Sunday, August 17, 2008

Camps And a Climbing Adventure

-2: Mt Barney (not my photo)
-1: ditto
1: A co-worker setting up abseils at Kangaroo Point
2: Brisbane by night from K point.
3: Glasshouse mountains from a viewpoint
4. French climber on Tibrogargan
5. Another viewpoint
6. The main climbing mountain - Tibrogargan
7. Gypsy Jules in his hobbit hole

Camps, Mt Barney discovery, a Climbing epic and thoughts on Man’s need for Adventure.

Been to quite a variety of camps in the last month or so…

In July – Near Mt Barney , which is a great scenic area on the Qld/NSW border, Just inland from the gold coast. Mt barney at 1300m is tall for Australia, and sticks out majestically. I went to a 3 day camp, had a 4 day break, the another 3 days at the same place. There Are stacks of outdoor centers in the area – most of them around the lakes , surrounded by mountains, and some challenging bushwalks.

I took the opportunity to discover Mt Barney National park .. which was a bushwalking mecca in the 60s and 70s. Went up a steep and strenuous ridge walk, involving some climbing up slabs on the way up. Got up to the saddle at 1000m. Great gorges full of jungle trees and whooping birds. The mountain was lit up with it’s red rocks glowing at 7am when I started the walk. Also discovered the town of Boonah - real country town with long-bearded farmers walking around, an old pub and so on. Lots of horse breeders in the area.
Also hard crack-climbing (Yosemite style but 20m high) in nearby Mt French.
At one nat park rest area, I ran 10km to a gorge and back, then enjoyed the afternoon sun.

Lived out of my van, in rest areas and a campsite … great to be a gypsy again ! that lifestyle really suits me. Discovering scenic areas, Watching the sun set as I eat dinner from my small gas cooker, reading books in the evening with my headtorch, in my sleeping bag. Then drifting off to sleep with my MP3 player. All I need is my laptop with a wireless broadband modem… then I can update my blog on the move, and use the net for email etc.

I was telling a friend about my parents, going to Europe etc, the fact that my mother and I both have vans and live in them occasionally… And I said we were “gypsies with degrees” well almost… we are educated working gypsies anyway..

A day of work at kangaroo point… a great climbing spot on the south bank of Brisbane city river (see photo above). Got 15 yr old girls abseiling. Then climbed a bit with some Mexican climbers I met. Spent the nite at mt Cootha (a viewpoint mountain right next to the city), and came back to boulder at K point the next day. I was impressed by the flotillas of road bikes, runners at 6am in Brisbane city…

Then drove up to the Glasshouse Mountains (1 hr north of Brisbane, 1hr south of Noosa)… A fabulous Tolkien-like set of volcanic plugs surrounded by forest, both natural and plantation.
And I discovered, to my delight, some great long bolted climbs on Mt Tibrogargan.
Came back with my climbing gear, and met a French couple (living in Brisbane) with whom I did some routes. Led 2 climbs – 45 m lengths – with some challenging moves. It felt really good to be doing some “real” climbing – ie in a great setting, with amazing views, on long routes.
A bit later, I got a call out of the blue from Gil, the french-canadian I shared a flat with in Malaysia. After climbing in Thailand, he was a deckhand on a yacht for 2 weeks in Thai, during which he learnt quite a bit about navigation and such. Then travelled in India and Nepal, and then Australia, where he travelled with his parents in a rental van.

He had just bought a neat campervan – toyota pop-top, with table, seats , cupboards, a good size fridge, etc.. (much more luxurious than my spartan carpet floor where I sit and eat, and sleep with my futon ). For 6000 $ and a years guarantee. A good buy.
Has a working visa and just got work in a poultry factory in the glasshouse area.

Jules and Gil have a small rock-climbing epic.

So we went climbing an afternoon, slept in our vans, and then did a serious climb the next day – 5 lengths up, and a tricky 100m abseil…
I led some hardish pitches on the way up, getting some of my proficiency back. I’ve hardly climbed seriously since I left France in 2005. Did a 5 day course on lead climbing back in 2000 in Orpierre (south of France) , which taught me to push myself, to commit once above the bolt. I once fell 10m.. but on bolted “sports” climbs, there is little risk apart from scratches.
At the end of the course I could lead 6c-grade climbs (french grade) I can now lead 5b/c, but that’s normal with the lack of practice. At any rate I still consider rock climbing as training for my true love – Mountaineering – which I also haven’t done since 2005.

We abseiled down a different way, using a fixed anchor that was in place. Going down my doubled 50m ropes, I realized the cliff was overhanging, and ended up about 3m horizontally from the next anchor point… 15 m above the end of the ropes suspended in mid air, a bit stressed. Fortunately, I had a prussik cord attached to the rope – which meant I could use both hands and the cord would squeeze the rope, so I didnt’s slide down it.
I considered my options – attaching a leg prussik and going back up the rope (tedious and tiring) , abseiling down a bit further and finding a single bolt on which I could anchor myself (not good practice), or somehow swinging into the cliff.

