Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Hi-ho, hi-ho, de-bolting we will go

In August 1968, the Brisbane Rockclimbing Club became the first in Australia—after the Sydney Rockclimbing Club—to adopt John Ewbank’s open-ended numerical grading system. Following the discovery of Frog Buttress, Rick White, Chris Meadows and Greg Sheard decided to head south in January 1969 to sample grades of climbs in the Blue Mountains and to sharpen their jamming skills. They spent a week at Mt Piddington (Wirindi) and Narrow Neck, climbing 18 routes, including the imposing Amen Corner and Flake Crack. With Queensland virtually a bolt-free zone, the sight and frequency of bolts on all manner of climbs appalled them, as Greg Sheard recalls: ‘There were bolts everywhere and we decided to chop a few. We would never chop them unless we could find alternate placements for equipment.’ The real fun began when they turned up at a Sydney Rockclimbing Club meeting at the Hero of Waterloo Hotel in Sydney and were confronted by the Safety Officer, demanding to know which climbs had been affected. Chris Meadows took exception to his officious approach, as Sheard relates: ‘He was going to have a severe discussion with this guy’s head using both of his fists.’ After dragging the two apart, White and Sheard decided to come clean. ‘He got angrier and angrier when we told him how many we’d done,’ Sheard laughs. ‘We did do a fair few. I suppose we did get a bit carried away because it wasn’t exactly clean the way we pulled some of the bolts out.’ Despite John Lennon’s urging that we should all Give Peace a Chance, the Queenslanders’ brash approach reflected a growing interstate rivalry in Australian climbing circles—albeit most of it good-natured. As Frog Buttress became better known across the country, an intense propaganda war broke out through the pages of Thrutch, with each State claiming to have the best cliffs and the hardest climbs at some stage or other. But it all seemed to come down to Victoria versus the rest.

Illustration: Supplement to Rock Climbs in the Blue Mountains, John Ewbank, 1970.

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