Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Yangshuo Part 2

I have come to the end of a productive trip to Yangshuo. I didn’t manage to send the entire line of my mega project up the guts of Lei Pi Shan but I had an amazing time finding, equipping and trying it. It was the route I spent longest on this year and although I could do it in two overlapping sections I didn’t have what it took to link it all. I climbed clean to the half way anchors grading that hard 29 (8a/+) but I would always fall entering the final V8/9 (?) boulder problem at almost 40m! I named the route ‘Storm Born’ keeping in theme with the crag. The entire line will be 32/33 and an absolute classic! Cheers to Derek for the photos.
The first crux and easiest of Storm Born is the crux of the route Papercut (7c+) which i put up in 2006. Photo Derek Cheng.
The second crux of Storm Born almost half way up the Lei Pi Shan cliff. Photo Derek Cheng.
Compressing on bad holds about to snatch a slopey jug in the final boulder
before a sustained 5m end sequence to the chains. Photo Derek Cheng.
Staring up at Lei Pi Shan, my favourite crag in Yangshuo. Photo JJ Obrien.
A back injury in the last two weeks and a year of climbing catching up with my body meant I had to take a step back and so I climbed some classics I hadn’t done as well as a couple of easier first ascents. The new crag called Dragon City, which will be in the next guidebook, had a lot of potential and I found a nice thin vertical face on which I equipped and freed ‘City of Dreams’ at 27/8 (7c/+) on my second last day. Thanks to JJ for taking some cool shots! Check out his stylish climbing blog at jjobrienclimbing.blogspot.com.au
Thin face in the crux of City of Dreams 27/8? Photo JJ Obrien
Not a lot of holds on this wall! Photo JJ Obrien.
The initial slab of 'City of Dreams'. Photo JJ Obrien.
I am now back in Perth and have had almost a week off. Its Christmas time catching up with the family and my body is slowly healing. Climbing plans are already forming for next year. Plans I need to work a job around!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Yangshuo 2012 Part 1

Its great to be back in Asia. Europe seemed to build up on me this year and I wasn't quite able to relax. I am not exactly sure of the reasoning but it has something to do with spending alot of time at fully developed crags without a sense of adventure and the constant fear of having your things stolen. In Asia everything is generally so random and hectic in that you have no choice but to sit back and go with the flow.This combined with the fast development of climbing in the region creates a sense of adventure missing in France and Spain. Before entering the China mainland I spent a week in Macau hanging out with Jing-Yun who successfully quit her dayjob to follow her dreams and became an acrobat in a huge production called House of Dancing Water at the City of Dreams. The show is incredible and watching it was a great way to spend my 30th birthday! Yes I am officially old.
Jing being Jing on top of Moon Hill, Yangshuo Photo: Innalee.
A few days later with visa in hand I crossed the border to Zuhai and hopped on a nightbus back for a reunion with Yangshuo. Yangshuo has grown dramatically since 2006 but still retains its charm. I have spent a lot of time catching up with friends, catching up with my dumpling intake, and massaging away a years worth of knots in my back. I have been here a month now and feel like so much has happened. I projected a famous route called 'Lightning' at my favourite crag here called 'Lei Pi Shan' which translates to 'Thunder and Lightning Mountain'. It was Chinas first 32 although has now been rightly downgraded to 31. It took me four days and I was on a super high after climbing it. To its left is a line called 'Thunder' which is 32 but not my style at all. It has massive reaches between moderate holds so I lost interest after two goes. There is a way to traverse off the true line of the route and skip the main crux but if I couldnt do the main line I wasnt going to do it at all. Besides my attention had moved elsewhere.
Half way up Lightning 31 Photo: Abond.
A local friend of mine 'Abond' who I met in 2006 has done really well in the last few years setting up a guesthouse, climbing up to grade 34 and getting sponsorship from Adidas and Black Diamond. Another company, Kailas, which I hadnt heard of before, had given him a haulbag full of bolts for the development of the area. After catching up with Abond he allowed me access to his drill and seemingly unlimited bolts! This was fortunate as my eye had turned to the epic central line of Lei Pi Shan (just to the left of Thunder), a 40m wave of limestone steepest at the top. I spent a day bolting the line and removing any loose rock and found a great route ending with an amazing compression boulder problem! I haven't done it yet and it may end up being my focus for the rest of the trip.

