Taipan Wall: No Rain, No Gain

(An old trip report I've saved to my blog for posterity. June 2007 -- Lee)

I haven't done a trip report in ages. But this was a nice trip and I'm psyched.

So - the Taipan trip in one word - wet! What is it with this bad weather I seem to be attracting every time I go on a climbing trip? In our two week trip we only woke up to sun on the first and last day. Every other morning was either drizzling rain or thick mist.

The crew enjoy the typical morning conditions. © L Cujes

Typically we'd do a late start and trudge up to the wall to find it running with water. All the black streaks were waterfalls. This limited route selection somewhat.

The first day I gave Duncan a tour of the wall (his first trip to Taipan), and we warmed up on The Seventh Banana 23 before he went and casually onsighted The Invisible Fist 26. Climbing well after a 1830km drive! I then had a crack at Mirage 27 with its 2m dyno finishing move. After extending all the trad gear (eight double length slings!) on the way to the dyno to reduce rope drag, I ended up getting there pretty stuffed with my feet numb from the slabbing. But I dynoed and actually overshot the jump, my fingers hitting above the jug and rebounding off the wall sending me on a ride. Second shot there was no mistake and I latched it and topped out. Cleaning the diagonal line was a mission - I had to climb the route again.

Just so you can see what it's like - the dyno on Mirage. Will Monks flying. © M Boniwell

The second day I did the second ascent of Neil new route Rattlesnake Shake 26. I managed to hold on for the onsight which is my first at that grade. The route is so named because of a sketchy slab section on which you gibber and shake your way through. As Duncan began work on Venom 28, I decided to give its direct, Tourniquet 30 a try and got baffled and spanked. No such issue for Canadian Mike Doyle who fired it off second shot later in the trip. I guess he's ranked #24 in the world for a reason.

Over the next few days the weather closed in to a hideous cloying mist which made the normally glorious motherstone turn into a bar of soap. Spurt Wall on Taipan's right side was the only semi-sane option. I'd never climbed anything on it before and I chose the route that looked the driest - Tyranny 29. It's only 13m high but really packs it in. Big throws and a hard dyno off bad holds to a big sloping bowl, topped off with a technical slabby top out notorious for spitting off pumped crankers. I put in 11 attempts over three days to tick this, and was despairing that I would ever do it, falling slightly higher most times I'd try it. One time I'd done the hard section and was mantling out on to the slab when my foot popped out of the biggest pocket you've ever seen and I swooped through a tree (yep, it's runout; only three bolts). And the time before I did it, I fell TWO HOLDS from clipping the anchors. It was mentally difficult to stay motivated, especially when the weather fined up enough for JC and JJ to start working Serpentine 29 - my goal of the trip and really, my ultimate goal as a climber. When I clipped the Tyranny anchors on my second try of the third day, it was a relief more than anything and I didn't climb for the rest of the day.

Just to show you what it looks like. Pete on his redpoint attempt on Tyranny (29), Spurt Wall. © Phil Neville

The next day JC and JJ were still working Serpentine and it looked as though I wouldn't be able to get on the route this trip. Each shot on the route would take about an hour so it's not a good climb for three people to work. Bummed out. So I went up on Cardigan Street p2 28 with Ado (aka Borat). Awesome line - a 35m classic Taipan groove - and maybe the second best pitch on the wall? I just gave it one attempt and only barely managed to dog my way through the big runouts. This was going to be my project, but then the unthinkable, JC ticked Serpentine and my number was called.

Ado attempting Cardigan Street p2 28 © J Jefferson

JC was still buzzing with adrenaline (probably from his 20m airtime off the summit jugs) and offered to give me a belay, so up I went on "ze best pitch in ze world". True to its name, Serpentine weaves its way up the highest and most central part of the wall; by far the proudest line. Most routes can be classified as either bouldery (fall off because the move is hard) or endurancy (fall off because you're pumped silly). Serpentine defies this classification. I've never climbed a route that is so ... sectional. Climb a hard bit to a bridging rest, then a hard bit to a jug rest, then a hard bit to a hand jam rest etc. Each time the rests aren't good enough to get it all back, but maybe just enough to be able to do the next section. It's so tactical. There are two distinct cruxes. The first is crimpy with a punchy dyno to a horizontal break. The second relies on a vertical slot and if you've got thick fingers, you're going to struggle to use it. Those who have seen HB's pork sausage fingers might understand why it took him four days to overcome this section back in 1988. Forty two metres of brilliant climbing. So much to remember. Maybe too much? Only four days left of the trip!

