Wednesday 7 June 2017

Back in the Brown (trousers)...

Wow!  Apparently it’s been almost 6 months since I posted an update to my blog. 

There are a lot of reasons for my prolonged silence: 3 months of downtime (with no climbing or training due to my elbow injury) and the inherent depression that comes with such a forced restriction; starting work at a new job (and consequently having to come to grips with being back on the “road most travelled”) in an office in Parramatta, commencing a new Uni Course (this time in Business Law); and simply not having many worthwhile stories to share.

Redpoint Day 34: Currently stumped by the infamous
Spreadsheet crux... No progress. Feeling this
project is hopeless. Thinking about giving up.
Lately, I seem to have been embroiled in a 5-days-per-week epic redpoint siege, with no clear end in sight. For a time, I thought that perhaps I was actually just doing “repeat laps for training” (as I have a brief perception of success at the end of each day of effort), but I’ve ultimately come to the sad conclusion that I am in fact redpointing. The sort of redpointing where you fall off the same move again-and-again (for nearly 6 months, in this instance), and go home with no feelings of satisfaction, completion or improvement. And like any good redpointing epic, despite my misgivings I find myself right back at it the following day.

Nearing the end of the 5am approach..
Ready for another day of redpointing.
Compounding the frustration is the tedious approach, which consists of a short drive to the parking area, followed by a long journey (about 45min to 1.5hr, depending on what sector I’m redpointing at) in a biologically hazardous environment (with the sole advantage that I can sleep during this stage of the approach), and concluding with a 15min walk, and an 8-story ascent up a fixed cable. At the end of each redpointing session, I reverse the process to return home, at which point I pour over climbing Biographies, Instagram posts, Guidebooks, and my own nostalgic photos of RADventures™ from times long past. Rinse and repeat, ad infanitum, ad nauseum

I’m not entirely sure how to gauge success on this redpointing process, as the obscure ethics for a valid tick and flick aren’t entirely clear yet, so it seems that I just keep on throwing myself at my goal, while waiting for some external entity to declare final success or failure.

Regardless, in the meantime I need to stick with it (maybe out of a sense of masochism?), and so the siege continues, with no specific end in sight (though if I move to Tasmania permanently within the next few years, the siege will have to end out of necessity).

But aside from that particularly unfulfilling siege, we have:

Tientel (200m 6-Pitch Trad 21 R)

After several months with no climbing (but a tonne of stretching and strengthening exercises, and a veritable plethora of anti-inflammatories), I felt like my busted elbow had recovered enough to return to more interesting climbing-related activities, and –for some ridiculous reason-, I talked the irrepressible Neil Monteith into having a crack at Tientel (200m 6-Pitch Trad 21 R).

Why Tientel? Well, first of all, the old guidebook made it sound spectacular, tackling at “soaring line” with plenty of roofs, and quite sustained in the Trad 20-21 range (not to mention a hefty assortment of stars), but also because a few other trad climbers of my acquaintance had mentioned interest in climbing it, which –naturally- piqued my own curiosity. A bit of fast talking and Neil was hooked, and so it was that (a few months ago) we found ourselves once again descending the main Pierces Pass walking track in pursuit of obscure game.

Day 3 on the Kokoda, and still no sign of the enemy...
But I know that they're out there... I can smell them..."Sport climbers... ugh."
Just past Grasshopper, you break-off from the main track, and follow a footpad downhill and across a stream (essentially reversing the Yileen Canyon exit track), and past the super-popular Bladderhozen (and Neil’s far superior Iron Throne (4-Pitch Sport 24)) before arriving at the end of Yileen Canyon. From here on out, the “track” went full Kokoda, as we descended into the heart of darkness, battling through wall-of-tree, becoming properly ensnared in Aragog’s Webs (read: clinging Lawyer vines), and managing to take the better part of 30min to travel about 100m from the end of Yileen Canyon, to our ultimate destination. Even early in the morning, and still in the shade, the humidity was through the roof, and the forecast for the day could be summed up with a single word: “inferno”... It was going to be a hot one, and Neil had brought a mere trickle of water with him to get him through the climb.

Neil starts up Pitch 1... I said we were briefly inspired, right?
Arriving at the base of the route, we were briefly inspired by what was –clearly- a soaring corner-crack line heading some 200m up the face in front of us, interrupted by several imposing-looking rooflets. The key word to the last sentence was briefly as, alas, by the time we’d scrambled down to where the climb actually started from, we were considerably less inspired.

The start of Pitch 2... Mega!
The first pitch (15m 15) looked utterly hideous, and –as it would turn out- climbed as grotesquely as it appeared. Fortunately for me, it was Neil’s lead and not mine, so with a sarcastic “have fun, Monty!”, he commenced stemming up moss, vegetation and loose rock. After staring death in the face (via 8m of unprotectable loose mank), he achieved a “tolerable” piece of protection in the corner, before traversing along a shale ledge to the belay. Stitching the stance up with a barrage of dubious gear, Neil put me on belay, and -emulating his grovelling effort-, I joined him on the stance, and set about “admiring” the next pitch (50m 20).

Looking back down Pitch 2, moments after Neil was
swallowed up by the Triffids on their quest to take over
Pierces Pass (East Side).
It started with teetering blocks immediately above the belay, progressed to a completely vegetated crack at a moderately challenging angle, and concluded with a “bit of nice rock near the top, up there-” (to quote Neil). Well wouldn’t you know it, this pitch also climbed about as “spectacular” as it looked. I balanced by way up the precarious death-blocks. Whimpered my way (with minimal protection) past the overgrowth –deviating from the main crack line and climbing a more technical crack on the face to the right at one point in order to find gear-, and arrived at the “bit of nice rock”, which –If I’m honest- did look fairly good. It turned out that it was slightly loose and a bit flakey, but encompassed about 15m of worthwhile laybacking up vague steepness with ticky-tac feet to the belay.

My belay while Neil excavates half the cliff
on my head. Fun!
This experience of “lots of crap” end-capped by “a little bit of great climbing” became our mantra for the day, as Neil soon found out on his next lead (50m 20). Almost immediately off the belay he encountered a rooflet, which wasn’t particularly hard, but was committing and poorly protected. After excavating a cubic metre of mud and vegetation onto my head (unlike me, Neil is more than happy to dig-out cracks with his nutkey to find gear… I usually can’t be bothered and just keep climbing), he bouldered out the roof-turn and was abruptly devoured up by an easy-grade offwidth-cum-chimney. Despite blocks buried in the back of the chimney just waiting to brain an inattentive belayer, the steep feature itself was quite reasonable and harboured a few devious moves. The pitch concluded, however, with an exposed steep-layback to exit the chimney, which was engaging, if nothing else. Monty dispatched the pitch with ease (and a minimum amount of whimpering) and I didn’t find it too terrible (for an adventure route).

Neil digging into the bowels of the earth on P2.
He has clearly missed his calling in life: coal mining.

"Hopes were on the rise, but inevitably they were about to be crushed..."


Me seconding Pitch 3... I'll concede
that this part wasn't too bad...
Shame about the other 190m.
At about this point, Neil had finished off his miniscule supply of water and had incorporated complaining about dehydration and delirium into his act, whereas I was selfishly hording mine, whetting my tongue with a single splash of water as a reward for every pitch climbed, saving it all for the final push to the top, when the real weariness and thirst would set in (and, naturally, pretending that I didn't have any left to share with Monty... yeah, I'm that kind of selfish bastard).

Neil, clearly in the delusional death throes of extreme dehydration.

A moment of pleasant steep stemming after having
just turned the shaley death-roof of deathly death.
This photo really doesn't convey how crap the
rock really is.
Next up was a 30m 21, featuring the biggest, proudest roof on the route, split by a wide-crack, and followed by a steep corner crack, all of which looked quite appealing. Setting off, I rapidly discovered that there was no REAL gear for 7m off the belay (due to the shattered rock in the crack), and the roof itself was naught but shale, surrounded by more shale. The only protection I could find was to climb part-way into the shale roof (bridging on shale, and clinging gingerly to more shale), and stuffing the number 5 cam at the back of the wide crack (in… wait for it… SHALE!). Though it was obvious that the moves weren’t going to be very hard, I’ll admit that I was bloody terrified, and up-climbed and down-climbed for about 20min, refusing to commit or to bail. Eventually, I climbed up too far and was accidentally fully committed. Shaking and whimpering (and inventing expletives that –without the context of the moment- make absolutely no sense in hindsight), I turned the roof, feet road-runnering on the disintegrating opposing wall, and lunged for a solid jam in the corner crack. Once there, I could get a stance and some real gear, and the rest of the pitch (though continuing the theme of looseness) wasn’t overly offensive.

The end of Pitch 4... this is actually good
climbing, by comparison to the rest of
the route.
Yet again, we foolishly succumbed to a moment of hope, a brief ray of light cast by the next pitch (40m 21), which seemed a fairly pleasant thinning steep corner crack, tackling another large roof near the top on good-looking rock… Then Neil started climbing it, and we wondered why –after the previous 4 pitches- we hadn’t learned our lesson yet about the nature of this climb.

Don’t get me wrong, the rock looked intriguing, the line was eye-catching, and the moves turned out to be radical, all of the set-pieces were in position for a beautiful end-cap to this obscure multi-pitch debacle… But Tientel really, REALLY wanted to be certain the door wholloped us on our collective arses on the way out, and for Monty it pulled out all the stops.

Pitch 5... Vegetated and crap gear...
but surprisingly funky!
The rock was –as per the norm- quite average, the gear was spaced and marginal (often placed in disintegrating slots), and wet vegetation had overrun anything that could possibly be called a hold. Like a good soldier, Neil went into battle, and whimpered, whinged, gardened, scrapped, and thrutched ever upwards, using some impressive and improbable bridging to get around the overgrown holds (by, essentially, avoiding using any holds at all). He turned the roof of the corner, and was out of sight for a good 30min, with only a barrage of dug-out vegetation and the odd cursive comment as proof of the fact that he was –in fact- still alive on the sharp end of the rope.

Finally, after an actual eternity, he was done and dusted, and it was my turn to follow. And follow I did, doing my best impression of Neil (complete with whimpering, whinging, gardening, scrapping, thrutching and bridging), and soon I too had turned the roof and was confronted with a fused, chossy corner-system, with thin slab moves totally overgrown by lichen and vegetation. After removing the gear immediately after the roof, Neil helpfully warned me “I’m on a really bad belay here… whatever you do, don’t fall”. Thanks Neil.

Trad Checklist Item #34:
awkward dirty roof-turn... check!
Arriving at the belay (which was, I can verify, really bad), the final grade 12 pitch loomed before us. Perhaps, after a bushfire to reduce the rainforest growing out of the mank to nought but ash it was climbable as only moderately terrible grade 12. As it was now, it was transcendentally bad, and earns a coveted podium finish on my list of “worst pitches of climbing I’ve ever done anywhere ever in any style”. With no protection in sight, and very little visible rock (and with even the mere thought of touching these small patches of rock being enough for it to break off), all I was doing was pulling on small, fragile tufts of muddy grass and using my climbing shoes like crampons, as I kicked my front points into the muck and complained my way upwards. This was not the “vaguely tolerable” vegetation that we purveyors of the esoteric are used to, as that stuff generally holds long enough for you to make upward progress. No, this was a particularly sadistic and malevolent form of vegetation, that taunted you by looking “okay”, but in reality it wasn’t really attached to anything at all. Upward progress was hard, solely because it was unfathomable: “how do I go up, when anything I touch disintegrates?”

Tasty, Tasty Canyon water...
After an incalculable amount of time, and having taken my abilities in expletives to previously unfathomable height, I wormed my way over the top, and the climb was -thankfully- in the past tense.

After Monty joined me on the top, we shared the remaining 14 millilitres of water I had remaining, and descended back through the jungle by way of “vegetation surfing” down a near-vertical gully, and a full 60m abseil back to the ground. After another thousand years to bush-bash back to the start of the route and retrieve our gear, we meandered back to the cars, and the day was done.

Alright, a rating of the route...

Ummm… if you read my above Trip Report, do you REALLY need a rating? You’re gonna push me on the point? Really? Seriously? Alright, alright, sheesh…

Mmmm... Popular!
It was adventurous and seldom climbed (both positives), yet almost the entirety of every pitch was overrun with vegetation, choss and dirt. Sections of climbing were okay, but much of the gear was woeful. The approach and exit were only worthwhile if you’re keen on re-enacting the Australian soldiers’ journey along the Kokoda Track. Hence my conclusion:

Even in the “adventurous trad multi” category, I’d give this one a miss. 0.5/3 Obscurist stars (which seeks to also factor in that there is appeal in a lack of appeal amongst certain Obscurist types).

After this experience, maybe I’ll stick to sport climbing from now on…

Seriously thought, I often get asked why -since I basically spend my whole time complaining about these obscure routes, and telling everyone not to do them- I keep on seeking out and climbing them anyway... The answer is that there's an appeal in the unappealing, and in repeating the seldom repeated, and in debunking the (sometimes hilarious) stars and reputations that come to be ascribed to routes rarely climbed. There's also a special kind of lunacy that comes with both fear, and a particular sort of masochistic shared suffering. I enjoy a lot of these routes, not for the routes themselves, but for the experiences (often enjoyed through the anecdotes they form, or with the beauty of hindsight) that they produce through their hideousness.

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