Thursday, 19 May 2016

Sandstone Season Part 1: The Grampians

I would start by apologising for not blogging for ages... but realistically you'll be pleased to have avoided feeling the need to read my endless pontificating about ancap, aerocap and whether my fingers are fixed or not. Unfortunately for you I'm back and your dopamine receptors need a hit.

 For those who don’t know, now that I’ve finished my PhD it’s time to take some time off to climb J. Ella and I have thus embarked on a 7 ½ month trip which, despite both of us normally being limetone climbers, basically involves going and climbing a shit load of sandstone (with the occasional bit of something else thrown in). Our first stop is Australia – The Grampians, Arapiles and The Blue Mountains. After that we’re off to South Africa and then America.

After flying for longer than I even knew planes could fly for we finally made it to the Grampians… and Groove Train. Snaking a 50m line up a beautiful part of Taipan Wall, a number of well-travelled climbers have claimed that this is one of the best sport routes in the world. Ethan Pringle rumoured that it might be more 9a than 8c, the video of Ben Cossey on it is some of the best footage around, and the bolts on the upper section are freakin’ miles apart, all of which rather add to the aura of the route.

Well, fortunately it turns out that everyone was right, and it is totally awesome, but that Pringle was wrong, and it’s nowhere near 9a. Unless you’re a midget in which case the first 7c+ (going on 8a+) pitch is probably 9a in its own right. After the slightly ‘educational’ lower section the upper wall is glorious crimping on perfectly sculpted, if a bit skinny, holds. There are good rests, and a bolt next to each rest… but none in the hard sections between the rests. With no chalk on the headwall and talk of various strong people resorting to abbing into the route to tick up the holds it was much to my relief that I found that a clipstick, some tactics and some lank allowed me to avoid the faff of having to work out how the hell you’d even manage to get to the chains to lower in. After a few days working out the links and overcoming my terror I found myself on redpoint on the last moves of the top runout, screaming my head off like on the video, only for my forearms to fade as my fingers ticked the jug that marks the end of the hard climbing. Cue falling half the height of Taipan whilst getting my leg caught behind the rope, flipping upside down and having long enough before stopping to ponder how the hell this was going to end up and whether I was about to smash my head open. Thankfully the fall was big enough to take me down to a point where I swung into the cave feature on the routes to the right and I escaped the experience with only some mild rope burn. Despite the overwhelming temptation to bottle out of having another go that day I manged to unexpectedly summon the mental fortitude to embark up it once more and put the daemons to rest. I normally hate falling, especially big falls, but the experience of doing the route was undoubtedly better for having taken the ride!

The Grampians is broken down into two real areas: the south and the north. The north has Taipan, lots of bouldering and a few other crags generally with easier routes. In the south there are a number of steep sport crags together with a lot of newer bouldering (so long as you don’t mind walking uphill with a pad for 45 minutes). (There's Arapiles just round the corner too, but so far we've only been there for a quick hit for me to do Punks.) Slightly against what I’d been expecting, whilst the Gramps has some world class sport routes, like Groove Train, it doesn’t actually have a huge volume of them. Taipan is fairly limited, and half the routes on it require pieces of trad gear here and there. A lot of the ones that don’t are on the shorter ‘Spurt Wall’ on the right hand side which is, frankly, miles from being world class. The crags in the south feature steeper climbing and more normal bolting, and again there are some world class routes, but there still isn’t a huge volume like you’d have in Catalunya or Provence. It’ll be interesting to see what the Blue Mountains is like in comparison – so far I’d recommend the area for picking out some real gems but not if you just want a trip to smash out a shit load of sport routes in a convenient setting.

[I would upload a photo here, but the internet connection is shit, so you'll have to wait...]

Anyway, as well as the route climbing in the Gramps there’s a big chunk of bouldering and we’ve been spending quite a bit of our time on that. Some of the rock is magnificent, and I’ve been tricking my way around hard moves as much as possible on some of the classics using a combination of knees and toes. Ella's had a bit of a finger injury which has meant no crimping, and I'm always psyched to spin around in a cave, so we've been spending plenty of time in Hollow Mountain Cave, home to The Wheel of Life. Today the time I've spent working through some of the problems in there really came to fruition, and between rain showers I surprised myself by managing two hard link ups: Cave Rave (8A+/B) links Cave Man (7C) into Dead Can't Dance (8A, but maybe easier with my magical beta) and was my goal for the day. After a more efficient than expected tick, I figured I should have a try on the link of Cave Bitch, an 8A+ that ends at the same place that Cave Man ends, into Dead Can't Dance. Called Pretty Hate Machine, this link gets 8B/+, and reacquainting myself with the lower section I was surprised [read: fucking psyched] to find myself pumped and pulling around the top of the cave!

Photos to come when the internet stop being so shit! For now it's time to get back on Taipan and get scared again...