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TR: Buffalo classics
1:35:24 PM
Having just read a TR about a first ascent of the hard offwidth above Caligula, a TR about repeating a couple of Buffalo classics seems a bit pedestrian, but we did manage to make one of them much harder than it needs to be, and there haven’t been enough TRs on chocky lately, so I’ll post it anyway.

My mate Ben convinced me of the merits of granite climbing years ago and we enjoyed some pretty memorable adventures on the stuff over the years (Ozy, the West Face of the Leaning Tower in Yosemite and some worthless 5m thrutch chimney at the You Yangs all stick in my mind) so when he offered a trip to Buffalo during his short visit back to Aus from the US I was stoked. Since those adventures I’ve had two kids who are still young (1 &3yrs old), so I’m not exactly in my climbing prime and although I still get out climbing a bit with the kids in tow I’ve probably only been a up multi-pitch climb once in four years. I was hoping to have some proper adventures again on this trip.

After getting through the logistics epic that’s involved in getting a young family established at Lake Catani, Ben and I ducked off in the late afternoon to reacquaint ourselves with Buffalo climbing by climbing a one star 15 in the waterfalls area on the south side of the Gorge. It might have been Fantasies of Gail, which gets two stars on TheCrag. We chose it for the combination of easy grade, easy access and the starr rating. The rap in location was the highlight, reminding me how spectacular and dramatic Buffalo scenery is, but the climbing seemed pretty worthless. A couple of slab moves that felt tricky for my rusty technique, probably just far enough away from the bolts to give some excitement for Ben leading, but not worth a star at all in my humble opinion. Still it was nice to catch up on it all with Ben and soak up the ambiance.

My kids slept through the night (first win of the trip) so we got up early to try to get Maharajah***(17) done before breakfast. There was a van parked at the Cathedral carpark so we assumed we’d have company, but it was just some tourists spending the night. Not sure they’d continue to get away with it given they slept in until 9. We agreed to do the climb in two pitches rather than four to save time, and Ben had done the first pitch before anyway so I roped up and headed up the beautiful leaning crack on the left side of the original start. The climbing felt magnificent, probably the most graceful feeling moves I’ve done at Buffalo, with just enough placements for your feet to make putting gear in comfortable on the lower crack and the little dog-leg traverse a bit higher up. Plus the roaring wind made the whole thing feel much more dramatic. Ben cruised past and lead through the second half of the climb quickly. I thought the wind would make the slabby moves before the top out harder, but there was more to hold on to than I thought there would be, although I had the advantage of Bens slight chalk residue to show me where they were. We rapped down (well sort of sideways… the wind had taken the rope ends 20 meters to the right) and walked out. I was chuffed to have done a multi-pitch classic done before the kids had finished breakfast. Thanks Julie for looking after them while I climb!

We dropped back into the campsite for breakfast with Julie and the kids, packed a lunch and all walked up to Chalwell Galleries, a little climbing area above the campsite. Ben and Julie climbed a short crack (might have been Homers Butt Crack (13)?) which looked like a bit of fun, while me and the kids explored the area. Julie took my three year old daughter scrambling down through the chasm that I suppose gives the area its name. My daughter absolutely loved it and I was proud to see her enthusiastically doing most of the downclimbing herself. She still talks about it three weeks later, and when I tell her a story before bed she sometimes asks for ‘a story about the cave at Mt Buffalo’. We finished the afternoon swimming in the lake, which was even nicer than I remember from previous trips.

