Sunday, 4 December 2016

Swansong Part 1: Journey to a Bitter Sea

Abbey Road gets a lot more dirtbag! 
Matt Springall, Lloyd Wishart, Pommy (Front), Jenga (Back), and me. Photo by: Julian Hurrell

Jenga crushes Eye of the Tiger (29) at Muline.
Photo by: Julian Hurrell
When last I signed off I was down in the Grampians, battling record-breaking floods and struggling to extricate my Delica from where I'd gotten it bogged to the axles on a muddy road. Suffice to say, we got it free (after 3 hours of efforts, and a bit of help from an NRMA guy with a snatch-strap), so you don't need to send out a search party to look for us.

Me: about to get spat off Desert Rose (27)... again.
Photo by: Julian Hurrell
Despite the most rubbish weather of all time, we soldiered on and even managed to score a few fairly respectable ticks. Jenga, of course, crushed everything he set about: cruising Tyranny (29), Eye of the Tiger (29), Tunnel to Caracas (28) and Spurt Girl (28) (to name just a few) in short order. With the abysmal weather writing-off the more majestic faces for the duration of our trip, I was forced to climb out of my comfort zone and confront the steep stuff. I managed to continue my streak of falling off the crux of Desert Rose (27) (though I did score some excellent Drone-pictures, thanks to Julian Hurrell), but had a few small successes at Spurt Wall. My only real accolade was ticking Shattering Reflections of Climbers Ability (25), a traddy variant to the infamous Shattering Reflections of Narcissism (29) which pikes out at about half way on trad for a rad trad mini-adventure.

All things considered, the fact that we managed to climb every day of the trip, coupled with the lunacy brought about by our shared suffering (misery loves company!) made it a fun venture, so it was worth the time (and money) to get there.

The Journey

After returning home, it was time to knuckle down in my search for a job. I updated my resume, bookmarked a few careers sites, shaved off my dirtbag beard (!!!), bought a business shirt, pants and a tie, and starting submitting applications. But like all things in this world, finding a job takes time, so in the interim I set about trying to send my existing bolted route on the superb Sublime Point East Face... and add a few more Projects next to it.

Will Monks on Subliminal P2 (65m 23).
Photo by: Neil Monteith
If you haven't climbed on this face, Neil Monteith's original line there -Subliminal (3-pitch 90m 23)- is a rap-in climb-out mind-blowing journey, with sustained, technical climbing on the most perfect "psuedo-limestone" rock in the Blueys. It features oodles of empty air and gnarly arete climbing for added exposure. It's one of the most inspiring (in terms of quality and location) chunks of rock I've found during my time in the Blueys, and from the first time I went out there to investigate a prospective route that I'd observed (while climbing Subliminal, years before) I was addicted.

Knowing that it would be hard to find belayers for the route I bolted a year ago (which I estimated at 40m 26/27), I investigated another adjacent line which appeared to be somewhat easier, and might make for good "belayer bait" while I went after my harder line. About a month later, I would end up also bolting the last "independent" line on the face, leaving me with 3 tough-ish projects in an adventurous environment to get through.

The original routes on the East Face:
BLUE: Subliminal (90m 3-pitch 23)***
PURPLE: Subliminated (80m 2-pitch 24)**
RED: Castaway (90m 4-pitch 21)*
GREEN: Unconscious Corner (4-pitch 20)
Once again, I managed to convince my Old Man to belay me on the first ascent of the "new and easier" line on the left. Considering he always seems to forget about how unpleasant these rap-in climb-out adventures often are for him, I can only assume that he really IS going Senile. Hooray for senility (and my ability to exploit it to score a belay)!

At any rate, after warming up at home, the Golden Oldie and I headed out to Sublime Point East right as the sun departed the wall for the day (about midday) and rapped the 80m to the semi-hanging (but surprisingly cosy) belay at the very bottom of the wall, scarcely a foot above the void. This belay is shared by all 3 of my new routes, and also one of the original multipitches on the face: Castaway (4-pitch 21). Jumping straight in the deep end, I had 2 shots at the Project and fell off about 2/3rds of the way up the first (40m) pitch, both times on the same sequence. Starting to doubt that I'd be able to send this "easier" line, I was trying to work out how I'd lure another belayer out there even as I set off for one last lap of the day.

