Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Mt Buffalo

I really did need to work and save some money but when one of the strongest climbers in Australia messages you to say he has found a crack that will be the hardest in the country it is hard to refuse a quick trip. After using up all my frequent flyer points I was on my way back to the Blue Mountains where Zac Vertrees and I would start our road trip to Mt Buffalo in the Victorian alps.

Mt Buffalo is a granite dome in an alpine setting and home to climbers during the summer months. It isn’t as popular anymore as more climbers search out steep fully bolted sport routes with nearby cafĂ© instead of adventurous run out technical granite. The first thing I noticed on arrival was the intensity of the sun. Zac had a massive first day full of sandbagged routes lined up for me and we climbed them in full sun getting sunburnt and bloodied on the coarse crystals. Hard rain (3 pitch 22) was the warm up followed by Ring a ding ding (24 going on 26) then Body Heat (techy arĂȘte 24) then the project. The project is an amazing crack, which is unlike the rest of the climbing at Mt Buffalo. It is water polished so you don’t have to worry about losing skin to the crystals. It is also quite short and steep. Only 10m of climbing starting off a ledge is difficult. In total about 14 sustained moves in a 25-30 degree overhanging crack makes it a power endurance test piece.
Nearing the top of the brutal Ring-a-ding-ding 24. Photo: Malcolm Matheson.
Days 2 and 3 went by with more time on the project and we managed to get the moves wired on top rope with some linkage. We had also thrown ourselves at a short bouldery 29 called Gondwanaland, which Zac managed to send in a day. I would have to wait for a second day on at the end of the trip to send it.  We wondered about the grade of the project so went off to compare it to the hardest route currently at Mt Buffalo and what is most likely the hardest pure crack in Australia, The Great Shark Hunt (30). Day 4 on the trip was spent Bush bashing up and down gullies to find the line. When we did find it we wondered on how to get to the top to rap in and inspect it. It would have been easier to go ground up as we ended up on a major rappelling mission from high in the gorge to get down to it from above.

I felt broken on days 5 and 6 yet we threw ourselves at The Great Shark Hunt anyway. It was humid and about 32 degrees so not the best conditions. We floundered around sorting out the moves knowing a cold change was coming in the next few days. I only had 3 shots and Zac just 2. We could hardly move and a two-day rest was in order. I don’t think I’ve punished myself for 6 straight days without resting for a while.

It was 15 degrees and windy after our rest break and the route felt a lot easier. Unfortunately for me there is a stand up reach off a good foothold at the end of the route that I had some trouble with. I fell here, frustratingly close, on my 4th and 5th attempts. Zac managed to get the route on his 4th attempt. Another day on and a change of beta utilising some higher, but worse, foot holds and I sent the route too.
Stem rest half way up The Great Shark Hunt. Photo: Malcolm Matheson.
We went back to the project. A week and a half of climbing had worn us down and we were definitely tired. I had one more amazing day where I sent Gondwanaland in the morning and then got very close to a clean top rope lap of the crack project in the afternoon. After that I was stuffed. The next morning, which was our last day, I managed to climb 4m up a grade 20 called Sultanz and had to bail. My body and mind were done. Zac and I bailed on the afternoon project session and called it a successful trip beginning the drive home.

Comparing the Great Shark Hunt to the project we decided the project was significantly harder. We both did the Great Shark Hunt relatively quickly but didn’t quite manage a tope rope lap on the project during the whole trip. Leading and placing on the project will be harder again. I am looking forward to our return to finish it off, as I am sure it will become a classic test piece.