Tuesday, October 7, 2008

In the Field

Its now October and i have returned to Oz to earn some more money :(
I have landed a good job as a contract geologist in the midwest on a 2/1 fly in fly out roster. I now have to keep my fitness while i work till Febuary when i am taking off for a month of climbing again (destination unknown at the moment).

Home away from home (camp on left) with Mt Hale (foreground) and Mt Gould (distant):
One of the locals:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ceuse and Gorge de Loup

I have spent the last month hanging around some of the best (and hardest!) climbing in the world. It has been awsome for my climbing and after 2 months of alpine climbing i finally have found my sport climbing arms. Although i did not tick my hardest route ever i feel more solid than ever around my onsight level. So far this trip i have done a bunch of 28s and 29s,my second ever 27 onsight and have fallen off on the final not so hard move of what would have been my first 28 onsight. 2 of my 28 redpoints where second go and i had never done that grade that fast before.

Me on Le Privelege de Serpent 7c+:
The climbing at Ceuse is long and endurancy and of incredible quality. It was great climbing with Brad, a friend from chinaclimb, again as well as with Nathan, Heather, Vince and Helen all from Australia.

Vince on Mirage 7c+ (possibly the best 28 in the world!):
For the last week of my trip i have been in Gorge de Loup near Nice which has a very steep cliff containing a very hard selection of routes. The average grade at the crag must be around 32. There is pretty much a whos who of climbing at the crag all working on 34s and 35s.
Anyway back to Perth now. Hopefully for not too long!

Me on an 8a+ at Gorge de Loup:

Friday, July 25, 2008

Arco and the trip to Edinburgh

So we headed all the way to the Dolomites through the Eastern side of Italy only to find that the weather forecast was wrong and bad weather had begun (So we missed out on climbing the Marmolada). We then drove all the way across Italy to a climbing town called Arco in the West. In the town there are climbing photos everywhere of the top sport climbers from the last 20 years and in the bars climbing videos are played on the big screens. There is climbing all around the town and it tends to be quality long very technical routes. We spent two half days and one full day climbing and i had a long endurancy battle with a hard overhung 7c (27) only to fall off just below the chains on the onsight. I got it second go and hopefully i can take that form and build on it in Ceuse. Arco is definetely a place i want to return to and spend some real time.
After Arco i got dropped off in Verona so i could make my own way to Nice and on to Edinburgh while Owen and Dan took the car on a long roadtrip to Prague. I was told all the trains were sold out and it looked like i wouldnt make my flight so i jumped on a train to Milan. From Milan i could get to Ventimiglia (which i hadnt even heard off) on the mediterranean and get a different train from there in the morning to Nice. So i made it!
Now i am in Edinburgh and have met up with Chris and Adelle. I have been to the top of Arthurs seat (a hill next to town), toured around Edinburgh castle and seen the esplanade infront of it where they have the military tattoo every year.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

World Cup, Dolomites and a Wedding

The world cup event in Chamonix was incredible even though it was outdoors and it rained on the crowd the whole time. All the guys i knew as being really good climbers stuffed up a key toe hook move and three people i didnt know managed to figure it out and so took the podium. It was awsome watching them all get close to onsighting what was probably around a grade 32 climb.
Since the weather was so bad and heaps of new snow fell we decided to leave and head to the Dolomites in Italy. We only had a few days before the wedding so we picked a huge target in the north face of the Cima Grande. The route is called the Brandler-Hasse and weaves around a bit but is pretty much direct up the slightly overhanging 550m north face. The day started with dodgy looking skies and an unseasonal cold snap. We started climbing anyway thinking we would eventually have to bail but about 5 hours in, with frozen arms and toes, when we had climbed just over a third of the wall, the sky had cleared and the temps slowly started to rise. The crux came at pitches 12 to 16 which were grade 23/4 and unfortunately we couldnt really try them as they were soaking wet so we pulled on gear through them. The top of the route posed a challenge as although the grade eased the rock stayed wet and we encountered sections of verglass. All up we climbed the route with descent in around 15 and a half hours.
The following day we were totally wrecked so after a sleep in we just did a 7 pitch route on a small spire nearby.
At the moment i am sitting in an internet cafe in Santa Margharita on the mediterranean after attending friends Tim and Christina's incredible fairytale wedding at a swanky villa last night.
Ill get photos up as soon as i can get them off Dan's camera.
Now we are heading either back to the Dolomites for the Marmolada or back to Chamonix depending on how we feel in the next half hour.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Marseille and Cassis

