Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Avalanches don't kill people. People kill people...

So there I was, harmlessly chewing the fat with the Jone's. Discussing how all the kiddy snowflakes today are faceting these days, the youth of today hey! they have no idea what it was like in the good ol' days, floating 15 miles with the other snow, just to become a cloud! We switched on the wireless and were surprised to hear a South-East wind was coming. I said my good-byes and soon I was airborne with the rest of the crowd. Jeez I hate the rat race. Everybody in the same wind, all hustle and bustle to get a good seat on the snow pack. How nobody wants the responsibility of being on the bottom. Today was no exception! I must have drowned an elderly person in my last life as a river, because I ended up on the bottom. Now lets clear something up, I think myself a friendly snowflake, I like to think I can get along with most others, but don't get me started on hoar frost. Those guys are really bringing the neighborhood down. They just show up on our snow pack, making no effort to fit in and bond with the rest of us. I wish they'd just go home sometimes!

So needless to say it was up to me to make peace and bond with the hoar-frost community. But try as I might we just couldn't see eye to eye and bring the two communities together. So not only was I in a new neck of the woods, I think they called it 'Lee-slope' or something, I was also in charge of bringing to cultures together.

Maybe I should have listened to mum and dad, but nooo, I had to do it my way, leave the cloud, see the world I said, check out life as glacier someday. So with a rain coming from my mothers eyes I gracefully slipped out of the could and started my descent. One piece of wisdom my Dad had passed on before I left, was 'watch out for them humans!'. Bringing me to my current conundrum!

So a day of trying to make peace with the hoar layer had gotten no-where, things in the snow pack were as unstable as ever. Then things got worse. Reports started coming in about helicopters in the area, and even baby snowflakes know what they bring, humans! Let me tell u a minute why humans are bad. First of all they rock up, thinking they own the place. Walking everywhere with those ghastly spiky things, stabbing any and everything in their path. Sometimes the bring dynamite too, blowing slopes apart. Not happy till whole communities are sliding to the valley floor. Worst is when they put you in their 'pots' over the flame. I can still hear the screams of friends at night, as they were slowly broken down, melting away. Then the poor bastards were boiled and ingested. I wont describe the horrors that happen during ingestion, that leave strong snow-flakes as yellow stains, shells of a former life. We tell children, 'the Brew' will get u if u don't eat your vegetables. It sure makes them listen!

So when news got through the snow pack that they were coming this way, everyone was beside themselves. 'what should we do?', 'where shall we go?' were questions on everyones mind. When they started heading our way things started to get desperate. With huge clumsy, spiky boots they plodded our way, I had to do something. Trying to think quickly, and getting no support from the hoar community, I had to make the tough decision. 'Ok guys', I yelled 'we have to slide'. I took the leap of faith and soon the rest were following me. Trying to convince the base layers to come was useless. We slid smoothly and efficiently out of the path of the humans. As we were sliding I heard the faintest sound of the humans grow more distant as we gathered momentum.

“Bloody slab-avalanches...”

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Different World

The gods must be crazy. Well ok not the gods but me! So Garry and i had walked out after three days of sitting on our arse. We saw that the weather forecast looked pretty average and the snow would need some time to settle so we decided to head up to Christchurch to catch up with some friends. So i gave Freya and Jez (pronounced jizz in kiwi), some friends of ours from Tassie, a ring and arranged a place to stay! We made the drive up without incident and were soon sipping tea in scenic Lyttleton. Garry changed his flight to go home a few days early and soon i was on my own, wondering what next. I checked the weather forecast and it had changed! The massive big high that looked like it would miss NZ would park its bum right over the southern alps. It was time to plan a mission!! Having just moved here, Jez didn’t have too many commitments so we eagerly planned a mission, not sure where but somewhere! We tossed up a fly-in option but due to a lack of funds we settled on a walk-in. Soon we had settled on going back up the Hooker Valley to once again try and climb some of the ice up there. We started saddling up for the trip, packing gear, photocopying topos and fighting that nervousness that slowly seeps in.

