Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Art of Cliff Divining*

As you've probably noticed, Drew and I love climbing.  It is, after all, how we met and I could write a whole philosophical post about how the faith and trust that you put in your climbing partner is a great lesson for how to build a strong marriage.  But today, folks, I want to talk about our dirty little climbing secret.

We sometimes can't find the cliffs.

Seriously. We have a whole treasure trove of hilarious (and frustrating) stories about how we hiked all day and never found the cliffs we were looking for.  One time, we actually hiked back and forth for hours on top of the cliff that we were looking for, never realizing that it was right below us.  Not our best moment...

Mountains are big, right?  Rocks stick out of green landscapes like pineapple on pizzas.  So what is our problem?  It's a mixture of many things.  Sometimes we read the map wrong.  Sometimes the guidebook or website that we relied on is outdated and incorrect.  (Sometimes I'm so paranoid about snakes and spiders that I'm not much help.)  Sometimes it seems like we are just plain jinxed.

Take the last two weekends for example.

Last weekend, we went back to our favorite nature reserve, Tidbinbilla.  But this time, we weren't there to see the animals.  We had our sights set on Gibraltar Rocks, supposedly one of the best climbing areas within a 60 minute drive of our house.  It was a 45 minute hike to access the Rocks, and it started off great.
Within the first few minutes, we had walked within 5 feet of a baby kangaroo. (I've already seen hundreds, but they are still so dang cute!)  Within another five minutes of that, we saw a snake, lots of tiny skinks (a type of lizard), and some interesting beetles and ants.

Then the trail got really steep.  We were each carrying about 30 pounds of climbing gear in our backpacks, so the hike up felt like it took forever.  In reality, it only took about 45 minutes, minus the water breaks we took.  At the top of the hike, we found ourselves on a beautiful rock plateau, looking down over the valley.
There were rocks all around us and we thought it'd be no time before we were roped up and climbing the walls.  Unfortunately, we couldn't find a single route that was safely bolted.  Most of the climbs had old rusty bolts, or holes where the bolts used to be.  As much as we wanted to climb, the only safely bolted routes that we saw were above our abilities.  It was a gorgeous day, with a beautiful vista, and we didn't want to ruin it with a bad fall caused by a run out route.**  (A run out means that the distance between a climber and the last piece of gear that he/she placed is too great and any fall will result in little to no protection.)
Drew checks the climbing guidebook again
By the end of the day, we had scrambled around the base of all the cliffs that we could find.  Our arms and faces were scraped from hiking through brush and ducking around tree branches.  We were hot and sweaty and hadn't climbed at all.  But the view was gorgeous and we found two rock caves and saw evidence (ie, scat) of the Brush-Tailed Rock-Wallaby, a critically endangered creature nicknamed "The Shadow."  We may not have found any climbable routes but at least we had fun "bushwalking." (Quick glossary: It's hiking in the States, bushwalking in Australia, and tramping in New Zealand.)
Mandy standing next to a "Grass" tree (Xanthorrhoea).  Interestingly, this plant is not actually a grass but is most closely related to lilies.  These "trees" are specially suited to the bush—the trunks of the trees are so dense that they don't burn through during hot bushfires.  Instead, the fires activate their reproductive cycle, causing them to erupt in flower blooms after the fire has passed.

Two weekends ago, we decided to head up to Cooleman Ridge.  It had been recommended to us as a good bouldering site and we were "mustard keen" to try it out.  It had rained the entire week previously and we were so excited to be outside that we started hiking without orienting ourselves with our map.  The Ridge area isn't too big so we weren't in any danger of getting seriously lost.  We just had a hard time finding the actual rocks.  After a lot of hiking and lots of sneezing caused by Drew's grass allergy and lots of me being scared of snakes, we did eventually find the rocks.  Hooray!

The moral of this story is that, yes, we'd love to take you climbing, but you'd better make sure that we've been there before.

*Water Divining is the ancient art of finding water using a dousing, or divining, rod.  Cliff divining is a term that I made up and it is the art of finding cliffs using a map and good ol' common sense. While neither one of us has any experience in water divining, I'd like to think that one day we will be masters at cliff divining.

**In my 6 years of climbing, neither of us has taken a dangerous fall.  Although we are not masters at finding the cliffs, we are masters at climbing safely.  We always triple check each other's knots, wear helmets if there is danger of falling objects, and never climb above our abilities without the proper gear protection.  This footnote is specially for my Granny Bear who worries about us.


  1. "Rocks stick out of green landscapes like pineapple on pizzas."--Awesome. :) You guys are hilarious. Also, you look GREAT! All that Aussie air is doing you well. Miss you!

  2. I've got to make it out to Tidbinbilla one of these days! These photos are wonderful! What about the weather?!

    PS I've changed my blog url, please update your bookmark or GFC, it's now

  3. Isn't there some saying about the journey and not the destination, something, something, something? Sounds like you guys have some awesome journeys, even if you never make it to the destination :)

  4. Wow those are some incredible views from the clifftops!

  5. Casey - Thanks! It's always good to remember that the journey is just as fun. :)


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