The pitch climbs about 12m of 21/22 thin face, then heads into a radical 6m leftwards traverse on super-funky (and very improbable) natural pockets and crimps. From here you launch up a powerful V3 boulder-problem with some seriously tricky footwork. Cruising through this, you enter the red-point crux of the route: a power-endurance test as the wall steepens, and the holds become extremely slippery and slopey. The overall theme of this climb is "resistance test", and previously I'd failed the test on this section both times. Surprisingly, on my 3rd shot of the day, I stuck the sequence (in part because I didn't stop to clip any of the bolts through this section), with only a single hard move remaining between success and failure.

My Old Man abseiling in to the
Castaway belay stance.
The final crux (affectionately known as the "snakebite move", due to the fang-like way you hold the crux holds) isn't particularly hard in isolation, but it's tenuous and unpredictable when you're trashed, and I was nervous as I went into the sequence. With my heart in my throat, I stuck the move and endured the easier climbing to the end of the first "pitch", 40m above the belay. I could've rested on my laurels here (since I'd included an interim belay out to the right to facilitate working the route, and to avoid the potentially catastrophic rope drag of climbing the entire 65m route as a continuous pitch), but for the full-tick I opted to continue all the way to the top (past one more gr23 sequence and lots of pleasant gr20) in one mega pitch. Even with strategically placed long runners, I will admit that the rope drag WAS bad.

Carlos, mid-way through the super-rad traverse crux, on
what would ultimately be his Send lap.
And so, New Route #1 went down, named Sabbatical (65m 26) in honour of reaching the 2 year mark of my extended "vacation" from the world of full-time employment. Unfortunately it had ended up being a bit harder than I was hoping (so much for my "grade 24 belayer-bait route"), but it IS utterly spectacular, and along with The Obvious Elbow (of Aristocrat Arthur Decanter) (58m 26) at Pierces Pass, it is a contender for the best thing I've ever bolted. This route has since had successful repeats by Carlos (who climbed with me in Tassie) and Ben Jenga, and a mighty Onsight effort by Ro Latimer, and all were very psyched with the quality of the route.

1 down, 2 to go...

A photo of the mind-blowing traverse.
Yes, I'm pretty psyched about it... Can you tell?
The next on my list was the direct line up the guts of the face, which was the route I'd bolted a year earlier, just before my trip to America. Unfortunately, after the Send of Sabbatical, my Old Man and I had tried "walking out" from the bottom of the cliff (on advice from Neil "I have the memory of a Goldfish" Monteith that it was possible and (quote): "wasn't too bad"). As it turned out, this involved another 30m abseil to a loose shale ledge, 30min of extremely loose and sketchy bush-bashing, and eventually a roped climb up a scarily loose, vegetated, death-fall slope to reach "The Shady Lady Wall" and the main Sublime Point walking track. The whole journey was so epic (and dodgy) that my Old Man decreed that he would never belay me at Sublime Point East again (I have to hope that his Senility overwhelms his vehemence about this over time), and I was now without a reliable belayer.

Carlos about to enter the final "snakebite" crux,
and seconds away from Sending the route!
Enter Ro Latimer, my climbing partner from a previous trip to France and Switzerland, whom I'd also encountered during my time in Spain. Young Ro was also a fellow full-time climbing bum (steadily achieving 3 years of Professional Unemployment, with only the odd brief break for some casual work to bolster his coffers). Despite once-upon-a-time identifying as a boulderer (at least he did when I FIRST met him), Ro had progressed to Sport Climber, globe-trotter, and eventually "full-on adventurous nutjob (he's actually been enthusiastic about Trad climbing lately, which inevitably means that his next stop is either the Old Folks Home or a foray into Mountaineering). Ro was psyched to try and repeat Sabbatical (and chuck a lap on Subliminal), and was willing to come and belay me on my Project... Nice one, Ro!

By this time I'd gotten adept at rigging the East Face with numerous fixed ropes to facilitate ease-of-access (according to Neil Monteith: I'd turned his adventurous climbing environment into Consumer-equipped Multipitch Cragging), so the trek from car to belay could now be achieved in about 15min. Again we rap in, do a bit of a warmup, and I'm off up the new route. This line shares the 12m face-climbing start with Sabbatical, but breaks off after the easy start and heads almost directly up the wall. It kicks off the independent section with a bang, serving you a V4 shallow, slopey, pocketed boulder problem (including some 1-pad monos to keep it interesting) to a good hold. Originally I thought that this would be the crux, but apparently training at the ShredShed really DOES have benefits, as I'd managed to totally dial this sequence during my 2 previous days of Top Rope-Soloing the route before Ro's arrival.

