Piracy on the High Pharos

A short one today, but my tale, me hearties, be rich in loot. 

Weather due hot. Headed out early to the Pharos, an incredibly imposing Rameses-esque massif which stands by itself in front of the main cliff. Forgot to take a photo as I’ve done so often before, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Envision a seated figure, Egyptian in style, which rises from the gentle slope to survey the countryside in remote disdain. At this time of year, the Pharos’ torso bears the streaks of many nesting sites, so we decided to launch an assault from the right flank. D and I commenced up new terrain to Spiral Staircase (the proper start as we’ve done it before is a nasty, thrutchy ramp), while Speedy and Triumphant started The Shroud. 

Beautiful climbing. Met up with our co-climbers on the “tennis court”, a large flat section probably around clavicle height. Fun moves up the bottleneck to another step across (sadly little reaction from Triumphant, but she has seasoned well after yesterday’s glorious outing on Guiding Light), and up to the crown. D sent me up to scout out the way to our rappel point – we did do this one with Rocket a few years ago, so the territory was familiar. 

Me, just below the final section, and Speedy, belaying Triumphant. Photo credit to D. 

And then… it happened. I found an offering to the goddesses of sky and stone, nay, to the Great Gecko itself, S/He who licks His/Her eyeballs. I found… loot. From what I can surmise, someone failed to properly clip on a large hex, complete with sling and karabiner. It lay there, a shining promise in the glaring sun. 

View from the top of the bluff. 

Finders keepers, as they say. It’s mine. And if you (O Misfortunate of Mortals) find this entry and wish to reclaim it, I shall require Most Diverse Proofs of its history with you. Right now it looks very nice on my rack. 
Not much for the rest of the day; we abseiling out the uh… back… of The Pharos (positioned appropriately for voiding climbers), trundled down to the car, and lunched in the pines. Hot, with a nice breeze. As I’m still hacking like an ex-smoker after my recent flu, Triumphant and I decided to head into Horsham to resupply, while D and Speedy went off to tackle some shady bluffs near the Pillars of Hercules. 

Looking for a pub dinner, if it’s open on a Monday. 

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Death by Peregrines Redux

Arapiles day 1, afternoon 

The peregrines had not forgotten us. 

Meditations on oranges aside, we finished up our meal and decided to drive over to Mitre Rock, the furthest outcrop of Arapiles climbing. We recommended Speedy and Triumphant do The Bishop, which we expected to be in the shade, while D and I decided to check out Serpent nearby. Things were not as shady as expected (the sun is getting more southerly its arc at the moment), which was ok. Speedy started up The Bishop while we eyeballed the unexpectedly wet Serpent. Sploodgy, sticky serpent scales. Ah well! 

But before we could commence, we discovered that we were, again, in close proximity to an active peregrine nest. Two of them fluttered near a hitherto unnoticed break in the cliff, within ten metres of Speedy (what is this karmic debt to birds of prey, Speedy?), who said, “Oh, shit.” 

Luckily the residents of Mitre Rock are more mellow than their cousins. These two were preoccupied with chittering, performing a little dance/wrestle in mid air,  before vanishing into their home. However polite the neighbours, we know when to take a hint. We vacated the cleft hastily. 

D on his and Speedy’s climb

With that classic unattainable, Speedy and D turned their attentions to a short 14 to be right of Guiding Light, an optimistically graded 6. I decided to practice my lead on what is, for the most part, a glorified staircase curving its way up the “cliff”. I say this now. I said this before starting. As usual, one’s perspective shifts while committing to the deed, and I reflected that, glorified staircase or otherwise, it is better not to fall. A good, fun lead. Rope drag is the biggest issue with this climb, and I had pillaged my rack of slings to extend placements before halfway. Groaned up the last few moves with the weight of a horse trailer dragging at my harness. The peanut gallery was already in place at the top of a lovely little three metre wall – Speedy had extended their climb at the top into Guiding  Light for some additional interest. Brought up Triumphant, and then I popped up the wall and started off down the step across. This is an intimidating step (and fun); having done it before you know that the step is like ripping off a bandaid, unpleasant but not likely to hurt you. Triumphant knew on some theoretical level that a step across was pending, but appeared unprepared for the gaping abyss which faced her. I’ve never heard her swear so much! The rest of us (unsympathetic swine) were in stitches. I tried to restrain my giggles, as unbefitting of a leader on belay. Hilarious. 

A seriously chilled wallaby didn’t mind hanging out with us at Mitre Rock.