I decided to try the latter, and pulled up one of my ropes to use as a lasso. For the next rather stressing minutes, I tried to lasso a boulder at the the anchor ledge, so as to pull myself into the cliff. I had to wait for my body to spin around to face the cliff, and then lasso. After 4 or so goes, I finally caught the bolder, and pulled myself in gingerly, and with relief, grabbed the anchor and clipped myself onto it. I made sure I held onto the ropes, so that Gil would not be faced with the same problem when he abseiled down.
Our troubles were not over, however, Gil came down and clipped himself to the anchor. We then proceeded to pull on one of the ropes, so that the rope would slide thru the anchor above us and later fall down on top of us. Mountain Abseils are known to be fraught with problems– ropes get stuck, people drop the ropes and so on. To my horror, the rope would not come… We were only 40m above the ground, but with no warm clothes , no headtorch… it would have been unpleasant to wait there for a rescue. So near , but so far..
I remembered the v-like crack that I had noticed on the edge of the abseil, and we assumed the ropes were stuck in it, on top of each other, stopping a good sliding occurring. So Gil volunteered to prussik back up, to my relief. It looked long and tedious and involved hanging in mid air, which I find a bit stressful.
20 minutes or so later, he was up, tired, and moved the ropes out of the crack. He came back down carefully and we pulled the rope successfully, and breathed a sigh of relief. We had been going 5 hours or so without water, which didn’t help either.

We did the last abseil , and then walked the short distance back to the vans.

Rather tired but exhilarated, I then drove more than 3 hours north to get to a camp near Bundaberg, where I started work the next day, and for 3 days.

I was excited like I haven’t been for a while. It’s funny the way we benefit from adventure, from a bit of constructive suffering once in a while. There was the feeling of achievement, of having conquered my fear of falling on some pitches, and snarling with aggression, gone up to the next bolt. The beauty of the view across the plain, the physical pleasure of having used every cell in my body. I lay that night relaxing with my MP3 player, feeling every cell in my body vibrating with the day’s use.
Adventure like this awakens me – makes me more dynamic, more joyful. And I felt it made me a better person also – tougher and more noble. A bit like sword fighting I guess, except the Samurai of old risked their life while they focused on their art. A controlled dance with death is useful in getting the full savor from life.

I felt I needed more of this – more beating of the sword over the anvil by the blacksmith of adventure. I think everybody needs this; in our overcontrolled air-conditioned world between our cars and the shopping mall, where we watch others striving to survive on TV in natural disasters, wars and outdoor adventure; with all the really hard and dangerous tasks such as police work, fighting wars against our enemies, firefighting, rescue - outsourced to full-time third parties; so that we can continue to go to shopping malls and enjoy our opulence in safety, go to guitar lessons, sing, dance, have children and live in hope for the future.

This Saturday afternoon, I was back for more climbing with Gil… although not as demanding as that little epic of ours.
I would be in New Zealand right now, working as a cross-country skiing instructor, were it not for the fact that I was waiting for a major Australian job application to come through.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jules, thanks for an exciting read! I can't help having a mother's point of view and wondering how Rosemary must feel when she reads about you doing all these risky things! I suppose by now she's used to you being able to get out of scrapes!
Clearly you have a wealth of experience and know-how.
Your camping experiences in other ways sound idyllic. I am *really* tempted to get myself a nice campervan and just take off! (Are they hard to back into a parking space?)
Thanks for sharing!

Marcus said...

Jules, you certainly have become a very capable story-teller. And a convincing philosopher, especially since your appendicitis ordeal.

Your account was riveting. It reminded me of Krakauer's account of the Everest disastrous ascent in, I think, 1995 ("Into Thin Air"), when a bunch of his co-climbers perished - but although of course his storyline was intensely compelling I wasn't impressed with his writing style; I think yours is better (save, of course, for your continued insistence on not checking for spelling mistakes and typos)...

You use a lot of technical climber's terms in your account; I'm not familiar with all of them but I got the general idea of the nasty situation you found yourself in. As you know, that's not my ideal kettle of fish: I much prefer resolving critical engineering problems than dangling from the end of a rope 40m above the ground and 3m away from the nearest cliff face...

But good on you for using your nous and preventing both you and Gil from ending up in a potentially catastrophic situation. Well done bro'!!

Marcus said...

Jules: I forgot to ask, what make/model is your camper van? It looks great! Was it already fitted out for camping or did you need to make some modifications "à la Dad"??!

Cecilia: The whole idea of a camping van is that you should not need to back it into a parking space, they are made for adventure in the great outdoors... ;) :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your nice comments people. A van is surprisingly easy to drive. You need to be careful when backing, but I use mine regularly to go shopping.

The Van is a ford econovan. It was just a shell - a tray with a carpet. I bought a roll up mattress, and half the tray is filled with boxes with clothes, gear. an eski, and a large metal box which is chained to the insiede of the van, and has my valuables - climbing gear, laptop, etc.