Watch out Arapiles here I come…...
27 kgs of gear and food on my back. I leave the supermarket with enough supplies to last a good few weeks, which I could stretch out longer, if Weetbix and crackers become my staple. Thumb out waiting for a ride, I feel my wallet , stoked I had only dropped $150 on that shop. The excitement was beginning to ooze from me like a wet rag. I had a massive list of objectives to climb and was feeling relatively strong. The exotic bird calls and smell of eucalyptus from the gum trees lingering in the hot air, all added to my excitement. Here I was again in the land of epic climbing and I had a full three weeks.
The days consist of eating, climbing and sleeping, all while living in a tent. A simple but epic lifestyle, with only the concern of, will it rain or not. The days blur into weeks, I even start getting used to kangaroos roaming past the tent barking at each other, and the males fighting for domination.
I wake one morning totally habituated to my new lifestyle and come to the horrid realization that my time there was almost up. I had lost touch with the surrounding world, the dramas of elections, crime and my life outside of climbing.
It was my second to last day, I thought of all the objectives I still had and figured out if there is a way to fit them all in. I knew that I should probably take a rest day as my body was showing signs of wearing out, fatigue was taking over. I decided to do one more route all the same.
I racked up for Horrorscope as my belayer flaked the rope. It is a super rad looking 24 crack line, I was trying to onsite it, which was right at my limit. The route was bone dry as it faced the sun and had no vegetation on it.
Tick tick Tick ‘Hail’ I call to my partner, we run for cover under a small overhanging rock as the hailstorm hits. So much for the thirty plus degree days I thought we were going to have, I think to myself. It had been a notoriously wet October and I had come to the conclusion that if I did not climb a route that had a little seepage or a few holds were wet, even if they were on the crux! I would not climb at all. Fortunately Horoscope is steep enough it did not get wet in the hailstorm, so I go for the send. I start up the hand sized crack that rapidly decreases in size down to fingers. I plug in two bomber pieces of gear one after the other, and start to fire up the crack, just before the crux I plug in a 0.4 size BD cam in a parallel crack nice and deep that is in the perfect camming range for the cam. I feel super comfortable to pull the crux knowing I have three good pieces of gear below me and all close together. The last cam placement leaves me with a good feeling inside and I have no worries giving the next few moves everything I have got. My left hand is in a slippery sloping finger crack with my right hand next to it. I scope the next move not having much time as I feel the lactic acid building in my forearms. My feet are on slippery polished slab, similar to that of a floor tile. I muster all the body tension I can to try hold my feet in place. I crush hard with my right hand and start to do a powerful cross up to a small crimp and glance to my right to see the next move is a big iron cross. ‘Pooff’ my foot blows off the slippery foothold and I come flying off as gravity takes hold of me. I watch the rope seeing it take tension on the 0.4 BD cam expecting it to catch me any second, ‘BANG’ it rips from the rock. In mid air I think to myself how is that possible, the cam was a perfect 5/5 placement. Good thing I have two others to catch me. Whammoo I hit the ground with a ‘thud’. Ass, elbow, then head. Can't breath ‘ooooh’ is the only sound I can make as my lungs refuse to work. I scan my body to try figure out where I am injured. I wiggle my hands and toes, ‘wow’ I think to myself I am ok. I landed on a rock slab that was flat and smooth like a foot path.
My elbow throbs as I gasp for air. I look up at the climb, perplexed as to what just happened and see that the other two cams i had placed were still in the rock.
‘Oh shit, are you ok’ my belayer asks. ‘Fuck I don’t know what just happened’ they say.
It turns out my top piece blew, that shocked my belayer and they tried to pull some slack in, but grabbed the wrong part of the rope instead. I fell about six meters and came off with extremely minor injuries. Sore back, elbow and minor whiplash to my neck.
I have ripped out gear over the past years and come off very lucky, some of which was due to inexperience. I now always try and place a cam as my first piece of gear to prevent unzipping of wires. But why did that cam pull out?
On my first trip to Arapiles I placed a No. 2 BD cam and pulled it out just tugging on it. I have also pulled out a No. 1 BD cam at Mt Bradley NZ when I tested it with a rope tug. The thing all these placements had in common was the rock being super polished and smooth.
I have been looking into reasons cams may fail and came up with the list below:
1) Poor placement—Unit is under-cammed, or the crack is too flared.
2) Rock quality—Soft rock pulverizes or is rotten and breaks.
3) Lack of friction—Water, ice, moss, lichen, dirt / choss, animal droppings or extremely smooth rock can “lubricate” the walls of the crack.
4) Cam movement—Cams “walk” into bad placements with the movement of the rope, or are pulled sideways or outwards into bad placements.
I am glad to have come off unscaved, but have taken some serious learning that I will apply to future climbs.