Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Bill Peascod documentary launched online

 At Home in The Steep Places



The feature-length documentary about artist-climber Bill Peascod, At home in steep places,  is now available online at the website of the Mountain Heritage Trust. Co-directed by Steve Wharton and Perrin Walker, it tells the story of pioneering Lake District climber-guide, Bill Peascod's transition from climber to mining engineer to artist and his decision to emigrate to Australia to seek out a new life. 

It was in Australia that he rediscovered his love for climbing, largely due to the influence of a young Queensland climber, Neill Lamb, and other members of the Brisbane Bush Walkers. Bill was invited to Queensland in 1955 to conduct a cliff safety course at Kangaroo Point, organised by BBW president, Julie Henry. While he was in Queensland, he climbed what was the first described climbing route in the state -- Faith, on Tibrogargan -- and introduced advanced rope safety techniques which inspired the next generation of climbers. 



Bill Peascod belaying on the first ascent of Faith on Tibrogargan in 1955 (Photo: Neill Lamb)

Although at the time, many routes had been climbed in Queensland by a cohort of young climbers like Jon Stephenson, John Comino, Geoff Broadbent, Geoff Goadby, Alan Frost and Peter Barnes, before Bill's visit, few of their routes, if any, had ever been formally described in route guides and given a grade using international standards. Bill's visit changed that forever with climbers in Australia adopting the cumbersome British grading scheme (Easy 2, Difficult 3, Very Difficult 4, Severe 5, Very Severe 6). This was later replaced by John Ewbank's open-ended grading system in the late 1960s which we still use today.

Mountain Heritage Trust website link: At Home in The Steep Places








Thursday, September 16, 2021

AT HOME IN THE STEEP PLACES: Documentary on pioneering climber, Bill Peascod, to be launched soon on YouTube

In 1955, pioneering Lakeland climber Bill Peascod visited Brisbane's Kangaroo Point and conducted an historic training session. It was the first time that local climbers and bushwalkers had seen carabiners, pitons and rockclimbing safety rope techniques that had been used in the UK and Europe since the late 19th century. 

Bill had emigrated to Australia a few years earlier, taking up a position as a lecturer in mining engineering in Wollongong -- but it was his experience with the Brisbane Bush Walkers that rekindled his love of the outdoors and climbing. BBW president Julie Henry had organised the Brisbane visit following the death of club member, Mickey Miller, on Tibrogargan and a plane crash on Mount Superbus where BBW members were the first on the scene. 

Bill's connection with Australia -- his new home for almost three decades -- and the inspiration to climb again following his friendship with Brisbane-based, Neill Lamb, is documented in a new video to be released soon on YouTube. But the doco offers a deeper insight into Bill Peascod's life, his 'escape' from the 'black depression' of life as a coal miner, and his transition in Australia -- with Japanese influences -- into an acclaimed artist. 

The feature-length documentary -- At Home in the Steep Places: the story of Bill Peascod -- has been produced and directed by musician-climber Steve Wharton. It outlines a climber's life far-removed from the experiences of most Australians and within a context of the emergence of rockclimbing in the UK. It is supported by an original soundtrack that embraces the rich musical heritage of the Lake District with songs written by local performers and climbers, including an Australian vignette. 

A trailer for the film is at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lh9pteudfDk 

The finished film will be available online on Youtube but embedded on the landing page of the Mountain Heritage Trust website with that acting as the main location to send people to. The online launch will be timed for an evening (Australian/Japanese time) in September. 

The links and files for subsequent screenings of the film (mp4 and DCP) will be made available for free to schools, community groups and venues anywhere in the world on the proviso that should any ticket sales exceed the cost of the screening then a donation is made to a cause within the ethos of the film. This could be any causes or charities in the fields of climbing, art, nature conservation, mining heritage or folk/roots music (in a nod to the massive part that the soundtrack has played in the telling of Bill's story).

I was involved in a small way towards the end of the project and am very proud to have been associated with the production. I've seen an early version of the video so don't expect another video like Free Solo, for example. At Home in the Steep Places is a world apart from the modern climbing movie genre that tends to focus on action, adventure and superlative achievement. This is a moving, gentle story, delving deeply into the life and contexts that shaped this influential climber. It reminds us that we are all influenced by the different lives we lead away from climbing but it is this very dimension that is most often absent from the modern climbing video ethos. 

I'll let you know the official launch date and time as soon as I get the word from Steve.



Sunday, September 05, 2021

The Living Rock hard copies sold out

Well, it's happened -- the last box of printed copies of The Living Rock has gone out the door and appropriately, to one of my strongest supporters: Emily and AJ at Pinnacle Sports, West End. Apart from copies I gave to each participant in the project, the first sale in 2015 was to Brisbane climber Alex Mougenot. It's been quite a journey during which I have met so many wonderful people making the experience as rewarding as compiling the book itself. Of the 1100 copies I hauled home from the docks in Brisbane -- ably assisted by my great nephew Trystan and a heavily overloaded car and trailer -- I estimate that around two-thirds have been sold to people I have met face-to-face. In our current frenzied online age, that's quite an achievement, I reckon. 

But there have been so many supporters of this project along the way: Greg Nunn and Mountain Designs, who hosted the 2015 launch and on-sold many, many copies for me over several years until the company's sad demise; Teresa Cause from the Boonah-based Far Outdoors -- always an enthusiastic supporter and friend; Glenn Tempest from Open Spaces in Natimuk who has managed to convince Victorian climbers to read about the exploits of their Queensland colleagues; Binna Burra Lodge, with its connections to the high-achieving members of the Groom family, embraced the book from the start and still has copies for sale following the devastating bushfires of 2019; K2-Basecamp in Brisbane has been one of the key Brisbane-based distributors; and there are the many others -- local libraries, small family-run bookshops (like Petrarch's in Launceston and The Hobart Bookshop), tourist information centres at the Glass House Mountain, Canungra, Rathdowney and even one in the northern NSW village of Tyalgum. Thank you one and all!

I've decided not to have another print run of the book, mainly because of the extraordinary effort required and to enable me to include additional digital material. And so the next version will be an Apple Books production and hopefully, I will have completed it before the end of the year. It will include additional photographs (including aerials of southeast Queensland mountain areas), some new climbing stories, corrections (thank you to all those who have contacted me about the inevitable errors and inaccuracies), and some early climbing videos -- silent 8mm film converted to digital format of climbing activities in Queensland from the late 1960s. 

Hopefully you'll find this e-version as engaging as the print copies. I apologise to all of you whom will be unable to access this without an Apple device but at present, alternative online publishing formats do not allow me the project file size I need to present all of the visual material. Here's a preview of the e-book cover...talk to you when I'm closer to going live. 




Saturday, June 05, 2021

The living rock hard copies almost gone!

This is your last chance to have a hard copy of the book as I won’t be having another print run. Almost all of the 1100 copies I had printed are now gone and at the time of writing…5 June 2021… I have just 10 copies left. I’m well-advanced on an online edition which will be a corrected, updated version and will include new material and images, along with some historical climbing video. Because of the large file size, it will be available only through the Apple iBookstore so I apologise to Android users in advance. Unfortunately, other online platforms don’t allow for a project of this size.

I’ll announce a publication date soon but I expect it will be within the next two months. 

Thank you to all who have supported this project from the beginning. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

A tribute to trailblazing Queensland adventurer



Geoffrey Bede Goadby

16 January 1925 — 16 October 2020



Geoff Goadby on the first ascent of the east face of Mount Warning, 1949 
(Photograph: Raoul Mellish)


A chance meeting at Mount Barney in the summer of 1949 arguably changed the course of rockclimbing in postwar Queensland. Geoff Goadby, then 24, was camped near Yellow Pinch on the recommendation of one of his fellow sailors, Bruce Mellor. Geoff had recently left the armed services and was wearing his polished black army-issue boots when he met up with 19-year-old Jon Stephenson. During their conversation, Geoff mentioned that he had recently abseiled down sea cliffs at Caloundra using a mainsheet from a yacht and was immediately invited to accompany Jon on an ascent of Leaning Peak. Jon had only just completed the first descent of the overhanging eastern cliff of Leaning with Derryck Firth, but with no knowledge of abseiling techniques, they had used prussik knots to lower themselves off! Two weeks after the fortuitous Mount Barney meeting, Jon and Geoff became the first to abseil off Leaning Peak, heralding an era of rockclimbing in Queensland that embraced the use of rope as a safety device. 


Geoff’s knowledge of ropes came from sailing but he had read about climbing and saw the potential to apply his skills on the heights. Although the early, locally-made cotton rope was a far cry from today’s high-performance offerings, using it regularly to safeguard a climber was a marked departure from the anti-rope stance taken by Bert Salmon and his pre-war followers. Initially, manilla hemp rope was unavailable in Brisbane until Geoff — using his seafaring and diving knowledge — sourced some from a local factory, specifically manufacturing it for hard-hat divers. He tested it out with Raoul Mellish and Reg Ballard when they made the first ascent of the east face of Mount Warning that same year — 1949.






