Ben reached the top of pitch 7 (Pontooth) and I started to ascend the tag line so I could clean the gear on the lead line easier. I realised this was a good idea as soon as I made it around the first roof. What I saw ahead was a very tricky situation. There were slots in the roof big enough to get lost in, several points where the rope would jolt and grind across very course rock and then hidden amongst it all some difficult gear I had to retrieve. I ascended the tag line using my gri-gri and ascender, then pulling myself into the rock on the lead line with my other ascender. This combo allowed me to position myself higher or lower easily and get in close to the gear so I could remove it. At times I found myself flat on my back reaching deep into the slots to retrieve the gear. I felt more like a backyard mechanic working hard under a car than a climber.
I managed to clean the line in a reasonably quick time, the only casualties being a copper coloured straightgate biner and a little sling I found on an earlier trip. Job well done I say.
Karl made short work of the pitch which was our quickest belay-to-belay time of the trip so far. I led off again punching in the bigger cams.
A few meters later and it was time to mantle up onto soil and grass. I was stoked to be gaining ground so quickly. The rest of the pitch wasn’t even climbing, more like trench warfare in the belly of a just-a-bit-too-narrow chimney. I cut my forearms up grovelling but made it to the top and stepped across to the Gledhill memorial plaque.
Relief filled me. It was about 4pm and I knew we’d make it now.
I tied off to the hauling bolts below Wilkinson’s lookout and radioed down to Karl. Finally I was able to ditch all the massive cams from my harness and stand with comfort. I’d only used half my camel back to this point, and wasn’t feeling dehydrated at all. Knowing I had a litre remaining was fantastic. All my worries were now gone, so I sat and rested, enjoyed the panorama, and called Mum for mother’s day.
Pitch 8 was the longest for the day at about 40 meters. Ben took lead and I settled in for another belay. Looking at the clock I thought this pitch would take a good 2hours +. I was pleasantly surprised when Ben kept asking for slack, slack and more slack. He was moving so fast I found the rope getting caught up in the gri-gri. It was great that Ben was moving so quick, but bad that I restricted his ability due to my belaying. Within the hour I was back on the rope and cleaning the gear on the 2nd last pitch.
Reaching the long flat ledge 15 meters below the lookout was an amazing moment but my celebrations were not fully expressed as we still had 2 potential problem points to get through. The first being, sending one end of our 60meter ropes (tied end to end) down the static 120 meter rope to Phil and our gear. The second being, safely getting Phil and the gear out from our last camp and up 100 meters to where Ben and I were.
To get another line down to Phil we made an expensive heavy sinker out of a large collection of biners and attached it to the end of the 2 60’s that lay coiled to avoid knotting. We lowered the sinker down the 120 static line and it quickly picked up in pace.
We radioed to Phil and asked if he could see our sinker. Negative he replied. Bugger! If we can’t get this down to Phil one of us may have to rap down the static line and free the sinker.
A few attempts to wiggle the line and sinker free failed. Eventually I pulled the 60’s back up to the ledge and reset the sinker and let it go down the static line again. This time it seemed to follow the static line closer and at a quicker pace. A jolt was felt as the sinker stopped. Ben and I looked at each other and waited for Phil to answer.
The CB crackled: I see your sinker boys and I can get to it. Those beautiful words caused us to erupt in celebration. Yelling and shouting our hearts out into the valley below. We were looking good for a clean evac of Phil and the gear.