Monday, September 19, 2005

The Tigers' rule

Bill Peascod emigrated to Australia in 1952 but climbing was far from his mind at the time. From 1938, he had put up numerous new routes in the Lake District with partner Bill Beck. His most famous route is Eagle Front, ‘500 feet of exploration up and across and again up the face of the biggest mountain cliff in England’. Peascod considered himself and a contemporary, one of a new breed of British climber, not drawn from the middle classes. He recalled: ‘I had come onto the scene before [Joe] Brown and the Rock and Ice, remember. [Jim] Birkett and I—the quarryman and the miner—we were the first of the working class climbers.’ In those days, it was virtually impossible to make a living from climbing and disillusioned with the bleak future ahead of him in England, Peascod emigrated. He would spend 28 years in Australia, developing his skills as an artist. Peascod was from the school of climbing where any form of belaying was unreliable. He and his generation operated on a simple principle known as the Tiger’s Rule: ‘The rule was simple. Never fall off and I never did; well, hardly ever did,’ he recalled when in his early 60s. By then—1982—he felt climbing had become ‘sort of pasteurised’.

The Warrumbungles

Within two years of his arrival in Australia, Peascod’s passion for climbing re-surfaced. He started a rockclimbing group in Woollongong around 1954, using cliffs at Bulli, and he heard about the Sydney Rockclimbing Club. Sydney Rockclimbing Club co-founder Russ Kippax recalls he had just returned from 12 months’ climbing in New Zealand:
Somehow I got in contact with Bill Peascod or he got in contact with me—I forget now how exactly that happened. I’d heard about the Warrumbungles and suggested that we go and have a climb there. We spent a week up there; knocked off all the climbs. Well, Dark and his crowd had already been onto Split Rock [Crater Bluff], of course, but we put up two climbs on that, one of which is now totally forgotten and the other is almost forgotten, although I believe they’re now
repeating it, so that’s quite good. And of course, the Breadknife was totally unclaimed at that time and a couple of other climbs roundabout we tried and a few we failed on. We had a good week; it was a marvellous week.

One of the first climbs they tried was on Tonduron: up the nose and without protection—it was doomed. Kippax continues: ‘Bill was leading and he said: “Well at the moment I’m standing on an inverted pyramid of rocks, loose rocks, clutching onto a clump of grass, my left foot is waving in the air and my right hand is thrutching around—I’m coming down.”’ They eventually climbed a corner to the top and then moved across to Crater Bluff, making an attempt on what is known today as Cornerstone Rib:
We tried to get up this rib but we couldn’t get any pro; we couldn’t make a belay so we came down and went up over here which is now called Vintage Rib. Fairly early in the piece, Bill said, “I’m a crack and chimney man and by looking at you, you’re a wall man,” which I was, so he took all the cracks and chimneys—in some of them you could just lift out the handholds—and I took the walls.

Following their success on Crater Bluff in August, they returned the following month and turned their attention to The Breadknife, as yet unclimbed. Peascod led the first pitch, belayed Kippax to the first stance and he led through to the top—making the first ascent of the South Arete. Peascod climbed with his own makeshift harness—a single strand of rope around his waist linked by a carabiner to a shoulder loop. He always wore a trademark white floppy washing hat. Peascod brought with him a rarity in Australia at that time—a pair of Pierre Allain friction boots or PAs. On one particularly sodden ascent he made in England in 1942, Peascod famously took off his socks and put them on over his boots to negotiate some slippery rock—possibly the first use of that technique in postwar England. After his Warrumbungles’ experience with Peascod, Kippax drifted away from rockclimbing and into caving, returning to the crags in the early 1960s.

Picture: Bill Peascod on 1st ascent of the Breadknife. Russ Kippax collection.

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