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Death by Peregrines

Arapiles Day 1

We haven’t been to Arapiles for a few years. The last trip, with D and Rocket, we saw Alex Honnold climbing on the walk down from Arachnis. We’ve never been here in spring. I’m used to sullen shrubs hunching in the sun, and winding paths trodden to dust between bleached dead tussocks. 
It’s green. Flowering. The dead seed cases that I am used to are luscious maroon-black  and juicy. The eastern rosellas are squabbling in the pines, and the peregrine falcons are circling. But we haven’t noticed them yet: as I’ve said, we have previously only climbed here in autumn, not in the breeding season. 

D and I decide to climb Beau Geste, a 136m grade 9. My parents are on this trip with us. Let’s call them Speedy and Triumphant. They’ve just finished 9 months of cycle touring in South America, and are lean and keen. Speedy is an old hard man who sprints up each climb; and Triumphant complains her way to each success. Maybe it functions as fuel? They commence up Harlequin Crack, an 80m grade 10, off to our right. We ended up not doing a lot of Beau Geste, starting up a arête just to the left, before crossing back into the route. Speedy disregarded all instructions and went straight through the untracked wilderness. We didn’t know that in between us there was a peregrine nest. First warning. An over sized, chittering, shrieking, chicken is swooping and hovering over Speedy at 3-6m distance. For a small falcon, they look damned large and intimidating next to a person. In what is perhaps Speedy’s finest hour, I have a blurry photo of him giving his harasser the finger. Footage of the falcon shrieking like an angry peahen-cockatoo hybrid also exists. Then the falcon banked around, and began doing close strafing runs in utter silence past D, who distrusts any animal that’s not on a plate. An unwelcome additional stressor when leading. My mind is running through the knowledge that they can swoop and hit prey at over 80km/hr, and are known to attack people. 

Pulling into a close ledge, D set up a belay and plotted an exit Stage Left while I climbed up to join him (clomb?). Also unwelcom: someone shouting, “It’s coming at you! It’s behind you!”… while wrestling to free gear. D was cordially invited to stop updating me. By this point we were back on Beau Geste, temporarily. We cut left around a corner, up a lovely romp of rock, and rejoined the route for the top pitch. 

Eating a late lunch (2pm) down in the car park. Maybe one day I’ll learn to do climbing lunches like an adult, but for today it’s a tin of tuna, crackers, and a mandarin served at hot-car temperature. It’s surprisingly good, but as D says, I’ll forgive citrus anything.

The afternoon of climbing lies (rises) ahead of us. Wednesday over and out. 

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Japan 2015! Day 2

Up at 6:30; I rolled over and remembered where I am: in Kyoto, with D, on a holiday! Wonderful awakening.

Breakfast was an egg, tomato sauce and devon cold English muffin from the Family Mart, eaten while we strolled. Then we caught the 204 bus up to Ginkaku-ji (230 yen, I think, each). The buses are odd – you pay when you disembark, instead of on boarding, and you need to convert note to make the exact change to pay in, too. It goes straight into a little slot, and the driver won’t change it for you. There is a notes converter on the apparatus, which spits out coins for you.

We walked up a beautiful little street lined with white-walled, black-tile-roofed houses and souvenir shops, before Ginkaku-ji opened, and so commenced by hiking up the track leading to the summit of Daimonji-yama (lit. Mount Daimonji, and surprisingly there are a few of them around Kyoto, which threw us a bit at first), where there had been a burning Obon effigy last night.

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Steep! We made a 400m elevation gain in two hours. The summit area turned into a series of false peaks, so we are uncertain if we made the summer proper – got to a picnic area overlooking Kyoto (if it hadn’t been fogged out, unlike our cool, misty view from the Obon platform further down) just as it started to rain. Spotted some purple, metallic beetles on the body of a dead toad – no photos, because it made my stomach flip, but I’m curious as to what they were. Some form of carrion eaters?

The spiderwebs were psychedelic – constructed not on a single plane like most that you see (envision the stereotypical web, stretching between branches or two corners of a room), but three-dimensional in form. Enough bugs.

Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion, was meant to be plated in silver to compare to Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, but the fellow who built Ginkaku-ji ran out of cash after having the pavilion and grounds constructed. The sand gardens here are impressive, though sand is a misnomer – they’re made of fine white gravel, piled a foot thick, before the familiar wavy patterns commence. The large cone symbolises Mt. Fuji.

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After strolling out through the moss gardens, we enjoyed a shaved ice (covered in shredded grapefruit, citrus jelly and lemon syrup for me), and a mochi ice-cream (for D), and eyeballed the souvenirs. Back up the hill to the gate of Ginkaku-ji, and then right, following the top road alone narrow, one-lane neighbourhood roads to Honen-in.

