Wednesday, September 28, 2005

East Crookneck free

...almost

Perhaps the piece de la resistance for Les Wood (pictured) during his 1966 sojourn in Queensland was making the first (almost) free ascent of East Crookneck. Swinging leads with Donn Groom, they used some aid on the first pitch and then another aid move to climb the last big overhang on the second pitch. Les Wood continues the story: ‘We found most of it could be climbed free and that the etriers were necessary in one place. Much of the climbing was wide bridging around overhangs and the last pitch was done in very heavy rain.’ Shortly after the climb, Wood teamed up with Ted Cais who led an all-free version of the first pitch. The first free ascent of the climb was made by Greg Sheard and Chris Meadows in June 1968. Crookneck's southwest buttress was another problem that attracted the attention of Les Wood and Ted Cais in 1966. They started a new climb there that would eventually be called Flameout:
My first attempt was in August 1966 with Les Wood but he backed off the second pitch realizing this would probably be the first VS [Very Severe] in Queensland. So I returned in the heat of November with Donn Groom and he passed the overhang that was Les’s previous high point with two points of aid but took a whipper on an upside-down peg—it held—before figuring out the thin moves above. For a while this was indeed the hardest route although John Tillack claimed an equally difficult climb named Medusa on the organ-pipe columns somewhere on Beerwah’s northwest flank.
Donn Groom and Ted Cais were emerging as the strongest and most consistent leaders amongst the cohort of Queensland climbers of the mid-1960s. In July, Groom teamed with long time friend John Larkin to climb Alcheringa on the vertical rhyolite columns of Binna Burra’s east cliffs, again vying for the hardest climb in Queensland. Cais later made the first free ascent, eliminating the few aid moves. Cais played a key role in the last new route climbed by Les Wood during his Queensland stay by solving the tricky first pitch puzzle on Overexposed. Wood and Groom joined forces again to complete the route which offers sensational, exposed climbing through a series of small, shallow caves on the southern edge of the summit overhang on Tibrogargan. In the pre-cam and hex days, there was little protection on the route but modern equipment has helped to make it less psychologically challenging. Nevertheless, the aura surrounding the climb has meant that it is rarely repeated.

Picture: Les Wood-Donn Groom collection.

Seeking Clemency

On his return to Queensland after the Brisbane Rockclimbing Club's Warrumbungles climbing trip in 1966, Les Wood teamed up with Donn Groom again to put up the first route on the high southeast face on Tibrogargan in the Glasshouses. It was classy and clever route-finding through sometimes steep and poorly protected rock. 'Things like that didn't really bother me,' Wood recalls. 'I always felt that I was a very cautious climber. I was climbing within myself. I only ever had one real fall and that wasn't in Queensland. That was because something broke. I always I felt I'd got things covered but I suppose things can become uncovered if you're doing a few things that you can't reverse and you find yourself stuck-but that [climb] seemed OK to me.' The climb was probably the hardest climb in Queensland at the time and up with the most difficult in the country. Wood's diary records the climb having 'a few VS [Very Severe] moves, delicate and a bit technical'. He continues: 'I think I used a piton for aid. I seem to remember in those days people weren't at all touchy about using aid-you'd whip one in without thinking about it. But now they put those bloody bolts all over the place anyway.' They called the climb Clemency after Wood's close friend and climbing partner John Clements who had just been killed in a climbing accident in Scotland.

Picture: Les Wood-Donn Groom collection.
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Out and beyond


In March 1966, Les Wood began his assault on Queensland putting up the climb,Trojan, weaving its way through the summit overhangs on Tibrogargan in the Glasshouses. ‘We went up there and let it unfold,’ Wood recalls. ‘It was just exploring really. I don't even remember if there was a guidebook. I don't remember finding it hard. Quite exhilarating. And I thought, “This has got a bit of class to it.” I don't know why “Trojan”—like something was hiding, maybe?’ Climbing every available weekend, he soon teamed up with Donn Groom and with Brian Driscoll, climbed a new route on Beerwah, calling it Slipknot, after a climb on White Ghyll in the Lake District. A week later he was back on Beerwah to climb Whynot, again with Groom. At Easter, he joined the BRC climbing trip to the Warrumbungles, seeking out the classic, Out and Beyond. ‘It had had only one ascent, classed as hard severe,’ Wood remembers. ‘It has a most impressive first pitch. So I did that but from the end of the traverse I had to retreat because Col Hocking didn't want to second it as he was getting married three weeks later. We did Vertigo and added a final pitch to it. The next day I went back to Out and Beyond with Ted Cais and John Tillack. John was a bit worried. Ted decided not to come. I can't remember why. I remember the route—really nice. I suppose, fairly exposed.’

