Tuesday, October 04, 2005

'Dirty Don' in the deep north

Greg Sheard moved to Townsville in 1970 and soon tracked down some locals who were interested in climbing. One was named ‘Dirty Don’—that should have raised his suspicions—and the other was Craig. For a reason best known to himself, Sheard decided to abseil down the vertical face of Townsville’s Castle Hill, using two ropes tied together. He went down first, managed to get past the knot halfway and scrambled back to the top of the mountain. By the time he arrived, Dirty Don was on his way down—but he was taking a long time. Too long. Sheard continues the story:
I hooked up another rope and went over the edge and Dirty Don was hanging there—he’d actually unclipped himself and had wrapped his arm around the rope and that’s all that was holding him. It was a bloody long way to the deck from there—70 odd metres off the deck just hanging by his arm wrapped around the rope! I went back and started trying to organise some gear to get down to help him. A crowd had turned up by that stage and one character said, 'Get the rescue equipment, get the rescue team!' Craig turned around and said, 'We are the &*#@*& rescue team!' And he was right, we were! We were the Townsville rock and rescue team! That’s all there was and one third of the team was stuck halfway up Castle Hill about to die because he’d stuffed things up. I got down to him and hooked him up—he’d totally freaked out—and got him to the bottom. By this stage it was well and truly after dark. But Dirty Don never went climbing again.
Picture: Greg Sheard in action on the east face of Maroon in 1970 shortly before moving to North Queensland. Michael Meadows collection.

Big wall battles

Big wall climbing was news in various Australian magazines (pictured) at this time with the antics of John Ewbank and others the focus. Meanwhile, Keith Bell and Ray Lassman braved the 1970 summer heat on Bluff Mountain in the Warrumbungles, climbing the 291 metre Icarus. Further south, on the north wall of Mt Buffalo, Chris Dewhirst, Dave Neilson and Ian Ross had spent two days climbing Conquistador, a hard aid route with some free climbing sections. Climbing in Victoria was beginning to take off with a vengeance—earlier in the year, the powerful Keith Lockwood and Roland Pauligk had climbed two hard routes in the Grampians, Frumious Brandersnatch and Liquidator. Activity in Queensland followed the lead and big wall aid climbs were suddenly in vogue. Sid Tanner teamed with Andrew Speirs to climb a new aid route through the huge roof on Beerwah in the Glasshouses, calling it Leviathan. At Mt Maroon, Rick White and Ron Collett with Keith Nannery put up the classic Ruby of India—a climb that has since had more ascents than any other on the east face.

Rajahs of rhetoric

White joined with Ron Collett and John Oddie in 1970 to climb The Antichrist on Mt Maroon, grading it M6—and claiming it as the hardest aid route in the country. Throwing down the gauntlet, Chris Dewhirst and Peter McKeand put up a climb at Mt Buffalo, calling it Lord Gumtree and grading it M7—now it was the hardest in the country. White had enlisted 16 year old protégé Robert Staszewski (Squeak), planning to climb Ozymandius. But when they heard about Lord Gumtree, they had a quick change of plan. White later quipped: ‘Of course, it was not as hard as our Antichrist.’ Their ascent was controversial in that both Staszewski and White jummared up the last easy pitch on a rope used by another climbing party. ‘The Victorian press led by Chris Baxter and urged on (I’m sure) by Chris Dewhirst—whose route we had just repeated before it could get a reputation—screamed foul,’ White remembers. ‘We had not climbed the last pitch therefore I had not repeated the climb.’ The battle raged on.

Illustrations: From the magazines Australian Outdoors 1969 and Pix 1970.

Deep Purple on Rock

By 1970, many of the easy, obvious lines had been climbed at Frog Buttress and it would be a hard core who would eke out the remaining climbs there over the next decades—Rick White, Ross Allen, Ted Cais and Ian Cameron amongst them. In 1970, 10 hard new routes went up there with Odin perhaps the pick of the crop. Climbing Odin would eventually be the subject of a home movie, set to the music of Deep Purple, one of Rick White’s favourite bands at the time. In the last years of his life, his mobile phone ringtone punched out the opening riff from Smoke on the Water. The super eight movie, called Deep Purple on Rock, did the rounds of Australian climbing clubs with White relishing the occasion as it showed Queensland climbers demonstrating their ‘jamBing’ skills to disbelieving southerners. In the same year Ted Cais and I climbed Dreadnought, a new route up the highest part of the east face of Tibrogargan and the second longest climb in Queensland (log book account pictured).

