Monday, March 30, 2009

Sunny Day Valley and The Watchtower crags, The Grampians, Australia

After climbing the dubious dolerite rock on Tasmania our next climbing destination was The Grampians. Having heard that this should be one of the best climbing areas in Australia I was pretty psyched! However, we were now on our own with Sofia and could no longer count on Auntie Gabrielle babysitting while we were climbing, so we had to restrict our climbs to areas with single pitch climbs and very easy access! After reading the guidebook and scouting some of the crags we ended up climbing in Sunny Day Valley and The Watchtower which both had 5 min access on good paths.

Sunny Day Valley:
We first went to Sunny Day Valley at Mount Hollow. According to the guidebook this area should have high quality single pitch trad routes in all grades on perfect sandstone rock - and we were not disappointed! We started out climbing some of the easier routes to get familiar with the rock and then worked our way up to Australian grade 18 (French 6a). I immediately got totally psyched as the rock was soooooo good with nice pockets and cracks, super gear placements and excellent friction. It was like climbing on sandpaper!

Here is a short picture gallery of the climbs we did:
The Back Wall
A look down An-tics (Australian 10, French 3) - nice rounded jugs!

Hans belaying at the top of An-tics. Note the awesome looking rock formations in the background.

A look down the great corner of De Blanc (Australian grade 12, French 4).

Hans leading the nice crack route Regatta (Australian grade 13, French 4+).

Elvira at the crux of Overkill (Australian grade 17, French 5+/6a) - the best route we climbed on the Back Wall.

The Main Wall

A look down on Waxman (Australian grade 11, French 3/4).

Australian Martin Grymel leading Texas Radio and the Big Beat (Australian grade 17, French 5+/6a) - the best route that we climbed on the Main Wall.

Martin Grymel at the top of Texas Radio and the Big Beat. This was only his second lead on own gear - a good effort in my opinion!

Elvira laybacking at the top of Texas Radio and the Big Beat.

Elvira laybacking the crux start of Halfway Hotel (Australian grade 18, French 6a).

A nosy Black Wallaby looking for food near our backpacks.

The Wall of Fools with the hardest routes at Sunny Day Valley. Unfortunately, the access was to rough with a baby to we did not climb any of the routes on this magnificent wall.

The Watchtower:
The sandstone rock at The Watchtower does not hold the same high quality as Sunny Day Valley, but the 3 minute drive from our campground in Halls Gap made it possible to rush over there a couple of times to do a few climbs after laying at the pool all day or hiking in the National Park. Initially we climbed the nice corner Beelzebub (Australian grade 15, French 5) which was a trad climb.

A look down the nice corner of Beelzebub (Australian grade 15, French 5).

We then moved on to the bolted face climbs Silvertop (Australian grade 22, French 6c) and Jugular Pulse (Australian grade 21, French 6b). Face climbing is my favorite and I was thus excited to give these routes a try. Unfortunately, I had on fall in the tricky crux of Silvertop but then completed the route - no onsight this time :-(
Jugular Pulse was protected with the old fashioned Australian specialty - carrot bolts - for which you need bolt plates that we didn't have at the time. However, the routes had a shared top anchor and we could thus climb Jugular Pulse in a top rope. It was an excellent route that was significantly easier than its neighbor - too bad I could not give it an onsight attempt!

Unknown Frenchman attempting Silvertop (Australian grade 22, French 6c).

Climbing with a baby:

So this was our first time bringing baby Sofie to the crags and how was that? Well, you certainly have to lower your expectations in terms of how many routes you are going to climb per day (on average we did 2 climbs per climbing day). Other things to consider is the access as you will need to carry a lot of extra stuff (e.g. pram, food, diaper changing stuff and toys). Finally, you have to think about the safety of the baby in terms of where you place the baby while you climb as rock, gear or yourself might fall to the ground! We also experimented with which time of the day to climb in order to allow Sofie to get her naps, and found that for our baby it was best to climb in the late mornings/early afternoons, which was typically to hot for her to sleep anyways. That it was sometimes almost to hot to climb as well was just too bad for the parents.....
The logistics are thus significantly more complicated, but it should not stop you from climbing as it is definitely not an impossible undertaking!

