Sunday, December 6, 2015

Yangshuo - Fall 2015

I was really excited about a month of sport climbing after a year of jamming my fingers into cracks. I wasn't that excited about my lack of crimp strength though. To make things worse I had done most of the routes that suited me on previous trips and passed over all the ones I found reachy. So no crimp strength and reachy routes I found hard.

Jack Masel from Perth joined Hong Kong Will and I for the month, strong and fit, straight from the gym. It was obvious from the start of the trip he would be the one throwing down on this trip. Jack had never sent 8b/31 and I knew that Lightning at Lei Pi Shan was one of the best I had ever done so that was the target for him. I mentioned before the trip to him to get really fit and learn to rest on a jug in the gym. The moves by themselves wouldn't be a problem.
Its business time. Forget the pump, remember your sequence and pull down on the crimps!
Jack on Lightning 8b at Lei Pi Shan. Photo: Myself.
After climbing Single Life 8a which is the first half of Lightning 8b, being able to recover on the jug is key to sending the full rig. Here Jack executes the relaxed knee bar rest position perfectly. Photo: Myself.
There was a lot of rain during the trip with the cool dry November conditions never really eventuating so we ended up crag hopping to wherever was dry. Sometimes we went to Lei Pi Shan for Lightning even when it was wet so Jack could work the moves and increase linkage anyway. I started out on a 7c+ called Kill the Boss which gave me a lot of trouble. I really wasn't even moving in the right way for sport climbing. Will had decided to start working one of my routes from a previous trip called Silent Snow (Named and bolted by Duncan Brown) with the intention of linking it into an 8a extension (No Garanty) accessed via Papercut (Another route of mine from a previous trip).  These routes had soaking holds in some sections but we worked them with the intention of sending them when things dried up.
Trying hard on Kill the Boss 7c+, Lei Pi Shan. Photo: Jack Masel.
We also hit up White Mountain and Riverside crags which were drier than most and Jack proved his fitness with a flash of Gin and Tonic 8a. I tried Chinaclimb 8c/b+ which I bolted in 2006 but couldn't hold the small crux crimp due to my appalling crimp strength. This was a move I had done without much trouble at the beginning of the year before my crack climbing binge. Will got to work on Axeman 8a which was one of his trip goals.
We spent one day at Moon Hill and I managed to snap this shot of Will being lowered of Moonwalker 7c.
Other than Jack throwing down on everything up to 8a there wasn't a lot of success going around on the wet routes. Jack and I were staying at my friend Abonds Hotel and Abond had mentioned to me he had his drill and 100 bolts ready to go. I got excited and started talking with Abond about a cave you can see on the way to Lei Pi Shan. We had actually both looked at it in 2012 but hadn't managed to find a way to access it. A scooter mission later on Abonds new Vespa we had found a tunnel under the highway that had blocked our access. The cave is awesome and called Field Cave (rough translation). It had a guy living in it who spoke no Mandarin so no one could talk to him. We gave him a packet of cigarettes to win him over and started bolting.
View from the back of the cave. Photo: Karma.
Spying a line while looking at the pockets which would become the crux of Outcast 7c+/8a.
With Raul Sauco. Photo: Karma.
Lots of real estate to bolt here. Photo: Karma.

The outcast returning home for the day. Photo: Karma.
Time flew by during the trip and before we new it there was only a week to go. The last week was definitely the best with slightly dryer cold conditions and that translated into some successful ascents. Jack cruised Lightning seeming more relieved than excited and I managed to find my way up No Garanty. In the following days we both cruised a bunch of 8as and I managed to get the FA of an awesome route I had bolted in the cave. I named it Outcast after the guy living there. Hong Kong Will fought his way up Axeman as well. Success all around.
Setting up for the crux throw of Outcast at The Field Cave. Photo: Lee Sam Sukmoo.
Catching the crux move on Outcast. The grade is up for debate 7c+/8a.
Photo: Lee Sam Sukmoo.
Now i have made it back to Perth and Cobra Crack is at the forefront of my mind. 6 months of work and training and Ill be back hopefully stronger than before.
Little Bastard 8a. Last day bonus send at White Mountain. Photo: Connor Dickinson.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Honeycomb Dome

On return to Liming in October all my focus was on the Honeycomb Dome project. It had been in the back of my mind all during the summer and would complete the trilogy of hard lines in Liming. My first few shots I found the roof crack difficult and hoped the month I had would be enough to get it done. I actually had trouble getting the crux, which I had climbed through on preplaced gear before I had left earlier in the year. My boulder strength had gone backwards.
Walking along turtle shells in Liming. Photo: William Chan.
I spent the next two weeks concentrating on perfecting the second half of the roof which I had been pumping out on during my previous trip. I placed the gear on every shot back aiding the roof every time to clean my gear, Like the firewall I trimmed my rack down to save energy from placing and the extra weight. I knew that it wouldn’t be long before I broke through the first crux from the start and I wanted to give the end crux everything if I did. 

