Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A giant climbs among us ...

"Hot" Henry Barber is visiting Australia at the moment, giving slide shows all over the country including Thursday, November 15, 2007, at the Bowler's Club in York St, Sydney. Tickets are $15.

The show is presented by the Sydney Rockclimbing Club and Mountain Equipment. Tickets are available at the door on the night.

Not sure who Henry is? Put it this way Rock and Ice magazine listed him among the 10 legends of the sport.

In 1975 Barber came to Australia and climbing was never the same again.

By the time “Hot” Henry he left six weeks later, he had climbed 29 cliffs in six different states and the Australian free climbing grade had been lifted to 23.

His ticks included the first free ascents of Cock Corner, 21, at Frog Buttress, and the Arapiles classics Kachoong, 21, Kama Sutra, 23, including his virtual solo of Thunder Crack, 20.

His first ascents included Insomia, 22, at Frog Buttress, Reaper, 22 at Mt Arapiles and Daedalus, 20, on Hobart’s the Organ Pipes.

More than 30 years later and Henry is still living the climbing life.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Endless (K)not


Has everyone gone SOFT and taken up GOLF?

What happened to the HEADY MIX of CLIMBING and GIBBERISH with which we used to block one another's emails.

The STABBING fingers on MAPS and in GUIDEBOOKS in pubs on tables AWASH with BEER.

Where are those PLANS for EPIC CLIMBS and days of BEER and BULLSHIT?

All the BIG days that we PLANNED for, during those mean, little days of work and winter.

This time last year we were EXCITED and CRAZY.


Now we're quiet and absent and not climbing much and selling stuff and child-rearing and busy and busy and busy and melting away ....

Now there is silence -------------------------------------------- on the line.

Where has all the LOVE gone?

I had EXISTENTIAL ANGST but thankfully the ENNUI has kicked in.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Routes less travelled

DVD REVIEW: First Ascent (Sender Films)


The quality of US director Peter Mortimer’s last climbing film was such that it virtually was the travelling 2005 Banff Film Festival.

Who could forget the beauty of Indian Creek as showcased in Parallelojams or the cuteness of the climbing Jack Russell dogs?

As a result the expectations for Mortimer’s new film First Ascent (Sender Films) were high. And so far repeated viewings of this 95-minute world-spanning feature have fulfilled those expectations.

With its self-explanatory title, the film sets out to document a variety of wild and impressive new routes.

They include the terrifying trad zone of Colorado’s crumbling Black Canyon – including the aftermath of a massive leader fall – as showcased by Jared Ogden and Topher Donahue.

Then there’s Swiss crack ace Didier Berthod’s amazing effort on “Europe’s hardest crack” Greenspit, as well as his determined efforts on the Canadian supercrack the Cobra. In the case of the latter it is one of the few non-first ascent, with Didier beaten to the ascent through a combination of injury and the equally determined efforts of the Canadian climber Sonnie Trotter.

The best of the bunch, however, would have to include the manic energy of Cedar Wright and Ivo Ninov as they work their project Cosa Nostra. Entitled The Obscurist, this part of the film might be set in Yosemite, but as the title indicates it’s about Wright and Ninov working an obscure line. This is not about a new towering, multi-pitch route, but a grunty, maddening roof crack. Gnarly stuff, dude.

For elegance and sheer daring the best of the lot is Dean Potter’s attempt on The Tombstone. This thin, long and strenuous dihedral in Moab, Utah showcases Potter’s superlative climbing style and his willingness to fall long distances on small gear. He even eschews the protection of large cam – and so is forced to run out the top of the climb – to help ensure he makes the first free ascent.

Less necessary, but certainly fashionable and entertaining, is the section on German wunderkind climber David Lama and his pals deepwater-soloing in Thailand and taking some big falls.

For Timmy O’Neill fans the weird, hairy guy is back this time soloing buildings in LA and trying to sell the concept as a TV show called Urban Ape to a bunch of bemused producer types.

