was just over it. On 29th June 2016, after one particularly pathetic fall on the early stages of the crux, I made the spur of the moment call to dog my way to the anchors, take my quickdraws off the route, and -for the first time in 7 months- remove my fixed ropes from the top of the cliff. At that moment, it was officially over for the season. That day I booked my boat back to the mainland, and resigned myself to abject failure. I had been defeated utterly... again.

Despite belaying Ingvar for several days after this on his new route, I was never tempted to re-equip Obsidian Obsession and have another crack at it... I was done.

The line of the "Rise of the
Masked Lapwing" Project.

Before I left Tasmania I pieced together and equipped a new route on the stunning headwall above The Great Roof, tackling the most outrageous exposed and steep terrain on Bare Rock, on the most perfect rock hereabouts, and with some of the most stunning climbing. Named the "Rise of the Masked Lapwing" Project (after an in-joke in my family), it is a contender for one of the best pitches of climbing in Northern Tasmania, and though I didn't have time left to score the First Ascent, it will be the catalyst to psyche me to return to my Second Home sometime in the future.

I caught the Spirit of Tasmania back to Melbourne on the 7th July. And thus ended my sojourn in the far south after 8 months. Make no mistake, though I was disappointed and disheartened at my failure, I was still sad to leave Tassie. I love the climbing there, and the environment is the very definition of "inspiring". I've enjoyed being a part of the local climbing scene, and also salivating over (and tapping into) the new routing potential. It's been a rad journey, and I want to say a big thanks to all the Taswegians who were a part of it.

Isaac Lethborg at the Boneyard
for yet another day of red-pointing
in the sun.
Gerry Narkowicz prepares to bolt a new "Bridgemaster Zero"
15-star Megaclassic at the new Tassie "Mega crag" of
North Sister.

Ingvar Lidman and myself on the Orange Crush/Obsidian Obsession
ledge (agaaaaaain) on yet another bitter winter day.
Andrew Martin repeats Yesterday's Hero (21) at Bare Rock.
Thanks for all the beers, Andy!!!

Garry Phillips working on his
latest Boneyard MegaProject.

I made a short film about my efforts on this route, entitled "Dealing with Failure: The Obsidian Obsession" which has been well received so far. Thanks to Neil Monteith for his "Executive Producer" efforts, and Crazy John Fisher for letting me use some stock footage from his short film: "Climbing Paschendale - Trench Warfare".


What Comes Next?

Looking across Taipan Wall...
Any questions?
On returning to the mainland, I made my way back to The Grampians. Being the middle of Winter, there weren't many people around to climb with (though there were approximately 100,000,000 boulders), but at this point in time I didn't really want to climb with anyone. I wanted to do some Free Soloing, some Top Rope Soloing, and a little bit of Lead Roped Soling, and use the time to decide what comes next in this climbing journey of mine.

Inevitably, that meant I went to Taipan wall.

I spent 4 days working Serpentine (29), which -though it didn't blow my mind initially- grew on me over time as I pieced it together and it began to flow. By the end I was thoroughly enjoying every lap on the route, though disappointingly I never managed to do better than 2 falls over its length (on each of the crimp-boulder cruxes) due to my lack of Blueys-style crimp-boulder fitness after so much time in Tassie. I know now, however, that this is a route for me to come back to in the near-future.


Looking down at my chalk and
tick-marks on Daedalus (28R).

I spent 2 days piecing together the free version of Daedalus (28R) which features a V6 slab boulder start that took me almost an entire session to do as a complete sequence, and an amazing (and rather runout) upper section that is a total sandbag at the original grade of 26M1, but utterly spectacular in its entirety.

Another day was split between Sirocco Pitch 2 (26), and Father Oblivion (26), both of which are great routes (but Father O is the far superior route of the 2,and nowhere near as cruxy), and another day on various smaller routes in the vicinity (including a repeat of Neil Monteith's Divided Years (25), a rap-in, climb-out route on the upper section of Taipan Wall).

I spent a day climbing Venom (28) with fellow New South Welshman Dave Hoyle (who went on to crush it on his Second lap), and did a few days of climbing with Kent Paterson at Van Dieman's Land and Muline (attempting Eye of the Tiger (29) and Path of Yin (30)).

