Monday, November 30, 2009

Duelling with Dr C


Dr C and I had so much fun the first time that we climbed together in the Wolgan Valley – the highlight being the four-pitch jamfest of Cactus (18) – that we decided to do it again.

So on Saturday morning I lobbed into the Capertee campsite at 7.30am after six hours’ sleep at the Shady Acres Norman Bates Memorial Hotel in Lithgow. Dr Carl was already there, finishing off his breakfast, having lobbed in from Mittagong the night before.

After a quick gear sort we were off on our email pre-planned mission – climb Secret Swinger (16) on Lower Baldy to access the half-way ledge and then climb Scimitar (18) on Upper Baldy.

A straw poll of some climbing buds prior to the trip had put Scimitar marginally ahead in the preferred route stakes over Excalibur (17). But as it turned out Carl and I managed to do both Scimitar and Excalibur, presented as we were with perfect weather.

For those who aren’t familiar with Upper Baldy, Scimitar is the right-hand crackline up the soaring 100m face while Excalibur is the middle crack and crazy old Sword of Damocles (still 16M5) is the left-hand route.

It was my fourth trip up pitches 1 and 2 of Secret Swinger– a classic 50m right-facing corner – so Carl led the crux pitch. I led the second and then linked it with the little 10m third pitch that tops out on the half-way ledge. (The third pitch – a small crack – is actually a ripper, making Secret Swinger even more of a must-do Lower Baldy route).

On the half-way ledge we ambled up the base of Scimitar. Standing at the bottom the radical fore-shortening of perspective made the route look less daunting than it is when viewed from the campsite. The rock revealed itself as heavily featured sandstone with lots of ironstone edges.

We decided to make the four-pitch Scimitar into a two-pitch route. The first pitch wanders up a diagonal crack to small cave and a bit of an overhang. A well-protected, grunty move gets you over the bulge – on perfect jams and positive edges – followed by some steep climbing to a comfy belay in a sentry box.

Carl then followed up with two equally sterling grade 17 pitches which were sustained and well protected. We completed the route in under three hours and were back on the deck before 3pm, after rapping the face using the two ring-bolted Stiletto rap stations. (And despite being a stinking hot day we were in shade for the entire climb due to Old Baldy being a south-facing crag).

Mid-abseil down Old Baldy we were amazed to see another party on Scimitar. I talked to the bloke who'd just led the first two pitches. He "confessed" – unprompted – to being a sport climber and told me not to look at his gear placements. I suppose that Carl and I were quite baddie traddie-looking being hirsute and helmeted. His girlfriend - trailing a second rope – appeared to be complaining rather than climbing the face.

On Sunday the great weather continued but with the temperature feeling abut 10 degrees cooler. Dr C was so enthusiastic about doing another excursion up Old Baldy to do Excalibur that I immediately dumped the lazy monkey off my back and began to excitedly rack up.

To access the half-way ledge this time we decided to climb The Chain (8) to avoid the hot sun on the other routes and to avoid climbing Secret Swinger again.

All I can say about The Chain is it’s standard old-school, low-graded weirdness or "funky" as Carl described it. It's probably about grade 14 and contains more sand and leaves than rock on the first of its four pitches. Carl led the first three pitches and I thrutched up the final exit chimney pitch to the half-way ledge .

At the base of Excalibur things felt a bit more serious than the previous day. Even from the ground the rotten rock of the first pitch and the roof exit from the cave at the start of the second looked harder than Scimitar, despite Excalibur being graded 17 to Scimitar’s 18.

I decided to lead pitches 1 and 2 of Excalibur (17) as a single pitch to save time.

Wade Steven's Wolgan guide calls the second pitch 16 of Excalibur and pitches four and five as grade 17 equal cruxes. My response to that is bullsh*t! The second pitch roof move is as hard or harder than the other two crux pitches on Excalibur. The Penney/Taylor Wolgan guide lists Excalibur's pitches 2, 4, 5 as equal crux pitches which is correct.

In fact Excalibur as a complete route feels as hard as Scimitar and I reckon should be regarded as an 18. I think the roof move on Excalibur is harder than that on Scimitar - Carl agrees - but the whole route still has a grade 18 feel. Similar sentiments were expressed by half a dozen people I’ve spoken to before and after the climb.

After the combined first pitch Carl and I swung leads. I think my semi-hanging belay was a couple of metres lower than the "small stance" above the roof as per the guidebook. As a result Carl certainly had a long pitch on the grade 15 pitch 3 (as per guide) where the crack goes diagonally right to a small right-facing corner.

Pitch 4 (as per the guide) was a beauty. Once again with my arse was hanging out in the air - as it was on the first crux – I surmounted a cruxy bulge followed by some steep climbing to the stance.

Pitch 5 (as per the guide) gave Carl something to think about as he worked out how to get past the crux bulge. He succeeded after a couple of downclimbs (no weighting of the rope). Being on second I decided to launch up it head-on: a bouldery deadpoint dispensed with it easily enough.

We celebrated on top and gabbled excitedly about how brilliant both routes were.
Then we again rapped down Stiletto and were eating a late lunch on the halfway ledge at 4pm.

To summarise: Scimitar at 18 feels much less intense - with one crux and comfy belays - than Excalibur at 17 which we think is actually an 18 with possibly three grade 18 crux pitches and small belay stances, including a hanging belay.

Gear on both climbs is impeccable. With a fall rack of Friends and three extra Camalots plus four hexes and big nuts there was not one section of either route that felt runout or unprotected.

Four routes, no falls and perfect weather and two cold bottles of beer in the river waiting for us before the drive home! All in all a brilliant weekend.


PICS: A few here with the routes marked and one of a bloke rapping down the face: