"Blue skies!" I opened my eyes to Rich again hanging out the window. I could see a familiar pattern starting to emerge but a weather report was better than an alarm clock, I supposed. The weather had cleared dramatically and the cloud was high and broken in parts, blue sky trying desperately to break through. "Wooohooo!!" was the most intelligent reply i could think of without coffee. A survey of the Tahune face still showed water falling and a sheen of wet rock could be seen across it. Climbing today was probably out of the question today, we had been told the rock needed a day or 2 to dry out after rain and with the amount we had received over the previous days, we could see the truth in that fact. With this thought, a plan was hatched to recce the base of the cliff and find the start of our climb. A good idea in preparation for a climbing day, if the opportunity ever presented itself.
We packed essentials for the day, food, water, first aid and clothing and were out the door and trotting up the path. We left the trail at a switchback and continued up a faint track that moved left to the base of the Tahune cliff, this soon lead us to a steep ridge line that was the main access to the eastern side of the mountain. We made our way down the ridge and stood awestruck in front of the mountain, its sheer face rose impossibly high in front of us and we suddenly felt very small and alone. Excitement and fear mixed together at the thought of what we were trying to undertake. We surveyed the east side of Tahune wall, the smaller of the 2 main faces and even this was daunting and imposing. There was a route up this face which interested us both, Tierry Le Frond, it made its way up the face then moved left to the arete and followed a series of cracks up to the massive roofs above and picked its way through the weaknesses to its summit. At 150 metres, this was one of the shortest multi pitch route on the mountain and a good option if time and weather was against us.
Continuing along the base of the cliff we could make out other climbs, many of them way beyond our climbing experience and looking at them, we wondered how anyone was able to climb such impossible looking rock. Near the middle of the cliff we found the start to the route we were aiming for, The Sydney route, 13 pitches and 380 meters. Both Rich and I stood there slack jawed staring up at the route, we could not even see the top it was so impossibly high. Half way up it seemed to disappear completely into the bowels of the mountain and back out again. This was going to be a big undertaking and we would need to climb fast and efficient to get to the top in a single day. We took photos of the route to study back at the hut and continued to explore.
The ground was steep and loose and we made our way gingerly across the last scree slope and gained the South Col. This saddle joins Frenchmans cap to the south ridge and the Clytemnestra group of cliffs further along. We climbed onto one of the buttresses and had lunch. The views from here were breathtaking, we could see for maybe 50-60 kms to the south and east. Not a building, road or person could be seen, it was wilderness in its truest form. It was humbling to sit in the shadow of this stoic mountain. We were being allowed to share its view, knowing that no one else on earth was seeing what we were right now. This area was living, breathing, growing, without any need of us, it had flourishes for thousands of years just fine without our influence and left alone, would continue to do so. There was something profound and reassuring in that thought. We discussed the problems of the world for an hour or so, solved some of them, shrugged at others and enjoyed the peace and beauty of where we were.
Unfortunately time dictated that we should get moving, we were only a third the way around the mountain and the rest was a complete unknown. We made our way down the ridge and followed a beautiful white quartz waterfall. The recent rains filtering into the gullies and water cascaded down its pure white face. We again felt privileged, the river would stop running in a day or so and being so far from the hut, it was doubtful that many people even knew it was here and as soon as the water drained away, it would cease to exists. We reached the bottom of the cascade and made our way around several small alpine ponds, surrounding them on all sides were delicate, lush gardens. Moss covered the ground, sundews hung over the small streams and frogs could be heard everywhere. Not a blade or leaf seemed out of place and the bushes all resembled carefully pruned bonsai. The area was also filled with wild flowers and seizing their opportunity, now opened and bloomed in the warm, full sun. Paper Daisies, Rice Flowers, Iris and others I had never seen, all craned towards the sun and filled the mountain with color.
We crossed the gardens and climbed to the western col, we reached the top and found that the other side dropped at an impossible angle for some 100 metres below us, there was no way of continuing and we looked for another path to the summit. We started to climb, hoping we could find a weakness that would allow us up to the summit and across. We could see a deep shadow, half way up in the side of the cliff, knowing we wouldn't be back here anytime soon, we made our way over to explore. It was a large cave that extended some 30 metres up into the rock at an angle. It was cool inside and water seeped through the rock creating an ideal environment for ferns to grow. The ponds and gardens lay far below us and the view to them and the mountain ranges beyond them was spectacular. As good a place as any and better than most, we snacked and took a rest.
Making our way up further, we found a weakness through the cliffs and scrambled up to the summit. As it turned out, this route put us just below the summit, not too far from the walking track. We joined it and after orientating ourselves and figuring out which direction to go, made our way back down towards the hut.
Along the way we met several people heading to the summit, when they saw us with our helmets they asked us if we were the climbers?
"Umm, yeah, we had planned to climb" I asked questioningly "how did you know that?"
As it turns out, the hikers who had left the previous days had told the groups coming up of 2 climbers that had been waiting at the top hut trying to climb the mountain. The bush telegraph was alive and well and the story had exaggerated and enlarged to the stuff of legends. I believe people expected to find 2 bearded mountain men in tattered clothes, living off berries and bugs. We chatted to them awhile, probably disappointing them at how unremarkable our survival of the last 3 days had been and made our way back to the hut. We passed several more people who regarded us in the same way and it was evident that we had become minor D grade celebrities.
The hut was packed when we arrived, everyone had been waiting at Vera hut for the weather to improve and had now taken full advantage of the break to make their way to Tahune. We were greeted warming by the new groups and stories were exchanged and questioned asked by the bewildered hikers. A quick climbing presentation on gear and techniques was given to the few people that couldn't understand the hows or even why we would climb the mountain. Once we explained the basics of climbing and how all the gear worked, you could see the mystery and wonder leave their eyes and we quickly went from mountain folklore to the 2 smelly guys living in the corner of the hut.
Sometime the illusion really is better than truth.
It was decided over dinner that we wouldn't attempt the Sydney route, the original climb we wanted to do. At 380 metres it was probably too big an undertaking given the stability of the weather and we weren't properly equipped if we had to spend the night out on the cliff. A smaller climb seemed the smarter choice so it was decided that Tierry le fronde was our target for the next day. At 150 metres and only 5 pitches, it would give us an idea of what we were in for and we could escape back to the ground much easier and quicker if something went wrong.
We racked gear, sorted ropes and headed for bed.