Thursday, 22 September 2016

Perry's Lookdown: Back in Fashion!

Despite the common perception that the Blue Mountains is Australia's "Sport Climbing Mecca", I've always believed that its real selling point as a unique climbing destination is found in its "easy access exposure".

There are numerous major "Sport Climbing" destinations in Australia which offer as great a volume and variety of convenient quality clip-ups as the Blueys, but the large number of consumer-friendly large-scale well-equipped multipitch climbs is the one thing that makes this place truly special, even on a world scale.

So, what do you do when you're a Blueys climber suffering a crisis of purpose and motivation? You go and tackle some big adventurous routes in the Blueys.

Red Edge (180m 6-Pitch Mixed 25)

Photo by: Simon Carter
( )
First on the list was Red Edge (180m 6-Pitch Mixed 25) at Perry's Lookdown.

Known in climbing circles primarily due to a classic Simon Carter photo of Mike Law performing the terrifyingly exposed crux moves of the climb (shown to the left), Neil Monteith had some hilarious unfinished business with the route that had hung over his head like the proverbial Sword of Damocles for the last 2 years.

Photo also by: Simon Carter (and
pinched from Neil's Facebook Page).
Legend has it that after lugging out 200m of static rope (to do the multi-pitch abseil-in as a single giant abseil) and rapping all the way to the ground, his partner -Will- became ill with food poisoning, forcing Neil to undergo the 200m "Jumaar of Shame" back to the top. This moment of defeat was captured by Simon's immortal photo (also shown to the left), and insult was added to injury as this photo was published in Simon's "Rock Climbing Down Under: Australia Exposed" coffee book for all the world to see. Needless to say, Neil was keen to finally put this smear on his climbing record to rest.

On the 28th August we made our way out to Perry's Lookdown, where friends of ours -Jason McCarthy and Adam Pecan- had kindly left 180m of rope in situ (they were climbing the nearby route "The Regular Route" that day) making the abseil to the base of the climb a cinch. By 10am we were below the start of the route, and ready to rock.

Neil on the easier upper section of Pitch 1 (23),
with all of his obligatory whimpering behind him.
The crux of the first pitch (40m 23) was the first 10m off the ground, and was all Neil's to enjoy. The first carrot bolt (yes, most of the bolts on this climb are carrots!) is quite high, but Monty managed to stick clip it in classic Trad-dad fashion with the help of a spare sling and a wire. Starting up a shallow layback flake and quickly becoming punchy thin-face climbing on spaced gear, the pitch eventually ends up on the arete, at which point its a fairly pleasant cruise to the belay. Both Neil and I climbed it clean -though not without some desperate snatches and epic flash pump, and a spot of entertaining whimpering from Neil.

Neil's photo of me on the easy (but
incredibly run-out) arete of Pitch 2 (25).
The next pitch (40m 25) begins in frustratingly common Blueys fashion, with a nails undercut boulder-problem start right off the belay. I had a bit of a lash at the crimp-dyno start, but deemed it too tedious to put much effort into, and ended up pulling past it to the 2nd bolt. This pitch is alternatively written up as 22M1 (pulling on the first bolt to gain the second), and that's how I climbed it. Despite the impurity of a not totally free pitch, aiding the first move does make this pitch more pleasant, as you climb past 2 more bolts of punchy gr22 face climbing, before entering into relatively easy but terrifically runout face climbing on dubious gear. As I wandered my way up the pitch -traversing out to the arete, now back to the face, and back to the arete again- I did begin to wonder whether perhaps Neil had lead me off-route, due to the incredibly sparse and dubious pro and rather flaky rock. But all's well that ends well, and I managed to make it to the belay without dying.

Jason McCarthy's photo of Neil
getting creative to place some pro on
Pitch 3 (23). Taken from the P4 belay
on The Regular Route.
Neil's second lead was a corker of a pitch. Graded 23 officially, but probably more 21/22 in reality, it commences with an improbable sequence up a holdless slabby arete, before meandering to the belay in a rising leftwards traverse on beautiful orange rock. With no real crux, and plentiful -though spaced- gear, it was just the type of quality we needed to finally get inspired by this purportedly classic route. Slightly overhanging, the theme of this pitch was "keep your shit together" and despite some more hilariously frenzied dialogue from Neil (I find it hilarious when Monty gets scared on a climb, does that make me a sadist?), both of us managed to do exactly that, climbing the Pitch clean to the belay.

Looking down Pitch 3 as I meander my way up it. Brilliant!

