Category Archives: Trip reports
When is enough, enough? Is it wrong to want to push myself further, to explore my limits, to achieve something in my lifetime that I once thought was impossible? Is this wrong? No. I don’t think so. To me it’s a personal quest that I can’t explain. But perhaps you feel it too?
“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time”. Leo Tolstoy
“Venga Monique. Rah! Allez Monique. Rahh! Venga. Rah, Rahh, Rahhhhh!” Not much went through my mind as I fell from the top moves of Mind Control into the crisp evening air. It’s only a split second between ejection and when the boing of the rope takes hold. But memory of this moment was pure and simple, happiness. Not failure, or disappointment, but rather — wow, that was awesome! I was so excited and grateful to have had the opportunity to try something at my utmost limit. And to be climbing this route with utmost conviction was a remarkably rewarding experience for me. But I already knew that I wanted it over again. This was my final day and my final attempt on Mind Control (8c/+, 33/34) in Oliana Spain 2012. That trip I had succeeded on Fish Eye (8c, 33) and with a little time to spare I turned my focus to Mind Control. I spent one day working the route right through to the anchors and then, the very next day, the heavens opened and the top tufa remained wet. Regardless, totally infatuated by the route, I spent what time I had left working the bottom crux section, in preparation, in hope, just in case perhaps a window of opportunity would present, and the tufa would dry before we left. Indeed it did, with two days to go. It came down to the wire, last day, last shot scenario, but it was not to be.
Back home, confronting thoughts turned my mind against me. Whilst wishing that I were back in Spain my mind simultaneously concurred that climbing was a self-indulgent pursuit, that added nothing to society, and sucked up incredible amounts of time; time I didn’t necessarily have. The ‘responsible’ side argued for work and the mother in me wondered if a more ‘regular’ routine would be better for Coco. I had to be honest. When was it all going to stop – this climbing caper? How could I justify travelling back to my all-time favourite cliff in the world, when I had climbing available in my backyard? Could I find a balance, or a legitimate reason to return? I was racked with guilt but time dissipated such thoughts and along with a little udge from my friend Will Currie, I returned.
So here I am now, back at Oliana. We (Will Currie and I) have been sending and working several lines. Mind Control was initially dry when I arrived. However, I had promised myself that I would use the first weeks getting fit by trying other routes. I stuck to my guns and got some stellar climbing done. One route, Humildes pa’Arriba (8a+, 30), which can be described as the ugly duckling of the three lines that share the Mind Control start, was so enjoyable that it was a pity to do it. Next I tried China Crisis (8b+, 32), a long crimpy face climb, a great route but not exactly what I’d come to Oliana for, as it was somewhat reminiscent of the climbing that I’d get back at home. Very much my style, this route went down quickly.
After gaining some fitness I was eager to take my place in the queue for Mind Control, but my plan turned pear shaped. It rained. As I mentioned previously any bit of rain meant the Mind Control tufa would stay wet for a very long time. The weather has been testing me, over and over, with more and more rain, but still I remain unfazed. I am content because I have been trying another route, Humildes pa Casa (8b+, 32). Not just any route but in my opinion (and many would agree) the ‘King line’ of the cliff. Humildes pa Casa is impressive, a real line or more like a channel of bricks laid end to end for 20-meters, cement rendered and stuck to the cliff. Before it gets to the top however it tapers to a fin and incredibly at the same point a left hand tufa becomes available to ride for another 5-meters before the final crux arrives — some 50-meters up. This route has kept me absorbed. My mind is scattered throughout the route, brick pinching, side-pulling, lay-backing madness, with too many moves to remember the unforgiving sequences merge into craziness, a blurrrr…
Any way it was yesterday when I got to the top of Humildes that I glanced across at Mind Control and convinced myself that it could be dry, but alas it was not. More rain fell overnight and it won’t be dry again for weeks. Even Humildes pa Casa is wet now, and the reality is that I will not get the chance to finish many projects this trip. Yes it’s disappointing, I am frustrated to feel close to doing these extraordinary routes and then have to have to walk away. That’s the way it goes sometimes. Still it has been a fantastic trip. I tried hard and did a lot of great climbing. I love it here, the energy is contagious, I feel a part of a greater international family here. Can’t wait to see you all again next time!
