Sweet Dreams, Soft Rock, Weak Guide, Huge Adventure
Of course, this is after the guide service promised me someone who had written several local guide books, but provied me instead me with "one of the guys who said he had been up the route before." I had not done all this coordination and travel from America to Australia to get frustrated at the guide service and go back to Sydney, but knew inside on the train ride to Katoomba that I was going to have to climb solidly.
When I arrive at the guide service, which had made a huge deal out of providing lunch, the owner tells me they usually provide Barbeque for lunch, but since we're going to be on the side of the mountain, it will be too difficult to deliver. He asks if I want a bar of chocolate or a sandwich instead. I tell him I'm here to climb, not eat. The owner asks the rented/borrowed guide, Donald, if he wants anything, then borrows $10 from Donald so he can go buy it.
Donny and I get to the parking lot of the approach and scramble down the side of the mountain, until we have to take our back packs off to drop through a hole in a rock before we can go on. Donny goes through first. I hand him his pack. I wait for him to take mine. Nothing happens. I say, “Donny? Hey Donny!” to which he replies, "Oh, hey there, forgot about you."
Eventually, we arrive at the climb and begin. We are on one gorgeous piece of Earth. The Blue Mountains and the view we have are surreal.
Donny leads the first pitch. The climbing is good with solid 5.8 YDS on the first pitch. Everything is good with the exception of a party behind us, who did not let us get clear of the first belay station before joining us on it. I am really not clear on whether this is the way things are in Australia, or if these guys were eager. I am anxious because of the company and with my uncertainty with the guide, who I begin to think of as "Meth-a-Don."
We progress on through the second pitch and are on a tiny belay with Meth-a-Don and I taking turns standing on a nickel to swap gear and get him going. I check his rigging on belay, because I think I am essentially free soloing today while tied to his rope. The pucker factor is huge. Included in the angst is the pair of eager Aussie beavers actually down under me. We yell back at the eager Aussies and tell them to hold till we clear this station because there is not enough room and they agree to hold back.
Off goes Methy grunting, slipping, setting marginal protection, and I am now the star on some goofy climbing CD, "Stupid Yank Solo Climbs Sweet Dreams On Site."
I get to the third Belay station and realize that Donny the meth king has been belaying me off one bolt. I was right; I might as well be ropeless. I am not sure why Meth-a-Don is wagging this protection and rope around because the way he is using it won't hold if either of us fall. I have a discussion with Donny about single points of failure systems in climbing gear and how I am not digging on the single bolt action. My tone, however, is friendly, because only Meth-a-Don and eager beaver below know where the route is and I don't trust either. Donny at least is with me. Donny then says, "Man, I am glad you noticed that. If I fall, I want you to be able to catch me." I swear, he says this aloud. We add another point to the system.
The rock we are climbing on is soft. Donny sets gear from time to time and pulls on it to test it and the rock cracks and crap comes spraying down. This is wacky. We should not be climbing in rock this soft. We take off on a 40 meter traverse that Donny calls "eerie."
Guides should not fall, should show no fear and should not screw up. Donny fails at all three of these as he launches into the eerie part of the pitch. He grunts, moans, curses, mentions how hard it is, finally sets a piece and pushes on. He maybe lands four pieces of protection in the entire 40 meters. Midway across he says, “Sometimes these ledges break off under your feet and you can fall. Be careful." I shake my head. Soft rock, no protection, huge exposure... this is insane.
The view is awesome, though, and after Meth-a-Don gets across and builds an anchor, I try to take a picture. My camera fails. Frustrating, but meaningless if I die here. I focus on climbing, because there are some seemingly 5.9 moves prior to this stinking traverse that might fall out from under me while some idiot I don't know or trust supposedly belays me from anchors that, as far as I know, may not even exist. But the view is spectacular and I am just nutty with excitement at soloing this climb in such a beautiful place so far from home. I remove the protection that Methy put in -- it's marginal at best and dangerous, to be honest. He has no clue.
I'm 100 meters from the deck on a steep wall, scared of heights and after looking at more of the protection, accutely aware that I'm alone and unprotected on suspect rock. I finish the traverse and arrive at Meth-a-Don. I return the protection he does not know how to use, so he can pretend to use it on the last pitch.
Donny begins said pitch and it is too hard for him. He down climbs and comes back to me. I am just totally in the moment here. I am praying, looking at the beautiful things around me, and trying to find a place I could tuck into for the night until someone rescues me from this place. I recommend that Donny try this corner route because it looks a bit better and he does. I am now convinced I truly am my own ticket back home. Donny starts climbing again and gives me the commentary, "Oh yes, this looks good."
He sets pro every 6 feet, but it doesn't matter, because the protection is falling out of the rock as he climbs past it and the gear is raining down on me at the belay station via the rope. We make it up the pitch, which was the hardest of them all, and to the top. The view is awesome, and we sit down for a bit to take it all in. Rain from the sky replaces the rain of the gear and the reign of Meth-a-Don is done.
We take off for the car and the deed is done, too.