BOA (HMS)Keylock Screwgate 25 10 8 kN
Steve's favourite belay screwgate.
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Inspired by Winston Smith's TR http://tinyurl.com/3tvguod (which I can't believe was back in 2009) but much delayed due to work, injury, rain and all the usual guff greggo and I finally managed to get out to the Wolgan for a climb on the weekend. Apologies in advance as the trip report that follows is a bit on the long and detailed side ... maybe a bit too much beta for some people as well.
The plan was for a big day from the bottom to the top of old baldy climbing Secret Swinger (16) on the lower cliff and Scimitar (18) on the upper cliff. Having driven up to Lithgow on saturday afternoon we were very pessimistic as steady drizzle and grey skies moved in during the evening. In the morning though there was plenty of blue amongst the grey so we decided to give it a crack.
The drive in was uneventful, they've sealed the road down from Wolgan Gap to the valley floor now, presumably related to that Emirates place being built. That view from the top is just fantastic especially at that time of day with sun on the rock, a few clouds for atmosphere, brilliant.
Got to the Capertree campsite and left the car at about 8am. Crossed the creek and followed the 'road' for a while. At that point we had a bit of confusion about where the 'big house' ruin was (which was important because that's where we needed to turn up the hill) but other than that didn't have too much trouble with the approach up to lower baldy and it really wasn't that strenuous despite our expectations.
Greg lead the first and crux pitch of secret swinger (16) which per the guidebook indeed has a tricky move at the start (especially as first move of the day). With some confident bridging and nice slab moves Greggo managed to dispatch it and moved up the rest of what turned out to be a very decent corner crack. Good pro and nice moves. We decided I would take the next two pitches and run them together. The belay at the end of pitch 1 is best described as a sandpit with enough in the way of cracks to provide a decent belay. The sandpit was shaped like a cave and cut into the leftside wall of the corner with a pretty decent sized roof on it requiring a step onto the steep slab on the right hand side of the corner to get around it followed by a couple of steep jug hauls to bring you up to another big sandy break a couple of metres up. Fortunately it was well protected with a bomber 1 camalot and a confident approach makes it relatively straight forward.
At the next break the "roof" came up to a bit higher than my waist on both sides of the corner (i.e. no footers). Fortunately it was slabby here so you could stand easily enough and contemplate your flexibility and why you really should do more yoga. It also gave me time to fiddle in some mediocre pro. One was a red hex slid into a deep and sandy pocket sideways then rotated and jammed against the pocket mouth, the other a 0.5 camalot sideways in a shallow shitty pocket. So frankly not that great! After a bit of a think a solution was found to the problem and up I went. The rest of pitch 2 was more pleasant corner climbing - a few big cams came in handy.
This brought me to pitch 3 and it was pretty rubbish. The pitch is short (maybe 10m max) and you have two choices. On the left a wide unprotectable offwidth of death (well it looked shit anyway ...) or a slab on the right with a narrow crack and loads of fragile looking iron stone edges. I opted for the right and although there was little pro at first good placements revealed themselves as you went up (small-ish cams). An exploding footer added some excitement but fortunately I managed to hang on. The rest of the pitch got a little more stitched up than it otherwise would have as a result!
Topping out on secret swinger finds you on the half way ledge of old baldy which is a large bushy area on a relatively steep slope. It's surprisingly vegetated and large but slippery with loads of leaf litter.
Once topped out we grabbed a pile of rope each and pushed our way up through the bush finding something vaguely resembling a track to get us to the upper cliffline and then following that around to the right (facing in) until we reached the scimitar pinnacle. We traversed around underneath the pinnacle and then scrambled up it's right hand side to reach the base of Scimitar.
From the top of the pinnacle you could see pitches one and two. The first is rightward leaning up to a large cave with a decent sized roof. The roof is split by the crack which from that point runs directly up the face with a steep vertical then overhanging section before arriving at the 2nd belay marked by a yakka and sentry box. The plan was to run pitches 1 and 2 (18) and 3 (17) and 4 (17) together with me taking the first two and Greg taking the second two.
As we were setting up to start climbing again the wind picked up and some very dark clouds started moving up the valley. We decided to push on but once I was a few metres up it started to rain (sideways) so discretion being the better part of valour we decided I should downclimb and give it 10 minutes to see what the weather was doing. At this stage we were both quite cold so we retreated to the shelter of the cave below the pinnacle out of the wind. Suggestions were made about possible retreat and climbing something else on the relatively more shelter lower baldy cliffs and it looked very much like our day might be over. Remarkably though the wind started to drop and blue sky started to appear around the valley so we climbed back up to the pinnacle and tied back in.
Pitch 1 was fairly straight forward but had some nice well protected moves. At the cave (another beach) I decided to belay as one of the ropes had dropped into a slot in an iron stone break which was causing significant rope drag and had sharp edges that looked likely to damage the rope in a fall. Greg followed up without event and it was again my turn to lead. The moves up to the roof of the cave were very sandy on suspect rock (these would be avoided if you ran pitches 1 and 2 together) but you are back on solid rock when you reach the roof and can easily protect some fairly wild bridging moves on good jams to get over it and on to the steep headwall. The next 30m or so were some of the best climbing I've ever done. Sustained difficulty with good jams for your hands and nice positive edges for the feet and hands. The wall steepens up and gets fairly pumpy with a lot of air underneath your feet just before you crest a bulge and finish off with a few easier but thought provoking moves to the belay in the bottom of a sentry box. Good protection all the way.
The sentry box provides a very solid belay and some shelter from the wind. The sentry box itself is an acute angled chimney with a thin crack (0.75 cam and down) at the back for pro but very smooth sides. A couple of holds are available on the aretes of the chimney and after a couple of metres the LHS of the chimney becomes slabbier.
