|"Sustained good climbing. Not much broke off. Classic Wade route." - Tony Williams, 2007 (Taken from his comment on TheCrag).
A few years ago, my original "trad teacher" (Computer Macca, not to be confused with Dogface Macca =P) dragged me up the classic cracks on Old Baldy, concluding with a rap back down from the top which follows (roughly) the 1st and 2nd pitches of Stiletto, a grade 21 classic Wade Stevens face route on mixed carrots and gear that goes up the guts between Scimitar and Excalibur. At the time, he told me a story of either that route (or Day of the Long Knives (20) next to it, I don't remember exactly) and the terrifying, "out there", exposed adventure he'd had on it. Rapping down the route at the time, the prospect of such exposure, and such thinness (with GEAR placements and stuff!) seemed the stuff nightmares are made of, and I made a comment along the lines of "I'll never get on THAT!".
A few years pass by, I learn how to place the odd wire or two, break the odd bone or two, and sink the odd jam that doesn't result in gallons of blood spurting out the backs of my hand, and I find myself back on Upper Old Baldy with Gene (this being his first trip to the Wolgan) on Saturday specifically for the purpose tackling The Day of the Long Knives (20) and Stiletto (21). For whatever reason, these two exposed, mixed, "classic Wade" routes have stuck in my mind as something of a gatekeeper in the style that I HAD to come back to.
First up was Day of the Long Knives (20), which says something like "Challenging, sustained climbing in an exposed position" in the current Wolgan guidebook. The guide ALSO points out "stays Left of Central Direct the whole way", which I DID read... However I DIDN'T read where exactly Central Direct went, which led to some exciting route finding.
P1 (18) - I drew the lead. This pitch traverses left for 10m into a vague corner system, then heads up an leftwards to the belay. I neglected a few gear placements and ran it out to get my headspace sorted. Nevertheless, I DID manage to end up at the wrong belay stance (I ended up at the belay for Central Direct, 6m RIGHT of the correct belay), which meant that after bringing up Gene to the belay stance, we had to do a bit of a shuffle to move to the correct stance. This pitch was pretty straightforward (the hardest moves are in the first few metres), and the rock quality was good, but not great.
P2 (19) - This pitch probably had the single hardest move of the route, involving much thinness and reachiness just a few metres off the belay stance. Gene cruised through it (I think I made it look a lot harder) but bogged down by trying to pick the hardest line through the middle section he could find. Nevertheless, he levitated up the juggy finale and soon we were both on the belay.
P3 (20) - My lead. Despite being the "crux" pitch, I don't think this pitch had any harder move than Pitch 2, but was just generally more sustained (and 40m long). The hard moves just involved some big reaches with footwork being the key, and dealing with pretty mega exposure. I managed to test my own headspace a bit by completely climbing past one carrrot and leaving myself with a monster "do not fall" runout near the end of the pitch. The rock quality of this pitch was much like the rest of this route: good, not great. But despite this, I don't think Gene or I broke anything off.
P4 (19) - A tricky roof move to escape the belay to start this pitch, then some chossy jug hauling to the top of the cliff. It's always fun thugging through a rooflet a few hundred metres off the deck. Gene -being of a bouldery disposition- ate up this pitch, and again -despite the apparently bad rock- neither of us broke anything off.
So, a quick overview of Day of the Long Knives: a slightly wandery route of straightforward (read: predictable) climbing, on reasonable but not great rock, in a pretty awesome location. Not too intimidating despite the mixed nature, as the spaced bolts arrive in time for anything particularly gripping, and there aren't a great deal of necessary gear placements. Not so dissimilar from a slightly more adventurous Bunny Bucket Buttress.
Rapping back down from the top the predicted high wind had set in, and we had some trouble with the rap ropes snagging on jugs on the face. It was also a bloody nightmare trying to pull the rap ropes from half way down the wall (like hauling up another person), as for some reason there was a lot of friction at the top (where the ropes were running over the edge). Even on the second abseil later in the day, when I moved the knot over the edge, and specifically set out to minimise friction, it was still damn hard work. I don't seem to remember this being a problem when I rapped from the top a few years earlier. Did there used to be chains, or a sling, or something else that made the abseil easier? Can anyone else comment on this?
After reaching the ground and grabbing some lunch, Stiletto (21) was next on the hit list, and Gene scored the crux pitch.
P1 (21) - This pitch goes straight up from the Scimitar Pedestal, and what a pitch it is. Easily the best CLIMBING of the day, this 45m monster was at the harder end of 21, but with a lot of bolts to keep it safe as houses. It consisted of a variety of technical climbing following different features, which -over 45m- turned into a bit of a pumper. Gene put in a valiant fight but ran out of steam on the last hard move at the end of the pitch. I followed him up it and can verify a nice pump. Absolutely absorbing climbing, on GOOD rock.
P2 (19) & P3 (17) - A massive contrast to the first pitch. More face/slab than P1, and with the hardest moves (bearing in mind that it's a 19, of course) a long way above the gear (and some nice ledge-fall potential), the few bolts that were on it were quite far apart. The description of this pitch in the guide says: "committing moves off the belay" and it hits the nail firmly on the head. After hesitating on one of the moves for a good 10min, I finally committed and got the ball rolling. I decided to link this pitch into the 3rd one (which is basically just the last 15m of Scimitar), which involved some entertaining rope management considering the 10-15m traverse in the middle. For P2, I climbed almost entirely on 1 rope, and for P3 I climbed mostly on the other, though the wind made for exciting times. All things considered, there wasn't TOO much drag, and it made for another great marathon pitch. Gene later pointed out to me that aside from the few minutes in changeover at the end of P1, I'd basically just climbed 95m almost uninterrupted. Naturally, he walked up the top two pitches on Second.
so, Stiletto: A engaging sporty-climbers' climb first pitch on great rock, and a contrastingly bold trad climbers' climb 2nd and 3rd pitches. By far the better of the two routes we did, in that it wasn't such predictable climbing, but was still in an outragous position, and with generally better rock.
After being blasted by the winds all day, we headed back down to camp with a brief stopoff to admire Top of the Pops (Next time, Gadget, Next time...). We tackled The Coke Ovens the following day amidst being slaughtered by the sun, but that's another story.
Here's the one worthwhile picture I got from the day of Gene Seconding the crux pitch of The Day of the Long Knives. The sloping scrib visible at the bottom of the picture is the halfway ledge, below which another 70-odd metres of clifff forms the lower cliffline, and below that another hundred-or-so metres of verticality makes up the approach. The picture doesn't do the exposure justice.