Looking at the Sublime Point East main face.
This beautiful slice of rock hosts my 3 new routes.
Generally speaking, this route is more sustained than Sabbatical, but it doesn't really have the intense "resistance" red-point crux that makes Sabbatical a tough tick. This route never gets easier than gr22, but inbetween each of the 4 cruxes it drops BACK to gr22, which gives you time to recover. At no point are you falling off because you've got nothing left in the fuel tank, you're falling off because the sequences are hard. As it turned out, the 4th and final crux is 32m up the route (right as the pressure and weariness are reaching an apex), and amounts to a thin and reachy solid V4 sequence that I only managed to solve -during my time working the route on TRS- by using 3 different heel-toe-cam placements in a horizontal break out to the right, which I change as my body shifts through the sequence. On my first shot of the day, for whatever reason (a low gravity day, perhaps?), I latched the crucial hold (a 1/2 pad sloper-crimp) with my fingertips and stuck the sequence. And suddenly I was through the hard climbing, with only 6m of gr22 face climbing to the top! When I bolted this route a year ago, I hadn't deemed to add another bolt to protect this final 6m, which turned out to be a bad idea considering the context of the rest of the climb (and I've since returned and added that extra bolt), but when I did the First Ascent I placed an interim #2 cam on the Send lap, which I'd carried up the entire climb for just that purpose. And as inauspiciously as it began, New Route #2 -Sojourn (40m 26/27), named in honour of my 8 months spent down in Tassie- was done and dusted.

2 down, 1 to go...

The line of Sojourn (40m 26/27), a year ago
(when I bolted it).
With these routes finished, my attention turned to the one remaining "independent" line up the face: the rightmost weakness with its own start from the same belay stance as my other two routes. Though it was immediately obvious that it wasn't as good as Sabbatical or Sojourn -unlike the other routes here it didn't go right to the top of the cliff; the rock quality wasn't as high (though it's still very good by Blueys standards); and it's extremely cruxy), it was still a 2-star route by the standards of this particular cliff (and would be a classic at most of the consumer crags in the Blueys). Out of a sense of completeness (to be "finished" with this crag), as well as a desire to see the last line of the face developed "tastefully" (with a view to the ethic and adventurousness of the area, as well as to ensure that the entire climb was kept "natural" (with no "enhancements" to make the line go to the top of the cliff, or to make the crux less cruxy)), I bolted this line, and dragged out the original developer of the area (and my usual partner in crime), Neil Monteith to help me complete this Journey.

Top Left: Jumaaring out from the belay of The Face Race (35m 24)
Top Right: About to abseil in to the Sublime Point East Face.
Bottom Left: Rapping the East Face.
Bottom Right: On the Send Lap of Swansong (30m 25).
Unlike my other 2 -harder- routes at Sublime Point East, I hadn't practiced this route on Top Rope Solo (other than a quick lap to "piece it together" before bolting it), so I wasn't particularly confident that I could Send it. Neil and I spent the morning freeing one of his new routes -The Face Race (35m 24)- in the rap-in climb-out upper section of Bentrovato Wall (also at Sublime Point, and also one of my favourite faces in the Blueys), which Neil did 2nd shot, and I was lucky enough to flash. After that I returned to the East Face one last time.

The NEW routes on the East Face:
RED: Sabbatical (2-pitch 80m 26)***
BLUE: Sojourn (2-pitch 80m 26/27)***
GREEN: Swansong (30m 25)**
PURPLE: The original routes on the face.

NOTE: I bolted Swansong so it's possible to
finish up Castaway (as a 5-pitch climb) to top
New Route #3 has some hard moves immediately off the belay, but by the 2nd bolt it eases back to about grade 22 climbing, slowly building in intensity over the next 15m as the holds get smaller and smaller. Though the entire route is a slab, it's a very awkward style of slabbing (with extreme body positions being necessary to utilise the sparse hand and footholds), and requires good friction to stay in contact with the miniscule edges. A micro-crimp sequence guards the first crux, which involves more tiny edges and high feet as you gain the height to shoulder-press into a flake-feature and achieve the main crux: an extremely complex sequence of small slimpers, and shallow mono-pockets and gastons, culminating in a dead-point move to a sloper-pocket. This sequence felt utterly impossible initially, but with some very improbable footwork it became achievable, and despite the grossly slippery-slimy humidity I managed to stick it on link on my 3rd shot of the day, thus sending the last Project packing. If I had to grade this sequence, I'd call it "tricky V4 slab", but -without spouting specific beta- my advice to anyone attempting it would be: if you're crimping extremely hard, you're doing it wrong.

