Saturday, November 30, 2013

Time Flies...

I can’t believe another year is almost over! Since my trip to Queensland I mainly focused on a single project in the Blue Mountains. I mentioned a route at Elphinstone, which my housemate bolted, a couple of blog posts ago.  I was inspired by this line due to its small holds and sustained sequence despite the base being a bit of a swamp and the challenge of convincing partners to go to a crag day after day more than 5 minutes from a café! I learnt a lot from the process of projecting this route. A stopper cross to a mono at move 19 of the 24 move crux sequence shut me down for a long time. Slight tweaks to my beta to conserve energy in the approaching moves and the endless repetition of the move itself meant I eventually could stick it from the ground. 40-50 shots after first trying the route I managed to redpoint it doing the first ascent of what felt like my hardest sport route to date. This opened my eyes to the potential of a stubborn focus for redpointing at a higher level. I am not convinced that it is necessarily a good thing though.  Improving through climbing a large volume of routes and training with friends is a lot more fun! Failure is a huge part of projecting with only limited successes in comparison. I also think its easy to dwell on failure because its part of a long process of learning whereas when you finally send a route the success is short lived because you are already thinking of the next inspiring route.  Anyway if you want a challenge and to try a cool route, Shogun (32?) is down at Elphinstone awaiting a second ascent.
I am a sucker for punishment so instead of taking it easy after sending Shogun I decided to head to Arapiles to finish of Punks in the Gym. Probably not my best decision as I was a bit worn out psychologically from projecting.  It rained on me as I tried the route on my first day and the second day the holds felt damp.  After a rest day we had stellar conditions and I managed to do both cruxes getting my foot up on the famous ‘birdbath’ hold but then a lapse in composure saw me off into space again! It absolutely bucketed down the next day and I made a great decision to go have a fun adventure instead.

I had only been to Tasmania once before and that was when I was 16 and had a guide-bookless epic in snow and white out conditions trying to find any route on Mt. Wellington, that would take the handful of bolt plates I had, just so I could say I had climbed there. This time I checked the weather and had some amazing days catching up with friends and enjoying some quality routes. The 5 star Totem Pole out on Cape Huay was incredible, a must for the Australian climbing experience ticklist, and After Midnight (24) on Mt. Wellington surely ranks up there with it.  

All photos of Simon Young and I on the Totem Pole by Robert vanHaeften. Sorry we didn't get any of you Rob!

I am back working in Perth now getting ready for some Christmas shenanigans in the Blue Mountains and the seeds of some remote big wall adventures have been planted in my mind. Can’t wait for 2014!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Winter Escape

I’ve been told that to become a true Blue Mountains local you need to spend a certain amount of winters there. I’m not sure how many but it’s a fair few. Renting a room in the coldest house in Blackheath I think I am going to have to delay becoming a true local and escape a few winters to warmer climes. I’ve done well this winter escaping to China, Perth for work, and most recently Queensland.  I only had a short time off work so the trip was just a week and I managed to convince Sophie Prior from the crazier side of Toon Town to join me.  Apart from climbing Sophie keeps herself busy by baking tasty chocolate brownies and giving Shiatsu massages. The perfect travel companion!

I had arrived at Coolum the day after a NSW bouldering competition and a short nights sleep so I was wrecked.  My excitement from finally making it to the crag and meeting JJ Obrien again gave me a bit of energy though and I set about dispatching the mid grade classics. There are a lot although a flash of Wholly Calamity (26) was definitely the highlight of the first day and a monstrous fight! I think Sophie may have been a bit shocked with how different the climbing is to the Blue Mountains but got stuck into working out the moves on Chevy Motor (24), which she managed to dispatch the following day. Ever since I had seen photos of it I had wanted to try a route called Evil Wears No Pants (30). On our second day JJ gave me great beta, which allowed me to work the moves out quickly. I was tiring very fast though so an easier day was in order.
Contemplating the final crux on Evil Wears No Pants (30) Photo: JJ Obrien.

Looking through the guidebook I saw a photo of a cool long route at an area called Mt Tinbeerwah. It turned out this was right next to JJ’s house where we were staying and the first route JJ had ever bolted. It was called The Ricoh Destruction Test (23M1) and I thought it would be a nice rest day objective. It turned out I probably needed a serious lie on the couch all day type rest day but the fun we had on this route was worth it. JJ rapped in and got some amazing shots of Sophie.
Sophie following pitch 3 of Ricoh Destruction Test. JJ captures the moment.
Styling it on an awesome sunshine coast day.
How good is this shot! Cheers JJ. Sophie on fire on the last pitch of The Ricoh Destruction Test. 
Fun day out :)
In the next two days at Mt. Coolum Sophie and I jumped on more classics and I continued to try Evil Wears No Pants but I was way too tired.  Sophie headed back home and I tried to charge up for yet another day on at another new crag. I met Neil Monteith in the car park at the base of Mt Tibrogargan. He had been bolting some new lines in the summit caves and was keen to try and send them. We simul-climbed a 4 or 5 pitch grade 17 in our approach shoes (Neil in Dunlop Volleys!), which was reasonably exciting and found ourselves at the summit caves.

