Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Pat Conaghan (pictured) teamed with Grahame Hardy in the Glasshouses to force a new route up Tibrogargan’s huge, bare Northeast Buttress in October 1964 — at more than 250 metres, it was the longest climb on the mountain. The climb was one of Conaghan’s first on local rock since he and Ron Cox completed the traverse of Geryon in 1961. The first five pitches weave their way cunningly through a series of steep walls and overhangs, reaching a steep, smooth corner which splits the arete. Next the climb traverses out left onto bare, seamless rock and it was here that Conaghan resorted to bolts to climb the 10 metre crux. As a climb, it offers some airy and sensational positions and like many of the multi-pitch routes on Tibrogargan, requires a high level of route-finding skill. A young Ted Cais joined Conaghan for the second ascent of the route along with chemistry honours student, John Tillack. With a strong southeasterly wind blowing the occasional rain squall in from the sea, the trio started their climb up sometimes greasy rock, reaching a tiny ledge, where Cais takes up the story:
Before we had time to re-arrange the ropes the rain really hit us. Right out to sea was just one big haze, and quite soon, there wasn’t a dry square inch of rock around us. We grimly hung onto the rope handrail trying to find a comfortable position on that confounded ledge, sheltering under our one leaky anorak while discussing the big question: should we go down or up?The rain eventually stopped and a cutting wind added to their discomfort but it at least began to dry off the rock. They decided to climb on, with just three pitches remaining. Conaghan led off at 4.00 pm, reaching a small ledge, tantalisingly close to the next belay bolt, but separated from it by a greasy traverse. He decided to place another bolt for protection and 20 minutes went by as he patiently drilled—hit-twist; hit-twist; hit-twist. By the time he had reached the stance and belayed up Cais and Tillack, it was almost dark as even darker rain clouds raced towards them from Moreton Bay:
As I belayed him from the new bolt, Pat led up in the darkness with our only torch gripped firmly between his teeth, since there was no provision for tying the torch onto his waistlength. The slippery rock soon stopped his progress, however, and he found it necessary to place a new bolt, in attempting to reach a higher one from the first ascent which had served both as a runner and an anchor for a delicate tension traverse to the left. Time passed, and soon it was pitch black; not a start could be seen in the inly vault above our heads. I looked down to the Bruce Highway, where we could see the lights of cars that passed, their occupants being oblivious of the struggle we were having up on this rainswept cliff. Eventually Pat had the bolt in, and having then reached the higher bolt, he set out on the tension traverse. Groping for holds in the feeble light of the torch, at realised that he was going to come off. I heard him mumble something with the torch still in his mouth, and then he came off. The trusty bolt held and Pat fetched up a few feet above John and me. Conaghan came off again, realising he would have to bolt his way across this impasse. He set two more bolts and reached the belay stance, a very welcome tree.They stumbled, exhausted, onto the northeast shoulder at midnight. Descent in the dark without a torch was impossible but they managed to find a rock shelter where they shivered until dawn.
Picture: Pat Conaghan collection.
Two new rockclimbing clubs formed in 1963—in the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia—as a large outcrop of promising cliffline was ‘discovered’ near the township of Natamuk in Victoria by Bob and Steve Craddock. Mt Arapiles (pictured above) was destined become Australia’s most visited climbing cliff, one offering perhaps the greatest variety of climbing of any location in the country. In the nearby Grampians, Greg Lovejoy led a climb called Wrinkle then claimed as the hardest in the country. But this was 1963 and there was a long way to go. The open-ended Ewbank grading system had not arrived with climbing difficulty graded according to the British system. In New South Wales, Bryden Allen published the first local guidebook, the most comprehensive yet in Australia—Rockclimbs of New South Wales. Allen was in action on the rock as well, climbing the imposing Heartstopper with Chris Regan on the west face of the Breadknife in the Warrumbungles. The University of Queensland Bushwalking Club magazine, Heybob, continued its important role as a purveyor of climbing literature publishing accounts and descriptions of early climbs in Queensland. And towards the end of that year, the veteran Bert Salmon climbed Mt Lindesay for the second last time—his 26th ascent—with six Ramblers including 16-year-old Rudolph Edward Cais. Over the next 10 years, Cais would play a pivotal role in the development of climbing in Queensland before leaving to pursue a career as a research scientist in the United States in the mid 1970s.