Honen-in was lovely and quiet, with cemetery and gardens, less trafficked by tourists than Ginkaku-ji. In the dark photo, the left-hand path leads to a cemetery, the right-hand steps to the city. I liked the (fairly obvious) symbolism, and the odd shape it made.

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Downhill from Honen-in, and we joined the Philosopher’s Walk, a path which follows a long, meandering canal. It is planted about with cherry trees and maple, making Spring and Autumn the times of year when it throngs with people. In Summer, it is verdant and breezy. D shot some wonderful butterflies and sleek, black dragonflies with his zoom lens. We detoured from the Philosopher’s walk for many temples, including one with a pair of ridiculously grinning guardian lions.

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When we reached the end, we walked back to the ryokan and showered before walking out and finding a 1,000 yen set lunch – French fusion at Cafe Pied de Chat. Cold chicken and fresh leek on noodles (slightly salty, but very tasty), cold potato cream soup (which was sweet and unbelievably delicious), ginger egg roll and (for D) cold vegetables in tomato sauce, and (for me) cold caviar noodles, which were regrettable – I managed one spoonful, through no fault of the dish. I just hated the flavour. It rained as we ate, then cleared.

After that we went to Blue Parrot II, an antique store, and the Kyoto Handicrafts Centre, which had lovely, delicated damascened sword guards, pendants and jewellery.

In the later part of the afternoon we walked to the Kyoto Municipal Museum…which is closed on Mondays. So instead, we paid the 600 yen per person fee to enter the Heian Shrine gardens. At first, we weren’t entirely impressed: it was jungleish, wild and overgrown, more like a botanical gardens growing rampant than a shrine garden. Then finally, we came to the lake.

A wide expanse of mirror-still water, hemmed by Japanese maples and dotted with small, vegetated islands. To the right, across the lake, a traditional Japanese building, the walls panelled in natural timber, the roof tiles the beautiful, ubiquitous bamboo style. And directly opposite us, at the further expanse, a covered bridge crossing the lake. It seemed too large a body of water to fit in the size of the gardens, the huge body of water bisected by a long, covered walkway.

We lingered there, taking photos… and then lingered even longer as the rain began pouring. A very serenity- and relaxation-inducing forced sit-in.

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We made it back to the shrine gates in time for an even bigger downpour to commence. After temple staff started closing the shrine gates, we slipped out the tiger-side (West) entrance, and watched the the umbrella-toting tourists waddle out into the rain like a flock of ducklings, one after the other across the downpour-beaten gravel.

Eventually we gave up on waiting for the rain to cease, put on raincoats, dry-bagged our cameras and splashed back to the ryokan, wetting our shoes in the process.

Another shower, then dinner – the first place we tried was unwelcoming; we got told it was smoking only, which was a polite hint to get lost, and left. Ended up eating at a little restaurant close to the ryokan, and were given sheets of yatsuhashi wrapped around beanpaste for dessert – truly lovely, the combination and cinnamon and red bean. Apparently these are a Kyoto speciality sweet.

Went to the women’s onsen after dinner, wearing one of the ryokan yukatas. I had the place to myself-  the key to getting into the steaming bath, it seems, is to sit under the hot shower for a while first, so that your skin warms up. The walls were cream and timber, little wooden stools and pails beneath individual flexible showerheads against the wall – you bathe sitting down, so they were suspended at waist height to a standing woman. The floors were dark, oddly-shaped black flagstones fitted together to create a seamlessly interlinked floor, which was angled slightly so that the water from cleaning preparatory to the bath drained away into a drain in one corner.

Our room in the ryokan:


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Japan 2015! Day 1

I know it’s been a while here on this blog *blows at cobwebs* and a good few weeks since I got back from traveling. Nevertheless, here is day 1 of my trip. There will be no climbing, but later there will be mountains.

Day 1: Landed at Haneda airport at 5:00am, and caught a train to Shinagawa, where D and I were to meet when he landed.

After trying to memorise the phrase “Can I buy a one-way train ticket to Shinagawa, please,” as my phone recharged at a public charging point, I discovered that they have ticket machines for the train. Derp.

Went strolling through the backstreets, admired a frog-shaped bubbler in a park, and found a cool Buddhist temple. Commenced melting at 8:30am. So. Hot!

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From Shinagawa, we caught the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto JR, and another short train ride brought us to our hotel for the first few nights, a traditional ryokan. We went for a stroll around the neighbourhood, taking in the local sights: the Heian Shrine, a massive tori gate, and followed a meandering canal into the quieter parts of Gion. There we found a beautiful Shinto shrine with stylised bronze foxes, the messengers of Inari, and an Arabianesque horse.