Sticking the crux moves of the 24M1
version of "The Money Pitch"...
For some reason I'm going feet
first to the arete?
Next up was the infamous "money pitch" of this route - P4 25m (25). As you can probably work out from the photo, this ball-shriveling pitch traverses a bouldery-thin headwall above an enormously exposed undercut roof to gain an arete, which you then climb to the belay.

The first carrot bolt was stupidly high, with no additional pro, and 6m of utter cheese to negotiate to get to it. Fortunately, the climbing was much easier than I expected, and with the bolt clipped I found myself staring stupidly at a truly unfathomable crux. With some technical trickery I managed to clip another bolt further left, and despite the route description to "stay right of the first bolt for a few moves" -which seemed completely illogical at the time- I tried to climb the route direct up a series of invisible holds. I managed to stick a few moves and was probably one foot movement away from onsighting the crux using a grade 1-million sequence, but eventually fell off. Like the 2nd Pitch, this pitch is also written up with an "aid variant" at 24M1, whereby you pull on the 2nd bolt to reach the 3rd, and free from there. After falling off -and having no bloody idea where the actual "line" of this pitch went-, I decided to try and Onsight the 24M1 variant.

Neil hanging on the bolt on the aid move of the 24M1 variant
to Pitch 4. "How the hell does this go free?"
In the photo of Mike on the pitch, he's climbing left-hip into the wall, and working his hands onto the arete. For some reason, while Onsighting the moves from the 3rd bolt, past the 4th, and out onto the arete, I ended up leading feet-first. From the last "okay" handhold (and with no good feet to speak of), I flicked my heels around the arete to heel-hook it, and commenced a full-trust rock-over, eventually laybacking the arete in desperation (and with no idea what exactly I was blindly heel-hooking). Tucking in tightly to the arete, I managed to find a reasonable footer on the face around to the left side, and switched to using that, completing the rock-over and ending up on the face to the left side of the arete. Once around the arete, one more grade 23 thin arete/face move guards easier climbing to the anchors, and I arrived there utterly gripped and shaking from the adrenaline rush. What a pitch!

Neil about to commit to the -frankly-
nutty crux of the climb.
It's only when you're above the crux, looking down, that you can really understand how this pitch is supposed to go free at the grade: from the 1st bolt, you clip the 2nd bolt from an undercling (immediately next to the undercut roof), then climb up right of the first bolt until it's at your waist, traverse left over it via a fairly reasonable flake, and climb down a move to gain the clipping hold at the 3rd bolt. It seems ludicrously improbable, and the bolts don't exactly "lead the way" (though they are in the right places), but upon reflection it actually seems intriguingly convoluted, and I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't get a chance to have a crack at the true free version of this pitch.

Neil followed me using more or less the same 24M1 version, and with the same total bewilderment at the around-the-world nature of the truly free version of this pitch. Both equally adrenalised and psyched for more, Monty started up the final "hard" Pitch of the route: Pitch 5 (35m 24).

This too was a stellar pitch of sustained climbing in a true endurance vein (and featuring a long-ish power-endurance crux). Hard moves off the belay to gain the arete, then you're thrust into the thick of the action with powerful moves up a series of holds that are never as good as you want them to be. The rock is both physically and aesthetically gorgeous, but with the mini-epic of carrot-bolts and spaced gear, this pitch proved to be too much for the intrepid Rabid Hamster, with the metaphorical wheels falling off about halfway up, and some entertaining aid-climbing shenanigans ensuing.

Neil enters the power-endurance crux of Pitch
5 (24).
After he reached the top, I -steel feeling strong and very psyched at this point- was determined to climb the pitch clean on second, having presumed that Neil's fear and lack of multipitch fitness (he is a new Dad, after all, and forever consigned to half-day climbing) was the only thing that made this pitch tough. Inevitably, I was proven wrong, as I grew desperate on the final powerful moves of the long crux and over-extended myself to avoid using a bad intermediate. I was totally strung out 2-moves from victory, and consequently fell of. D'oh! "Alright Neil, I suppose it's hard".

The last "Megaclassic" Pitch (P6 - 20m gr10) was -unfortunately- mine, and was a pretty standard Blueys "exit pitch", consisting of vertical gardening, loose rock, dirt, a few vaguely climbing related moves, and the odd bit of mandatory pro. We topped out and were back at the car approximately 6.5hours after we left, where Adam and Jason had kindly pulled up the 150m of fixed ropes and neatly coiled them for us. What great chaps!

From here it was to the pub to recount the days events and stop war stories of sketchy multipitches, told with the aid of a thousand-yard stare across a schooner of stout. 

