Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Midnight Sun

There are strange things done in the midnight sunRobert Service.

There are also strange things done at Australia's most popular crag and, yet again, I have to wonder how Australia has managed to stay so isolated from the developments in climbing over the last forty years in the rest of the world. Sure, it's an island state, and somewhat geographically isolated, but, if you can ship live cows to Saudi Arabia, you can import a few improvements in skills and equipment.

Take the carrot bolt (or retard bolt) as we call it. This might have been a quasi-reasonable solution when nothing else existed, but that was a long time ago, and continuing to install retard bolts when better and safer solutions exist is simply retarded. However, you don't come across that many retard bolts at Arapiles, what you do come across is climbers doing all sorts of weird things, and then passing those weird things on to their friends and climbing companions. Heck, even the guides are passing on weird things. 

 Manky top-rope anchor set by "guide"

Take for instance the bandoleer, which has been around for at least 20 years. Our bandoleer has been the subject of much envy at the crag as people exclaim over how revolutionary it is to have an over the shoulder sling with separate gear slots. What about joining ropes for a rappel? For at least 20 years the standard in other countries has been two overhands as this has been shown to be safe, strong, and least likely to get stuck when you pull the rope. Here in Australia, people are still joining ropes with hugely bulky figure 8 follow throughs backed up with stopper knots. Try that just one time at Red Rocks and you will quickly be looking for a better solution, and two new ropes.

Climbers are also struggling to understand why their double butterfly coils are so tangled every time they go to flake out their ropes, and why they are stuck with horrendous rope-drag 15 metres up the first pitch of the day when they are using dog-bones (aka quick draws) instead of double length runners. It would be great if climbers in Australia would discover the auto-belay device - any brand would help. Parties of three are very common on routes at Arapiles but no-one knows how to belay two seconds using an auto-block device. In North America, we climbed as a threesome for years and were just about as fast as a pair of climbers because auto-blocks enable two seconds to climb safely at once. Doug and I are not particularly fast climbers but, at Arapiles, we make it a rule not to get onto a route behind another party, particularly a party of three, as it does not seem to matter how far up the leading party is, we will catch them at some point. Better rope management (lap coils, autoblocks for example) would speed up the progress of these slow parties as would a simple understanding of time management. I guess, when all your climbs are relatively short, there is not much incentive to try and be efficient on a climb. 

We've seen numerous new climbers being instructed to belay seconds directly off the anchor - which would be fine if they had a bomber anchor and some kind of autoblock (like the Black Diamond ATC-guide), but they don't. They have crappy 40 year old stitch plates, and tubes, and belaying in this manner is recklessly unsafe. I've even seen "guides" teaching their clients to do this. I'm also not really sure why beginners are instructed to "back-up" bomb-proof single piece belays. I'm not talking about one good cam or chock, I'm talking about a 50 year old living trees, or threads the size of my thigh. There's just no way these anchors are going to fail and teaching some kind of rote rules is antithetical to the essence of climbing which is all about making reasoned decisions based on principles not dogma. The practice of "guides" encouraging their clients, who are just learning to place gear, to lead gear climbs without the safety of a top-rope belay just would not occur in Canada where guides are ACMG certified. There seems little to be learned when the "guide" stands at the bottom of the pitch and reassures the somewhat anxious climber that "she'll be right" when the client expresses concern about their gear placements or belays. 

No-one ever seems to consider how the belayer will be pulled in the event of a leader fall from a multi-pitch route once the party has left the ground, so that belays are poorly set up, running the risk of the belayer completely losing control of the belay if the leader falls. On one very popular beginner route, the only anchor available at the top of pitch two is directly above a very deep (as in 40 metres deep) gorge that runs up the cliff. Pitch three starts with the leader stepping across this void (intimidating but relatively easy). Should the leader fall after crossing the void, the second will be pulled off the ledge and down into the void. Hopefully, the anchor will hold, but really, this route would benefit from the addition of a bolted belay. Gear anchors are great, but not when they are patently unsafe. I assume it is just a matter of time until a leader falls, the second is pulled off the ledge, the belay fails and one or two people die. I can only guess that the reason such a thing has not yet happened is because pitch three is pretty easy. 

It's over 30 degrees today at Arapiles, so we are avoiding (as best we can) the heat of the day, hoping to get out climbing tomorrow, and, wondering all over again, what strange and wacky things we'll see.

No comments:

Post a Comment