Friday, May 27, 2011

A Tale of Bungholes & Ultra Vixons

So limestone isn't the most plentiful thing going as far as Australia is concerned and it's easy to cry poor, wish for more and curse the sandstone hemming us in whilst longing for the continent. But there's a place, a place where limestone is the only thing on the menu, where a river cuts ancient stone down deep, deep down to form a narrow ultra-vixon gorge, with giant north and south walls but a stones throw from each other. The walls are made up of rocks mountains in size and they are so sheer in front, and so compactly built together on a level floor, that, comprehensively seen, enclose the gorge floor and appear as though they are the immense halls of temples lighted from above. Every rock seems to glow with life. Some lean back in majestic repose; others, absolutely sheer, or nearly so, for thousands of feet, advance their brows in thoughtful attitudes beyond their companions, giving welcome to storms and calms alike, seemingly conscious yet heedless of everything going on about them, awful in stern majesty, types of permanence, yet associated with beauty of the frailest and most fleeting storms. Around the bottom, splashed about slick and clean are the long dislodged hunks of rock that have tumbled down off of the walls, lodging themselves good and proper for god knows how long against each other to be lapped glassy smooth by the excitable puppy river waters of the ages. Below the sweeping expanse of the 300m high walls, the cliffs tuck in at the base forming an overhanging section about 20m high in places.

Bungonia Gorge has long been known for having some of the best and most unique multi-pitch climbing in the country and more recently has seen new activity on the sport climbing and bouldering front in isolated pockets of this immense place. It does appear though that despite all the knowledge of it's uniqueness and the activity Bungonia has see up until now, the true potential of the place remains to be realised.
(from the top of the second pitch)

Me brother 'n I were struck by the potential of the place in a kind of by proxy way, through daydreams from our far flung bunks we'd recall all the amazing walls hemming the place in that, as wee chillin's still on the teet of our mentors we'd dismissed as dirty or holdless in the entirety, bottom to top, impossible. But now, war wearied and grizzly faced by the experiences of several lifetimes and coursed by our daydreams, we headed back down to Bungonia for the first time in about three years to check out a wall on the north side that was reputed to be a veritable cheese platter of shit rock. The wall is a kind of diamond shape, approximately 150m long from tale to top and overhanging about 60m. Yes you heard me right, 60m in 150m! Now of course, we weren't sure of how this bolting foray would go, perhaps it would indeed be wholly gash and totally unworthy of our steel but we couldn't not go up there and have a look, with what both our imaginations had told us, it was a goldmine awaiting a shovel and a pan. To quote a great man, "I was drawn to what I was not certain, and that which I could not sleep without knowing".

We thought we'd aid bolt on up, check it out, and if it was an unholy nursery rhyme of cheddar cheese and crumbly crackers we'd turn our attention to the overhanging walls skirting the base of the south walls, which was certain to be the trustee of brilliance, and a reliable second option.

Our first mission down to check out the Chicken Wall (which is it's name) was actually a couple of years ago now, 2-3 or some such length 'a time. It was a summer like no other, rain rain, rain painfully dispersed in god forsaken showers about 20mins apart for....months! It was soooo hot and wet, like trying to exist in a Malasian rainforest jammed into a pressure cooker. Secondly, we made the mistake of camping in the gorge with all our bolting stuff and camping stuff (you can only appreciate the extent of this mistake when you try and walk out of this joint with a light day bag, let alone camping AND bolting gear. What green stems!). We spent two days down there bolting ground up with stumpy 8mm dyna-bolts, Lee breaking the new ground and I coming up behind sticking the big fatty bolts in and brushing. We decided to follow a vague diagonal line starting at the narrow bottom tip and hopefully finishing up the highest tip. As Lee moved up with every successive baby-boo-bolt it dawned on him more and more...this ain't no grumbling mass of stink'in bishop, no sir, this was A-grade, orange and blue steeeeeeep(!) limestone, and the best thing? There were holds! and good ones too, at least good enough to be certain that the thing went but not so good that it was gonna be jugs and certainly not on the border between iffy and impossibliffy, it was just all there. And they kept coming too, slopers, pockets and big fat flake features up aretes and exposed, daunting faces. We finished that trip at the top of what we thought would be the end of pitch two, with a little gulping unknown waiting above that would have to wait until next time. One thing was certain, what was to come was no less trouser filling, no sirrreee it was NOT.

(Lee drilling the holes for the anchors with drill bit silhouetted)
The next trip down was, for some strange reason the next summer but one thing was the same, it was the same grim, sweltering rainforest conditions with which to finish bolting this thing. We drove down the night before loaded with all the necessary tricks to finish it off. We cooked some chow in the lovely kitchen they built for all the marauding climbers that visit Bungonia and crawled into our far too small tent and laid awake till sunrise, such was the wretched sweat-filth-box-mozzy harboring weather. We woke up though, fresh and had quickly bubbled up our bacon and were on our way to the car park where the eflux track starts. We started sorting out gear and dividing it equally between our bags. I had the ropes, Lee had the biners but who had the bolts???...?!!! Lee was meant to but it seems he left them on the kitchen table in a brown paper bag....(what follows is the single funniest moment of my life).