Sofie climbing.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sacred Site (18, 35m), The Moai, Fortescue Bay, Tasman Peninsula, Australia

Ever since I saw a picture of the awesome 65 meter high column The Totem Pole standing directly out of the Tasman ocean I have dreamed of climbing it. However, the easiest route is Australian grade 24 (French 7a) which is above my onsight level and the pole thus remains out of reach for me.

The Totem Pole at Cape Hauy with the Tyrolean traverse in place. The base of the much bigger column The Candlestick is seen behind The Totem Pole. The hike out to The Totem Pole and The Candlestick is worthwhile even if you are not going to climb them - they are in a very beautiful setting.

However, when I flipped through the guidebook of selected Tasmanian climbs I stumbled upon The Moai which is another freestanding column albeit on the shore and "only" 35 meters high. I noted the route Sacred Site at Australian grade 18 (French grade 6a, US grade 5.9/5.10a) and another dream was fostered.

After climbing the routes Fiddlesticks and Moonraker on the questionable dolerite rock, Elvira had had enough of dolerite climbs and I thus needed another partner for The Moai. Luckily, Gabrielle’s neighbor Anna Brooks was a climber and was keen on going to The Moai for the third time so we ventured out to Fortescue Bay on February 27. Anna had met two Aussie climbing brothers, Max and Alex, at a previous trip to the Arapiles, and they were also keen on going so we ended up meeting them at the Fortescue Bay camp site.

The 2 hour hike to The Moai is worthwhile in itself. It begins at the beautiful Fortescue Bay beach and then venture into the bush following the coastline and passing several other beautiful bays. It was very nice to have Anna with us as it would otherwise have been tricky to find the turnoff from the hiking path to the rappel anchor leading to the base of The Moai (which is not visible from the hiking path).

The beach of Fortescue Bay with the bush in the background. One of the most beautiful approaches to a climb I have ever done!

Anna rigging up the rappel to get to the Moai seen below.

We had brought an extra 70 m rope to fix at the rappel anchor in order to be able to do the rappel in one go rather than the usual three rappels. It was a very windy day, but luckily The Moai turned out to be somewhat shielded by the shore and it was thus not too bad to climb it. However, the ocean was pretty wild, but we managed to get to the base of the climb without getting wet.

Video from the base of the rappel.

There are three routes up to the top of The Moai: Sacred Site (18), Burning Spear (22) and Ancient Astronaught (24). Max and Alex initially climbed the Blunt Instrument (alternative first pitch of Burning Spear, grade 20) while Anna and I went for the Sacred Site.

Max and Alex climbing Blunt Instrument (20). The leader is at the crux of the first pitch which was quite hard for a grade 20 in my opinion.

The first pitch of the Sacred Site route is an easy 10 meters to a belay ledge on the North-East side of The Moai (opposite of the Blunt Instrument route). I set up a belay and then the real climbing began. Initially, I followed a crack going rightwards and taking me directly above the ocean. It was a very wild experience to look down on my feet and see the roaring ocean below......

Two photos looking down at Anna belaying below.

The mental crux was just after the second bolt (there are two bolts on the second pitch which otherwise is easy to protect mainly with friends). I clipped the bolt and looked up at rock that looked pretty difficult - then I looked into the white ocean below and sunk my dry spit! However, as I moved upwards I constantly was pleasantly surprised to find good holds. Eventually, I climbed up a big flake with my hands on both sides of it, and just hoped that the whole thing wouldn't pull off! After the flake I moved leftwards and ended up at the fixed top anchors of Ancient Astronaught. It was just great to reach the anchor and yell "Yiieehaaaahhhhh".

Video from the summit of The Moai.

Anna and Hans at the summit of The Moai.

Hans rappelling from the fixed anchor of Ancient Astronaught - one 60 m rope will get you to the base of The Moai.

Once we had all climbed The Sacred Site, we started to climb up the route we had previously rappelled. The first step was easy and we thus just climbed it with a prussic on the rappel rope. When we got to the second step I saw the big chimney and yelled "Oh no! Not another chimney!?". However, it was actually quite fun to climb in contrast to the exit chimney on Moonraker on Mt. Wellington, which I had climbed the previous week. Finally, Anna led the last step which was the hardest at Australian grade 16. How weird having to climb to get out from a climb!

