So usually I'm the crusty old guy berating everyone else for getting into totally avoidable messes....well, my turn to eat the rather nasty tasting humble pie!
Although (thankfully) this story has a happy ending and no injuries or deaths, it was a close call, and I hope you can all learn through my/ our errors/ misadventures.
Climbing "epics" are not always caused by a major screw-up. As oft as not the accumulation of several small errors/ mistakes...each of which seems so trivial and insignificant in itself, leads to an insidiously snowballing effect. This I think is one such story.
After a few days of good hard climbing and a few late nights, a group of 6 of us (mixed Korean and ex-pats) decided to try a perfectly doable (easy) and lovely ridge route in beautiful Daedunsan. The climbing grades were all well within our zone and 1 guy had done the route before (4-5 years ago). We thought we prep'd really well.
We read up on theroute, took a print-out map/ topo and notes and way more trad gear than we needed.
Aiming to get away by 9am, we managed to get away by 10am. We started the climbing in 2 teams of 3 at 11.30am. We stopped after 5 pitches at a beguilingly pleasant terrace for lunch, maybe about 20-30mins. The last pitch was the crux and it took rather longer than expected to get everyone up it. I was last to go up and climbed it in the dark. From the top we saw on our map
that there was a short downclimb and then a walk-off trail through the scrub/ forrest o a main hiking trail. It was dark, only 3 of 6 people had a headlamp (mea culpa not me!).
We searched and searched but couldn't find the trail out. Rapping back was not a feasible option, due to the ridges wandering ways. Phone calls to climbers who "knew" the route failed to get us on track. Eventually we found some rap anchors that went somewhere off into the void. We didn't know (at first) how far the rap would be, nor where it ended exactly. Phone calls suggested it was 60m straight down...if it was the same anchors they thought we were talking of...if... With no other options a brave soul volunteered to rap down on the two ropes we had joined with a Flemish Bend. 50m down brave soul could not see the ground still, but did find another set of anchors, with a ledge that was just big enough to hold all 6 in a measure of safety and discomfort. Deciding it best to all go down to that ledge and then pull the ropes and rap again, we set off. It was crowded but safe. We all talked about which rope to pull before our raps and so we did, we pulled blue. We pulled with all our collective might. The ropes were stuck!
We had about 10m rope left and a gaping chasm below of darkness and unknown depth. After 20 mins of trying we gave up trying to pull te ropes. We tied a headlamp onto the ends and lowered it down hoping to see if it would indicated the ground below. It looked like it did, but we were not 100% sure...another brave soul rapped down and thankfully got feet on the deck with about 1 metre to spare! We all followed down and again in vain tried to free our ropes. Nigh on an hour was spent trying to find a way down from here through scree, scrub and cliffs without luck. We seemed to have rapped into a dead end. Eventually, and not wanting the embarrassment/ cost of a rescue, a safe way down was discovered. BY sharing headlamps and working together we all got back to the car-park at 1am (remember we started the climb at 11.30am). We were rather tired, but also proud that we had been able to 'rescue' ourselves. Our ropes of course were left hanging on the cliff...with a climbing tape note and a business card, telling of the owners.
How on Earth we managed to turn a 4-5 hour climb into this epic seems unimaginable. In retrospect, it was a lot of small errors I think. Too many people climbing together is probably one factor. We started late, and delayed further buying water and luncheoning slowly. We also failed to have a headlamp each, and failed to make the right choice of abandoning the route when it should have been obvious that we would not finish the climb in daylight. We trusted to a 4-5 year old memory of the walk-off, rather than prudence I guess. We tied the rap ropes with a bomber knot, but one that can easily get stuck in cracks, never again. We underestimated how slow it would be climbing with so mnay (6) people too, a pitch took twice as long as it normally would, despite staggering teams and the grades being easy for everyone.
So, dear friends. Laugh and learn from our foolishness. Multi-pitching and ridge-routes are glorious fun, but not a great idea in big groups, and always keep a head-lamp handy (we did at least have 2 1st aid kits and plenty of food/ water/ warm clothes).