Another early morning the next day, although I’d had much less sleep this time. We’d debated a lot about what to climb (Caligula, Beowolf or maybe Initiation, which we’d both done before but loved). We woke to light rain, so we chose Caligula**(18) because if the thunderstorms in the forecast did eventuate we could just walk out Burston’s Crevasse. I was feeling tired and weak, but I don’t know if that was genuine tiredness or just fear; the guidebook description of Caligula was something like “a gutsy old test piece that still intimidates”. The rain eased off and the rock seemed dry as we scrambled down Burstons. We soloed up the short vegetated corner below the start of the route and Ben roped up for the first pitch. This was the first time we realized that we were probably a bit short on gear. We had one cam each of sizes #2, #3, #4 & #5 (my second #3 has a broken trigger wire that I haven’t got around to fixing and my second #2 has just vanished). In the fog of early morning we vaguely decided to start up it anyway. Ben is adept at anything ‘old school’ and got a third of the way up as gracefully as you can on an offwidth crack and chimney. He alternated between laybaking the edge and settling into the chimney. He was using a minimum of gear but it quickly became apparent that the #3 (which he’d placed early-ish) and #4 (which he’d placed a little later) were probably the only useful pieces until the crux, and they’ll be needed for the belay. We debated the relative merits of bailing (necessitating rapping off a single #4 cam) or setting up an early belay then continuing (requiring belaying off a single #4 cam until I arrive with the #3 & #5, then climbing up shuffling the #4 as the only piece until the usual belay stance. We decided to continue.

I have to say that my appetite for genuine risk has gone down a bit since having kids, and my fear perversely led me to use way more energy seconding the chimney/crack than it needed, staying well in the chimney and pushing and scraping my way up noisily. By the time I arrived at our interim belay I was completely buggered, and although I didn’t really feel up to leading the crux later in the climb I clearly looked too buggered to switch leads for the rest of the first pitch, so we re-flaked the rope and Ben continued.
He cruised the beautiful hand crack above us, and the climbing was so nice that my attitude and energy picked up a bit while seconding it. We switched leads at the normal belay stance and I lead up the last part of the nice crack then assessed the crux layback around the roof. I was happy to see plenty of gear options, so I pushed a big cam in high under the roof, grabbed the lip and worked my feet up onto the slab. The hands on the layback felt super-solid but the feet not so much, so I quickly worked my way up around the corner and on to more secure feet. There rest of the layback was straight forward enough that even through there looked like loads of gear options I didn’t need too many. I topped out and set up a comfy belay between the trees. Ben came up quickly but his foot unexpectedly slipped off and he fell a few meters as I had a little bit of rope out. He soon joined me at the belay and we went back to camp. Not quite as early this time, but my kids had been having fun looking for wombats around camp and playing with Ben’s older daughter and hadn’t missed us too much. We took the kids to the chalet to scramble around the rocks and see the view, and then had another nice dip in the lake before driving back to Melbourne.

It’s worth saying that we only saw one other climbing pair on the trip, despite perfect weather and a long weekend (Australia day) falling on the Friday. Is Buffalo falling even more out of favor with the kids these days? I feel like campgrounds at Arapiles and the Grampians are packed with climbers these days, and at Taipan wall I was amazed at the crowds of strong young climbers getting on the harder sport routes there, but for us to have the Plateau to ourselves in January near Australia day seemed incredible to us.

2:52:46 PM
Haha dude! That sounds totally sweet! The Caligula 2nd pitch exit is totally sketchy in my opinion! :D :D :D

11:48:57 PM
As always, a pleasure roping up with you and spending time with the family, Mr. Bones.

I second the surprise at having the place to ourselves (except that one pair of Brits, who clearly don't count). It's almost as if climbers no longer enjoy being humiliated and getting their ankles get shredded at the same time while on low grades.

Mind you, I remain deeply hurt by your continued disparagement of that "worthless 5m thrutch chimney", as you insist on calling it. That climb (squirm?) was the perfect Freudian allegory of our struggles to return to the womb, writ in stone. Or something. It was clearly pretty doggone profound, whatever it represented.

6:22:43 AM
Well we were there, Tony, sorry we missed you. Photo to prove it.

Lake Catani swimming was about the nicest I can remember, very pleasant.

3:05:21 PM
Bones dude , bloody good trip report.
Tankx 4 postin it 2 us.

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