Anna leading the chimney (grade 12) on the second step back to the hiking trail.

Anna leading the third step (grade 16) back to the hiking trail.

As we started the 2 hour hike back to the car the sun started to set. I was in the front with my headlamp and got startled by several blue penguins standing on the hiking trail! They hurried into their burrows under big wooden logs and I just enjoyed the view and the funny noises from the penguin colony. What a perfect ending of the day!

A blue penguin on the trail - an awesome sight!

This is one of the most memorable climbs I have ever done and I fully concur with the description in the guidebook: "While there are many cliffs around Fortescue Bay, the prime attraction in the area is a triptych of dolerite spires; the Moai, the Candlestick, and the Totem Pole. Each is totally different from the other two, but they all possess an adventure-climbing flavour that adds to the appeal. These summits have retained an exclusiveness which is rare given the current popularity of rock-climbing. A trip to any one of them is not just another day at the crags - but it is a day you will surely remember for a long time to come.".


Moonraker (16, 78m), Step Tier, The Organ Pipes, Mt. Wellington, Tasmania, Australia

On February 22 Gabrielle (Elvira's sister) was super kind and took care of Sofie while Elvira and I went up to the Organ Pipes on Mt. Wellington to climb another multipitch route. We decided to climb another moderate 3-star route and chose Moonraker (16, 78 m) on the Step Tier.

Moonraker (16, 78 m). The route is marked with a red line.

Unfortunately, we made a mistake on the approach and thus ended up bush-whacking for an hour until we finally found the correct start of the route. I then started climbing a crack for 2 meters and then traversed right on dodgy rock to reach a larger crack which continued past a big cave to the 'Step' of the Tier where I set up the first belay. The crux on this pitch was to get out of the cave halfway up where I had to choose between climbing the now overhanging crack or traverse out to a thin face on the right. Sucking at climbing overhangs I chose the latter option.

Looking back at Elvira at the base of the climb and the traverse on dodgy loose rock.

Elvira climbing the upper part of the large crack on the first pitch.

The second pitch climbed the left-hand arête of the Step Tier. It turned out to be quite a hard pitch to onsight considering the moderate grade. The crux was the route finding as I constantly had to go left and right to search for the path of least resistance. Like Fiddlestick the airiness of the upper pitch (looking down at Hobart 1000 m below) and the questionable quality of the rock (dolerite just looks and feels like a lot of bricks put on top of each other!) added to the alpine atmosphere of the route.

Looking back at Elvira at the first belay on the top of the 'Step' of the Tier.

Elvira topping out on the second pitch.

According to the guidebook the third pitch was only 5 meters long, so mentally I had already finished the route when I got to the top of the second pitch - WRONG! These 5 meters was a chimney between a short rock tower and the main rock with the rappel anchor. It turned out to be awkward to get into the chimney and even worse to climb it. The chimney was as wide as my climbing shoes which prevented me from bridging the gap with my feet - and not wide enough to allow me to bend my knees to chimney up by having a foot on each side of the chimney. Having a backpack on certainly didn't make it any easier either and eventually I got myself so stuck in the chimney that I could hardly breathe. I solved the problem by finding a small crack on the right-hand side of the main rock where I managed to put in a friend without being able to see the crack. I then used the friend as a hanger for my backpack and pulled it up to the top when Elvira reached it a bit later.
Elvira squeezed into the chimney of the third pitch.

Elvira and Hans at the top of Moonraker - a bit relieved that the 'alpine' adventure is over! Hobart is seen in the background.

We quickly rappelled down using the two fixed anchors on the side of the Tier facing Hobart. On a ledge on the backside of the Tier below the second belay I noticed two sling anchors around questionable rock. It was evident that previous parties had bailed the route to avoid the last chimney. In a way I do not blame them, although I would rather climb the chimney than rappel in the rocks they had chosen as anchors!

P.S. Australian grade 16 corresponds to French grade 5+ and US grade 5.8.