Dont ever go to Marseille! We arrived late in the afternoon, couldnt get any parking and were then told all accomodation was booked out for 50km around the city. We had been told there was a bit of an underworld crime thing going on in the city and when we were blocked from going down a thin one way street by a scooter driver we started to see the uglier side of things. After getting out of the cra to deal with the guy an old woman leaned out of a slightly open window and whispered "be careful, he is dangerous". I couldnt reason with the guy who didnt speak english but seemed to think we had caused him to scratch his scooter (he was going the wrong way down the street). Another lady started to act as interpreter saying we should fill out an accident report form (which implies fault) or give him some cash. After i refused a large crowd gathered and the lady put her hands up and left with a worried look on her face. An old man came up to me and kept whispering "police... police". Owen did his best to look tough behind me and i told the guy nothing was happening without the police which were called and must have told the guy to let us go. We then drove out of town and camped on a beach which we had also been told was very dangerous.

Luckily things got alot better when the next day we drove into Cassis which is awsome! A very nice mediterranean town with a beautiful port that is located next to the Calanques. The Calanques are chasms into the limestone headland which create natural ports. The climbing on the limestone here was superb and the water was crystal clear. So we spent three days here relaxing and climbing and are now ready for some more mountains.
The En Vou Calanque:Another of the many Calanques:We are currently back in Chamonix were a leg of the world cup for climbing is on. The weather is not great though so we may disappear at some stage for the Dolomites in Italy. We also have to be at the wedding on the 17th after which all our plans start getting a bit complicated.

The Matterhorn

Ah.... the Matterhorn. One of the most well known mountains in the world. There were three of us (Dan, Owen and I) so we recruited a fourth member to the party in the form of Glen, a huge Norwegian who is super strong and brimming with enthusiasm. Dan and I attempted the Hornli ridge which is the classic route and with good conditions see over 100 people a day attempt it. On our day which had alot of snow and followed a thunder storm it was just Dan and I. This made for a superb outing having the route to ourselves although with all the snow route finding was a tad tricky and all the snow made for slow progress. Because of this we turned around just over half way up.
Dan on the approach to the Matterhorn:
Owen and Glen climbed the Zermutt ridge a less done route and were successful summiting around 5 pm and making it back to the hut around 12 midnight. All up about 20 hours return. This was an awsome achievement and i am super jealous!

Glen on the Zermutt ridge:

On the Summit:

We all got down a bit worn out and decided to have a little break from the mountains. So after dropping Glen back in Chamonix we headed to the Mediterranean.

The American Direct on the Dru

So we got shut down on the American Direct. It wasnt because the climbing was hard but because we got lost due to route finding difficulties. It was a good thing though as after we bailed a thunder storm trundled in and soaked us all through the walk down.
The Dru (The American Direct goes straight up the middle): After a very nice bivvy on some grass lower in the valley we spent a huge day on the route trying to find our way. We were a bit stumped so bailed around 3pm (the photo below is near our high point). We missed the last train down from the glacier to the valley floor and Chamonix so spent an extra wet and cold 2 hours walking a trail back home.Since the weather turned bad with common thunderstorms in the afternoon we left Chamonix and headed to the Matterhorn in Switzerland.

Monday, June 30, 2008


Needing a huge rest and a bit of time away from the mountains, Dan, Owen and I headed to Milan for the last couple of days. Ash stayed and climbed the Chere Couloir with a new friend of ours, Glen from Norway. Milan was super cool but not the mega fashion and glamour capital of the world we were expecting, which is great for us because at the moment i dont think we could get further from fashionable and glamorous. Instead we had a good time wandering through the historical cultural type things. We went into the Duomo Cathedral during Mass and i lit a candle and touch the holy water which for some reason burned me horribly (just jokes...). We also saw Michaelangelo's painting of Madonna and Child and a heap of stuff by Leonardo da Vinci.

Back to the interesting stuff....

I am now in a cafe in Chamonix again and have to run off to catch a train up a glacier as Owen and I are about to try a route called the American Direct on a peak called the Dru. It should take us a few days and will be awsome!

A Successful Few Days

Since our time off Owen and I have had a very successful few days. We have climbed a classic rock spire called the Grand Capucin which is around 450m high and has up to grade 7a climbing but is more sustained around 6b/c. It was an incredible route and we got some great footage on the video camera. We then had a rest day and followed it up with a 16 hour super fast ascent of the Gervasutti Pillar (~800m) on Mont Blanc du Tacul. This was an awsome route with a variety of rock and mixed climbing which topped out onto snow ridges and an awsome summit at 4200m.

The Summit ridge:
A photo of our routes. The large rock pillar in the left of the photo is the Grand Capucin. The rocky ridge leading from bottom right directly to the summit is the Gervasutti Pillar.
A photo of me on the Glacier before climbing Aguille Vert.I must mention Dan and Ash who unfortunately didnt get much done in the mountains as Ash got a bit sick after Mont Blanc. They did go up and have a crack at the Tour Ronde peak but got turned around due to bad conditions.

The Small Cold Bivvy Ledge

I am somewhere in the yellow bag

Sunday, June 22, 2008

After our first day the weather turned bad so we spent a day at a local cliff next to the town of Balme. It had awsome multipitch limestone routes in the clouds.

Since so much snow had fallen and the weather was only slowly getting better we the left to Ceuse for a couple of days which has amazing sport climbs on perfect pocketed limestone. The grades are quite stiff and some of the climbs can be very hard to onsight as it is hard to find all the good holds in the pocketed rock.
Me on a 7a+ in Ceuse:

We have since returned to Chamonix and had our first multiday climb. Ash and Dan summited Mont Blanc via the standard route over two days and Owen and I had a bit of an epic trying to climb the north face of the Aquille Vert. The approach we assumed was 2 hours based on no information whatsoever ended up taking 6 hours and the wall we had to climb for the first half of the route was quite long. So we ended up bivvying only a pitch from the top of the rock on a tiny snow covered ledge which was a few meters long and about 50cm wide. We took the entire next day bailing off the route in which we could only do 30m rappels since we managed to drop a rock exactly half way through our rope and sever it. Luckily we found a stuck double rope on the way down which we cut up and used for slings which we placed around horns to rappel off.
Ash and Dan on the Mont Blanc summit:

So now we are all very tired and taking a couple of days off before heading up to the snow again.

Photos from the first day in the hills.

This photo shows the Arete de Cosmiques that we all climbed from left to right.
This is taken from the cable car towards the top of the Aguille de Midi (3800m) where we played for the day.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The first day in the hills!

So we all went to Zermatt to climb the Matterhorn and found out that there is still alot of snow left from winter. Apparently the last few weeks have had very bad weather but it seems it is just starting to get good. We bailed from Switzerland and made our way to Chamonix (we will wait for snow to melt before heading back to the Matterhorn.) were things also arent in the best condition so we have to be a bit picky with which routes we can do. Yesterday was our first big day which was a success except for the vast number of Gumbies clogging up the classics. Alpine climbing is mega popular here and we had to tackle large amounts of ice falling on our heads and i even had an ice axe hit my helmet, and fall to oblivion, that was dropped by a punter 10m above me! Owen and I did two routes in the day, the Chere Couloir (a steep ice couloir with bolted anchors!) and the Arete de Cosmiques, while Ash and Dan went for a walk on the glacier and also did the Arete de Cosmiques. We all finished the day with bad headaches as it was our first day straight up to ~3800m from less than 1000m.
Will get some photos on here as soon as we get them off Dans camera. We have bad weather for a couple of days then a long period of good weather when Owen and i are planning our first multiday route.
Ill keep you posted.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