Overall there’s enough climbing here to keep anyone satisfied. The camera work is, as always, superb and the soundtrack will have you seeking out the tunes that accompany the visuals.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The call of the wild

By Rod Smith

AS a new climber I want to know if I have to sell my car so that I can be like all the other climbers that I hang around with.

None of them have transport which I put down to their heightened sense of environmental awareness, especially when we go to wilderness crags like Earlwood, Berowra and the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylons.

Having six climbers hanging out of my Datsun 200B is not 100 per cent safe for humans – although many wear their Petzl brain buckets on the way – but it certainly is better for the environment.

I’m willing to sell my car for a number 10 hex.

While it will be inconvenient not having a car it will also lessen the embarrassment of being the only climber I know who owns a car and knows how to drive an automatic transmission.

With no car I can clear my head of all the mechanical knowledge I have and replace it with important climbing learning, like how to sling a chickenhead and why it’s better to thruch up a grade 8 death chimney with no protection than lead a bolted grade 14.

What I hope is that lots more bumblies appear on the horizon to take up the slack in the system by letting me bum a ride.

The only real disadvantage I can see in not having a car is the safety factor. My last emergency-climbing epic was at the climbing gym when I was benighted on a green climb.

Luckily I had the car and next morning could drive to the nearest McDonald's for breakfast. If I'd had to catch a bus I would surely have died on the spot from starvation.

After I sell my car I plan to make two more important changes so that I am a more environmentally conscious climber like my friends.

1. Never offer to buy a shout at the bar.

2. Get together with three others and buy a coffee and then sit around it for two hours.

Now that I read back those two aims look more economically conscious. Maybe I’ll stop buying deodorant, which is both economically and environmentally conscious.

By the way my name is Billy and I have been climbing for five minutes.

I've already put up six routes - four of them are unclaimed staircase climbs; one was the monkey bars at my old primary school and the other was the first recorded ascent of a ladder on a bunk bed display in the Ikea shop.

I’m on the lookout for climbing partners. Beginners are OK, especially if they own transport, like a Vespa or a pair of rollerblades.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Overheard imagination ...

Are you a god Christopher? I am. I feel it every hour that I’m out here. When we’re so far from the soup, doing this, caught up in it, I imagine it’s how God feels.

It takes me two days to get over this. Every Monday I am in a black hole. I feel the ordinariness of it all. The quotidian shitfight that I’m supposed to live for the next 40 years.

The tie and collar existence, the dinner on a lap, too tired to fuck or frolic miasma.

That’s why you can’t die on me cobber. This stuff is ours. It’s what we do together. Our enthusiasm is equal. Our dedication would shame so-called athletes. Our bravery is worth a Victoria Cross. I am afraid of nothing except the situations in which we put ourselves every week and we do that for fun. It defines me.

What we are is not back in Sydney, it does not live in the moments that we are with the girls.

What I am is here, now. It is the 12 hours on a Saturday, the three hours at the gym once or twice a week and the minutes and hours that I surf the net or read books that feed this obsession.

My identity, my very life has become indivisible from you, the rock, the wilderness, the aluminium, the nylon, the adrenalin, the fear. The fear.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Hell and high water

By Rod Smith

It was the most twisted of nightmares.

It began with my shouted name. Ripped into wakefulness, I felt the tent floor moving, like some sort of beast, beneath my sleeping bag.

I couldn’t focus my eyes and a rushing sound filled my ears. A light came on and a stern face appeared.

I tried to put on my eyeglasses but they crumbled, broken in my hand. I found my contact lenses and they went on as if guided by an unseen hand.

My sight restored, I poked my head outside and began yelling. In seconds, monsters with glowing mono-eyes were grunting and bellowing, stuffing huge sacks as a black river rose around their legs.

The reality was simpler.

In the stygian darkness of a Tasmanian pre-dawn, on January 28, 2007, the South Cracroft River had flash-flooded and our campsite was fast disappearing under water.