PS. Special thanks to my new sponsor Climb On — for their hand creams that I used for breakfast, lunch and dinner and between each burn on this trip. Last year I had up to five fingers taped at any given time due to the splits in my fingers – but this year I had none of those problems. Thanks Climb On!
After completing the Queensland guidebook we packed the car to the rafters and headed to ‘The Mount’ (Mount Arapiles) to stay for while. We set up camp in the gums and went climbing…as you do. Araps is flooded with climbing history, it whispers in your ear when you’re climbing, it rustles the leaves in the trees and oozes out of the gullies. I tried some classics, succeeded on some and failed on others…as you do. I felt compelled to get back to the times, get back into lycra. And so I found Gloria who fitted me out with neon tights that I am sure gave me super powers. This idealistic situation lasted for two weeks, long enough for me to send Ethiopia, but as the temps reached the ridiculous we retreated to Natimuk (Nati).
Nati is a community in for the long haul, a hive of enthusiasm buzzing to the beat of one drum…positivity, creativity, longevity, sustainability. In Nati if you don’t have solar panels on your roof, water tanks and a vege patch the you’d better hurry to keep up with the Jones’. We stayed with Louise Shepherd and admired all her efforts to live a low impact life. Thanks Louise. The Nati Cafe was our savior from the heat with thank god air-con, coffee infusions and free wi-fi. Friday night at the cafe is the night to catch up with old friends and enjoy a great meal. If your feeling energetic then early Saturday mornings limber up at Marissa’s yoga class or join the pedaling peloton for a ride up the Mount.
All too soon or time was up. But this time I’m not waiting another six years for a return visit. We have already planned some Mount time for this year….hope to see you there!
Our Queensland trip got extended a bit… things changed, we loved exploring a new place without the long haul flight. Here’s a roundup, don’t mind my blabbering.
At Frog we found bombproof rhyolite crack lines divine
Stuff any body part, or gear in them, and you will be fine
Down your eyes as you push through grass trees
If someone yells ‘ROCK’ run for cover, put your head between your knees
A little further north, The Glasshouse Mountains we found
Celestial and Clemency walls had it all, multi-pitch trad routes abound
They are on Mt Tibrogargan, Tibro for short
Whilst you are there do visit the caves and Slider, if you seek sport
Just up from the beach, Mt Coolum sits proud
Here knee bars, butt scums and body tetris is the way around
You’ll either love it or hate it, I had a ball
Be sure to savour Screaming Insanity, Wholly Calamity, Spoonman, Chevy and The Call
Up, up, further north to Brooyar we went
there Coco Pops, The Great Devoid, Little Wednesday were sent
The sandstone is coarse, gritty at best
Toby Saunders rates the Black Stump and Eagles Nest
Whilst at Cooroora we ogled at rubble brought down by the rain
We sampled two routes, a lichenous slab, an airy arête, both awesomely insane
Up the road from Cooroy, round the back of beyond, just near JJ’s freehold
Poignantly sits, Mt Tinbeerwah, slabs kitted with rap stations and bolts, I am told
Last there is Serpent a trudge up the hill
Be sure to climb Minotaur (17) a crag classic if you will
Do turn around to savour the scenery
Susy G says watch out for snakes that hide in the greenery
Then we were gone….Goodbye to Sir Coolum you kept to your name
I worked out some semantics (thanks JJ) of how to play your body contorting game
Goodbye Tassie Dave who elbow jammed the Smoked Banana in a white shirt
And likewise to crust eating Joel, Mary, Babsi, Tash, Gemma, Leon and Geiske in her sexy skirt
I’m pointing my finger in search of a conviction
Its JJ and Rob who are to blame for re-igniting my chilli addition
Coco had fun camping, making new friends and stringing bead necklaces
At Noosa she met up with her uncles and she put a big smile on their faces
But mostly she wants to say thank you to Sandra, a big hug and a kiss go to you
For making her a Red Phoenix Emporium silk dress, complete with green buttons and a pink bow too
Also huge thanks go to Donna who made Coco a doll and rescued her ballet tights from a whopping great hole
There is so much left to do so next when I’m back I’ll have a new tick list
The Trousers, Devils Dihedral, Child in Time, Evil and The Beast from the East
So now sunny Queensland I bid you adieu
thanks for the memories, blue skies, custard tarts and also the flu.
The first time I heard about the route Whistling Kite (32), aka ‘The Kite’, located at Frog Buttress in Queensland, was a few years back through Duncan Steel, a local legend from Brisbane, who was working the line at the time and had kept me up to date with his progress. I clearly remember the day that he called to tell me of his success, I could hear the smile in his voice. Five years on I finally find myself at Frog and like Duncan I’m going through the motions of trying this wafer thin face climb. Like a slippery snake it’s hard to get a hold of it and it’s ever harder to keep a hold of it, you are either on, or you are off, there is no in-between. The bulletproof face is dead vertical with very few face holds making the climbing very much on the feet, extremely balancey, and uber technical. The climbing weaves its way up a shallow seam and you climb it by employing thumb presses, side-pulls, laybacks, a knee scum, some finger locks and strangely enough not by jamming it. ‘The Kite’ is predominately protected by natural gear, which is good when you can get it and would be very hard to place on lead. It also has three bolts where no natural pro is available and so the route has only been done with pre-placed gear. The sun hits the face early, 9.30am, shade is your friend, any bit of extra friction counts when using credit card edges.
I had been on the route four days, certainly making progress through the lower and upper sections, but the main crux, midway, still had me baffled. I only wanted to spend one more day on it to see if I could come up with a working sequence. Day five, fresh and with new skin, I went straight to the middle crux and dogged some moves. The night before I had thought of a new possible sequence and so put that to the test. It didn’t work the first time but as I got it sorted something was coming together. By the end of the session, not only had I climbed this crux I was making great linkages on the upper and lower sections. Game on.
Day six, I decided that I had to start leading the beast to sort out the clipping spots and to get my head around the falls. Let’s say it wasn’t my best performance and I only just managed to do all the moves and get to the top, once. My mind was shot but I was positive. It took me four more days of gradually linking more moves, pushing my high point higher, and higher, honing my sequence. Each time I was working out more finite details of body positioning, pull and hold with this arm, release with the other, trusting marginal footers, getting into a rhythm and remembering to breathe. This is definitely the most technical route that I have come across. It was a pleasure to work and very satisfying to unlock. Attempting The Kite chewed up my time and skin for climbing other routes. There are so many really awesome routes at Frog that I can’t wait to get back there next year.
I had been warned, or let’s say even deterred, to visit Coolum crag, mainly due to the knee bar, knee pad shenanigans to be found there, basically anything goes. I love trying new things and felt compelled to give it a go. To my surprise I very much enjoyed this style of climbing. The entry level is grade 20, but the 23/24 is a far more enjoyable warm up. I discovered that the way to become ‘at one’ with the routes at Coolum is not to fight and muscle your way through the moves, but instead, use body positioning to optimise the holds available. Think of the climbing at Coolum like playing a 3D game of Tetris, a metropolis of skyscraper buildings turned 90 degrees. Now imagine that you are the falling piece, imagine morphing and molding yourself into the rock slotting in sideways into the fissures. Cool hey!
Coolum is funky and John (aka JJ) O’Brien is the master of funk and a Coolum groover from way back. He has all the moves and has done some of the routes here over 100 times. For a warm up he’ll easily romp up Holey Calamity (26) or even Call of Duty (28) in his Volley’s, putting me to shame. I may be left floundering, but I’m loving this new beat and besides with JJ as my guide I’m in very good hands.
Coolum Send Fest weekend (28th and 29th July) was busy and to escape the queues we (JJ and I) spent most of our time on the upper tier, left side. Wafts of freshly brewed coffee kept our minds buzzing and our boodies boogying. We managed a few crag classics before coming back to earth.
