Day 1 Thor 98m (15).
Hiking to Top Camp Tom and I pointed out all of the interesting landmarks from our last trip to Moonarie, such as the site of the now infamous MOAF (Mother Of All Farts) where we noted that wildlife had still not returned to the area. Tom tried to think of worse songs than Shipping Steel to get it out of his head and came up with Agadoo. Soon enough we were at the spectacular Top Camp where we decided that climbing Thor (15) would be a good way to start the day – Tom was keen to lead the first (send up the Gimp) pitch - so off we went. As Tom headed up the first pitch a couple of other climbers who had been on a nearby route came past stating that it had been too cold to continue climbing where they were as they could not feel their fingers and that it was going to be more fun drinking coffee back at camp. How on earth could drinking coffee be more fun than climbing? Arriving at the crux of the first pitch, moving out from the chimney, past the roof and onto the face (see picture of Stewy) Tom placed a .4 cam and faced the world then swung across onto the face and headed up. If at this point Meg thought about that coffee back at camp she didn’t say anything, which surprised me because it is an intimidating move….. Meanwhile, as I belayed Tom I was thinking about coffee. Soon enough the call on the walkie talkie came through from Tom: “Safe, off belay.”
I tied Megan in to the rope, and as this section was only one grade below Megan’s best climbing grade in the gym and quite intimidating as well as under difficult circumstances, I set up a Jumar system so that if she couldn’t get through the roof JennyBob could climb the rope. Tom took in the rope, “That’s me!” Meg called
Tom responded: “On belay, climb when ready.”
With a second, trailing rope attached so that I could follow, Meg set off up the looming chimney toward the roof of Thor.
“I wonder how high she will get before she can’t go on… will she freak out, or just be unable to do the moves?” I thought as I found a small sunny ledge from which to watch Megan and snap off a few “bum shots.”
With a few matter of fact comments here and there about how she couldn’t feel her fingers or toes Meg soon reached the roof. “So what do I do here?” She casually enquired.
“You have to turn around and face outwards, step across to the scoop on the left, then swing on over to the wall on the right, then head up the face.” I said, expecting to have to repeat myself a few times as I coached her up.
“Okay.” And with that, up she went.
”Well, stuff me, she did it!” I thought. It was pretty inspiring to watch, which I know sounds a little weird - I was after all watching someone who has only been climbing for six months second a grade 15 route, not some world renowned superstar pulling on the crux moves of their latest test piece. But you see that was the impressive thing. Here I was, watching a virtual beginner calmly make her way through a daunting series of moves at the limit of her climbing threshold in an intimidating big outdoor environment under difficult environmental conditions, and yet there was no hesitation or fumbling, it just happened with a minimum of fuss and an almost businesslike approach.
Now it was my turn to climb, and although I had led the pitch onsight last time we visited, I still felt anxious; I always approach each climb with the same mindset, whether I am leading or seconding, I hate falling not out of fear, but from a desire to climb clean, but more on that later. Having watched Tom and Meg get through clean did nothing to make me feel any easier about the route, in fact watching them move so smoothly through made me feel just that little bit more pressure.
Pulling onto the first couple of moves I was immediately struck by how amazingly cold the rock was. Within a minute of climbing I could not feel my fingers and my toes were not much more sensitive. At the roof I faced out and swung out onto the face on completely numb fingers and toes and shivered my way up to the belay. Thankfully it had been agreed that I was to climb the next pitch (10), and after a brief pause while we exchanged gear and set up my rope for leading I was climbing.
Being able to keep moving I found myself warming up, and although I was unable to tell whether I was holding onto the rock with hands and feet firmly at least the rest of me was now warm. Climbing quickly to get the others moving as soon as possible, I only placed one piece of gear to prevent a factor 2 fall and then cruised up to the next belay ledge. Once my hands were not in contact with the rock they warmed up and I pulled the socks I had brought for the descent over my shoes to try to warm my feet. The wind did not seem to be as strong as I belayed Meg and Tom up, and soon we were all at the second belay. As we set Tom up to finish the route via the direct pitch (15) the wind began to pick up again.
Unfortunately, the wait had made both Tom and Megan cold (Megan’s foot had slipped off an early foothold because she couldn’t feel her feet on the rock), and the rest at the first belay followed by a short climb then another wait at the second ledge had taken its toll on Megan. As Tom started to climb Megan had started to shiver uncontrollably at an intermittent rate that suggested the early signs of hypothermia. Meg had not worn her shell, thinking it would only get in the way (I have to admit I only put mine on as an afterthought), and now the wind which was now gusting in fierce and chilling blasts was slicing through the layers of clothing she was wearing draining the warmth from her. What were we to do? Sure the chivalrous thing to do would have been to give her my shell, but that would not have solved anything; Meg was already cold and a shell was going to do little to warm her, and if I exposed myself to the elements we would have two hypothermic people on a ledge leaving no one to safely belay Tom.