What had begun as well-planned expedition to climb Federation Peak in South-West Tasmania was ending in a fury of tannin-coloured waters, as one and then three of our four tents were flooded.

Once carefully packed rucksacks now became mere containers for the desperate cramming of sodden gear, as the river continued to rise around our legs.

When Brian and Luke Richardson’s tent literally ended up under water, it became apparent that our trip had ended less than 24 hours after it had begun.

Six months of training walks, self-rescue sessions and long traditional climbing routes in the Blue Mountains had been included as part of the mental and physical preparation for our ascent of Australia’s highest cliff.

Six-hundred metres and 20 pitches of climbing up to Ewbank grade 18 was to be our reward for two days of carrying 30kg-plus packs.

We had chosen to access the remote South-West Tasmanian peak via the shortest route possible, the notorious Farmhouse Creek Track.
That was the plan. Unfortunately the Tasmanian summer had other plans.

When we disembarked from the rented people-carrier at the trackhead, it was raining.

As we posed for a group photograph the sun came out briefly, before once again being swallowed by the clouds. Apart from few feeble rays over the next few hours, that was the last of the sun.

On that first day we had planned to cover 18km and sleep at Cutting Camp before pushing on to Bechervaise Plateau, via the short and nasty Moss Ridge. From Bechervaise the climbing teams – Gus Davidson and I, Rick Fielding and John Shaw – would push onto Blade Ridge and in a two-day push link it with the North-West Face Route.

As it transpired, by near sundown on the first day we’d covered just 9km and found ourselves on the banks of the rising South Cracroft River.

Our progress had been slowed by a combination of our massive packs and the exhausting effort of having to negotiate dozens of massive, slippery, fallen trees that choke the Farmhouse Creek track.

With little choice, we bunked down for the night, feeling positive that the next day would be better. While the river was rising, checks later in the night indicated that it had slowed.

It was not until 5.30am – about two hours after the last level check – that Gus’s shout of my name, and the feeling of our tent floating, revealed that the river had broken its banks.

For the next two hours the eight of us worked in a frenzy to rescue our gear from the rising waters. When the madness ended it was 7.30am. At least two of the team had saturated sleeping bags, while three of the tents had been soaked inside and out.
startI had no intention of being forced into a position where we would have to activate the EPIRBs that NSW electronics company GME had loaned us for the trip.

With no sign of the weather abating and the knowledge that the track in front of us followed the now raging floodplain for at least another 9km, the decision was regretfully made to abandon the trip.

For the first hour we waded through waist-high waters: the muddy buttongrass plains had become a river. With the track gone, the Garmin GPS units – again courtesy of GME – proved invaluable, as we followed the electronic breadcrumb trail back through the now flooded maze of thick scrub.

Nine hours after we had fled the South Cracroft River we were back at the car park where we had started. With no phone coverage and no scheduled pick-up for almost a week, we set up our sodden tents in the equally sodden car park, prepared for a long wait.

Then luck found us: Some rafters happened upon us and agreed to take one of our members – Simon Kearney – back to Hobart. The following morning Simon arrived with the rented bus and my worried parents in tow. In a few hours we were back in Hobart.

Determined to get some climbing in on this, so far, climbing-free trip, I proposed that we head for the granite cliffs of Coles Bay on Tasmania’s East Coast. Within a few hours six of us had downgraded our transport to a heavily laden Tarago and we were bound for the coast.

Luke and Brian elected to stay behind and make a tourist flight around Federation Peak. As it turned out, the weather in the South-West stayed rotten for three days. Scenic flights were grounded by 100km winds around the Federation Peak area, forcing Brian and Luke to return home to NSW.

Meanwhile, John, Rick, Gus, Simon, Jim Dickins and myself – along with John’s wife Marian and Marian’s dad Wizz – enjoyed four near-perfect East Coast days.

I hadn’t climbed in the area since the early ’90s but armed with the brand new Climb Tasmania guide and the older Craglets guide we picked out some classic easy lines.

