Warrumbungles Trip, May 2006

Some climbers like to grunt & crimp their way up short steep gymnastic routes
with a crowd of admirers howling their support from the gallery - all just 
a few minutes from the nearest cafe and within shouting distance of beer.

Fine.

I think my prefered climbing style is to finesse exposed, committing and
thought-provoking multi-pitch routes in remote areas. If it takes all day, 
has excellent views, requires a walk-in and allows time for a D&M with my 
partner while eagles circle overhead all the better. And if it 
involves an international flight, snow and ice and the risk of an NDE Im 
the pig and I've found my mud!

The Warrumbungles qualify on all accounts (even the snow). And Cornerstone 
Rib is an excellent introduction to the area. It is 200m of grade 14 
heaven in 5-6 pitches. It has everything but the flight. The NDE is up to 
you.

Richard Wood, Michaela Droppova and myself left behind the dangers of 
Sydney traffic early one Friday and eight hours later rolled into Pincham
carpark. A short repack and gear sort preceeded our stroll into base camp. 
The wide graded path, evolves into a paved path and finally flowers into a 
full-scale metal staircase before depositing you at Balor Hut. The weather 
was perfect and after a delicious meal from Michaela we quickly fell 
asleep under clear skies, calm conditions and a million untwinkling stars 
(well, OK about 10^20 of them but we could only see a few thousand).

My pathetic Suunto alarm just managed to wake me at 5am. Breakfast. And we 
set off just after 6am. Routefinding is a common 'Bungles problem - not 
finding your way on the route but just finding the start to begin with. 
Fortunately I knew where it was and I was leading up the first pitch
before 8am. The Sun shone, there wasn't a breath of wind, it was cool 
enough to avoid chalk but warm enough to feel your fingers.

The 15\,Megayear old basalt/trachyte/whatever (sorry, not a geologist - 
but that's pretty young compared to a star:) is beautifully featured for 
climbing. It's definite edges, cracks and splits make for secure, positive 
holds and solid pro. And then the odd blank slab happens. I set a belay, 
cordelette coming in very handy, and brought Richard and Mishka up. The 
second pitch is a short one up the remainder of the lower buttress to the 
base of the crux pitches.

Richard took the honour of leading both crux pitches - I've done 'em 
before. He had a couple of 'Bungles moments but completed them both in 
good, confident trad style:) The first begins with slinging a wobbly (but 
secure) 'gargoyle' of rock and stepping off the belay ledge into instant 
100m exposure - Woo Hoo! - before fiddling your way up a crack/groove to 
the enourmous belay ledge. The second has an interesting section where the 
pro is below your feet, a fall would probably hurt and delicate, slabby 
moves are required. And if you look down you can see the ground way, way 
below your heels [deep breath and concentrate]. Well led, Richard!

Finally it was my turn. I took a last look at the view - Belougery Spire, 
the Breadknife (scenes of the earliest climbs in NSW), wide blue sky, vast 
open inland plains - gathered the gear and looked up at the last pitch. 
Mishka snapped another pic while I placed a cam and stepped onto the 
stacked blocks. I avoided the most mobile looking ones and moved up to 
sling a shallow horn, on to an excellent thread, a fixed piton (was it 
placed by Bryden or Ted I wondered?), another cam. The step-ladder like 
pitch is up a narrow rib, vaguely reminiscent of the top pitches of The 
Bard but without the queues. There are a couple of freaky moves to get off 
the ladder. I got them all wrong last time running out too much rope and 
taking some balancy, dodgy moves across a slab to reach a piton. This time 
I went direct: it's a move like stepping onto the roof of a house from a 
short ladder - except few houses are built on the edge of a 150m cliff 
with the void trying to suck you sideways and messing with your sense of 
balance. I slip a small cam into a shallow break, place my left hand flat 
on the slab, my right on small side-pull to the right. I'm aware of 
nothing but the rock in front of me and the tiny cam by my waist. I choose 
to ignore the void. And high-step with my left foot (and lean out to the 
right - gulp!). Up. Phew! Easier ground, and suddenly I feel the air cool 
a few degrees and I notice the sky is so blue and the eagles are circling 
overhead.

Richard and Mishka cruise up as I relax on the final belay. They scramble 
up the slope above and leave me alone to dismantle the belay and consider 
whether this really is the best climb in the world? Could well be - an 
all-day outing on great rock onto a real pinnacle, excellent pro, a few 
thought-provoking moments, stunning scenery and a cruisy grade.

Summits are made for lunch, particularly on days like this. Take in the 
view, snap a few pics and check the comments in the log book. Then we 
descend the green glacier. If the ascent by itself doesn't make this a 
great climb the cool, green, fern-filled descent and final rap in the 
setting Sun surely does.

We reach camp by dark and Rich and Mishka celebrate with a beer. Richard 
fires up a tasty curry followed by my date cake with rich chocolate and 
port sauce. Climbing, dining and gazing at stars till I drop asleep...

Cornerstone Rib. Grade 14. ~210m. 5-6 pitches.
  FA by Bryden Allen & Ted Batty, 1962.

Epilogue: Richard and I climbed the delightful Endeavour Face (14) on 
Belougery Spire on Sunday [RW: "You climbed the second pitch the easy way 
last time, Andrew. I think you should try the harder way this time." AJ: 
"Bugger! You know just how to motivate me, Richard."]

Some Info:
  Sydney to Warrumbungles ~7-9hrs incl breaks. Shop in Mudgee.
  Car to Balor hut ~1hr walk.
  Balor to CR ~50mins if you know where to go, ~1.5hrs if not.
  Balor to Endeavour Face (and Vertigo) ~ 40mins.
  Balor has a water tank, usually full it seems to me.
  Balor is ~$2/night - Book ahead with the Park staff. But the camping is 
fine
  Route description: Find the start and climb upwards.
  Gear: double ropes, normal rack (wires and cams from ~#3 Camalot to large 
Aliens, could forget Hexes), plenty of slings, a dose of fortitude and a 
breakfast of determination.
  Wildlife: Eagles, koala, 'roos & goats
  Take water, food and a headlamp. Start early.
  Booty collected: Cordelette, a sling and a cam.
  Booty deposited: #11 BD nut
Pics: See the Club Yahoo site
Last modified: Tue May 28 02:44:08 EST 2002