Monday, September 29, 2014

The Joys of Multi-Pitch Climbing

Sliding into the smooth sided chimney on pitch three of The Shroud (on The Pharos) I cursed myself for slipping our double length runners over my torso instead of redoubling them and clipping them to my harness as I usually do when seconding a pitch. I had the foresight to girth hitch a sling to the handle on my small climbing pack, and I'd moved both mine and Doug's (huge) shoes to the front of my harness in preparation for the few chimney moves I'd need to make, but, I was struggling sweatily to get my small climbing pack off my back and slung off my belay loop between my legs. Forgetting the double runners over my shoulder, I'd had first one arm pinned behind my back, and then the other, as I tried to slip the backpack off. Eventually, I freed both arms and clipped the pack into my belay loop where it hung freely between my legs. Finally, three or four thrutching chimney moves and I could stand on a small hold on either wall and slip the pack back onto my back. Why is it that multi-pitch climbing, with the attendant need to haul packs and water, and approach shoes up the cliff is so much more engaging than single pitch climbing even when it involves uncomfortable thrutching? 

Finally, pack hanging freely

Single pitch climbing, like sport climbing is fun, but, somehow multi-pitch trad climbing just seems to combine all the best elements of climbing into the most piquant package. There is something intoxicating about stepping off the ground and knowing you won't return to the horizontal space for three, six, twelve or twenty pitches. When it is your turn to lead, your attention is focused exclusively on the climbing and the gear placements. The fact that you are 100 feet, 100 metres or even 1000 metres up does not register; it is only when you stop on a small belay ledge, build an anchor, call down "secure" and turn around do you look out and see the landscape small beneath you, and then you get that peculiar thrill that comes with multi-pitch climbing.

Doug hanging out on belay

After two weeks of fantastic climbing, we've had to leave Mount Arapiles for a few weeks. The only reason we could tear ourselves away was because we knew we would come back soon. We spent our first few days at Arapiles getting a feel for the grades, the gear, and the rock. When we realized the grades were amazingly consistent, the gear placements (almost always) plentiful and the rock incredibly solid, we gradually started climbing harder routes (technically, we are still climbing easy routes but we are steadily working up the grades) and moved on to climbing some of the classic multi-pitch routes that go to the top of the various walls, towers and buttresses. We've literally giggled our way up such classics as Arachnus, Siren, The Shroud, and The Bishop among others. The greatest difficulty we have each evening when we sit down with the guidebook is choosing from the myriad of excellent routes the one we will do next day.

 Doug coming up the beautiful corner pitch on Siren

My first few climbs I was plugging in gear at every opportunity, the way you do when trad climbing as you are never exactly sure when you will get another good placement. Leading Exodus however (a three star crack route on The Mitre) I suddenly "got" climbing at Arapiles. If you feel solid, you can run it out as there will be more gear placements just where you need them. It's funny now to look down a route I've just led and see a bunch of widely spaced placements, and then a flurry of pieces placed closely together which clearly indicate when I reached the crux, and then, some more widely spaced placements. I've never been a particularly brave lead climber, especially on trad gear, but, there is a certain confidence that comes from knowing if you feel sketched out, you can just stick in another bomber chock or cam and keep moving. 

 Pitch two of Siren

The other great thing about Arapiles is you can walk/scramble off just about any route (although we did rappel off The Pharos). It's only after you've had a few stuck ropes (happens to everyone, particularly at places like Red Rocks in Nevada) that you really come to appreciate the simplicity of "the walk-off." With classic climbs, plentiful gear placements and easy walk-offs, who cares if there are so few sport climbs?

Hanging out before the walk-off

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