It was my birthday on the 13th and I felt good after a rest day. Conditions were prime and I knew I had a really good chance. I climbed smoothly through the first inversion crux for the first time of the trip. I had some quick shakes in the good hand jams in the middle of the roof but refrained from trying to get a proper rest. I just kept moving placing two cams in the middle of the roof and mentally acknowledged I wouldn’t place the final cam that I normally would have. The end involved a lot of screaming and I thought I was off with my feet almost touching the anchor. Somehow I kept it together and clipped the anchor.
The first crux of The Honeycomb Dome way above the town of Liming. Image: Copyright Garrett Bradley. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaption allowed without written permission. 
I have to give a massive thank you to everyone that supported me during the year on these projects (Garrett Bradley, Ana Pautler, Kate Sabo, Anna Kirkwood, Richard Mason, Zhou Lei, Rich Ham, Simon Madden, William Chan, Leah Pappajohn, Alexa Flower) and especially to Mike Dobie, the guy that has driven the development of Liming turning it into an international destination.
Richard Mason getting the First Ascent of the Flying Squirrel. A great new approach to The Honeycomb Dome.
Now I am in Yangshuo with Jack Masel. My crimp strength has deserted me making the transition from cracks back to sport difficult but Jack is crushing. Ill cover all that in the next blog.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

End of Summer -

My beta changed again. In August I spent a lot of time on Cobra Crack and things really came together. I am not sure if all my playing around from the previous two months acted as training or I just took a long time to figure out the easiest way to do things but there was serious progress.  Suddenly the impossible was possible and I was getting big links. I was able to do every move every time off the rope. It had become just a matter of time.  
Finishing off the easier climbing before the real difficulties begin. Photo: Alon Brookstein.
Place some gear and go for it! Photo: Alon Brookstein.
The problem was that summer in Squamish didn’t evolve into the magic cool, dry, and sticky conditions of fall I was told would eventuate. When things started to cool down the rain came. A lot of it! In two days we had around 130mm of rain, which started the Cobra Crack seeping. It slowly dried out over a week and I managed to get one day where only the start footholds were wet.
I gave it everything I had climbing through the crux undercling mono move but failing on the large move up over the lip. If I stuck that it may have gone down. I had been getting so solid on it that on the previous day I had tried it I had done three laps in a row from below the last gear placement near the beginning of the difficulties to the top.  I felt with two weeks left I would certainly be able to get it done. Then it rained again and has continued to do so on and off just enough to keep the crack seeping and out of reach.
Out at Chekamus Canyon while we were dodging the rain on some easy sport. Photo: Pat
Pulling through the lower crux on The Cobra Crack. Picture: Alon Brookstein.

I now leave for Liming, China again to try my mega roof crack project, The Honeycomb Dome. I am actually incredibly happy about how my summer went considering I would never have thought The Cobra Crack within my abilities. I almost can’t believe I got so close but know I will get it quickly when I come back. I am also psyched to project The Honeycomb Dome with the belief that I can take down these difficult lines. I am also well rested from waiting out the rain so I can attack Liming with renewed energy and drive. It s going to be a great time with an amazing crew and I look forward to seeing all the projects that will be getting their first ascents by all the good climbers visiting.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Squamish in July

The last month has flown by. It was great having Abond and Ting over from Yangshuo. We hung out a lot enjoying the climbing and surrounds of Squamish. I joined them as they did their first wall and first mountain peak. Despite Abond hurting his finger pulley early on in the visit they had a great trip and Abond has all the moves on Dreamcatcher wired for the next visit. I've also had a fair few more days on The Cobra Crack despite some finger issues myself. 
The streets of Squamish. Abond, Ting and I.
The lower crux is coming together well and I am able to climb it from the ground reasonably solidly now. The second mono undercling crux has become very solid off the rope although I haven't executed it from the ground yet. I did however spend a lot of the last month stumped on the third exit crux. My problem was based on a big reach between two jams over the lip and very low feet underneath. I couldn't work out which hand was the best to go with as I could do the second crux with either hand ending in the good lip jam. Neither way was working, my joints got swollen and bruised and I definitely wondered if I was actually going to be able to do the section at all. 

The first crux. Sequence wired.

Failing during the old sequence of the second crux. Now I hold a jam underneath and go right hand to the lip jam.

The solution was to go sport climbing. I took a week off and played on some steep power endurance sport routes north of Squamish. This gave my fingers a break and helped with my route fitness. I returned to the Cobra yesterday with Ben and had my first lead (preplaced). I got all the way to the mono undercling move feeling a lot better than when I had previously toproped to that point. After lowering a couple of moves I climbed through the second crux and took at the third crux. A couple of trial and error shots and I found a way. Its powerful but doable. Right hand in the lip jam left in the really high jam, a bad foot jam in the crack underneath. The crux is the initial slap to the slopey arete with the right hand. It was the first time I had done this as a complete section and I even managed to climb the first half of it after climbing through the second crux. Psyched!
I am still a long way off but for the first time I can see it really is doable. Maybe after a couple of years rather than months. We shall see.
Route map of the business. The totem cam is the one I will be doing a very big runout off through the second and third cruxes.
Now the focus will be on linkage and repeating sections over and over again till they become easy. Good conditions will arrive in September so I need to be ready for them. More power, endurance, technique and mental focus.
Cross training for Cobra. Lifting Boulders.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Cobra – Initial Attempts

I have been in Squamish for three weeks now with my main goal for this summer being the famous Cobra Crack 5.14. I have only had four days consisting of a total of 5 long top rope shots on the route so far due to the painful nature of the jamming required as well as a finger injury obtained while bouldering.
Warm up mono's in a block of wood that lives at the base of Cobra Crack.
It has the names of everyone who has managed to climb the route so far.
The finger injury isn’t bad, just a jarred joint from stabbing it into a wall. It still hurts but I can climb on it. Other than my four days off from the injury I have done some amazing sport climbing and bouldering, which I hope I will keep me strong as I project the crack during the summer.
On the bouldering front I climbed a soft V10 quite quickly called No Troublems. This is not any kind of amazing achievement although I had never actually bouldered this grade before. I am pretty sure I have done much harder boulders on routes but I’ve never put the time in to go bouldering outdoors and project hard problems.
Warming up in the boulders.
Back to the Cobra. The start is easy, a technical 5.11 chimney leading to a hands free rest will probably become a bit of an annoyance when I have done it for the trillionth time approaching the real business above. After the hands free rest a short technical thin crack that would be the crux of a 5.12 leads to a jug right where the wall kicks back. Even though it’s a jug you don’t want to hang around too long as you’re still on your arms. A couple of jams above the jug and I was surprised by the difficulty of one of the lower moves which marks the beginning of ‘the business’ section. It took me a long time to work out, as the beta on the videos of other people climbing this section doesn’t suit me at all. I’m pretty sure the others are all close to a foot taller than me as they do some massive reaches between the good jams.
Working on the lower hard move.
After the initial hard move it stays exceptionally physical in good jams but incredibly poor feet. I’ll need to be able to cruise this section eventually to have energy for the crux above. The crux begins with a reach up to an undercling mono, which is painful and hard to commit to. When I do commit though I found I could do the next move almost static. Because I can’t reach through to the good jam I get a bad jam and do the hardest move of the route to the better jam above. This beta is the same as Didier was doing on the film ‘First Ascent’.
Do I commit to pulling on this or not?
I am sure if I eventually get to here on lead I’ll be very tired but there is the exit boulder to do before you can stand on your feet again. So far the easiest way I have found to do this is to go up a slopey rail the same as Sonny Trotter did on the first ascent of the route. This is mainly due to my hand position in the jams after the main crux section.
Sharing beta in the local park with local Ben Harnden, who is currently very close to the send.