In between free-soloing easy multipitches at Arapiles, I also climbed The 7th Pillar (22M1 - Aiding only a single move on the 2nd pitch, and the manky bolt ladder on the 1st pitch, having already done the variant First Pitch (free at 22/23R) last year) with former Blue Mountaineer and current Natimuk resident: Scotty Wearin. Other than a memorable moderate-grade multipitch romp up the guts of Taipan Wall, I went into The 7th Pillar with no expectation, and was pleasantly surprised. Every pitch is of very high quality, with ludicrous amounts of steep exposure at the grade, perfect rock, and challenging and varied climbing all the way to the classy beached-whale-mantle at the tippy top of the great wall. Definitely recommended, especially in its "almost free" form (aiding off just a single bolt, if you climb it via the Left Hand Variant 1st pitch).

Hanging out with Scotty Wearin on the belay
at the start of the 3rd Pitch on The 7th Pillar.
Eventually, though, I knew that the time would come to return to the real world And so it was that randomly on one arctic winter morning, while hiding from the rain beneath Eureka Wall and trying to psyche myself up for a lap on Pavlov's Dog (29), I decided that I'd had enough, and I went home.

Since being home I've had a few good days of climbing, it's been great to catch up with my climbing friends, and to see the evolution of the Woody/Climbing Training Environment (located in my back shed) during my absence (and the simultaneous evolution of those who have come to train there regularly). The beauty and scale of the Blue Mountains is always inspiring, and I'm actually looking forward to finding a job and going back to work (after almost 2 years as a professional climbing bumb(bly))...

But since I've been back there have been overwhelming challenges as well, not the least of which has been trying to decide what it is that I want from my climbing, and trying to understand why it is that I climb so obsessively at all. For the most part, I've been climbing relatively badly since I've been back. I've been feeling demotivated, flat, worn-out and easily frustrated. I've been feeling weak and directionless. On both rock and in the few times I've attempted to train in the ShredShed™ it's become rapidly apparent that my physical skillset has decreased due to not having climbed anything particularly powerful, bouldery or burly (in Yosemite, Tasmania and The Grampians, most hard moves can be solved with good footwork or some technical trickery), which -in itself- probably goes to explain why I wasn't able to step up to the plate and tick The Obsidian Obsession: I needed the sort of power and boulder-strength that I just couldn't build in Tasmania without specific training.

Or maybe I'm just looking for excuses.

Ben Jenga working the moves of Conehead and the
Barbituates (28)
at Nowra. Aesthetically beautiful rock
and climbing... Who would've thought such things
could be found at Nowra?
My inability to succeed at the primary goal of my trip to Tasmania has been a hard blow to my ego and my confidence, especially as it's not really that hard (by comparison), and the likely knowledge that I won't get another solid block of time to climb in Tasmania in the conceivable future means that the odds of me ever ticking The Obsidian Obsession are smaller than ever. Though I succeeded at most of my Tassie Objectives, and had a bloody good time during my sojourn, I cannot overlook the fact that I failed at what I'd really set out to do, and expended a huge amount of time to walk away empty-handed.

The same soul-crushing, ego-deflating sense of failure has overwhelmed me when I've been climbing back here in New South Wales, as I feel weak as a kitten on a worrying number of routes (which I would've been solid on once-upon-a-time), and my efforts to train in the ShredShed™ have been downright pathetic. I've never been a "gun" climber, but Tassie climbing -for the most part- played to all my strengths, and in doing so has now gone on to highlight how truly weak I am (or have become) in other areas.

To some small, amateurish extent, I can understand how exceptional climbers like Kim Carrigan, Andy Pollitt, Ben Moon and numerous less well-known local climbers (and even friends of mine) have destroyed themselves trying a specific route. Whereby the endless cycle of failure slowly withers away psyche and confidence until the very reason they fell in love with climbing seems incomprehensible. I'm asking those questions now, and trying to find my own solutions before my depleting motivation pushes me away from obsessive climbing.

But it's not all Dark Clouds on the horizon. I've got the perfect training environment. I've got the time to train. I've got a super-psyched crew of local climbers who are ever-enthusiastic and are crushing locally. And I've always got my passion for climbing obscurity to temper the egoistic pursuit of "harder climbing. There is tonnes of climbing-related activities to pursue, and I think that getting a job and having some time to rest, rebuild the psyche, and recover from some prolonged injuries I'm enduring will ultimately be a good thing for my future climbing endeavours.

In the meantime, I'm just looking for the proverbial silver lining among all these perceived clouds.

The "new and improved" ShredShed™ v3.0, located in my back shed.


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