The Yangshuo climbing festival also came and went and was a blast. Two days of climbing outdoors during the day and a boulder competition in the evenings. We had an awesome crew of people from all over the world including old friends Vince and Helen from the Blue Mountains who both managed to win the boulder competition. I performed well despite the intense weekend of climbing and managed 5th in a strong field of competitors. Yangshuo is getting cold now and not quite as dry as I would have hoped. Down jackets are a must! Climbers are coming and going but there is a dedicated crew here for the whole season which will end mid to late December. Hopefully thats enough time for my project!
I can see Macau from here! On top of Moon Hill. Photo: Me
Flag! On top of Moon Hill. Photo: Innalee.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Last Stop on the Euro Tour.

Margalef was exactly what I needed at the end of my Europe trip. It has bouldery sequences on tiny pockets made from where the pebbles in the conglomerate have fallen out. This style suits me. I think it has to do with how I first started training seriously on the Rockface 45 degree board using a lot of pockets. I wish I had paid more attention to crimping back then! Anyway I was back in my element and it showed. I did an 8a and two 8a+s both third shot before starting work on an 8b+. I did all the moves and it became just about resistance. After three days trying it i decided to move on. I was confident I could do it but not in the short amount of time I had left. It was a serious mental boost though knowing that the harder routes I had been trying were getting closer. Instead I dropped a grade since I actually hadn't done an 8b this year and tried a famous route called photoshot. It is steep, short and bouldery with massive moves between chipped jugs. I found myself in an iron cross position between some of the holds and there was one move I couldn't do. I can't believe Ramon Julian from Spain who is only 3cm taller than me onsighted this! I moved on again and tried a fingery slightly overhanging 8b called 'cubata + chupita 3 euros'. It went in 6 goes although I was close on my 3rd 4th and 5th! First 8b of the year :-) I had been climbing for three days straight and needed rest but I only had one day left to climb so I tried the 8b to the left of 'cubata'. On my final day I fell on the last move of the crux due to being inaccurate grabbing a good two finger pocket. Oh well, next time! Cheers to Chris and Christiaan from Sydney for hanging out with Will and I in Margalef and especially to Will for putting up with me most of the year! Check out Rocanbolt.com for a short Margalef video out soon that I may appear in!
I have now made it to Macau where I am applying for my Chinese visa so I can go to Yangshuo for a climb with Duncan from Australia. Hopeing to do something hard there!

Photo: Me hanging around on Photoshot 8b with Will belaying while the traffic passes underneath! Taken by Christiaan.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Rodellar and Riglos

It seems my time in Europe is quickly coming to an end. I have rejoined Will and visited the famous crag of Rodellar. I had heard mixed reports about the area and I left with mixed feelings. During the first couple of days both Will and I got shut down on climbs we expected to do easily. We had both heard the area was soft so our egos were bruised when we started having troubles. I would normally say I am ok at steep limestone but wrestling with tufas or doing big moves between chipped and glued jugs is not my style. Will got sick for a bit while I wore myself out trying routes that were too hard for me. I still had fun trying classics such as Pata Negra 8c, Hulk 8b+, Geminis 8b+, and Phillipe Cuisinere 8b/+ and the experience of trying hard is probably what I need. We decided since we didn't have long left in Europe we would go somewhere we knew we could perform and since I love my pockets we decided on the conglomerate of Margalef. I should have given the area more time as after a week and a bit something clicked and I sent two 7c+s and a 7c/+ in quick succession. I'd suggest for other visitors not to have too many expectations for the first week or so here while you get used to the style.
Awesome limestone formations at Rodellar. Will is working El  Delfin 7c+ on the roof of the far arch.