Climbing 'Mt Bastard'

Around this time, Greg Sheard decided to have one last attempt at climbing the East Face of Mt Barney. Two previous attempts had been washed out and he had started calling the mountain, ‘Mt Bastard’! It was getting serious. This time, the weather held and he found himself and Alan Millband at the base of the climb despite the challenging walk in. Greg Sheard takes up the story:
Alan led the first pitch. To quote the guide: ‘One already feels the exposure.’ To quote me: ‘Pig’s arse!’ Second pitch, I scored. There just happened to be a tree at the start of the pitch so I climbed it. This was destined to be the first of a long series of botanical aids on the climb. Belay in tree. Alan followed up (with pack on back), swinging through the trees like a constipated Tarzan.
And so it continued: Millband grabbed a snake on the crux pitch and Sheard managed to climb it free on a toprope, finding the ‘rotten’ tree to be ‘as solid as buggery’. Greg Sheard had once again dealt a body blow to any romantic notions of big wall climbing on Mt Barney!

Southern snippets

Earlier that year, a team of climbers from Sydney—Keith Bell, Ray Lassman, John Worrall, Bruce Rowe, Keith Royce, Hughie Ward, and Howard Bevan—made the first ascent of the North Arete on Ball’s Pyramid in a six day epic. Several new areas were opened up by climbers in New South Wales including Medlow Bath, Mt Blackheath, Nellies Glen, the Dogface to Echo Point cliffline and Mt Boyce. John Ewbank was talking of retiring and pursuing a career in the music business, having climbed more than 400 new routes in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. In Western Australia, rockclimbing attracted the attention of the Australian Broadcasting Commission which filmed a quarry climb and included it as a feature in a local sports program.

Picture: Ted Cais collection.

Ethical adventures

Ted Cais with an array of pitons and ‘crackers’—a central element of clean climbing ethics applied in Queensland from the late 1960s. At the close of the decade, debates over a new approach to climbing and climbing ethics swept through Australian climbing circles. One of the most notable and eloquent protagonists was New South Wales climber John Ewbank. Through the pages of the national climbing magazine, Thrutch, Ewbank advocated the use of forms of protection less damaging to the rock than bolts, as well as opening up placements impossible with the limited range of pitons available. Queensland climbers were quick to take up the option, playing a leading role in promoting the application of clean climbing ethics. This helped to set up a strong relationship between Queensland and New South Wales climbing that persisted throughout the 1970s with climbers in the two states often joining forces to resist a growing Victorian propaganda machine. Ewbank started to manufacture his own crude versions of ‘crackers’—essentially hexagonal-section lengths of aluminium rod, drilled to enable threading with a sling. As his manufacturing zeal waned, Rick White quickly followed suit with his own versions. Several local climbers in Queensland—Dave Reeve in particular—took this a step further, borrowing from sailing technology and using swaged stainless steel slings on the hexes, probably the first local application of this technology in Australia.

Picture: Ted Cais collection.

Victoria versus the rest

From the mid-1960s, the Sydney-based climbing magazine, Thrutch, had become the main conduit for Australian climbers' ideas and opinions. And its policy of publishing almost anything provoked some lively debates which stirred along a growing rivalry between Victoria and the rest of the country. It was exacerbated in 1969 when Victorian climbers Chris Dewhirst and Chris Baxter spent two days on the north wall of Mt Buffalo in October 1969 to create Ozymandius. They graded it M6 and claimed it as the hardest aid climb in Australia. Twenty years later, expatriate British climber Steve Monks would climb it free, grading it 28. But back in 1969, it became the most publicised rockclimb in Victorian history, stemming from a newspaper photographer who happened to be staying at Mt Buffalo at the time. Meanwhile, John Ewbank and Bryden Allen returned quietly to Bluff Mountain in the Warrumbungles in October to complete Stonewall Jackson. The 290 metre long route was probably the hardest and most serious yet climbed in Australia. Fresh from his Warrumbungles’ success, Bryden Allen then made the second ascent of The Janicepts at Mt Piddington in November that year with Roland Pauligk making the second ascent of Victoria’s Blimp at Bundaleer.