This shows the first third of Serpentine. I am reaching from the horizontal break after the first crimpy crux. © N Monteith

The next day was pouring rain. I needed rest anyway but that's one less day on Serpentine. Out to VD Land with Neil and Keith. Neil managed to fire off his project Velvet Goldmine 27 despite two mini-waterfalls he had to climb through in the upper section. Old man endurance! I sat in a cave and used my reusable heat packs to stay alive. This was the coldest day of the trip and with wind chill, would have been in low single digits for much of the day.

You wouldn't think it by looking at this picture, but we were getting four seasons every 15 minutes. Neil sending Velvet Goldmine 27 © L Cujes

Third last day. Average weather. Damn cold. JJ was still chomping at Serpentine and I put my hand up for belay duties. JJ was climbing in a T shirt, and I was belaying in four layers including a huge down jacket with Everest hood and gloves. It must have been the bitter cold that motivated him to get it done because he sent in fine style and was ready to give me a catch. I put in a shot wearing thermal & thick jumper, but the crimpy first crux put spots on my fingers. Owwww! The second shot I climbed with a full rack so that I could remove Justin's gear and place my own. Anyone who doubts the grade of 31 for the onsight should go and try it. A 42m pitch takes a LOT of gear and it's so much harder with that amount of weight on your harness.

Neil racks up for Serpentine's first pitch with Zac and me ready to provide encouragement. © J Jefferson

Second last day. Find a belayer. "Come on Neil, come up on Serpentine!" I fell yet again on the first crux, but then managed to go all the way to the top cleanly. I'm very happy with that effort. Theoretically, if I managed to get through the first crux somehow, I could do the route. I belayed Neil on it, who proceeded to take some sweeping falls on the first bolt and kick the crap out of me on the semi-hanging belay. If I was barefoot it would have broken my toe. I was tired. My fingers were sore and tips trashed. Not going to happen today, so I might as well rest. Rapped off, and sat back and watched Duncan tick Venom 28 and Mr Joshua, the best 25 on earth. I figured I needed all the help I could get so that night I had a double dose of Glucosamine, a serve of Muscle Eze, and lathered my fingers in Hand Jam and ClimbOn bar and then put them in gloves. I tossed and turned all night thinking about the route and didn't sleep more than a few hours.

Last day. All or nothing. Woke up to sunshine - amazing. Had forgotten what it looked like. The boys saw the sun and were keen as mustard. They blitzed from the campsite at top speed while I was still having breakfast. I took it easy and had an extra serving before sauntering up to the cliff to search out a belayer. After a while the man himself Malcolm Matheson (HB) showed up and was keen to get back up to have a play on the route he established 19 years earlier. It was my third day on and I should have been exhausted, but I was energised at the prospect of being able to work the route with Malcolm.

Me and HB. File footage. © J Jefferson

First things first; the morning ritual of the warm-up bouldering traverse. This traverse at the left end of Spurt Wall is the secret of champions. You can get just the right amount of pump before going and trying your project. It's bloody good climbing too actually. The problem was I didn't want to destroy my overnight skin growage on the warm up. So I taped up my tips using various different taping methods as an experiment. One seemed the best, so after the warm up, I taped all my tips this way for my attempt on Serpentine.

On my first shot I was feeling good and climbed into the crux crimps at the 15m mark. I heard a tearing sound as I bore down on the crimps, and pitched off on the dyno. I learnt my lesson. Don't tape fingertips unless absolutely necessary! The tape didn't provide adequate friction on the crimps and ultimately tore, caused me to slide off the crimps. Rather than wasting energy, I lowered back to the belay to give Malcolm a catch, ripping the tape off as I went. Malcolm had some really interesting sequences I hadn't considered, and we marvelled at the difference in our footwork (I climb predominately front on, while he backsteps everything! Okay okay, he has great footwork and mine is crap!). Afterwards, Mike Doyle, who had been lurking in the bushes asked if he could have a run on the route and use my gear. I said he could so long as he didn't weight the rope. He said he couldn't promise anything, but true to form, he casually flashed the route. He did however weight the rope while being lowered off, so I was understandably annoyed.