So here we finally are. Ash, Dan, Owen and I have made it to Paris which has to be one of the most awsome cities i have ever been to. It is incredibly densely populated with shops everywhere on the ground floors and four to six floors of shoe box apartments above. Things are quite expensive except for baked goods of which we have sampled alot! The most popular item so far has been the Pain Au Chocolat (Chocolate croissant).
After we arrived we picked up the car and underwent a crazy drive in peak hour traffic into Paris on the wrong side of the road. It took us ages just to find a parking spot (most people dont bother with cars within Paris.) which is meant to have a two hour limit costing 4 euro. Since the fine is 11 euro everyone just takes the fine and parks for as long as they like. There is an awsome automated biking system where you use a card to sign out a city bike, ride it to wherever and put the bike back in one of the many bike ports.
We spent yesterday after we arrived shopping for the final bits of gear we needed for the mountains and tasting all the food around the city. We met up with Ash's friend Jess who is from Perth but living in Paris and went out for a great French dinner. I had trout, Ash had raw minced cow (weird but good), and the others all had duck. For dessert we ordered a selection consisting of creme brulee, lemon meringue, chocolate mousse, a brownie type thing and a traditional yoghurt thingy. All was washed down with a red wine.
Afterwards we returned to Jess' which is a small top floor apartment. We climbed out the skylight and sat on the top of the steeply pitched roof looking out over Paris and at the Eiffel Tower in the distance.
Today we have had more baked goods for breakfast and are about to head off to Switzerland and the village of Zermutt which is at the foot of the Matterhorn. The weather doesnt look that great so we may end up doing a few days of cragging. Dan and I have gone halves in a video camera so hopefully we can get some good footage and put together a funny video at the end of the trip.

Au Revoir
A Bientot

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Not Long Now!!!!!

So i thought i should do a pre-trip blog to describe what a crew of us from Western Australia are going to be up to for the next couple of months in Europe. The crew consists of Owen Davis, Ash Kirvan, Dan Lee and I. Ash is off saturday and the rest of us leave on tuesday (10th of June). We will meet up in Paris and hang out for a couple of days looking aound and grabbing a few bits of climbing gear we need. From there its on to the Matterhorn where Owen and I will attempt an easier ridge before hopefully having a go at the Schmidt Route on the north face. Hopefully in form we will then have a run at a route called Life is a Whistle (7c, 22 pitches) on the north face of The Eiger. Chamonix is next and we have a wish list longer than all our arms combined so well just have to see what routes are in good form when we get there.
A nice break and a cool experience will be attending a friends wedding on the coast of Italy (Santa Margherita) around the 20th of July. Afterwards we only have a short time before Owen and Dan head back to Oz so we will make a quick sojourn up to the Dolomites where i am psyched to have a bash at a long route called The Fish (12c) on the Marmolada.
After a long weekend up to Edinburgh to meet some friends i will be returning to France and spending the month of August at Ceuse sport climbing (All welcome!!!). I then leave from Rome on the 31st back to Perth, Australia.
So that about sums it up and i am sure things will change a bit. I'll be posting stories and photos hopefully after each leg of the trip. Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mt. Kinabalu, Granite Paradise

Reports on this trip were published on the Alpinist and Climbing Magazine websites as well as the Base Camp section of a Climbing Magazine issue.
Photos by me and Boer Zhao
I came to Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo keen for one last epedition before my worldwide jounts ended for a while. I had been climbing around North America and Asia and was keen for one last taste of granite climbing before going home to Perth, Western Autralia. The trip had been thought up late one night in a bar in China and all our planning had reflected that drunken enthusiasm we had. The last trip up the mountain had been a well planned expedition with over ten separate sponsors. We had none except for our near empty bank accounts (Credit cards can be wonderful things!). Luckily for us the Park Service didn’t seem to know exactly what the term climbing meant and gave us our permit and insurance coverge thinking we were walking around siteseeing on the plateau. You should have seen the surprise on their faces when we turned up with ropes and aid gear spilling out of our oversized packs!

Mt. Kinabalu rising to 4095m ASL reaches the highest point between the Himalayas and New Guinea. The summit plataeu covers a remarkably large area and contains an abundance of granite spires ranging from 100 to 200m high. It is the youngest exposed granite body in the world having cooled only 10 million years ago compared to 80 to 100 million years ago for Yosemite and Squamish and a couple of Billion years for the granite from Perths Yilgarn Craton. The granite has the similar features that exist in Yosemite, Squamish and the bugaboos that are left from glaciation which includes striations, polishing and the regular U shaped valleys which cause most climbs to start as slabs and finish steep. The thing that stands out is the friction. I have never climbed on grit in the UK but I imagine that the friction that exists there must be akin to the fine grained granite from Mt. Kinabalu. Your feet will literally stick to almost anything. This opens up a huge range of possibilities in an area where only a handful of routes have been developed. The limiting factor so far has been the accessibility and the amount of protection the rock will allow.