The alarm went off early. Damn alpine starts. It was 430am on a Friday and we had to drive down to Mt Cook Village then get the walk-in underway. It was going to be a big day! With a breakfast stop at lake Tekapo(hours old pies) we were soon looking at the mighty Mt Cook welcoming the sunrise to this glorious day. With Jez’s gear still in a shipping container somewhere in the Tasman sea, we would have to borrow some gear from Alpine Guides. They hooked us up with all the good stuff and we were soon trudging our way up the valley. I slimmed the pack down to the bare essentials and felt much fitter for having already walked in before. Knowing the track made all the difference, except for the one wrong turn I made that cost us 45 mins. Soon we were on the white-ice of the glacier in perfect weather, surrounded by the multitude of snow-capped peaks. Our recent tracks were still visible in the snow, so that made navigation a lot easier! I knew how to get up onto Pudding Rock, where our hut for the night was located. The daylight gave way to a starry night as we made the final 400m to the hut. We had moved fast and made the journey in 8 hours.

With many hot drinks and an epic portion of porridge we were soon making our way further up the glacier, destination Empress Hut. We whipped out our snow-shoes and made good progress, floating on top of the soft snow. We had slept in that morning, with the only rush being getting out from underneath the ice-cliffs on La Perouse. An epic slog up the final slope saw us making our way to the hut, collapsing with joy into the bench-seats warm embrace. The stove roared as we smashed hot drinks like they were going out of fashion! The plan for the next day was the Dingle-Button Couloir. This is an easier classic on Mt Hicks following a gully of ice with the odd steepish step. Something that’s not too big or hard for our first mountain route together.

The alarm beeped its un-welcome noises. However we set that alarm for a reason and we were soon up and getting the drinking water melted and gearing up for the oncoming fun. On time we left the hut and started marching across the glacier, trying to hold down the recently ingested porridge. The Bergshrund at the base of the route had gotten worse, and would require my best grovelling efforts in the loose slop. We had decided that I would lead all the pitches, for speed. Pitch after pitch of ice feel as we steadily made our way up. The odd steep step of ice provided some fun technical climbing that was never too hard and always in control. The last pitch of the couloir had too different options, I chose to go have a look at the harder one. Some stout climbing (M5+) led me to the final belay. Here we decided to turn around and go down. I was a bit upset about not going to the summit, but Jez was keen on going down, and it takes two to tango. Finding good patches of ice everywhere, good v-threads were abundant and we quickly made the 10 raps without much fuss. The walk back to the hut was satisfying. We made it back with daylight to spare and sipped tea in the final light of day.

The forecast for the next few days was amazing so we decided to have a cruisy day next. At lunchtime we made our way over to the summit of Sturdee, a small bump on a ridgeline. This bump however offered some amazing views! Descending via Harper Saddle offered a good chance for us to check out the access to the routes on the north face and also the decent from the summit.

Next on the hit-list was the Hicks-Dampier Couloir. This is a good way to make your way to the top of Mt Dampier, NZ’s third highest peak. We had to leave the hut early to slog up the glacier some more to get to the base. Navigating some massive crevasses by torchlight had its interesting moments but we were soon looking at another huge shrund guarding our route. There was a way over though, a precarious bridge that might collapse. I gingerly stepped onto it and commited to it. It held my weight!! With breath held, I made my way across to the other side and started grovelling up onto the snow slope. I put in a belay and bought and equally scared Jez across and onto the route. Some steep varied climbing led us up and up. The ice was squeaky neve, firm snow good for climbing but protection was non-existent! Never the less, we were soon simul-climbing up to the ridgeline. The ridge proved tricky, hard- ice and wind made for some slow going. Jez felt pretty tried, after not haveing done much like this in a while so i was hesitant to commit to the summit and again we turned around a few hundred metres short. The descent proved much harder, without so much ice about, abseil anchors proved to be problematic. Darkness fell as we were making the last abseil over the epically huge schund. Jez had to abseil into it and then climb out the other side. Freezing on belay, and getting frustrated it was taking so long, I just longed for the hut. My feet soon touched down on the glacier. Sweet, we’ll soon be in the hut. Or so I thought....

Jez went to pull the ropes and they started coming smoothly. We reached the know joing the two ropes and suddenly it stopped. He tugged and tugged abut they weren’t coming free. So i jumped on the end too and we tried pulling from every direction, unable to dislodge my brand new rope. With the gaping schrund above us and a steep blank wall above that there was no way i could climb back up to the anchor safely. And prussicking wasn’t worth it, if it did fail I’d never climb again, probably never do much of anything again. So we decided to try and use brute strength. 45 minutes later we had a 5:1 haul system onto it. But even with that as tight as we could get it, it still wouldn’t come. With the hour growing late we decided on the hard decision, cut what I could from it. With a loud scream i cut the rope, surprisingly easily. We picked up our tracks and made our way back to the hut.