Milestones on- and off-shore
As Kevin Westren put up the first climbing route —Hocus Pocus — at Mt Piddington (Wirindi) in the Blue Mountains near Blackheath, Bryden Allen and British immigrant, teenager John Ewbank, climbed a new route up the highest part of the face on Bluff Mountain, the 358 metre Elijah. It took them eight days to complete, retreating and returning. The guidebook advises: ‘Not exactly beginners’ stuff.’ Allen recalled their trip back to Sydney after the climb:
Certainly the most amusing experience of all was hitch-hiking back with John Ewbank after living on dehyds for a week in the Warrumbungles which had included the first ascent of Elijah. Both of us had fairly ripe guts. There was this dog in the back of the car with us and the bloke turns around and says, “What an awful stink you’ve made, get out of the car at once…!” John was just about to do so when the man said, “…Fido”. Fido took the blame for John’s fart. And I knew it was John, of course.Like Allen, and perhaps even more so, Ewbank’s name would become synonymous with rockclimbing in Australia over the next decade. He moved out of climbing and is a musician, now living in New York. New South Wales climbing received a major boost in February 1964 with the 1st ascent of Ball's Pyramid, a magnificent spire near Lord Howe Island, by Bryden Allen, John Davis, Jack Pettigrew and David Witham. This paralleled an audacious first ascent of the southeast face of Frenchman's Cap by Allen and Pettigrew. At the time, it was undoubtedly the most serious rockclimb in Australia. Bolts first appeared on climbs in Victoria in 1964, the same year as John Fahey and Peter Jackson climbed Witch at the newly discovered Mt Arapiles—put forward as another contender for Australia’s hardest route. With the discovery of Mt Arapiles and the arrival of Allen and Ewbank on the scene, rockclimbing in New South Wales and Victoria was about to make a quantum leap forward. But a new wave of Queensland climbers was waiting in the wings.
Picture: Michael Meadows collection.
The swinging sixties
Climbing in Australia went through an extraordinary period of development during the 1960s. As Queensland entered a period of calm, in New South Wales, there was a shift from the longer ‘adventure’ climbs to shorter and harder routes. The Sydney University Mountaineering Club formed in 1960 and initially started developing Narrowneck as a climbing destination. Around this time, a team of climbers from the Victorian Climbing Club made an assault on Tasmania, climbing the east face of the Foresight on Mt Geryon. Back on the mainland, they climbed classic routes like Buddha’s Wall and The Cat Walk in the Grampians, followed up in 1961 by two bold routes on Federation Peak — the Northwest Face by Bob Jones, Jack O’Halloran and Robin Dunse, and The Blade Ridge, climbed again by Jones and O’Halloran.
Sandshoes and steel
At the start of the 1960s, the vast majority of climbers in Australia still used the redoubtable Volley OCs as footwear, hemp rope, mild steel carabiners, pitons and — increasingly in New South Wales and Victoria — expansion bolts. Climbers in New South Wales in 1960 had begun to seriously investigate the potential of expansion bolts as a form of protection on the friable sandstone cliffs in the Blue Mountains. It provoked ‘strong feeling’ over their use—and a long and continuing ethical debate—although as protective devices they have become a central element of modern rockclimbing globally. Existing rockclimbing clubs in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane experienced a dramatic increase in membership in the 1960s, although the overall numbers of core climbers remained small, particularly in Queensland. By 1961, rockclimbing had split into two categories in Australia: free and artificial or aid climbing. Nylon ropes were becoming more common, along with advice on the best boots for rockclimbing, costing between £4/6/0 ($9.00) for a pair of RLs (Robert Lawrie) or £6/-/- ($12.00) for a pair of PAs (Pierre Allain). This description is from a 1961 MUMC catalogue:
The desirable features of a boot for rock climbing are narrow and slightly pointed toes, rigid and almost flat soles flush with the upper, with little or no protruding welt, low cut ankles, and a comfortable fit.
