Dave Drummonds accounts of the PETZL Rock & Road Trip (Final Day)

Howick Falls

Howick Falls

2008 08 02

Dave Drummonds was one of the Judges at the PETZL Rock & Road Trip

My morning started early with the difficult decision of what pants to ware. After much deliberation and faffing I made a decision and got on my way to the Howick Falls, were Scott and Rodger had been working hard the previous day to get the fixed lines and quick draws in place.

It had been a busy week, with lots to keep the Rock and Road climbers busy, Indoor Comps, mentor days, flash contests and ferocious red-pointing. They had all had a day of rest and now the finalists had one last day of climbing to prove their mettle. Before long things were falling into place, with the big screen and cameras getting ready to roll. The judger’s headed down the access abseil and took up our positions on the fixed lines. The wall was calm and still, with the falls thundering in the background. With no direct line of communication to the top or the bottom, I felt isolated and could only sit and wait for things to kick into action.

Soon the first group of climbers, Paul, Benjamin, Rachel and Julia came down and started warming up. The competitors were given a route to top rope as a warm up, and took a long time to get their body’s up to running temperature. Julia was first and up did well getting to 9th draw of “Cosmic Cowboy” (28) which was as far as the ladies were required to go on that route, and made light work of the ladies second route “Mr. Long Arm” (24). The men were faced with a tough start with the technical low down crux of “Time Like Stone” (27). Both Paul and Benjamin made a good effort and got past the 5th bolt.

The points were allocated to height gained, with each bolt clipped counting for 10 points, and the grips between the bolts being divided appropriately.

My first order of business was to get the final abseil set up before the first group finished their 4 climbs. I threw the 60m rope down from the anchors at my belay tree which promptly got tangled in a bush about 5m below me. I started rapping down, untangling the rope as I went and checking for any loose rock. A few brick sizes blocks came off and went plummeting down into the water below, landing with a loud crack, much to the distress of the nervous climbers above. At about one third of the way down I found a large block, about the size of a bar fridge, tittering on a sandy ledge. I gave it a little nudge, and it rocked back and forth in response. I decided that this would be too much to pull off with so many people watching and too dangerous to leave in place. I jugged back up the line to move the abseil to another place.

Once back up at the belay tree, I moved the rap lines across to a cleaner line, and again proceeded to untangle the rope from the bushes 5m below me. The line was much cleaner, with no earthquake inducing blocks. Still unsure if the line actually reached the water, I continued all the way to the end of the 60m dynamic line. I managed to get within 1.5m of the water, without untying the knots, and decided that the competitors would be fine. I then got busy with the task of jugging the full length of a 60m Dynamic rope.

Just as I was starting to hate jumar’ing, I discovered something even worse. Jumar’ing through a bramble bush. What followed was not pretty, as it took me 15minuets to gain the next 3m of height. Eventually I broke free and savoured the next 30m of jugging without any brambles. I was relieved to get back to the sanctuary of my belay tree.

I was stationed at the end of the fixed line, with an airy Tyrolean traverse between me and the other judgers. I never had much of a ledge to sit on, and thus spent most of my time in the tree (Monkey style). With the ever present roar of the falls, communication along the fixed lines was limited to walky talky’s and cell phones.

Julia continued her good form and flashed all three of the ladies routes. Rachelle was a bit intimidated by the more than 60m drop to the water below and did not climb to her true potential. Much encouragement from the others on the ledge kept her going. The rigours of the busy week paid their toll on Paul, as he also was not at his strongest. Benjamin did well on “Cosmic Cowboy” and the third route “Kiss the Guns”(27) racking up some good points on both routes.

Soon the second group, Steve, Simon, Gosia and Naureen were warming up and the small ledge was getting really busy with climbers on many routes at one time. By the time the first climbers got across the tyrolean to my station, Paul had stopped climbing due to an injury and Benjamin was looking quite wary. His comment to me was “Today doesn’t feel like a competition, it just feels like survive” He did well on the men’s last route “Room 42” (27?) which was bolted especially for the Rock and Road Finals. It involved climbing a delicate face where the grips slowly run out and climbers end up desperately trying to get to a micro flake, and some how get past it.

