Friday, August 26, 2011

Freeing Bongo Bar on Blamannen: Dave in Action

Blamannen bathed in evening sunshine, picture by Dave McLeod

After the small big wall at Hollenderan, the next day became the V-day of the Gore-Tex Experience Tour of ours, when the weather stabilized just enough for Dave and myself to have a go at our main objective, the Bongo Bar route, on the impressive North face of Blamannen.  We have scoped out the wall on our first day in Norway, and Dave has done a lot of work figuring out the moves on the crux, third pitch, graded at around 8a.  He also rappelled from the top to check out the other pitches that did not seem very easy either, at around 7c, 7b, 7a, and the final 6ish one.  We have been hezitating about getting on the route because of objective dangers seconding the hard pitch (plentiful of loose and sharp edges while traversing around the roofs), - basically meaning my ability to do it, the uncertain weather forecast, and the possible wet cracks after all the recent rain.  However, in the end we decided to still give it a go, and see what we could do.

Approaching Blamannen for the third time from below for me, for the fourth time for Dave, just after the full-blown day of hiking up to Baugen, made me wonder about the realism of our objective already on the way up.  However, with brilliant sunshine, some puffing, resting, and blueberry-powered snacking, I managed to drag myself and my backpack again to the base of the route.  This time some kind souls have even set up a fixed rope up the last snow field, and the rimaye snow melted enough to make the scramble up the last ledge less dreary.  
Blueberry-huntint on the approach, picture by Dave McLeod

Still in the sun, more approach action through the arctic jungle

When at the base of the route, both Dave and myself looked up with apprehension.  The tension was palpable in the cold morning air.  Although the bottom pitch looked rather dry, we could not tell how were the top pitches.  The day before even the South-facing Baugen routes felt humid, will Bongo Bar be dry enough?  Will Dave be able to free climb the crux third pitch?  Will I be able to second it without falling off and cutting the ropes on the sharp edges of the climb?

When inspecting the crux pitch one week before, Donald and Dave pretty much concluded we should not go up.  They brought down all the fixed ropes on a sad Wednesday evening, and we all just went happily sport climbing.  Since, the wall has been itching in the imagination of Dave, and I have not really given up on the idea either, with the little mouse scrambling around my stomach and pushing for the big-wall dreams to take the center stage for just a little short while, just once more.  If not as a team of three with Helena, maybe we can still try it as a team of two?  It is safer to second on two ropes, while caring a jumar and a grigri to pull myself out of free hang trouble if I have to...Playing the big-wall game has always been intense, and this one is no different.

But UP! and we went, or rather Dave led off, and I grudgingly followed, feeling the weight of the backpack already starting off the ground.  I complained about it to the friendly hamster finishing parts and pieces of my snack, remembered "Ukrainian Strength" nickname I was given in some far-away past in a different land, by different people, and pushed on.  The first pitch did not leave us very optimistic - the crux layback roof was if not wettish, definitely humid, the dihedral above was drier, but still wet with moss retaining precious liquid.  If the crux third pitch were to be wet, Dave would not be able to free climb it, and we would have to come back another day, another time, another year.  At the top of the first pitch we decided to persevere - no other way to know except by checking out the "black tears" and the "diamond" sections.  UP!

And so it went, feeling better during the second pitch, and quickly forgetting the horrors of the first 7b warm-up pitch, in no time we were already below the roofs of the third pitch.  The hardest part of our undertaking, Dave went off leading the first 7c dihedral section, starting the sequence by a desperate "I don't remember any moves..." and then following up with perfect footwork, gentle swing around the corner, and what seemed effortlessly getting up to the rest in the middle of the pitch.  And there he went, after a "Watch me!" and a couple of grunts, he was already above, although shaking a little for the first time in two weeks, pushing his helmet up into the second roof and making the best of the second rest before the final layback.

And so it went, time for me to second this monster.  Helpfully, my experience from other past shady big-wall undertakings, with such names as Esfinge, Half Dome, Portalet, Eiger, Cima Grande, etc. kicked in - at least on the subconscious level - and I carefully went on, from peg to peg, from nut to nut, painfully pushing and hammering out the gear, gaining height one vertical foot after another.  The grigri and the jumar stayed uselessly on my harness, and there I was, standing by Dave at the third belay.  Now the only way was truly up, as retreating (back-aiding?) down the roofs promised to be rather unpleasant to say the least.

Dave high up on the route, leading the key traverse on pitch 6

So we went on, here's how it goes: Dave faultlessly freeclimbs the next, harsh 7c lay-back pitch, then the next, already easier 7b one.  I pulled up much less gracefully, grinding my teeth, and remembering all the battling up the other routes and projects of my life.  But the weather here looked good, we had friends and even a camera watching relentlessly our progress from the ledge close-by, and this wall was only 400 meters long, 800 meters high.  Except for a wild base jumper, only crows disturbed our silent effort, and so it went, only up, the routine, taking out friends, banging out nuts, shaking, resting, feeling all the muscles and tendons in my body rebel agains the weight, the progression.  Forcing the body to move up, peeing on the way, joking, filming, photographing, living.  Up we went.