Following on from my previous post, here’s an update of my progress on Fish Eye. For some background, Fish Eye is a 50-metre, steadily over-hanging, stella line which blasts up the centre of the cliff and was established by Chris Sharma. It gets its name from the ‘fisheye’ perspective, bowing of the cliff, when you stand beneath it; unlike my theory that it was named after the ‘fisheye-like’ pocket at the top crux. After 28 meters of physical punchy climbing you reach the first crux; made up of 13 hand moves through the blue rock which take in a series of under clings, long spans and a deadpoint throw to reach the rail, where you need to work hard to gain a rest if you’re to get anything back. Following a solid move off the rail its sustained running between pockets until you gain the final open hand grapefruit rest. From there its 14 hand moves to the anchors, skipping one clip along the way, the first four moves off the rest are the critical ones.
The most frustrating thing about this route, or even Oliana for that matter, is that it has a very short red pointing window. It’s in the sun all day until about 4pm and only recently have the days been getting longer, till about 7pm now. Unfortunately this translates to one red point burn per day if you get high up on the route or possibly two burns if you fall at the lower crux. For me it’s not a given that I will get through the lower crux and so many days I don’t even get a look in at the top crux.
After four days of working Fish Eye (this trip) I reached my high point, or the upper crux, for the first time. I was very surprised to say the least. I pretty much knew all the way up that I didn’t have the fitness to see this thing through to the chains. But I was climbing it, I was in with a chance, slim but I was there, not for long enough. The second time I reached the upper crux was again a surprise. In fact it was my warm-up burn and I felt so good on the bottom crux that I just decided to keep going. I was carrying a cold pump all the way, but the whole cliff was yelling ‘Venga’ and it motivated me to keep pushing. When I left the last rest I felt pretty fresh but I guess I was so blasted and dehydrated that when I went to crimp my fingers just didn’t work. The brain was sending a signal but I stared in disbelief at my dumb digits that did not follow the command. I did not try this tactic again.
I cannot recall anything special about the third time up at the last crux, only that I fell off, again. After some more dogging I was convinced that I had unlocked the puzzle, and so I was psyched again, charged with new hope that I could send the route with my newly cut key. So on I plugged and this is how it goes. The fourth go up at the last crux I rushed the moves, didn’t seat my fingers in the shallow pocket properly, the tape slipped and so I fell off screaming, again. The fifth go up at the last crux I held the pocket, got my hips in, reached up tall for the crimp, got it, but got it badly, then my next foot placement was out, my arse sagged and so I fell off, screaming, again. The sixth go up at the last crux I had three fingers (instead of one) heavily taped with deep splits underneath. It was just ‘a see what happens burn’ and surprisingly I was staring at the high crux again. I could smell the rain in the air, the wind picked up and then the rain started, I could hear it coming. I rushed from the rest before I was ready. Again I came off screaming in disbelief as a flood of bitter disappointment hit me like a brick.
And so the rains came, they threw everything they had down on Oliana for three repugnant days. Then as quickly as they came, they stopped and the sun reappeared. And so my saga continues. The seventh go up at the last crux I was sick but fresh. I thought this time for sure. But it was not to be. I don’t know for the life of me what I did or didn’t do wrong, but I had already decided to walk away and try other routes, and so I did. When I came back to Fish Eye a few days later I was psyched again. The eighth go up at the last crux everything went perfectly. I adjusted my foot placement only slightly (as planned), drilled into the shallow pocket, grew three inches, crushed the next crimp, squeezed the life out of the right pinch and continued to the top in what seemed like slow motion. Eventually my day had come. Wow what a journey. In the end it took me 20 days in total, over two trips. Thank you Simon, and I’m sure Simon thanks that belay slave god out there once again. Thanks to Chris for establishing such an amazing line and to Daila for your inspiration and kind encouragement. Thank you Rosemary & Keith and my mother, Diane, for giving me the opportunity to return to Spain and attempt my dreams. Thanks also to Allie and Tamara for your wonderful support.
