Monday, August 1, 2016

Short And Weak Takes On Steep And Powerful

I'm the one who packs an overnight bag for a visit to the grocery store, triple checks the car is locked before we leave on a bushwalk, and has not only the ten essentials but a couple of dozen other "just in case" items as well. So, it's odd that I did not read the fine print in the Nowra climbing guide carefully enough to notice that the climbing is described as "being steep and powerful," before we left. Especially given I am short and weak. Or perhaps it is what Doug describes as the "Sandra effect" wherein I feel positive that everything will turn out just fine despite the incipient cyclone on the horizon, the rogue wave bearing down on us, or the loud whumpf as the snowpack collapses preparatory to avalanching.

One of my old ski touring buddies, Maurice, who happened to be an engineer, developed an equation early on in our time skiing together which he called the “Sandra Factor," to explain the phenomenon whereby the actual elevation gain of the trip far exceeded the elevation gain quoted by me when I was looking for ski partners. The Sandra factor is equal to the actual elevation gain of the trip divided by the stated – alleged - elevation gain quoted by me prior to commencement of the trip. Maurice had an annoying habit of quoting the Sandra Factor to me at regular intervals during some of our longer ski trips together, and I admit, it was disturbing when we passed 2, 3, then 4 or 5 before we'd even stopped for lunch.

These days however, I'm older, slower, greyer, arguably wiser, but still keen on climbing. Our last climbing trip was way too short, and my numerous forays around the local area looking for solid bouldering have yielded only friable sandstone, and flaky granite, nothing you could really climb on without spending a month stripping off the loose holds with a pry-bar first, so I was once again keen to go clip some ring bolts in the winter sun.

It was too cold to go up to the Southern Tablelands so we headed for Nowra instead. Our first day we went to Thompsons Point where the bulk of Nowra climbing is located. As usual, you park your car and hope for the best while you are down at the crag. The parking area is littered with broken auto-glass and has a distinctly unsavoury feel. Heading down the descent gully was like stepping into a wind tunnel, the west wind almost blew us back up the rough stone stairs.

Immediately I got on some thuggish sandbagged Nowra route and got a bit of an arse kicking. I had to back-off the lead and frankly couldn't even climb the route clean on top-rope. The next route over, two grades harder, felt about the same, but then we lucked on a route that was more appropriate to the grade and started feeling a bit more competent and a little less bumbly. Half the problem was it was so cold you shivered on belay, started climbing while you were cold and stiff, got marginally warm in the mid-part of the climb, then reached the anchors and were immediately frozen again. We finished the day at the far right end of Descent Gully walls where there are a series of high quality routes.

Next day we went out to the Occupied Territories, west of North Nowra where you can almost do the "belay off your bumper" scene. There are a series of easy climbs all in a row here and the crag is a little sheltered from the wind. We came prepared with twice the amount of clothing we had the day before and managed to maintain our core temperatures within normal limits. 

The Occupied Territories

Our third day coincided with the weekend and we thought we might see some other climbers, but we spent the day at The Lair, off the Braidwood Road and didn't see any other climbers, or people. The grades at The Lair are fair, even easy by Nowra standards - maybe even Australian standards overall - and there are some really nice routes here. It's a quiet sort of place in a pretty gum forest and we had a calm day so by afternoon we were feeling comfortably warm. I took a few lead falls off one route, mostly because I was too timid to commit to the somewhat powerful, at least for a short, weak person like me, moves to surmount a steep bulge. Doug also popped off a rather balancy route when he barn-doored on a tenuous step up. Ironically, I cruised the route he found tricky, and he cruised the route I found tricky. I could say something about us perfectly complementing each others weaknesses but that would be too instagrammy cute (and frankly nauseous).

Our last day the wind was howling again and we went to Hospital Rocks where the routes tend to be steep and crimpy, in other words, a good place to thrash yourself completely on your last climbing day. Although the westerlies were sweeping down the Shoalhaven River, this crag seems a little more sheltered from the wind than Thompsons Point. The parking also is a little less fraught with fear of break-ins. We climbed until the early afternoon by which point our fingers were opening of their own accord and sliding off the holds. Clearly, it was time to head home.

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