From my station, the competitors had the 65m abseil into a small boat, were they were ferried across to dry, flat land. Any exhausted but exhilarated Julia and Rachelle were the first to go. With the aid of a 70m rope, they both made it into the boat and onto flat, dry land safe and sound.

Gosia and Naureen followed Julia’s lead and flashed the first three routes. It was only the fourth “Kiss the Guns” that separated the field. Naureen took her time figuring out each move, but it was Gosia who established the high point, at the 7th bolt. Simon had his best game on, being the first to flash the first two routes, but was penalized since he had climbers both of them before, putting him at a huge disadvantage against the other climbers. Steve put in a good effort, flashing “Time like stone” but fell after the 9th bolt on “Cosmic Cowboy”. Again “Kiss the guns” was the separator, which saw Simon falling low, and Steve and Benjamin getting past the 7th bolt. On “room 42” Simon got right back up there and set a new high point, by matching on the micro flake, but with few options moving forward came off soon after.

The day drew on, as the wall moved from baking hot sun into the dark shadow it is known for. Fleeces and down jackets came out to keep warm between climbs. I was please to be having a bit more company, and was relieved when each climber was safely collected by the boatman. “Another climber off the wall. Another step closer to the end of a long day”.

The next group onto the wall included the power pairing of Karen and Nadine, as well as last years Rock and Road winner, Ben and the compact powerhouse Jimbo. Karen and Nadine matched each other send for send, and, as many of the other girls had done, dispatched with the first three routes with clean flashes. It was building up to a big showdown. Nadine headed up “Kiss the Guns” she climbed well and managed to get up to Gosia’s high point. She held on for a few more moves and got 2 more points, putting her in the lead, with only Karen left to climb. The shadows were growing long as Karen headed up the wall. Showing her great skill and strength, she overtook Nadine’s high point and went on the clearly stake her claim as the Ladies winner of the 2008 Rock and Road Tour.

By now the last two climbers, Andrew and Clinton, had joined in on the climbing and the men’s category was being hotly contested. Jimbo fell low on “Time Like Stone” which Andrew, along with Ben and Clinton, flashed. Unfortunately Andrew “Dorked It” on “Cosmic Cowboy”, on which Jimbo established a new high point past the 12th bolt. Clinton and Ben both did well to Flash “Cosmic Cowboy” which along with a flash of “Kiss the Guns”, put them it tie for first place, with one route to go. Ben lost concentration for a split second on the last route and fumbled a thumb catch before just toughing the micro flake and coming off. Clinton hurried across the Tyrolean traverse to get his climb in before dark. He sped up the wall confidently and soon approached the move that had stopped all the others. He reached up to the micro flake and gently matched it. He had to work hard to control the barn door, as he struggled to find good foot holds. He tried a few option, using grips low and right, but eventually opted to crank up, lock off and attempt a very powerful clip of the next draw. I was belaying as Andrew was held up on the previous route. Staring up the wall I say Clinton pull up a large loop of slack, and as he was about to clip, his foot burst free from the wall, and he was air-born. Without any options I held on tight to the rope and braced for the impact. Eventually he came to a rest lower down the wall.

Although he had not held any higher grip than Simon, he had attempted to clip, and was given extra points for it.

By the time Clinton had his shoes off, dusk was falling, and people were hurrying to get down the rap, and off the wall. Fortunately the rule of “Always pack a headlamp” was applied, and we had enough light to get everybody off the wall, even if the last three people did rap in the dark and two people climbed out by headlamp. All the quick-draws, fixed ropes and rap lines were left on the wall, but that would be a job for tomorrow, now it was time to eat, drink and be merry.

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