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General Climbing Discussion
|A short story
||Saturday, 12 March 2005 At 11:39:48 AM
| M5 Sport-climb. – One persons recondite* experience.
The move; yes that’s it, ease onto it. No point aggressively testing. A hook either holds or it doesn’t.
Glancing at my watch I note that it’s been about an hour to gain this move located some ten metres above the narrow ledge, but time doesn’t matter.
I look down at the six pieces of protection I have placed above the belay and grin to myself when I see that the last piece, a small hybrid-alien, has levered out and slid down the rope to the next placement. Ah well, I shouldn’t expect too much from having only two lobes in, and it allowed me to gain enough height to place this hook. At least the piece before it is sound, though running it out much further will certainly be a test of integrity for the small dollop of brass on a piano wire, should the hook pop.
A playful gust of wind lifts the lower steps of my ettriers and the breeze is cool on my sweat soaked back.
Stepping up to my third steps I fifi-hook into the daisy chain and visually take in the ground ahead. A corroding relic fixed copperhead beckons the way above, but it is still at least an intermediate move away. I ponder the thoughts of the original ascensionist who conceived this line.
‘A3 Sportclimb’ he called it, but so far it has followed natural features and protection.
While crimping right handed on the hook I step up higher and stretch with my left hand to gain a small undercling. It feels sufficiently positive to enable me to stretch a lot further within balance and then with my right hand clip a second set of etts to the copperhead. I marvel that lichen is starting to grow over the metal placement and decide to only test it gingerly, as it appears to be OK from tugging on it.
It is only then that I notice a bolt-head out to my right at waist level.
“Where did that come from?” I murmur, as I fifi short into my daisy and start rummaging through my rack for a bolt bracket. I must be getting tunnel vision by only seeing the obvious as being a protruding wire.
The bolt is a rawl type and is loose in it’s sheath. I easily spin the nut by hand almost off into my fingertips and eagerly place the bracket then spin the nut home again. It may not be great protection for an outward load if I ping, but it should be OK for downward if I use my longest quickdraw on it.
The satisfying snick-sound of the karabiner gate closing over the rope breaks the mental tension that has built up for the time being, and I savour the moment to look down into the abyss sucking at my heels. I can barely hear the wind gust that I can see swirling the tree canopies far below, and the slither of stream threading its way between them appears benign from this height. It’s a falsehood I know, for I have forded its steep bed often enough in the past, where its noisy rush to oblivion seems an incongruous date with destiny.
Back to it, and the copperhead shows no signs of shifting so I march on up to my second-top steps and fifi directly onto its wire loop. Its amazing how the bodgy bolt nearby inspires more confident movement on an otherwise ‘iffy’ piece of pro.
Searching for a line of weakness above I note that two more boltheads are marking the way, but precious little else exists in the way of features.
Nature sure can cleave some clean faces on granite in this part of the world.
Studying the dappled lichen more closely I run my fingers over the more symmetrical pieces searching for hidden depressions that may be covered over enhanced bat-hook holes, as the meagre description I discovered of this climb mentioned extensive bat-hooking.
Eureka ! I found one.
If the Cheshire Cat was here, I reckon he’d have to take grinning lessons off me, as this discovery is worth more than gold to me at this moment. I deftly rotated a Talon Hook till I found the tang that fitted it best.
Having found one enhanced hole it ‘proved’ the climb description, and I then knew that there would be more, though locating them would be a test if the first was anything to go by. Obviously the route does not see much traffic I thought as I ascend my etts on the new placement, and clip my rope to the copperhead as my waist drew level with it in passing.
The concentration for this game gets little reprieve I noted after having clipped in, for I then had to adjust the length of my backup loop in the lead-rope so it doesn’t come tight on me before I make it to the next bolt.
At this point the wall I was on, backed off from the evil side to being merely vertical, and I noted wryly that the sport element was definitely there when I found myself top-stepping with one hand placed low and underclinging my weighted hook while stretching out with another hook and pre-clipped etts in the other hand to snag the next hole.
My breathing was now becoming more shallow and rapid as I was starting to put distance between myself and the last clipped protection.
Savour the moment, as next high step should get me to the next bolt.
Ahh, this is an interesting ethical dilemma! Did the first ascentionist keep bat hooking all the way to the top only clipping bolts as they were passed, or did they reach up and clip the bolts to make progress?
I opted for the former course of action but ended up spending a considerable time in precarious balance looking for a hole that I never found. Oh well, it is Aid after all, so I lowered my standard and bracketed the bolt to enable me to hook more easily off it!
Soon after, I gained the last bolt on the climb and found it no better than its predecessors, for it too was loose inside its sheath. I noted while clipping my rope to it, that it was placed just above half height between the narrow ledge start and mantle-shelf topout of this pitch. Judging the distances I assessed that if I fell while high on the pitch that rope stretch, assuming the bolt holds, will cause me to deck-out on the ledge in a gnarly shrub; if in fact I did not crash through it into the void beyond for a really good wrencher on my belay.
The sweat started chilling on my back as I eyed the remaining fifteen metres of hooking required to get to the top.
Two moves higher I again pondered on the inner tension climbs like this create, and realised I had already passed the real crux by committing to the runout above, rather than beating an orderly retreat while I had the chance. The exposure was starting to get to me though as I stepped up on the third hook move into this path of inner revelation.
I started considering options and consequences.
If I fall, I can still retreat and take an easier line to the top, but what if I injure myself?