Me on the classic of Rodellar, El Delfin 7c+.
In Rodellar we met Matt from the Blue Mountains who is also travelling over here at the moment. I managed to get him psyched on trying an easy multipitch on the conglomerate of Riglos. I have been wanting to do a route called "Fiesta del Biceps" for ages and it was on my all time list of classics to do. Will wasn't keen so Matt and I did a day trip to climb it between Rodellar and Margalef. It was amazing! 8 pitches of steep jug hauling, all bolted!

Riglos! Fiesta del Biceps is the main chalk line  just right of the central arete.

Matt following the 8 pitch white ladder of Fiesta del Biceps 7a, Riglos.

Monday, September 10, 2012

My Silhouette is famous!

A friend spotted an old picture of me on the frontage of MDs garden city (Cheers Mickey!). The route is Burnt Offerings 7a+ in Thailand and the photo was taken by Greg Tossel around 2001.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Gorge du Tarn

What an amazing place! The Gorge du Tarn and connecting Gorge de la Jonte are packed with limestone crags over 50m high. Short steep routes are also on offer and rest days can be spent canoeing down the river that runs through the Gorge du Tarn. Even better is that the climbing is mostly holiday grades, meaning soft! There are exceptions though and the one route I wanted to do was one of those. The Tennessee wall is one of the most amazing crags with routes up to 55m long. The route "Tennessee" blasts straight up the obvious arete in the middle of the wall and was my main attraction to the area. I had one attempt when I arrived in the Tarn and it was nails. I dont think I had the time and definetely not the belayer to siege this route so I let it go.
Rob and I had arrived in a heatwave so not much climbing was done at the begining of our two weeks here. Often I would get to the crag early with only an hour of cool weather before temperatures sky rocketed and I would get one shot for the day. Over two mornings I managed to send "Le Ailes du Desire" 8a second shot which is an amazing 55m pitch up Tennessee. Robs old elbow injury flamed up again so sport climbing was off the cards for him. Instead he decided to head somewhere even hotter and flew to Egypt to see the pyramids and dive in the red sea.
A contigent of Perth climbers had turned up so I joined Remi, Delphine, Brian and Gesa in a nice gite above the gorges. Remi and Delphines family were also there and alot of time was spent at the dinner table eating five course meals! The good food, a real bed, and great company meant I started to hit form. In five days, one of which was a rest day, I managed to send four 8as and one 8a+. Brian also managed to get his first 8a which was motivating to see while Remi, Delphine and Gesa all did personal bests for the trip.
Brian testing out a hard sequence in the crux of "Tu me dezolve" 8a at the Muse sector, Gorge du Tarn.
Evening shot of me on "Tu me Dezolve".
Giving beta to Remi.
The final day before everyone went their seperate ways we spent in Gorge de la Jonte. I was knackered so I just chilled at a small crag at the base with Gesa while Remi and Delphine, Brian and Eric (a friend from Montpellier) formed teams to climb one of the most famous routes in the gorge. The "Arete Ouest" is an exposed three pitch 6a in a stunning position. It was great to sit back and watch them cruise up while Vultures soared in the space around them.
Brian (top) and Eric (bottom) on the "Arete Oest".
I have given back my lease car and downgraded the amount of gear I have so I now live out of two backpacks. The next stop is Rodellar after a couple of days in Barcelona. I have heard mixed reports about Rodellar this year so am excited to see what the scene is like. Will is joining me again after having some party time in London so we should get some good projecting done in the coming month.
Hands free at the begining of "Les Nouvelles Plantations du Christ" 8a.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Alpine Stuff

After 'The Fish' Alan and I returned to Ceuse. I felt a bit like I was done with the area but Alans psyche to try a route called 'La Femme Blanche' 8a+ rubbed off on me and in a few days i had done the classic. We had a good crew of strong climbers so energy levels were high. I managed another 8a+, 'Le Poincenuer de Lilacs', in the following week while Will got 'Encore', his first 8a+ of the trip.