And so it was that the last of the independent lines on the Sublime Point East Face was done and dusted, with: Swansong (30m 25), marking the impending end to my 2 year odyssey as a climbing bum(bly), and the end of this journey on the East Face. Sabbatical (65m 26) -> Sojourn (40m 26+) -> Swansong (30m 25).

Embracing a Bitter Sea

As I hinted at above, by this point in time I was coming extremely close to acquiring a new job (being in the final round of interviews for 2 different roles, and having just had very successful behavioural interviews, I was only awaiting the official date of my execution), so I had really come to feel that the clock was ticking. I used my remaining time to push myself a bit with some classic Blueys hard-ish Sporty Sport climbing, and was rewarded with a few sends that I'm proud of (particularly because they didn't entirely suit me stylistically), foremost of which was finally getting around to ticking Superweak (20m 26) at Diamond Falls.

And then, the (ultimately) inevitable happened: I got a job! Somewhat surprisingly, it was back with Telstra. This wasn't a bad thing, as I'd had a good journey during my (almost) 10 years with Telstra, and I was more than happy to go back to work for them. My commencement date was in 2 weeks time, which meant that now I really WAS on the clock... what to achieve in my remaining 2 weeks?

Looking at the line of Alive in a
Bitter Sea
(from the belay at the
top of Echo Crack). It climbs the
vague blunt arete in the center-
right of the photo.
The reality is that despite having a long list of things that I'd "like to achieve", I really only had 1 primary objective left on the list I'd assembled since returning from Tassie: a clean repeat (placing the gear on lead) of Alive in a Bitter Sea (4-pitch 90m 25 R/X) at Katoomba Cliffs, directly below Echo Point lookout. From when I first looked over at Echo Crack and the adjacent blank face immediately to the right of it (which Alive in a Bitter Sea boldy tackles) while climbing Genghis Khan (200m Trad 22/23), I knew that I had to climb it one day. But like Archimedes Principle, or Samarkand, or Echo Crack, or I Have a Dream, it was one of those "one day I'll climb it... (but that day will never come)" sorts of impulses. And just like Archimedes Principle, Samarkand, Echo Crack and I Have a Dream, that day -improbably- had arrived.

Warwick Baird on the first ascent of Alive
in a Bitter Sea (4-pitch 25 R/X)
First climbed in 1986 by Warwick Baird (one of my local heroes) and David Grey, the route harkens back to that terrifying era of Australian climbing when the sporty blank faces were being tackled in traditional style (before the advent of true sport climbing, or more conventionally equipped mixed routes), resulting in headpointed routes with minimal carrot bolt protection (usually only to mitigate a proper X-rated fall potential), surrounded by extremely spaced trad placements. It's a route which probably has no real place to exist with a view to modern styles of climbing, yet stands as a testament to just how ballsy (and possibly insane) our forebearers were. The wall that it tackles is immense in size, in blankness, and in aesthetic beauty. Residing next to the immortal Echo Crack, Alive in a Bitter Sea starts 100m off the deck (from the "half-height shale band" that runs most of the length of the Katoomba cliffs), and assaults the inspiring blankness via a linked pair or shallow corners, and a proud line of very blunt aretes that run the length of the wall. Visible from Honeymoon Point (the bridge over to the Three Sisters), and from drone-operating tourists on the Echo Point Viewing platform, climbing any of the routes in this area is tantamount to performing at a Circue Du Soleil show, with the onlookers "oo-ing" and "aah-ing" at your every move, and a series of angry bees (Drones) buzzing around your head. In short, it's a complete package, guaranteed to lead you through the full gamut of physical and emotional experiences.

