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 cafĂ© 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 arĂȘte 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 ... :)