So, what of the route itself? Pitches 3, 4 and 5 were Classic. Pitch 1 and 2 were Average, and Pitch 6 was terrible. The rock was a mixed bag, but mostly was quite good, and the positions were undeniably inspiring. The good bits of climbing were particularly good, and especially if you're open to aiding -literally- 2 moves, then it's not even particularly cruxy. The runouts, carrots, and sparse gear make this a fairly serious undertaking. Not exactly "dangerous", but certainly not a route I'd recommend to anyone who didn't have a good, bold trad head and keenness for "adventurous climbing". As a Blueys adventure route, I'd give this 3 stars (with the above caveat), and I do recommend it to anyone who isn't put off by its "old-school" adventurous nature.

The Regular Route (7-Pitch 220m Sport 25/26) 


Jason on belay and Adam on Second on
Pitch 5 of The Regular Route (24).
For the entire time that Neil and I were on Red Edge, we were looking across at Jason and Adam on The Regular Route, a newly freed route originally bolted by Jason Clark back in the Dark Ages (and now climbed by Lee Cossey). From our perspective on the neighbouring arete, the line looks utterly spectacular, and just to demonstrate my point, here's a photo of Jason and Adam on The Regular Route that I took from Red Edge:

Inspired by this, Neil and I made plans to tackle the route in its entirety the following weekend (4th September, 2016). Clearly the route had left a good impression on Jason and Adam, as Jason had -unbeknownst to us- teamed up with his partner Jenna to reclimb it the very same day, and Adam had arranged to reclimb it with his missus -Carolyn- the following day. Clearly it must be good, right?

This time it was our turn to fix the ropes, so I lugged 180m of static ropes to the cliff edge, and rapped in -having to negotiate 2 knots in the process-. For future climbers of The Regular Route, here's an interesting little factoid that might make the abseil in a lot easier: you only need 130m of rope to reach the big ledge (with a bit to spare), and with a single doubled 70m dynamic you can abseil again from there to the base of the route.

Neil, just above the crux of Pitch 1 (23). Note the aretes of
Red Edge at the far left of the picture.
Neil scored himself the first pitch (again), and in a repeat of last-weeks effort managed to battle up the initial crux moves (more or less straight off the ground), cruise the easier middle-section, and teeter his way up the slightly runout thin-slab finale to the top. With Jason and Jenna now arriving at the base of the fixed ropes to start up the route, I jumped on and launched myself at the crux. Trying to use Neil's sequence (he sidled somewhat right at the crux), I promptly broke off a hold that he'd used, and fell most of the way back to the ground on stretch. Pulling back on at the first bolt (with 2m of gr18 between there and the ground), I climbed more directly up (which, having done it, is definitely the "correct" way to do the pitch), and continued cleanly to the anchors. Lapping at my heels by now, Jason and Jenna both tackled this pitch after me, and managed to climb it clean using my sequence through the crux. Unfortunately this pitch has some crap, friable rock on it, but despite this it's still okay climbing (and is, in hindsight, the worst pitch of the entire route).

Next up was -what would turn out to be- the crux of the entire route. A 40m pitch that was originally graded 24, it has all the hallmarks of a Cosmic County-esque classic in the vein of Toyland Direct, Aesthetic Images or Building a Better Mousetrap. Beautiful rippled orange rock, very slightly overhanging, relentlessly thin... I was psyched!

Neil seconding Pitch 2 (25/26), on the last of the hard moves.
Note the chalk braille below him, and Jason and Jenna on belay.
But I hadn't made it very far before I realised that it was proper hard. I got off-route at the 3rd bolt and had a big swinging whip. Even having another crack from the belay, I fell several more times before I found the crucial fingernail-edge holds up a rounded leaning-flake. Some easy moves led to an exciting traverse, which concluded with a solid gr24 sequence to gain the next bolt, after 5m of horizontal runout. Immediately after this bolt is the next crux: some punchy thin moves on microflake edges with improbably high-stepping and balancy rock-overs (and another desperate clip). After performing a tenuous mantle, its still a solid gr23 to the belay. Arriving at the belay I was pretty trashed, but the difficulties I found were vindicated when Neil had at least as much trouble, and had the forethought to leave a giant sling on the crazy-runout section, which was clipped by our chasers with a great deal of relief. Despite some valiant efforts from Jason and Jenna, none of us managed to get this pitch clean Onsight, Flash or on Second... We arrived at the conclusion that this pitch is either utterly nails 25, or soft-ish 26... Quite the sandbag, considering its original grading.

With Monty feeling utterly smashed after seconding the previous pitch, and me having had a chance to rest while belaying him on it, we switched leads and I started up Pitch 3, a 25m pitch also graded gr24. Considering what the previous "24" pitch had consisted of, I was a bit apprehensive, and sure enough I was soon feeling clobbered with another hefty sandbag. Jason had warned me the week before that there was a move on this pitch that didn't even seem possible, and it would turn out that he was right.