Bill Dowd (left) and Geoff Goadby on Mount Barney circa 1950 
(Photograph: Jon Stephenson)




By 1950, Geoff had been enlisted to teach abseiling techniques to members of the newly-established University of Queensland Bushwalking Club (UQBWC) at Kangaroo Point cliffs. He and a small group of friends, including Alan Frost and Peter Barnes, later pioneered the first climbing routes there. The early training sessions didn’t always go according to plan as Geoff explained: 


I was telling people what to do and I said to a bloke by the name of Byron Holloway (who was known as 'Chimp'): ‘You demonstrate.’ So he wrapped the rope around himself, walked over to the edge of the cliff and went CLUNK! That was quick…he had forgotten to tie it on! But there were a number of instances where a rope was a big help. Bertie Salmon reckoned it was unsporting to use artificial aids [like ropes] but I thought this was bloody ridiculous. He was an extremely competent climber himself but we couldn’t get him interested in the uni bushwalking club. We invited him once and he came along dressed up in a sports coat. He wasn’t interested. But he did subsequently change his view on ropes. 


Geoff recalled that Jon Stephenson once climbed the Main Tower at the University of Queensland using a rope belay, unaware that his Geology supervisor, Professor Fred Whitehouse, was watching as he jumped for a handhold, stepping on one of the sandstone gargoyles that grace the face of the building. Later, rather than admonishing Jon for his antics, the professor was more interested in the difficulty of the climb!


Geoff’s interest in the outdoors had close links with the sea. In the late 1940s, he was invited to sail a 20 metre missionary boat to Papua New Guinea. During that time, he read about the caves at Chillagoe in North Queensland and became attracted by the idea of underground exploration.


I was using ropes because I was doing a bit of caving by myself — there was  no one else doing it. I went to Texas, Rockhampton, Chillagoe three times. I was on my own at Rockhampton and you’ve got to be pretty careful in there on your own


His subterranean experiences sparked his interest in more land-based exploration and resulted in his chance meeting with the influential Jon Stephenson in 1949. Their friendship extended to Geoff participating in field trips to Mount Barney as Jon gathered data for his postgraduate research on the geology of the area. Geoff recalled that he carried the food in — and a pack filled with rocks out! They found that the Lands Department maps of the area were inaccurate with Jon discovering an unlisted mountain peak, promptly given the name of Mount Phillip — Jon’s first name — although he was always reluctant to publicise it. 


Around the same time that the UQBWC formed — 1950 — a Brisbane Climbing Club also emerged from a mixture of university students, staff and ‘old school’ climbers like Bert Salmon and Fred Whitehouse. Geoff recalled the process:


We had a few meetings but usually, someone would ring up on Friday and say, ‘Let’s go somewhere.’ We used to go up onto the Glasshouses and set fireworks off on Guy Fawkes’ Night [5 November]. I invited a bunch of scuba divers up Beerwah once to let fireworks off but I had contacted the Forestry to let them know I was going to do it.


Eight months after it had formed, the Brisbane Climbing club collapsed when accusations that it had been infiltrated by ‘communists’ created deep divisions. It was a time of political conservatism and a fear of communism in the USA (McCarthyism) and here with the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, enthusiastically supporting the ‘Reds under the beds’ shibboleth. Fortunately, the UQBWC continued with many of the same climbers joining forces again — the attraction of climbing overwhelming political disagreements. In photographs of the time, Geoff is easily recognisable by his distinctive ‘Robin Hood/pixie’ style hat.





Hinchinbrook Island 1953: (from left) Geoff Goadby, John Comino (partly obscured), 
Ian McLeod, Jon Stephenson, Dave Stewart (pipe) and Geoff Broadbent  
(Photograph: John Comino)






Hinchinbrook Island 1993: (from left) Dave Stewart, Jon Stephenson, John Comino, 
Ian McLeod, Geoff Broadbent and Geoff Goadby (Photograph: Jon Stephenson)




In January 1953, Geoff was part of a six member UQBWC expedition to Hinchinbrook Island which included Jon Stephenson, John Comino, Dave Stewart, Ian McLeod and Geoff Broadbent. Despite being caught in a cyclone, they managed to make the first ascent of the Thumb, a granite monolith on the side of Mount Bowen. Geoff Goadby recalled: 


It was just one of the things we did. Nothing spectacular. We knew we were the first to walk the full length of Hinchinbrook and Johnno [John Comino] would often go off without saying anything. 


Later that year, Geoff joined what had become a tight knit group of friends — Jon Stephenson, Peter Barnes and Alan Frost — to climb the imposing south face of Beerwah. Alan Frost recalls his first meeting with Geoff on that day:


I came to Qld in 1953, a callow youth, to study Vet Science. I was ensconced at Kings College where Peter Barnes inhabited the next kennel. He introduced me to climbing, was thereafter my mentor; he soon introduced me to the Statesmen of Climbing in Brisbane. For this we went on his Triumph to Beerwah where we were to meet this Geoff. We  found his car, but no sign of him: a bit of a search, then from the bushes leapt this strange figure, with a shout, a big smile, topped with his trade pixie/Robin Hood hat. Then Jon Stevenson arrived and we were off to climb the South face of Beerwah. A wonderful day, all new for me,  somewhat overwhelmed by the company and their experience.

 





First ascent Glennies Pulpit 1954 (from left) Alan Frost, Jon Stephenson, 
Geoff Goadby and Peter Barnes (Photograph: Peter Barnes)



On 18 July, 1954, Geoff Goadby, 29, Jon Stephenson, 23, Peter Barnes, 25, and Alan Frost, 19, made the first ascent of Glennies Pulpit (then known variously as ‘Kilroy’s Moneybox’ or ‘The Pig’s Ding’) via today’s ‘Tourist Route’. It was a fitting farewell for Jon who left Australia soon after to complete his PhD research in London and to explore the world. Later that year, Geoff joined with John Comino, Alan Frost and Peter Barnes in guiding Italian Consul Felice Benuzzi up Leaning Peak. Peter Barnes’ photograph taken on the summit that day evokes the simplicity and the enchantment of the era. The inspiring trio of Geoff Goadby, Peter Barnes and Alan Frost dominated the achievements in climbing and scrambling in the early part of the 1950s, their energetic and speedy ascents of almost everything vertical in Southeast Queensland becoming legendary. Reading about their exploits was a major incentive for me — and I know, many others since — to try to follow in their footsteps.





The summit of Leaning Peak, Mount Barney, 1954 (from left) John Comino, 
Italian Consul Felice Benuzzi, Geoff Goadby, Peter Barnes and Alan Frost (behind)
 (Photograph: Peter Barnes)



Geoff Goadby not only pioneered the use of roped climbing in Queensland, but also forged the first locally-made pitons, cut out of mild steel. Typically, he recalled that he and his colleagues never went out with the intention of breaking records:


We did it because we enjoyed it. Good company. Walking led to climbing very often. Jon and I went to south or west Beerwah once. It hadn’t been climbed. It was a bloody hot day so we sat down beside a tree then we turned around and went home. If you can do that it’s a pretty reasonable attitude. We subsequently climbed it — the south face.


Geoff had a varied life that incorporated a wide range of experiences. After school, he began studying Science at university but left to work on a North Queensland cattle station. He returned to Brisbane and joined Norman Wright’s boat building yard with sailing soon becoming a major part of his life. He had significant success in blue water racing, being a member of the crew of the cruising yacht, Norseman, on four of the five occasions it won the Brisbane—Gladstone Yacht Race between 1951 and 1956. Geoff recalled that the owner-builder Lex Wilson had been racing for 50 years when he joined the crew. Over the next decade or so he worked in various occupations, including as a rigger on the TV aerials for the new TV stations being erected on Mount Coot-tha and with a small mining company, before moving to manage the newly-established laboratory at the University of Queensland Veterinary School Farm at Pinjarra Hills. 





On the summit of Beerwah in 1953 following an ascent of the South Face (from left) 
Geoff Goadby, Peter Barnes, Alan Frost and Jon Stephenson (Photograph: Peter Barnes)


Throughout the early 1950s, he was involved in efforts by the UQBWC to build the first hut on Mount Barney after Jon Stephenson was benighted there in mid-winter with verglas covering the rock. But climbing was never far from Geoff’s agenda. Peter Barnes remembers his reaction when he heard about the fraught first ascent of Beerwah’s west chimney:


Alan Frost said it was the most frightening experience of his life so he reckoned it should be done properly and that the boys better go and give it another nudge. He and I and Geoff Goadby screamed up there one day and had a great time — [consults diary] 20 October ’56… Frost and [David] MacGibbon did it in August.


Alan Frost is the ‘youngster’ in that 1950s’ climbing cohort. At age 85, he’s still climbing and has made more than 100 ascents of Logan’s Ridge on Mount Barney, many of them solo. He acknowledges that it was Peter and Geoff who encouraged him to slow down and to look more closely at the world around him. 

Geoff Goadby was a polymath — able to engage in authoritative conversation on almost any topic from the arts to the sciences — and his desire to explore the unknown remained a prime driving force throughout his life. He willingly shared his knowledge with others and always downplayed his own influential role, often with a quizzical smile. 

Peter Barnes recalls his very first outing with Geoff Goadby — a climb up the east face of Mount Warning in November 1950. They had ridden to the base of the mountain on their motorcycles and were camped in a banana plantation, planning an early start. They had settled down for the evening in an old storage hut when Geoff suddenly appeared wearing a pair of pink pyjamas. And his response to the guffaws of his disbelieving comrades? ‘I like to be comfortable during the night.’

Geoff Goadby was the first person I interviewed in 1999 at the start of my research on Queensland climbing history that ultimately led to publication of the book, The Living Rock. At that first meeting and in all subsequent discussions, his enthusiasm, self-effacing humour and humility prevailed. It was inspiration for me to try to capture the essence of that moment in history when he and his peers had the world at their feet. They reached out and grabbed it, creating a pathway for all of us to follow. Geoff Goadby is remembered for his camaraderie, the passion he had for invention and exploration, and his willingness to share this knowledge with others. He is survived by his wife, Merle.


Michael Meadows 

Thanks to Peter Barnes and Alan Frost





Monday, July 06, 2020

Farewell to a pioneering Australian climbing icon

 Donn Graeme Groom 
 19 April 1937 — 23 June 2020

 
Donn Groom on the second ascent of the North West Face
of Federation Peak 1969 (Photo: Paul Caffyn)

  
    Donn Groom’s pathway to outdoor adventure was almost predetermined in one sense. His father, Arthur, was a pioneering explorer, writer and photographer — a visionary and passionate advocate for the environment who began urging for the preservation of old growth forests and wilderness in southeast Queensland from the late 1920s. Arthur enlisted his own evocative journalism to describe the solo journeys he made into the wild rainforests of the McPherson Range on the Queensland—New South Wales border, illustrated with stunning photographs of remote vistas never before seen by newspaper and magazine readers. Dozens of his articles and images were published from 1929 and it was this body of work, along with the National Parks Association he was instrumental in launching in 1930, that kick-started the environmental movement in Queensland. In 1933, Arthur joined with another staunch conservationist, Romeo Lahey, to set up Binna Burra Lodge as a holiday destination at the edge of what would later become Lamington National Park.
    This was Donn Groom’s heritage — and his backyard. He was the eldest of four — with brothers Tony and Richard from his father’s second marriage and sister, Linda, from the third. Donn always regarded his influential father as a mountaineer and explorer rather than a rockclimber and seemed to mould his own life along those lines. Another early influence he acknowledged was Italian maestro Walter Bonatti. Donn read everything he could about that extraordinary mountaineer’s life and even wrote to Bonatti on one occasion, asking him about the belaying techniques he had used when he made his daring solo ascent of the Southwest Pillar of the Dru in the French Alps in 1955. ‘Never got an answer though,’ Donn admitted with a wry smile.
    In the early 1950s, he would chase wild goats around the top of the rhyolite cliffs at Binna Burra but eventually found a group of like-minded adventurers in Brisbane, including members of the Brisbane Bush Walkers. He joined them for scrambles in the Glass House Mountains which seemed like ‘peanuts’ after his early exploits on the heights at Binna Burra. Over the next five years or so, he was part of a cohort of early Queensland climbing royalty, including Julie Henry, Neill Lamb and legendary British expatriate climber, Bill Peascod, who joined with Donn and Neill in May 1956 to put up two new routes on the big south face of Beerwah in the Glass House Mountains — Pilgrim’s Progress and Mopoke Slabs.




Above the Binna Burra cliffs in the early 1960s (Photo: John Larkin)


    A week later at the Steamers, near Killarney, the trio put up an innovative new route on the Funnel, calling it Reptile. Neill Lamb’s brief diary notes read: ‘Bill, self and Donn did new route up Funnel. Incident with goanna. Hole in wall, 80 ft chimney. Rapelled down, rope jammed, off at dark.’ It wasn’t the last time Donn’s climbing efforts extended beyond sunset but it was Bill Peascod’s last new route in Queensland — and perhaps ever — as his new pursuit as an artist gradually took over his life.
    Donn’s climbing days were abruptly cut short when, as a telephone technician, he was transferred to Cloncurry for four years. It could not be further from his beloved mountains and he was far from happy. But when he returned to Binna Burra in 1965, he made up for lost time by starting the Brisbane Rockclimbing Club It was a major turning point in Queensland (and Australian) climbing history. The club attracted members from four existing southeast Queensland outdoor groups — the Brisbane Bush Walkers (BBW), the University of Queensland Bushwalking Club (UQBWC), the Binna Burra Bushwalking Club and the YMCA Ramblers — and its objectives echoed the philosophy espoused by his father: ‘To rockclimb and instruct interested people in rockclimbing; and to abide by and assist in maintaining conservation laws and create interest and preservation of natural beauty and wild life.’




Donn belaying his young son, Terry, on Binna Burra's east cliffs (Photo: Donn Groom)




Donn's son Michael at age five (Photo: Donn Groom)


    Les Wood left England seeking work as a geography tutor and discovered both the Brisbane Rockclimbing Club and Donn Groom on his arrival in the Queensland capital, early in 1966:
Donn was then at Binna Burra and seemed to have a perfect life in that he and his brothers had taken over the lodge and they seemed to have two years on and one year off. He was an avid climber and a really nice bloke. We got on very well together and he had a car — I didn’t have one in the early days — so we started going to the Glass House Mountains. I think I’d got a background that was unusual to many of them…Climbing before I left England occupied all my life. It wasn’t like a sport; it was a way of life more than anything.



On the first pitch of East Crookneck during the first free ascent with Les Wood in 1966 
(Photo: Wendy Straker, Donn Groom collection)


    Meeting Les was a defining moment in Donn's life while Wood recalled that he, too, had found a soul mate: ‘He always seemed to me to be like a big kid. We got on really well together and I always found him to be one of the most gentle people I’ve ever known. He’s so kind, it’s not true. He’s got an attitude to life I wish I could borrow a bit.’ The duo put up a series of visionary climbs in southeast Queensland that remain classics to this day — routes like East Crookneck (free), Clemency and Overexposed. And only then Donn began to look closer to home — he was 28 when he climbed his first new route, Way Out, on the bubbly rhyolite of Binna Burra’s east cliffs with long-time friend, John Larkin. Donn recalled how it all began: 
I used to look down on the cliffs for a long time before I realised that they were perhaps climbable. I started with John Larkin doing Alcheringa and did some more with Les [Dislocation, Gravedigger]. I even climbed one with Dick Smith (the electronics man). He called me up a while back and reminded me of it. I don't remember the climb, however, it probably would have been Swansong — that was the only climb I ever took guests from the lodge up.
    The classy Alcheringa was the hardest route in Queensland in 1966 and soon had an equal in terms of difficulty when Donn teamed up with a youthful Ted Cais to climb Flameout on the Southwest buttress of Crookneck. Ted Cais recalled a failed early attempt on the route with Les Wood: ‘I returned in the heat of November with Donn Groom and he passed the overhang that was Les’s previous high point with two points of aid but took a whipper on an upside-down peg — it held — before figuring out the thin moves above.’



Climbing on Tibrogargan in the mid-1960s (Photo: Donn Groom)


    In that same year, Donn orchestrated the first ascent of Mount Barney’s 300 metre East Face with John Tillack and a very hungover Les Wood, who remembers nothing of the climb. Tillack was forced to lasso a tree to overcome the crux although Donn climbed it free as a second. The route is rarely repeated because of its remote, serious and runout nature — a true adventure climb that was at the top of Donn’s list of ‘last great problems’ in southeast Queensland.

    It was an extraordinary era in which Donn Groom, Les Wood, Ted Cais and John Tillack together shaped the future of rockclimbing in Queensland — but the next generation was waiting in the wings: Donn introduced his young son, Michael, to Frog Buttress shortly after its discovery in the late 1960s. Around this time, Michael — then five — remembers his father stopping at a lookout of Mount Barney and as they gazed at the view, Donn explained that Mount Everest was about eight times higher. ‘And that has stuck in my head,’ Michael recalls.’ That was the door to the path leading to Everest. It’s just one of those things; it just got into my head and never got out until I climbed it.’




Paul Caffyn, Donn Groom and Alan Keller on the summit of Federation Peak following their second ascent of the Blade Ridge and North West Face in 1969 (Photo: Paul Caffyn)


    In 1967, Donn headed for Tasmania with friends, John Larkin and Bob Fick, walking the Overland Track and then into Frenchman’s Cap, wrecking their feet in the process. Donn’s resulting article, ‘Scaling Tasmania’s Peaks’, was published in Walkabout that year and included several of his large-format photographs. He had started carrying a heavy 2 1/4 square camera with him, emulating his father whose grandiose images of wilderness helped to inspire the Queensland national parks' movement almost four decades earlier.