Mt. Kinabalu is the centrepiece of the Kinabalu National Park, a World Heritage Site, which is accessed from Kota Kinabalu the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah. The Park contains a diverse and unique biology containing many species that occur no where else in the world. The preservation of the environment is incredibly important to the locals as ecotourism is the main industry in Sabah so any expeditions up the mountain have to be run in full cooperation with the Park Service. I found that during our 2 week stay the Park Service were more than helpful and were always willing to take money off us for permits, hut fees, insurance, guide fees etc etc… After spending time on the mountain though you start to see that the money goes to good use with the park being one of the best run I have ever seen and in imaculate condition. A day hike (2 days with heavy packs) up a tourist trail leads you to the summit plataeu and a fairytale land of granite spires.

When climbing one of the first things you notice is the lack of protection. You tend to climb from flake system to flake system, all which sound hollow, rather than up traditional splitter cracks of which there are few. This lack of fracturing is likely due to the rocks young age and strength. Pitons and Bolts are a must for developing new routes of which most will contain runout slabs (A good headspace is also a must!). Despite this, the quality of the climbing is incredible and in many instances on par with the major granite destinations of North America.

The climbing isn't for everyone… Four of us headed up the mountain, Edd Stockdale, a climbing bum from Perth, Boer Zhao, a climber we met in China, Brad Stapperfenne, an ex-marine from the United States and me, also a climbing bum from Perth. The walk up took us a lousy wet two days as we refused to hire porters and were punished with packs in excess of 40kg. This was almost too much for all and Edd, whos pack was a beaten up Haul Bag, never seemed to recover. Upon Edd and Boers discovery of the run out alpine style climbing they came to a decision that alpine climbing sucked. Edd left after a few days and Boer stuck it out but prefered not to lead. Luckily Brad used to leading sandbagged 5.9s in the states and who had been
improving rapidly to the 5.12 grade on sport managed to stand up to the challenge and provided an awsome partner. The lesson learned here is that climbing on Mt. Kinabalu as in any alpine environment is torturous and to make sure you are crazy and enjoy pain before you commit to any expedition.

The opportunities are endless. During my 2 week stay I noticed an abundance of unclimbed lines, managed to get the FFA on two previous aid routes(now graded 11- and 11+), and put up The Alpine Birdy (3 pitches, 5.12b), the hardest free route on the mountain and named after Edd's views on alpine climbing and the arete also looking like a middle finger. This is hard considering you're pulling the moves at 4000m causing your lungs to work a lot harder than normal. Apart from the granite spires that litter the summit plataeu the more futuristic and greatest new route opportunities exist in a kilometre deep rift seperating thr East and Western sides of the plataeu. This rift is known as Lows Gully and a first ascent of its larger walls is most likely only going to be available to party of skilled wall climbers in siege like expedition style.

Anyone wanting to experience and add to this developing granite paradise should contact the park service atleast a month in advance and prepare for some rewarding hard work. A miniguide is present in the Climb Malaysia guide book although it doesn’t give topos or even very good discriptions of routes. It does help you get psyched though and gives you information on getting to the mountain and the spires on the plataeu. For route discriptions the best resource is the Gurkha Hut log book on the Western Plataeu. The Gurkha hut is the primary residence for climbers, sleeping four, and needs to be booked from the park service.

Yangshuo, China… the new Tonsai?

Logan Barber, Edd Stockdale - Dec/2006
A version of this was published in ROCK Magazine.
Photos by me and Boer Zhao

The climbing community around the world is small and the community of constantly travelling climbers is even smaller. So when we, two West Aussies, left Perth in 2005 on separate endless climbing trips around the world we were bound to run into each other in some out of the way random climbing mecca. Unknown to us we would meet in China's south, in a little known paradise of towering limestone karst based around the ever growing town of Yangshuo.

We were both drawn to Yangshuo in September 2006 with the promise of an abundance of yet to be climbed sweeping limestone walls and cheap to cost free living while working for China's premier outdoor guiding company, Chinaclimb. What followed was three months of climbing, guiding, the good life with an international crew of psyched climbers, free flowing bolts and one overworked Bosch drill. Times were good and unlike the nearby limestone mecca of Tonsai in Thailand, Yangshuo has yet to be tainted by excessive climbing crowds and inflated prices.