Halfway along my fixed-rope traverse to
gain the belay above Pitch 3 (on top of the
teetering blocks a few meters further right).
Now, before we begin, I just want to say that I've had mixed feedback regarding various aspects of my "interaction" with this route. In particular, my decision to replace the original mild-steel bash-in carrot bolts like for like (with stainless glue-in carrots, rather than replacing them with rings, or retro-bolting the entire route), as well as my advocacy of this as a headpoint route (the style in which I approached it, considering that it's potentially dangerous -and at the very least, it's extremely BOLD-, and also relatively close to my climbing limit) which, obviously, is considered "unfashionable" these days. Feel free to leave your scathing criticism on my blog, I'm always interested in what people have to say (I just can't gaurentee I'll take any of it to heart).

Deciding to commit my remaining freedom to trying to repeat this route, the first challenge is getting to the top of it, which involves climbing over a fence near the Echo Point lower viewing platform (and scaring the shit out of the tourists, all of whom inevitably assume that you're off to commit suicide) and a short scramble down through a forested section to arrive at the belay at the top of Echo Crack. From here you do an exciting 10m grade 15 traverse across the top of the Echo crack corner (with a spectacular 200m of exposure), past a few gear placements, some original bash-in carrots, and a few newer bolts to arrive at the belay at the top of Pitch 3 of Alive in a Bitter Sea (pitch 4 being the traverse back to the mainland). I wasn't willing to lead-solo across this traverse (its rather intimidating on first inspection), and recruited Rene for belay duties. I fixed a rope across the traverse line for the duration of my time on the route (and probably went back and forth at least 10 times across it before I took it down), and set up 80m of fixed ropes down the route.

"We're gonna die!!!" Neil Monteith and I on the belay below P1.
I spent the first day inspecting the route and trying to work out exactly where it went (it's not immediately obvious at some points), roughly what the climbing would consist of, what gear I would need and how sketchy it was. I didn't really try and climb any of it seriously. I also discovered that if any of the original bash-in carrots failed (there are 3 on the First Pitch, 3 on the Second Pitch, and 2 on the Third Pitch) the length of the fall could be potentially catastrophic (especially for sheering subsequent carrots or ripping gear). Now I've taken some big whippers on ancient rusty carrots and have generally found them to be surprisingly reliable, but my concern here was caused by the enormous streaks of rust beneath MOST of the bolts, meaning that water was getting in behind them somehow, and causing accelerated corrosion below the surface of the rock. Obviously I couldn't visibly determine what their sheering strength would be in their current state (it might have been okay), and so I made the decision that I would replace the carrots like for like (though with glue-in Stainless carrots I'd made a few years earlier) IF I decided that the route was worth my time and effort.

Running it out above "average" gear on
P1 (24 R/X). Good thing I like stemming!
The second day I had 2 laps on Top Rope Solo working each of the 4 pitches, and quickly determining that the climbing was amazing, it was bloody hard, the gear was consistently EXTREMELY run-out, and one all-gear section on the First Pitch probably warranted an R/X rating (not quite being a true X-rated section). In short, you would need to climb a 10m gr23 section with several clusters of "okay" gear, which couldn't be positioned optimally for the direction of fall based on where you would be climbing (a rising traverse across the line of the gear). Additionally, one of the crucial bits of gear (a large wire) would be behind a mostly-detached moving flake. Though that in itself mightn't have warranted an R/X rating (and I was feeling fairly confident about jumping on the sharp end), a swinging fall that I took while Top Rope soloing succeeded in ripping out all of the pieces of pro above me, reminding me that the limited positioning of the gear made this one section particularly risky.

Yes, this flake actually moves... And yes
I'm relying on a big wire placed behind
it to stop a rather large fall. The next move
is a heel-hook rockover to gain the bolt.
Regardless, I was extremely psyched on having a crack at this route, and so I made the judgement call at this point in time to replace the original mild steel bash-in carrots with glue-in stainless steel carrots like-for-like. I returned after dark that night with drill in hand (I chose to wait until the masses of enthusiastic tourists were gone before I set about disturbing the peace with the sound of my hammer drill. I also didn't want to upset the authorities with my antics) and set about the task. As you might imagine, swinging around next to Echo Crack in the dark, with the Three Sisters lit up by floodlights behind me was a strangely eerie experience. But despite my apprehension, I got the midnight rebolting session completed, and returned later that week for one last day of Top Rope Soloing.

The physical crux of P1: a gr24 arete-
sequence. Pure Arete-y awesomeness...
Thankfully, it's bolt protected.
After 2 MORE laps I'd managed to climb the 1st pitch (25m 24 R/X) clean several times on TRS, and could do MOST of the 2nd Pitch (40m 25 R), but I never managed to link past an awkward dyno at about 15m height, and a move immediately after it tended to spit me off quite often. Fortunately, as the dyno was bolt-protected, I had no reason to hold back out of fear for my safety, and so -even though I'd never managed to get the crux pitch clean on TRS- I locked in a date with the Rabid Hamster (Neil Monteith) to make my attempt on the route.