Some things have changed but many are the same; there are no leaves, the sky is clear and brighter, the air still smells of shit (fertilizer), the resident kitten is now a cat, in the park a new donkey statue now stands, my running shoes are more worn and thankfully the circuit around the lake is certainly much easier. Coco still fits the same swimming costume but she is much heavier. Cell still greets us every day with her happy smile and the merry-go-round still goes around and around and around to the same tune for one euro.
We’ve headed back to Spain partly to escape the torrential rain which still continues to hammer the Blue Mountains but more so just to be climbing the incredible limestone on offer here in Catalunya. The atmosphere is electric and super inspiring with big names dispatching Oliana’s test pieces in rapid fire. Daila Ojeda sent Mind Control (8c+) just before our arrival. Her ascent has smashed the aura of the route and paved the way for other women to think it possible to also climb it. Already it has seen two more female ascents and there are others waiting in the wings to give it a shot. Daila has also sent her nemesis El Gran Blau (8b/+) and Joe Kinder has bolted a direct start which should weigh in at 8c+. Colette McInerney smashed her project Mon Dieu (8a+) in slick style after vowing to try harder, you go girl! Add Adam Ondra et al to the mix and things are really spicy and just when you’d think the line-up complete, enter; Sam Elias, hot chickee babe Sasha DiGiulian, Keith Ladzinski and Andrew Mann. With such a colossal scene and super superb conditions I’m itching to see what unfolds.
As for me, first up, I’m throwing myself at Fish Eye (8c), trying to wrap up some unfinished business from last year. I’m psyched. I reached a highpoint a few days ago, so that’s progress indeed. Unfortunately I’ve gone backwards since then as the dryness has caused my fingers to explode along fault lines like sausages in a frying pan. It’s been a mixed blessing getting back on such a hard route. On the one hand it’s been encouraging doing moves which I struggled with previously, but on the other hand, despite all of my training, it’s been tough regaining the route fitness which I had over three months ago.
Hola again. Oh my goodness, the climbing can’t get much better than this, can it? I am in love with the routes here in Oliana. For the last three weeks I have been throwing myself whole heartedly at a route called Fish Eye (8c). It’s the hardest route I have tried to date and I am completely immersed in the process of gradually working out the individual moves and lately linking long sections. I knew from the start that the probability of sending this route in the time that I had would be slim, take out rainy days, seepage etc and that narrows the odds even further. But it didn’t matter, if we did everything based on the outcome well, why would we bother sometimes? It’s the process that counts. All I hoped to achieve by attempting something so hard was to see what it was like to get on an 8c. What I learnt is simply that 8c is somewhat harder than an 8b+, funny that, what else should I expect? But also that going up a grade doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an impassable barrier, quite the opposite, now with renewed energy and belief in my climbing, 8c seems even more possible than ever.
Fish Eye is not one of the distinctive tufa lines here at Oliana but what it lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in the action. It climbs incredibly well and its 60-metres take in very steep ground and finishes off with a super sustained headwall. I was inspired to try this route after seeing a video of Daila Ojeda making the first female ascent. And for me, on my second last day of the trip I got through the harder cruxes down low and climbed within a few moves from the end. Oh well it was not to be this time, I tried my hardest , I learnt a lot, my climbing has progressed in leaps and bounds and above all I am so psyched about taking my climbing to the next level.
Here are some photos that Simon just sent to me. They are a sneak peak of the photo shoot that we did on the super spectacular Tom et je Ris (8b+) in the Verdon Gorge. They are not his best shots, but that’s all he will give for the moment as he is sending the killer shots out to some magazines.
And for the rest of the route (and photos) you’ll have to wait.
I did it! It was a fight to the very end. In the high crux I was certain that I was off. I even screamed out, Noooo, as I came up short with my left hand. I dug deep; slammed a right heel against the tufa, managed a quick shake for my left hand only and then I just kept to my sequence and kept going through the motions, screaming with each move. To my amazement I arrived at the last cave and took a very long rest.
So needless to say that I am on cloud nine, I have achieved something that I have been dreaming about for several years now. It almost feels unreal. For photos.