I then left again to meet up with Rob in Chamonix. He hadn't done any Alpine climbing before and I had some easy classics i had always wanted to do. We settled into town by having a large meal that may or may not be responsible for giving me stomach issues that i have now had for a week and a half! The first iffy weather day we went up the Brevent cable car to 2500m for a bit of acclimatisation. Rob went for a walk while i fell asleep on a rock out of the wind. The next day the weather had improved and we made it up the Agui du Midi, 3800m, to do the first on my list of classics. The 'Voie Rebuffet' is a nice line on perfect granite that wanders up the south face of the Agui with a maximum difficulty of 6a. The approach is a 5 minute walk down a snow ridge and the 250 meter route only takes half a day at a slow pace and tops out back at the cable car station. It was super classic and a good first route to have done.

First route, the 'Voie Rebuffat' in the background.
Rob enjoying it!
We returned to the valley in perfect weather which was forecast to last all week. After a rest day we packed our bivvy gear and joined the hordes walking up to the Gouter hut on the normal route up Mt Blanc, the second route on my classics list. The hut was full so we bivvied on the snow ridge above it. The next day we summited by 7am after starting walking at 3am. The summit was cold and windy so we didn't hang around except for some quick summit photos. We were back to the bivvy by 10am and then continued the walk reversing all the previous days gains back to the valley. All up that day we walked 1000 vertical meters up and 2800 vertical meters down! Advice to others doing the route would be to go as light as possible which would include forgoing a rope and harness. Boots, crampons, and a single axe are all you need.
Everyone waiting at the rail station up to the start of the Mont Blanc trail.
Me on the summit of Mont Blanc.
Rob on the summit of Mont Blanc.
Randoms on the summit of Mont Blanc.
Rob and I were stuffed after the walk so we took two rest days and headed to Italy. The third classic on my list was the Matterhorn. In 2008 I had attempted an early season ascent of the Hornli Ridge with Dan Lee but we were to slow and turned around. I was keen to try a different route this time and the Lion Ridge from Italy was a perfect option. We arrived in Cervinia, the town in the valley below the Matterhorn, and got a Jeep up to the Abbruzzi hut, 2800m. The hut is new and amazing, great food and great rooms with full ensuites! Despite not wanting to leave the next day we walked for four and a half hours to the Carrel hut positioned on the Lion Ridge of the Matterhorn at 3800m. The rest of the day we sat around enjoying the view.

We started just before 6am in the morning following or passing between parties that had started as early as 4am. It took us four hours to the summit where an old fat guide had a go at me becuase i had 8m of rope between myself and Rob while apparently i should only have 2m. I pointed out that if his client slipped and fell he would just take the guide with him and they would both die. The client looked shocked and the guide told me i should learn to climb before attempting the mountain :-) It took three hours and a bit to descend to the Carrel hut where we had a snack, packed up our gear and continued down to the Abbruzzi hut for the night.
Me on the Swiss summit of the Matterhorn.
Rob on the Swiss summit of the Matterhorm.
Randoms on the Italian summit of the Matterhorn with the Swiss summit in the background.
The next morning the Jeep took us back down to Cervinia where the car was waiting. I had a vague plan of doing a ridge of the Eiger this trip to get the classic trilogy of European peaks done but after Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn we both felt we had done enough and it was time for some climbing. Getting those two peaks on your first Alpine trip is a pretty good achievement for Rob and I am psyched to have finally done them. We are now in the warmer climate of southern France in the amazing Gorges du Tarn where the camp ground has a pool and pizzeria. The crags are also on the road so no walking :-)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Fish

The morning after driving eight and a half hours from Ceuse to Malga Ciapela and bivying on the side of the road Alan and I started to get organised. We had illusions of grandeur  thinking that we would onsight all the crux pitches in super fast time and finish the 38 pitch, 1220m route in a day. A feat that has only been done a few times by exceptional world class climbers such as the Pou brothers and Nico Favresse. We decided we would stash gear at the summit so that when we arrived late at night we would not have to walk down the glacier on the north side but instead wait for the cable car, which runs from the summit to the town below, the following morning. Luckily for us we were forced to change plans when there were no stash spots to be found easily accessible around the summit lift station which was crowded with tourists.We were way off in our understanding of exactly how long and difficult the route would be and being forced to abandon this tactic and change to climbing with a haul bag containing our bivy gear greatly contributed to the success we ended up having.

Marmolada Ombretta cable car overview.
Picture of the summit station at the top of the south wall.
The easy way up!
After arriving back into town after our cable car ride to the summit we put the rack and bivy gear together. One of the changes we made after our failed stash attempt was to climb with a single rope and tag line instead of our original plan of using double ropes. This was to facilitate hauling, and climbing on a single rope ended up being much better than if we had of had double ropes. Alan had borrowed Alien cams of friends so we used doubles in those replacing the Black Diamond C4s where possible. This was due to Aliens having a shorter axel and so fitting into limestone pockets better, which is key to protecting the climb which doesnt have the long cracks found in granite walls. We also took a fair few slings, a small selection of nuts, some kevlar threads and two skyhooks (key to protecting and/or aiding through the cruxes).

The same day Alan and I walked with all our gear for an hour and a half from the town to the Refugio Falier, a hut at the base of the south face of the Marmolada. We told them our plans but I got the feeling they were thinking "oh yeah, just more punters about to bail off The Fish". We did meet some young guys from Innsbruck who also had plans for the route the next day. I felt a bit disapointed we wouldnt have the route to ourselves and I told Alan that no matter what we wouldn't be held up by them and would be the first on the route in the morning. Instead of staying in the hut we walked for 45 minutes towards the base of the wall and bivuaced ready to go at first light.
The first view of the wall.
Looking up from Refugio Falier.
The last meal before the big climb.
We woke about 4:30 am and put the coffee on. Before the first coffee had perculated the guys from Innsbruck walked past on the track. We said good morning and they raced up the hill while we put on another brew. "We might as well give them a bit of a head start" I thought. In the end I had underestimated them, they were fast and motivated. In fact for one of them it was his fourth route on the wall. Alan and I moved with slow steady confidence, it was our first. We certainly weren't fast but the loose starting pitches slowly went by and our confidence grew on the rock. We had started by skipping the original first pitch which is very loose and dangerous instead opting to traverse in from the right which Arnoud Petite had suggested to us while in Ceuse. We had been seconding the leader through the lower easier pitches with the haul bag on our backs but after I almost fell on pitch 6 seconding a dihedral, due to the bag not allowing me to lean back on the holds and smear my feet while fitting into the corner, we decided to start hauling.

Only two pitches later I started to hear voices from above. "Theres no way we could have caught up to the other team" I thought. After moving so fast and confidently they had started to bail. It turned out that on a sandbagged 6b+ pitch one of them had made a wrong move far above his last piece of gear. He tried to reverse it but as he downclimbed his foot slipped off a smear and he came unstuck. To make things worse two of his cams skated out of their placements. 20 meters later he hit the wall and was lucky not to break anything. I watched a bruised and in shock climber rappel down. This was 'The Fish' I had heard about.
I think this was seconding the 6b+ pitch.
The difficulty stepped up a notch at pitch 11. I could handle sandbagged 6's but pitch 11 was the first of the four crux pitches of the route. Graded 7a+ I knew by that stage of the route it was going to be harder. The start of the pitch was a traverse in which your handholds disappeared and you had to commit to tiny smears for your feet trusting they would hold. It took me a while to commit but after a lot of effort I found myself on the other side thinking about how solid that was for 7a+. I then realised I had a hard layback on poor holds and slopy feet to do. I went for it clipping two rusty pins on the way before ending at a completely blank section of rock rediculously pumped. There was a huge reach to a slopy pocket just before the anchor. It took 100% of my energy but I had onsighted the first crux. The small glimmer of hope I had of onsighting the route was still alive.
Alan seconding the 7a+ pitch.
Alan led pitch 12, the nails 6b+, that the other party had the big fall on but found plenty of good gear. Neither of us fell anyway. I geared up for the famous open corner pitch following. It is graded 7b with the crux above an old tricam with a rotted sling and just below a skyhook placement in a small pocket. I really wanted to onsight this pitch. With my nerves fraid from a run out at the beggining of the pitch I entered the crux. I hadn't found the skyhook pocket so I was standing above the tricam with the sling that would surely snap with my only other nearby protection a rusty pin meters below. I had my fingers in a tiny two finger pocket and couldn't find the stupidity to just go for it. I didnt want to end up another one of the stories that give the route its reputation. I placed a skyhook balanced in the two finger pocket and kindly asked if Alan wanted a go! Alan found the lower skyhook placement but also balked at commiting to the crux. He managed to aid through on the hooks and unlock the sequenceof the crux using bad smears and a small finger stack pocket. He ticked it up for me and I did the pitch clean on second. Now that I know it I dont think I would have a problem leading it and it felt very reasonable for 7b.