Picture: Ted Cais collection


A new climbing ethic

In Queensland in 1966, more than 30 new routes went up on crags in southeast Queensland, many of them destined to become classics. It was a combination of the formation of the Brisbane Rockclimbing Club, the emergence of several talented local climbers, and the influence of quietly-spoken English expatriate climber, Les Wood. Linking with local climbers Donn Groom, Ted Cais and John Tillack, Wood’s 12 month stay in Queensland took climbing standards to a new level. But he left behind something far more lasting—an approach to climbing that in many ways transcended the old bushwalking-climbing nexus. He drifted into climbing as a 17-year-old in 1961 at university in Durham, England, when he met John Clements who became a long time friend. Surviving an audacious first season in the Dolomites (‘The Dollies’), Wood later worked and studied in Canada, the United States, doing little climbing, and managed to arrange a 12 month contract as a demonstrator in Geography at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. He arrived via New Zealand almost broke, borrowing five pounds from an uncle there to get him to Brisbane. He managed to find a share house, the Brisbane Rockclimbing Club and Donn Groom:
Donn was then at Binna Burra and seemed to have a perfect life in that he and his brothers had taken over the lodge and they seemed to have two years on and one year off. He was an avid climber and a really nice bloke. We got on very well together and he had a car—I didn't have one in the early days—so we started going to the Glasshouses. I think I'd got a background that was unusual to many of them. I was climbing Hard VSs [Hard Very Severe]—but I was only just into those things. I'd fallen off Vector trying to follow John [Clements]. But I was doing Hard VSs without too much trouble and some big routes like Mickledore Grooves—back in the old days it was a route with a reputation—long runouts and no protection. Climbing before I left England occupied all my life. It wasn't like a sport, it was a way of life more than anything.
It was this ethic that Wood brought with him, instilling it into myriad Queensland climbing generations since. One of the interesting aspects of Queensland climbing culture is that each new wave of climbers seem to have had little knowledge and/or interest in previous generations of climbers. While individuals certainly stand out, for most, climbing history seemed to have more to do with events that happened last year rather than a decade or more before.


Picture: Les Wood collection.


John Ewbank leads out on the 17th pitch of his girdle of the Wirindi cliffline, The Masterpiece. Although in this photograph, taken during the first ascent in March-April 1967, he carries an etrier, it was not used. John Worrall (belaying) and Ewbank swung leads on this climb.

Picture: Donn Groom collection
The times they

were a-changin’


New South Wales climber John Ewbank picked up on a popular Rolling Stones’ hit of the time and penned an article on climbing ethics for Thrutch entitled, ‘Here comes your 19th breaking runner’. Perhaps it was a clue as to the career change Ewbank would take on with gusto within a decade. But he had plenty to write about in 1966—he had just put up the hardest climb in the country at Mt Piddington in the Blue Mountains, a single pitch route called The Janicepts. He used jamming techniques to climb it—an approach virtually unknown in Australia at the time. Although climbers had used jamming moves on routes in Australia before this, no-one had applied the technique in such a sustained way. Most climbing relied on using existing hand and foot holds—jamming moved climbing technique into a new zone and Ewbank quickly became the unrivalled master although he revelled equally on the steep walls of the Blue Mountains. He is pictured (above) making the first ascent of the direct finish to The Eternity, at Wirindi in February 1967. But his activity was not confined to sandstone—in the December heat in the Warrumbungles that year (1966), climbing with partner John Worrall, he made the first ascent of The Crucifixion, a steep, 250 metre line to the right of Lieben on the west face of Crater Bluff.

Victorian milestones

In Victoria at this time, climbers began to use reamed-out nuts threaded with rope slings as protective devices as new routes multiplied on the cliffs of the recently-discovered Mt Arapiles. Two significant climbs done this year included the classics, Eurydice and Watchtower Crack, led by Bob Bull and John Fahey respectively. This was the year that a new wave in Victoria was champing at the bit and names like Chris Dewhirst, John Moore, Chris Baxter, the Gledhill twins—Alan and Geoff—and later, Roland Pauligk (creator and manufacturer of the famed RPs) were starting to appear on new route descriptions. They would dominate Victorian climbing for years. But all the activity in Victoria was not at Mt Arapiles—in February 1966, Ian Speedie, Mike Stone, Ted Batty, and Reg Williams made the first ascent of the huge granite north wall of Mt Buffalo, calling the climb, Emperor. Six months later, Dewhirst, Moore, Philip Seccombe and Philip Guild spent three days on the Mt Buffalo north wall, climbing Fuhrer.

Picture: Donn Groom collection.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


The Brisbane Rockclimbing Club


The third incarnation of climbing club in Queensland—the Brisbane Rockclimbing Club (BRC)—was formed on 1 September 1965. Instigated by Donn Groom, it attracted members from four southeast Queensland bushwalking clubs—BBW, UQBWC, Binna Burra Bushwalking Club and the YMCA Ramblers. It represented a significant shift in emphasis from previous associations in that rockclimbing was identified as the main activity—not bushwalking or mountaineering. The objects of the club were simple: ‘To rockclimb and instruct interested people in rockclimbing; and to abide by and assist in maintaining conservation laws and create interest and preservation of natural beauty and wild life.’ To this point in Queensland’s climbing history, virtually everyone who became involved in rockclimbing had also been interested, even in a peripheral way, in bushwalking—the two activities were closely linked. The new club was ‘open to either sex’ with four membership levels: probationary, members, leaders, and instructors, determined ‘at the discretion of the committee’. Meetings were held once a month and instructional weekends were planned for probationary members. Climbers were urged to provide details of all new climbs to an Archives Custodian. At the first meeting, there was a display of some of the equipment being used by climbers for the benefit of new members and the annual subscription was set at one pound ($2.00). Hugh Pechey was elected President; John Tillack was Vice-president and membership officer; Col Hocking the Secretary; Dennis Stocks, Archives custodian and outings secretary; and Treasurer was Bill Walker. At the second meeting on 6 October 1965, Pat Conaghan gave a talk and showed some of his climbing slides and a film from the Sydney Rockclimbing Club of the first ascent of Ball’s Pyramid was screened. Members were encouraged to subscribe to the Sydney Rockclimbing magazine, Thrutch. The open invitation to new members in the first club circular read as follows: ‘If you are interested in rockclimbing then we extend an invitation to you. If your climbing standard is low we shall endeavour to help you; if it is high, you may be able to help us. All members are not expected to be “superhuman rockclimbers”—we hope to cater for all tastes. WE DO NOT WISH OUR MEMBERS TO BE THE BEST IN AUSTRALIA—MERELY THE OLDEST.’

