|Warrumbungles October 2007
"Hey, about that Warrumbungles trip..".
The words popped out of my mouth at the gym that evening when I saw Joe and Naomi. "I think I'm interested". I didn't really know what I was signing up for at that stage. I'd heard of the Warrumbungles but didn't really know where they were, or what the climbing was like.
A supposed planning session at Munro St lapsed into a slide night, but it allowed me to meet the 4th member of the party, John, and to see some photos of the place. Wow. 300m trachyte walls with routes up to 500m in length. Just the type of holiday I needed. It was on.
Eventually on the Newell you see mountains in the distance ..
We left Melbourne on Friday evening and with an overnight stop in Jerilderie completed the 980km trip around 3pm the next day, with plenty of time to pick up the hut key from the park centre. A repacking session in the car park, then we shouldered our loads and made the steep trek up to Balor hut before darkness.
Are we really going to carry all this stuff? .. yup
Day One, Sunday, we chose Crater Bluff as an introduction - the classic Cornerstone Rib Direct (14). John and I gave Joe and Naomi a head start from the hut so they could get a pitch in front, then walked in. All went well except for a dull "thud" below me as I led the crux pitch, just behind Naomi who was seconding. I was puzzled to figure out what I'd dropped, until Naomi said something like "shit .. the walkie-talkie ..". It was never seen again.
Crater Bluff walk-in
Joe on Cornerstone Rib
Naomi on the summit of Crater Bluff
Descending Green Glacier
John and I reached the summit in good time, and ate a great lunch on time while Joe placed the first glue-in bolt for the new abseil station. We went to help with the drilling of the second hole.
We rapped off the usual tree while the glue dried, descended Green Glacier, updated the other two rap stations en route and were back to camp in good time.
Monday John woke up feeling sick so I teamed up with Joe and Naomi for an attempt on the stellar route "The Flight of the Phoenix" (300m 18) on Bluff Mountain. Somewhat naively we thought 3 people - not known for speedy climbing - could make a 7am start, find their way into a previously unknown crag and climb a 300m route with a party of 3. Oh well, worth a try. After some track-finding and adding cairns to the access track along the way, then scoping our route I was tied in and led off at 9am.
I finished the 50m pitch at 9:50 and brought up the others. Joe led off on pitch 2, placing a wire above the belay then stepping right to clip a rusty piton. Progress became slower from that point. Naomi and I sat on the belay, watching eagles and trading comments about Joe being off-route.
Approaching Bluff Mountain. FOTP traverses under the orange patch (pitches 3 and 4)
Pitch one, FOTP
After about 1 1/2 hours he finally called "safe" but Naomi then took a long time to second the pitch, resorting to aid for a section. She has led 23 so I was having stronger doubts that we were on-route. At 1pm with Naomi still seconding I realised we were in for a long day. I followed, able to take a more direct line as Naomi had completely cleaned the right-most part of the diversion, but the fixed pin seemed to confirm we were on track. When I reached the belay I was unsure of the status but with the heat and Naomi being out of water already we decided to bail.
We replaced the mound of 'tat' - which later found its way into the bin at the park centre - with some new 7mm and a mallion, leaving the best tape and screw-gate behind, and I rapped off, tensioning left to reach the next rap. We got back to the ground without incident. Placing more cairns and detouring for photos, we were comfortably back at camp around 4:30, but without having bagged the route.
Joe and his tat.
Cooking up a storm?
I was realising how different this is from 'normal' climbing - long serious routes, and long approaches each day with little prospect of rescue. We were all climbing well below our technical grades of course but that was necessary to ensure speed and safety on the long climbs.
Tuesday I was keen to do "Lieben" (17). Joe and Naomi headed over to Belougery Spire to do "Out and Beyond" (15) and some more drilling. John and I finished in good time and were able to radio the others from camp. They were late, reaching the top around dark, then descending, leaving behind the bolting kit and their packs for a further climb the next day.
