Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The 1st ascent of East Crookneck

Ron Cox began his epic on a biting, cold winter’s day in June 1959. With Pat Conaghan belaying, he slowly and carefully put into practice double rope and etrier techniques they had read about in books. Using homemade pitons, he managed to climb just 10 metres the first weekend. On the next attempt he reached the first stance, 20 metres above the base. And so it continued for the next three months until Cox decided that a team of three strong climbers would be needed to complete the route in one single push. He asked John Comino to join Conaghan (pictured left) and himself and on 18 September 1959, the three sorted out their gear at the base of the climb. Three hours after starting up the climb, Cox had reached the Eagle’s Eyrie—the second stance. They had decided to bivouac here but it soon became clear that there was room for only two. As Cox and Comino settled in for the night 50 metres above, Conaghan nestled into a cave at the base of the climb directly below, sheltering from the heavy rain squalls that swept across the mountain during the night. It was a late start next day and the three eventually scrambled onto the summit in darkness. Their entry in the log book read: ‘First ascent East Crookneck—8th attempt—40 pitons, 7 wooden wedges—last man up at 8.30 pm.’ The homemade wooden wedges and pitons Cox had placed deep in the crack remained there for years, protected from the weather by the overhangs. It was the steepest and most difficult climb in Queensland, albeit employing liberal use of aid. Ironically, it reflected the siege tactics that had already begun to emerge on the big walls in Yosemite, as well as offering a prescient glimpse of tactics now de rigueur for the hardest new routes, particularly in sport climbing. It marked the beginning of a new era in Australian climbing, not only for the way in which it was climbed, but for the vision it represented. It was the first sustained use of double rope and aid techniques in Queensland—probably Australia—literally learned from books. Cox and his cohort were interested in the existing climbing routes, but they were more concerned with what lay beyond. From the beginning, it was clear that Cox was drawn more towards mountaineering than rockclimbing and within 12 months of his success on East Crookneck, he was testing these skills—again based on what he had read.

Picture: Ron Cox collection.

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