Drawing the line
Bungonia – Cooee Point
An old cable linked rusted metal stakes drilled hard into limestone. The barrier to an old safety fence at a lookout now abandoned. Cooee Point. A mate had pushed one of the first climbing routes up the cliff below in the seventies. “Old and Grey”. It had a fearsome reputation for lack of protection and a crux through loose overhangs at the very top of the 300m wall. Times change. Now bolted sport routes at the current limits of human climbing capability lace up most of the rock. Bold and sustained. The preserve of those at the cutting edge of physicality and adventure spirit. This is one of the biggest cliffs in Australia.
I played mind games with the cable while I set anchors, rechecked knots and placed protective carpets over the sharp textured stone on the rounded edge. Caleb went fearlessly over the edge. Dan abseiled down further to the right. On a spare shorter rope I ducked the cable and lowered myself to the brink then locked off. The space sucked at my psyche and tried to pull me down. 300m of verticality below my feet. I’ve never been comfortable abseiling and this just didn’t feel right. The plan was to multi-pitch abseil all the way to the gorge floor. We hoped to link up anchor systems on existing climbs or find natural anchors when we needed them. A commercial company advertises a 300m abseil down this cliff. Maybe we could find a way down. The hoped for series of double ring bolt anchors were not in the area Caleb and Dan had gone down.
We moved further along and found evidence of climbers developing routes. Lots of shiny new bolts at the top and lines of rings plunging below. Glue containers, carpets and drink bottles were stashed in an alcove back from the edge. Caleb went over and found a ring bolt anchor 30m down and then spied more bolts further on. We may have found the top pitches of a super hard climb a couple of Dan’s friends had been working on. I tied on and photographed at the edge. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if I had just got on the rope and gone down. Red flags marched into mind. The edge area was sloping and unstable here. Pulling down the rope would be tricky over edges. The climbing guidebook highlighted the loose nature of some of the rock. Caleb found a broom on a ledge. I started to feel like this was not the place for us – abseiling. Some times your gut takes over. Intuition? Instinct? Experience climbing big cliffs – Frenchmans, Bluff Mountain and Buffalo – from the ground up where you get used to the exposure as you ascend – made me feel we were somehow crossing a threshold in this place. We didn’t belong here, like this.