As I said, it was Lee's fault, the bolts weren't there, he was meant to pack them and they AIN"T here...Lee realises this after frantically searching in hope he was mistook, he wasn't. From there the comedy began. Using the strength a mother summons to overcome the cement pylon crushing her child, Lee picked up the full(!) 75ltr haul bag that had a wet 100m static and another 50m rope in it and threw it, I kid you not, 5 metres into the air, hitting a tree branch and coming crashing to the ground and vomiting its contents out like a squashed rabbits gizzards beneath a heavy foot. He then started trembling, like powerful shivering with a grimace like a small dog trying to shit a submarine, he brought his hands up to the collar of his shirt, closed his hands and tore it apart right down the middle like Hulk Hogan with an elongated scream like a belching whale. The shirt flopped down around his wrists and then fell limply to the ground. Of corse I was laughing but didn't want to get torn in half myself so I turned around trying, but not really hiding the fact that I had all the worlds laughter within me, I couldn't breath...

So of corse we couldn't bolt, what to do but drive home the 3 hours, get the bolts and drive back and repeat the sleep over process.

For all our toil we weren't disappointed. The universe I think saw that we meant business and was more than likely fearful that Lee might furnish it a new gaping orifice and so fitted out the remainder of the route with holds. Not only did the line finish where we'd hoped, up the most insanely exposed set of roof's capping the wall but it did so via an exposed arete which lead into the roof's above which were littered with massive strange cobble features. As good as it gets doesn't really cut it. Despite having stumbled across what is more than likely the single greatest discovery made by any human ever, we were shagged. With all the driving and the stress associated with Lee's genetic misgivings coupled with the two 12 hour days hanging in the harness without food or water we drove home, happy but weary and like the two hobbits returning from Mordor in Isaiah 53:5, we had "fought and prevailed over the grim evils in dark places, and now, battle wearied and broken with eyes to the graceful heavens we go forward". The route was ready go!

(This was the early plan for the last pitch,it now goes slightly left up the arete and through the stacked roof's rather than skirting around it).

Just the other week we went on down to give it a burn and maybe bolt some other routes down on the riverbed while we were at it. We gave the route the working title of 'Bergurk', seeing as though the wall is called Chicken Wall it seemed fitting. All the moves went fairly easily and without to much trouble, but pulling on every second second to try the moves over 150m completely drained all our stores of goo, and we didn't get a chance to try the moves on the 3rd pitch however, it didn't look as hard as the second pitch which we thought would be about 32 or 33. We decided we'd rest our flamed arms the next day and bolt some more routes ground up. Down on the river we bolted three routes between us in one day, but didn't get a chance to give 'em any curry before the fading light of an already grey day finely left us to walk on out with all our bolting kit in the dark.

When we bolted the routes I was concerned that a massive tree would ruin my ability to skip clips on the upper section of the route I bolted, but by the time we got back down to try them the gorge had experienced a spot of heavy rain that had flooded the whole place. So deep was the water that there was sticks and leaf's jammed into the third bolts of our routes! The water must have been about 7m deep. The 15m high tree was gone, washed away down stream along with the rope we had stashed into a hidey hole that was meant to save us the trouble of bringing another, we did though luckily. At the base of our routes though, washed up into the upturned stump of a fallen tree was the very ripe carcass of a wallaby, unfortunately beyond even Lee's resuscitation efforts. We tried our routes for the whole day half gagging the whole time with maggots making some kind of pilgrimage over our ropes away from the carcass and you couldn't help but step on them and they do say you are what you eat, and yes they did show signs of having eaten copious amounts of rotten flesh that was for sure, they reeked, got stuck in the soles of your shoes and all.

Ummmm yes, so I don't know how that tale ended, it hasn't I guess, so thats it until next time, just thought I'd waffle on about some of our recent adventures. Limestone isn't that plentiful in Oz but with a bit of cleaning and some concentrated effort Bungonia Gorge will be one of the more important crags in the country in the future, with walls of big overhanging limestone with more features than you could poke an inside-out wallaby carcass at and boulders splashed around like nobodies business.

