The weather for our third and final day of climbing on ‘Eua island was spectacular and we were much better prepared for the approach to Fangatave beach. We left our accommodation reasonably early and because the tracks were dry we could drive all the way to the field below the water tanks, which we arrived at just after 9am. Another family of climbers pulled up behind us as we were getting ready to set off on foot and so we walked to the crag with them, getting to know them along the way.
Apparently, a few days earlier, they had experienced similar navigation problems when they tried to get to the crag the first time.
They had taken several hours hiking from much lower down the road to get to Fangatave beach and although the father had found the crag above the caves they had no time or energy left to climb that day. So for both families this was a second attempt to get a full day of climbing done at the Fangatave beach crags.
Both groups knew the approach route well the second time around and so we were able to get down to Fangatave beach by 10am in the morning. The beach was beautiful and we loitered a bit, but we still started our warm-up climb on Beginners Wail (grade 16) on the Whale wall just before 11am.
While we were on the warm up, the other family jumped on the first pitch of a climb called “Thirty Four” (grade 19). Aiden watched as Kylish (sp?) - a boy of similar age - climbed to the third bolt of Thirty Four on top rope. I have never seen Aiden so motivated as he was after that. So we tried the same route afterwards. Alex led it cleanly first. Aiden then top-roped it. He climbed with real determination the whole way, and made it to about the fifth bolt without resting on the rope. He took one rest, and then topped it out. I was very proud of him. Thanks Kylish for igniting the (fierce) competitive spirit in Aiden.
After that we had an unintentionally long lunch break and then decided we should check out Anokula wall, further south. It is about 10 minutes away and starts at a huge shallow cave. We sought out a climb that had been recommended to us by one of the crag developers called “Purple Pincer Pocket Puller” (grade 19). This is actually a beautiful, long, and I would say easy for the grade climb, but by the third day of climbing and hiking I was quite tired, so my onsight attempt was derailed just below the anchors when the good holds disappeared and there were only pockets and I was already feeling pumped. After resting on the rope I topped-out. Aiden climbed on top-rope next and got to the same point before he also needed to rest on the rope, and then was lowered back down. Alex flashed the route and cleaned it without problem.
By this time it was getting late in the afternoon, and I was starting to feel a bit of desperation to find a grade 20 to climb cleanly. The whole trip it had been a goal in the back of my mind. Now suddenly we only had an hour left on the last day. So I checked the guide and decided that a climb called “In the Belly of the Whale” (grade 20) back at Whale wall, would be my final target. It was immediately hard, and I was tired, but I was determined and fighting.
Amazingly I managed to get through all the bouldery lower moves and found myself at the bulge below the sixth bolt which was the crux. I was really pumped and tired and a bit desperate as I reached up over the little roof and felt around for purchase. Just as I was losing power I found a sharp crimp to the left that was big enough and I swung out and over. There was a moment I thought I would fall, but I managed to haul myself over and immediately saw an enticing ledge further left and up, which I made it to and was even able to sit. Big mistake!!
The other family arrived at the base of the climb at that point, on their way back from Anokula wall to their car. I had just realised that I had climbed over the bulge to the left, when I should have gone hard right, and that the next bolt was now 3-4 metres to the right.
In between me and the next bolt was a wall of sharp gray scalloped limestone with not a lot of good holds, and I was feeling totally spent. This was the last climb of the trip. I found myself stuck on the cliff with no bolts or anchor above me, and an intimidating traverse between me and the correct route. There was just one bolt and the anchor left. The sun was low in the sky.
I just sat there looking around for answers.
Alex, Aiden and the other family were yelling helpful suggestions up to me. Eventually, while I still hadn’t moved, the other family started off back to their car. I remained sitting on the ledge, trying to decide what was best: performance or safety. I took a very long time thinking about it, and eventually I could see the parents of the other family down on the beach, looking back up at me. I assumed that they were concerned.
As painful as it was, I decided to forgo the onsight attempt of the grade 20. Instead I looked for a way to traverse even further left to link up with the anchors on Beginner’s Wail (grade 16). Eventually, I was able to do that, although it was also rather sketchy. Ten minutes later I was finally cleaning off the route.
As I did so, I could see that the parents of the other family were now satisfied I would be okay and resumed heading across the beach far below. I was really grateful that they had kept an eye on me.
Finally I got to the ground. I was simultaneously disappointed, relieved and proud of myself for surviving unscathed and retrieving all our equipment. There would be plenty of opportunities to climb that grade (and higher!) again. So, tired but happy, we packed up our climbing equipment and hiked out from Fangatave beach for the last time.
What a beautiful adventure!