It was getting dark and we where still a pitch away from the niche shaped like a fish that gives the route its name. There was no time for Alan to lower down and do the pitch clean so I started up the 6c pitch leading to the niche. It is described in Arnoud Petites topo as a one move wonder and at night by head torch I couldn't work out the crux. "Maybe its just reachy" I thought. I went for the dyno to a jug I could see but totally missed it. I was off. I had a bomber cam below my feet and it held as Alan got pulled up into the rock at the belay ripping open the sleeve of his down jacket. I aided through to the niche disheartened about my possible free ascent. Things were falling apart.
The red arrow shows the fish shaped niche we bivied in.
We bivuaced on the right hand side of the niche which is equivalent to the tail of the fish shape. There was enough room for us to half lie down, half sit on top of the ropes while clipped in to an old bolt belay on the wall behind. The floor was wet in places but at least we were partly protected from the wind. Overall not a bad bivy. Some cold sausage and chocolate with water were all we had before a poor nights sleep.
Sitting in the Bivy.
There was no need to get started too early the next day. We would need to be warm and rested to perform well enough to free the coming difficult pitches. Well after it had become light, and after more chocolate for breakfast, I lowered down to the crux I had fallen off at the night before to work out what I had done wrong. I found a good one pad mono, that I had missed, and got excited realising I could do the move before realising with disdain I would have to start the day warming up by cranking on one finger. The pitch went easily and soon I was back at the niche having climbed all the pitches below. I lowered Alan down all the way to the start of the 7b pitch and he easily seconded clean back up to the niche. We were both still on target.

Above the niche things got harder. The wall was steeper, close to vertical, and the pitches wandered through the line of least resistance. Route finding was confusing and it wasn't uncommon to climb up, then left, then up, back down right, up, left again etc. Alan led the 7a that started out the right side of the niche but ended up above the left side. A long move to a shallow two finger pocket near the end of the pitch got the better of him and he fell. After a cold nights sleep, not drinking enough, and a massive day previous Alans resolve had weakened. He decided to continue the climb happy to free all the moves but not the individual pitches. On long, hard routes in the alpine you set your own rules and up there the only judge is yourself.  Generally you strive for a balance between what would be considered the purest ascent (ground up, onsight, in a day, all free, solo) and what you are actually capable of. In the end being happy with your achievement and making it down safely are the most important things. With Alan pointing out the pocket I managed to climb through on second without a fall.

