Trip ReportDefender Of The Faith, Mount Buffalo
Last week I climbed my first grade V, Defender Of The Faith. I thought I'd post this trip report here, I feel I owe it to Chris Macnamara, PTPP, Mark Hudon and all the others here whose stuff we read and tried to use. Thanks guys!
In Australia if you want to go aid climbing, there's very few places where you can "pull the portaledge out without feeling embarrased" and the only real place to go is the North Wall of the Gorge at Mount Buffalo. The king line is Ozymandias Direct, aka 'Ozy', which is normally aided in two or three days. A little further upstream in the gorge, starting from a halfway ledge, is Defender Of The Faith, the closest thing to an introductory trade route.
The first ascent tale of Ozy is great actually. It was attempted by the great John Ewbank himself, however after reaching the Big Grassy Ledge, his second insisted on bailing. Before rapping off, Ewbank threw the haulbag to the ground in anger and it exploded. That second was Chris Baxter...who returned a few weeks later with Chris Dewhurst, to finish the route for himself!
The legendary Buffalo aid climber Rod Kerr aka "I'dratherbeclimbingM9" (M9 is A5 in the Australian aid grading system) was running one of his "learn-to-aid" weekends, which were once described as "where beginners get sandbagged onto first ascent death routes". Also there as guest instructors from the other states were Macca Macpherson, Blue Mountains chossmaster, and Phil Box, Frog Buttress local and one of the very few people who have climbed the monster Wollumbin Shield on Mt Warning, who drove all the way from freaking Queensland for the weekend!
Having raided the gear cupboard of the University of NSW Outdoor Club and left it bare, and begged borrrowed and stolen what we could (including a pair of tied tube tape etriers with garden hose segements to stiffen the steps) I left Sydney on friday night, slept by the side of the road near Albury, and finished the drive up to Mt Buffalo in the morning, to find everyone still lounging at the campsite.
Everyone, except for Hugh and Phil, who were on the North Wall attempting Ozy In A Day. We ended up watching them from the South Wall lookout at sunset, stuck at the first big roof pitch, and a very long way from the top. Rod, Macca and Phil helpfully explained how difficult it would be to rescue them, and how poor their bivvy options were. After battling through the upper off width pitches in the dark, and a few hours sleep on the only remaining ledge, they eventually topped out…in a spectacular 24 hours and 20 minutes.
For the rest of us, the first two days we had a good mix of climbers practicing single pitch aiding on a couple of the crags around the plateau. My first route was "Cacaphonic Crack", which was recommended as "easy cam jugging". It turned out to be a Henry Barber FFA offwidth, and I quickly found out that aiding offwidths isn't much easier than free climbing them. After whipping onto a tipped-out #5 camalot (after the second tipped-out #5 that I was standing on blew) I returned with Phil Box's #6 and Big Bros and finished the job. I also climbed "Faust And Elizabeth".
There were were also ascents of the now infamous "Cream Machine", a seam crack aid testpiece which has seen at least one serious zipper groundfall on a previous aid weekend, and couple other big falls. And Rod put up another little piece of hooking madness on Sunday.
On sunday night the rest of our Defender team arrived from Sydney: James, my usual partner in crime and notable for being the rare combination of a young Australian alpinist, and Ro, who although more accomplished as a Grampians boulderer, has been impressing with a fast progression climbing on gear.
In a flurry of enthusiasm they arrived and we started packing.
It was interesting how me and James saw big wall climbing style. James was definitely influenced by Mark Hudon (build the anchor with rope and slings, stove and coffee are NECESSITIES, fancy hauling setups, extra hauling capacity to take hot food etc) while I was influenced by Chris Mac after reading the Supertopo book cover to cover (cordelettes, pack light, cold food, climb fast and simply). I didn't even want to take a sleeping mat ("how cold can it get in Australia in November?") I also only wanted two people (sorry Ro) but I'll admit the trip was a lot more fun with three.
That night I'm pretty sure I did actually sleep! But monday morning dawned and I was in a kind of manic state. The colours were too bright and sounds too loud and I was barely aware of the gear we were supposed to take. In fact, we forgot the tag line (the leader trailed the haul line) and the fuel canister for the jetboil (so James hauled his stove and coffee for nothing)
It's Australia, so of course you start at the top and rap in. 3 full length rope-stretching raps onto the Fuhrer Ledge. There is of course no way off of Fuhrer Ledge, except for a) further raps down the Gorge and then a horrifying bash up the infamous south side "track" or b) climb out. The traditional escape route is the Comet Ramp, which is still definitely a 5th class multi pitch and of course we didn't have a guide for it. So there was definitely NO BAILING.
The abseils took quite a while and put us behind schedule (James in particular had a hard time with the pig). Plus we didn't have the brightest start.
Anyway I think I was grovelling up the slimey wet chimney to start at like 11am. At the top of the slimey wet chimney I remember placing a #4 in a puddle before back cleaning it, like it was actually submerged under water.
I made my way up the rest of the ramp and corner, stopping to glance around the arete every now and then to see if the bolt was getting any closer, finally placed a couple of good RPs and was able to lean around and clip the shiny hanger. Awesome!