    I first met Donn Groom 52 years ago on the evening I attended my initial meeting of the Brisbane Rockclimbing Club. I remember him warmly welcoming me, my brother Chris, Greg Sheard and John Shera into the small community of local climbers. John, Chris and I had made the first ascent of the north face of Leaning Peak on Mount Barney a few days earlier and Donn generously acknowledged our achievement. It was an inspiration to meet someone of Donn's stature who welcomed us as friends. Ian Thomas joined the BRC a few years later and although he met and climbed with Donn only a few times over the years, he recalls the influence that he and Les Wood had on his own emerging passion for the heights:
Those early blokes did influence me through their writings and also the very first guide book I think Rick [White] put together for the Glass House Mountains — a little guidebook — and in there was Les Wood and Donn Groom: their names loomed large. Clemency and all those sorts of climbs, Overexposed, Trojan and all the rest of them — they were to me just the pinnacle of horror. You’d shake and quiver in terror thinking about them. They really left me feeling awed. So they were actually inspirational through what they’d done, not through any meetings.
    In 1969, Donn joined a Brisbane Rockclimbing Club Easter trip to the Warrumbungles, teaming up with the irrepressible Greg Sheard for some memorable moments. Greg recalls one, in particular, as he traversed towards Donn who was belaying him on the first pitch of the Bryden Allen/Ted Batty classic, Out and Beyond:
As Donn was sitting there, he was dropping little pebbles which grew into bigger and bigger rocks. I’d had a bad experience on Tibro and I was a bit anti-dropping rocks but this looked really interesting — and I figured that if Donn Groom could do it, so could I. We ended up reaching the stage where we were taking it turns climbing up a little bit and collecting more rocks, coming back down to the ledge and dropping them over, timing how long they’d take to reach the bottom until we finally heard a lot of screams from below and suddenly discovered that the track actually went underneath us. So we abandoned rock-dropping and continued upwards.
    Donn was back in Tassie within 12 months, this time with his first wife, Roma, and their two sons, Michael and Terry. They lived for two years in the Berriedale Caravan Park in Hobart and Donn began climbing in earnest, joining the Climbing Club of Tasmania (CCT) and linking up with the likes of Reg Williams, Mike Douglas, John Moore, Tom Terry, Peter Jackson and Phillip Stranger:
We climbed on the Organ Pipes quite a lot — a tremendous atmosphere, quite alpine at times, right above the city of Hobart — and we often got caught in the dark. Later on I climbed with Allen Keller — he was a real bushwhacker that one — a real Crocodile Dundee character with the accent to go with it all! He came from somewhere near Ipswich but I only knew him in Tassie. He was a mad caver as well and I spent a whole weekend underground with him and Paul Caffyn trying to follow some shit of a hidden passage — the weirdest weekend I ever had. I don't particularly like caving and they had me on a couple of times and left me for dead, right when my trog lamp went out in a very nasty spot. You carry an emergency kit of a tobacco tin with a candle, box of matches, and a lamp pricker. You have to clear the jet with the pricker, candle and box of matches. The bastards wouldn't wait for me and I was getting quite panicky in a shit of a tight spot. So weeks later, when the three of us were doing the second ascent of the Blade Ridge and the North West Face on Federation Peak, they made me do the crux chimney pitch even though I hate chimneys! But I decided to get my own back while they were climbing the chimney pitch below me by some spectacular boulder rolling. I managed to scare the shit out of them! We decided to celebrate our climb of Federation when we got back to Hobart and went up to the Organ Pipes — drank a bottle of Claret between us and climbed a new route we called Claret Corner, and finished that one in the dark, too.


Leading Double Column Central on the Organpipes, 
Mount Wellington, Hobart, 1969 (Photo: Paul Caffyn)


    Over the next few months, he and Paul linked up for a dozen or so new routes on the ‘Pipes but the lure of Frenchman’s Cap remained:
I remember going in to Frenchman’s with Paul one time in shit weather with all sorts of grand notions about climbing new routes on the southeast face and even having a look at the then unclimbed east face. We camped below it for a couple of days in mist and rain listening to waterfalls off the overhangs above. The rain stopped and the mist slowly lifted like a giant curtain on this monstrous white fang of a mountain — it’s made of quartzite — dripping and as slippery as shit. Every foot the mist rose our determination dropped the other way — freaked us out, so we packed up and pissed off home. But I never worried with these sorts of failures — just being there was enough.
    But the pull of snow and ice prevailed and although his knees were starting to fail with early signs of arthritis, Donn joined a small Climbing Club of Tasmania group, including Reg Williams and Mike Douglas, and headed for New Zealand’s Southern Alps. It was a largely unsatisfying trip, mainly because of bad weather and indecision — until Donn’s adventurous spirit prevailed, devising a shortcut to the summit of Tutoko under a teetering icefall: ‘It took hours off the climb and, in fact, we made it, which felt good.’ He was hooked:
I remember walking up the Matukituki Valley towards Aspiring — not that we had Aspiring in mind just yet — but we hadn’t seen sign of the mountains because they’d been covered by cloud for days. I didn’t really know what a true alpine scene was. Suddenly, as we walked up the main valley, another opened to the right towards Aspiring and we could see this incredible ice fall — a mess of falling ice through a hole in the clouds — nearly freaked me out but I knew, then, I was in the mountains and wanted to do something about it.


On the summit of Low Peak, Mount Rolleston, Arthurs Pass National Park, New Zealand, following a winter ascent of the Rome Ridge, 27 September 1975 (Photo: Paul Caffyn)


    He returned to the Southern Alps for a couple of seasons — teaming up variously with George Harris and Robert Staszewski — but either the weather window did not arrive or other obstacles emerged. Close to the summit of Aoraki-Mount Cook on the Zurbriggen Ridge with Rob, they came across an injured Japanese climber and were forced to abandon their attempt so they could organise a rescue. But despite the disappointments, just being in the mountains was enough. Donn recalled a later trip into Everest basecamp with his now mountaineering son, Michael:
As we walked up — hadn’t seen any of the really high ones at all — and I was wondering what all the fuss was about, when around a corner came a bloody monster and once again I felt like I really hadn’t seen mountains before. Of course at that stage, I could do bugger all about it but it was an amazing experience to see the genes through Mike still pushing on in a way and for me, that trip to base camp was one of the most satisfying trips I have had into the mountains anywhere. Alaska was a special place for me, however.


Climbing above Rome Gap on a winter ascent of the Rome Ridge on Mount Rolleston, 
Arthurs Pass National Park, New Zealand, 27 September 1975 (Photo: Paul Caffyn)


    Around 1980, Michael moved to Alaska to live with his father and for 18 months they climbed together, with Michael making several first alpine ascents. Eventually, Donn and his second wife, Mary, decided they would sail back across the Pacific on their yacht with their two young sons, Joshua and Danny. Like climbing, sailing had captured Donn’s imagination:
It seems a lot of climbers become sailors for some reason, so with me and after my knees just wouldn’t work any longer with arthritis, sailing seemed to fit the bill. It’s the same sort of freedom, I guess, especially when you take off as we did, across to New Zealand.
    They had been dreading the long haul across the Pacific but it was sailing down the west coast of North America that proved to be the most frightening — encountering huge seas, a massive Russian fishing fleet and motoring, exhausted, into a fog-bound West coast port in the dead of night, relying solely on radar for navigation, only to discover next morning they had anchored in the middle of a circular harbour surrounded by hundreds of luxury apartments.

    But they didn’t quite make it to Australia, settling in the small North Island community of Taheke, where another of Donn’s innovative visions emerged. They needed a house so he built one himself out of mud bricks. The extraordinary building that resulted was actually scoped as a possible location for Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy, Lord of the Rings. Donn designed and installed a hydro electricity system by tapping into a local stream, generating more than enough power for their needs. He and Mary organised workshops for local people interested in adopting the relatively simple, energy-efficient mud brick construction process and ‘Waheke Mud’ was soon well-known in the district and beyond. Donn believed that sharing this low-cost construction method had the potential to ease the housing crisis that bedevils most countries, including New Zealand.




The Groom mud brick house at Taheke (Photo: Michael Meadows)


    Donn’s love of the sea enticed him to build another, albeit smaller, yacht in his backyard shed — an old-style bay sailer — despite managing to accidentally saw off his left thumb and first finger during construction. The vessel had a relatively short sailing life when it was damaged by another boat which broke its moorings during a storm.