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After a dinner in the park of Family Mart sushi and cans of (amusingly awful) effervescent alcohol, we watched the Obon fires burning on the hills around Kyoto – the closest to us being Daimonjiyama, which rises about Ginkaku-ji and the Philosophers’ Walk, our destination for the morrow. Obon is one of the 3 main festivals, where citizens write the names of departed relatives or friends on blocks of wood, which are then carted up the mountains and arranged in the form of large characters, and burnt. The fires are to guide the spirits of the departed in their journey to the afterlife.

One final shower, some ripe figs, and we settled down for the night on our thick futons rolled out upon the pale green tatami mat floor. It smelt divinely of fresh hay.

Observations of the day: encouraging people to sit around in public by having seats around the place is not such a thing. And neither is providing bins for rubbish. Both were thin on the ground!



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Ogawayama Japan


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Japan!: Part 1 of Some, Alpine Villages and Mountains 22/09/12 – 05/10/12

I’m back! Apologies for not keeping up with the dialogue whilst traveling, but we barely had enough time to scratch our heads, let alone sit down and write blog entries (and certainly not enough time to learn how to drive my new camera… thank Gecko for the “creative auto” setting). Since we’ve gotten back, things have been a little hectic, so, apologies once more.

So in lieu of the normal rock-climbing, I shall divulge to you our adventures in Japan, which involved rock-climbing, some bouldering, some walking up mountains, a whole lot of culture and sushi, and dragging a burning pillar of straw around a village, what I like to call ‘Flambe a la Japonnaise’.

Our main climbing destination in Japan was Ogawayama, which as the crow flies from Hakuba, does not appear to be too far away. In actual fact, it took us about an hour and a half to catch a train from Hakuba to Matsumoto, and another 2 1/2 or so hours in the hire car to drive to Ogawayama itself.

It is a gem of a climbing area, and the http://www.ogawayama.com online guide is invaluable. It’s possibly one of the only guides for a Japanese area which has an English translation, and the directions for reaching the crag were spot-on. Thanks very much to the climber who has dedicated a huge amount of time and effort in developing both the area and the website!!

When we arrived, it was drizzling gently (this was to continue intermittently throughout the day); D’s folks managed to obtain an English-language map of the area, which also showed the main crags. At around 15-yen, it’s well worth 20 cents Australian. We saw a boulderer strolling into the carpark, mat on his back, and throughout the day heard screams from climbers ringing across the valley.

The scenic walk up is well worth doing, and as usual in forested areas in Japan, be sure to make a lot of noise – the bears there aren’t a joke, but apparently they’ll avoid you if they hear you coming. Frankly I thought the sound of bear bells was a little too similar for a dinner bell for comfort… “Coming right up! Stringy climbers! Get’cher snacks!”

Tracks to individual climbing spots can be a little difficult to spot – we slithered down a pine-needle and soft earth path, which rather resembled a wallaby track, and I half-expected it to evaporate amongst the pines at any moment. We found our way to the base of a crag, which, happily enough, appeared to boast a well-featured climb up the granite slab and out of sight over a mantle.

We kitted up, and D took first attempt…

“…How’s it going, D?”
The granite slab was, I will not deny, full of features. They just happened to be negative, slappy, off-angle crimpy horrors. D decided to reinforce his way up and around the arete with some trad gear, and managed to get a second clip before, hearing exhaustion and frustration in his voice, I called for him to come down and take a rest.
My turn.
I like granite, a lot. I may have mentioned this before. So, strolling on up the easy base section, I quickly reached the part where D had been sieging the climb. It was nastier than I’d expected. I puttered about retrieving the trad gear, and managed to bridge between the main line and a mossy, suspiciously mobile outcrop of granite, and get up above the second clip.
Some delicate footwork later, the third clip was placed, and I continued the struggle to attain the next, before giving up. It was an unpleasant mantle movement, with little in the way of toes and some promising folds in the granite for hands which quite quickly turned shallow and unhelpful. If I’d balled-up, I definitely could have pulled off the move. Brave pants were not in evidence that day.

D’s parents came and watched us for a little while, then wandered off. We weren’t providing much in the way of spectator sports! Eventually we gave up on the lead climb idea, and hiked further up the hill and out along the ridge, to a point where we could rap down to the end of the climb, and set up a top-rope.
D made me promise not to take photos as I rapped to join him (spoilsport), and it’s a good thing he did, otherwise I might have tried wrapping the rope around my thigh to pin myself in place while I tried to take a photo of some horrendously frayed and faded tat, an aptly named Yosemite Triangle of Death (apparently).

In the end we each finished the climb, then had to make our way down to the car, and our waiting comrades. I’m super keen to get back there, and could happily spend a week or so camped out in the bowl of the hills, climbing and bouldering in Ogawayama’s beautiful scenery.


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