Beaks on the peaks

It was a time, too, when climbers from Victoria were making their mark internationally with Michael Stone, Ian Guild and John Fantini having successful seasons in the European Alps. The interstate 'war' wasn't confined to the letters' pages in Thrutch. Out on the rock, the rivalry was as intense as New South Wales climbers Keith Bell and Howard Bevan discovered. They were making the 4th ascent of Lieben in the Warrumbungles with a gaggle of Victorian climbers watching, including Roland and Anne Pauligk who always travelled with a flock of their pet parrots. As Bell reached the crux of the climb, one of the birds flew up and landed on a ledge next to him, creating a dilemma: each time he stretched for the crux handhold, the parrot nipped at his fingers. It seemed that even the birds had decided which side they were on!

Internal exile

In the climbing press, Rick White constantly extolled the virtues of Frog Buttress—and any climbing area in Queensland, for that matter—stirring along the public relations’ battle with Victoria. White once told readers: ‘Frog Buttress is without doubt the greatest and most exclusive crack climbing outcrop yet visited by climbers on the Australian mainland!’ And, of course, he was right! His main sparring partner was Chris Baxter who visited Frog Buttress and admitted to his Victorian disciples that it was, indeed, a climbing destination of significance. Baxter recalls the era with a wry smile:
Initially there was the absurd interstate rivalry between Victoria and New South Wales and Victoria and Queensland and a lot of that was due to the lack of contact. It was childish on all sides. I suppose it was taken seriously and the letters would fly back and forwards through Thrutch and that would trigger it off. And there’d be raiding parties down to free Victorian routes or free NSW routes or whatever it was...
While much of the debate through the pages of Thrutch was tongue-in-cheek, it got to a point where bitterness began to creep into the exchanges. White recalls the impasse: ‘There was a point in time where I made a decision never, ever to write another article—ever! I didn’t break that pledge until probably around 1996 when Chris Baxter talked me into writing a history of something or other for Rock magazine. So I didn’t write anything from probably 73 onwards.’ Eventually, Victorian climber Nic Taylor who was working with White's company, Mountain Designs in Brisbane, was instrumental in bringing them together in the late 1970s and they subsequently became good friends.

Illustration: Thrutch logo.

Back to the 'Bungle

Easter 1969 saw another small, strong contingent of Queensland climbers heading for the volcanic spires of the Warrumbungles. Rick White and Paul Caffyn strayed off Crucifixion, climbing a new direct start to Lieben, the airy Out and Beyond had another three ascents, and climbers from Sydney and Brisbane were again hell-bent on avoiding the ranger who was hell-bent on collecting camp fees. With constant groups of tourists stopping at the campsite water tank—the only one in the area—Sheard became annoyed with the amount of water being used. So he removed the handle from the tap and hid it. As yet another group vainly tried to turn the tap on using sticks, one parent patiently explained the intricacies of climbing equipment to his inquisitive son. Climbers’ gear was draped on a frame near the water tank. Greg Sheard takes up the story: ‘And this little kid’s asking, “What’s that there?” “O, that’s a carabiner to clip into the pitons which are over there.” “What’s that?” “O, that’s a sling.” “And what’s that, dad?” “That’s the bloody tap handle!”’ Over the Easter weekend, we had heard that Ewbank and Allen were trying a new climb on Bluff Mountain at that very time—the 362 metre Ginsburg. Bryden Allen recalls one memorable incident from that climb—but it was when he and Ewbank were returning to Sydney. They hitched a lift, realising that living on dehydrated food for a week was beginning to take its toll. ‘Both of us had fairly ripe guts,’ Allen recalled. ‘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.’

