Thursday, October 06, 2005

The East Pillar

of Shivling

In May 1981, Rick White and Greg Child joined Britons Doug Scott and Don Whillans, along with Frenchman Georges Bettembourg to climb Shivling’s East Pillar in Nepal (pictured). They were stormed in for two days at the halfway point where White celebrated his 35th birthday. Jubilant after making the first ascent, but weakened from a lack of food, White and Child began their descent on very steep ice. They reached a small notch in the ridge and were just about to sit down for a rest. White continues:
The snow started slipping but we didn’t have axes because somehow or other Doug and George had the axes and Greg and I had hammers. But you can’t self-arrest with a hammer—you can’t belay with a hammer as Greg found out, so he got ripped off the belay and we went tumbling down. We fell 200 metres, 250. We were really lucky because there’s a col between the two peaks—Shivling’s got two peaks—and we landed in this little valley. I blacked out and woke up at the bottom and I thought, “O shit, my arms are working”—and we were fine. It all happened so fast. If we’d slid a little bit to the left we would have gone over a six thousand foot drop.
Doug Scott remained a close friend of Rick White's until White's death in 2004. The 13-day East Pillar route was the most technically difficult climb ever done at altitude and remained unrepeated for 15 years.

Picture: Rick White collection.
New games: new names

Kim Carrigan’s and others’ adoption of European sport climbing techniques and training strategies set up a framework for climbing in Australia that has persisted from the late 1970s. Until that time, a handful of mostly weekend climbers in the country had ever contemplated training as special preparation for climbing. This was a turning point when ‘climbing’ became many different things. The gradual dominance of sport climbing, most usually accompanied by a reliance on bolting, toproping and multi-day sieges of one pitch problems, pushed ‘traditional’ or ‘adventure climbing’ to the periphery—even creating new names for what in the past was simply ‘rockclimbing’. But traditional climbing persisted and pockets of resistance remain. This trend continues today and although the divisions between various genres of climbing remain blurred, the dominance of sport climbing is apparent in the pages of Australian and international climbing magazines and websites. The focus of the experience has shifted with numbers seemingly playing a more central role than other criteria. This was exemplified by publicity around the one-pitch Punks in the Gym at Arapiles by German climber Wolfgang Gullich which claimed to be the world’s hardest route in 1985. Few, if any, climbers in Australia would have known that it was the same year in which pioneering Lakeland climber Bill Peascod died on the 1st stance of a climb in Wales. He was climbing with Don Whillans at the time—Whillans himself died in his sleep exactly three months later. Six years after his 1st ascent of Punks, Gullich was also dead—killed in a car accident in Germany.

Picture: Rick White and Ted Cais gear up for climb at Frog Buttress, 1987. Michael Meadows collection.

Climbing high

For almost a decade, Fred From was a significant force in Queensland climbing. He refused to use either climbing boots or chalk. Raised on a farm at Coominya, just west of Brisbane, From soon acquitted himself on the Frog Buttress classics, leading Conquistador in fine style. By this time, the Brisbane Rockclimbing Club had fizzled out and a new University of Queensland Climbing Club had started up with From its ambassador. He had soon added new routes on the steep columns of Crookneck, at Girraween and Knapps Peak. In 1984, Fred From set out on his greatest adventure—an attempt on Everest via the West Ridge. Tragically, he fell to his death, tripping on his crampons, while searching for another Australian climber, Craig Nottle, who had fallen in the same way, at the same place. It happened on From’s 28th birthday—9 October. At the same time as From fell to his death, another Australian expedition was on Everest forcing a bold new route, White Limbo, up the Great Couloir the North Face, climbing Alpine-style without supplementary oxygen. Of the team, Tim McCartney-Snape and Greg Mortimer reached the summit.

Illustration: The Courier-Mail, Brisbane.