Picture: Hugh Pechey collection.




Donn Groom (pictured) was a key influence on climbing in Queensland and Tasmania the 1960s and 70s. His father Arthur Groom became the first honorary secretary of the National Parks Association of Queensland in 1930 and was active in the promotion of national parks and environmental protection until his death in 1953. With Romeo Lahey, Arthur Groom established Binna Burra Lodge, on the edge of the Lamington National Park, in southeast Queensland, in 1933. Arthur was known for his extraordinary ability to walk long distances and his sense of humour-in many ways the equivalent of Yosemite's John Muir. Donn lists his father as a key influence in his life. Arthur Groom's photographs and articles featuring the wilderness of southeast Queensland filled the pages of the early Queensland press from the late 1920s. He played a central role in forming ideas of wilderness and conservation the minds of members of the public, many of whom would never visit the regions he immortalised in his wonderful photographs and stories. Donn describes him as 'a mountaineer and an explorer'. He was a great influence on his son's life and his desire to climb.

Picture: John Larkin collection.
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Wednesday, September 21, 2005



Northeast Buttress on Tibrogargan in the Glasshouses, north of Brisbane. The route followed by Pat Conaghan and Grahame Hardy in 1964. At the time, it was the longest climb on the mountain.

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Tibrogargan's

Northeast Buttress


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.

Arapiles awakens

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.



The Southern Alps of New Zealand

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.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Mt Geryon: 1st winter ascent, 1960


Ron Cox had emerged as a dominant figure in the Queensland (and Australian) climbing scene and always saw his activities as part of a bigger picture. In August 1960, he set off with Pat Conaghan, Peter Reimann and Basil Yule to attempt the first winter ascent of Mt Geryon in Tasmania’s Central Reserve. It was a bold move and Cox’s laconic style captures the essence of how they came to be there:

They’d never climbed snow before. Their only knowledge of the art came from text-books…They started up the face, climbing on high angle snow, kicking steps and using their axes as an aid to balance. For safety’s sake, they belayed as in rock climbing, except that their belay anchors were axe shafts driven deep in the snow. As they climbed, they learned.

The team split up with Reimann and Yule completing the first winter circuit of the Ducane Range from the Labyrinth to Falling Mountain. Cox and Conaghan decided on an audacious attempt to traverse Geryon’s four peaks from north to south. No one had done this before, even in summer. They climbed Geryon’s North Peak again, bivouacking in a snow cave near the summit. But the weather closed in, as Cox writes:

The thick mist and freezing conditions, added to the immense technical difficulties of this winter climb, were more than enough to scare the usually optimistic duo into retreat. Descending the mountain, they narrowly averted disaster when Cox, climbing down a steep couloir of snow and ice too quickly and too carelessly, slipped and fell 150 feet. Conaghan held him on an ice axe belay. Had the belay gone, they would have fallen over a thousand feet down the western face.

Their first experience on snow and ice did nothing but whet their appetite. Although they failed to traverse the mountain, they had made the first winter ascent of Geryon’s North Peak—climbing it twice. Later that year, they made the first full ascent of the Bowie Ridge on Mt Cook with Cox making the summit of New Zealand’s highest peak twice in his first season. It was an extraordinary transformation. Cox and Conaghan returned to Geryon in the sweltering summer of 1961 to make the first traverse of all of Geryon’s peaks. Within four years, Cox and Reiman would be climbing in the Alps, Cox moving to Grenoble in France to work. He is still living there today, now retired. Conaghan has since travelled the world, visiting various remote regions in his capacity as a geologist. Hardy, too, felt the call of the bigger mountains and eventually went on to climb in the Himalayas, the Andes, Canada, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia and Africa with his wife, Margaret. ‘On my first climb,’ Hardy recalls, ‘I knew it was what I wanted to do.’ It was an extraordinary era, defined by an extraordinary cohort of adventurers, all emerging from the University of Queensland Bushwalking Club.

Picture: (from left) Peter Reimann, Basil Yule and Ron Cox in Tasmania, 1960. Pat Conaghan collection.



A long abseil

Over Easter 1960, Ron Cox, Grahame Hardy and Basil Yule made the first descent of the 350 metre East Face of Mt Barney, following the line of the chimney splitting the face (pictured). Carrying every bit of rope and ironmongery they could muster, they had descended three pitches without incident when, with the light fading fast, Hardy abseiled over the edge in search of a bivvy ledge. Cox captured the mood in his diary: 'Fourth abseil off tree. Hardy led. Darkness and mist arrive together (7 hours so far). Hardy lets out agonising scream from the darkness below causing Cox and Basil to nearly have kittens. Turns out Hardy has come off diagonal abseil and hit head on rock. But for crash helmet, and fact that head is extraordinarily solid, would no doubt have been knocked unconscious.' They managed to find a small ledge but with light from a full moon soon spilling across the face, they decided to continue their descent, reaching the base of the vertical wall about 1.00 am. At dawn, they skirted the foot of the wall, finding a trickle of water and their first for 24 hours. It was typical of Ron Cox's adventures in southeast Queensland which commonly seemed to become epics.

