On reflection, this is probably the most scared I’ve been. Lost in a sea of dodgy rock, 1 hour from the car and with no real climbing gear to speak of. It was character building though and formed a pretty good climbing partnership with Dan as a result. Once you trust someone enough to get you out of a debacle like this, lots of other things seem easier. Below is the route description I wrote up a couple of days after the event.
New Route Description, Mt Hay, Blue Mountains
“An Elephant or the Moon”, 150m, 14.
Follow access description for Tom Thumb, but include a one hour diversion to the start of the Fortress Canyon, rather than the end of the canyon. Walk back and forth through the scrub at the top of the cliff looking for U-Bolts for the first abseil. Check map and then follow its instructions. Clip anchors and then get the knots back out of the rope you forgot to fix last night. Abseils as described for Tom Thumb.
Don’t take any, as it will only dilute the experience. We planned to do Tom Thumb and so only took bolt plates (about 20), which will be of no use at all. Some cams might help ease your mind a little as well. Anything else is unnecessary. Take slings for tying off hakeas and lumps of grass; some tent pegs for belays would be useful too.
Pitch 1, 16m 8
Follow bolt up and line of broken rock up buttress and belay on top of buttress. Make sure you belay from out of the fall line as you will be peppered with broken ironstone. Rather than using belay bolts on second pitch of Tom Thumb improvise using one bolt and cam placement at top of pitch 1.
From belay at pitch one wander around looking for the next bolt. Decide that it must be higher up out of view and climb on. Step on well worn block and pull onto wall using side pull in crack and jug up higher. Stick smallest cam into sandy slot and keep telling yourself “it shouldn’t be this hard, it’s only a 12, I must be missing something.” Pull through and regain breath. Slither into cave and sling a dodgy looking horn with the longest sling you’ve got. Back out onto wall, and slightly right to mantle right on the edge of the buttress, about 4m from the dodgy sling. Empty trousers off ledge, avoiding belayer below. Back onto middle of face, wrestle up wall, kicking off the obvious holds as you go. Belay in dirty gully just below cave, using 2 small shrubs as gear. Panic as you realise that the 2 bomber shrubs could both go in one fall and kick some steps in the dirt to try and brace yourself in. Ensure that at least one species of ant is disturbed and agitated. I went for 2, just to be sure. Try and remember which bag your jacket is in as cumulo-nimbus gather on the next ridge, discharging a few million volts every now and then.
The end of pitch 3 should have you on a heavily vegetated ledge, waist high in grass and pointy shrubs. You should feel at least a little bit lost. Head left looking for a bolt, then right, up a bit, left again then back to where you started. Look left about 25m to what at first appears to be a bolt, but on closer inspection turns out to be a flower. Follow this corner up anyway, and call it the 3rd pitch.
Pitch 3, 30m 12
A tricky start in the corner leads to some horrid climbing on bad gear. Clip flower on left. Jam cams into mud in corner, don’t check the placement because you won’t like what you see, and push on. Sling any vegetation of greater diameter than 15mm. Take any opportunity available to kill marsh flies which will no doubt be feeding heavily on any slow moving climbers. Sling hakea for anchor.
Pitch 4, 20m 8
More classic choss, this time with a bit more danger and extra vegetation. Pick the line that looks safest and head up the corner. After a few metres of scrub bashing and swearing, head back out onto the face and look for something to sling. Crawl into cave on belly and consider bivvy until rescuers find you. Sling hakea and try and climb past, only to realise that its sole intention is to push you off the edge. More swearing and grunting will bring you to a belay ledge of little distinction. Put cam in crack on right and test. Remove cam once 12kg rock has been dislodged slightly. Hope that it stays there. Sink 4 cams into one crack system, set feet securely and belay. Kill more marsh flies. Ignore the bushfire that has started on the next ridge due to the dry lightning strikes.
Pitch 5, 44m, 12ish, but could change at any moment.
Head up through gentle weakness in wall, being sure to put feet and hands as far back as possible to avoid breaking the ironstone flakes off. Kick a few off anyway just to be sure. Place small cams in shallow, flared, sandy pockets for protection. They won’t hold you in a fall, so don’t fall. Keep an ear out for the sound of sliding rock and be prepared to deflect previously dislodged boulder when it falls.
Here’s where the rock fell from
Ensure at least 2 fingers are hurt when it goes, preferably accompanied by some bleeding.
And here’s where it landed.
Put hands back on rope, pretending that nothing happened and yell some encouragement, something along the lines of “you’re looking good mate, the gear looks bomber too!” Sling 2 trees and 3 boulders on the top, just to be sure. Haul lazy, tired, grumpy second up and over top. Stagger away cursing, swearing never to return to this choss infested nightmare hill.
Treat abrasions and muscle soreness with James Squire Golden Ale until the pain goes away and the memory fades into a pleasant one, full of personal triumph and character development. Make plans to do Tom Thumb on the following Saturday.