Tag Archives: New routes

Ethics and Retreat


“Ethics and Retreat”

Secret spot #2

14 – 16 April

Rockclimbing – more new routes

What marks do we leave on the world?

What do we leave behind?

What is the evidence of our passing through?

Any published writings. A pile of detail and forgotten emails in the digital cloud. For a time we rest in the hearts of our surviving loved ones. Maybe our stories persist with our friends and family. In Education our legacy is probably fairly short lived, with a possible few students being deeply affected in their own lifetimes if we are lucky. Research. Roads, buildings and inventions in other industries are longer lasting and more tangible. A carbon tonnage in the sky. In other cultures and countries our footprints are much lighter.

Of the whole volume of outdoor rockclimbing activity in Australia probably less than one percent involves the pioneering and establishment of new climbs. The vast majority of activity takes place on existing routes at cliffs that are documented on the web and in guidebooks. Cliffs are the country, mostly exclusively, of climbers. No-one else has the interest and expertise to venture beyond the tracks worn at the base of the crags. Loose rocks are quickly removed from higher up to make the climbing safe. Ethical debate rages in some circles about the placement of bolts which last for aeons. Some climbers don’t use chalk because it can remain in places on the rock protected from rain. Even in national parks cliff care groups do access track maintenance.

Last thing in the afternoon on day 1 I had descended a route and “cleaned” off the loose rock. The process involves carefully threading the abseil rope into a small backpack with the end tied off at the top. This allows you to abseil down the rope as it feeds out of the bag on your back. Any rocks that fall do not hit and damage the rope as it does not hang below. A prussic backup is insurance for any rocks that might fall from above and hit the climber as s/he descends. This turned out to be a sometimes loose cliff with giant columns stacked like huge “pick up sticks”. Parts of it were a climber’s delight – solid with zooming lines. A loose rock made a scar on the talus below as I worked my way downwards. The climbing looked hard but there were several resting spots.

Next morning I launched up. The climbing was superb. Sustained. Hard for me. The protection was excellent. Technical jamming of all types. Thrilled at the top to have been climbing well on steep, difficult, high quality stone. I called the climb “Scar Tissue”, grade 19 or 20. This cliff is on an outlying ridge out the middle of nowhere. Who knows if there will ever be a guidebook or even if anyone will ever climb it again? The climb exists now. A claim to fame? Evidence that I passed through?

Secret crag #2

Late in the day I led up a blocky corner and then out onto a steepening wall. Again the climbing was superb. Long reaches. High step ups. Balance. Thin cracks provided opportunities for protection but fiddling in small wires that wobbled in the parallel sides didn’t inspire confidence. I’d pulled off a hold on another climb and was spooked by the time I reached a hard section that verticalled.

“Did you hear that thunder?” Ian from below.

A wire and tiny cam didn’t feel like enough. Hesitation. Another look at full stretch. Only this section and we’d be on the half way ledge. It was getting late. I lacked confidence in my strength and was afraid of the unknown and psyched out by the questionable protection lower down.

“I’m lowering off”. The decision made. Not to push myself through. We don’t often retreat together. I wasn’t up to it. Not now. Not today. Our plans would have to change for the next day as we would have to return to retrieve the gear and rope or finish the climb. Disappointed.

It wasn’t far back to the top and then to the car. Almost dark under heavy cloud when we arrived and rain started. 10 minutes later it was pelting down. Had I pushed on and made it we would have been on the climb in the heavy rain and fading light. An epic avoided.

The rock was dry in the morning. We both abseiled the route again. I had a close inspection and removed some moss from a key ledge. The climbing was achievable but I still maintained it was too hard for me to lead. Ian set off from the ground. At the vertical he placed a couple more pieces of gear then committed. He did the moves to the small ledge then got tangled up and fell. His top wire pulled. The rope stretched. Eight meters down he came to a stop. Unhurt. A clean fall. He doesn’t fall very often. Rest. Back up to the high point his solution to every climbing problem is to put in some more pro. Next shot he cruised it. Yay. His push through was very impressive. I enjoyed following. The second pitch was a classic. Exposed channel chimney right up the prow. What a climb!

