This is the first in a series of guest posts by Simon Li, from UNSW Outdoors Club and founder of Pure Slacklines. (until the project gets sent basically).
Start matched. Left heel, left jug. Right toe, right jug. Left heel, left undercling. Right foot pocket, left foot re-adjust. Right hand throw… big throw.
Rewind to back when it all started. It was December of 2010, after another Christmas. Not my favourite time of the year, but that’s another story. Somehow I managed to convince Kate to make the journey with me to the Grampians where we would meet Sam, who had been living there for the better part of three months. A dream most of us have at one point of our climbing life, though strangely very few accomplish.
So Kate, a lovely English girl, whom I met earlier that year during a bushwalking trip with the UNSW Outdoors Club, enthusiastically and trustingly came along for a week of bouldering madness. After a long drive, plenty of tune’age and ham sandwiches we were finally there. Sam who had been roughing it for a while now was starting to show it.
We also met our neighbours Rick and Amanda who came down from the Blue Mountains. Both climbing junkies and good friends, it soon became a party of five as we sprayed beta, spotted, and sent everything in sight over the next few days. Rick owns the climbing gym in Leura, unfortunately a gym I have not yet visited. Amanda worked at the Wattle cafe in Blackheath and owned the most awesome and colourful tatt’s I’ve ever seen. Both very strong climbers and equally determined.
Trackside, Andersons, Campsite, Loopeys, problems were being sent left, right and centre. We were all feeling pretty good and having a blast. The grades were flying out the door. Having only recently finished my second ever V5 in Sydney (Liquorice Arete at the Fear Factory after Mike’s 5 at Sissy, if you must know) I felt quite apprehensive about the whole grade chase. Now I know that’s just something Sissy Crag does to you. I spent the best part of a year getting my first V4, Foam, so I was not expecting too much out of this trip. It soon became apparent that Rick, a grade 30 sport climber in the Bluey’s, was pushing me to my limit. It’s fascinating how much pushing grades is a head game. My hardest sport route I’d led had been a pathetic 21 in comparison, but we were bouldering toe to toe. It seemed at times I was actually showing Rick how it was done! V4, V5, V6 came and went. Sam some how convinced me to jump on a V8 which I sent second or third go, I still have a very vague memory and understanding about that one. Bitch Slap V7 in Loopeys also got sent, a little out of order, but still a confidence booster.
As is usually the case, we ended up in the Cave. Hollow Mountain Cave is such an amazing feature. Just to look at, spend some time, with that view. Being the home to world class boulder problems and in addition one of the hardest and most aesthetically pleasing problems in the world? That’s just icing on an already delicious cake. Also following customs, we started on Wimmel Friedhoff. Such a classic V5 at the entrance of the cave, with a high roof going into a committing sloper gaining the exit topping out, it justly deserves it’s cult status. Once that was sent (after considerable effort! both physically and mentally) we were free to roam further into the cave. Mucking around a little on a bunch of problems, Rick and I soon gravitated towards Caveman. Perhaps being part of the Wheel and being a V9 (my “next” grade) had something to do with it. We worked the last part of the problem, a powerfully fun V5 on it’s own. Worked the start. Worked the second crux, which follows the main crux. Oh yeah! It soon was starting to feel somewhat possible. In the realm of us mortals.
Then we were at the crux. Oh dear, what a crux. The best way to describe it would be a horizontal iron cross. At least that’s how it felt. Impossibly far away, going from a (good) left hand undercling and bunched up in a left side twist, to exploding far, far right to a slot half way to the moon. What the fuck? It truly was a mind fuck. We must have been on Caveman now for hours although we were so in the zone, I really have no recollection. Rick was starting to give up on it, wanting to tick something rather than spend too much time on one problem that had a slim chance of going. I felt similarly, but in the back of my mind the glimmer of possibility whet my appetite. Soon I realised that I couldn’t fight it and next day or two (our last in the Grampians) were devoted to this one problem. I worked every move, every sequence. I climbed it in my mind, more than a dozen times. Every time I tried the crux, I got shut down, hard. Still, I wanted it. It had a reputation, heck, it had a variant called Cave Girl specifically invented to avoid the crux. “Just as hard” everyone said. While I did agree, it was hard not to snicker a little at their need to justify this fact, just a tiny bit too defensively. Perhaps my ego was winning out, but I had no desire to climb Cavegirl. I started on Caveman, it was such a mind-blowing line with an amazing crux, that’s what I’m here to do, I thought to myself.
So on my umpteenth attempt I stuck the crux! The very first time, I hardly believed it. Ok compose myself, my inner monologue was saying. Don’t blow it, the second crux is in no way easy! I had my doubts. Bam. Through the second crux, don’t fuck it up I thought! Keep it steady, don’t pump out, please don’t pump out. Some how I managed to pull past the big throw in the final section, the crux of the V5. As soon as I had a brief moment of relief I peeled and came crashing down. What have I done? That’s not fair! Heartbroken, I got up and wandered around. I couldn’t believe it but I also didn’t know how to feel.
We left the Grampians, not before trying Caveman a few more times and getting no where close to landing the crux. Kate and I spent an afternoon visiting some nearby wineries and I got a couple of bottles of red from the Grampians Estate. Sending wine, I thought, I’ll keep it for when Caveman is done and dusted. In retrospect, maybe I should have picked more carefully, something that was crafted to age perhaps?