Picture: Michael Meadows collection. Posted by Picasa
The 1st ascent of East Crookneck

Ron Cox began his epic on a biting, cold winter’s day in June 1959. With Pat Conaghan belaying, he slowly and carefully put into practice double rope and etrier techniques they had read about in books. Using homemade pitons, he managed to climb just 10 metres the first weekend. On the next attempt he reached the first stance, 20 metres above the base. And so it continued for the next three months until Cox decided that a team of three strong climbers would be needed to complete the route in one single push. He asked John Comino to join Conaghan (pictured left) and himself and on 18 September 1959, the three sorted out their gear at the base of the climb. Three hours after starting up the climb, Cox had reached the Eagle’s Eyrie—the second stance. They had decided to bivouac here but it soon became clear that there was room for only two. As Cox and Comino settled in for the night 50 metres above, Conaghan nestled into a cave at the base of the climb directly below, sheltering from the heavy rain squalls that swept across the mountain during the night. It was a late start next day and the three eventually scrambled onto the summit in darkness. Their entry in the log book read: ‘First ascent East Crookneck—8th attempt—40 pitons, 7 wooden wedges—last man up at 8.30 pm.’ The homemade wooden wedges and pitons Cox had placed deep in the crack remained there for years, protected from the weather by the overhangs. It was the steepest and most difficult climb in Queensland, albeit employing liberal use of aid. Ironically, it reflected the siege tactics that had already begun to emerge on the big walls in Yosemite, as well as offering a prescient glimpse of tactics now de rigueur for the hardest new routes, particularly in sport climbing. It marked the beginning of a new era in Australian climbing, not only for the way in which it was climbed, but for the vision it represented. It was the first sustained use of double rope and aid techniques in Queensland—probably Australia—literally learned from books. Cox and his cohort were interested in the existing climbing routes, but they were more concerned with what lay beyond. From the beginning, it was clear that Cox was drawn more towards mountaineering than rockclimbing and within 12 months of his success on East Crookneck, he was testing these skills—again based on what he had read.

Picture: Ron Cox collection.

Pushing the limits

As Cliff Richard and the Shadows burst upon the popular music scene, university physics student Ron Cox launched a three-month siege on a spectacular crack on the imposing east face of Crookneck in the Glasshouses. In doing so, perhaps inadvertently, he set up a template for the development of the next stage of modern Queensland rockclimbing. Formed in a huge rockfall in 1893, East Crookneck is perhaps the most attractive and purest line of any climb in Queensland. It starts from the base of the mountain, weaving through a series of balancing, truncated trachyte columns to the first stance, nestled at the base of a deep, overhanging chimney. The route continues up, with wide bridging moves needed to negate the effect of the relentless overhangs. A final bell-shaped overhang demands a series of delicate, exposed, balance moves to reach the safety of the second stance. A stone dropped from this point lands about three metres out from the base. Climbers in the early 1950s had nicknamed this stance the Eagles Eyrie and had abseiled down to it—and climbed up from it—several times during their early exploration of the route. From the Eagles Eyrie, a short, easier pitch leads to the shoulder below the summit. Every climber in Queensland had mentally climbed the route but none had actually done it. Bob Waring and Jim Gadaloff had first abseiled down the 70 metre face in October 1950
(pictured above). John Comino had made a half-hearted attempt at climbing the first pitch around 1954 and had earlier abseiled down to the Eagles Eyrie. But the full route—particularly the savagely overhanging middle pitch—had never been climbed. Perhaps that was the challenge Ron Cox needed.

Picture: Bob Waring collection.
First Australian at the South Pole

While his former climbing partners grappled with the heat of a 1956 Queensland summer, Jon Stephenson (pictured) was about to start the journey of a lifetime. He had left for Antarctica from London in November that year, three days after finishing his PhD thesis on the geology of Mt Barney. In December 1957, he set out with colleague Ken Blaiklock to cross Antarctica with a dog team. They reached the South Pole on 19 January 1958.
On his return from Antarctica, Stephenson then led
a 3-month expedition in 1960 to the Karakoram in Pakistan. After having collected a range of scientific data, Stephenson contemplated a possible attempt on K12 (7428m). He was awestruck by the surrounds as he explained in a letter to Bert Salmon: ‘This is quite fantastic country and surely the most thrilling in the world. Never have I dreamt of such magnificence on such a scale—it is astounding. Granite rock with spires and needles to rival Chamonix.’ The party set up Camp II and began searching for a route up the ridge, finding a crevasse barring their way—40 metres wide and 30 metres deep. Another Queensland climber on the expedition, Keith Miller, described the scene:

The chasm was spectacular. Never in my life have I seen such a place. Often it was necessary to climb between great slabs of ice as though pot-holing. The skyline silhouetted giant icicles 20 ft. long some 100 ft. above one’s head, just waiting to drop off. Twenty minutes down there was enough to find an escape route out up to the other side and many prayers were offered.

The wind raged for the next three days and they were tentbound. They deciding to retreat to base camp but first, Miller and Stephenson would ‘have a quick look at the ridge and try to reach the summit’. Miller continues:

What an abortive attempt we made. Within five minutes of leaving camp we were swallowed up in cloud. Then came a white-out in which it was impossible to discern the demarcation between ground and atmospheres. At this time we were advancing along a steep ridge when suddenly Stephenson walked over the edge and simultaneously I went through an ice hole. When we extracted ourselves we quickly descended to camp to be greeted by, “That was a quick excursion to the top!”

