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.
The girls piled off the coach, chatty and ready to go. Harnesses, biners and helmets were distributed and fitted and checked. There were two other young guides, internationals, climbers, adventurers and Lyndsay who took the lead. The atmosphere was vibrant and colourful as we snaked our way across the hillside in a long line to the crag. Jindabyne Rock sits high above the Snowy River opposite the dam where water release for the river fountained in a dull roar below. No clouds – a perfect day. It’s a great venue for an intro group with a good variety of abseiling and climbing possible with safe access routes up and down and a large view spot set back from the cliff edge at the top.
I set up the ropes for my abseil while Lyndsay did a safety talk and outlined the session for the group and their teachers. This was mainstream work for K7 Adventures who were providing the staff, equipment and the overall structure for adventurous activities this group were doing across the Snowy Mountains. They are the industry leaders in the region for roping and backcountry activities for schools, groups and individuals in summer and winter. Their activities range from guiding Mount Kosciuszko for “seven summits of the world” mountaineers to family bushwalks in the alpine areas. The company is run by Peter Cocker, a renowned climber who pioneered some of the Canberra region’s best rockclimbs (eg, Jetts Sett, Equilibrium, Integral Crack) in the earliest days of climbing locally. Together with his partner Acacia, they have built a network of very skilled and experienced guides. I was just helping out as backup while Peter and Acacia were tied up elsewhere. My introductory abseil went well. The girls psyched themselves up, pushed themselves to get over the edge and then felt the exhilaration of success as they descended.
After overseeing establishment of the other ropes Lyndsay worked the arête adjacent to my wall. He top belayed from a small ledge as his climbers worked their way up the most difficult climb. He supported, coached and challenged them then shared in their achievement while he anchored them to the belay. He then instructed them patiently as they abseiled off and down to their friends below. He’s a very capable and mature leader. As the morning progressed he kept a watchful eye on the other ropes and checked in on the abseiling groups higher up.
As we derigged and rolled ropes at the end of the day Lyndsay told me a little about his climbing in Yosemite, France, England and Wales and of his love of steep Spanish limestone. He articulated his dream to work towards his own absolute peak performance at the cutting edge of climbing. It struck me that he was at one extreme of roping and our school clients were at the other. And that Peter had provided the structure and mentoring within his business, tradition, history and experience to bring these together beautifully for the benefit of both.
Rockclimbing for personal enjoyment rather than as an educational activity for others and a huge duty of care for me. This was like revisiting some old friends – the forested granite cliffs and tracks and views that are so deeply ingrained in my psyche, climbs that felt familiar but new again after such a long layoff. Sitting on belay, still, the calming peace of the bush. An eagle soars overhead. With both Charles and myself throwbacks to the old days of double ropes and out of date protection devices that still work effectively. We both trade stories as we swap leads on two easier grade multi pitch routes (Possum, Hortensia) that provide surprisingly absorbing technical and varied climbing.
Rockclimbing has come of age now in Australia. People like me have been doing it all their adult lives into retirement. It’s no longer just the fringe sport of athletic youth. Styles and equipment, even venues, go in and out of fashion but the pursuit endures.
I wonder how long I will be able to keep climbing. Considering Armando Corvini who has lost many of his fingers and toes to frostbite in the Himalayas decades ago and is now at least 75 and still climbing I’ve got at least 20 years yet. Yay. Here we go again!
52 Adventures. That's the aim. One each week. Like any real adventure the outcome is unknown. The journey, the comrades, the solitude, the challenges, the special places are what matters. And this is the record – writing, images and video. Enjoy.