Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Why climb? The next generation muses...

Brian Moes
(from the late 1990s) : The great thing is that whether you’re climbing 22 or 31 or 14, it’s such a personal thing. For some people, climbing a 17 is something equivalent to another person climbing something much, much harder. And that’s the beauty of climbing—it’s such a personal thing. You have to be really careful that you don’t get arrogant and start thinking that you’re better than other people.

Alison Moes (from the late 1990s): I think it’s almost the grace of it sometimes. Like it’s almost dancing when you move on a cliff. I really love that. I think it’s a combination of things like with the power and stuff like that. I like that as well. I think it’s also an achievement thing. It’s actually taught me a lot about ways of setting goals and reaching your own goals because it’s such a short-term thing. You can have one climb that you can really set your mind to and if you get it, it’s a really good feeling of achievement.

‘Tash’ (from the late 1990s): If I’ve climbed something that for me is really challenging, and I manage to get to the top of it, and I manage to get to the top of it with pretty good technique and all of that and I feel really great about it, it is the most euphoric feeling in the entire world—apart from sex. It is fantastic. It is a great feeling. I can’t explain to anyone apart from a climber or someone who is really into their sport. When they do something that was a real challenge and they just kick its arse, they know how good it feels. It’s just fantastic—it just makes me want to cry. No honestly, it’s the best feeling in the world. That’s why I climb because of those moments—they’re few and far between but they happen.

Picture: Climbers' camping area at The Pines, Mt Arapiles. Michael Meadows collection.

Attitudes to climbing through the years...
Michael Groom
(from the 1970s)
And people say, ‘Well, what are you going to do now with your life?’ But I feel so content with what I’ve done that I have no burning desire to go out and test the limits, or push the limits. I feel in some ways very fortunate that I do feel content that I’ve done so much with the early part of my life. It’s been a good life. There wouldn’t be too many things I’d change. I was able to find my passion or calling early in life—and that is, climbing—and even luckier after my second chance at it, to be able to re-live it, and continue living it after the problem with my feet; and then luckier again still by being able to earn a living from it. But as some people say, you make your own luck.

Picture: Three generations...Michael, Donn and Harry Groom. Michael Meadows collection.

Scott Camps
(from the 1970s)
I guess it became more of a personal journey—that’s what I really liked doing. I think it’s very important that a first ascentionist should be heavily active in repeating routes, particularly in a local area because you’re always broadening your knowledge and you know what you’re comparing it against. I know for a fact, a lot of the young guys haven’t done Out of the Blue and Into the Black [Tibrogargan] or Phaedra [Mt Maroon]—all those classic cutting edge routes for their time. That’s really important if you’re going to run around and beat your chest and demote routes that have previously been done and you don’t have anything to compare them against. You don’t understand how well people were climbing back then—climbing with hexes, small stoppers and a basic rack of Friends on this hard technical stuff.

Robert Staszewski
(1970s to present)
The cornerstone of rockclimbing is that the climber must bring himself [sic] to the standard required by the climb, not lower the climb to your standard. If you’re not doing that, you’re not doing rockclimbing—that’s the first ethic of rockclimbing.

Picture: Robert Staszewski above the east wall on Mt Maroon, 2000. Michael Meadows collection.

Ian Thomas
(1970s to present)
Climbing gives you the time to sit down and minutely examine your immediate surroundings—a ledge, ‘There’s a rock on the edge of the thing’; ‘No I won’t touch that’; ‘There’s another rock. Look at that one—I wonder how that got there.’ It’s a funny little microscope that you have. I remember those sorts of thoughts back then. Part of the deal is you can’t get rid of that no matter where you go. If you’re sitting at a meeting and two tables are put together, your fingers can’t help but slip in between those two tables and form a little finger lock. You can’t help but feel under the table for the undercling. You can’t walk down a city street without accidentally brushing a brick and giving the mortar a bit of a tap. So I think those sorts of things are just fantastic, even if I never climbed again I would be doing that. Just driving around the countryside you can’t help but look at cliffs and things. If you travel overseas, you look at a cliff and you can’t help thinking, ‘There’s probably a route there’; or ‘There is a route there.’ That sort of stuff is with you and I don’t think that changes.

Picture: Ian Thomas in a tendon-flexing engagement with Scarab at Bundaleer, 2000. Michael Meadows collection.

Dave Gillieson
(1970s to 1990s)
I think that climbing and caving gave my life purpose and developed strong self-reliance and tolerance of others. When I was in dead-end jobs, the prospect of the weekend dominated my thoughts and kept me focussed. I made lasting friendships with people who I could rely on absolutely. I have been in difficult situations with them in deep New Guinea caves and in the Himalayas. Those shared experiences forge strong bonds that transcend geographical location.