It was now Greg's turn and he did a great job grunting up to get some gear in off the belay from a fairly precarious stance. After some tenuous attempts at old school chimney moves including an exploding hold or two Greg unlocked the pitch by stepping inward to the crack, placing a bit more gear and padding up the slab with a bit of bridging thrown in.
At this point I realised one of the doubles had tied a perfect figure of eight around the other rope. Ever the diplomat Greg calmly asked for a couple more metres slack before reaching a good stance above the roof of the chimney where he jammed in a couple of cams and clipped in. This allowed me to untie and feed the entire rope through the knot to sort the tangle. At this point he also took a bit of footage with the iphone which you can see here. It's not terribly exciting but shows the position fairly well: http://tinyurl.com/3lnmxcy
After about 10 minutes of faffing Greg was back underway on another sustained and challenging pitch following the crack on good pro up a slabby then ever-steepening wall. Feeling good and pushing to save time Greg bypassed the third belay with the intention of finishing off the last pitch but upon reaching a nasty looking overhang and feeling the effects of some significant rope drag (again the ropes had buried themselves in a narrow crack) he built a belay at a good stance and brought me up.
At this stage I had turned off a bit and was feeling very cold. My feet was killing me as I'd had my 'sport climbing sized' miuras on for about 4 hours by now (I still ahve the bruises on my toenails). I had clearly made a couple of poor decisions included leaving all my food at the half way ledge and not taking off my shoes when I had the chance. The rising wind and dark clouds that had by now returned meant the temperature was really dropping and the long period spent belaying had taken its toll. I stiffly seconded this 3rd+ pitch with great discomfort but not too much difficulty before reaching Greg's stance and the nasty looking roof problem above.
Greg suggested I lead the final pitch which although short through my exhausted eyes looked wide, run-out, dirty and hard. Despite my reluctance I agreed to get back on the sharp end chiefly to avoid the hassle of re-flaking ropes. Seeing I was struggling Greg sensibly suggested a take a 10 minute break at this point but in my usual fashion I insisted I should just push on.
Having racked up with two #4 and two #3 cams plus the usual gear I felt heavy and totally spent. After clipping the anchor I hauled up over the roof to spot my only hold being a dodgy left arm thumb down jam. From that I managed to throw in a #3 cam as the critical first piece and short clipped it feeling fatigue pulling me down all the time. The height of the roof and the footers available on the lip meant an awkward high step was required to mantle up using the jam to pull me in. Trying with my left foot first I made an error as my knee came up pushing my elbow up and un-camming the critical left jam. Before I knew it the jam slipped out and I was falling. Fortunately Greg quickly caught the fall which turned out more of a slump than anything spectacular. Trying again I raised my right foot allowing the jam to stay in place and completed the mantle with a fairly desperate grunt. This move brought me directly into a steep offwidth section and pulling up strenuously (though everything seemed strenuous now) on jugs on the cracks sides running it out to a reasonable stance where I shoved myself into the crack and whacked in a #4. Another run out on easier ground led to another #4 and a final slab to a tree and the top of the cliff.
I set the belay and eased my shoes off feeling hot aches and pins and needles as blood returned to my abused extremities. Greg then came up trying the jam over the roof then finding an easier alternative which he thought brought the difficulty back down to the rated grade 17. It is possible that the position of the belay may have blocked the easier approach to the move but it's hard to know.
We quickly found the abseil anchors which were well located and in good condition. The rap that followed got quite spectacular as a large orange cave leaves you swirling in space hundreds of metres of the deck. Back on the face I spotted and headed slightly right to gain the maillon and ring bolt anchors 40m below the top of the cliff. A further abseil saw us back on the halfway ledge as evening started to close in.
After a quick discussion we decided to head back to Secret Swinger to rap off using Sword of Damocles as our marker (thanks for the beta Winston) to find the top of the climb. A micro abseil down SS's top pitch took us to the last abseil of the day (about 50m?) off a good tree equipped with tat and a rap ring.
Night fell as we completed the final rap and it was cool to see Greg's flashing headtorch as he set up to rap before joining me at the base.
The rope pulled without major difficulty and we regained our gear (and shoes thank god) as night fell. By now the gel shot and a bit of food had revitalised me and the euphoria of a superb days climbing was setting in - it was hard to remove the grin.
The walk off was made simple thanks to regular cairns and good headtorches and we were soon stomping along the road back to camp on a bit of a high. As we wandered along in the moonlight the moment was made ever more romantic as the timeless sound of Tina Arena's 'Sorrento Moon' wafted up from one of the riverside campsites. We resisted the urge to join the party (or break out the hammer - one or the other) and were back at the car by 7pm making it an 11 hour effort.
Macca's at Lithgow provided some much needed grease and I scared the locals by sitting down with a fairly wicked looking knife to remove the bloodied and dirty tape gloves at one of the tables (clearly looking like a serial killer - hehe). The drive back was pretty quick, taking about 1:45hr, but felt long as we were utterly shattered. Fortunately Allen's lollies provided necessary sugar hits and we got back safe.
All up Sunday would be one of my best ever climbing days. Both SS and Scimitar were great routes and in particular Scimitar must be one of the best if not the best route in the mountains up to the grade. Pitch 2 was on par with Eternity for enjoyment and all the pitches were sustained, high quality and in an incredibly spectacular spot - and what an aesthetic line!
Great report Peter.
Sorry I suggested lunching on the halfway ledge after you did Scimitar. Just shows how conditions can change.
I agree with you sentiments about P2: Having done it and the Eternity I'd say that Scimitar is THE classic crack at the grade... although Decline and Fall across at the Coke Ovens is pretty damn fine, as Sizzler, as is ...
Thanks for the TR. Sounds like a great day on the rock.
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