    I had drifted away from climbing for two decades while Donn was exploring the world but we reconnected in 2003 when I started gathering material for my book on Australian climbing history — at the same time that I reconnected with rockclimbing. Donn and his former climbing partner, Les Wood, were amongst the first people I wanted to interview. In fact, my inquiries put them back in touch with each other again after a break of more than 30 years. Donn and I exchanged telephone calls and emails across the Tasman and, in his own inimitable way, he outlined his practical and philosophical approach to adventure and the importance of mountain landscapes in his life. A few years later — with both of his dodgy knees now replaced — he returned to Brisbane for a visit and in typical fashion, had agreed to a trip up Mount Barney to test them out. This time three generations of the Groom family — Donn, Michael and Michael’s son, Harry — were there, along with Donn’s longtime climbing partner and friend, John Larkin. Halfway up Logan’s Ridge, Donn asked me to take a photograph of him attempting to climb a small overhang. ‘I’m sending this to my surgeon,’ he laughed. ‘He said I’d never be able to do anything like this again!’



Testing his new knees, Logan's Ridge, Mount Barney, March 2007 (Photo: Michael Meadows)


    Donn always welcomed others into the close-knit world of climbing and he inspired many of us to explore the outdoors with enthusiasm, passion and humour. What struck me most about him in those early days — and it remained a central part of his character — was his humility. Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, I saw him often on my regular visits to the climbing cliff he had developed at Binna Burra. I have strong memories of sharing a late afternoon beer after a day on the rock, our legs dangling over a significant drop beneath the unfenced veranda of his house which was typically built into the side of a cliff. Tragically, bushfires in November last year destroyed both the house and Binna Burra lodge although there are plans to rebuild both.

    It was almost almost 50 years ago — two days before Christmas in 1972 — that Donn persuaded Ted Cais and I into joining him on the first descent of the Coomera Gorge from its source. It was a serious and committing canyon that required us to jump or abseil down sizeable waterfalls into deep, dark pools, knowing that it would be extremely difficult or impossible to climb out. Somehow we made it through, using some innovative anchors and I remember Ted’s furrowed brow on more than one occasion as we worked out how to proceed. But with Donn at the helm, it was merely another adventure. He managed to lug his precious Mamiya camera through it all unscathed. The memories of that extraordinary day have remained vivid in my mind.



With his trusty Mamiya 2 1/4 square camera in the Coomera River, 23 December 1972 
(Photo Michael Meadows)




Abseilng into the unknown with Ted Cais watching on the first descent 
of the Coomera Gorge, 23 December 1972 (Photo: Michael Meadows)


    The term ‘icon’ is bandied around a lot these days but it perfectly describes Donn Groom — the pre-eminent figure in postwar climbing in Queensland — and it reflects the multilayered contributions he has made to broader climbing and mountaineering culture. But Donn was much, much more than a climber — he was a pioneering adventurer, photographer, writer, innovator and sailor, with all of these pursuits and passions imbued with generosity, humility and humour.



Mount Geryon, Du Cane Range, Central Highlands of Tasmania (Photo: Donn Groom)


    Reflecting on his life in 2014, Donn summed up the powerful link between himself and the landscape — and the myriad ways that lives become interconnected, intertwined through shared experiences of the natural world. He wrote:
Dad was a climber of the Bertie Salmon era and also did not use ropes. His sandshoes on extra large feet were almost as tight on him as modern rock shoes, so he had to cut holes to relieve pressure on his toes. This was a trick I used for quite some time until I was introduced to rock boots by Les Wood. Les had a huge influence on my climbing. He was a superb climber brought up in the UK and was influenced by climbers such as Joe Brown and Don Whillans. He used lots of their rock climbing techniques and equipment and introduced these ideas to Queensland climbers. We got along well together, our styles complementing each other. His great climbing ability often had me struggling as I seconded. Occasionally, I was able to help out on the face climbing which I enjoyed. I learnt a lot from Les and was sorry to see our team split up when we went to different parts of the world. Perhaps my greatest satisfaction in the climbing scene was in passing on my love of climbing to my son Michael when he came to visit while I was living in Alaska. Mike was into motocross bike racing at the time, but very frustrated with the expense and fierce competitive atmosphere of the sport. He was looking for something new. At the end of my climbing career, with bad knees and developing arthritis, I took him up a few alpine peaks in Alaska and on his return home to Australia, I gave him crampons and an ice axe for his 21st birthday. Almost the next letter from him had him setting out for Kanchenjunga and a climbing career that I had only dreamt of. While history did not repeat itself exactly, the genetic repetition running through our family certainly did. And, it all started on the sunny crags of Southeast Queensland…

Monday, May 25, 2020

Limits of the known -- book review by Paul Caffyn

Title:  Limits of the Known
Author: David Roberts
Published: 2018
Publisher: W.W. Norton UK
Website: www.wwnorton.com
Contents: 306 pp; no photos, 2 maps
Cover: hardbound
Price: $36.46 Book Depository UK
ISBN: 978-0-393-60986-8
Review: Paul Caffyn





David Roberts is not a bad mountaineering adventure writer. His first book titled The Mountain of My Fear was published in 1966, a gripping yarn of four young university students having a go at the committing west face of Mt Huntington in a remote Alaskan range.  From that classic tome of a first blooding with a serious face climb, he went on to author another 27 books about mountaineering, polar exploration, history and anthropology. The closest one to New Zealand being an account of Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic expedition and his incredible survival story (Alone on the Ice  2013).

His latest book and sadly probably his last, is an exploration of what drives the human race to tackle adventures. A prologue relates a 2015 trip by the two surviving members of that first 1966 Alaskan mission back to Talkeetna marking the 50th anniversary of the climb. Talkeetna is an end of road accessible airstrip from where climbers gather to wait for weather to fly in for climbing the likes of McKinley (Denali) or unclimbed virgins.

David noticed a lump on the side of his neck but is assured by his mate it is only a cyst. However, it is not a cyst, and back in the big smoke, a round of scans and biopsies reveal aggressive throat cancer. Rounds of both chemotherapy and radiation leave him a shadow of his former self, barely able to walk a city block with the aid of a stick.

After the initial prologue, David moves onto an assessment of Fridtjof Nansen and what drove him to design a boat what would survive crushing in the Arctic Ice and lead the Fram expedition, which involved sailing the vessel into the ice north of Bering Strait, and then hoping the westward drift of the ice pack would take Fram closer to the North Pole than any other expedition had been. Once Nansen realized the drift would not take them anywhere near the pole, he set off with one companion, a dog team, provisions for a couple of months and two collapsible kayaks. Nansen was keen to attain the North Pole. Long story, but it is a remarkable eight-month story of survival in a winter wasteland of ice. And the Fram eventually was released from the ice pack’s clutches, returning to Norway not long after Nansen and Johansen also returned to civilization.

The second chapter is titled Blank on the Map and if you have read the book by the same name, it is about Eric Shipton and what drove him to his ‘untraveled world’ of Asian mountain ranges, glaciers and valleys that had not been previously sighted by Westerners. Shipton was a member of five Mount Everest expeditions between 1933 and 1951 but didn’t have much time for the big military style organized mountain conquests. Shipton and his mate Bill Tilman pioneered the lightweight expedition style. ‘If it couldn’t be planned on the back of an envelope, it wasn’t worth doing’.

Although I was expecting further chapters on more of the most famous adventurer/explorers, David Roberts moves onto a burgeoning interest in the ancient cliff dwellers of the USA south-west, the people who ground steps out of steep sandstone buttresses providing access to granaries and where they lived. Roberts wrote several books about his research into the remote gorges and mesas, but this seemed to diverge from what I saw as the overall slant of the book, what drove adventurers to do what they did.

The First Descent chapter was of more interest to me, with tales of white-water and rafting adventures that David was tasked to cover as a writer. Particularly in this chapter he writes about how the degree of commitment with expeditions has changed, from the 50s and 60s when even a written letter may have taken months to reach civilization and chance of rescue was zilch, to these days with blogs updated nightly with photos and text and a helicopter evacuation is only a sat phone call away.

The First Contact chapter has much on gold exploration in New Guinea in the 30s, and how the natives viewed sometimes quite savage encounters with the white miners.  The Undiscovered Earth chapter is about caving and the challenge of seeking the deepest (and the longest) hole in the world. New Zealand’s big caves don’t rate a mention but having been the geologist on a 1973 expedition to the highlands of western New Guinea, which was tagged ‘The Search for the Deepest Hole in the World’, I thoroughly enjoyed being brought up to date with the international challenge to get a depth record.

His last chapter titled The Future of Exploration pulls all the threads together, his terrible time with treatment for the throat cancer and the evil cancer metastasis into lung nodules. Writing seems to be his salvation from a physical body slowing down, even though he can’t type anymore and has to either write long hand or dictate to his wife Sharon. The last few paragraphs are tear jerkers.

Apart from an author mugshot on the inside of the dustjacket, there are no photos at all, just two rather small-scale maps that you need a microscope to read the place names.