I feel like my progress so far has been good except for that one crux move. Hopefully it isn’t a showstopper and I can do it more regularly during my working sessions. I’ll need to be doing it easily off the rope to be able to pull it on link. No matter what happens this summer I am psyched I am even able to try and do the moves on this route. September, when I have to leave, is still a ways off so anything is possible at the moment.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Leaving Liming

The best season is over here in Liming. It is getting hot and humid and any day now it will start to pour down with rain. Since I sent The Firewall route I haven’t red-pointed anything major. I had the usual post hard send lull were I needed a short break from trying hard. It was good to visit a few of the crags I hadn’t been to and try a few of the classic 5.11 and 5.12 graded routes. I even added something quite out of the ordinary for Liming, a mixed route that leaves the crack systems and involves a world cup style running dyno boulder problem.
Mike on his Flight of the Locust 5.12c extension at The Guardian crag. Photo: Myself.
The crew from the 80s.
After a while I went up to The Honeycomb Dome 15m long roof project. I had my eye on this while working The Firewall. I had been told that it wouldn’t get done anytime soon and was ridiculously hard. It is one of the standout lines you can see from the valley floor along with The Firewall. I am reasonably good on roofs due to my core being quite strong, one of the advantages of being short. My first shot went really well. I only tried 2/3 of the climb as we didn’t have enough of the right gear with us but I eventually got all the moves. A section of .75 crack which, I was told would be exceptionally hard, ended up passable by getting two bad jams and inverting your body so as to lead with your feet into a wider section of the crack. I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to send at roughly 5.13b/c.
A layback tight hands start leads to a bad stem and more tight hands. All project photos: Kate Sabo.
A powerful undercling traverse.
Nice slopey heal toe.
The poor rest.
Entering the first crux.
Tense your hands and hope they don't pop out!
The middle section isn't too hard but surprisingly physical.
I was hoping to send it in the weeks I had left in Liming but my next few shots exposed the true difficulty of the climb. When I tried the last third of the route I discovered a crux at the very end involving very tight hands and a knuckle lock. Linkage of the first half happened quickly but I am so spent afterwards I can’t even tense my hand to hold an awesome hand jam. Linkage is the true crux. I have since made it to just before the start of the final crux but haven’t had the energy to even start to attempt it (all only on preplaced gear so far). I will be back in October to try and finish it off.
My pre-placed high point for this trip.
Entering the final boulder.
My left hand is on only by a single knuckle. Feet first to the anchor.
Now I will start to meander over to Squamish with stops in Shigu, Lijiang, Chongqing, Hong Kong, and Vancouver along the way.  It’s going to be an interesting summer. I get to hang out and climb with Rick from the Blue Mountains again, Abond and Ting my long time Chinese friends are coming over and I am catching up with a host of old friends from when I lived there in 2005/6.  On the climbing front I will be supporting Abond who will be trying to fight his way up Dream Catcher 5.14d and I will be stretching way out from my abilities to attempt Cobra Crack 5.14a/b.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Hardest Traditional Route In China

A pure splitter, steep, long, powerful, technical, and brilliant. That sums up The Firewall. It hangs high of the deck in an amazing position overlooking the town of Liming. I have been incredibly lucky to find such a line and have the opportunity to get the first ascent. Among the Liming climbers the line was always the thing to be done. Just waiting there for someone like me to put the effort in.
The crux. Ring locks and rattly fingers in overhanging terrain with bad feet and a solid pump. This is actually a video still from some amazing footage that Garrett Bradley took. You think this is rad, the sunrise photos he got make this look like a one year olds finger painting. Image: Copyright Garret Bradley. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaption allowed without written permission.
 Word had spread that I was coming back to Liming to continue to work the route and a journalist friend, Derek Cheng, had put me in contact with photographer Garret Bradley who was keen to get media of the route. I had never met Garret but when he turned up with a car full of camera equipment and ropes I knew I had gotten lucky meeting someone who was as keen to document the route as I was to climb it.

The following couple of weeks I spent building on the previous trips knowledge of the route. I had one good month of boulder training in Perth in between trips in which I gained power and healed my skin. It was obvious I was doing the powerful ending easier and it had now become a fitness challenge. Garret asked me to repeat sections of the route over and over again which helped engrain them into my muscle memory. I worked hard knowing how rare it is to get good media of such a significant route. I was relaxed and did not pressure myself thinking I had to send because I knew after Garret left I would still have two weeks to send and if not then I would be back in October. No matter what I would do the route.