Myself lost up in the cracks

I finally decided to pick up the lead end of the rope at the start of pitch 6, however my leading stunt ended very quickly as I came to the blank slab, protected by two old copperheads, and promising a frightening, gear-less traverse.  Bathed in the evening sun, from all bad options I chose one - building a belay with one more cam reinforcing the copperheads and bringing the hero of the day, Dave, up.  Sure thing, he made short work of my problems, led the traverse and finished the pitch.  I found the traverse rather hard, especially because of lack of gear and bold moves over a lot of air, and was satisfied that my self-preservation instincts made me stop before committing to those moves.

Those instincts did not stop me from wanting to lead again, supposedly the easy last 5+ pitch to the summit.  But, not far off the belay, again came a conundrum - anther not so well protected traverse, to the right this time, would lead us to the ultimate easier crack climbing to the top.  Again, I could not commit to the moves, I went down this time, and Dave the rope gun fired up the pitch brining us to the much-awaited top.  Actually, I found this ultimate traverse move the hardest part of the whole route for me as I had to apply all my slab vocabulary to find a crimper to pull on to be able to move up and not off the wall into the overhanging wild swinging.  Maybe because this was the last hard move after so much climbing, but I definitely would rate this pitch as harder than the original 5+.

Belaying while the evening sun gracefully touches our North Face

And so we were done, with another gruelling descent awaiting our wasted feet, another big wall, after a small wall.  Two long days: one on Hollenderan and another on Blamannen, that turned into a 600-meter marathon of laybacking over vertical terrain, and an 8-hour hiking in and out of the Kvaloya's granite stomach.  Up and free.

Route details (careful onsighers, stop reading here!):
Pitch 1 - start just to the left of the fixed rope leading to the ledge, up underclings and into a left-facing thin crack going up to a small roof.  Undercling the roof (crux, thin gear), follow the cracks up, then traverse right on slopers, and up into the final dihedral.  Go up the dihedral, either straight up to the belay ledge, or traverse right at the last big foothold on the right edge of the dihedral (easier). 50 meters, hard warm-up, 7b with difficult gear on the crux section.
Pitch 2 - follow the thin crack straight up from the belay to the black streak (next belay).  Very good fingery layback sections, with climbing progressively getting easier.  More gear placements and some good pegs. 40 meters, 7b+.
Pitch 3 - the crux pitch of the route, straight up the black polished water streak ("black tears"), harsh stemming on non-existent footholds (around 7c/+), then traverse right and launch for the first big blocky roofy formation.  Easier section but very loose and hollow-sounding rock up to a good rest.  Launch into the crux - stand up on the big loose rock, go above the roof clipping the arrowhead and pulling crazy on small sidepulls for left hand, feet up (crux).  Uncomfortable rest below next roof (the exit from the "Diamond"), and final layback on the right, where dropping feet lower helps on occasion, leads to the comfortable belay on a ledge.  50 meters, 8a.
Pitch 4 - very hard climbing to start with, another thin lay-back with bouldery moves and bad protection, careful as possible fall over the belay (crux).  After the first 10 meters climbing eases off to sustained physical crack and lay-back sequences, well-protectable, and finishing at the base of a prominent chimney on the left.  45 meters, 7c(+).
Pitch 5 - a difficult start  after the first peg, to grab an undercling and go left in the direction of the chimney, exiting  the chimney immediately on the left, a good crack system leads up to the next belay.  Some strange moves with either layback or using chicken-wings/chimney technique help overcome a wider crack section (bigger cam might be useful to protect).  45 meters, 7b.
Pitch 6 - easier climbing off the belay up and slightly right leads to a comfortable ledge (possible belay, 20 meters) with two copperheads sticking out of the cracks straight ahead.  The line actually traverses left (careful, loose flake above copperheads) on the slab and around the corner just below a prominent black-white streaked nose.  Very thin moves on badly protected traverse (red C3 BD cam and a nut), and a final dyno (crux) lead into a good hand-jam crack (save yellow/red C4 BD cams).  More crack climbing leads to a first ledge (possible belay), and then a second "double" ledge.  60 meters (can be done in two pitches), 7a+/7b.
Pitch 7 - up the crack system and right below a prominent roof, a short but difficult traverse from crimps in a disappearing crack to grab a hold on the right leads out into much guessed it...laybacking to the top.  50 meters, 6c (at least a grade harder and more exciting for the shorter people).
Scramble another 20 meters to reach the top.

And as a final bonus, here is a video of a Russian team doing a winter (=less free) ascent of the same route, same wall, but in very different colors: 

Blamannen - "Bongo Bar" (Kvaloya, Norway). Part 2 from KRUKONOGI.COM on Vimeo.


lou pape said...

Impressive - these traverse pitchs!!!
Good times you will remember for long.

uasunflower said...

a lot of work I am still recovering from for the 2nd day in a row... I am ready for more relaxed sportclimbing in my home spain again :)

Sílvia said...

Good times..good traverses:) and good pitch!

Al final Julia les trajo el sol!!

uasunflower said...

Si parece que este anyo huvo un verano espectacular en noruega :)