With most of David Robert’s mountaineering and polar books in my collection, I thoroughly enjoyed his new tome, though saddened and sympathetic to learn of his fight with cancer.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Farewell to a quiet achiever...

Rudolf Edmund 'Ted' Cais

12 November 1947 — 20 December 2019


Ted in fine form at Frog Buttress in 1998 (Michael Meadows collection)


From his first tentative steps on to the rock as a teenager in south-east Queensland in 1960 until he emigrated to the USA in 1974, Ted Cais pushed Australian climbing standards to new heights. Although not as adept at — or indeed as interested in — marketing his personal achievements like some of his peers, he nevertheless leaves behind an unforgettable legacy of bold and visionary climbing routes, but perhaps more importantly, layers of camaraderie and personal experience that extend well beyond climbing into everyday life.

Perhaps the major influence on Ted's early life was his father, Rudi, who fled Czechosolvakia as a university student when the Nazis invaded during World War II. He fought in the free Czech forces before escaping to England to join a tank regiment and it was there that he met Ted's mother, Joy. They married and moved back to Prague after the war where Ted was born in an army hospital. But when the communists took control of the country in 1948, life became difficult for Rudi because of his background. It was then that they managed to emigrate to Australia where Ted — who would be their only child — recalled days living on a cattle station in Queensland’s Gulf Country:
There I had a gentle old mare to ride about on, bare backed of course, lethal snakes to avoid, giant spiders dropping off the ceiling at night, crocodiles lurking in the fresh-water creek, hot sand with bindi-eye stickers to cross barefoot, brilliant stars like never before or since, and suffocating, humid heat. The galvanized iron roof would creak and crack ominously at night during contraction after the blazing sub-tropical sun set. There was no electricity so our lighting was by acetylene lamps; a primitive outpost that by its very nature built self-reliance.
In 1955, the Cais family moved to Brisbane where Rudi — a skilled carpenter — built the family a house at Mt Gravatt, then on the fringes of the capital. Ted's father worked as a taxi driver for most of his life in Brisbane. He was a voracious reader and could debate anyone on almost any topic from economics to the Markoff chain — a mathematical probability theory that started Ted off on his own successful career as a research chemist. Rudi was a brilliant chess player — teaching Ted the art — and on Sundays when a group (including expatriate British climber Les Wood) would gather at the Cais family home — then at West End — Rudi would deliver food to them every few hours while he played chess with up to six different opponents simultaneously. It was around this time — the mid-1960s — that climbing started to feature more prominently in Ted's life. But in his own words, his interest in outdoor adventures began some years earlier with a chance meeting:
Around 1960 I was introduced to Bert (Albert Armitage) Salmon who kindly passed on his trove of knowledge about the Glass House Mountains, Scenic Rim and walking tracks around the Binna Burra and O'Reilly's lodges on the Lamington Plateau. Walking was a simple affair, outfitted with an army surplus canvas satchel and sandshoes. We had no GPS, cell phone, walking poles, rescue choppers or other conveniences now deemed necessary for a safe outdoors experience. Our bush icons were Bernard O'Reilly and Arthur Groom, and I still have their classic books, Green Mountains and Cullenbenbong and One Mountain After Another. They were early recreational explorers naturally imbued with a love of the land and rugged pioneer spirit so thought little of heading off solo into the unknown with just a few supplies on their back. We were slightly better equipped through Paddy Pallin whose gear was available at the Scout Shop in the Valley although not as cheap as army surplus. Canvas and cotton (waxed or oiled) were still the best materials at the time and I remember my first Hotham down bag that ensured toasty nights.
Undoubtedly influenced by Salmon, on 9 October 1960 — a few weeks before his 13th birthday — Ted made a solo ascent of Crookneck's steep, loose, crumbling North Face. It was the first ascent route by Harry Mikalsen in 1910 and this information would have almost certainly been passed on by Salmon. Ted recalls the moment:
My dad knew Czechoslovakian emigre farmers who scrabbled an existence out of a pineapple farm in the Glasshouse mountains and we often visited them. Something about the gnarly scowl and impressive rock wave feature shimmering through the heat haze halfway up Crookneck's north-west side proved irresistible. The basic desire was not so much technical rock gymnastics but getting to the summit of these enigmatic rock monoliths. After all, I had to find out what was on top! I repeated this solo ascent at least five more times and the most memorable one was just after a bushfire had raged over the entire mountain rendering the grass trees along the summit ridge into smouldering blackened stumps. They survived of course and will outlast all of us. To this day the scent of burning bush has a most evocative effect.

  Climbing as a teenager in the Glass House Mountains (Ted Cais collection)


His first climb with Bert Salmon was the East Face of Beerwah in the Glass House Mountains on 14 October 1961. Over the next several years, Salmon introduced the eager young adventurer to all of the easily accessible summits in south-east Queensland. But by 1964, Ted began to drift away from his mentor’s influence. He joined the YMCA Ramblers bushwalking club to continue his fascination with south-east Queensland crags and to extend his climbing skills on the Kangaroo Point training cliffs using a safety rope — something Salmon frowned upon as unethical. During his undergraduate years, he joined the influential University of Queensland Bushwalking Club (UQBWC) where he met others who would help to shape his pathway into climbing:
I also teamed up with Craig Rowley and Dennis Stocks for ascents of the Mast [The Steamers] and Glennies [Pulpit] and later climbed with Hugh Pechey who was president of the Brisbane Rockclimbing Club in 1965. Bert’s legacy stayed with me for some time but in some respects inhibited my development since it was hard to lead the more difficult climbs of the day with the 'no fall' maxim he imbued. This conservative approach required three static points of contact with the rock at all time limiting climbing to about grade 12. My new heroes became Ron Cox and Pat Conaghan of the UQBWC whose exploits I read about in the annual UQBWC magazine, Heybob. I then started climbing with John Tillack when I was an undergraduate at the University of Queensland and my standard accelerated to keep up with his natural ability.

Despite his break with Salmon, Ted always respected his mentor’s willingness to share his knowledge and passion of the Queensland bush:
He bequeathed me his priceless collection of photograph albums and I am ashamed to have let these disappear in some dusty archive … they properly belong in a Queensland historical archive.
It is a request — voiced again during his last days — that remains to be fulfilled.

Bert Salmon was one of three major climbing influences Ted identified in his life. The second was expatriate British climber, Les Wood. Les spent just 12 months in Queensland in 1966 and pushed climbing limits here to the equal of anything in the country. It was at this time that Ted began to realise his ambition and abilities as a climber and Les was one who encouraged him to follow his passion. Les recalls that young Ted wasn’t into climbing all that much when they first met in 1966 — but by year’s end, things had changed significantly. Ted re-calls the shift:
Les taught me boldness even though we did only about a dozen climbs together during 1966, his single year of influence, when he coaxed me upwards into the grade 16 zone. He brought his experience of British climbing to Australia and quickly applied this by pushing standards in the Glasshouses.
Les had the same effect on a young Ron Farmer and others including Lance Rutherford, when they met by chance on the East Face of Tibrogargan.

Donn Groom was a central figure in Queensland climbing culture at this time. One of the founding members of the Brisbane Rockclimbing Club (BRC) in 1965, he partnered Les on many of his memorable and still classic new routes around south-east Queensland. But when Donn left for an extended climbing trip to Tasmania, Ted linked up with Les for a blitzkrieg of memorable second ascents, including the imposing East Crookneck — their first climb together. It was a route that Les and Donn had climbed virtually free a few months earlier. Next was Clemency on the east face of Tibrogargan — 'a very competent lead', according to the perfunctory notes in Les Wood’s diary. Coming from the circumspect Brit, it was the ultimate compliment. Ted later described the challenges of climbing Clemency and its significance at the time:
The lousy protection, thoughtful balance moves, difficult route finding and problematic escape make it a memorable classic in the grade. At the time it was a tour de force and rivalled Lieben on Crater Bluff in the Warrumbungles as a breakthrough.

Repeating Clemency with Greg Sheard in the late 1990s (Michael Meadows collection)


After Clemency: (from left) Ted, Greg Sheard, Ron Farmer, Bryden Cais (Michael Meadows collection)


The impacts on his life and climbing ambitions extended beyond south-east Queensland:
At this time other huge influences by their accomplishments and writings were Bryden Allen with his guide, Rockclimbs of NSW, and John Ewbank with his articles in Thrutch. Lieben (17) and Heartstopper (18) became the ultimate hard routes to aspire to. Our ropes were still laid (twisted cable) nylon and we usually carried a Stubai peg hammer with half a dozen blades and channels. Under Les's influence we also started supplementing this vast rack with brass machine nuts and ball-bearing races threaded on rope as our first primitive chocks.
When the fledgling Brisbane Rockclimbing Club published its collection of archival documents at the end of 1966, Ted's name was on 13 of the 45 listed climbing trip reports — the highest single contributor — including a range of second ascents and new exploratory routes in the Glasshouses, Binna Burra and The Steamers. He swung leads with Donn Groom on the first free ascents of Queensland’s hardest climbs — Donn’s own routes, Alcheringa at Binna Burra, and Flameout on the south west buttress of Crookneck. Ted had emerged not only as a leading, enthusiastic and skilled climber, but also as an accomplished writer and artist with many of the BRC climbing guide sheets over ensuing years a result of his careful and creative hand. His penchant for producing pithy cartoons of various moments was a testament to his wide-ranging creative skills. But it was climbing that was increasingly taking up more of his time:
A dilemma that surfaced fully around this period was the conflict of continuing university to become a research scientist (my dad's dream) versus dropping out to be a full time climber (my dream). My intense mental dedication to climbing in 1966 caused me to have to repeat second year at University in 1967. And so this cycle continued with my oscillation from periods of hard climbing only to retire, hit the books, struggle through final exams and then back to bushwalking as a prelude to getting into shape for climbing again.