The Flying Buttress, of which the third pitch is The Firewall, forms an arch in the cliff and the crack is sheltered from the rain and in the shade almost all day. We were waking up for sunrise to find out if at first light any sun made it in to the climb. It was generally overcast in the morning so it wasn’t until Garrett was meant to leave and we had a clear morning that we noticed that for only about 15 minutes at first light the crux of the upper pitch was hit by the sun. Garrett extended his trip by a couple of days. After a rest day and on Garretts last day we woke at 4:30am and trudged up the hill. Simon Madden (World famous Vertical Life co-editor and professional sendage belayer) had arrived and immediately been recruited for belay duty. I don’t like to waste shots so even though we were up there to get rad photos I decided to go for it anyway.
Looking up from the belay. Photo Simon Madden.
Everything went smoothly, I had never felt better after the easy first half. The tight hands section felt as it usually does, tiring and a little insecure. I placed my final bit of gear and started the 5m boulder to the anchors. I was really shaky as I normally was when attempting the section pumped but I fought through and found myself throwing into the flared final hand jam, which marks the end of the route. There are no good feet here so I just hold on with one pumped arm, paste my right foot while my left big toe pulls on the edge of the finger width crack. I pulled slack expecting to explode of the route into the space below me but somehow managed to hold on and clip the anchor. Just as I did the first sun lit up the wall. Incredible. Garrett managed to video the send, which was my 22nd attempt.

Celebrations were cut a little short, as the window of opportunity to get the shots with the sun on the wall was small. I can definitely say the shots Garrett ended up with that morning are some of the best climbing shots I’ve ever seen. The rest of the day we continued to get the video angles we needed before cleaning the route of all our ropes and gear. We got down towards midnight and enjoyed a local street BBQ.

As for the grade I am still a bit unsure. It isn’t the hardest thing I have done although it is up there. It felt a grade harder than Air China but maybe not 5.14a. Air China is considered 5.13d by the first two ascentionists and maybe it is. Crack climbs are difficult to grade especially when I haven’t been to benchmark sandstone crack areas like Indian Creek. I am however climbing well at the moment and the route isn’t reachy, which often is what holds me back while on harder sport routes. It is incredible for its quality and position more than its difficulty anyway so I guess the grade isn’t too important.

I have never done such a cool first ascent and had so much support from the crew around me. A thank you definitely has to go to Garrett for his tireless work capturing it all. Also to everyone that came up to belay me; Ana Pautler, Rich Ham, Simon Madden, Zhou Lei, Alexa Flower, Mike Dobie, Raul Sauco. The biggest thanks of all has to go to Mike Dobie though who introduced me to Liming and The Firewall. He has done the majority of development here and written the guidebook. You can get a copy at and start getting psyched!
Jerry and I visiting the Lisu Ladder in Liming. The locals used to use this to get to the birds nests. Photo: Rich Ham.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Fire Wall, Round 1

Liming is amazing. It isn’t like a sport crag, which lays everything out before you in a display of ring bolted grandeur. Liming has secrets. Can this be climbed? Where are the holds? What’s around this corner? To appreciate Liming you need to be an explorer and an optimist. You don’t know if something is climbable until you have thrown a rope down it and felt a hundred different contorted positions in which you might stick to the wall.

The second half of my trip I don’t think I climbed a single pre-existing route. Mike Dobie and I finished aiding up our wall on the Formation called ‘The Diamond’, we extended an old 5.11 on the painted wall up a closed corner which is now dubbed ‘The Wizardry Project’, and we hung all over the one of the coolest cracks I’ve ever been on. 
Our line up The Diamond. Plenty of offwidth on this one.
The Wizardry Project. No holds just imagination. 
This crack has been known about for some time and forms the multi-pitch called ‘The Flying Buttress’. It starts out tame with the ‘Tarzan Pitch’, an easy chimney pitch, which involves a lot of vine pulling. Second is one of the best 5.11+ traditional pitches going around, a slightly overhung hand crack with occasional fingers or fists for 35 meters. The third and last pitch, named ‘The Firewall’ is the business. The wall kicks back and the crack is ever thinner. 20m into the pitch when your getting tired the ring lock crux slaps you in the face. This thing is hard. If the crack was thinner or fatter then the climbing on the 30-degree overhanging terrain would be much easier. As it is the lack of feet, the angle, and the poor jams come together to create something special.  Small or large hands won’t help much because the crack very gradually changes from 1” cams to .3” at the anchor. You will have issues jamming somewhere towards the end of the pitch. 
I just scraped through the section on top rope. Stopping to place gear will be a rare event on the send.
Even with a heap of tape the ring locks take their toll.

As for the grade I am unsure but thinking 5.13+. It has been suggested as harder but I know how hard 5.14- feels and don’t believe my quick progress on the crack so far justifies that grade. Maybe if your really experienced on sandstone cracks it is only 5.13? Things may change as I have further red point attempts. It is however harder than Air China and completely traditional which in my eyes makes it a worthy goal. After returning to Australia I am turning back around and heading back to try and finish it off before the season ends.
Great company (Alexa Flower, Leah Pappajohn, and Mike Dobie)