After reading Roamers posting about "Learning aid skills", I thought I would share my $0.02:
On an alpine trip to the Andes in 2004 I found myself in a situation requiring more than 2 or 3 continuous moves of aid climbing. My previous ‘alpine aid’ experiences had been a high gear placement or screw and a few steps in slings. As can be expected, the 15 metres of real aid climbing (around A2) took far too long.
So armed with a swag of gear and all the www information I could digest, plans were made for the North Wall at Mt Buffalo. Steve, my partner for the maiden voyage, had done the first clean ascent of Knocking on Heavens Door back in the early 80’s. Our plan was to climb KOHD to where it joins Ozymandias, and then continue on to Wilkinson’s Lookout via Ozymandias Direct.
So in early November, with an unfavourable weather forecast, I started up the first pitch of KOHD. My only preparation for “real aid climbing” had been seconding Steve up Orpheous in the Underworld, a 25 metre aid route at the You Yangs. The ‘poor judgement chain’ had started before we left the ground, and we ended up having a 36 hour, rain soaked epic.
Once the blisters on my feet had healed (the joy of walking out of the gorge with wet shoes), I decided to head back to the You Yangs. Adam is a 20 metre grade 22 crack that was originally climbed at M3. It is a small, clean, slanting crack leading to a horizontal traverse and double bolt belay. I spent a full day by myself doing laps on the route, practising aid climbing techniques such as high stepping, leap-frogging, hooking, cleaning and hauling.
Feeling a little more confident, but still largely overwhelmed, I drove up to Mt Buffalo on New Years day. Matt was joining me for an attempt on Ozymandias Direct. With 3 days food we rapped down Defender Of The Faith, and spent the night at the base of the wall. We had the water bottles filled and the pig packed before the sun had risen, and started climbing around 7am. Matt had the first pitch, so I settled into belay mode, enjoying the brief spell of sunshine. It was his first ever pitch of aid climbing, so I was surprised to hear him call ‘safe’ only 40 minutes later. The haul line came tight, and I began following, psyching myself for the lead ahead.
Pitch 2 is an awesome, thin, technical corner that follows blown out piton scars for 34 metres to a hanging belay. It was my crux pitch for the day, with bomber placements interspersed with small wires. With the rack, haul line and half a litre of water clipped onto my harness I nervously set off. I had taken a whipper on KOHD, pulling up just short of a ledge, when a sideways #2 RP had popped. It was now time to “get back on the horse”.
Place gear, test, weight, move up. Place gear, test, weight, move up. ‘Smooth and fast, smooth and fast…’ I kept telling myself.
“How’s it going?” Matt called out. I looked down. He was 25 metres below me, and I hadn’t spoken since leaving the belay. I clipped hard into my next piece, drank some water, and yelled down the corner “Sweet climbing Matey”.
When Matt arrived at the belay, we sorted the rack and checked the watch. It was just before 11am, and we had 46 metres to Big Grassy. My nervousness had ceased, and confidence returned. We will be on BG for lunch, and will knock the route over in 2 days. Matt could sense me feeling better about the climb and said “Told you we only needed 2 days food” before leading off.
Somehow over breakfast the next morning we change our plans and decide to do the original finish, and not the Direct. This turned out to be a good move for another party on the wall that day. While Matt was belaying me on pitch 6, the awkward corner, Lee Cossey’s head popped over the roof below him. After a “bloody awkward” haul on the “bloody awkward” corner, Matt reached the belay and told me the news of Lee climbing the Direct finish.
We knocked over the last 3 pitches without incident, and ferried our mess of ropes and gear to the lookout. There we meet Nick and XXX, who were waiting for Lee, Ryan and Phil to top-out. After introductory handshakes we drink the last of our water, before heading down to Bright for beers and a pizza.
Epilogue: Matt and I returned in March, and climbed Ozy Direct. This time we lead ‘the other’ pitches up to BG. We concluded that pitch 2 is definitely easier than pitch 3, and it’s a lot more enjoyable climbing.
Ivan and Jane had come down from Sydney with Matt, and were going to ‘take a look’ at Lord Gumtree. They opted to climb Ozy Direct, as they didn’t have the gardening tools required for the bottom half of Lord Gumtree. We all had a fun weekend on the North Wall, enjoying the last days of summer.