Neil on the final (crux) moves of P1.
We attacked it on a Sunday -while swarms of tourists climbed all over one another to get the best selfie in front of the Three Sisters-, and were joined by Jason McCarthy -who was to be our acting photographer for the day. It might seem strange to organise photos for a route like this, but for some obscure reason Alive in a Bitter Sea had come to mean a lot to me over the years, and to even be there ATTEMPTING it was something special. Success or failure, I really wanted to capture a few key moments of the day forevermore, and Jason was kind enough to forfeit a day of climbing in order to facilitate it. I still had my fixed rope across the exit pitch, and had left 3 other ropes fixed to each of the belays to allow easy access to the start of the climb. Soon enough, Neil and I were at the shale-band belay below the 1st Pitch, and I set about my business (full disclosure: I extended the 2nd bolt with a 2m runner so I could clip from lower down and avoid decking back to the ledge on the opening boulder problem).

Traversing off the belay in the lower section of Pitch 2 (25 R).
Check out the wheelie bin in the bottom-right of the photo!
As it was, the "potentially dangerous" first pitch was dispatched with clinical precision, and I felt solid the whole way, ticking it placing all the gear on lead. Of particular note is the final crux of this pitch: a bolt protected classic arete-sequence up a slightly steep blunt arete, made possible by heel-hooking the other side of the arete to counter the barn-door. A few more thin moves and you're at the anchor... all-in-all, it's a very cool sequence, and it felt spectacular to tackle it on lead. Naturally, Neil seconded me on it, and ALMOST climbed it clean, with just a single rest at the 2nd bolt (after sticking the opening boulder problem sequence off the belay) solely to suss the tenuous and runout traverse section (equally scary on lead as on second, but I'd had the advantage of pre-inspection, whereas Neil was committing to it with no rehearsal whatsoever), before tackling it. With shouted beta from me he pieced together the rest of it beautifully.

The shoulder-buster move... well above
the gear, this move is gripping!
The belay at the end of this pitch semi-hanging is off a Piton, a carrot bolt, and a #4 cam. The moves off the belay are also protected by a #4 (and proceeded with an extremely runout and airy traverse) and another #4 is needed for higher up on this pitch. Top Gear Top Tip: bring at least 3 x #4 cams if you're going to repeat this route!

Any questions?
Coiling-up for the crux dyno! "It's now or never!"
Anyway, I cruised off the belay, not even considering the exposure, and up through the initial easy-ish moves. Past some initial early excitement (a shoulder-busting double-gaston crimp sequence several metres above the last piece of pro) to a bolt. Powered past a weird heel-hook section to another bolt, and now I was staring down the guts of the infamous dyno and its gnarly companion move. As I said before, I'd never linked through the extremely awkward cross-body dyno on my TRS laps (and often fell off the next move as well), so I had absolutely no expectations of success. I allowed a brief moment to compose myself, and launched myself at it with gusto. I didn't really expect to stick it, and was lost for a moment when I realised that I was through the move. Even then, I doubted I'd survive the following powerful precision-orientated move, yet somehow, impossibly, I was beyond that as well.

Dan Honeyman and Paul Thomson go Head to Head on the Crux Dyno!
(with a vastly different approach to the sequence) 

Dan Honeyman takes the Lefthand Sequence.
Photo by: Simon Carter (a scan of the photo
from the 2007 edition of Blue Mountains
Paul Thomson takes the Direct Sequence.

One of the upper-cruxes. The move to
gain the pocket I have with my left
hand is rather gnarly.
The theme of this crux pitch is runout, thin, technical arete/face climbing. It's never easier than gr21, but above the hard moves around the dyno-sequence, it's probably never harder than 23/24. Having made it through the crux for the first time, all I had to do was keep it all together for another 30m of climbing. The upper section is extremely runout, with a single bolt and 4 bits of pro in 30m of climbing (check out the photo of me on the penultimate hard moves if you don't believe me), but any falls from this section would be safe enough (though bloody exciting). It was perhaps this "fear of a monstrous fall" that allowed me to stay engaged and push through 2 more particularly tough sequences, the upper of which was the last sequence on this pitch that I was worried about. It was thin, insecure, awkward, and relied entirely on a smear-footer that is slippery, slopey and scary. When you commit to it you're at least 5m above your last bit of gear (a #2 cam) and I was ecstatic about getting through all of this clean for more than just the impending Send of the pitch. Sucking it up for the final (easy-ish) runouts, I charged ahead and was soon clipping the anchor. Crux pitch done. Alive in a Bitter sea was going down today!!!

