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North Face of Stone Rabbit: Wubble Wabbit A-Wet

(Yet another momentary lapse of reason suffered by Andy Pacheco, Muriel Pacheco, and Kobus Barnard.)

(Text appeared originally in CAJ 1990)

by Kobus Barnard

(all photos copyright by Kobus Barnard)

For the mountaineering enthusiast who cannot resist a good challenge, this route has everything. Serious dimensions, great exposure, and steepness. It's good entertainment, and what's more, the upper part is unfinished, so you can claim the first complete ascent. If I haven't convinced you to go yet, let me continue. There's a section that was fee-climbed because it was too hard to aid. Certainly a challenging route should not only be difficult for the leader. Steep 5.9 cracks were followed with a heavy pack with inadequate upper belays. There are places you can practice the art of climbing on loose ledges without dropping rocks on your partners. Anybody can climb 5.9 in the smoke bluffs--a real route has 5.9 on mud. How many routes can boast an aid move followed by a belly squirm onto a rounded, well lubricated ledge? Unfortunately, with such good specs, there is bound to be competition. We had to negotiate with a goat about which variation we could do.

The north side of Stone Rabbit does have a striking appearance. It had been on Andy's list for some time. I got a glance at it while descending Ratney after doing the Tuning fork route on Mt. Bardean. Andy grilled me for details from this long past adventure, but all I could remember was that it was big, steep, dark and blank looking. Then a view from a ridge of Judge Howay revealed an elegant buttress--steep, but with at least a hint of features. The rock on Howay had been so climbable that the idea to have a similar experience on another wild route suggested itself immediately. However, a close up view of the route while descending it lead Andy to proclaim "If I had seen it from here, I would never have tried it".

This climb had an abundance of contact with nature. As hinted at earlier, we got a close look at a mountain goat at the base of the climb. We saw another one on the descent. This one dislodged a giant boulder--an accident perhaps, but more likely this is its method of scaring off predators. The most prevalent fauna however were the mosquitos and black flies! These ones were getting me through my usually impermeable rugby jersey. I ended up with hundreds of bites.

Hard climbing. Perhaps our packs were too heavy, but I was sure working when I was following. One section Andy led involved intricate free climbing on seeping wet rock, followed by an aid move. After giving it a perfunctory try, I concluded that I probably couldn't do it even without a pack and with dry feet, thus ending any illusion that this route is a free climb for softies. Our last pitch was wetter still, with the crux involving pulling up on a pin placement, and then squirming along a wet, curving ledge capped by a roof--no room for a pack--so at least I didn't feel that I have to try and free it.

I also had some interesting experiences on the lead--difficult mud, moss, and bush, and a steep mantle move onto a slopping ledge covered with wubble. I elegantly hooked the ledge with my toe, and then inelegantly rolled onto it, displacing the scree. I would have preferred to have aided the move, but the prospect of committing my weight to a weak placement with nothing good below was even less comforting.

Hard-man sleeping arrangements. If you are not tough enough to make it to the traverse ledge in a day, then you must, as we did endure a bivi on one of the less preferable ledges. Perhaps not 100% comfortable, but what a view!

Water was everywhere, except in our water bottles. A two liter jug was left in the car. We forgot to fill another. Dehydration multiplied our fatigue. Two thirds of the way up the face there is an escape ledge that crosses the west side of the north face. I was sure that the climbing above would be better, and not as difficult. I was also sure that there would be plenty of strenuous climbing. Even though part of me wanted to go on, I knew that as I looked up at the rest of the route that I was too dehydrated and tired--everybody was tired and fed up. So in the name of good judgement, we ran away.

This left us to climb over Stone Rabbit, and up and over Ratney, all in our rock shoes. Think about that, the next time the coop salesperson tries to sell you ones three sizes too small.

With so much to offer, I'm sure you'll want the Beta for the route. Thus, for the record, the north face of Stone Rabbit was reached via the middle of the long ridge separating Ratney and Clark. The A-Wet is in the middle of the wall and has an obvious bush ramp cutting onto it from the left. We started on the face 100 feet to the left of this ramp. We found the last bit of frozen snow leading up to the base, and the subsequent moat crossing, too intimidating for rock shoes, so we climbed up in mountain boots, and then lowered Andy down to place them where it was less steep, to be picked up on the return. We climbed up and right, meeting the A-Wet after 5 pitches of mostly moderate climbing, with some 5.8, some wet sections, and some runouts (altogether at one point!). For the next pitch, we climbed up insecure bush, moss, and mud near the crest. The two following pitches were more aesthetic involving strenuous medium to wide crack climbing up to 5.9. The belay above these was insecure until a large friend was recovered from below. The A-Wet was followed for another half a rope length, at which point we traversed right along a ledge, and then face climbed up to a sloping scree covered ledge at the base of a large white scar. The belay here was a large boulder precariously perched on the scree. This anchor is not recommended, but if you use the same stations as we did, you will be out of rope. At this point you may be able to fight with more wubble to climb up the right side of the scar. However, we did a tricky 30 foot pitch upwards to a better belay, and then traversed right to get to the left side of the scar. There is a groove high up in the scar which was reached by some combination of free and aid. The difficulty is perhaps stiff 5.9, but the protection and/or aid placements are substandard. The remaining pitch and a half had some interesting free climbing on seeping wet rock, and two moves of aid. This section would be nice if it were dry. In general, friends were the most used chock - especially the larger sizes. A few knifeblades and shallow angles are also recommended.

We used the ledge running across the west side of the face to escape to the west ridge and gained the summit shortly thereafter. We descended down the east ridge until we came to a magnificent bowl overlooking immense slabs on Ratney's flank. The bowl was traversed high up, and then descended. We traversed and ascended the slabs of Ratney towards the right hand side of the first major treed area. We ascended near a small waterfall and then traversed left beneath snowfields to gain the apex of the north ridge of Ratney. We continued down Ratney's north ridge which involved a rappel and much roped down-climbing. I would recommend leaving lots of time for a descent from Stone Rabbit.

So, there you have it. If placing dead last in climbing competitions is getting you down, come climb where no one checks out your lycra, except a couple of goats. And if you want to add a bolt to the route, go ahead. I don't care!