We revelled in the warm, bombproof and high-friction granite trad routes. Among my highlights were beautiful crack climbs such as Cordon Bleu (15), on Lassie’s Wall and Slaughterhouse Five (16) on Whitewater Wall. Equally pleasant was the RP-protected corner Ice Nine (16) and several low-grade rambles up the 50m-high Whitewater Wall.
Perched high above the surging Southern Ocean, we used yet another GME product - UHF two-way radios - to communicate on the multi-pitch routes on the pleasant Whitewater Wall. For Team Pom - Rick and John - the opportunity to use the well-practised routines they had planned to use on Federation was not to be missed.

For Team Slackarse - Gus and I - it was a case of high quality cragging.

Whatever style was used, the climbing teams found that the East Coast days went a long way toward erasing the memory of our abortive Federation trip. It's hard to beat days on warm rock, bookended by bakery breakfasts and pub climbing post-mortems.

This erasure process continues, such that, among some members, there sounds to be the low rumblings of once more organising a trip to Federation Peak.

If and when they do come knocking, I hope that I’m not home.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Last hurrah at Tarana

By Rod Smith

Five metres above my last bolt, frying in the sun, working out how not to peel off what appears to be the crux moves and all the while feeling electrified rather than terrified by the situation: Welcome to Tarana.

A small band of us decided to head to Tarana (aka Evan’s Crown Nature Reserve) to beat the expected National Parks and Wildlife Service ban on climbing that the Sydney Rockies – through the efforts of access officer Kevin Westren – have been trying to head off.

This geological anomaly of giant granite tors, about 25 km from Lithgow, has been climbed on since the 1970s, its popularity waxing and waning on a regular cycle. It is a place of physical beauty, an important part of local Aboriginal culture but it is also a unique place to climb.

There is something undefinable about the area that makes it either a spooky or energising place to climb, depending on your perspective. On my third trip there, I had to keep reminding myself to climb rather than just sit amid the huge boulders, taking in the sheer beauty and otherworldliness of the area.

Impressed by Paul ‘Farty’ Turner’s bold lead of the classic Crown Buttress route Up The Nose of Love (16) I’d decided to give it a go myself. Three bolts in 35m is fairly run-out, even by Tarana’s infamous standards, but as with many climbs at Evan’s Crown Nature Reserve, once you’re there it all seems to make sense.

Gus and I had warmed up on other Crown Buttress classics including Jika Jika (17) and its companion climb Jailbreak from H-Block (17). After the varied steep slab of Up The Nose of Love (16) we wandered around and caught the evocatively named Blue Train (17).

Farty Paul, John ‘JB’ Shaw and Rick Fielding also visited Jika Jika and Jailbreak from H-Block before Team Pom – Rick and JB – decided to scrub bash their way up Passionate Pleasantries (13) on Googolplex crag.

At this point it’s worth pointing out that Farty, Rick and John were climbing as a trio because the Thrutch editor was a bit under the weather when we went to collect him on the morning of the trip.

After Passionate Pleasantries, which JB and Rick were neither passionate about nor did they think was pleasant, it was back to the quality routes on Crown Buttress.

With Farty Paul they climbed Your Neighbourhood Bolter (17) before linking it to Barry Dur for the top out. They then spent as much time jumping backwards and forth photographing each other negotiating the leap-off/walk-off as they did the actual climb.

Speaking of leaps, the highlight of the trip for me was watching Farty Paul come close to splitting in half as he bridged up Tanner’s Leap (13), the access climb to the very top of Evan’s Crown. Rick and JB followed.

Gus and I elected to not join the caravan. Instead we sat at the bottom of the crag and I photographed three weird-looking rock sprites waving at us from on high.

To those who have yet to visit Tarana the message is clear: GO NOW.

Route details can be found in the SRC publication Rockclimbs In the Upper Blue Mountains as well as Rock Magazine’s Pocket RockGUIDE, Evans Crown Tarana.

To read Kevin Westren’s excellent SRC submission to the NWPS about allowing climbing to continue at Tarana go here:

Tarana pics here: