Saturday, June 7, 2014

Flamin’ Gallah!

After the relief of sending a long-term project in Punks in the Gym that had been buried in my psyche for so long, it was time for some bigger adventures.

Zac Vertrees introduced me to the limestone walls of Bungonia Gorge about 3 hours from the Blue Mountains through a route called Teflon and his mega multipitch project (32ish?) above it. Teflon is an incredible 31 that I need to go back for as I only had one shot before we committed to the pitches above. His route is hard and bold. I backed of a grade 16 lichen covered slab pitch, which Zac thought too easy to warrant bolts.  While I belayed Zac as he worked the crux pitch I eyed up some amazing lines bathed in sun on the opposite wall of the gorge.

The stand out line is a relatively recent addition called Flamin’ Gallah and was supposed to be the hardest multipitch in the gorge, maybe even Australia.  It is seven pitches, which weigh in at a hefty 24, 21, 19, 23, 26, 31, and 27. The golden headwall with all the difficulties looked amazing.
Several weeks later I was back with Matt Pickles who had been tearing up the Blue Mountains crags with quick ascents up to grade 32. We decided on a strategy of rapelling in and rehearsing the crux top pitch so that we would have the highest chance of redpointing the route on a ground up ascent. We had two shots each working the moves on the 31 and found it to be closer to 29. Maybe we found an easier sequence than the first ascentionist?

In good condition and psyched, on the way to the gorge. All photos Matt Pickles.
Pre-inspection of the crux pitch on day one.
On our second day we woke early. It was near 0 degrees and there was ice covering the car. We walked into the gorge trying to warm up and eventually found the base of the first grade 24 pitch. It has an intense 2 bolt boulder off the ground and is a terrible warm up! While Matt was cruising the second pitch Lee Cossey and Andrea Hah appeared beneath us. They were also trying the route but had not done a pre inspection of the crux pitches.

I fell quite a few times on the grade 26 pitch as it was technically very hard to read. There was no chalk and lichen covered a lot of the slab. Matt followed and also fell on second. He added some more chalk and ticked key holds. Andrea following us made an impressive flash of the pitch as it was not easy even when you knew where the holds were.  Lee, of course, walked it.
Andrea flashing the technical grade 26 pitch.
Andrea belaying Lee up to the base of the crux pitch.
 Matt was first up leading the crux 31 pitch. He fell on the crux stab to a pointer finger mono hold and lowered back to the belay. We pulled the rope and I was up. I felt terrible and shook my way to the crux moves but somehow managed to keep on shaking all the way through to the anchor. I lowered back to the belay so Matt could have another lead shot in which he easily sent the pitch. We gave the beta to Lee who was going for the flash of the route. He got very close but fell towards the end of the crux sequence.

While Lee and Andrea worked the crux pitch Matt and I lowered down and both climbed the 26 pitch clean on second. We had to get back up the crux pitch to continue on our way, which was an effort after all the climbing we had done.  We had a good view from the upper belay of the crux pitch as Lee walked it on his second shot. Andrea had a good attempt but fatigue got the better of her and she didn’t manage to free the pitch.

Pulling my way up the crux pitch with the pack.
Lee cruising the crux pitch on his second go.
In the mean time I was having issues on the final pitch, which has a very morpho (reachy) move to reach the jugs to the top of the gorge.  Matt cruised the pitch on lead to nab the second ascent of the route, an amazing achievement. I couldn’t work out the final move and was shut down which was very frustrating. Sometimes a reachy move on even an easy pitch can shut me down and it sucked that there would be a move like this at the very end to cost me the ascent.

After walking back to the car we waited around to get all our draws (we had left them on the final two pitches) off Lee and Andrea before we drove, very sore and tired, back to the Blue Mountains.

A big congratulations to Matt on the second ascent, and Lee on the third (in very good style!). It is definitely one of the coolest multipitches around and should probably be downgraded to 29 as we all thought the 31 pitch very soft.