On the descent, Miller was struck by a block of falling ice and required hospitalization. Stephenson and a porter were the only ones fit enough to make one last summit attempt. But shortly before they were due to leave their high camp, the porter, too, fell ill. Stephenson decided to climb on alone:

The view was just extraordinary—and it kept getting better as you got higher. I couldn’t believe it. You just started to see further and further—you could see that horizon wasn’t flat, it was curved. And there was K2 and the other high peaks I could recognise…I got as far as I could and I sensed that I was going more and more slowly. You get to the point where I was counting my steps and I could only do 20 steps and then I’d have to rest. I could see how far I had to go and I judged that I’d be on the summit at five o’clock that night. In the end I took a round of photographs and had no difficulty in saying, “OK, it’s time to turn around.”

Jon Stephenson had reached 7000 metres—the highest point reached at that time by an Australian without supplementary oxygen. It was a record that would stand for many years. An American team on the summit of Masherbrum (7821m) that day for the first time could almost have waved at him. It was the 6 July 1960. Stephenson subsequently returned to Australia as Professor of Geology at James Cook University and spent years climbing and walking on Hinchinbrook Island in the 1980s and 1990s. He climbed Logan’s Ridge on Mt Barney in 2002, aged 71.

Picture: John Comino collection.

The modern Australian climber, circa 1958

By the mid to late 1950s, climbing down under had become ‘an exhilarating and exciting pastime’, according to the magazine Australian Outdoors. One article described ‘the modern Australian climber’ in these terms:

Climbing is a young man’s game and you will find few climbers over 26. The average age seems to be from 16 to 22 but there are exceptions of course. You start by combining bushwalking with rockclimbing and after 26 you grow out of climbing and stick to bushwalking and mountaineering. Basically, the rock climber’s attitude is somewhat immature; it is a search for danger and glory. It is for the excitement of risking your life on a cliff face and the immeasurable self-satisfaction you feel when you reach a point where above you there is only the sky. Above all, rock climbing is character forming. It develops both individuality and mateship, it pits your physical endurance to the highest test, it makes you feel the utter smallness of man in the face of raw nature and makes you humble. It is the best school your son can attend.

The writer seemed oblivious of the presence or achievements of female climbers in the pantheon of Australia’s climbing history—Freda du Faur, Marie Byles, Dot English, Jean Easton, Muriel Patten—not to mention the international achievements by climbers like Elizabeth Le Blond, Annie Peck, Miriam Underhill, Claude Kogan and Gwen Moffat. But it reflected the postwar domination of male membership of climbing clubs in Australia. Whereas in Queensland, at least, women and men climbed in roughly equal numbers before World War II, from the late 1940s, climbing in Australia had become a noticeably male domain. It would half a century before women would return to climbing in numbers equivalent to those active in the 1930s.

Rumblings and the Rhum Dhu

Formation of the Rhum Dhu group within the Sydney Rockclimbing Club (SRC) in 1958 shook the foundations of the New South Wales climbing and bushwalking establishment. Frustrated with the slow pace of the development of climbing—a national trend at the time—Rhum Dhu was formed by disgruntled climbers with three simple aims: disbanding all forms of organization; drinking; and the opening of new climbing areas. The move almost split the SRC but the dissenters were instrumental in opening up new climbing areas like Medlow Bath, Cahill’s Lookout (the Rhum Dhu area), and Sublime Point. Both directly and indirectly, Rhum Dhu influenced the imposition of a six month moratorium on climbing on existing crags to encourage the search for new routes. In these early years of climbing in New South Wales, there were four accidents and two deaths. This was around the time that climbing began in Western Australian where small, scattered groups of enthusiasts began to explore and climb the crags in the southern half of the state.


Geoff Goadby (left) and Alan Frost inside the amazing Shell Rock on the western shoulder of Beerwah, in the Glasshouse Mountains, following their second ascent with Peter Barnes of the West Chimney route, 20 October 1956, a month or so after Alan Frost's first ascent of the route with Dave MacGibbon.

Picture: Peter Barnes collection. Posted by Picasa
The West Beerwah chimney

Bert Salmon had discovered a huge hollow boulder, perched precariously above Beerwah’s western cliffs in the Glasshouses in the 1930s. He had called it Shell Rock and it had been a popular destination for him and his cohort before World War II. Jon Stephenson ‘re-discovered’ it around 1949 with Clarrie Bell who called it ‘Draper’s Sanctuary’ after he found the name ‘Draper’ carved on the rock inside the cave. It became a popular destination again with the early 1950s climbers. All visits to Shell Rock had been from above: a 150 metre climb or abseil down from the western shoulder of Beerwah. And everyone who climbed around inside the huge shell would have peered down the steep chimney leading up into it from below. Peter Barnes (pictured) recalls: ‘We used to regard it for many, many years as Johnno’s Chimney—Johnno Comino—because he’d been looking at it and wanting to do it for many years and just had never got down to it.’ The climb up West Beerwah starts from the bottom of the western cliffs and meanders for two or three rope lengths over easy rock and through low scrub to where the slope steepens. Two more pitches and you are in a huge chimney that splits the headwall leading to the western shoulder. The next pitch is a steep 50 metre struggle over an awkward bulge, then up a series of cracks, mostly filled with dirt and small trees, reaching the sanctuary of the amazing Shell Rock. The climb to the western shoulder is up a clean 10 metre corner, followed by scrub-bashing to the top. Another who had peered down the exit chimney from the safety of Shell Rock was Alan Frost—and he decided to do something about it. Alan Frost and Peter Barnes were two extraordinarily fit young climbers who blitzed their way around the crags in the southeast since they began climbing at Kangaroo Point in the early 1950s. For some reason, Frost ended up making the first ascent of the route with a relatively inexperienced Dave MacGibbon. Barnes recalls the time, too:

I don’t know how it happened—but he teamed up with David MacGibbon who later became Senator MacGibbon. MacGibbon didn’t do much climbing but liked the thought of climbing. I’d taken him up south Crooky, north Crooky, Minto Crags. I didn’t know he’d done any more climbing than that but the next thing I heard was that he and Alan Frost had done the west chimney of Beerwah and David MacGibbon with him. Alan Frost said it was the most frightening experience of his life so he reckoned it should be done properly. So the boys better go and give it another nudge. He and I and Geoff Goadby screamed up there one day and had a great time.

Both Alan Frost and Peter Barnes are still actively walking and climbing in southeast Queensland and beyond.

Picture: Peter Barnes collection.


Buildings and bridges

From the late 1920s, climbing cultures had emerged in Queensland and New South Wales, but even back then, not all the activity was directed at local crags. Climbers’ attention turned to other obvious challenges—buildings and bridges—and night ascents of various structures around Brisbane and Sydney were commonplace. Climbers here were doing no more than following a long-established international tradition.

The 'Queensland mountaineer'

In 1935, climber-journalist Nora Dimes was a regular contributor to local newspapers, describing climbing activity and local climbers. In one article, she described the ‘Queensland mountaineer’:

He is one whose soul is blent of heights and depths, and in extreme cases his admiration of the tallest and newest buildings in town is confined to the possible hand or footholds on the fa├žade.

Post-war climbers are no different and virtually every major climbable building in the country has fallen, usually under cover of darkness. Brisbane climber Neill Lamb recalls enthusiastic support from ‘accomplices’ Bernice Noonan and Margaret Hammond in the 1950s:

I remember we used to go out and climb the Story Bridge—we’d shoot up after dark. And one day we’d made our own flag and we’d called ourselves The Abominables and so we had this flag sewn up—this great big Abominable Snowman—and we had a lot of fun. We climbed up the bridge and we had a bottle of champagne and we sat on top and put the bloody flag up on the flagpole. Of course, we were all back there next morning at first light to see if the flag was still there.

Another young Brisbane climber, Graham Baines, once spent two days hitch-hiking to Sydney in the mid-1950s specially to climb the Harbour Bridge. He was caught and questioned by police but let off with a warning. He even compiled a 1950s climbing guide to Brisbane’s bridges—including five different routes on the Story Bridge. Amongst his ‘conquests’ were the Glen Innes Town Hall and the Brisbane GPO Clock Tower. He once planned to abseil down the side of the Brisbane City Hall Tower, sticking large footprints on the side as he went. He hid in the bell tower one night with 60 metres of rope wound around his body, under his clothing, but at the last minute, had a change of heart, and gave himself up to the cleaners next morning. The tradition of climbing almost any upright object has continued with Brisbane’s Story Bridge (pictured) and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, in particular, having had hundreds of ascents by climbers—always at night to avoid unnecessary attention—and long before either destination became a destination for guided tours.

Politics and police

In the mid-1960s, one of the most popular movies doing the rounds of Australian climbing clubs was a film of top French Alpinists Gaston Rebuffat and Rene Desmaison climbing the Eiffel Tower with gendarmes in hot pursuit! Back in Brisbane in 1968 and 1969, several large politically-inspired signs mysteriously appeared on the sheer face of the MMI Building, at that time, the tallest in Brisbane. It required some ingenuity to devise a belay for Greg Sheard as he gingerly traversed out across a vertical face on small, friable holds to place them. We used a length of wood, cut so we could wedge it in a chimney that runs up beside the face. One of the signs declared ‘QLD—Joh’s police state’, a reference to the then Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen and his government’s draconian laws prohibiting public assembly. As it turned out, that particular sign was placed directly opposite the windows of a popular commercial radio station and although its presence was discussed openly on air, the content of the sign remained a mystery to listeners, such was the paranoia that existed in the Sunshine State at that time. Another popular climbing destination was a church tower at Toowong before the challenge of climbing as many buildings in Brisbane as possible—again at night—took over. There were some close calls with police and security guards but no-one was ever arrested. During the 1980s and 1990s, police scrutiny of climbing activities around the city has increased and several local climbers have been arrested and fined for trespass following various activities on the city’s bridges. But the challenge remains.

Picture: Hugh Pechey collection.

Monday, September 19, 2005


Reptile

Climber Mike Woodrow on the first pitch of the steep, spectacular route, Reptile, on the Funnel in The Steamers shortly after the first ascent by Bill Peascod, Donn Groom and Neill Lamb in 1956. They named it following 'an incident with a goanna'. The creative route entails climbing 30 metres up a steep rhyolite wall before squeezing through a hole, to be confronted by a steep vertical wall (pictured) with a 50 metre drop below. On the first ascent, their abseil ropes jammed and it took Lamb two days to eventually free them.

Picture: Neill Lamb collection.Posted by Picasa

The 1st ascent of Boonoo Boonoo Falls

By 1956, climbing was expanding around Australia with activity in Bungonia Gorge, the Wolgan and Capertee Valleys, Lithgow, Frenchman’s Cap, Federation Peak, and the Glasshouses. Kippax returned to the Breadknife in the Warrumbungles climbing the North Arete with Dave Rootes, Jeff Field and Peter Harvey. That year, the first traverse of The Breadknife was done. Further north, Bill Peascod joined with local climbers Donn Groom, Neill Lamb and L Upfold to put up two new routes on the big south face of Beerwah in the Glasshouses—Pilgrim’s Progress and Mopoke Slabs. While Peascod’s influence on local climbing culture in Queensland was clear, several strong local climbers had emerged. Neill Lamb joined with Julie Henry and Frank Theos, starting the year by climbing the 180 metre high Boonoo Boonoo Falls—calling it the Belvedere Route. Lamb recalls the experience:

I remember when we climbed up the side of Boonoo Boonoo Falls, which had never been done, we just did that on the spur of the moment. It wasn’t a hard climb. The waterfall was thundering down one side of you and the holds were just there and the situation was just magnificant. You’re just there in some of these positions and the goose pimples come out…

The 1st ascent of Prometheus II

Neill Lamb, 19, and Graham Baines, 18, joined up with Julie Henry, 38, Bill Peascod, 36, and his young son, Allan to climb an exposed new route on the east face of Tibrogargan, across the top of Cave Four. Baines was climbing last, this time, and recalls events when he reached a stance below a corner above the cave:

I had a clear view of Neill on the wall above, grappling with almost non-existent holds, his toenails curled over and clinging to rugosities on the rock face. He drove in a piton, to which he attached a carabiner to serve as a running belay. This gave him a slight feeling of security but he still could not progress and returned to the stance where Bill was belaying him. Bill moved out across the face to have a go at it. He had the same trouble as Neill and after a long battle, he, too, returned to the belay stance where he rested and thought things over. As yet undefeated, Bill gave it another go and, after poising precariously on the skyline for about ten minutes, he traversed to the left and disappeared from view. The rope moved forward spasmodically and we knew that he was getting somewhere. We heard a piton being driven in. Then a shout. Bill had mastered the pitch.

Lamb followed and it was clear that Peascod’s son, Allan, would not be able to climb it so Peascod lowered some ropes and slings and the young boy was trussed up in a bosun’s chair and literally hauled up the pitch. Julie Henry was next and she soon ran into trouble and was ‘winched’ from above by Lamb and Peascod.

Picture: Neill Lamb on the 1st ascent of Boonoo Boonoo Falls, 1956. Neill Lamb collection.

A leap of Faith

In 1955 in Queensland, Bill Peascod played a key role in influencing a new approach to climbing. Some called it 'a new ethos', seeing climbing as being in tune with the environment rather than seeing it in terms of 'conquering'. Peascod inspired a teenage Neill Lamb to seek out new routes where few had been before and they climbed a new route on the east face of Tibrogargan, calling it Faith. The route started to the left of Caves Route and picked its way up through a series of overhangs. The first attempt by Lamb, Peascod, Hugh Pechey and Julie Henry, early in the year, turned into an epic, with the trio benighted and having to abseil off in the dark. On 21 May, they returned and completed the climb.

Picture: Bill Peascod on the first ascent, Neill Lamb collection.


Bill Peascod addressing a climbing training session at Kangaroo Point in Brisbane, 1955, with an impressive array of carabiners and pitons.

Picture: Neill Lamb collection.Posted by Picasa
The Tigers' rule

Bill Peascod emigrated to Australia in 1952 but climbing was far from his mind at the time. From 1938, he had put up numerous new routes in the Lake District with partner Bill Beck. His most famous route is Eagle Front, ‘500 feet of exploration up and across and again up the face of the biggest mountain cliff in England’. Peascod considered himself and a contemporary, one of a new breed of British climber, not drawn from the middle classes. He recalled: ‘I had come onto the scene before [Joe] Brown and the Rock and Ice, remember. [Jim] Birkett and I—the quarryman and the miner—we were the first of the working class climbers.’ In those days, it was virtually impossible to make a living from climbing and disillusioned with the bleak future ahead of him in England, Peascod emigrated. He would spend 28 years in Australia, developing his skills as an artist. Peascod was from the school of climbing where any form of belaying was unreliable. He and his generation operated on a simple principle known as the Tiger’s Rule: ‘The rule was simple. Never fall off and I never did; well, hardly ever did,’ he recalled when in his early 60s. By then—1982—he felt climbing had become ‘sort of pasteurised’.

The Warrumbungles

Within two years of his arrival in Australia, Peascod’s passion for climbing re-surfaced. He started a rockclimbing group in Woollongong around 1954, using cliffs at Bulli, and he heard about the Sydney Rockclimbing Club. Sydney Rockclimbing Club co-founder Russ Kippax recalls he had just returned from 12 months’ climbing in New Zealand:
Somehow I got in contact with Bill Peascod or he got in contact with me—I forget now how exactly that happened. I’d heard about the Warrumbungles and suggested that we go and have a climb there. We spent a week up there; knocked off all the climbs. Well, Dark and his crowd had already been onto Split Rock [Crater Bluff], of course, but we put up two climbs on that, one of which is now totally forgotten and the other is almost forgotten, although I believe they’re now
repeating it, so that’s quite good. And of course, the Breadknife was totally unclaimed at that time and a couple of other climbs roundabout we tried and a few we failed on. We had a good week; it was a marvellous week.

