Arapiles – day 8
I don’t usually have moments of terror while climbing. Heights don’t make my head swim. Exposure is pretty fine. I do find leading scary, but it’s in a controlled manner of heightened risk awareness – I mostly lead miles below my grade. Speedy probably sees this as a sign of my innate laziness as a climber. He hasn’t stopped pushing himself to his limits since he was a kid, and he’s an incredibly good technical climber. I just mosey along, enjoying the experience, the view, the thrill, usually from the safety of seconding, and with an eye to writing amusingly about it later.
Occasionally though, the universe decides that it’s time to shake, rattle, and roll.
The climb was Xena. D and Speedy had done it earlier in the trip, singing its virtues. Heck, I’d done it (second) on a previous trip, and really enjoyed it. Off D trots, and finds that it’s not as fun as he remembers: he’s feeling a bit feverish, and is having trouble remembering sections of the route. He is, in common parlance, off-color.
#14 is the route. Image from Arapiles: Selected Climbs by Simon Mentz & Glenn Tempest
I volunteer to lead the next pitch. We’ve left the guide at home, so I generally follow the line of the cliff till I reach a large, comfortable ledge. Pretty sure that this is the end of my pitch. I’ll forge on a bit higher towards the Eagles Nest. I can see it above me in distance. But: left or right? Right looks better trodden. Left looks more straightforward. I decide. Left.
Very soon, the universe will tell me that this was a mistake. I move on up, into the shady cleft below the belay ledge down and to the right of Eagle’s Eyrie. Here’s a close up:
It looked ok. A bit thin, but decent handholds and a straightforward, somewhat thin run to the finish. I went up a meter or so, and fiddled around. Placed a purple nut. Moved up again, scoped out my handholds. The big block sticking out to my left was detached. Hollow thunking when I rapped it with my knuckles. Stepped up level with it. Good left foothold. Ok right. Looked up. Put my right hand on a column of rock and pulled to move up…
…it collapsed under my hand. Suddenly I wasn’t climbing. I was balanced on my feet, juggling two huge pieces of detached rock, pressing the enormous base to the wall, and watching the face-sized top fragment wobble on top.
“Rock!” I shouted, as a general warning. “Roooooocckk!”
Looked down. Purple nut a meter below me. Next runner around that corner, make it five meters away. On the ledge I’d decided to leave. Tiptoe Ridge off the left. Possibly many people on the ground or the wall beneath. My rope beneath. My belayer, D, beneath. I couldn’t let them go. In my favor: solid feet. Looking around for a solution. The top of the detached block was flat.
In moments of stress, I talk to myself.
I let go of the cliff face with my left hand, lean forwards, and reach across to stone #1. Super static. Rock #1 moved across. I sit it down sooooo carefully. Then grab the cliff again. That’s the easy one. It probably only weighed a kilo.
Problem. I can’t lift Rock #2 one handed. I try. It’s as long as my forearm from elbow to knuckles, and I can’t close my hand around it. It’s the rough shape around as a 2L milk bottle. I’m pushing it, open handed, against the cliff face. It is too heavy to lift. It’s too big to let go.
Which means I have to let go. I release my left hand hold, and reach across. Grasping the stone two handed, it’s easy to manage. I move ever so slowly, feeling for a (terminal? Dangerous?) change in my balance, and ease it in front of me across to the detached block. Once settled, I can use my left hand to lift Rock #1, and gently lay #2 down, before replacing #1. That done, I give myself permission to hyperventilate for five seconds. Then stop, and check the rocks again. They are as stable as I can make them. The thought of them smashing down the cliff onto someone makes me sick. Can I down climb and remove the purple nut so that D can bypass this horrible fornicating gully? No.
I climb the remaining 3m, testing every hold before I weight it. And then spend 20 minutes setting up the most bomb proof belay you’ve ever seen on the ledge above. D comes up, warned about the gully and block.
“Your placements were shit. Good climbing through bad terrain on bad gear.”
After that, D leads the final pitch. I have to use my nut tool to free three of my four belay placements, one of them a cam.
What happened next?
We walked down to the car. All four of us went for lunch at the Natimuk Cafe. Climbed Eskimo Nell, while Speedy and Triumphant went up Dunes. Had a lovely afternoon.