Jason and Adam on Pitch 3 (25) the previous
week. You can see Jason here attempting to
"Red Herring" direct version of the Pitch.
A series of spectacular face moves on beautiful orange rock took me to the arete, with some funky arete moves to a horizontal below a roof bulge. The bolt on the arete seems to indicate that you should go direct up through the bulge, but after climbing up to try the sequence a few times, it seemed highly improbably at the grade. Still on link (I could easily retreat to a perfect handjam and camp-out there to strategise), I decided to try another sequence going directly up the face on a series of thin technical moves. Impossibly I managed to stick the sequence, arriving at an "okay" hold, with only a few exciting (but comparatively easy) moves to gain the arete guarding the way to success. But looking down, and seeing that last bolt quite a few metres below me and positioned on the arete, and realising that a fall from here was a ground-fall, I opted to downclimb a few moves and jump off.

As you might imagine, I was pissed off to fail, and I ended up using the bolt to pull past the move and climb the arete directly. The remainder of the pitch was easier, but continually interesting arete climbing, but with literally all of the bolts in completely and utterly the wrong places (on the left side of the arete when you're climbing the right side, and needlessly runout when you end up in the centre of the face). None of us managed to actually get this pitch clean, with Jenna committing to the same face-sequence as I did, only to -also- back-off when she saw the ground-fall potential.

 Neil climbing the corner-crack, the traverse
line is just above him.
"Thank god, we've found an easy pitch!"
Talking to Lee Cossey afterwards, it turns out that you do actually go up the face on this pitch, and the existing bolt in this section was one of Justin Clark's rap-bolted original placements, whereby he was hoping the line would go direct up the arete. D'oh!

So, 3 pitches down, and 2 of them had been grossly sandbagged and had spanked us seven ways 'til Sunday.... Things were looking great!

Fortunately for us, with 4 pitches still remaining, this was the turning point. Pitch 4 was originally graded 23, but felt more like 21, as it climbed a sharp but enjoyable corner-crack (with ample stemming opportunities), before traversing boldly across the face on a radical line of jugs to gain the arete. Though the pitch was a bit wet, and the rock on the traverse a bit grainy (probably the worst rock on the climb), this was a stellar pitch, and ridiculously soft at gr23. All of us floated up it easily.

Neil, about to commit to the crux of Pitch 5 (24). Exposure
This was followed up with a brilliant sustained technical arete (24) on spectacular orange/red rock. Complex, tricky, sustained, and featuring ludicrous exposure with all the world positioned below you. I managed to onsight this classic pitch (though not without some difficulties, as I fought to find the holds and sequences on the unforgiving arete) and Neil followed suit. This pitch was about right at the grade, for which we were both extremely grateful.

Neil's photo of Adam just above the roof-turn
of Pitch 6 (22) the previous week.

Now that we were on a roll, confidence was high, and the psyche was back! Neil threw himself a Pitch 6 (23) with gusto, and was surprised to find that this pitch was also pretty soft at the grade (and also featured at least 2 bolts in completely the wrong places). Stepping out over the sucking void, he climbed the right side of a slabby arete to a stance below a square-cut roof. Steeling himself, Monty launched himself through the roof-cum-arete, and blasted up the juggy headwall above to the belay. Though the rock was not as great as some of the previous pitches, the climbing is generally enjoyable, and the position (and moves) are the very definition of funky. I followed Neil up it with glee, and Jason and Jenna soon pursued us cleanly.

Jenna contemplates the crux of Pitch 5 (24), and Jason
shows off for the camera.
The last pitch of The Regular Route is the same as the last pitch of A Date with Density, and a 40m 23 steep-ish pumper on sculpted red rock of extremely high quality. This sort of climbing is my area of expertise, and I blasted up it for the Onsight (having never climbed A Date with Density), loving every minute of it. It concludes with a long section of slabbing on inferior grey rock, but at this point, nothing could spoil the awesomeness of this pitch. What a great way to finish the climb!

We topped out, pulled up our 180m of fixed ropes, and were soon joined by Jason and Jenna, returning to the cars a mere 7 hours after we set off. Buggered? Hell yes, but what a bloody great day!