Dissapointed we packed things up ready for the walk-out. We decided to go the true right of the glacier and made awesome time down onto the glacier. After a well earned pizza and beer we soon collapsed into bed back in Christchurch after an epic day! I couldn’t shake the feeling though that id soon be back in that valley. The conditions are amazing, and don’t come like this very often! So time to make the most of it!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Return to the Hooker

well im heading back up there, the hooker valley i mean. ive people say part of a successful alpine career is a bad memory. luckily for me the pain of walking has subsided and im super-psyched to get on with it!! the distance cant be as far as i remember. it wont be as cold as i remember either!! i sit hoping that by saying this over and over it'll come true!!

well time to have at it!

"All men dream: but not equally, Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible. This I [do]. "- T E Lawrence

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Storms and Tea-Cup's

so now that ive got my blog up to date with all the adventures ive been having at the start of the year i can finally get done to what im doing right now!! currently im sitting in Christchurch, New Zealand.

after a fantastic weekend of partying, and saying fond farewells to all my friends i was at the airport. as always i was arguing my case with the check-in chick. virgin have cracked down on excess baggage so my 55kg saw me forking out for the privelige. luckily i had met a friend of a friend, Liz, so i had a place to stay in Sydney overnight. i was in the heart of struggletown tho making my way from the train to her apartment with my body-weight of gear! i was soon involved in the goon frenzy going on and a good night ensued!! i woke early with a sore head and bleary eyes and made my way back to the airport to get on with the next leg. fog in sydney led to my flight being delayed. this meant i would miss my next flight, costing me dearly! by the time i rocked up in Auckland there were no more flights to Christchurch so i pulled out my sleeping bag and settled into the international terminal for the night. a cheap Air New Zealand flight later and was standing at the counter for Jucy car rentals, signing my life away. i had some time to kill before i picked Garry up from the airport so i made my way into town, to sift and peruse the fine wares on offer.
Garry was also delayed a bit, but we were soon on our way down to wanaka. i had some things to pick up from a shop there and we had to stock up for a mission. we checked the forecast, our best bet was heading up the hooker valley to Empress Hut. here we might steal a chance at climbing the might south face of Mt Hicks. the weather looked like it would be grim but we had to try! we stocked up on everything we thought we'd need and made our way to Mt Cook village to launch our assault from there.

the walk up the hooker is a grim and gruelling prospect. going from the plains in the village to 2500m. we set off just before dawn and were making good time. watching the transformation of vegetation and scenery was amazing. we even had some wild tahir(?) run past us. getting down onto the glacier from the moraine wall proved to be 'fun' little escapade. we soon had snow crunching under-foot as we made our way up, always up. the hardest section is getting past a big hill called pudding rock. in a good year u can walk straight past it but we had a bit more exciting time. theres a couloir on the right that i led up. it was steep sloppy uncosolidated snow, quite hairy! i even had to pull up off a snow stake to get past a steep bulge!!

