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Chockstone Forum - Trip Reports

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Topic Date User
Buffalo Aid Weekend March 2010 Tuesday, 23 March 2010 At 11:57:21 AM IdratherbeclimbingM9
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A different (drier, compared to egosans more humorous way with words), perspective on the same events...

Buffalo clean-aid climbing 20-21 March 2010! - In a nutshell; a great success.

Nine keen people took part, and travelled from as far away as the Bluey's and Geelong to do it. The age range and experience of those varied from teenage to ancient, and none/some to lots. Some had been to Buffalo before, and some hadn't which gave their experience this weekend an added dimension.

I arrived with a well loaded wombat* (*equivalent of USA term 'pig' for a haulbag), Friday just before dark in time to find the general use area vacant, and parked where others arriving would find me reasonably easily. Meet'n'greet session was done a number of times, and after the last arrived I think all were ensconced in their tents by midnight in anticipation of the following days events.

Morning saw a civilised starting time of 9.30 am after breakfast of an aiding gear general overview, introduction. Oh yeah, some also had food and/or strong coffee too (thanks egosan)!
From an organiser perspective there were many unknowns to cater for, such as not knowing prior experience or how much 'personal gear' was available re participants, but this was quickly established and it worked out well with four teams of two forming up and me being a 'floater' between them to loan required gear and assist with appropriate advice as/when needed.

Prior to departing camp the Koala* (*equivalent of USA term 'Yogi' for a Ranger), came around to ensure PV was to receive their due fee. A friendly chap, though he was concerned that we consolidate to two campsites rather than use the general use area. We were happy to move across the road / consolidate, and to pay the appropriate fee, though with the number of vacant campsites I thought this was a little bit on the zealous side, so I asked him if he wanted me to move my motorcycle as well since it was located a little off to the side and chained to a tree, but he informed me that this was not necessary. Be thankful for small mercies I quietly thought to myself, as the general use area has a picnic table and fireplace that we were keen to continue using, and the bikes location kind of laid claim to that spot!

The Disabled Lookout area adjacent the Chalet carpark saw us lay siege to Cacophonic Block as none were phased by the exposure (reasonably significant), and all were looking for the hard-aid experience. It served us well, as Cacophonic Crack although going free at Gd 21 also goes on aid at M2, with Thanksgiving Crack (M3), and The Cream Machine (M4) adjacent. The fourth team consisting of Fish Boy and Bl@ke, went off and aided Lift Girls Lament over at the Oval area, as Fish Boys intended 'Ozy in a day' partner (Brendan), unfortunately blew a head gasket in his car and had to pull out at the last minute due nil transport from Canberra.


Everyone got hands on experience leading / cleaning, and belaying the routes they chose, with most doing more than one of the routes.
I was impressed with the keenness and perseverance displayed by all. I could see that each of the climbers had their personal moments of inner reflection while undertaking their climbs, yet they pushed on through their mental barriers once focused on the task at hand.
It was interesting for me to see at what point this barrier was approached by each, and how they dealt with it, as the inner tension builds from the moment one ties in to the sharp end and it does not take many moves off the deck to know that they are feeling 'out there'. Although encouragement was available and given by all concerned, I noted it was quite different to that displayed by a similar group of climbers perhaps undertaking sport or bouldering genres of the game. Maybe it was the atmosphere of the place, or the concentration required in having a newish challenge, as the encouragement was low key rather than loud or raucous.
Certainly their abilities were being pushed to their present limits but in a quiet sort of dignified way, and from what I could ascertain not in a competitive way either, as I think they were finding the experience all absorbing, and as a result quite personal. I was beginning to wonder what I could present them with on the following day that would extend their experience, though need not have pondered too long on this however, as I soon heard the familiar sound of rope-zing and gear-slap,... robertsonja had pinged off Cream Machine and was roundly congratulated for providing us with some entertainment! The excitement had just subsided when Bl@ke renewed it afresh by doing the same off Thanksgiving! Both these falls were in the 5+m range and provided the participants with fresh insight into how little it takes to creak gear out, even if as in Bl@kes case, one is making the topout move.
A point I noticed about both these falls was that although the belayers involved were appropriately placed close to the base of the climbs concerned (hard not to do this due being on a ledge above a considerable dropoff), the lower third of both climbs were stripped of gear by outward tension of the belay rope. This reflected the thin nature of the placements involved and should serve as a heads-up for others undertaking the game, as the 'Jesus piece' in thin-ish aid extends to subsequent placements unless the first piece placed is actually placed for the upward-outward load.

On Cacophonic, Wollemi and Hargs were coming to terms with using stacked hexes to fill the offwidth upper reaches of it, and the intricacies of rope-drag dislodging same due the upper reaches of that climb curving back over to the sensible side of evil. Whilst I was lending a verbal-hand here, I again heard the zing of rope, but unfortunately this time accompanied by the muffled 'whump' of somebody decking out...
Over on Cream Machine, Trogster was on the ground, and all that remained on the route was a broken wire at 8m height plus a limp rope in one remaining piece at about 5m height.
Rushing over, I held him securely as he was writhing in pain and I was concerned that although he was still on belay that if he rolled off the ledge he would be in for more of the same, but at a considerable distance lower...
Things happen in a blur during such moments. There were plenty of helpful hands and after we made him a little more comfortable by removing the forearm thickness branch from under him that he had broken off the ledge shrubbery with his ribs/back, securing him with a sling anchor to the remaining portion of shrub to prevent his falling further, we were suitably concerned with the hoarse gurgling noises he was making, and expecting at any moment to see him start frothing blood from his mouth. His helmet was undone and coming off his head, and once he lay still for a bit his breathing settled and his responses were lucid and coherent.
Due his helmet being undone my thoughts were that he had crashed through the limb and probably broken ribs (or worse), plus taken a head knock. He informed us that he was sore but not in any pain that would indicate a broken bone or limb. Despite this advice we waited and watched with concern though reassuring him at the same time that all looked OK (which in fact it did), till we believed this ourselves! I was much relieved when he got to his feet and continued to act reassuringly normal, but even so, it was agreed by some of us that we would be keeping an eye on him for the remainder of the evening, despite his reassurances that he did not require taking to hospital to be checked out, nor wanting the pain killers that Wollemi offered him, as he felt that he was only badly winded. (He informed me later that he undid his helmet as a first reaction to not being able to breath easily). He was escorted up the access gully to the car and we then engaged in post-morteming what had happened, cleaning the climb and packing gear, as it was late in the day anyway.
On that point, Fish Boy led the climb to clean it. Many of the remaining persons were impressed at the aggressive testing Fish Boy utilised during that lead, and more fully realised that true testing involves sufficient bouncing to get the remaining gear on your harness flapping properly! I have now decided that it is one thing for someone like me to say this as instructional advice, but it is much more meaningful if demonstrated...

It turns out that he was on a #zero size RP that had been placed a move above the remaining broken wire, and in fact was reasonably high in his etts (ie had been on the placement a while), to make the next subsequent placement when the zero ripped. His fall of approx 1 m broke the #2 RP at the base of the clip in loop, but by then the rope tension had (like the similar falls earlier) dislodged much of the thin remaining gear on the lower third of the climb, whilst he simultaneously zippered further placements till he decked and the rope was limp on the last remaining piece still intact on the climb. It was subsequently found that the krab that had been connected to the broken RP was also damaged due its gate spring becoming dislodged from within the base of the gate.
As a side note, I have noticed in the past that many small RP's break one of their wires where their wires join the head. This one broke at the clipping point primarily due to it being a relatively new item and not having been placed or 'cleaned' much, therefore not having had its wires worked over / stressed near the head with prior usage, and indeed if this had been the case it may have broken more easily, ... but this is academic; as the result is the same due this particular fall generated sufficient force to do the job anyway, even though the head remained in it's placement.
In hindsight I recall him asking me what strength the small size RP's are rated at, and I told him #3 is 370 kg, #2 is 190 kg, with the smaller sizes being less but this is mostly to do with the cable breaking strain and not the head shearing out of the placement. I now wonder if he 'put the mocka' on himself and set himself up for a 9 to 10m deckout?
~> He is now known by the group as 'Lucky Adam' and given the circumstances I doubt he will win anything in Lotto or similar for a long while, as I reckon he dipped heavily into the luck bucket on that occasion to come out of that one relatively unscathed.

What can we learn from this?
If facing a thin lead put the first piece in for an upward load as every piece on thin aid is a 'Jesus piece'.
Place the biggest gear one can, that fits in any given placement for pro.
If the pro is ordinary/thin, back it up, ... multiple times if necessary, and equalise the matrix.
Aggressively test the placement as much as prudently possible and preferably more than tentatively.

Hmm. As it turns out, an exciting end to a good day.

Sunday saw us pack up camp, and depart to the Devils Couch area, mainly to try Faust and Elizabeth, another grade M4 climb but this one getting the grade more from awkwardness and fiddly placements (mostly of medium size), rather than from thin gear as The Cream Machine takes.

Fish Boy and Bl@ke went off to try the free version of Loose Fit (Gd 23), Wollemi and Hargs gave a potential new route a shot on clean aid, which will probably go at M3 for grade from what I could see from below. Egosan and robertsonja aided Damning My Soul first pitch and then proceeded to add a direct finish aid M6 second pitch to it, instead of doing its easier free version diagonal crack second pitch finish.
Over on Faust & Elizabeth others played the aid game, and some found themselves shut down at varying heights due to the sustained awkward nature of the placements. It has a slightly overhanging initial crack that stops at the 'lip' and another crack starting above the lip off to its right, which makes for an out of balance high step reachy move. Once that is tackled the crack then becomes flared/groovish and although good placements for pro can be had, they are spaced, and involve less than good placements between them to make progress. Perhaps it was Trogster's grounder of yesterday afternoon playing on their minds, or the nasty landing below, but the initial zeal to push the envelope was a little less evident today, so relying on such tactics as two lobes of a cam etc, to make progress seemed (understandably), less palatable today. The potential sandbag deflector(?), of; "it's thin at one spot out of sight above what appears to be the top from the ground, but takes a bomber #3 RP" did not get a chance to work to full effect, as after Fish Boy led it to topout, and it was jumar cleaned by another, the feedback comment I got was along the lines of 'after cleaning it I am glad I did not finish leading it!', from that player of the game.

Over on Damning My Soul, the new line aid section was proving problematic to robertsonja and egosan, so I roped up and traversed in to their level by bridging a wide chimney slot and mantling a broken shelf to the base of the aid seam. The issue they had was that the rock was sufficiently weathered and crumbled enough to let thin placements rip when tested. The seam was definitely a goer in my opinion, and the difficulties could be hooked past on good hook placements, but being a pitch up if the leader fell then it would result in a fall-factor 2, back onto the belay. With being an onsight involving some unknown climbing above, and the seam being incipient in most places, it would take a bold runout to simply launch up it under such circumstances; ... so the obvious solution was to make the first protection adequate to the task. The lesson from this being that if the desire is there, then the time it takes to finagle it doesn't matter.
Five pieces were hand-finagled within the space of a metre of incipientness, then equalised. My assessment of the individual placements was that two were certainly 50%-ers for holding bodyweight, one was good for bodyweight, and two were good for better than bodyweight. The matrix being equalised egosan tested it and one of the 50%-ers ripped but the rest held securely. He got higher on a hook and was finagling the next piece that was again proving to be a problematic process, when the hook popped. The resulting fall certainly tested the matrix but it held, and egosan resumed the task of completing the climb.

While this was taking place the now familiar sound of zinging rope came from over on Wollemi and Hargs line! Earlier I had observed that the placements Wollemi had made, although awkward at times, at least for the first third of their route appeared to be medium to large nut size, and I had confidence in them completing the route. There lay ahead of them an unknown aspect involving a horizontal traverse crack higher on their chosen line, but this is part of the appeal of onsight ground up ascents for those who prefer such.
This time the gear lower on the route held but at least one piece up higher had ripped (apart from the piece he was on), and Wollemi was left dangling on the rope at about level with his belayers stance, located slightly to the side of the line on a perched shelf at the top of a short scramble (read nasty landing), above the deck. I yelled out "Are you OK?" and the answer was affirmative which pleased me, but I think Wollemi was still absorbing the full import of what had happened as he appeared to have a wide eyed expression now seemingly etched on his face! I also noted he was rubbing his shoulder and closer inspection revealed he had taken some bark off it during the fall, but not enough to slow him up, as he reclimbed his line then down-climbed it on etts while back-cleaning his gear.

The afternoon was passing by and people had distance to travel to get to other commitments, so at this point we decided to pack up and call it a successful day.

Hmm. Five aid falls by five different new adherents to the black art of aid in two days; a number of moments of concern by leaders on their routes; no significant injuries, save to the mind(?); ... is that a success?
I consider it is. Heh, heh, heh! ☺
The feedback I received indicates the others felt it was also, so we look forward to climbing together again in the future.

To top things off nicely I found the ride home on the laden bike was a joy to be savoured in the glorious clear autumn evening weather. While doing so I reflected on the energy revitalisation and simple pleasure that it is, to be in the company of like minded individuals who are positive about life and willingly participate in new experiences to the max. The enthusiasm is infectious and I found myself musing that it is good to be alive and share in such things.

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