Yangshuo is a predominantly agricultural town in the Guang xi Province of Southern China that has a bustling and fast growing tourism industry driven by the local farming lifestyle and the almost mythical karst tower landscape. 300, 000 people in the surrounding area make sure that, like the rest of China, personal space does not exist although like mystery food, hair raising public transport and the occasional hot air balloon landing in the middle of the highway, this adds to the cultural experience unique to China.

Upon introduction to Chinaclimb our first instructions were to have fun, enjoy the laid back atmosphere, and climb hard. With the company growing faster than anyone could have imagined, the 40 staff hired for its busiest season ever made for constant parties and an endless soap opera. You have to respect a company that pays its staff with a constant supply of free beer, accommodation in staff apartments, free dinners from Chinaclimb's amazing chefs and occasional monetary bonuses. We worked two or three days a week guiding international schools from Shanghai and Beijing, Corporate groups, and any tourists interested in giving climbing a go. The rest of our time we spent obsessed with the awe inspiring karst towers and the climbing they offered.

A typical day of climbing in Yangshuo did not start very early. Generally we would get super motivated in a party atmosphere the night before and agree to leave by eight o'clock in the morning for a full days climbing. People would start to turn up at the Lizard Lounge, Chinaclimbs headquarters, around nine thirty and we would be lucky to be packed into a mini bus on our way to the crag by eleven. The more people climbing for the day the later we would leave. Around the crag it was impossible not to interact with the local farmers and Chinese tourists who approach climbing with good humour and would sit and wait hoping to witness a whipper, the occasional verbal rant that comes with falling off after the crux of a route and the comical nature of a climber being lowered into a prickle bush. Old ladies and kids scoured the base of the cliffs in search of any drink container they could lay there hands on (even if we hadn't finished with them yet!) as deposit reimbursment associated with recycling is a major secondary income for many farming families. Any of the cliffs we visited near tourist locations most likely resulted in us turning up in more photo albums than possibly imaginable due to that other Chinese hobby; photograph the foreigner. These and many other random starnge experiences during any typical day just added to the unique experience that climbing in China has to offer. By six o'clock the sun would start to set and we would all get ready to devour a typical Chinese feast served up by Chinaclimbs chefs. Onsights, redpoints and almosts were discussed over dinner which would bring everyone together and mark the start of another nights socialising. Once again we would get psyched and plan another 'early start'.

It all started in the early 1990's when a group of Americans, including the late Todd Skinner, stumbled across the visually inspiring Moon Hill, a gigantic arch of tufa covered limestone. This area was transformed over the next few years to become the most prominent climbing area in China offering climbs such as the enduro testpiece Red Dragon (.13d), the technical Apollo (.12a), and a powerful foray on the underside of the arch in Moonwalker (.12d). These climbs cover a range of angles and styles so that every climber can find something to suit and something to challenge. Access to Moon Hill consists of half an hour of energy sapping hiking up stone steps originally placed for a visit from Richard Nixon while he was president of the United States. Nowadays most tourists visiting Yangshuo make the trek slowly up to the base of the arch and manage to form a peanut gallery whose cheers and camera flashes make you feel as though you are a movie star.

In 2003/4 a bike ride into the country side by a visiting climber, James Potter, introduced what is arguably the best climbing area in the region, White Mountain. The cliff is roughly 200 metres long and 60 metres high ranging from vertical to a sweeping 15 degree overhang. The cliff with its water streaked colours is reminiscent of Ceusé, though with a back drop of orchards, rice paddies and water buffalo wandering
by, definitely has a Chinese atmosphere. Currently 26 routes ranging from .10a to .13b/c exist, most toward the harder end of the scale, of which 7 have been put up in the last couple of months. Many of the classics on this crag have just been nabbed with this seasons additions of the crimpy Phoenix (.12c) by Chinaclimb staff member Colton Lindeman, and the powerful 45 metre long Axeman (.13b/c) by a visit from UK climber Neil Gresham. Chinawhite (.12b) is a not so recent classic worth mentioning involving off vertical big moves on smooth limestone huecos. Potential still exists for many new routes on the wall especially in the .13+ to .14 range.

