|Maharajah tune (aka Bivvy for the sake of it); Mt Buffalo 7-8/03/04.
It was suggested to me by my frequent climbing partner Matt, on one of our many ascents of this classic on the Cathedral Pinnacle, that he has always fancied bivvying out on the first (square-cut) belay ledge on the route, simply for its amenable features and superb location. He also commented on how often the location acts as a ‘wind trap’, … (more on this later).
I seem to have a penchant for suffering and pushed the concept one stage further by replying “why don’t we!, as I am looking for extra value from my new portaledge”, so a short while later I followed-up to set a date. By then Matt had mentioned the concept to Kevin who is a relative newbie to the climbing game, so the exercise expanded to include him.
We threesome had slightly different perspective’s of what we wanted from the experience but managed to find common time amongst our other commitments to do it on the Sunday night of the Vic. long-w/end.
I knew Mike Boniwell was going to be up that w/end and hoped to catch up with him, but our late arrival ended that opportunity. Instead we met Peter Watling on the roadside, and its unusual how things work out sometimes.
When we first saw Peter, Matt suggested ‘this guys just an old tourist’, since he had a camera with him. I was of the opinion he was grizzled enough to be an old climber!, and true enough, I was pleased to shake the hand of one of the 1st ascentionists of Bloodnok, Devilled Cream, The Pintle, and quite a few other good lines at Buffalo that have stood the test of time.
It is not often one meets up with ‘living history’, so I took the opportunity of relating my tale of finding the 1945 penny in the gorge between the base of Angels Buttress and Crystal Brook. This in the hope that this amenable white haired gentleman might be able to shed light on the identity of the loser of said coin. Unfortunately it is still a mystery, however it is likely to be a member of the MUCC, since they undertook a number of ventures in that area in days of yore.
The meeting was all too brief as we had a timeframe to keep, so we parted ways.
Matt led the route, and Kevin followed, while being coached from both above and below when appropriate. They hauled our individual packs up the abseil descent, and I then climbed the route with my portaledge strapped to my back.
The weather was 50/50 at the time since a light shower of rain commenced, and more ominous clouds were circling / closing in on us.
The sun broke through to give one of the most beautiful sights I have seen from here, when every individual blade of rock / granite tor visible, was highlighted in golden light, and seemed to be ‘picked out’ from the surrounding vegetation in spectacular style.
The rain continued to dissipate into unreal cumulus splendour on sunset, and I topped out in dusk, followed soon after by a nearly full moon casting silhouette shadows of us, atop the pinnacle onto the Cathedral wall adjacent. The gamble to proceed without wet weather gear had paid off, though I doubt any camera could do it justice.
After changing into warmer clothing, dinner of cold tinned food and a cup of wine took on special qualities in that environment.
We sorted our gear, and the rack, while the wind increased in strength.
The lights of Wangaratta at night, plus the moving lights of the hordes down at Catani, although relatively close, added a sense of exposure to our location, since they twinkled with an indifferent remoteness to our existence. I found myself wondering if anyone down there could see our headtorches, or if they were oblivious of others, being engulfed in ‘light pollution’ from their campfires; though no doubt they were equally enjoying life as we were at that time.
Kevin remained suitably anchored to the belay on top, while Matt abseiled to his preferred ledge on the North-East face of the flake system, and I also abseiled to about half way between them, where I had left my portaledge hanging (undeployed) from a vertical crack in anticipation.
I am a ‘cold sleeper’, so was well pleased to get away with the night out without using a sleeping bag, simply dressed in multiple layers of clothing inside a bivvy bag.
The wind blew all night, and the sounds it made whistling through manufactured holes in the ledge, as well as within the rigging, were experiences I relished. All my other nights out have had memorable moments for other reasons, but these sounds were new to me, and I lay awake for a long time just trying to absorb them into my memory.
Over and above the sounds, the vibration sensation of the whole portaledge (even with me on it), 'fluttering' in the breeze, made me feel like the reed in a woodwind instrument.
I was being versed intimately in music lessons from the Maharajah, who was playing my tune, though sometimes it was frenetic and akin to being on a waterbed with half a dozen playful kids bouncing on it continuously!
The few very brief moments of lull between continuous gusts, only served to highlight the playful ferocity of the next onslaught. The high tech materials I was cradled within crackled while flapping, until my body position trapped folds in the bivvy bag or tensioned other parts of it.
Morning arrived too soon, and after shooting off some more film in the beaut light conditions, we packed up our respective camps and had breaky. Matt then climbed ‘Castles In The Sand’ (RH arete of upper Maharajah), while I tried to suss out an aid line through the roof of Sultan and the arete above it.
I swear my pack felt heavier when I got back to the car minus food and water, than it did when I had departed. However after changing out of my ‘sleeping bag’ into a single layer of clothing, and rehydrating with water I had left in the car, I soon recovered. We then proceeded to the Gorge to show Kevin the sights, as he had never been to Buffalo prior to this trip.
Matt commented on the way home on what our next undertaking should be, as well as the fact that he had waited 12 years to do what we had just done, as opposed to Kevin’s first trip achieving a 'multipitch' classic, as well as a grand bivvy at the same time.
It was an excellent undertaking, with many magic moments.
I know I will return again if given the chance …