Marion Darveniza (nee Speirs)
(late 1960s and 1970s)
[Climbing gives you] a wonderful sense of achievement and freedom. It certainly tests your problem solving skills. Perhaps it has given me the confidence to try new things and knowing that I have got good balance.
Picture: Marion Speirs in the Warrumbungles, 1967. Hugh Pechey collection.

Greg Sheard
(late 1960s to present)

I guess climbing’s something that gets into your blood. You always enjoy going back to it. I gave it away for 20 years and still came back to it for different reasons. It’s something about the mountain, the climb, the exposure and the enjoyment of it. I don’t make a tick list. I don’t climb to increase the grade. If a climb’s enjoyable I go and do it. It’s always something you go back to. You run into a lot of people who retire from climbing but they’ll still go and do it occasionally…For me, it’s not trad [traditional] climbing—the ultimate is the multi-pitch climb, regardless of whether it’s easy or not. It’s a different style of climbing. It’s as different from Frog Buttress as Kangaroo Point is from indoor climbing. I think the long multi-pitch climbs are the ones that offer the enjoyment that is most likely to appeal to people because you run across people who run across those climbs and they say, ‘This is great. This is not doing 22s, 23s, 24s—this is doing a 13 which is phenomenal.’

Picture: Michael Meadows collection.

Rick White
(late 1960s to 1990s)

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Grade 15 climber or a Grade 30 climber—there’s always something you can’t climb, you just can’t climb the next level. It doesn’t matter how good you are, there’s always going to be someone better. So everybody climbs and has excitement at their level of difficulty and their level of mental power. It’s different for all people, of course. It can be widely applied to people because of that—you don’t have to be the best climber to have a good time out on a crag with your friends…I think that’s the attraction of climbing. And of course you can improve and you can test yourself, you can test your physical strength, you can test your mental strength. It tests all those sorts of things in people.

Picture: Rick White a few months before his death. Jane White collection.
Donn Groom
(from the early 1960s)

I’d define myself as a mountaineer more than a rock climber or bushwalker. My whole life has revolved around the outdoors. I suppose, and has me at the point now where I could never contemplate living for too long in any suburban setting, having lived so close to the forest at Binna Burra where at night while you sleep, the whole forest tries to move in with you—or on our boat at night with your ear only inches from the sea swooshing past—or in the Alaskan bush at night scared shitless waiting for a twig to snap in case it’s a brown bear. It’s a bit off-putting for me to sleep in a city and all you hear is police sirens etc at night. I can't stay there for long.

Picture: John Larkin collection.

Ted Cais
(early 1960s to the present)

Improvements in rockclimbing standards mostly result from some creative individual having the appropriate mental desire with reference to achievements of the previous generation. Interestingly, the rules of the previous generation often had to be changed for technical progress. Thus the ethic of the mountaineer “the leader never falls” had to give way for the harder climbs requiring dynamic and committing moves. Then the “clean climbing” ethic of the trad climber was replaced with the redpoint goal of the sport climber on pre-protected routes too steep and sustained for resting and arranging gear. More disturbing, perhaps, is the mainstream popularity of climbing bringing crowds to crags once utterly desolate for us in the 70’s. Such crowding creates a new set of logistical issues including environmental impact, liability and resource management so the times are no longer simple. People can now make a full-time living from climbing (guiding and producing gear, for example) so this commercial angle inevitably creates significant conflict.

Picture: Ted Cais and Greg Sheard on the summit of Tibrogargan after climbing Clemency, 1998. Michael Meadows collection.

Les Wood
(1960s to 1980s)

A lot of it's chicken and egg, isn't it? I don't know where things start—whether you end up being a climber because you've got certain characteristics or whether those characteristics develop because you've been a climber. For me, I've got some ability to stay calm in a stressful situation and I think some of that might be a reflection of just learning how to cope on a cliff. I've had a few cases where things have been really quite hairy. Everybody has. The epic's a part of the game. If you don't keep calm and quiet and work things out as best you can, you're going to come unstuck in a big way. I think some of that's carried over into my life. I think life needs a bit of salt and pepper in it—you can't all be bland; you need things spiced up; something that's going to get the adrenalin going, I suppose. And for me, it was climbing.

Picture: Les Wood collection.

Pat Conaghan
(late 1950s to 1980s)

It must have been the adventure, I guess, I don’t know. I guess I was always a sucker for seeing what was on the other side of the hill or seeing if you could go someplace that looked a bit difficult. I don’t know. I guess we’re all a bit like that…it’s taught me to be more tolerant, more patient about things. And it taught me humility. When you’re climbing, you are often in situations where you’re forced to endure intolerable situations, even life-threatening situations because if the weather changes, for example, you could freeze to death in the next half day or something if things don’t work out. I suppose you become dependent on other people in those situations. And I suppose it’s given me a greater respect for natural history and landscapes.