Perhaps encouraged by all the foreigners snatching local routes from under their noses, Tasmanians formed their own climbing club early in 1962. Across Bass Strait, the first climbing guide to Victoria was published, listing 15 routes. Fewer than 12 climbers were in action there but one figure soon stood out—Peter Jackson. Over the next few years, he was rarely far away from the cutting edge routes being climbed. And, like their Queensland colleagues, several Victorians were drawn into mountaineering imbing in the Alps and the Dolomites at this time.
The return of Bryden Allen
In the year that Australia pledged support to the United States in ending what appeared to be a small skirmish in Vietnam, 1962, three memorable new routes went up in the Warrumbungles—Out and Beyond, Lieben, and Cornerstone Rib. All would soon become classics and the climbers who created them—Bryden Allen and Ted Batty—would be as well-known across the country. Allen was born in Canberra in 1940, moving to England with his family when he was 11. He started climbing at age 18 when studying at London University and considers himself more of an English climber than an Australian. When he returned to Australia in 1961, he sported the latest European equipment, including a pair of climbing boots called PAs—reputedly the stickiest friction boots available at that time, taking their name from their creator, the French climbing star Pierre Allain. Over the next five years, Allen assumed the mantle of Australia’s top climber, figuring strongly in the development of climbing in the Warrumbungles, at Frenchman’s Cap, Balls Pyramid (first ascent) and the Blue Mountains. Allen described his ascent of Lieben—then Australia’s hardest climb—as ‘possibly the most foolhardy’ route he ever did on his ‘fourth or fifth weekend’ of climbing in Australia. Several climbers had eyed off the route on the west face of Crater Bluff, and the line Lieben took in particular. Russ Kippax was one of them and planned to climb the route as his swansong—but Allen beat him to it. Kippax recalls with a wry smile: ‘I wasn’t too happy about that.’ Ted Batty seconded Allen on the route wearing sandshoes and it was many years before it had a repeat ascent. Meanwhile, activity in Western Australia was starting in earnest, described in one magazine story as ‘one of WA’s newest sports’ with Latvian-born climber Arvid Miller pioneering climbing in the west.
The 1st ascent of Carstenz Pyramid
In Irian Jaya, Heinrich Harrer enlisted Russ Kippax, New Zealander Philip Temple and Bert Huizenga to make the first ascent of Carstenz Pyramid (4883m) in January 1962. The team made an additional 32 summits to their first ascent list. Kippax recalls meeting Harrer, a member of the 1938 Eigerwand first ascent team, in Sydney after he gave a talk to a Sydney Bush Walkers meeting. Harrer heard about Kippax's climbing experience and asked him to join the expedition but he would have to pay his own way. Kippax, a medical student at the time, sold his prized MGA sports car to pay for the trip without hesitation. Kippax led virtually all of the rock pitches and after the event, Harrer asked him to come on a world lecture tour. It was tempting, but Kippax decided instead to complete his studies.
Ron Cox leading on the 2nd ascent of the lower section of Nazomi's Southwest Ridge in January 1962. Nazomi is a satellite peak of Mt Cook's South Summit. Scottish climber Hamish MacInnes made the first ascent of the ridge a few years earlier, describing it as 'one of the longest continuous rock ridges in the world outside the Himalaya'. Within a week, Cox and Conaghan went on to make the first ascent of the entire Bowie Ridge on Mt Cook.