Bunny Bucket Buttress is a 270m climb in the Blue Mountains.
I had climbed in twice over the course of 2014.
The scoreboard was sitting at:
In May 2015 the opportunity arose to climb it again. I welcomed the chance to settle the score.
I realise that thinking of a climb in this way is slightly insane. The rock doesn’t really care about my imaginary scoreboard. Nonetheless, it would be a good chance to measure my progress in climbing. By this time I was climbing harder, my rope skills were better and now I was fairly familiar with the route. It was going to be easy this time.
We upped the difficultly level by deciding to camp out on the climb overnight.
We would bring a haul bag with full of camping gear. We’d sleep on the lunch ledge under the stars.
It seemed like a good training mission for a big wall climb that might happen at some stage in the distant future.
We borrowed a haulbag from a friend at our local climbing gym. We filled it up with everything from food and sleeping bags, to a few cheeky bottles of beer and enough water to keep a small army hydrated in the desert for weeks. Oh and a bunch of chocolate. And a book for each of us to read. Nice chunky novels. And a stove. And pancake mix for the morning.
The haul bag weighed a tonne.
Let’s call this ‘mistake number one’. Count with me. ONE.
We knew that the bag was going to slow us down. We were also climbing as a party of 3 which always takes a little longer.
We decided to start the climb in the early afternoon. We didn’t want any other climbing parties to be stuck behind us.
We’d climbed the whole route in half a day before. Now we were only going to climb half of it. Simple maths. Even with the delays caused by hauling, we should make it to the ledge before dark.
Even if our calculations were a bit optimistic, we figured that the last 2 pitches before the lunch ledge are only grade 8. There is a little bit of climbing involved, but most of the time you’re just walking between trees. If we were a bit slow, and we had to do that bit in the dark, it wouldn’t be a problem.
We congratulated ourselves on being so logical. We assumed that we would reach the ledge in time to watch the sun set, drink some beer, cook some dinner and read our books.
Let’s call this ‘mistake number two’. ONE, TWO. Ok….
On the fateful morning of BBB 3.0 we woke up late, drank coffee, climbed a few routes at Boronia Point, then mosied our way across to Pierce’s Pass.
We pulled on our harnesses in the carpark and loaded up the haulbag. The third member of our team, Vankate, looked at the bag and suggested that ‘mistake number one’ might be a mistake. We told her not to worry and said that drinking beer in the sunset would make it all worthwhile.
Vankate also tried to warn us about ‘mistake number three’.
Her warning came just as we reached the abseil chains that we would use to descend down, down, down into the valley. To get to the chains you have to walk through a sort of rock tunnel. The wind was quite strong in the tunnel. Vankate wondered if it might be a bit breezy when we were out on the rock.
Again, we told her that the forecast was pretty good. The wind only felt strong here because it was being funneled between the two walls of rock.
ONE, TWO, THREE.
We got to the start of the climb without any trouble. We started climbing around 2 in the afternoon. The first few pitches zoomed by. It took us a while to get the hauling system working well. The haul bag took a few mammoth swings, but on the whole, things were going ok.
One person would lead. Another would second and start pulling up the haul bag The third person climbed below the bag, helping to lift it over edges and move it around corners so that it didn’t get stuck anywhere. The system worked. But it was very slow. Each pitch was a massive effort.
Remember our plan? We were going to read our books for a while, start cooking dinner and toast the sunset with a nice cold beer.
Well the beautiful sunset arrived somewhere during the third pitch. Just after that the howling winds arrived too. The temperature dropped drastically.
I was sitting at the bottom of that pitch, waiting for my turn to climb. I was struggling to get my headtorch to stick to my helmet properly. The elastic just kept slipping off the back. I huddled closer to the rock, trying to keep out of the wind as best I could.
Above me I could see a small circle of light around Vankate. The circle of light crept slowly up the rock. I kept mucking around with my torch. It still wasn’t sitting right. I was worried that it would just pop off the top of my helmet and tumble down for 100m never to be seen again.
There was still about 80 metres of climbing between me and our campsite for the night. Climbing without a torch wasn’t an option.
When it was my turn to climb, I warmed up my hands as best I could and dismantled our anchor. I climbed the whole pitch with the torch in my mouth. The elastic band was hanging around my neck. I bared my teeth at the rock to reveal the next handholds. I’d reach for them and then repeat the process.
It was quite late by the time we got to the two grade 8 pitches. We were tired. But we knew the hard climbing was over. Soon we’d be making hot dinner and curling up in our sleeping bags. Right?
Hauling works well on steep smooth rock faces. It doesn’t work particularly well when the haulbag is being dragged horizontally, then over boulders, then through trees. There’s a thousand places for the bag to get stuck, and not a lot that the person sitting at the anchors can do.