Neil finishes the grey slab at the top of Pitch 7 (23) while
Jason pursues him from Pitch 6 (22).
So, how do I rate the route? Well, for a bolted hard-ish multipitch in the Blueys, it is quite literally the best one that I've ever climbed (even better Grossness or Weaselburger), with 7 spectacular pitches of high quality climbing and generally brilliant rock. There are no crappy "access pitches" or "exit pitches", nor any of the weird vertical gardening pitches so common to the larger Blueys Multis (I'm looking at you, Hotel California!). If you discount the somewhat nutty grading, only the poorly placed bolts in a few sections mar this route and make it far more committing, dangerous, and rope-shredding than it needs to be. Our consensus of the final grades for this route are: 23, 25/26, 25, 21, 24, 22, 23.

Talking to Lee Cossey about this route after we finished it, I shared my opinion of the routes quality, as well as my recommendations about the grades and the bolting. He was extremely receptive and psyched to hear that we rated the climb so highly. He also advised that he will head out within the next few weeks and fix up the bolts (in particular: adding a bolt to the crazy sideways runout on P2; Moving the bolt from the arete to the face on P3 and possibly relocating some of the bolts to the "correct side" of the arete on this pitch; and moving several of the bolts on P6 to reduce the epic rope drag). This might even be done by now, and if it is, then I have absolutely no qualms about advocating this as the quintessential Blueys hard-ish Sport Multi. If you can hack the grade, you need to get on it. The word "classic" was created to describe this route.

And Then...


I was due to head down to the Grampians with Ben Jenga for a week of crushing on beautiful quartzite sandstone, but before I left I had some unfinished business.

For a few weeks I'd been playing on an old Mike Law route Big Red (60m 27) out at Corroborree Walls, Mount Victoria in my spare time. With a view to leading it eventually, I put in one day of Top Rope Soloing on it each week during the time that I was back, mostly just wanting to have something a bit obscure (and given 4-stars in the recent edition of the Blue Mountains Climbing Guidebook) to try and rebuild the psyche after my recent depression.

The line of Big Red (60m 27).
Despite appearances, it's not
actually as close to the corner
as this photo might suggest.
An eye-catching flame-red in colour, this monster-pitch of climbing is extremely varied in climbing style, rock-quality, sustainedness and rock-type. Marred by 3 shale-bands over its 60m length (none of which you actually have to touch, as you simply pull past them) and 8 rather blatant chipped pockets, it was recently re-bolted by Dr Chris Coghill and Even Wells. The route itself starts with about 12m 22 technical slab to a rest, before plunging headfirst into the first crux, a steep and powerful gr24 sequence, to another rest. This leads to a gr23 sequence and the next long crux, featuring some technical moves up a flake, and a series of powerful pocket-pounces which clocks in at gr24/25. A tricky no-hands rest, some enjoyable easy face climbing, and a punchy set of moves through a huge bulge (23/24) to another no hands rest. Finally, you tackle the red-point crux: a tough series of powerful moves through another bulge on surprisingly small holds, culminating it an utterly nails move to stand up into a bad undercling above your head, get your left foot to the same height as your shoulders, stand-up into it and drive-by at full-span to a good ledge, and the anchor.

After 4 days of Top Rope Soloing I had it pretty dialed, and on 7th September 2016 I decided to drag my old man out to belay me on a lead shot of it.

One of Simon's photos of me on Big Red, on the
final moves of the 2nd crux (24/25) punchy
pocketed section,
Simon Carter had also mentioned the possibility of getting photos of me on it -since it's currently given an unprecedented 4-stars, and he'd never had the chance to capture anyone climbing it, so he came out to join us for the day.

My first shot went quite well, but I missed a pocket that I was pouncing for at the 2nd crux (the 24/25 pocketed section) and -due to my habit of skipping clips- resulted in a rather massive whip (and the inevitable efforts of gravity to pull my substantially lighter Old Man through the first quickdraw).

After a quick rest, I went up again, and over an epic 40min I managed to top out the climb clean, scoring a rare repeat of this route, and a much-needed win before my trip to the Grampians.

With respect to the route itself... In my not-so-humble opinion, it's definitely not a 4-star climb, and in reality is probably more of a 2-star affair. It's still enjoyable in an adventurous kind of way, but the numerous blatant chips and the very mixed quality of the rock robs it from ever being a true classic.

"Ugh..." Our beautiful campsite at Buandik.
With that done and dusted, I headed off to the Gramps with Ben Jenga, Matt Springall, Lloyd "Methane Maestro" Wishard, Jason "Pommy" Smith, and Julian Hurrell. The weather forecast appeared to be utterly hideous, and -as it turned out- it has, in fact, been utterly hideous.

Nevertheless, we push on. Abandoning any hope of climbing on Taipan or Eureka Wall, we've stuck to the caves and a few of our number have managed to crush.

Good weather or bad weather, nothing is going to stop us enjoying a climbing trip to The Gramps...  

"Wait... What..? Ah dammit!"

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