The best option was to try to warm up Megan while I belayed Tom, the problem was this was not going to be easy. Megan was sitting on a small outcrop of rock, so I sat on her knees (facing Megan and with my back to the wind) painfully taking most of my weight on my left shin which was resting on a rock, opened my jacket and wrapped it around her to enclose both of us as much as possible and rubbed her arms and back to restore some warmth. The logistical problem that this presented was that the belay device was now in between us, and if Tom fell it would whip up and catch us in the face. The only thing I could do was to pay out some slack and watch Tom in the hope that if he fell I would have time to shove Megan out of the way before the rope took up. For the next few minutes we went through the procedure of hunkering down while the wind blasted, heads bowed down into the jacket breathing into it to give extra warmth, then hurriedly organising everything each time the wind died down momentarily so that Megan could climb as soon as Tom was ready to belay. At one stage I looked up to see that Tom had stopped below what appeared to be a technical section just below the summit. He was blowing into his cupped hands and was clearly having trouble feeling the rock.
“This is going to be hard.” I thought. Not only was this another grade 15 pitch, but Megan was now very very cold. Our efforts to warm her up had been reasonably successful, but as soon as she was exposed to the wind again it would not take long to become cold, and the rock was sure to suck the heat straight from her hands. Absently, I wondered if those guys were enjoying their coffee back at camp… After what seemed an eternity Tom was at the summit and ready for Meg to climb. “Climb fast, don’t stop to clip the rope into gear for me, just get up as quick as you can.” I told her. Secretly I was wondering just how far she was going to get before I had to climb up to assist her (Over the radio Tom had told us that there were three cruxes all at about grade 15).
Once again, Megan looked at me, took in what I had said, and without further delay, set off up the rock. Once again I was amazed at the manner in which Megan climbed. It was assertive and flowing and when she reached the first crux which required laybacking moves which she had not done before, Megan took the advice offered by Tom and just did it, although she did tell him to shut up as he sang Agadoo into the radio. I lost sight of Megan a few times as she climbed and at one stage I noticed that she had not moved for a few minutes. Tom informed me over the radio that she had stopped to try to warm her hands, and before long the rope connected to me began to snake up wards once more. Unbelievably, Megan made it to the summit unaided, and as soon as I was given the all clear to climb I was off and climbing as quickly as I could. Again the rock immediately sapped the heat from my hands and feet and when I arrived at the first crux I was struck by how difficult the moves were. I tried to imagine how difficult it must have been for Tom to lead with numb fingertips and toes, and couldn’t help but be impressed at his “they told me to climb it, so I did” (Gump) attitude. It was not an easy climb in these conditions. When I got to the top we sent Megan over to a flat section of rock where the sun was shining to try to warm her up, and it was plain to see that the effort of completing the climb had taken its toll, but what an effort!
As we hiked to the descent route we all began to thaw out from being on Thor, and appreciate the experience. It did not take too long for the humour to return to our conversation and while we made our way down to Top Camp and the cave below Thor to stow our gear for the night we discussed the potential climbing for the next day; Thor had taken up so much of the day that we had no time to attempt another route, and would only be making it back to Bottom Camp by dusk. Megan once again put Shipping Steel back in our heads…. Thanks for that.
That night at camp we ate Stew around the camp fire. It wasn’t quite as much fun as last time, but hey the real thing is in England now, so we had to make do with a Stew made from sausages and veggies, but it was still saucy! While eating dinner and drinking beer and red wine, (Megan drank whisky from a mug – she was really becoming more feral by the moment) we talked and laughed about the day’s activities and dodged shards of red hot glowing rocks as they exploded from the boulders around the fire.
And Miriam saw a shooting star. Awwwww just like a Disney movie. Then Tom farted and we all went to bed.
As I lay in my sleeping bag I thought about the climbing I had watched that day and could not help but be inspired by the courage that I had witnessed from Megan. I thought about my own hesitancy to attempt multi-pitch routes that I thought may be near to my climbing limit and wondered what had been holding me back. I had lead climbed many intimidating and run-out single-pitch routes that others baulked at, but had not climbed any multi-pitch routes over grade 15 (I have soloed a couple of grade16 single-pitch routes!). And yet today I had watched as a relative beginner committed to climbing a multi-pitch route at her limit in extremely adverse conditions! The more I thought about it the more I became motivated to push my boundaries and commit to actually climbing the way I had seen it done today. I know climbing is not about the numbers, you hear people say it al the time, but it is about what you are capable of doing and what you do within those capabilities that really matters. Today I had watched someone climb at their absolute limit in tough conditions, and now I was inspired! With thoughts of conquering the world I drifted off to sleep.
Note to self: Never eat onions before sleeping in a sleeping bag again! I woke myself up at least 5 times!
My dreams were still taking a little while to take on the flavour of our trip. That night I dreamt that I was back at school and we all went ice skating, where I was by far the best because I could make my white water raft go faster than everyone else. Next I found out that The Charmed Ones (from TV show Charmed) were all after my body. Hmmm something they put in the Stew maybe?