Ian at the steepening

Ian at the steepening

Adventure Climbing


Adventure climbing

March 10 – 12

Secret spot in the Blue Mountains – no clues given

Rockclimbing new routes

Ian Brown is one of Australia’s foremost current adventurers having expeditioned across the Antarctic, climbed in Greenland fjords, established major new climbs in the Darran Mountains of New Zealand and hiked criss cross over Cape York among other major undertakings. He has also quietly been one of the most prolific rockclimbing new route pioneers over a thirty year period in Australia. As we trudge through scrub, up and down steep talus slopes and balance along unstable cliff edges in yet another area he has dug out of the encyclopaedic recesses of his archive of new crags, this one from a hike 30 years ago, I contemplate the privilege of being a part of a couple of these exploits. Some have ended badly – the most oft remembered is the so called “fabulous outback rock untouched by modern people” that turned out to be conglomerate rubble miles from the car. We just looked at it and started the long return journey home leaving behind a small pile of large pebbles/handholds that fell off the cliff as we pulled on them. Oh well. Some of the discoveries were good and one had been a cracker. We had shared a gold mine of new climbs at Point Perpendicular over a five year period before rumours got out. Each treasured day was strictly divided depending on whose turn it was to select the line and lead. We both had notebooks of climb names that were added to as fast as they were used up. Ian had persisted, and uncovered the place that has become Australia’s premier sea cliff for climbing, where many others had looked but not appreciated the potential. I’d learned to trust his judgement and knowledge and take the risk.

So here we were saturated with sweat and scratched to buggery by scrub gawking up at the most amazing climbers crag. Every meter a zooming line of superb and mostly hard climbing on rock that looked great where it didn’t balance in precarious spires and worrisome pedestals. Steep, thin, perfectly straight crack lines the full 40 – 60 m height of the cliff. This was another gold mine of classic climbs as good as anywhere. At the far end disappointment. At about 1/3 height on a nondescript line a piece of protection was hung to a carabiner. There was some minor evidence of a foot pad along the bottom that we had tried to ignore. Here was incontrovertible evidence that we had been beaten to the treasure. Many of the lines however looked unclimbed. Research would have to be done to investigate just how many of the climbs had been done and by whom before we returned with climbing gear.

Ian’s second crag in the same area proved more immediately fruitful. Half a day’s scrub bashing showed us about a kilometre of cliff broken in places by gullies and ramp systems.  The rock angled back a little with the strata of the geology which also produced overhangs at regular intervals. The climbing appeared initially ok but not fantastic. Ian picked a promising line and tentatively made his way up to a steepening having threaded his way between loose blocks. At the hard part he hesitated and put in some protection. Then another piece of protection. And another. Then confidently he pushed through to the top. On following I found the hard move desperate. He was climbing well. Strong and confident. “Footloose 19”. A quality first climb.

New age crystals

My turn next and I launched up a rising traverse out of a corner onto an arête which continued up to a large ledge and belay. Surprising great climbing on good rock. Earlier we’d found a bunch of copper pipes hidden in the rocks at the summit. Two of them had big crystals taped to their ends. New agers must erect them to attract lightning during storms. “Crystal Power 16”Leading Crystal Power

Last of the day Ian led a hard crack system. I struggled on the hard section. Again the climbing was excellent. This crag seemed to be revealing a hidden quality not apparent from observation. This is sometimes the case. It’s not until you actually engage with the rock that you appreciate what it offers.

More exploring. Aboriginal grinding grooves on flat topped mesas nearby. Sunset over ridges to the west.

Next day Ian wove his way up the line of the crag. “Watch me here” – this near the top, so I paid careful attention on belay. He threw a few loose rocks off and pulled through to the top. Following I really had a hard time at the start. The climbing was superb, the rock scrumptious. The top move I found desperate – Ian had done this while removing loose rock and placing protection in the best hand jam hold making it unusable for him. This was one of the most impressive leads I’d seen him do. “…………. 19/20?”

Ian on the hard move near the top

Ian on the hard move near the top

At the top we spied another whole section of quality cliff a couple of kilometres away on a far ridge. And another granite wall in a gorge on the other side of the deep valley.

I got in an alpine style ridge climb that had some beautiful easy moves up nice rock.

Writing up the routes and sketch mapping what we’d found at the end of the trip I could feel the excitement of the next few years of developing another “secret” spot. Another little notebook of lists of climb names would have to be produced. What a valuable treasure time is.