I decided it did not bare dwelling upon and refocused on the task at hand. If it happens then I will deal with it at the time; but meanwhile I know I have the ability, technique and equipment to complete the climb; … it just requires the right attitude and focus.
I realise that it’s a queer juxtaposition, as I crave these moments when anticipating a climb; but when faced hard up with the moment; marvel at the fact that to carry it out successfully is much more than simply switching off and dulling the mind in robot mode. It’s a simultaneous conscious effort at focusing, and also deliberately rationalising fear into submission to enable appreciating the position, rather than just passing through it.
The moves; ... Yes; having a routine to follow helps; ... but the absurd timeframes in thin-aid subjugate the moves to occasional punctuations in mental-time; for the real climbing is in your head.
I took time-out to wet my parched mouth with a small swig from my depleted water bottle, and while doing so deliberately traced the path of Crystal Brook some three hundred metres below, trying to identify parts of it that I was more intimate with from previous adventure.
Focusing again on the task at hand I decided to counter the doubts and see if I could protect the hooking moves somewhat by placing the tang of a cracknup in the next hole. Up until now the hooks only held the lip of the holes by some five millimetres, and I did not know how deep the ‘enhancements’ were, to possibly enable other protection to be used. The cracknup blade slid most of the way into the hole making it effectively three times more secure than hooking the same placement, although the piece's action in practice was identical. I decided to leave it as pro and clipped a quickdraw and the lead-line, whereupon the mental pressure again subsided to an easily tolerated level.
Due to having a number of these devices I repeated this procedure of leaving one as protection on every alternate hole enroute to the top. The climb still contained its moments though, as to gain each hole required fine balancing in the top steps of the etts while high reaching.
Higher up I found one lichen covered hole contained a spider, and yet another hole was cemented up. This initially was cause for concern as usable natural features seemed non-existent and initially I felt cul de sacked within three metres of topping out, however another hole was soon found nearby.
I can only assume the creator of this climb decided to ‘pull’ the top bolt and backfill the hole, in order to keep the spice going right to the end.
At this point I could hear the banter of tourists arriving at the lookout and a face appeared over the railing above, which judging by the shocked expression had not expected to see this inhospitable place temporarily inhabited! Pleasantries were exchanged and I found myself immortalised on emulsion as they deemed this passing event of more interest than the magic vista surrounding us.
When I was asked how it felt to be where I was, my answer was a practical one along the lines of,
“I am generally too busy to think about it, but the foremost thoughts in my head at the moment are; that my waist is sore from the weight of gear on my harness; and that same gear seems to be quite cluttered despite my attempts to avoid confused racking of it”.
Their response was words to the effect of,
“Sooner you than me, mate”;
... though I had them sufficiently intrigued that they stayed to watch me top out, or maybe fall?
The distraction of the tourists faded into the background as I groped the rounded mantle of the exit lip from my second steps.
There was no way I could mantle off from here and so by palm smearing for balance I stepped up to the top steps to enable visual inspection of what I had been groping.
Hmm, no hooking hole; but from my new height I could reach further back from the edge and feel by Braille minor ripples in the granite forming a crimp type edge within a shallow depression. Not being dexterous enough to swing my feet up to shoulder height off this incipient feature I decided to try hooking again. Going through my hooks I found the irregularity of the feature precluded the Talon, and the Cliff-hanger size barely held. The next size up Grappling hook was not much better, so I opted to equalise it with the Cliff-hanger to provide a little more security when weighted, by sharing bodyweight between them.
Clipping a set of etts to this fragile placement gave reason to check my flimsy line of pro up until this point. The rear tangs of three well spaced crackenups leered back at me, seeming to say that if they did not unzip they would try to gouge me if I flew past them. The lonely last bolt sat squat and mute, just waiting to decide whether or not to hold such a plummet.
A final deep breath and a cautious initial weighting of the placement to see how much it creaked was all that was left before committing to it and stepping up to a height which enabled mantling off cleanly.
Standing on top I clasped the tourist barrier quite fervently and marvelled as the inner tension drained through my fingers into the railing. I realised then that despite emotion being contained to seemingly acceptable levels, it’s still like a pressure cooker; and there is much more reserve heat pent up inside than at first seems the case.
Their curiosity now satiated the tourists departed but my climb was only half completed, for I still had to abseil the pitch and clean my gear off it while jumaring out again.
By comparison to leading the pitch this task is mundane indeed, though it provides a mental warm-down opportunity when evaluating the pro, the control required in placing it, and the sense of achievement that success results in.
The feeling of being ‘out there’ while cleaning is lesser, but this re-ascent process gives full value appreciation on what, and how, the achievement was created. This in turn gives full measured audacity to the game; rather than simply the ‘doing’ of it.
It is still ironic that the magic of the 'moments' can only truly be captured though, by the ‘doing’ of the process!
At the finish of cleaning the climb I noted the whole process had taken close to four hours for thirty metres of headwall climbing. Slow going, but a worthy adventure none the less; as time does not matter greatly to me when I measure the experience in moments.
The playful breeze continued to caress the rock as I departed.
How (I mused), do we measure these combined moments of our lives?
Being aware of ones presence within the moment is a good start; … but the real worth is in the changed enhanced-value-perspective on life; and consequent increased appreciation of relationships, that arise out of this experience of going solo.
Some photos of the above event courtesy of I. Kable.
1: Dealing with abstruse or profound matters.
2: Removed from ordinary knowledge or understanding; abstruse; profound.
3: Little known; obscure; put away / hiddden.
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