once on pudding rock we collapsed into Gardiner Hut. we decided that this small hut would be home for the night. we were pretty tried from the previous 8 hour slog and didnt feel like navigating the next bit in the dark. dawn broke and we were soon up and at it slogging our way the glacier, navigating crevasses to get through to Empress Hut. we made it by late morning and slumped ready for a cup of tea! with some good weather still about we went for a wander over to the base of Mt Hicks and climbed the first rope-length of ice on the Dingle Button couloir. it was getting late so we rapped off and made our way back to the hut.
during the night the foul weather set in. the following 3 days were a blur of reading, tea, stretching and sleep. anything to shake the boredom of being stuck in a small hut while the wind howled! with so much snow being dumped it looked like we would not be able to safely climb, due to avalanche danger, even when it was clear. with this in mind, and the forecast looking even more grim for the following week we decided to get out when we could.
the snow was so deep when we left, snow-shoes proving invaluable! it was crazy to see how much was dropping off all the slopes around us. the whole valley would rumble from time to time, white out conditions preventing us from know where it was coming from. after nearly falling in a few crevasses the clouds lifted enough for us to make our way ot Gardiner Hut. we stopped for a brew and pondered our next move. we decided the safeest option was to try and locate abseil anchors over Pudding Rock. however these would be covered in snow and ice!
we found the first cable alright. i abseiled lower to try and find the next set of anchors. after 45 mins of frustrating chopping i finally found another anchor. Garry joined me and i set off to find the next one. 30 mins later i couldnt find the next one so i had Garry fix our 70m rope so i could go to the end to keep searching. luckily i soon found something, some steel cable buried at both ends. i wrapped a prussic around it, that would do. a 40m free hanging abseil saw us touch down onto the glacier. the snow here was so deep we were soon wading, up to our thighs thru the wet slop. we now only had about 1 hour of daylight so we hurried down the glacier.
we continued on once darkness fell, navigation was fairly stright-forward. it did however get increasingly difficult as we went lower down the glacier, where its more chopped up. we had to find the right bit of the moraine wall to scramble up and exit onto the track, but in the dark this proved a pretty grim prospect. equally grim was the other option we settled on, and open bivy. after trying to make the rocks around me as flat as possible i crawled into my light-weight bag (only rated to 0 Degrees) and shivered the night away. i managed about 45 mins of crappy sleep.
the sun in the morning was a welcome sight and i soon warmed up as we trudged up the moraine to get on the track. my feet were soaked, cold and starting to rub but i grit my teeth and pressed on. theres no other option! just after lunchtime we collapsed back at the car, barely able to hold myself up! a well deserved meat-pie at the hermitage saw me feeling mych better!! we checked in with the Department of Conservation (DoC) to let them know we were safe and then decided to bail to christchurch. the weather forecast looking shit for the rest of the week.

so last night we stayed with Freya and Jeremy (jez) from tas which is great! really good to hear about their trip to India. Garry heads home on wedsnesday so im not exactly sure what to do for the next three weeks, but im sure ill find something to climb with someone!!!

rock on!!!

Buffalo once more

so i had some classic free-climbs ticked out at the wimmera, so what better to do now than climb some classic aid routes at buffalo? i had all my big wall shite in the van when i came over so once we finished work i just hopped in the car and started driving, buffalo-bound. i had the worst timing ever, the rest of melbourne were also on the hume highway this friday evening. bloody long weekends...

i dossed in the back of my van on the side of the road down near bright. the morning light came as i set off to finalise the supplies for this next adventure. with most shops being closed i was glad to find some open for the masses, allowing me to stock up on fuel and big-wall goodies! soon i was heading up the hill to check things out and get ready for the assault. having previously climbed Holden Caulfield and Ozy i thought id be a bit of a hero and try Clouded Queen in its entireity. the topo and route description in the guidebook is pretty poor but i figured id work it out on the wall.

i fixed a rope on the first abseil down Defender of the Faith then made my way down. id forgotton how much of a pain in the arse haulbags are on ur own! after much cursing, spluttering and general rage i was soon setting up the belay at the base of the route. i only had a few pitches to climb on the first day so i was in no hurry. however dark clouds were brewing. just as the clanking of my portaledge going together was finished, the heavens opened. i scurried under my fly and got out the most essential big-wall solo item, my iPod. watching lightning flash through the portaledge fly was something i wont soon forget!

the next day broke to blue skies once more. i set off what i thought was the right route, following some fixed gear out the roof. i hauled/ cleaned the pitch and started up the next ropelength. something didnt quite feel right. there were bolts on the pitch and it didnt quite match the vague description i had scribbled in my pocket. i thought 'oh well, im still going up' and continued up the line. by the end of the pitch i knew i was off route. i was now moving on the arete left of Ozy when i should have been out on the face. i now had a big choice, bail into Ozy or sack-up and head back into Clouded Queen.

i tucked tail and ran. mentally i wasnt prepared for what soloing a hard aid route would require so i decided to just take a few days off and just float up Ozy Direct. getting into the corner below the Ozy roof proved fun however. unable to pendulem across i had to tape my nut tool to the end of the pole for the portaledge fly, attach some rope to it and hook a bolt to pull my self over! once established in the corner i was off, the A1 crack feeling so easy compared to the copper-heads i'd just been pulling off!!! i punched throught the roof and was soon up at the gledhill bivy, what better place to chill out!! again the iPod came out as i watched the gliders arc and soar across the darkening skyline, life wasn't too bad. all the stress i had about climbing hard had been washed away and i could now relax and enjoy the moment.

