"Long, loose and natural". Two of these are the hallmarks of a great adventure. The third is the evil sibling who was never invited to the party, yet somehow you still appreciate his cruel sense of humour, because after all, he's part of the family.
Our objective was the Red Supergiant, John Fantini's 1985 masterpiece on the highest part of the South Wall of Bungonia Gorge. The gorge has a stout reputation for pants-filling experiences, either due to difficulties or looseness of the rock. Although much of the rock on the famed Bungonia routes is impeccable, much of it is also grade 25 and harder, involving a mixture of sport and trad protection. I teamed up with Belle Tukin; she brought to the table her unfailing optimism for any route longer than 300m on TheCrag.com, I brought low standards of rock quality borne from a misspent youth in the Southern "Weetbix" Alps.
We never found Fantini's "chipped square" marking the start. Frankly I'm surprised there were not more "chipped squares" at the start, judging from how many square chippers we later released from the seventh pitch. We used this as an excuse to clip some bolts, although one never really needs an excuse, of the first pitch of Lee Cossey's new mega-route "Luminous Blue". The line does its best to one-up its historic neighbour, forging up a line of most resistance across our route at the steepest points. We just hoped the grade 29 pitch was not up first. Just as things became cruxy, I managed to swing off left, fighting through vegetation only to wipe dirt out of my eyes to the sight of the first, antique anchor. En route!
I've seen some sketchy carrot bolts in my time here in Australia, usually on sea cliffs, rusted away to pin-tacks ready to be removed by hand. But this line of carrot bolts leading off the first belay were something else - protruding 6-8 centimetres, all bent downwards, through a patch of blank dusty rock. Bolt plates would slide to the ends, for maximum leverage, one bolt started to bend under my bodyweight, I felt self-conscious. Fortunately holds soon appeared, followed by a short splitter crack - my self esteem returned.
I've grown to enjoy my seconders happily giving away their leads upon collapsing at the belay, so it was a refreshing surprise to watch Belle grab the rack and charge into her block for the middle four pitches. I've never seen someone laugh so much while being so run-out. Belle let out nervous cackle as she found herself "hanging onto nothing!" I had to remind her that this was not Point Perpendicular, and so no longer a deep-water solo.
Much of the next slabby "grade 12" ramp had a thin veneer of dirt and often disintegrating holds, making it feel much harder. We invented the motto for times when you want to curse the sandbag, to instead simply "make it grade 12". Arno Ilgner (Rock Warriors Way) would have been proud of our mental reformation that suddenly opened our eyes to opportunities, rather than barriers. For we were soon to be committed to a truly sand-bagged route, if ever there was one, one that even shiny double ropes would have had trouble retreating from. This came in the form of an interminable traverse into the orange, above overhangs, into the choss.
Glowing chunks fell from the sky. Light-hearted wee rippers on the exposed sixth pitch were fun to watch, and the acoustics carrying the explosions through the gorge were impressive, but the microwaves from the seventh made our guts wrench. We were getting closer to the Red Supergiant, his defenses were activating. We only hoped the folks wandering around below earlier had vacated the scene, they had clearly forgotten their trad racks, we felt sorry enough for them already.
Belle finished her four-pitch block with a solid lead of a steep and well-protected pitch, before I was tasked with the 50-metre run-out traverse. It looked innocent at first, but hand to hold, foot to smear, it was gripping. Like any fair airport customs, I treated everything with suspicion. White, black, orange; anything could blow up given the right incentive. An hour later, I had run out of rope and gear, the description no longer matched, I was off-route, the sun was hanging low. Belle cleaned up my mess, as well as more rock, I promised to get us back on track. Realising I was not Fantini, I didn't chance trying to forge a new line straight up, and traversed across the sheer wall looking for my "splitter crack to stalactite to aid bolt".
Sweet relief! The jams would have also been sweet if not for heinous rope drag, but yes, we were now on route. I had to summon every hour of St Peters bouldering within me to pull free past the aid bolt, and hang out on knee-bars in the top-out overhangs, desperately trying to preserve the onsight. The final committing move below the old look-out almost stopped me dead, no pro for miles, I needed a #4 tube chock. I don't normally carry such frivolous items, but now I surrendered and cried out for one big hex. But just before selling my soul to the universe, my saviour came in the form of the second smallest microcam, squeezed in sideways into a cobwebbed pocket, rotated 90 degrees, set solid. Happy to be alive, I started to sing...
Camelot, ohhh camelot!
Your spring loaded wings cling to anything!
The cowbells will continue to ring among the doubting!
The micro-cam sings blessings to all those who bring him!