A Defense of Headpoint Style on Potentially Dangerous Climbs March 10 2014
Last weekend Ingvar and I did a new route called Falling Off The Edge Of The World, 125m (23) at Stacks. It involves several bold sections with runouts of up to 5m with climbing in the 21-23 range, and some of the gear placements are subtle and not obvious. The route was made possible by extensive preparation including 2 days of cleaning on abseil and sussing out gear placements and 3 sessions of shunting on a solo device, and then the route was led ground up with all the gear racked in order.
A repeat ascensionist going ground up is going to face a greater challenge than I did, because I had the moves and the gear wired, and if the climber went past and missed one of the crucial gear placements, they would be in deep shit. This is the fifth multi-pitch route I have done at Stacks Bluff using this method of preparation in recent years. All of them are routes of great quality and all of them tackle the faces in between the major crack lines. The most difficult one is the Trinity Split (24) up the face left of Aqualung which involves grade 24 face climbing leading 3m diagonally out from a small wire (difficult to locate), with the next runner 5m below. The route `Surmounting Terror (24) involves a 4m runout through some intimidating steep ground, and the 8-10m fall you would take from the crux might have you hit the belayer on a hangng belay. The route Brave New World (23) was declared by my seconder as the best trad pitch for the grade in Tassie, but you have to be confident enough to climb 21+ with a runout of 8m.
Some may say why are you writng this Gerry, just to boast how big your balls are doing these bold routes? No - 3 reasons - I don't want to die doing these climbs and to be up front and honest about the style; secondly that any repeat ascensionists are fully aware of the style of the first ascent and any attempt will be a serious undertaking and thirdly, to defend the style against the critics.
When I publicised some of these climbs, someone congratulated me on the climb, but remarked that it was a pity about the style. In the 80's, everything we did on Ben Lomond was done ground up, trundling as we went, but nothing harder than 23 was managed. Such route names as `Nightmare In A Damaged Brain ' reflect the horror show of some of these climbs. Then I witnessed an American climber take a 50m cartwheeling upside fall at Africa going ground up on a new route, as a hold broke and all the gear on the pitch ripped. He ended up 15m off the deck with a 3m section of the rope shredded from being caught on a flake. I determined that for anything harder than your average crack, once you venture onto the faces it is foolhardy and potential death without rap cleaning and inspecting gear, and if technically challenging - some rehearsal of moves. If you go underneath Rudigers Castle at Stacks, it looks like a bomb blast - rocks the size of mini-bar fridges have come of the faces with the slight pry of a claw hammer. Gear placements have materialised on blank looking walls as thin seams and cracks were scraped with a nut key, making the climbs at least semi-sane. As a near 50 year old overweight git has-been, 23-24 is about my technical limit and am not ashamed to admit that I needed to rehearse the moves to get up these climbs. With bulging discs in my back from a bad leader fall, I don't want to take the 10m slamming fall into the corner that is possible on `Falling Off The Edge Of The World.' While the first ascent was done ground up placing gear on lead, the gear was racked in order and tick marks on the cliff for the placements. Sill a legitimate trad style I would have thought.
As I said, anyone repeating the route will face a greater challenge than me, but they will be rewarded with one of the best pitches on Ben Lomond, equally as good as the immortal Aqualung. So congratulations to Crazy John Fisher who repeated Surmountng Terror (24) recently, who led it ground up and onsight - way better than my achievement - but at least the route was clean, described in detail with gear required, and a challenging, outstanding climb is there for those who are up to it.
See link to topos of the new bold routes mentioned in this article, extracted from the new selected best climbing guide to Tassie.