A bold 'lead' of Olos at Kangaroo Point in 1968 (Ted Cais collection)

On 7 January 1968, his climbing ambitions received another major fillip when he met Rick White, crossing paths at the Kangaroo Point cliffs. Immensely fit and strong after a summer of working as a labourer, Ted virtually soloed Cox's Overhang that day, using just one runner and impressing those of us present with his steely resolve and the power to do one-arm chin-ups. He soloed Olos around this time as well and led the fiery Pterodactyl (18) on sight with Dave Reeve, inspiring a blossoming of new routes at KP which, since the late 1940s, had always been considered a practice cliff. This visionary shift resulted in it eventually becoming a popular sports climbing destination. But as Ted recalled in 2002, it was Rick White who pushed him to greater heights:
Rick taught me mental stamina. Although I had raw power and technique I still suffered a nervous disposition lacking enough self confidence to fulfill my true potential. Rick on the other hand was tough and blessed with vision and mental drive. I drifted with the tide vacillating between climbing and studies but he had a plan with goals and worked to achieve them. We complemented each other well and several times on new routes I would figure out the technical moves only to back off and have Rick punch the route through to the finish. More often we were friendly rivals and I usually was the first one to repeat Rick’s new routes at Frog Buttress, although Barry Overs filled this role for a while.
His first major new route with Rick was the classic jamB crack, Infinity (19) at the newly-discovered crag, Frog Buttress, on 7 December 1968. It is akin to the classic Eternity at Wirindi in the Blue Mountains. Ted always had his own strong ideas about climbing and its broader connection with bushwalking and the environment and this passion compelled him to seek out more challenging and inaccessible destinations rather than being content with ticking off new routes at Frog Buttress. He readily joined with other climbers of the era for various adventures including the authors, Greg Sheard, Ian Cameron, Lance Rutherford, Ross 'Cecil' Allen and John Leah.

 He was always up for an adventure: Red Rock Gorge, Black Canyon, Lamington National Park, 1969 (Michael Meadows collection)


Ted supported Rick White's introduction of a clean climbing ethic into Queensland, coinciding with the increasing availability of jamB protection, aluminium 'crackers' initially made and sold by John Ewbank, later replaced by the lighter and better designed American Chouinard hexentrics. This period — in the late 1960s — saw Ted re-thinking his 'old-school' approach to climbing.
I finally started systematic training for climbing mostly with free weights as an extension of my olympic weightlifting at University. These weights were home made from 1 inch [2.5 cm] steel discs cut out to make portholes in ships' plates that we 'borrowed' from a local shipyard. Hundreds of pounds of these unwieldy monsters were clandestinely dragged through the impossible slime of the Brisbane riverbank mud and into a small getaway row-boat that almost sank under the excess ballast. We also started circuit training at the University gym (a curious British commando regimen, it seemed) and eventually enjoyed true bouldering on the rough gritstone of the Tarragindi boulders.
Ron, a fellow student, accompanied Ted on these training activities. Ted had such power that usually he could complete each exercise set twice in the time Ron did one. It was typical of Ted's generosity that he saved one exercise until last. This required ascending a thick old rope hand-over-hand style without using legs for assistance and where Ted always lost. His weight-lifting skills were unexpectedly called into action on one of several exploratory trips to recce a possible new route on the north face of Mount Warning where the longest climb in Australia, Lost Boys, was later established. Ted stopped for a beer at the Tyalgum pub where he proceeded to deadlift a huge boulder from the floor onto the bar, thereby winning a free beer, much to the chagrin of the wide-eyed locals.

Rick White had moved onto the big walls in preparation for his historic Yosemite visit, still some years away, but Ted always considered his forte to be short, highly technical routes. He also dabbled with aid climbing over the years but saw it as far too restrictive. His new aid routes included KP's Hanger Wall (with Neil Lamb and Pat Conaghan in 1966), the first pitch of the Beerwah bolt route (with Pete Giles in 1967), Barnacle Buttress and Wages of Fear (both in 1968 at KP with Pete Giles and John Pickard respectively) and finally a quartzite roof in Brisbane’s western suburbs, Tarantula.

But Ted’s love of exploration — with a climbing edge — always seemed to have more pull, luring him back to rarely-visited slopes and faces in the Glasshouses and elsewhere for potential routes — or merely for the experience. It was how he discovered Queensland’s second longest climb — Dreadnought — a multi-pitch trad route:
Located on the south-east wall of Tibrogargan and a wonderful first-ascent outing in May 1970 with my longtime friend Mike Meadows. Actually I coveted a new route up the steeper and blanker section to the right that I was already calling Microjug Wall. Still, Dreadnought was more reasonable fun even though we found old engine valves driven in the lower section from some past failed attempt. Mike even led a tricky bit after I backed off but after that I got revving and everything fell in place.
On that climb, Ted and Michael camped in Cave Two on Tibrogargan overnight and it was there that they met a youthful Ian Thomas for the first time. The friendships forged on that day have remained strong ever since. Earlier that year Ted joined Donn Groom and Michael Meadows for a committing  first descent of the Coomera Gorge from its source.

For all of us at this time, climbing was inexorably embedded in a passion for various forms of motor transport, with Ted often leading the charge:
Other interesting diversions for me included exotic motorcycles such as the Velocette Clubman, CZ scrambler and pristine Matchless 500 single I fully restored. The Meadows brothers also got me into rallying and I cultivated an affection for old Peugeot cars, particularly the 203. Rally-proficient cars featured prominently in the early Frog exploration days as the access road was dirt with several pinches that became extremely challenging in the wet. Rick too was not mainstream in his choice of vehicles and in particular his classic Citroen Light 15 was just the ticket to blast up the greasy clay hill in reverse as the final recourse to getting in.
Ted thoroughly enjoyed exploratory four wheel drive trips with Ron during their time together as PhD students in Chemistry. These ranged from what is now called Red Cliffs through the lower Glass House Mountains peaks and on extended trips to places such as Double Island Point and Fraser Island. Ted tackled photography with the same intensity and perfectionism characteristic of his other activities and a wide range of high quality camera brands — Leica, Rollei, Miranda — came into contact with the pair of white silk gloves he always insisted on wearing to protect them.


 White silk gloves always kept his cameras clean, regardless of the rest of his body (Michael Meadows collection)


 Astride his immaculately-restored Velocette Clubman (Ted Cais collection)


Back on the rock, he joined with Rick to open a new climbing area on the south eastern flank of Mount Maroon — Maggies Farm — climbing several hard new routes there on the mixed cracks and faces. Australia’s first national climbing meet at Porter’s Pass in the Blue Mountains at Easter, 1973, saw Ted demonstrate his expertise as the first Queensland climber up several Mount Piddington classic routes. One stand-out was his second ascent of the 'spooky' Ewbank wall climb, The Minotaur. In the lead-up to the Blue Mountains trip, Ted and Rick had partnered to climb several imposing new routes at Frog Buttress — Black Light, Child in Time and Badfinger — as well as making the first clean ascents of Odin, Erg and Pollux.

 Ian Thomas lured into abseiling from a very rusty bolt with frayed blind cord from Ted's Indooroopilly house veranda with Michael Meadows looking on (Ted Cais collection)

After Porter’s Pass, Rick headed off to Yosemite and in other climbing directions with Ted seeking out new regular climbing companions: ‘I started climbing more with the feisty Humzoo  (Ian Thomas) who approximated Don Whillans in build and temperament (at least according to what we read about Whillans).’

 Ian Thomas and Ted contemplate another memorable FFA at Frog Buttress in 1973 (Ted Cais collection)
 
The combination seemed to encourage Ted's penchant for pranks to new heights and his close friends — including all three authors — suffered multiple indiscretions over the years from electrified doorknobs, a dead cat down a chimney, rotting crab shells hidden under a rear car seat at the height of summer (the car had to be sold as scrap!), holes punched through plaster walls, dousing a motorbike helmet with the foul-smelling and highly inflammable ethyl mercaptan, being left behind to survive on pippies on some remote beach, unexpectedly pushed into hedges, and the inevitable avalanche of dirt, leaves and twigs that would shower down on his climbing partners as they negotiated the crux of a route — all accompanied by his maniacal laughter. Strangely, his appetite for humour seemed to evaporate when the tables were turned!