Get innu it like ya know!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

'neath the canopy of the Ukelore

For the last little while I've been meaning to venture over into another hidden offshoot of the never ending sprawling mass of the Megalong. Through the hanging green rainforest's again I go for what seems like the first human steps taken through the thick thick evil jungle that seems only intent in this life to hold me up on my way to find, whatever it is I'm looking for. I walk on through all the greenery of pre-history in the search for new boulders that, as I've suggested in previous captains logs, must exist here, 'mongst the leafs and bowing branches of this Black Morton Hills-esque landscape. I can get carried away when I'm venturing into the unknown, alone with a head full of freedom, fresh air and lunch time coffee and start inner dialogues that continue into ever increasing fantasy until I'm scrounging through the undergrowth paranoid that old Toad Morton is gonna capture me and chow down on my face whist squatting in my slitted stomach, all and completely unbeknown to the world writhing like worms above this dark, wet valley never to've known of my brave wanderings. I venture forth, fairly sure within myself that the Megalong Valley isn't a moonshine bubbling Deliverance like back water with Toad Mortons spying from behind every tree and low lying moss covered stone, waiting to pounce and secure this weeks flesh once I turn my back. I say fairly sure because on the odd occasion throughout my rambling I'll stumble across either some strange makeshift shelters made from weaved ferns and sticks or even arrows stuck into trees, actual bow and arrow arrows or sometimes even spooky little totem like carvings in the crevasses of tree's. One particular carving in the side of an enormous tree depicted what looked like a lonesome traveller surrounded by a group of people dressed in wolf skin and brandishing pitch folk kind of things. All scary enough for a lad wandering on dusk through thick, thick undergrowth getting tangled constantly in vines and slipping on damp fallen trunks, whose scared of sharks in swimming pools let alone voodoo shelters and evil omen statues scattered through what is a fairly inaccessible area in that there isn't any walking tracks, sites to be seen nor really any reason for anyone to be anywhere out of ones carriage on the old bumpy, mud chocked road that runs like an unhealthy vein down the length of the valley. So yes, my paranoia about gett'in ate up and shat inside of is completely justifiable considering the grim happenings of this world and though it will not stop me from my search for new boulders in the seemingly evil unknown hollows of this world it does play on my mind, still though, I shall go forth!!!

So today was a freezing day that mustn't have peaked above 5 degrees, so 'neath the canopy of this Ukelore it felt about -1 at best unless one doesn't fall into the creek that rattles through the middle. I must have walked for 10 hours through the jungle that I've already described to you as treacherous and unforgiving all in the hope of finding the spoke of but never found, hanging fin boulder that sits almost completely submerged in greenery except for the upper most tip that juts upward to what was an ever darkening firmament. And I walked, let me tell you I walked long and disorientated through the tree's to find it. It is visible from on top of the plateau that looks over the Ukelore, but only just. I've been meaning to go in search of it for a long time and did actually attempt to find it the week preceding this but only found myself in a snare of natures hand, my leg down a hole bleeding and bone flexing in the mid crural region almost I think breaking but luckily not, for I was a wee way away from anywhere, with no one knowing where I was. This day however was different. After searching for quite a long time and after actually finding some pretty cool boulders that are totally worthy of cleaning up and doing I found myself at the hanging fin boulder almost accidentally as the jungle was so thick and the boulder so well camouflaged 'mongst the undergrowth that I didn't see it until I was right on top of it.

Great adventures of discovery have lifted great stones only to find a few worms and a half disintegrated piece of toilet paper beneath. But what is an adventure without the uncertainty?

Either way, I lay my eyes on the steep face of the most compact rock I've seen on a boulder in the mountains. I couldn't believe it at first, I was assuming for some reason it would be gash as you see. But no! I looked upon its almost granite like features not really sure if this boulder made sense, the rock was perfection, on a steep wall, with more than a few lines running up it. It was IT, what I had been knowing that I must find at some point, I'd seen hints to the brilliance scattered across this demonic valley for weeks and here is the mother of it all. Here it had existed all this time, unknown to all but the cannibals of the Ukelore and the mites of the earth, like Atlantis would have, had it.

Darkness had, by the time I collected myself, settled wholly and completely on every surface of the valley and I had been oblivious to it all. To find the fin had taken all my bravery and know-how and now I must navigate myself back to the old road and hopefully acquire a lift back to Blackheath, all in the pitch black night. It had dropped in temperature and must really have been about -1 now or something close to as it had started snowing! I struggled back through the undergrowth to the small muddy strip that winds its way back to civilization. After a few unsuccessful attempts to thumb a ride back on outta there a coach drawn by four dapplegreys stopped right there in front of my feet, the gentleman at the reins gesturing me to climb on in. I did. I introduced myself to the lady and gentleman within as Jolly Buckshot and told 'em of my toil with the strangeness neath the canopy, we rode on. The young miss asked what in God's name was I doing in there, let alone past dark and didn't I know of the evil that resides within that grim place. I told them I was no stranger to strangeness in all it's forms and that yes, yes I was fearful of what I may find or what may find me in that nameless place, but that the wire so firmly wrapped 'bout my heart did tug at me so ferociously that to not adhere to its calling would be death, death of at least my spirit and to not adhere now knowing what I know, of what is to be found neath those cold bowing branches would be an even greater evil than what supposedly dwells within there. "No Mame, I am not that man who shall wither without first having bloomed, and if that means sending myself into that toothed mouth then I shall." At this she wished me all God's strength in my roaming and that He would protect me in that devilish realm, to which I said "He does not lye without of that burdensome place but within, and the HE you speak of miss is infact only an IT, for I've laid my eyes 'pon it and IT is not but what I as flesh-man doth seeketh, that which does cause my chest to rise and fall, that which does flood thy veins, that which keeps my heart 'a pump-pumping. I was drawn to what I was not certain, and that which I could not sleep without knowing".

So yes, there is good stuff to be found in some not always typical places, but it is there, not waiting for anyone.