Running it out above a #2 cam, through
the final (gr23) crux. This runout
continues for another 5 more meters!
The third pitch is characterised by a desperate bouldery-thin crux right off the belay, making getting to the first bolt rather scary (full disclosure: I pre-clipped the high first bolt from the belay to avoid decking back to the ledge). By this point in time I had the sequence pretty dialled and micro-crimped my way through it, past the first bolt to a "thank god" piece of gear just as you enter into ledgefall territory. The rest of the pitch continues technically past another bolt and up via extremely spaced (but bomber) pro, getting progressively easier all the way to the belay. I clipped into the belay, and brought up the Rabid Hamster (who also got the pitch clean) to join me.

Jason (our Cameraman) poses for
a selfie with a buggered (but
victorious) climbing Obscurist.
On the belay below P3.
After this, the traverse off (P4) was inconsequential (aside from needing to haul out about 200m of rope, and a beard-strokers' hoard of large cams), but soon enough we were all back on the mainland, and the last of the major objectives on my "professional climbing bum(bly)" tick list was completed. To me, it felt especially powerful to score a rare clean repeat (placing gear) of this particularly obscure and committing route, but with this goal accomplished, I unexpectedly found myself feeling empty and directionless. I'd been frothing like a madman 6 days a week about anything and everything climbing-related for over 2 years, and suddenly I had no clear objectives in front of me. Furthermore, I had an unavoidable timeframe before all of this would come to an end.

Change can be intimidating.

With all this in mind, it seemed strangely ironic (perhaps even predestined, though I don't believe in fate), that my beloved Delica's automatic gearbox EXPLODED into a cataclysm of shrapnel like a Claymore mine during the course of the very day I ticked Alive in a Bitter Sea, leaving me without the home I'd lived in for much of my sabbatical. Coincidence?

Anyway, since Alive in a Bitter Sea is rarely climbed, here's my gear list for any prospective repeat ascensionists (spoiler alert!):

Initial Belay = 2 x Carrots.
P1 (25m 24 R/X) - Bolt, Bolt, Medium Wires + #0.5 Cam, #1 + #2 Cam, #0.5 Cam, Medium Wire, Bolt. Belay = Piton + Carrot + #4 Cam.
P2 (40m 25 R) - #4 Cam, #3/#4 Cam, #3 Cam, Bolt, Bolt, #1 Cam, #4/#5 Cam, Bolt, #2 Cam (Consider a 2nd #2 cam here), #0.4 Cam. Belay = 3 x Carrots.
P3 (15m 23 R) - Bolt, #0.3/#0.4 Cam, Bolt, #0.50, #0.50, other optional gear possible: #0.75 - #3. Belay = 3 x Carrots.
P4 (10m 15) - #1 Cam, Bolt, Bolt, Bolt, #0.75 Cam. Belay = 3 x Carrots + 1 Fixed Hanger.

By this point in time I had just a single week of freedom left, and so it was that I committed wholeheartedly to accomplish as much as I could during this final week, in a full-contact onslaught of blitzkrieg proportions...

But that's a story for another day.

A victory cheer after Sending Big Red (60m 27) (see previous blog update).
Photo by: Simon Carter.


  1. It has been wonderful to follow the trials and tribulations you have had over the last couple of years, you have progressed so much.

    1. Thanks Nath. It's been a long journey from falling of 16s at Bardens and taking 15m upside down falls (and crushing vertebrae in my back) with you, back when we were both the ultimate punters (but having a bloody good time)...

      ... To Onsighting Echo Crack, climbing routes like this, putting up megaclassic new routes and various sporty sport achievements.

      Climbing is a Journey. And there've been quite a few epic speedbumps along the way. But we're the sum of all our parts -both good, and bad-, and as long as you're happy with where you end up, then all the trials and tribulations were worth it.

      Come out for a climb again, bud. I'd be psyched to team up for some RADventure.