Friday, September 16, 2005

The 1st ascent of the Arethusa Falls

In 1931, the Blue Mountaineers set out on their biggest challenge—the first ascent of Arethusa Falls in the Grose Valley. The first attempt by Osmar White, Lowe and Jim Starkey in August 1930 ended in failure as darkness caught them before they had reached the crux—the cliffs above the falls. The following year, Dark, White, Lowe and Starkey set off again, and although delayed by heavy rain, climbed to the top of the falls and camped there for the night. Next morning, they surveyed the 100 metre cliff above them. Eric Lowe was optimistic:
The climb to the first ledge looked possible if we could get to the top of a massive rock about 30ft high. After many attempts we managed to throw a rope across a projecting point of the rock, and with a man on each end of the rope pulling it into the side of the cliff, I went up hand over hand. The top of the rock was a reasonably wide and flat platform with a grass tree growing on it. To this I attached the rope and Dr Dark came up to me. But what had looked possible from below proved utterly impossible when tried from the top of the rock.
From the top of the rock, they could see a solution. Jim Starkey had to swim 50 metres in a strong current across the pool at the base of a waterfall and then edge up the cliff where he was able to lower a rope to their ledge. Dark and Lowe pulled up on the rope and they were within striking range of the top. But the battle was not over yet. Eric Dark took the lead, as Lowe related:
It was a very fine climb. He started along a narrow crack that just gave toe space, with a similar crack 6ft above for his hands. These two cracks ran parallel across the sheer face of the cliff, gradually rising to a projecting tongue of rock. He worked along slowly and carefully; the projecting tongue was extremely difficult and the least error in judgment meant disaster. The climber’s body was forced out by the jutting rock, and balance was tested to the utmost…From this point he zigzagged up a narrow track that sloped so steeply as to make the last 30ft of climbing the most dangerous of all. We were very relieved and elated when he reached the top of the ledge. We came up ourselves with a safety rope around our waists.
At the top of their climb, they traversed to make a final pitch out of the gorge. At the base of the last cliff, they found a long, dead sapling with steps cut into it. Clearly someone else had visited this area before. They leaned the sapling up against the cliff and used it to scramble to the top. Creative use of rope techniques and a passion for a first ascent had come together to reward them.

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