Picture: Chris Meadows, Greg Sheard and Paul Caffyn, Warrumbungles 1969. Paul Caffyn collection.
The 1st Frog Buttress guidebook

Around the middle of 1969, Rick White produced his own guidebook to Frog Buttress and it was quickly out of date, requiring a second edition, published in December that year. The guide (pictured) listed more than 60 routes and suggested there would be many more. White observed: ‘This small outcrop, discovered climbingwise in November 1968, has been the scene of more activity in the past year than all other areas in the past ten years.’ And he was absolutely right. The explosion of climbing activity was unheralded in Queensland climbing history. It was something Rick White and Chris Meadows could never have imagined when they walked down the scree that day in November 1968. While the overall number of new climbing routes in Victoria and New South Wales at this time exceeded the Queensland achievements, climbing populations in the southern states far outweighed the small core of pioneers active in the deep north. It was an extraordinary and frenetic period which would last for at least another two years. Frog Buttress and the climbers it produced took Queensland to the forefront of climbing activity and achievement in Australia—at least until the early 1970s. For many climbers at this time, Frog Buttress and its style of climbing represented something akin to the Holy Grail. But dissent was in the ranks. Some viewed the climbing there as too short, or too strenuous, or too competitive—or all three. Others found jamming either difficult or unpleasant or both, and continued to search for new climbs elsewhere.

The revolution continues

Although still very much a male-dominated world, talented 16 year old Marilyn Dall (pictured left) joined with ‘veteran’ Pat Prendergast in 1969 to put up the first all female climb at Frog Buttress. They called it Revolution, perhaps celebrating the year in which Australian women finally received equal pay for equal work—in theory, at least. The most novel ascent at the Buttress and perhaps anywhere in Australia that year was Macraderma. All 35 metres were climbed entirely underground! Paul Caffyn and Rick White abseiled to the bottom of the cleft and with White unable to get off the ground on the damp, slippery rock, Caffyn took over. Applying his considerable caving skills, Caffyn managed to solve the difficult start. Ian Cameron abseiled in to join White at the bottom and they both were forced to prussik up the first 10 metres, unable to follow Caffyn’s inspired lead. Another significant ascent that year was the hard aid climb, Brown Corduroy Trousers, climbed by Rick White and Ian Cameron. Thirteen years later, Kim Carrigan would climb it free, grading it equal to Australia’s hardest climb at the time—28. Along with the new routes at Frog Buttress came another wave of new climbers—Barry Overs, Steve Bell, Dave Kahler, Chris Knudsen and Alan Millband.

Picture: Pat Prendergast collection.

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.

Ted Cais ' jamBs' over the bulge on the 2nd ascent of Infinity at Frog Buttress. He recalls his relationship with Rick White and the climb:
We complemented each other well and several times on new routes I would figure out the technical moves only to back off and have Rick punch the route through to the finish. More often we were friendly rivals and I usually was the first one to repeat Rick’s new routes at Frog, although Barry Overs filled this role for a while. I realized, too, I needed to lead new routes independently of Rick to establish my own style so we never became regular partners but helped push each other locally, although Rick was more driven by the achievements of John Ewbank in the Blue Mountains. My first climb with Rick and also my first introduction to Frog Buttress was on the first ascent of Infinity...

Picture: Michael Meadows collection. Posted by Picasa
'Paradise found'

It was a Saturday afternoon—9 November 1968—when Rick White and Chris Meadows on the spur of the moment decided to take a closer look at a low line of cliffs on the northwest slope of Mt French. They drove up a rough track to the top of the mountain from the west and walked to the edge of the cliff—the explorer Patrick Logan had stood there 141 years ago. White recalls the moment: ‘We walked along the cliff and thought we’d found a lot of good aid climbs.’ My brother Chris confirmed this when he arrived home that day, raving about the 50 to 60 metre high cliffs of columnar trachyte. He was more impressed by the geological formation they had discovered than by the potential it represented as one of Australia’s foremost climbing areas. They returned the following Sunday—17 November—and climbed the first route, Corner of Eden; a week later, Liquid Laughter Layback, naming it after my brother’s near out-of-stomach experience. The name ‘Frog Buttress’ did not come from the mass on which it is located, Mt French—it was a less obvious derivation. White initially called the cliff ‘Paradise Lost’, but the presence of several abandoned contraceptive aids (or ‘French Letters’) in the locally-frequented car park at the top of the cliff prompted Chris Meadows to suggest the name ‘Frog Buttress’—and it stuck. A handful of people were let in on the discovery of the cliff and over the first month or so, Rick White and Chris Meadows climbed Satan’s Smokestack, Witches’ Cauldron, Pirana (pictured), Clockwork Orange Corner, Strawberry Alarmclock, Orchid Alley, and Chunder Crack. News of the cliff lured Ted Cais away from his studies to second White up Infinity—the first real jam climb on the cliff.

