Big Wall Roped Solo Booroomba
Yosemite. Tuolumne Meadows. Stunning, beautiful alpine granite. Huge walls. Wonderful climbing. History and stories. Over decades I had read the magazine articles and books, seen the Ansell Adams photos. Inspired by the earlier adventures of John Muir. These are climbers’ dreams. They are/were my dreams. To go there and spend time in the vertical world. Immersed. In the balancing of life’s relationships, family, work, time, money some dreams get prioritised to the periphery. Occasionally creative alternatives pop up that fulfil the ache left behind. My local crag, Booroomba Rocks, has 5 pitch routes up to 200m long with ledges big enough to sleep on. An idea percolated while I waited for the right time.
I hiked up in the early afternoon. I climbed the first two pitches roped soloing before dark then camped on a ledge and climbed the remaining three pitches the next day. The system I had was mostly relatively safe – the end of the rope tied off to a bottom anchor I then led each pitch while feeding out rope lengths attached to my harness with alpine butterfly knots. This was pretty much the same as normal lead climbing except that there was more slack in each new loop without a belayer meaning I would fall further than “normal”. I had done the climb years before and felt pretty confident. The crux second pitch focussed the mind/body/judgement totally as the climbing for me was tenuous slab climbing on slopers and very small holds. Staying in control through this section was challenging when unclipping the next loop and undoing the knot in the rope with one hand and teeth then watching the rope snake further down below my feet making a potential fall longer. There is not much protection on this steep, hanging slab section anyway for the leader but somehow up there with a slack rope I felt very alone and exposed. (Whenever I watch the video of this part I am instantly “gripped”.) Even after this section at the headwall the protection is fiddly and a little questionable. I was totally stoked to reach safe ground at the ledge. I then abseiled down the anchored rope and reclimbed the pitch with the pack using jumars as a self-belay and backup knots as I removed the protection. The water was heavy so I hauled it up next in a smaller backpack. The system worked reasonably well on this climb. It took a lot of time but unlike normal climbing with a partner I was on the go the whole time rather than spending half the time sitting belaying.
The night on the ledge was beautifully cool. The aesthetics were heightened by the situation – being surrounded by rock, sun set, evening glow, breeze, tree silhouettes, stars, dawn. The distant street lights of Canberra shimmered like the embers of a bushfire.
The second day’s climbing was easier but had its own adventure exacerbated by a strong wind which twisted the ropes and tried to blow me off the balancy moves. At the top I felt a great sense of satisfaction. I had experienced much of what I envisaged the big walls overseas to be like. Now I’m thinking about a week up on Tiger Wall and The Bluffs at Arapiles as the next step.
Please note that any solo (roped) rockclimbing activity is dangerous and requires a very high degree of skill and knowledge to apply even an elementary level of safety. The attached video is not intended as instructional material.