However after the bolt I got a bit stuck. I had to somehow negotiate a traverse past several flaring and broken seams and flakes to the next crack system. Finally I placed a wonky cam in the flake above. Progress! But it popped and I fell. I eagerly batmanned back to the bolt, and this produced so much slack for the lazy belayer that Ro apparently nearly fell backwards off of Fuhrer Ledge!
I didn't notice this, as I had spotted a #1 RP placement out to the left that I was sure would hold. It didn't and I took a fairly nasty swinging fall and took a gouge out of the back of my hand (wasn't wearing gloves for some reason). Back at the bolt again. There was a slight scream of frustration at this point, things went a bit red and I tensioned left and did two hook moves to finally gain the crack. Hooray!
Unfortunately, after climbing this crack I reached the first (hanging) belay and it was appalling. Literally the worst fixed gear I have ever seen outside of the Sydney sea cliffs, this appalling drooping 5mm carrot and a rusty piton which apparently has a crack in the eye. For the main anchor (I remember this well because I was VERY glad when we moved off it) I placed an ok nut and an ok #0.5 camalot to back up the rust and tied it all together with a cordelette. For the hauling anchor I placed a good nut and a yellow C3 and backed it up to the piton. I tied this together with the haul line (this was dumb! Using the haul line in the anchor leads to clusters!) We also placed another #0.5 sized metolius cam as another backup. It was all ok but lacked that comforting cliff towing piece....
Everyone and everything came up and we argued about the belay and clusterf'd about and eventually James started on the next pitch. He reached the roof and placed an RP and then hand placed the tomahawk (our special secret aid weapon) and was able to get around the roof.
However at this point he was out of steam and lowered off. We sent up our "Ro"pe gun to french free the rest of the pitch, however he ended up improvising some sort of aiding system to finally crawl to the bomber, shiny bolts of the second belay.
At this point the sun was setting, I had been standing in slings for hours and was getting cold and mentally drained...I persuaded James that cleaning, jugging and hauling the second pitch was not going to happen today. James set up the portaledge while Ro fixed and rapped the second pitch. He thoughtfully backed up our anchor to the fixed line...however I didn't find this out until afterwards.
I tell you what, there's trusting your gear placements...and then there's hanging three guys, a portaledge and a haulbag off of a trad anchor you built while everyone bounces around eating and getting into sleeping bags.
Around this time someone was yelling and flashing a light at us from the lookout on the south side? It sounded like Macca? We debated whether yelling and flashing back would be asking for rescue (which we were...pretty sure...we didn't want) and eventually did just a little bit of flashing and cheerful yelling.
Three guys on a two person portaledge is not comfortable but it was alright (the hammock we brought for the third was a dumb idea and didn't happen). I slept but I was cold.
The next day we got up and I actually clipped the portaledge to my harness and jugged with it to the second belay which is also hanging (James assured me that it's a thing people do). We set it up again. We hauled.
Then I got on lead again. The third pitch is straightforward, bomber gear but it is loooong. Nearly a full rope length. It was a very long time and I had to fight down the Fear a few times and keep going. After a while the guys ran out of rope to tag up more gear so I did a couple of bigger back cleans.
Right at the top of the pitch you have to move right towards the ledge. I could see the final carrot that would take me to the ledge, with one crack between it and me that I had to move in to. From a high piece I reached way right and was able to blindly place a big ol' metolius cam. It felt solid so I moved onto it. As it moved into view i was horrified to see it was the mankiest cam I have ever placed. Every single lobe was at a different angle and every single lobe was barely touching the rock. I stopped breathing and was able to place a half decent #3 camalot above it. Oh god.
I clipped the carrot and mantled to the ledge, built the bestest and most well-organised anchor ever, fixed the ropes and sat back satisfied that my job was done.
After we were all established at the ledge, Ro and James racked up and free-climbed out the variant finish. As the last pitches are traversing, it was decided to climb them separately and then do the last haul directly from the top (the Better Way!) It was apparently quite exiting, Ro did a couple of very good leads and James apparently had a brutal time trying to second, he said something about sideways jugging.
I didn't listen too closely as I was settled on the ledge, with a beer and plenty of water on hand enjoying the view. A frantic scream or two from the others interrupted the serenity occasionally, but the waterfall drowned out most of it and I even had a little snooze.
Finally Ro reappeared, having rapped back down from the top rap station to set up the final haul. I jugged out last, pushing the haul bag and ledge past the bushes. The lengths were all wrong and the jugging was effing brutal. I was destroyed when I got to the top, back at the rap station where we had started.
We got everything over the lip and safe and trudged back to the car with a little daylight to spare. I remember I saw a sign saying "Danger Unprotected Cliffs" and broke down laughing...."but I got so much good protection..!"
Rod Kerr, Macca, and Phil Box (for instruction, supervision, inspirational speeches, and borrowed gear)
Neil Monteith (for beta and inspiration)
Matt Perret (for trad mentorship on my first trip to Buffalo and inspiration)
Willis, Pete Butcher and Brendan (for borrowed gear)
Chris Macnamara, John Long and John Mittendorf (for their books)
Pass The Pitons Pete (for the Better Way)
Mark Hudon (for his tips)
Steve Hawkshaw (for gear and gear advice, www.climbinganchors.com.au shoutout!)
And of course Ro and James (for the climb)
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