Tom Thumb


On a quiet weeknight we squeezed into Blair Force One and lumbered up the Great Western Highway, past the seedy yellow light of Blaxland McDonald’s, and up the twisting dirt of the Mt Hay Road, headlamps peering into the drizzle. Camp that night was damp and uncomfortable, amongst the gums in the small rocky clearing of the Fortress trailhead.

Morning was not that much different.

Stoke was lacking, as were beanies.
“Blair Force One” is the name of Blair’s Subaru.

Despite the constant drips and ten meters of visibility, we got ready and racked anyway. I had faith in the weather forecast (“By lunchtime we’ll be boiling in the sun and wishing it was this damp!”) but it was shaken badly as we pushed through wet, dense bush on the narrow trail, and quickly became saturated through. We joked the approach was more swimming then hiking.

After an hour or so of walking, we reached the top of the route. Visibility was still poor and it seemed we might have made another failed attempt.

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But we waited a bit, and it began to clear. Game on.

There were three 50m raps on double ropes. It went pretty well, besides some minor battles with (still-wet) trees and belay chaos on small ledges.

4I got the first pitch, to the top of a small buttress. Fuelled by a bite of one of Bulti’s energy bars (“One third of your daily recommended calories!”) I followed a vague corner and crack up and around to the right, clipping a couple bolts and a cam or two.

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Bulti brings up Blair, while I flake the rope for pitch two.

At the top we walked over to the base of a much larger buttress, pitch two. This 40m pitch is the crux and the most involved.

"This looks harder than a 12..."
“This looks harder than a 12…”

The buttress was undercut to start, so to get off the ledge I grabbed a horizontal rail, threw my foot up to a high step on a nubbin, and pulled hard. Shakily balanced with both feet on the rail and acutely aware of the factor 2 fall potential, I got an OK nut in a crack. A few feet higher I got another decent one. Then, after clipping the first bolt, I traversed right under a large roof, with a micro-cam and nut in a horizontal crack for pro. Rounding the roof, I followed bolts a long way up the black slab, to finally reach the belay bolts in a cave.

"THAT WAS DEFINITELY HARDER THAN 12!"
“THAT WAS DEFINITELY HARDER THAN 12!”
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Bulti reaches the second belay.

While belaying, Bulti had to regularly swat away the disturbed ants who were now angrily swarming all over the cliff.

Not pictured: ANTS
Not pictured: ANTS

As predicted, the sun had burned away all the mist and drizzle and was back with a vengeance. Luckily, each belay was made in a shady cave, allowing everyone to rest while the leader sweated it out on the sharp end.

Blair chills out.
Blair chills out.

For the third pitch, Bulti climbed out the right side of the cave. With a couple of cams for pro, he pulled over a little rooflet and up to the third belay, which had a bolt, #3 camalot in a bad shallow pocket, and a micro cam in a weird but totally bomber placement in a thin crack.

The fourth pitch is the money pitch. Climbing out to the right of the belay cave again, it goes right up the middle of a long, alpine arete, with spaced bolts for pro, and huge ironstone jugs everywhere.

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“That’s pretty exposed!”

The crux is the rope drag at the top. Next time I’d probably back-clean a bolt or two at the start.

Nick at the top of the alpine ridge pitch.
Nick at the top of the alpine ridge pitch.

The day was really getting hot now, and there was a break for lunch in the latest belay cave.

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Blair reluctantly crawls out into the sunlight to belay Bulti.

The fifth pitch is also really good. It’s the steepest, and goes up a wall with stupendous jugs and some exposure. If you haven’t climbed in the Blue Mountains before it’s hard to appreciate how ridiculous some of the ironstone holds can be. You laugh at the beginner’s climbs in a gym with huge blobby green things everywhere, and say “Well, it’s fun for the kids, but rock like that doesn’t exist in nature!” but, it totally does, and there’s six pitches of it on this route.

The sixth and final pitch is a scramble up several ledges, as the ridge/arete narrows up to the platform at the top of the route. The crux for me was again rope drag.

Topping out.
Topping out.
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Looking down the line of the route.

All that was left now was the long hike back to the car, and drive to civilization.

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Bellbird Wall can actually be seen on the other side of the valley.

A brilliant day out, and highly recommended if Sweet Dreams is getting old, but Bunny Bucket Buttress or Bellbird Wall are still intimidating. A lot of people seem to write off this route as crap, but come on, it’s a big visible line in the Grose, it’s pretty clean (I only had to brush past two trees), well bolted, it’s in the wilderness, and the climbing is classic at the grade. Fun for the whole family. Two out of three trad stars, and a full three for beginning leaders.

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