For the first 30 metres of bushbashing, Vankate and I tried to drag the bag behind us. When we came to a boulder or a vertical section, one of us would climb up and the other would pass the bag up to them. It was a slow and frustrating process. We were cold. We were hungry. The wind tore at us constantly.
We needed help from Dirtbagjens above us. The only way to communicate through the wind was to scream at the top of our lungs.
Vankate would lift the bag up over some obstacle, then scream HAAAAUUUUUULLL THE HAULBAG.
HAUL. THE. HAULBAG.
I don’t think he can even hear us. This is totally… ugh.
Our trio was reunited at the bottom of the last grade 8 pitch. There was now only 30m of climbing between us and the end of our epic ordeal. Well… between us and the halfway point. But the promise of food and sleep kept us going.
Vankate and whinged about the haulbag. Dirtbagjens valiantly offered to carry it on his back while he led the pitch.
He pulled this off for a little while. The haulbag was on a short tagline. He would climb up vertical sections, then drag the bag up after him. Towards the end of the pitch, the vertical sections got too long and he had to leave the bag clipped to a bolt for us to collect on our way through.
When we reached the haulbag it was about 10.30pm. Whatever problem solving skills and rope skills we had possessed at the start of the climb had disintegrated by that point. We stared at this bag. We hated it. We willed it to magically levitate up to the promised land of the lunch ledge. But it didn’t move. More lifting. More yelling. More hatred for this impossibly heavy inanimate object.
Thousands of years later, we reached the ledge. On our last trip, we’d happily sat on the ledge, eating lunch in the sunshine.
We hadn’t really thought about the fact that sitting requires a lot less space than lying down. We needed a nice big flat space for three bodies.
We realised… at 11pm, that none of the spaces were particularly flat. Or particularly big. Each potential sleeping spot sloped gently down towards the gaping black void below us.
This problem was pushed aside briefly while we made our dinner. The veggie and chorizo stew with instant rice was, and probably will forever be, the most delicious food I have ever eaten. After hours of being cold and hungry, this warm tasty food made everything better.
Each of us had crawled into sleeping bags as soon as we arrived on the ledge. We cooked and ate dinner like three tired slugs. The hoods of our bags were pulled tight around our heads to keep the wind from tearing at our faces.
Once dinner was done, we needed to try to catch a few hours of sleep.
As soon as we tried to lie down, we realised that our sleeping spots were too small and too slopey for any of us to feel comfortable untying from the ropes.
We set up an elaborate system that allowed each of us to remain attached to the anchor while we slept. Harnesses still on. Ropes snaking in the tops of our sleeping bags.
The wind got stronger and stronger as the night went on. You could hear it tearing down the valley. A rumbling would start at one end of the valley. The sound got louder as the gust of wind got closer.
In the next moment, the gust would hit you. It felt as though it was catching our sleeping mats and moving us around each time. I think I spent the whole night with one hand out of my bag, gripping on to a safety line we had rigged. The bottom of my sleeping bag was unzipped. This had allowed me to move around when we were making dinner. By now, it meant that the wind could work its way into my bag, which would inflate a little with each gust of wind. I felt like a human windsock.
I did some googling later that week and found some Bureau of Meteorology data that suggested the wind that night was moving at around 80km/h with gust of up to 100 in some parts of the Blue Mountains.
Needless to say… we didn’t get a lot of sleep.
A new day dawned. The wind had dropped off a tiny bit. Down from a blasting hurricane to a stiff breeze that whipped our ropes into tangles.
Dirtbagjens led the two pitches of 18. I took the last easy pitch. Mostly because I was the most desperate to top out into the sun. We HAAAAAULLLLed the haulbag up and over the top of the cliff.
Vankate popped out on the top. The three of us (and our infamous haulbag) had made it out alive.
After a massive group hug, we packed up our gear and started the walk out. The wind was still strong enough to push our exhausted bodies off the trail every now and then. But we’d been through worse than that.
We reached the carpark and cracked open those beers. We all fell asleep on a tarp on the group surrounded by ropes and helmets and that god-awful bag.
After a sleep, some lunch and a hot cup of coffee, we were all ready to drive home, back to the real world. We would sleep in a bed, in a house with walls. The weather could do whatever it wanted. We’d be safe and warm
Never again. That’s what I decided.
Never say never.
PS. Dirtbagjens just read this post and said “What are you talking about? We didn’t make any mistakes. It was awesome.”
You’ve got to have a bad memory to keep doing things this stupid.
Stay stupid. Stay safe.
Until the next adventure!