With the Yangshuo region gathering international recognition and in the introduction of guiding companies the amount of climbing areas and number of routes has increased quickly on the seemingly endless limestone walls. To date 28 crags have been developed containing roughly 300 routes. Most crags have not been saturated with lines and the list of areas to be developed in the future grows every week. It surely will not be long before the number of routes and their quality equals and then surpasses those found in Tonsai, Thailand. The absence of a beach and the larger distances between crags adds to a different climbing lifestyle than the laid back, chilled culture in Tonsai and because of this Yangshuo tends to suit the more motivated climber and those wanting a more cultural experience. The attraction of amazing pristine limestone, great food and cheap costs of living make Yangshuo a destination worth visiting

It’s the end of November, winter has arrived and it has started to get cold and wet. Both our climbing trips are now continuing south in the search of warmer weather. Tonsai is the perfect location for our continued limestone sport climbing indulgence before we both leave on our separate journeys chasing the climbing lifestyle around the world. We wonder when and where the next climbing area will host another of our reunions.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Two West Aussies and a Whole Lotta Bugs

I wrote this in Sept, 2006.
"C'mon it’s a weather window, we're going so why don’t you!" Chris Atkinson, one of the guide book authors, and a hard core female friend attempted to rev us up. "We can shout at each other during the bivvy on the wall tonight". Lawrence and I looked at each other. We were mentally trashed from a series of shutdowns on wet, loose, sandbagged routes and our bodies didn’t exactly feel refreshed. How long since our last rest day I thought to myself, I couldn’t remember. We started to sort our gear.

The Bugaboo National Park is located in south eastern British Columbia, Canada. It is described as one of the best alpine playgrounds in the world and rightly deserves its description. A cirque of free standing spires with walls ranging from 10 to 30 something pitches forms the central Bugaboos and the quality of rock is amazing when compared to other alpine areas. Access is easy, just walk up a great trail for a few hours and you are at the Conrad Kain Hut and Applebee campsite near the base of Snowpatch and Bugaboo spires. A few more hours over a couple of cols and a glacier and you are at East Creek Basin at the base of the Howser towers.

Lawrence and I had planned an onslaught of the Bugaboos for the better part of a year and things finnaly came together at the end of July when we met in nearby Lake Lousie armed with all our gear, a months worth of food and high spirits. Due to the amount of gear we got a helicopter into East Creek Basin allowing us to skip the walk. The object of our trip was and had always been an ascent of All Along the Watchtower (ED2, 5.12- sandbag, 26 pitches + a convoluted ridge). It tops out on the North Howser the highest peak in the bugs and is one of the major hard classic alpine bigwall climbs in the world. According to the locals (we camped with the guidebook authors) it had very few free ascents, possibly only 2, even though it had been tried by many strong climbers.

I must admit after the first few weeks i was thinking that i was insane for ever wanting to climb big walls in the alpine. It was pure torture climbing in the cold stormy weather on suspect rock that was occasionally wet. We were having fun of some sort which lacked the flair of sanity which pops up in most forms of climbing. Anyway we had a bit of an emotional low doubting ourselves about halfway into the trip. We had done some of the classics including the famous Becky-Chouinard (~16 pitches, 10c) on the south Howser and also some not so classics. Shy away from 11+'s put up in the 1970's! I spent 20 mins aiding a 2 meter section of a 5.9! So during a psychological low, while i was on the verge of hypothermia after climbing a Chimney/waterfall (in 0 degree temps!) we thought screw it lets just have some rest collect ourselves and jump on the Watchtower.

The next day, a planned rest day, we woke to blue skies and the news that apparently we were getting a break in the weather and the next few days would be perfect. That’s when Chris started to rev us up. "C'mon it’s a weather window, we're going so why don’t you!" It didn’t take much to convince us. We were physically and mentally beaten but that didn’t count for much. Chris and his partner were preparing to leave for an ascent of the north Howser via a different route. We hurried to catch up to their stage of preperation and quickly packed one nights worth of food and all our gear. We walked and rapped in to the base of the north howser and started to climb at 3 in the afternoon. A good old Alpine start!

