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Ethics and Retreat


“Ethics and Retreat”

Secret spot #2

14 – 16 April

Rockclimbing – more new routes

What marks do we leave on the world?

What do we leave behind?

What is the evidence of our passing through?

Any published writings. A pile of detail and forgotten emails in the digital cloud. For a time we rest in the hearts of our surviving loved ones. Maybe our stories persist with our friends and family. In Education our legacy is probably fairly short lived, with a possible few students being deeply affected in their own lifetimes if we are lucky. Research. Roads, buildings and inventions in other industries are longer lasting and more tangible. A carbon tonnage in the sky. In other cultures and countries our footprints are much lighter.

Of the whole volume of outdoor rockclimbing activity in Australia probably less than one percent involves the pioneering and establishment of new climbs. The vast majority of activity takes place on existing routes at cliffs that are documented on the web and in guidebooks. Cliffs are the country, mostly exclusively, of climbers. No-one else has the interest and expertise to venture beyond the tracks worn at the base of the crags. Loose rocks are quickly removed from higher up to make the climbing safe. Ethical debate rages in some circles about the placement of bolts which last for aeons. Some climbers don’t use chalk because it can remain in places on the rock protected from rain. Even in national parks cliff care groups do access track maintenance.

Last thing in the afternoon on day 1 I had descended a route and “cleaned” off the loose rock. The process involves carefully threading the abseil rope into a small backpack with the end tied off at the top. This allows you to abseil down the rope as it feeds out of the bag on your back. Any rocks that fall do not hit and damage the rope as it does not hang below. A prussic backup is insurance for any rocks that might fall from above and hit the climber as s/he descends. This turned out to be a sometimes loose cliff with giant columns stacked like huge “pick up sticks”. Parts of it were a climber’s delight – solid with zooming lines. A loose rock made a scar on the talus below as I worked my way downwards. The climbing looked hard but there were several resting spots.

Next morning I launched up. The climbing was superb. Sustained. Hard for me. The protection was excellent. Technical jamming of all types. Thrilled at the top to have been climbing well on steep, difficult, high quality stone. I called the climb “Scar Tissue”, grade 19 or 20. This cliff is on an outlying ridge out the middle of nowhere. Who knows if there will ever be a guidebook or even if anyone will ever climb it again? The climb exists now. A claim to fame? Evidence that I passed through?

Secret crag #2

Late in the day I led up a blocky corner and then out onto a steepening wall. Again the climbing was superb. Long reaches. High step ups. Balance. Thin cracks provided opportunities for protection but fiddling in small wires that wobbled in the parallel sides didn’t inspire confidence. I’d pulled off a hold on another climb and was spooked by the time I reached a hard section that verticalled.

“Did you hear that thunder?” Ian from below.

A wire and tiny cam didn’t feel like enough. Hesitation. Another look at full stretch. Only this section and we’d be on the half way ledge. It was getting late. I lacked confidence in my strength and was afraid of the unknown and psyched out by the questionable protection lower down.

“I’m lowering off”. The decision made. Not to push myself through. We don’t often retreat together. I wasn’t up to it. Not now. Not today. Our plans would have to change for the next day as we would have to return to retrieve the gear and rope or finish the climb. Disappointed.

It wasn’t far back to the top and then to the car. Almost dark under heavy cloud when we arrived and rain started. 10 minutes later it was pelting down. Had I pushed on and made it we would have been on the climb in the heavy rain and fading light. An epic avoided.

The rock was dry in the morning. We both abseiled the route again. I had a close inspection and removed some moss from a key ledge. The climbing was achievable but I still maintained it was too hard for me to lead. Ian set off from the ground. At the vertical he placed a couple more pieces of gear then committed. He did the moves to the small ledge then got tangled up and fell. His top wire pulled. The rope stretched. Eight meters down he came to a stop. Unhurt. A clean fall. He doesn’t fall very often. Rest. Back up to the high point his solution to every climbing problem is to put in some more pro. Next shot he cruised it. Yay. His push through was very impressive. I enjoyed following. The second pitch was a classic. Exposed channel chimney right up the prow. What a climb!

Ian at the steepening

Ian at the steepening