Second shot, I was feeling tired, but I cruised up the turret to the jug below the first crux and sat there for what felt like about five minutes alternating hands, shaking out. Then I moved up into the crimps. They felt so much better without tape on. I took the right hand sidepull, slapped for the left, hit it, stepping up to deadpoint at the sloping half pad edge for the left hand. Held it, moved my feet into classic Edlinger frog position, and windmilled up with my right hand for the horizontal break. Held it! YES! For the first time I'd done the first crux from the beginning. @#%$, now what? Oh yeah traverse, hand jam, reach, crank through and out to the arĂȘte, back and into the second crux, DID IT! (@#%$ I'm going to do this!), up through tricky section to good incut hold and then the heelhook section I figured out. Only seven metres from the top now. Put up the left heel, bum sags out from the wall, hands opening ... OFF! Nooooooooooooo!

I'm absolutely spent. Too tired to even cry, although I want to. I yell down "well, maybe next trip!". I'm a second shot climber and I know I don't have the juice to do the route today. Regardless, I get back on and spend 10 minutes figuring out a front-on method to do the bit I fell on, rather than my stupid heelhook idea. I climb that section five times and lower off to belay Malcolm. Afterwards, I rap off, drink water, sit in the sun and gorge myself on what food remains in my pack.

We're leaving tonight - back in the car bound for Brisbane. Duncan says he's going back to camp to start packing up. My gear is still up on the route. I have to go and retrieve it. I envisage a brutal, exhausted dogging session. Duncan tells me to forget about sending the route now, just go up and have as much fun as possible. The sun is edging towards the horizon as I'm tying in and Malcolm is preparing the belay. I cast off out the roof.

I feel tired doing my patented cross through and I have to slap to get the jug. I climb the turret to the jug and hang there for several minutes as usual, thinking "Am I getting more fresh, or less, as I wait here?" Stuff it I think, time for the crux. Up into the crimps, high step, dyno and latch the horizontal. Hang on, what? I just did the crux? I laugh and call down "That wasn't supposed to happen!" Okay okay, game on now. My thumb is bleeding. I wipe the blood on my pants. I climb each section and feel trashed, but I milk each of the rests enough to somehow pull through. My eyes involuntarily close at the strain of pulling through the second crux and as I traverse to the break with the red Link Cam in it, I am thoroughly torched. I'm hanging from an incut horizontal break and yet I can feel my fingers opening. Nooo! I'm 10m from the top at this stage. I've never rested here before but I'm in no condition to try to continue. The break is too shallow to take a hand jam, I've tried before. Nothing else left to do but to try again. After about a minute I manage to wrangle a weird sideways partial jam. Off this thank-god semi-rest, I gain enough to continue up to the section I'd previously fallen on. Attacked it front on as I'd practiced and I was now past my highpoint. But, I was stuffed.

Hands opening, I manage to put two fingers together, and place them in a curvy crack like a wire placement. At this point I'm hanging off the finger bones being crushed together, but at least my other fingers get some recovery. Thinking I'm going to fall any second, I freak out and climb almost too fast and blast up to the huge horizontal four metres from the top. Can't believe it. Double arm bars gouging into my flesh never felt so good. Camp out ... camp out. Traversed out a few metres to clip the final bolt and then scampered back to the arm bars. I look out at the view. It's unbelievable. The sun is only minutes away from sinking completely beneath the horizon. Okay, time to go. Traverse out, big move to pocket, match. Big right hand throw to ear of rock. Now the final move - a backstep move, argh, not my style. Left hip against the wall, throw for the summit jugs. As I'm throwing, my left hand smashes the rock on the way through and I only barely latch the final jug as my right foot cuts. Oh my god. The peanut gallery are cheering. I mantle and stand on the top of the wall. The sun has just gone and there's now just an afterglow. As Malcolm is reeling out the sendage slack on his stitch plate I stand tip-toe on the edge, take a breath and ... JUMP! A 180 degree spin in the air faces me back towards the wall as I whiz down about 12m or so for the ride. Scarily awesome. Then I have to climb the whole final portion again to get to the final bolt so I can lower off.

My victory jump from the summit © N Monteith

I make it back to the belay and Malcolm greets me with a huge smile and a crushing handshake. "Brilliant mate, absolutely brilliant". I'm beaming. I pull the mobile out of my pack and ring Sam. "Guess what?" "You didn't!" "I did!"

Best wall on earth. Zac on Naja 30 © J Jefferson