Pitch 16, following the 7a, is regarded as the crux of the route with a boulder problem ending and weighing in at 7b+. I was tired and didnt think I had anywhere near the energy I needed to do this pitch first shot. I made the strategic decision to climb the pitch resting on the abundant fixed gear as I went. In doing this I worked out all the moves without expending a lot of energy. After working out where the line actually went, a big S shape, I arrived at a difficult bouldery traverse to the anchor. I used widely spaced slopy footholds while pulling down on some monos and then a big span across to a small crimp. I lowered back to Alan at the anchor and pulled the rope. After five minutes rest I managed to climb through the pitch clean. Alan raced up the pitch on second and only fell when the beta I had given him about holding the monos in the traverse boulder problem didn't work for him. I have a little more power but less slab technique than Alan so I needed to be able to pull down on something to stay on the wall. After going back to the jug before the crux Alan used a different sidepull crimp and crossed his feet through on smears doing the sequence easily.
Leading the 7b+ pitch.
Alan seconding the 7b+ pitch.
Alan in a sea of limestone.
I was overjoyed at the fact I had done the three crux pitches until Alan informed me that a very good climber had onsighted all the pitches up to our present point but hadn't even been able to work out the following 7a pitch. It is called the pendulum pitch as most people clip a high piece of gear, lower on their rope and pendulum across a blank section of slab to a corner that is easier to climb. To do a free ascent you need to get across the blank section of slab without resorting to your rope. Alan led bold ground to some fixed gear and sat back on the rope.
"Theres no holds!" Alan said.
"There must be. Its only 7a!" I replied.
After a while Alan unlocked a sequence moving down while traversing left on insecure smears for your feet and huge cross overs on half pad slopy pockets for your fingers. After linking the sequence and making it to the belay he shouted down, "You better flash this Logan!". We were running out of time. There was still two pitches to go to a large ledge which was our target for the day and the hour was getting late.
Approaching the slab traverse on the 7a pendulum pitch.
I psyched myself up and my confidence was high. "I am on top rope, Its only 7a, Alans probably just tired which is why he found it hard" I told myself. I raced through the first part of the pitch since I was on second and the bold aspect of the climbing had been taken out. Arriving at the blank traverse I still felt strong. I put my foot on the first smear and committed my weight to it. Hanging on the rope a second later I realised strength alone wouldn't get me through this. Despite Alan implying I only had that shot I hung on the rope and tried to work out the sequence. Alans beta would not work for me. I really needed something to hold onto! I found some tiny monos and ticket every little pocket and anywhere below me the wall slightly angled out and I could smear my feet. Still I couldn't do the traverse. I cursed with frustration and probably scared Alan with a side of me he hadn't seen before. I had made it this far up the route only to be shut down on the final 7a. The time for me to pull through and finish off the pitch so we could make the ledge had already passed.

I gave it one last try and scrambled my way through the traverse. I felt lucky to not have had a foot pop off and didn't feel at all solid. I sat back on the rope and still didn't think I could do it from the belay. I considered continueing up to Alan and being happy that I had got the sequence but then I thought about the rules I had placed upon myself. "I must free from belay station to belay station and lead at least half the crux pitches". It was a long shot and I am sure Alan must have been getting frustrated with the time I was taking but I asked to be lowered back to the belay. It was a fine balance between crushing the little pockets with my fingers and putting enough, but not too much, weight on my feet but I managed to shake my way across the slab and found myself in the corner. A pumpy layback led to Alan and I was exhuasted. We agreed that this pitch was actually the crux pitch at hard 7b+. The topos were giving it 7a which included using the pendulum as aid.

I led what was to be our final pitch, number 18. It looked nails. A traverse along a flat wall under a roof with bad rock. I set off and found that under the roof where large holds which led to an easy pull around the lip to the anchor. The grade of 6c is spot on. Alan started leading the final pitch, possibly 6c+, to our target ledge but we were both very tired and deteriorating rock quality combined with loose pitons made our decision to start rapelling down easy. We had just enough light left to make the12 rappels down to the ground while constantly worrying about getting our ropes stuck and rockfall which would turn our simple descent into an epic. On the way I convinced myself I was happy with where we ended as I had made it through all the bold and difficult pitches of the climb that give the route its reputation. In the back of my mind I knew I would only be truely finished with 'The Fish' when I had stood on the summit after having climbed the entire route without a fall. There is 18 more easy pitches (3s, 4s and 5s) after the ledge that most likely contain loose rock and are possibly icy. The route tops out on the Marmolada Ombretta summit next to the cable car station. Now that we know the harder pitches we will be able to move much faster on them and continue on to the top for the full ascent. Alan and I are already talking about a return visit.

Alan rapelling down.

Goats chillin' on the tables at the refuge.

A rest break at Refugio Ombretta on the walk out.

Refugio Falier.
After the climb with the refugio in the background..