Picture: Michael Meadows collection.

The Brisbane Rockclimbing Club, Warrumbungles, 1968

From left (standing) John Shera, Ted Cais, Kirsty Jensen, Cec Murray, Sandra Tillack, John Tillack, Chris Meadows, Bob Fick, Lance Rutherford, Geoff Cullen. From left (sitting) Pat Prendergast, Dave Reeve, Dennis Stocks, Greg Sheard, Michael Meadows. Absent: Mick Shera, Rick White, Paul Caffyn. Picture: Michael Meadows collection.

For many of us climbing at that time, the trip to the 'Bungles was a turning point. Cries of ‘Razzamatazz!’ echoed from cliffs everywhere. Here was a climbing area, a bit like the Glasshouses in that it was hard, volcanic rock, but the pinnacles near Coonabrabran were twice as high! Rick White, Paul Caffyn and John Shera spent a cold night on Belougery’s Spire helping rescue and injured British climber, Brian Shirley, who had fallen on Out and Beyond, burning the hands of his second. Mal Graydon and several others were injured in a car accident on the way down and spent a few days in hospital with minor injuries. Within a few months of returning to Queensland, Greg Sheard decided on a bold, new tactic—to eliminate aid moves from as many climbs in southeast Queensland as possible. His aim was to do ‘the big three’ in the Glasshouses—Clemency, East Crookneck and Flameout. Surviving the Clemency ascent, he eliminated the aid move from the final overhang on East Crookneck with Chris Meadows seconding this time, but he was tricked out the first free ascent of Flameout by a wily Paul Caffyn. It was all part of a mostly friendly rivalry that had emerged—mostly friendly! But the peer group pressure at times was intense.
The fall factor

Not to be overshadowed by the exploits of his peers, Greg Sheard (pictured) decided to give up smoking (an elusive goal he pursues to this day!) and launch an all-out assault on the local climbing scene. He was one of the first to test out the limits of the new protective gear in Queensland, particularly through his several falls at Kangaroo Point. But he also came to prominence through his inimical approach to writing in the Brisbane Rockclimbing Club Circular, RURP. He quickly developed a reputation for his brutally honest, remarkably perceptive analyses. Sheard challenged several of the newer and existing club members to prove their skills in belay practice at the Kangaroo Point training cliffs. This entailed throwing an 80 kg piece of railway line off the top and actually experiencing holding a lead fall. It was well before the advent of sticht plates or belay brakes of any kind—back in 1968, gloves were mandatory for a second. And for Sheard, the impact of a good belay on a climb at Kangaroo Point was perhaps more important than for most, as he acknowledges:
I think I’d already had a serious fall there—a head-first plummet off By Ignorance after getting on the wrong route. Mal Graydon was belaying and actually saved my neck because I did actually touch the ground with my helmet. Mal had done a static belay but had also jumped backwards and my first peg had pulled out but the next one took it up. If he hadn’t done either a static belay or made a jump backwards, I would have been dead.
The sight of Greg Sheard, curled up in a ball, plummeting head-first towards the ground became a common one at the Kangaroo Point cliffs. He continued to push the limits and seemed to lead a charmed existence. But it couldn’t last and he managed to break an ankle—and, as he discovered years later, a vertebrae—in a 10 metre fall at Kangaroo Point while trying to free an aid climb started by a rival. But this didn’t stop Sheardie who quickly discovered crutches are very good at bashing a pathway through lantana en route to Glennies Pulpit or as a stabilising prop abseiling down Caves Route on Tibrogargan. Sheardie had emerged as the character of the late 1960s—a very strong climber, with an unconventional approach and an ability to create havoc, in the nicest possible way. Like his ankle and vertebrae, his infamous black Hillman also came to grief when one 'friend' painted fascist slogans all over it and another 'friend' then dropped an 80kg belay weight from the top of the cliff onto the boot, almost piercing the petrol tank. But it was all in good fun and at least he was still able to drive it to the wreckers next day!