i silenced the alarm and rolled over, with only a few pitches to climb i wanted to lie in! eventually i dragged myself out of bed and set off. i decided to finish out Holden Caulfield. theres less fisty-cuffs in wide cracks and you get some cool exposure. everything was going fine, i was on the rivet on the pitch, these crazy blobs with wire coming off them. i was up at the point where Steve is pictured on the cover off the guide, standing on the wire he has clipped, when things got grim.


oh shit i thought as i dropped a centimetre, looking down the rock had blown out half the placement. by the grace of god i was still hanging in there. i frantically fumbled on the rack for a hook so i could get on a good edge on the face, then 'Ping' i plummetted. because it was 'easy i had lots of slack out. i remember thinking 'ok the rope should take up about now', as it did i slowed a little. then 'snap' i broke the rivet and fell another few metres. i finally arrested about 8 metres below where i started the plummet. i bit shaken i jugged back up. not sure what to do next i thought i had better try and hook past that section. a few dicey moves later saw me at the next rivets. the pitch is now harder but in my opinion more classic!! it never needed so many rivets in the FA.

i topped out just after lunch and made my way down the hill. all the caravan parks were chockers so no-one would let me shower, so i set off for melbourne! at elwood beach i braved the frigid waters for a bath. soon i was sitting on the ferry back home. it was only a few months till i was to set off for NZ and Peru so i had heaps to keep me out of trouble at home. i reflected on what had just happened.

i had wanted to be the hero, soloing a hard route but mentally i wasnt up to it and i got smacked. it was a good lesson in learning to listen to myself. to hear whats actually going on upstairs, not just what i wish was happening...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Talk is Cheap

Heres a cool video Garry Phillips made of us climbing on our new route, Talk is Cheap (IV, 24, 180m). we did this a little while ago now, but an amazing route!!! one of the must-do's for any keen adventure climbers out there!!!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fun times in VIC

i was back at it, slaving away over aluminum handrailing, trying to make the world a safer place. all i could think of was climbing though. with arapalies and the grampians only hours away i was busy making plans... old 'blueballs' Grug and his little german friend had just set up camp in the pines and i was soon off to join them. i only had the wkends however so i had to make them count!
Day 1, Taipan wall! i searched the pines high, an i searched them low but no sign of Grug, did they show. i heard a whisper in the trees that they were at some magical wonderland, full of amazing orangeness, where the bins are plentiful and the vegies never go off. well ok they were at taipan. i cruised on up to join them, albeit a touch late! Grug was just about to get on Invisible Fist (26). he fought his way up it, figuring out the moves. i got on and did the same. alright, i had it sussed, but did i have the fitness?! i pulled into the crux, somehow staying on. with a roar to rival any, i managed it second shot! the sun came along to ruin the party and we hightailed to araps for some classics! sunday rolled by with a flurry of classics, highlights being Dreadnought(24) and thundercrack(20)!!

so back at work, doing my bit for the flailing economy. all week i dreamed of araps, and what awaited me next weekend. friday finally came and i was off, out west again! straight to the pines where we talked shit well into the night. the morning broke and we headed back up Ali's to the base of an amazing route, Final Departure(27). after a few hours of flailing i couldnt work out the crux properly. it felt like 9a! so we pulled the pin and went back to camp with our tails between our legs. we were both pretty stuffed but decided to go try a route id been told was amazing, Yesterday(26).

the approach is epic by arapiles standards. but the 15 minutes rolled by quickly and we were soon at the base. a valiant effort by Grug got halfway up the route, stopped by a crazy dyno-thing. i decided to man up and take the lead, all the way to the top to put a top-rope on it... not my finest hour but if you think i honestly care im sorry, whatever! anyway we had a play and figured out some moves before calling it a day! the next day we marched stright back up the gully. with a few friends up to watch it was my turn on the sharp-end. i psyched up but the boulder problem to start spat me off. again i pulled on and made it through. i couldnt fall now! i got to the rest, then stuck the dyno! shit, dont fall now. shakily making my up i had to dig so deep to hang on, even the final jugs felt insanely hard!! i lowered off and gave Grug a belay, but no luck unfortunately!

i was soon driving back to Geelong, next weekend i was keen to head to Buffalo, to get a mini big-wall fix! i had big plans to be a hero, i wanted to solo Clouded Queen, the whole route. but fate had other plans....