Picture: On the summit of Tibrogargan after the 1st ascent of Northeast Buttress in 1964. Pat Conaghan collection.

Ron Cox
(late 1950s to 1980s)

I was much attracted by the adventurous aspects of it and the danger, of course. It wasn’t really dangerous but one felt it was dangerous. It just seemed so much more thrilling than doing ordinary bushwalks. We were dissatisfied. Queenslanders are now proud to be Queenslanders but for us, it was the sticks, really, and maybe I’m speaking for myself here but what I was looking for was high mountains without trees on them. What Queensland provided was low mountains covered with trees. People love this now—we’ve got more appreciation of the trees and nature. We didn’t have this at all. I’d read all the mountain books and what I wanted to see was high, craggy mountains with rock and ice and Queensland didn’t have that. The nearest thing to it were the cliff faces.

Picture: Ron Cox in Grenoble in 2000 with the Belledonne Range behind him...the start of the Alps. Michael Meadows collection.

John Comino

Look, I think the thing that it gives you, as you well know, is this beautiful sense of freedom. That’s what it gave me, plus vantage points to take photos.

Picture: John Comino at a training session at Kangaroo Point in the late 1950s. Ron Cox collection.

Hugh Pechey
(1950s and 1960s)

You ask my wife— ‘Not another bloody rock!’ She doesn't usually use the word ‘bloody’, of course. 'I don't know what you see in these rocks!' When I say that I want my ashes scattered on Mount Barney, she just looks at me and shakes her head.

Picture: High Pechey contemplates the south face of Beerwah during a solo ascent in 1954.

Graham Baines

Motivation, satisfaction…getting to the top was satisfying but I realised there’s a shortcoming in that response because, sure there’s an exhilaration in having got there and looking at the grand view and feeling good, but there must have been something more to it. I realised it must have been the problem-solving on the rockface and particularly in the context in those days there weren’t guides. Although there were established routes people could describe to us, we were also sometimes exploring new routes. And it’s as if I came to the conclusion that that must have been an important element in the satisfaction.

Picture: BBW collection.

Neill Lamb
(1st new climbs on Tibrogargan after World War II, 1950s and 1960s)

You’d often be for some time on some tiny little stance and you’d admire the bloody texture of the rocks and the feel of the rock—so there was a definite feeling for the rock.

Picture: Neill Lamb collection.

Marg Kentwell (left)

Earlier on, people went because they knew what they were doing. And then we get all the leisure industry and shops selling everything and anybody and everybody goes out and they don’t know what they’re doing. They get stranded in their boats, they have to be rescued by a helicopter or some rot—there is a difference in attitude there. I won’t say the wrong sort of people are going—everybody’s entitled to go and do whatever—but in the earlier times, people knew more of what they were doing. They were less likely to get into trouble.

Bernice Noonan (right)

We were all experienced in a good sport and we all enjoyed it and unless we all pulled together we weren’t going to get there. I didn’t feel that the men were superior or that there was a difference because of the sexes. I never felt that at all. It might have been there for some people but it never bothered me… When I was 27, I had a cerebral haemorrhage and I was paralysed for a while and that part of my life ceased. The doctors told me, ‘No more sport.’
Picture: Neill Lamb collection.

Alan Frost
(1950s and still climbing)

And I guess when you start doing that [climbing], it never leaves you really, does it? Everything’s just so much more urbanized and pressurized and so on. So many people just don’t get out, really, and don’t get any opportunity to appreciate what it is like not to be living in a concrete jungle…it’s so good to be out on one of these climbs or faces or wherever it might be in great weather, but it’s also good to be there in terrible weather because that’s the mood of the mountain…it gets under your skin and you need to go back again.

Picture: Peter Barnes collection.

Peter Barnes
(late 1940s to the present)

…as one of many animals that are most closely associated and tied up with the environment and dependent on the environment that we live in, I think if we separate ourselves from that environment, we are the loser…I get fairly touchy if I can’t get out into the hills. I don’t spend any time on the beach, I like to get out into the hills, into the rainforest, the waterfalls, the creeks. I like lying back and looking at the stars at night, looking at flowers and birds and animals—if possible, photographing them. I think that’s where I belong.

Picture: Peter Barnes collection.

Russ Kippax
(Co-founder Sydney Rockclimbing Club: late 1940s to 1970s)

Camaraderie was always important all through the bushwalking thing, gatherings for any excuse—birthdays, and we’d cart half a sheep down to Bluegum and have a party. That was a very big part of bushwalking and rockclimbing just continued on in the same way. I think the challenge of being on top—I still look at a mountain now and think I’d like to be up there, even if it’s only a conical hill.