Picture: Michael Meadows collection.

Leaps of faith

Rick White had quickly established himself as one of the most active and innovative climbers amongst the new cohort in Queensland in 1968 and the new routes he led began to mount. With Chris Meadows now his regular climbing partner, he climbed a series of hard new routes at Binna Burra, Mt Greville and Mt Maroon—and a steep, bold line on the southwest buttress of Glennies Pulpit, Prepare to Meet Thy God (pictured). It was named after a sign bearing those words was ‘liberated’ from a gum tree a few weeks before. For many years, the sign hung on the climb as a warning to non-believers! Taking leave while on his honeymoon, White linked up with Paul Caffyn to do the second ascent of the East Face of Mt Barney in damp and sometimes slimy conditions on the anniversary of the first ascent. Caffyn balanced his interest in speleology and climbing throughout the years he was active in Queensland, studying geology, until, like others before him, the lure of the New Zealand mountains and eventually, kayaking, became too great. But during his brief time as a climber in Queensland, he managed to channel much of his nervous energy and talent into some memorable and difficult ascents. White chose him to try a bold new route on the East Face of Mt Maroon. They began their assault in July, climbing four pitches on the steep, bare wall. It had all the hallmarks of being Queensland’s hardest route—and they were only halfway! Six weeks later, White and Caffyn started from their previous high point and climbed the last four pitches to the summit—Caffyn falling twice on the crux. They called the climb Beau Brummel. Five months later, White returned with Ted Cais and made the first complete ascent of the route under a blazing Queensland February sun.

Picture: Michael Meadows collection.

And the women?

Although climbing in Queensland (and the rest of Australia) in the late 1960s was largely a boys’ club, several women had been active on the climbing scene in Queensland since the mid-1960s. Pat Prendergast (pictured) was the first woman to join the Brisbane Rockclimbing Club in November 1965. She was also the first woman to lead Carborundum on Tibrogargan and made one of the first female ascents of Desperation Wall in 1966. But the lure of the New Zealand Alps was too great and she left Brisbane, making several return trips over the years. But most of her life has been spent climbing and drawing the mountains she loves, publishing a book of her paintings. From February 1968, Marion and Sue Speirs, along with Lesley Rivers, were regular climbers who mixed their activities on the rock with bushwalking. But like Pat Prendergast, they, too, were attracted to snow and ice climbing in the high mountains of New Zealand. In December 1968, Marion, 26, and Sue, 21, went missing in the Southern Alps for three days, caught in a freak storm while climbing in the Malte Brun Range in New Zealand. Their survival skills were acknowledged by the Chief Ranger at Mt Cook who believed no one had ever been rescued before after having been on the mountain for so long—74 hours. Another strong, enthusiastic climber-bushwalker Lesley Rivers was a regular at Kangaroo Point and on crags around southeast Queensland in the late 1960s. She was the first woman to climb East Crookneck with Greg Sheard in 1969 and like others before her, was eventually drawn into mountaineering, first in New Zealand, then the European Alps. She was killed in an accident on the Jungfrau, in the Swiss Alps, going to the aid of an injured climber, in the 1980s.

Picture: Pat Prendergast in action. Pat Prendergast collection.

Maintaining a long tradition of climbing a prominent cross-river structure in Brisbane (from left) Chris Meadows, Greg Sheard, Michael Meadows, Rick White...June 1968.

