Canberra climber, Daniel Fisher, has just freed an old route called Vertigo (32) at Tower Rocks on Orroral Ridge, in doing so, he has produced one of Oz’s hardest trad routes. We spoke to him to find out more.
Can you tell us about Vertigo?
Vertigo is a hard (M4) aid route out in Canberra’s south, in Namadgi National Park. I got shown the line about eight years ago. A friend dragged me out and made me get on it, and since then I have always wanted to climb it. It’s 25m and broken into two very different sections. The bottom half is a flared powerful crack, I think it was given 23 back in the 1980s(?), but is probably closer to 25 (as with a lot of the sandbagged routes in the area). Then above that is the main headwall, which has two independent crack lines that run parallel to the top of the wall, and you simply fridge slap (on crimps) up these two lines standing on crystals the size of your thumbnail.
What was the process of climbing the route like?
For me personally it was quite hard, it’s my anti-style and most of it is a head game. It’s very steep but climbs like a flat wall, with slick, small crystal footers making it very insecure. Then add having to put the gear in and clip while squeezing up two different crack systems at the same time made it hard and scary.
You mentioned on Instagram that you found it terrifying, why was that?
I am not much of a trad climber, in fact I think my hardest lead up till this point was another line in the same area put up by Duncan Brown, Freedom of Information (26). So I never felt amazing on lead, but the redpoint crux is putting in one of the pieces, which if it were to pull out, the chances of hitting the ground are very high.
How many days do you reckon you put into it?How did the actual send go?
Days working would be at least 30, but maybe only six send shot days in amongst that. Every season it would take me a good few sessions to remember the moves and body positions before I felt comfortable enough for send shots. I had a few huge falls while working it pre-placed, but luckily none of the gear came out – there is one piece in the middle of the crux section you are unable to see as you place, which was the piece that caused so much stress. If this were to come out then your belayer would have to do a lot of work to keep you off the ground. Lucky for me I on the day I sent it was only my second attempt placing the gear on lead.
Do you have ambitions to climb more trad routes now?
No definite trad plans any time soon. It was quite scary, so happy to step back and do a little more sport and bouldering over the next while.
You’re better known as a boulderer and sport climber, what inspired you to try the line?
I really enjoy climbing new things, be that climbing or bouldering, and I think the fact it’s so different from anything I have every climbed is very enticing. Also, the fact it’s a 40 minute drive from my house and a five minute walk in helped my motivation.
Going by its grade, it’s possibly the hardest or equal hardest trad route in the country, how did you settle on the grade?
Every year I got on it, it changed grades in my mind, even still I am not 100% set on the grade. It’s so anti my style that it could be much easier or harder. The weekend before I did it with pre-placed gear and as a sport line it felt around the 31 mark, but add broken leg–falls, hard to place gear that you can’t see when placing and long run outs, and I think it’s worth an extra grade.
We also know that you had a killer season in Rocklands before you hurt yourself, can you tell us about some of the highlights from that trip?
Surprisingly more rock than expected for a place called Rocklands! Look, it was awesome, it’s the first time I have had a trip dedicated to just bouldering which was different. So many amazing lines, in the two weeks climbing I had before my injury I did three V13s, two V12s, six V11s and almost every one of them would be a three star classic here in Australia, which is saying something because we have some amazing rock. Aside from the climbing, highlights would have to include two-for-one burgers on Monday night in town, there are also two different pizza nights a week and a big roast up every second week.
You had one day where you climbed Sunset Arete (V9), The Section (V10), Pendragon (V11), Nutsa (V11) and Out of Balance (V11) – how does it feel to have a day like that? Have you had other days as good as that?
Honestly any day out climbing in Rocklands was pretty good. I have had a few killer days over the years: 33, 33, 30, 29 in a day, three V10s, two V11s and two V12s in a weekend, but it’s rarely these days that you remember, but instead times spent with friends and family out in weird places doing strange activities.
Do you think the Rocklands primed you for success on Vertigo or have you just been generally in form of late?
I felt good after Rocklands but ended up with a partial tear in my ACL in my last week there, so came back and couldn’t climb very much. 10 weeks of rehab and some hang boarding in that time and it felt like I had no endurance but still had a bit of power. So I did lots of 4x4s and tried not to think about how crap broken ankles would be. With how much of head game this climb was for me, to send I had to be either really strong or be happy with broken ankles, so about 4 weeks of power endurance (4x4s) later and the route felt the best it has in years.
Daniel is sponsored by La Sportiva and Edelrid.