Sunday, 19 January 2014

Sunday 19th January 2014

Today John, Richard, Peter.C and I left station at 10:30 to attempt to climb Fang Peak in the David Range. We arrived at Fang hut at 12:00 after a bumpy ride through the sastrugi. Almost all the melt streams were frozen and all the slushy areas and lakes from last weekend were totally frozen. This place can change so fast this time of year. We did manage to find one stream still flowing to fill our water bottles with the purest water on earth.

Strait away we got stuck into the climb starting out with a large scree slope which was quite good walking as it was locked in and didn't slide like it usually does when you walk in scree. Once high up on the saddle the climb started in earnest along the rugged ridge line. Several places were very exposed where we were jumping from boulder to boulder with very steep cliffs either side. Eventually the climb got so steep and exposed we had to break out the ropes which we pretty well had to use for the rest of the climb. I came across a snow pigeons nest in the rocks and they let me know I wasn't welcome.

John and Richard were great setting up all the anchors and giving me a lot of encouragement as I tackled the near vertical rock face. It was definitely the hardest and scariest climb I have tackled to date. Even though I had the security of being tethered, hanging by the tips of your fingers a thousand feet up with a vertical drop makes you really focus on the task at hand rather than looking around admiring the view. I was still feeling a little off colour with the absis on my tooth and the medication I was taking and I really found it a strenuous climb straining and reaching for tiny hand and foot holds. Mountain climbing is psychological just as much as it is physical. It’s almost constant terror and massive adrenalin surges where you really challenge yourself.

 Finally we made it to Hillary’s step, a nice large ledge only four meters from the summit where I could rest and relax while John free climbed to install the last pitons to belay us up. It was lovely relaxing in the warm sun taking in the view out of the wind. Finally the moment came I was dreading, climbing the final four meters to the summit up a small crack that was an overhang with a thousand foot vertical drop below. There were virtually no hand or foot holds and I was shitting myself. This part of the climb was in the shade and exposed to the wind and my hands were freezing and on the verge of going off so I had to move quickly or I would be in deep shit. With sore bleeding fingers I managed to lift my feet as high as I could and reach out as far as I could to find the tiniest cracks in the rock to heave myself to the summit and finally I was there. 

The view of course was incredible and after the obligatory hi fives and photos we sat back to take it all in while John filled out the visitors book, tiny bits of paper inside a very old curry powder tin hidden in the rocks. I was dreading the climb back down and I was hoping we were going to abseil back down and get it over and done with as quick as we could, but John announced it would be best to climb back down. Richard announced that there appeared to be an easier way down on the northern side and he scurried off like a gecko over the side and out of view. He yelled out from Hillary’s step that it was okay that way and John said to me off you go. 

I was shitting myself not knowing what to expect as I lowered myself over the edge trying to find footholds without being able to see my feet. I was out of sight of the others very exposed on a sheer rock face with the Hag a thousand feet directly below trying to stay calm and focus on the task. Slowly I made my way back down until I reached a small ledge where I could inch my way around back to where Richard was. Time to start breathing again while I waited for Peter and John to get down. 

Once John had anchored himself, Richard went over the side for the first of several long belays. Next to go was me. To my delight I found it much easier going back down. It was still extremely hard work and scary but I felt more confident as I knew the path and with each step I knew I was getting closer to the saddle. By the time I got to our packs at the end of the last belay line I was knackered and my hips and knees were quite sore. From here it was a leap frog from boulder to boulder with only five hundred foot vertical cliffs to mess with your brain on each side and eventually we made it along the spine to the saddle where we started the steep descent back down the scree slope. 

Finally we reached the Hag and I was exhausted and mentally drained. We didn't hang about too long before I started the long drive back to the station. The trip back was rather uneventful, the melt streams and lakes were still frozen making easy going over the rough terrain.  At one point I stopped to take a photo of the track. It looked like a muddy 4WD track through the Kimberley, but frozen and clear. I stepped out of the Hag and the surface was like glass and I went A over T and landed quite heavy laughing my eyeballs out. (ROFL) I think I broke every bone in my body and got concussion when my head hit the ice, but looking back up at the Hag at the three heads poking out to see if I was alright only made me laugh harder. 

We stopped near a large lake east of Gwamm that had me puzzled last Sunday when I drove past with Luc. Last Sunday the large lake had many icebergs that appeared to be floating in it. There were too many slots in the area to take a closer look so we just continued on, puzzled. This time the lake had drained and there were huge ice blocks scattered everywhere. After a good long reconnaissance through the telephoto lens I speculated there must be a submerged rocky knoll under the ice under extreme pressure and the lake water might have flowed down through cracks and lubricated the underside of the ice causing a slip and a massive release of pressure as what happens in an earthquake, blasting out huge blocks of ice in all directions. There was a huge amount of devastation and it must have been awesome to see it happen. I have always treated the ice cliffs with caution, but this just goes to show the immense forces at play in the ice sheet can have destructive forces where you may least expect it. 

Back at the station around seven o'clock, after we had unloaded and refuelled the Hag, I did the ARPANSA filter change, got myself some tucker and then wound down with a few beers with Geoff.

Snow pigeons nest

On the summit at last

Mt Parsons
Mt Elliot
Southern Masson
Fang hut and the Hag 1000' below
Welch Island and no water for 100 miles

Coming back down the scree slope

Filling the water bottles with the cleanest water on earth

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