John leading the crux of Lieben (17)
Top of Crater Bluff again
We had accommodation issues with the hut on Wednesday night. Two families had booked it before us, so to work around this it had been planned that Joe and I would walk out, get a pub meal and a shower, restock and camp in the valley, then return the next morning with more food. John had brought up a small tent for the other two. However, this meant an early start on Thursday was out - and since we were heading home on Friday, Wednesday was the only remaining chance for an attempt on Bluff Mountain. John and I made plans while we walked back to camp.
The alarm went at 5:15am, and I was surprised to see how light it was. We were up and started walking just after the 6:15 weather bulletin. At Dagda saddle I was just 30m ahead of John when he yelled to stop, and was then violently sick into a nearby bush. His body made sure that his stomach was empty 2 or 3 more times while I kept a discreet distance.
He was keen to try to continue so we hiked up to Ogma saddle but it was no use. Feeling weak and fearing dehydration on the long hot day, he sat dejectedly on a rock while we explored options. Bluff Mountain would not surrender that day, either.
I decided to find the others so hiked back over the High Tops traverse to Belougery Spire, where I found Joe and Naomi's packs but no sign of them. I waited 10 minutes then decided to hike back, expecting to meet them on the trail.
When I got to the hut I found there was a second casualty. Joe was still lying in his sleeping bag, feeling ill. We decided it must have been the tank water. Naomi was taking it easy, having written off the day, but on my arrival was keen so we headed back up to Belougery and did "Vertigo" (70m 10) then spent 11/2 hours fixing up the abseil station.
Naomi on pitch 3 of Vertigo (10), Bluff Mountain in background.
Naomi redrilling the rap anchors at the top of Abseil Gully
Bluff Mountain was still unclimbed - could we possibily fit it in? Naomi and I hatched a plan in-between drilling sessions. I would go back to the hut, down to the valley and into Coonabarrabran as planned, but solo (Joe wasn't up to it), then bring the remaining food plus the spare tent back up that night and be ready for the next morning. Eventually after a 15 hour day including some 18km of walking, 3 pitches of climbing, drilling, plus the round-trip to Coona and
Cheers for the great TR! sounds invigorating, reminds me of this quote;
''Adventure: absolutely misery looked back upon with great fondness''
It also reminds me of a time on Sandanista in the gramps when i was seconding Dave, a mate from America up it and as i reached the top it started hailing (not as bad as yours) and all i can remember is huddling under a few trees and Dave repeating in his best colorado accent ''this is super, just super man, this is super" makes me smile!
That was an awesome TR. Glad to hear you all ended up OK....
Exellent TR. There's no place quite like the 'Bungles for an adventure.
Thanks, great TR. I've also spent longer than desirable on Bluff Mtn.
I'd be interested to know what walkie talkies you used?
I've used a few models over the years. Happy to provide feedback on a separate thread.
Man! What an epic to get hammered bloody by hailstones and then top out in the dark, especially with your reserves sapped by a bad stomach. That's old school tough.
I still have perfect mental images of so much of the ground you're talking about, and I remember getting chased down from the topout on FotP with a huge storm on our heels that sounds a bit like the one that caught you (no hail, though). Yikes!
Fantastic TR, and glad everyone's okay!
Great TR, wish I was there...
On 17/10/2007 gfdonc wrote:
> Crashing onto my helmet with loud cracking noises.
Sounds like another good reason to wear a helmet!
hey tokyo bill
the book you left in the hut is still there! just what i needed to keep my mind off the hut dunny lurgy and the missed climbing!
one word... epic
Hey John I think I detect a pattern - you were crapping yourself halfway up Ascension too...
That was only metaphorical!! the hut dunny lurgy was the full literal catastrophe...
"the book you left in the hut is still there! just what i needed to keep my mind off the hut dunny lurgy and the missed climbing!"
Hah! My first thought was to pack it out, but I was sure someone would be happy to have it there on a rain day, or whatever.