Picture: Michael Meadows collection.
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In high places

Rick White, climbing with Dave Reeve, found the first route up the big east face on Mt Maroon in February 1968. They called it Deception I—a bold and circuitous 250 metre climb through a maze of loose blocks, clifflines, caves and corners. The following weekend, John Shera (pictured), my brother Chris and myself climbed the North Face of Leaning Peak. We were forced to bivvy on a ledge about 60 metres from the summit, completing the climb the following day. At 410 metres, it is the longest climb in Queensland and amongst the longest in Australia. With three of the biggest faces in southeast Queensland now climbed—the East Faces of Mt Barney and Mt Maroon and the North Face of Leaning Peak—attention turned to other problems, other lines. For the first time since the early 1950s when Kangaroo Point had been used as a top-roping and training cliff, climbers led the first hard routes there—Cais started the deluge with a bold lead of Cox’s Overhang in January. White followed with Nightfell and the classic, Adam’s Rib. Cais found Tombstone Row and four weeks later, the hardest climb on the cliff: the fiery Pterodactyl. The status of the Kangaroo Point cliffs had changed significantly and a hard core of new climbers had emerged.

Picture: Michael Meadows collection.

New waves

in the deep north

Rockclimbing had become firmly established in the eastern states in Australia by 1968. In Queensland, more new climbers began to emerge: Dave Reeve, John Veasey, Greg Sheard and a bloke called Rick White. I first laid eyes on White stuck on a tiny ledge at Binna Burra, 25 metres up Alcheringa—reputedly the hardest climb in Queensland—wearing a pair of Volley OCs. It was an indication of his strong mental resolve to push himself to the limit. Apart from Ted Cais, who had started climbing in the early 1960s, all of the previous generation of climbers in Queensland had moved on when Rick White, Greg Sheard, Paul Caffyn and others stormed onto the scene. White, Sheard and Caffyn moved quickly to repeat the hardest existing climbs in southeast Queensland and then began to look beyond. It was a time when most of the current crop of Brisbane Rockclimbing Club climbers had either moved away or slowed. Ted Cais was still climbing sporadically, balancing time on the rock with the demands of his postgraduate studies. But another generation was emerging. Early in 1968, Dave Reeve climbed East Chimney on Glennies Pulpit and Rick White put up two new routes on the Beerwah slabs, Scotch Mist and Gambier I. Paul Caffyn led my brother Chris and I up a delicate climb on the scaly northern edge of Cave 3 on Tibrogragan. We called the virtually unprotected one-pitcher Superdirettissima, another tilt at the traditionalists. Meanwhile, the number of climbing clubs in Sydney had increased from one to four—and in the previous two years, the number of climbing gear retailers there had trebeled. The Climbers’ Association of Western Australia formed, launching its ‘Golden Era’ which lasted until 1972. Several women were involved from the earliest days there including Jan Kornweibel, Hazel Adams and Helen Harrison-Lever. The association ran training sessions in a Perth quarry and it was characterised by a number of expatriate Europeans as members. At the same time, the first recorded climbs in the Northern territory were put up by Paul and Pam Oates and English expatriate Pauline Mason around Alice Springs.

Picture: Rick White and Paul Caffyn, summit of Crookneck, 1968. Paul Caffyn collection.

Tilting at tradition

By the close of 1967, John Ewbank had convinced his climbing compatriots in New South Wales to adopt a new open-ended grading system—a significant break from the European approach that had influenced Australian climbing from the very start. At the same time, an ethics’ war raged over the placement and use of bolts in the Blue Mountains (and beyond), with Ewbank leading the anti-bolting lobby in his own inimitable style. With Les Wood returning to the UK to climb, momentum in Queensland eased although several climbers remained active—Ted Cais, Donn Groom, Pete Giles, Geoff Cullen, Ken Purcell, Neill Lamb, Dennis Stocks, Bob Fick, Pat Prendergast and Marion Spiers included. In December, three new names appeared on the records of new routes in Queensland—Paul Caffyn, Chris Meadows, and myself. Searching for the new climb, Wasp, as a way of reaching Prometheus II on Tibrogargan, we inadvertently found what amounted to a direct start and called it—with a lot of tongue-in-cheek—Direttissima.

Picture: Paul Caffyn belaying the author up to the first stance of Direttissima on Tibrogargan during the first ascent in December 1967. Paul Caffyn collection.