The young chemist in his laboratory preparing another evil concoction to test out on his 'mates' (Michael Meadows collection)

Ted, Ron and Michael once went in search of a lost aeroplane around the southern side of Mt Lindesay, ending up climbing to the summit and down to a shelf on the south-west side for lunch, watching the eagles soar beneath. On returning to Ted's Indooroopilly house, he decided he needed to top up the liquid nitrogen in one of his experiments, so they took off for the university via the local dump for some makeshift rally driving in his Peugeot 203 on a dirt, glass-covered track that encircled the tip. Ted thought that Ron’s predicament of being thrown around on a petrol drum seat in the back while the back doors flew open was hilarious. A few wide bridging moves saved the day. They had wondered why Ted's housemate and fellow scientist Mark Sceats had not joined them: now they knew! Several unsuspecting visiting interstate climbers were also lured into a circuit of the dump in the back of Ted's Peugeot (sans seating) on more than one occasion.

 Another trip to the Indooroopilly dump for spurious reasons (Ted Cais collection)

Before he left Australia, significant first and second ascents abound: think about climbs like Clockwork Orange, Venom, Juggernaut and many more — lots more. Observers were always astounded at his strength and his technical footwork. On 6 April 1974 as he was about to launch into the final stages of his PhD — a complex mathematical treatise on polymers — he made his last Australian climb before emigrating to the USA: the first free lead of Rick White’s Conquistador at Frog Buttress, Queensland’s first grade 21:
After that I hung up my boots and made the final concerted effort to finish my PhD and depart for America to become a permanent exile. There I met John Stannard who was the last major influence on my climbing. He was a reticent purist whose efforts defined the Shawangunks as the Eastern-U.S. haven for adventure trad climbers but then this chapter of my life is another story.
Ted's PhD Thesis, 'The copolymerization of vinyl chloride with sulphur dioxide', was monumental in size, as well as comprehensive in both theoretical and experimental accomplishments.

But away from the research labs in the US, he soon established his reputation as a climber of note in the 'Gunks where his partner was the legendary John Stannard, 'Hot' Henry Barber’s muse. Ted managed a fine ascent of the amazing Foops — a climb akin to Kachoong at Mount Arapiles — but on steroids! He was admired by the uber-hero of bouldering, John Gill, the person who invented that modern, extreme incarnation of the sport, by introducing a training and gymnastics' attitude to ascents — an approach that was right up Ted's alley. One of Ted's old climbing mates from his Australian days, George Harrison, also joined him for some climbing in the ‘Gunks.

Ted's day job was as a research chemist, specialising in the development of compounds which stung, stank or stained and all three of us — his close ‘mates’ — unwittingly became experimental subjects before he left Australian shores! In the USA, he initially worked for Bell Laboratories, later moving to Mitsubishi Chemical America. As his research and development expertise continued to expand, he produced seven patented products and processes as the lead inventor. One of these was for work done at Bell Laboratories with the rest resulting from his work with Mitsubishi. After Xerox was forced to license its patents, he was involved in research that extending photocopying technology. Ted's other patents were also applicable to this field. He published a considerable body of academic work in peer reviewed professional literature, two with Ron as a co-author. Ted's published papers rose from two in 1975 to a peak in 1984, followed by the typical slow decline as he became a senior researcher with expanded responsibilities. His last paper in polymer chemistry was published in 2001. His most heavily referenced paper has had 198 citations.

Despite his scientific achievements, his passion for climbing and outdoor adventure was never far away. On a return holiday visit to Australia in 1980, he roped two of the authors (Michael and Ron) into an attempt on Vidler’s Chimney on the eastern side of Mount Lindesay. Climbed just once before in 1954 by a team of four (including John Comino) from UQBWC, Ted had obsessed about a second ascent. Needless to say, the almost vertical, loose dirt slopes inside the chimney, coupled with endless rope tangles, soon dissuaded us from pursuing it beyond the second pitch. But it was another adventure and it summed up Ted Cais to a tee.


 On the slopes of Mount Lindesay in 1980 (Michael Meadows collection)

His regular visits back to Queensland every few years saw him link up with his old climbing buddies (and some new ones) for a day or two on the rock. His level of fitness and strength seemed to remain at an extraordinarily high level throughout that time, stemming from his consistent climbing activity across the Pacific:
During a visit back to Australia in 1987 I was in my best climbing form ever, having worked up to the 5.12s in the ‘Gunks. So I had this glorious day with Rick and Mike at Frog under a perfect blue Queensland sky cruising up some classics awash in waves of nostalgia watching Cap’n Fists jam away like in some time warp and wishing I could stay. One always appreciates things more by their absence.

 He was always at home on fierce, technical crimpers (Michael Meadows collection)


On other trips he revisited Clemency with Greg Sheard and in May 2003, after a warm up at Kangaroo Point, attempted Air Time over Pumistone with Phil Box, followed a few days later by a trip to Glennies Pulpit for a wonderful day out. Michele, Rick, Cass Crane, Cameron Featherstone and Phil participated in some of these adventures.

Typically, Ted always felt that some of his more memorable climbs were those that he never completed once musing: 'It is often instructive to learn from our failures as success only seems to confirm our bad habits.' He was a self-confessed follower of the ethics of the period rather than a trendsetter but like Frog Buttress’s principal developer — Rick White — railed against bolts being used there. He believed to the end that the possibility of keeping it as Australia’s great clean-climbing crag was an opportunity lost.

Ted Cais was always more concerned with quality — of the moment, the experience, the friendships — rather than quantity. He never publicised his climbing achievements, always valuing camaraderie above all else. The climb was most often secondary to the strong relationships he maintained despite spending the last decades of his life on the other side of the world. He had a confident personal philosophy that enabled him to make sense of his life experiences, even including those infuriating pranks directed at his closest friends. A deeply intellectual thinker, he was aware of global trends and when he retired, sought out a simple life in Arizona with his second wife, Michele, and their beloved dogs. He once wrote: 'One great maxim of life is to "know thyself" and climbing is an excellent medium for attaining self knowledge by training the quiet mind. Fitness and mental equilibrium are added benefits that enhance the quality of life.'

His pancreatic cancer diagnosis came barely five weeks before his death. In typical style, Ted shared with his family and close friends his decision to eschew chemotherapy because of the scientific uncertainties around its curative claims coupled with the medical certainty of the inevitable poor quality of life that would ensue. To the very end he was lucid, sharp-witted and as always, offered a brutally honest yet skilfully adept take on current issues. Ian Thomas was one of the few of his Australian mates who visited him several times in his modest home in Benson and Ted’s appreciation was patently obvious — devising a particularly intricate prank that resulted in Ian falling from a boulder problem into a patch of spiny cactus and rolling into the foul-smelling den of a pack of Javelinas, creatures with the longest canines of any mammal in North America: an ultimate acknowledgement of friendship!

 A reunion at the Dugandan Hotel near Frog Buttress in 1998
(from left) Michael Meadows, Ted, Greg Sheard and Ian 'Humzoo' Thomas (Michael Meadows collection)

Despite the decades and tens of thousands of kilometres that separated us, whenever any of us spoke to him either in person or electronically, it was as if we had seen each other barely days before. He maintained a strong email correspondence with several long-time friends and the contents of these covered a broad range of topics. Each topic was treated with customary thoroughness and depth. They are truly a rare treasure to those blessed with his thoughtfulness and strength of spirit. And when we sat together after a day’s climbing on the verandah of the Dugandan Hotel on one of his Australian visits, the memories and stories flowed freely — like the cold beer. It was as if he had never left and to an extent, remains so. Indeed, it was one of these moments that was the catalyst that led to the research and writing of the Australian climbing history book, The Living Rock.

He is survived by his first wife Kirsten, their two children Bryden and Carly, and his second wife, Michele.

 A recent picture of Ted with one of his many epicurean passions -- cheese (Michele Cais collection)

His passing is a reminder of the significance of an extraordinary period in Australian climbing history in which he played a central role. It is particularly poignant as those characters who defined that era are gradually slipping away. Despite his long physical absence from these shores, Ted’s contribution to Australian climbing culture should be remembered for what it was — a visionary, far-reaching impact that placed people and experiences above all else. He never sought the limelight and yet his achievements and influence deserve as much recognition as anyone of that era.

Ted Cais is arguably the best unknown climber that Australia has ever produced. A high-achieving scientist who craved adventure. He thought deeply about ethics. He worked out. He was a master boulderer. He was an off-width monster. He was an aggressive prankster with a one-sided sense of humour. And he was our good mate.

Rest in peace ‘cobber’.

Ian Thomas, Ron Farmer and Michael Meadows