Glad to hear you were reading it and not wiping with it...
I am amazed you needed to re-stock provisions after only a few days when you walked in with a pack of
that size! What was in that bag?
Fast and light??!
No, everything you need for hut living ..
deck of cards
3 headtorches (took a spare plus found a third one in the bottom of the pack when I got there!)
walkie talkies and several changes of batteries
3 litre cask of wine.
3 litres UHT milk
one litre orange juice
3 packets Tim Tams
stove and cooking equipment
food + various other snacks
fresh fruit & veg
and "oops" the 'big crack rack' was also inadvertently left in the bottom of the pack .. I was mightily peeved to get to the hut and find: two large cams, two tube chocks and a #11 hex looking at me from the bottom of the sack ..
>The mountains had saved their best for us.
Sums it up well.
An extremely good read. Thanks for posting it gfdonc.
>(snip) "oops" the 'big crack rack' was also inadvertently left in the bottom of the pack
Pity you did not have a 'waterproof' with you for your epic as a result of the same 'oops' !
>Water was cascading down the cliff
You probably got more than your 'direct share' of water and hail as a result of ricochet/catchment area of the cliff face above you ...
>I tied off Naomi
... for the 2nd onslaught, but kept her on belay for the 1st?
I have learnt from your experience to tie off the second asap, in case your fears about rockfall etc came to fruition.
>cairns across from the summit
Joe may have added to them (rebuilt them?), but I recall a number being there in days of yore.
... mind you they are not as helpful if topping out in such conditions, or in the dark with minimal/nil headlight !
You did well for a 1st visit to the top of Bluff under such conditions, as imo it is a reasonably complicated area in the dark finding the proper descent track due to being a broad area with at least one 'false' summit.
Tip for the uninitiated; ... hug close to the minor escarpment edge (follow along its base), near (just West of), the true summit, on its RHS while heading South to pick up the main ascent/descent track.
The only time I have been caught by hail while on a rockface I had a portaledge with me. Since it was already deployed I took refuge underneath it!
On 24/10/2007 IdratherbeclimbingM9 wrote:
>>cairns across from the summit
>Tip for the uninitiated; ... hug close to the minor escarpment edge (follow
>along its base), near (just West of), the true summit, on its RHS while
>heading South to pick up the main ascent/descent track.
For newbies attempting to descend I'd probably suggest this: head away from the cliff edge at a direction between 10 and 11 o'clock (with your back to the cliff) until you see a gully down on your left. Scramble down this and up the other side, then continue ascending (now moving roughly parallel to the cliff edge which is somewhere on your left) until you reach the true summit.
On 24/10/2007 IdratherbeclimbingM9 wrote:
>The only time I have been caught by hail while on a rockface I had a portaledge
>with me. Since it was already deployed I took refuge underneath it!
i have this great image of m9 indignantly hanging under a portaledge with a sour look on his face...!
Surprise maybe, but not a sour look; as I was stoked by the event and generally marvelled at its brief ferocity (included wind/rain/thunder & lightning), though the nearby lightning strikes had me a tad nervous. Found myself stationary para-gliding under my ledge every time a strong gust of wind hit.
Different event/location: ... As far as the 'Bungles goes, lightning strikes are a real possibility there also.
Was on Tonduron once at the outer edge of a storm and watched stikes over on Crater Bluff which was also on the edge of the storm but closer to the action. (It got some real rain while we only got spits where we were).
It seemed to me that there was more lightning activity around the edge of the storm than in the thick of it which went across Bluff Mtn.
~ I have no idea if there were parties on Bluff Mtn that day. If there were then they probably had a fate similar to gfdonc/Naomi.
>until you reach the true summit.
For other readers clarification, my directions-(tip) start from the true summit ...
Hey Joe, did anyone find my favourite top at the bottom of FOTP? Had a nasty toilet accident last season at the top of the second pitch and had to ditch it and my undies! You can keep the undies.
Great TR. Thanks for the re-anchoring.