|It wouldn't surprise anyone that I don't get on ropes often. There's probably as many theories why someone wouldn't get on rope as there are climbers; no doubt some will claim stridently that I'm a wuss (which I don't deny) – but for me, it's always been that I find the process of roped climbing so tedious. My ADHD self simply doesn't cope well with all the faffing about. And I don't care about a lot of things other people find really interesting. The gear holds me or not; I can't get excited about the numbers – how many kN?? *shrug* Whenever I'm considering a climb I flash back to the cost of all the gear you have to buy and wonder why I'm not just getting out with a mat, shoes and some chalk. I love offwidths (oddly – perhaps they should be called oddwidths??), but I would never buy as many pieces of gear as I probably need. And I'm not the one piece per 30 metre type. So, I'm not a natural Booroombite (a Canberran term for Booroomba-lovers).
That said, once a year or so, I'm feeling reasonably fit, my mind turns to a bit of adventure and self-flaggelation, and I get a hankering to go tradding. And it always seems to coincide with Alan arriving.
Alan's a brit who I'd dare to call a good mate who happens to rock up to Canberra once a year or so. We actually met on Chockstone after he put out some feelers about a climb in Canberra. I ended up meeting him for a boulder, and he didn't even seem to mind pebble wrestling. Since then, we've made a number of plans to climb.
The plans haven't always turned out well. We did get out to a day of climbing at Mount Keira once (going as hard as we could in 34 degrees on sandy undergraded choss on the south face and wondering if the gear would really hold) but the planned following week of climbing at Nowra and elsewhere got completely rained out. Alan's been pretty patient over the last couple of years, what with me getting over a broken ankle when he turned up once and then managing to tear my back to bits in late 2011, just before he was due to turn up and spend a month or more climbing with me. So I felt I owed Alan something better this time around.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. Alan really wanted to get Integral Crack (40++ metre gr 20) done, well within his capabilities, having had an aborted attempt some time ago due to circumstances out of his control. I'd offered to be involved. With Alan's exhortations to stop injuring yourself in mind, I'd also been trying to find some old established boulder problems around Canberra and attempt only those that weren't likely to do any long-term damage from falls or eyes-bigger-than-stomachitis. In looking around, I found an area that seemed to be heavily fire-affected (like, heavily), with way bigger boulders than you'd expect to be climbing with a mat if you're halfway sane. 6-20 metre lines. I'm not bouldering that! The crag itself is packed tight, with small 'hallways' between each boulder. It'd be a kid's playground, romping around and over and under, into caves and squeezes.
I sent Alan a message and asked him - do you want to have a go at some possible new lines?
To Paraphrase, HELL YES.
The line on the right was done by Chris Warner (of Flaming Dinner Plates on Mount Thor fame), at A2+. Up close it's even more impressive than from afar; it overhangs 4 metres in 15 and is seriously flared. It's the kind of crack you look at and wonder how it's possible at all. But it's way above my pay grade; in fact if I had to guess I'd expect a free grade to have a 3 in front of it, or be in the very high twenties. Looking around, I saw a few potential lines and put out some feelers as to whether the lines have been done before. I'm still not entirely sure what has been done, so please don't take offense if you've done any of these before because I've done my best; what is pretty obvious is that other than Chris, no one's roped up at this area since the Canberra fires, and the lines that may or may not have been done are exfoliating like crazy. CRAZY.
Which is part of the adventure...
Sunday 20 January
Alan rocked up to the car park at near to our meeting time, having been delayed by a late arrival from Port Macquarie to Canberra. The forecast was for 29 degrees and we'd been hoping to get out early, but sometimes it's not to be.
After much faffing about with ropes to get anchors and other such boring things set up, we decided to have a go at the rib you can see off to the left of the photo above (next to the crack), as a warm-up. On top-rope, because there's no gear at all and because you could fall off the ledge below the climb and right bugger up an ankle or wrist. It looks like it should be a simple matter of laybacking to the top, cruisy moves...
Ahh, granite. Sometimes things look easy, and often you convince yourself they're easy. Pretty often they're not. Alan and I both have a go at the climb and after tearing off massive amounts of friable rock come to something approximating a possible climb. But the thing is, after one particular flake got torn off, the climb got hard. The climb felt like a hard (for me) boulder problem. Not a good start. I get to the anchor after giving off the wail of the ban sidhe, and then realise there's a much harder move above if you want to top out. This climb suits me, but screw that. I can't do that unless I have a team helping me to top-rope dyno. Time to move on.
We take a crack at the crack to the right (of the rib), all of 13, 14, 15 metres? And this is where the fun really starts. Alan wants to use his doubles and I am a single (but married) man, unfamiliar with double ropes and using Alan's weird clicky belay device to boot. It clicks up and protects Alan from going down as well as any gri-gri. It also protects him from going upwards. Good thing the crack has solid hang endlessly gear.
The crack is slabby or overhung, depending on your point of reference. It seems like it should be a walk up a steep face using the arete. Unfortunately, the arete crumbles continuously as we climb. There is no arete/spoon. It's jams or falling. Technical, insecure jams.
The tape we have is inadequate to the task of protecting every square inch of our bodies from being sandpapered by granite, unsurprisingly. It's hard, but beautiful. An E1/5b move right off the deck, smearing to help you reach the rail. I'm glad of my (outlandish) habit of bringing a bouldering mat to crags, because both Alan and I fall off the first move at some stage and there's enough flaked granite to do some serious ankle damage below. After trading goes at it, I've gotten just around the corner, about 34 mm above Alan's high point, and we call it. Too hard, sun's on the crack boiling us off, it will go but not now. Super-duper-crack-project for the moment.
Finally, we take a crack at one of the boulders behind the main bloc, in hopes of doing something at all. At 2 pm, I'm roped up, pumped, sunburned, tired... Ready to go! First bit of gear goes in at the 4 metre mark, after some worrisome smeary moves. It's okay to fall into a chimney/crack isn't it? Surely you won't hit the ground. A few more bits of gear, then I'm off... Then, &^%&^. I don't have anything big enough for this crack. It's an offwidth and I'm sure I could do it first go, much as anyone without any knowledge is sure of their ability to do something. But in recognition of my advancing age, I back off, and top-rope it easily enough. I get a good ego boost at the end of the day, as Alan seems to find it more difficult than me. I think he's playing possum. I leave with an impressive amount of sunburn and scratches all over my back courtesy of super-duper-project-crack.
The crux of t