After the first pitch we saw Chris and his partner bailing and heading back to camp. They had sandbagged us! Was there whole act a sham? Anyway we were comitted now and we turned our attention to the kilometer of rock above us. We polished of the first 10 pitches to a bivvy ledge over the next 7 hours arriving just as it got dark.
A huge dinner and a hot chocolate later we were cozy on our little ledge. We had dragged up sleeping bags, bivvy bags, a cooker, heaps of clothes and the days worth of food. The leader climbed with a 35 litre pack and the seconder had a 70 litre pack. 5.9 old school offwidth is very hard with a 70 litre pack (Trust me...I Know!).
The morning was awsome, a great view and perfect weather. I woke first and enjoyed watching the moon arc across the blue sky. We had no idea what time it was till we got started and Lawrence looked at his watch.... It was noon! So the rest of the day was spent route finding to the base of the amazing dihedral that has given the watchtower its 3 stars and then climbing the dihedral (4 pitches) while hauling our bags (we took up a huge canvas bag to haul without damaging our backpacks). We made it to near the top of the dihedral (very soft 11+, climbing) before sunset and then rapped back down to a bivvy ledge fixing our ropes in the dihedral so we could jug the next morning. So the entire day we moved our camp up 4 pitches only! Dinner consisted of a couple of cliff bars. We were starving.

After the second night on the wall we had half a cliff bar and half a gell each for breakfast and started to jug up the dihedral hauling our bags. Then to my surprise i hear a Hello! I turned around and theres another party that had bivvied at the top of pitch ten. They were not trying to free the route but just get up it and the seconder was jugging up the rope after the leader. They seemed very strong and were moving quite fast by doing this. They also only had a single pack and were spending very cold nights on ledges with no bivvy gear. One of the guys some of you might know. He is the guy in the Indian Creek guide book and in some BD catalogues wearing the funny glasses in an offwidth placing a huge cam.
Since there were two parties and we were the slowest we offered to let them pass. This led to a very screwed up situation at the top of the dihedral with gear everywhere and Lawrance and I hanging in our harnesses for hours!

Both Lawrence and i had not fallen yet and we where both keen for the lead on the crux pitch which was coming up. We watched the other strong climbers flail on the pitch and resort to aid never pulling the crux. They tagged a line for us and fixed it in case we couldnt pull it either so we could jug pass the crux. Unfortunately for me we were running out of time and i had the whole hanging belay and hauling system set up around me so it was obvious Lawrance was to get the lead. We had a 1 fall policy (you fall you jug pass - no working).

Lawrence gave it a good shot but didnt pull the crux either, the footholds were non-existant. After jugging past he put me on belay. Although i wasnt on lead i still felt nervous and aprahensive, the next 10 meters was soooo important to me. It wasnt on lead but it was still a free ascent that was at steak although not in the best style. I focused taking apart my belay setup and shouted "clmbing!" I saw the crux and knew it was hard, two very strong climbers had just pulled past and a third (the cam dude) didnt even bother to try.

I dont think ive ever been so focused or wanted anything as much. I underclinged a couple of crystals and stepped up onto one of the worst footholds you've ever seen (it was the only thing there). As i stepped up i let out a scream as i felt the tension between my fingertips running up through my shoulders and down to my toes. I brought my right hand into a one finger and a bit tiny pocket and matched feet. Then stepped a long way across to a better foothold and grabbed a better undercling. One more big cross over and i was through the crux.

The rest of the pitch was still very hard and i had to concentrate super hard not to screw it all up. I had done it, not on lead but still free. I looked up and saw the next two pitches, easily the second and third most hardest of the route, at sandbagged 5.11. It was my lead and it took all my strength and will power to keep it together. We topped out the hard climbing as it got dark and did another 5 pitches of mid fifth class climbing in the dark before reaching the summit ridge sometime in the middle of the night only to find the party that had overtaken us. They gave us a bite of salami each which tasted and filled me up as if i had had a roast dinner! We melted some snow and had a tea made from a tea bag they had just given us. Then we passed out.

After the crazy ridge in the morning we stood on the summit, very weak and kinda dizzy. I felt slightly re-energised just knowing the fact we had achieved our goal for the trip. The plan had been in the works for over 6 months. We had done it, an Aussie ascent of the watchtower which included one of the few ever free ascents.
It would have been great to have had the energy to celebrate but all we could manage was a few summit shots before turning our concentration to the descent. Can you believe we got our rope stuck on the last rappel! Lawrence showed his worth by brushing off fatigue and dehydration to lead just one more short pitch to get the rope unstuck. We stumbled and slid across glaciers and past crevasses back to camp to begin a well deserved feast of spam and crackers.