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Peaking Pete: A Story of Fear and a New Route

Updated: Jan 7

As I sit in my 9 a.m. Biological Chemistry lecture on Monday morning, I can barely grip a pen due to eviscerated finger tips, nor can I focus due to being in the car for the 18 hours prior in order to make my first lecture of the semester. Nonetheless, I'm still beaming from ear to ear from the stunning, (if somewhat insane) three day trip down to the Darrans.

With minimal spare time between finishing work, and university starting back, I formulated a plan to take a long weekend just prior to the semester starting to make my yearly Darrans pilgrimage. A few weeks out, Dan and I schemed about possible routes we could do in my three days to maximise climbing, and send me home a shell of my former self. However, Huey had other plans; sending a solid front straight up the coast in the middle of my three day window. Not easily deterred, we spent Thursday afternoon scouring maps and the guide book in search of something suitably epic which could be done in the 24 hours prior to the rain. A plan was eventually hatched, and with Jaz and Michael (the Homer Warden) we all set off for the South Face of Sabre at the ungodly hour of 2 a.m.

Despite climbing the Barrier Face six times before, Dan took the opportunity to take the most circuitous route up the face, resulting in almost a complete circumnavigation of the Barrier Face before dawn, when we finally found the correct route. As a result, the 'expedient' route to the Barrier-Crosscut Col ended up taking almost eight hours; double the time we'd allowed. To add insult to injury, upon reaching the Col, it was immediately apparent that any route on the South Face of Sabre would be an exercise in suffering, with the whole face still glistening wet in the mid-morning light.

A quick team meeting ensued, and plans were amended to instead scope out the traverse on the middle tier around to the South Face of Barrier Peak, to attempt some drier, and shorter new routes.

Intent on dragging me up something hard, Dan scoped out one of the more inspiring lines on the main face. Replete with large roofs, and even larger cracks, it looked like a truly fearsome prospect; even from the ground. After a couple of moderate pitches, we reached the first proper crux comprising a damp and mossy crack with imaginary foot holds. As it eventuated, my complete ignorance of the ways of crack climbing and the ensuing fear as I thrust my hands fist deep in slime while desperately scrabbling for some foot holds, was merely a taste of what was to come.

Prior to heading out that morning, I was under strict instructions that I was not permitted to fall on Dan's new and very shiny 8.9mm single rope. However halfway through pitch three, I was presented with a fear inducing conundrum. In front of me lay a blank slab, which Dan had carefully tension-traversed, and with no hope of being able send it clean, I froze; almost whimpering with fear at the prospect of making my first pendulum, on a belay of unknown strength, on an 8.9mm single, below sharp edges. Digging deep, I very carefully lowered myself, completing the pendulum and the rest of the pitch without a hitch (barring the slightly sick feeling of pure fear I felt in the pit of my stomach).

Just when I thought it wasn't possible I could get more scared, the following pitch almost broke me. Prior to climbing, I was informed to tie in 20 metres from the end of the rope, and Dan attempted to explain how I was going to follow a tension traverse. In a state of highly functional panic, his words went in one ear and out the other. Yanking on gear and hauling myself up in possibly one of my most pitiful displays of fear on a route, I finally got to the single nut off which I was to belay myself, in order to traverse across the slab, and clipped myself in. Taking a moment to restore my equilibrium, it took a couple of attempts for Dan to explain to me how this self belay off a single (very directional) nut whilst still being top roped was going to practically work. Informing Dan I'd never been so terrified on a climb in my life, I attempted to stop my over-active imagination which was giving me a barrage of images of cut ropes, blood, and a general feeling of unadulterated fear; and began to lower myself and subsequently traverse.

White as a ghost, I made it to the belay. We flicked the rope a couple of times, and out popped the nut, successfully rendering a perfect outcome to the traverse. A couple of short steps in the final pitches saw me flop out onto the ridge, bloody, bruised, and with no energy left to feel fear.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing. It's now Wednesday, and as I sit in a Legal Ethics lecture, fingers almost healed and sleep patterns restored to normal, there's a strong, if somewhat masochistic desire to be back there. Perhaps I wouldn't be as terrified a second time, perhaps I could lead more than one pitch, perhaps if we were on a thicker rope I could have climbed harder.

Uncertainties aside, I know I need to be out there; training, climbing harder, getting scared, and climbing better. When you reach your limit, and there's no more room for fear, the only thing to do is increase that threshold, and train harder such that next time, I can instead be the master of that fear.

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