I was too tired to try anything hard even though some classic grade 30’s really appealed to me there. Neil sent his first route, a bouldery grade 24, although couldn’t quite link the moves on his second route. Considering he was going to be back for another year I was psyched when he said it was ok for me to do the FA. Knowing the effort and money that goes into bolting I really appreciated this.  I still struggled and only just got it on my second go. High Definition (25) was born (named by Neil). JJ had arrived while we were both working it and took some great shots.
Neil charging up for the crux snatch. High Definition (25). Photo: JJ Obrien.
Cave 5 on Mt Tibrogargan with the mountains shadow over the fields. Photo: JJ Obrien.
After 7 days on rest was going to have to wait. Lee Cujes had invited me to a new crag he is developing and there was no way I could say no. I drove straight from Mt. Tibrogargan to the new area and met a cool crew of psyched climbers.  The first day I climbed a few of the classic easier routes and then passed out on my rope bag for the afternoon.  Luckily a crazy night with the crew in the local pub and Lee’s coffee machine managed to charge me up for my final and 9th day on in which I sent my equal hardest route of the trip (28) and onsighted my hardest route of the trip (27). The new area is cool with steep climbing on incut crimps. With a bit more development it’s going to be a great weekend destination.
Epoxy Doxy (28). Lee has found a gem in this route! Photo: Lee Cujes.
A big thank you to JJ for the great shots and being an incredible host during the week. He is seriously one of the nicest guys in the Australian climbing scene.  Also to Lee who it was great to finally have a climb with, Neil for a great day out and a FA, and of course Sophie especially for the Shiatsu massages!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Last Six Months

Climbing is an activity in which many minor injuries can sneak up on you all at once as your entire body is slowly worn down over a long period.  Understanding when to take prolonged rest is an important skill. I have never been good at resting and so was forced to step back from climbing at my best for the first 3 months of the year as I climbed through a soft tissue impingement in my ankle, some kind of rib connection strain in my back, and elbow pain in both elbows. Payment for climbing so much in 2012.

I moved to Blackheath in the Blue Mountains in January as the highest concentration of like-minded adventurous outdoors enthusiasts in Australia live here. The community is great, surroundings surreal and climbing extensive. Unfortunately I haven’t climbed many hard routes since I moved and I am not sure if it’s just a style thing, stiff grades, or if I am out of form, possibly a mix of all three.  The lack of success caused me to lose a bit of motivation until my housemate, Scott Boladeras, opened up a project of his at the new crag of Elphinstone. His project stood out for me as it contained some pockets which are rare in the Blue Mountains and upon inspection (and some aggressive cleaning…) I found two mono pockets, one at each crux. The route is short, more like an extended boulder problem and has me hooked. I have done it with one fall between the two cruxes but the linkage of the two cruxes will have me occupied for a while.

After all the recent travel and enjoying living somewhere I could speak the language I was also getting psyched on some other Australian objectives. I wanted to go to Queensland this winter to climb with JJ Obrien, who I met in China, as well as visit other East Coast crags such as Point Perpendicular and anything in Tasmania. I did however have the opportunity to return to China at the end of May to take part in the six weeks long Kailas Rock Search, which is the creation of a good friends (Liu Yongbang - Abond) passion to develop the sport of climbing in China. I was a bit conflicted as to whether I would go due to what could only be described as a ‘travel hangover’ until I found out Simon Young had been invited and I wouldn’t be the only English as a first language speaker. 

I booked my tickets to China with just over a week in the Blue Mountains to finish off the Elphinstone project and then plans changed again. Adrian Laing turned up in the café I was sitting at psyched on Punks in the Gym and talking about a quick escape to Victoria to try it. It doesn’t take much to get me excited about Punks as it is still a career goal for me so I through any chances of doing the Elphinstone project out the window and dedicated the week before China to Punks. I felt stronger than ever on the moves and caught the ‘birdbath hold’ of the second crux three times in the four climbing days we had but couldn’t finish the climb off. I wonder how many people have caught that hold 10+ times from the ground without having sent the route. The highlight of the trip though wasn’t the climbing it was paragliding off a hill under instruction from Ado who has achieved amazing feats and inspired many by paragliding around the world.

I spent one day in the Blue Mountains after Arapiles before boarding the plane to China. Simon and I arrived in the city of Changsha and met the bolting team which apart from the two of us consisted of Abond, his brother Duke, Tony Arbones with his family whom I knew from Siurana (they manage the campground) as well as Sergi, a Catalan climber who was a friend of Tonys. Abond and his girlfriend Ting then passed out a wardrobe of Kailas clothing for each of us and filled us in on the trip program.

Sergi on some small holds in Meijang
Abond had organised 600 bolts from Kailas, six drills and twelve days for each area. The first was a limestone area called Meijang a few hours drive from the city of Changsha. There had been no climbing here just untouched walls up to 200m high. We started to develop a single pitch sector at the base of the 200m walls putting up 12 or so routes although after two days the large amount of time cleaning loose rock and dust was questioned and we left in search of a nicer sector. About five minutes up the road was a sweeping wave of limestone next to the river on both sides. We organised a boat from the locals and set to work. A large amount of silt was on the first five meters of the wall possibly relict from before the river was dammed or a flood event. This didn’t stop us cleaning as underneath and above was very good quality limestone. In this sector we developed around thirty routes up to 29. Tony and Sergi during this time headed back to the bigger walls and bolted a loose multipitch they named ‘Falling Stones’. I wouldn’t recommend it! Meijang through a lot more effort from the locals could become a very good local crag although it wasn’t the world class area I am sure exists, undiscovered by climbers, in China.

Tony on his thin 26 arete in Meijang

Duke crushing Simons grade 24 creation next to the river in Meijang

Tony and his daughters, Muriel and Aina, on the river

Abond crushing a long grade 28

Falling Stones. Try it at your own risk!
The next area was called Nanchuan and is a couple of hours from the very large city of Chongqing. We had been shown pictures of a huge waterfall with a hundred meter plus dry wall behind it as well as a limestone cliff band that seemed to go on forever. Unfortunately the cliff bands where a bit uninspiring due to how layered they are.  Many climbs would consist of hard boulders to hands free rests. Simon, Duke, June (a Chongqing local) and I checked out the waterfall. We drove to the top and bashed through scrub to the edge where we rappelled off some small trees. It was amazing descending into space with all the water rushing by but unfortunately the rock was more of carbonaceous shale and wouldn’t be safe to climb.
Airy waterfall reconnaissance! (photo Duke)
We found an area in the limestone band below where the local government had created a walking loop in a little valley along the base of the cliff and tried to put up as many quality lines as we could. Despite being uninspired at the beginning by the end of our development we were all happy with the 30 to 40 routes we had bolted. I bolted a good 27 which Abond FA’d and spent almost all my time on a 35m mega project which contained two boulder problem roofs separated by quality grade 25 climbing. The first roof was the biggest and hardest and required powerful bunchy moves on painful finger locks. The second roof had a technical sequence with one powerful large move at the very top of the route. On my last shot of the last day I fell off this big move heart broken. It’s the hardest thing I bolted on the trip probably around 31.
Spiderman Paul joined us and scored a nice arete in Nanchuan.
Sergi bolting on lead.
Two days bolting on lead through roofs, a day brushing away dust and after several days effot I was denied by one move at the very end of my 35m Nanchuan project.
Kailas then flew us all to Guangzhou for a couple of days to hang out at their trade show which was a nice break from days spent holding a drill above my head. We got to see all the new products they are bringing out and chat to their staff about how they could improve some of their gear. I was pretty happy to see how much effort they are putting in to help develop the sport of climbing in China.

Zhangshiyan was our final destination and is 1 hour fast train and 2 hour drive from Beijing. After having a good time at the first two areas but being a bit disappointed we hadn’t seen anything world class I had high hopes for this third area. This time I was rewarded with an amazing landscape and red sandstone that went beyond the horizon. I still have a few reservations as to whether it is hard enough for the expansion bolts we were placing but the Spaniards and Chinese (everyone else!) thought it was hard sandstone. Simon had flown back to Australia and missed out on the last area so I was a lone voice speaking the wrong language to be able to have a good discussion on the matter. The routes still required cleaning of some loose material and dust if you were in one of the many steep caves/scoops. I bolted an awesome pumper ending in a boulder problem between slopey rails which after a few days became The Sandman (30) and an absolute classic. In the same cave was one crack which went for 30m through steep terrain and consisted of slopey rails and jams in the crack. I bolted an anchor at the top and cleaned it on rappel rehearsing all the moves and memorizing my gear. It was a bit run out and dodgy at the bottom but luckily I managed to thrash my way up it first lead and The Wriggler (27) was born. I bolted some easier routes too although out of these only a grade 26, 35m arête I named Hot Pot (based on a desire to cook a small dog that barked at everyone on the way to the crag) is memorable for me. The final few days of the trip I spent trying everyone elses routes which I found to be good quality especially a 27 called The Great Wall that Sergi developed. The 40+ routes we developed here didn’t even scratch the surface.
If this photo doesn't inspire you nothing will. Zhangshiyan at its finest.
Me trying to climb over Sergis 'Great Wall' 27. Zhangshiyan
The Great Wall again.

Tony found a high quality 27/8.
I think Sergi bolted this 26 just for the awesome photo.
Tony bolted it. Abond crushed it. 29/30.

Abond again on the 29/30 Tony bolted.
Sandstone cracks :) The Wriggler (27).
Abond topping out on my 'The Sandman' (30)

Now that the Rock Search is finished I kick myself for even thinking about not going as I had an incredible time seeing areas of China rare for westerners to visit, got a swag of first ascents, made new friends, heaps of free gear from Kailas, and it was all paid for! Much thanks must go to Abond and Ting for all the organisation, Kailas for the sponsorship and Superman who took all the photos except the waterfall one. Now back to those projects in Oz ... :)