One of the first climbs they tried was on Tonduron: up the nose and without protection—it was doomed. Kippax continues: ‘Bill was leading and he said: “Well at the moment I’m standing on an inverted pyramid of rocks, loose rocks, clutching onto a clump of grass, my left foot is waving in the air and my right hand is thrutching around—I’m coming down.”’ They eventually climbed a corner to the top and then moved across to Crater Bluff, making an attempt on what is known today as Cornerstone Rib:
We tried to get up this rib but we couldn’t get any pro; we couldn’t make a belay so we came down and went up over here which is now called Vintage Rib. Fairly early in the piece, Bill said, “I’m a crack and chimney man and by looking at you, you’re a wall man,” which I was, so he took all the cracks and chimneys—in some of them you could just lift out the handholds—and I took the walls.

Following their success on Crater Bluff in August, they returned the following month and turned their attention to The Breadknife, as yet unclimbed. Peascod led the first pitch, belayed Kippax to the first stance and he led through to the top—making the first ascent of the South Arete. Peascod climbed with his own makeshift harness—a single strand of rope around his waist linked by a carabiner to a shoulder loop. He always wore a trademark white floppy washing hat. Peascod brought with him a rarity in Australia at that time—a pair of Pierre Allain friction boots or PAs. On one particularly sodden ascent he made in England in 1942, Peascod famously took off his socks and put them on over his boots to negotiate some slippery rock—possibly the first use of that technique in postwar England. After his Warrumbungles’ experience with Peascod, Kippax drifted away from rockclimbing and into caving, returning to the crags in the early 1960s.

Picture: Bill Peascod on 1st ascent of the Breadknife. Russ Kippax collection.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


Climbing with 'the spiritual father'

The following edited account was published in the Italian Alpine Club journal, Lo Scarpone, in 1953. It is written by the former Italian Consul in Brisbane, Felice Benuzzi, a climber and author, who here describes his climbs in the Glasshouses with Bert Salmon in 1950. The translantion is by Dr Claire Kennedy of Griffith University.

Sea travellers who leave Brisbane with its flowering gardens, and Moreton Bay, infested with sharks, and turn north once at sea will see rising out of the mainland on the left a series of 10 very strange peaks, each one separate from the other. Captain Cook, who was the first European to see them about 200 years ago, called them the Glass House Mountains because they brought to his mind the outlines of glass houses in Yorkshire. I have never visited the glass factories in Yorkshire and I don’t know why they have such a curious form. These peaks that burst into the sky from the plain—one here, one there, as if by a very peculiar caprice on nature’s part—are different in form and height but none is higher than 500 metres. Beerwah, the highest and the easiest, has a pyramid shape with a rounded-off peak like a kind of crooked beret and vaguely resembles the Antelao.

‘Pity’, says Bertie, ‘that it’s not 2000 metres higher. What a beautiful mountain we would have close to the city. And up there, wouldn’t a little glacier be at home?’

‘I agree’, I answer, ‘but what would the pineapple growers have to say about having a glacier flowing under their feet. They’d have to change their trade.’

As the car travels along the road through a monotonous forest of eucalypts, we can see the other peaks. The nearest one is Tibrogargan—massive and round with red-brown rock in the first rays of the Spring sunshine. And further on, the absurd Coonowrin or Crookneck, that rises up from a conical base to look like the bell tower in the Campanile di Val Montanaia in the Dolomites. Bertie knows all these mountains like his own pockets. He’s been coming here for 30 years, off and on, in good weather and bad, and has explored all the faces. He’s bivouacked under the sheer cliffs and has taken up hundreds of young climbers in south Queensland who see him as an expert and lovable guide—a kind of spiritual father.

‘How is it,’ he said to me when I met him, ‘that you’ve been in Brisbane for almost a year and with your passion for mountains you haven’t yet been on the Glass House Mountains?’

‘I was waiting to go there with Bertie Salmon,’ I replied. ‘And now here we are.’

[…]

We arrive at the face of the virgin east wall of Crookneck that from close-up, looks like the petrified spray of a giant fountain. The layers fanning out reinfoirce this impression. It’s not stuff for our teeth—at least not today. The shadows are longer when we start climbing the usual route from the south. Spiny bushes sting our hands and the rock is crumbly. Bertie suggests a more interesting and direct variant where I realise very quickly that I am out of condition. The last time I touched rock was a year and a half ago at the rockclimbing school at Fountainbleu. ‘Damn old age!’ I stammer in Italian. In anger, I throw away into the empty air the holds that come off in my hand one by one. Bertie laughs and I have to draw on all of my national pride to keep up with the agile and thin Australian 50-year-old. The wall of the so-called variant is no higher than 25 metres and soon we are again on the usual route that takes us easily to the crest, free of vegetation, and onto the summit marked by a trigonometric structure visible from below.

The sun setting in a cloudless sky illuminates an enchanted panorama of nearby peaks with their strange Aboriginal names with meanings unknown even to Bertie—Tibrogargan, Beerwah, Ngungun, Tunbubudula Twins, Ewan, Miketeebumulgrai. Who knows? Maybe the Aborigines had legends and traditions linked to these mountains? But who would know them? They stand on a vast plain, covered by dense forest, interrupted here and there by cultivations of pineapples and the distant Pacific, now the colour of lead. Bertie extracts the summit log book from its cover and passes it to me. I open it curiously. What do these mountains say to those who were born and who grew up in this land?

On the first page there’s a memoir of the first climber, Henry Mikalsen in 1910, and a newspaper cutting of the time that describes that victory, that climb, in ingenuous and picturesque words. In the following pages I find the signature of my companion at least 20 times. Many are nocturnal ascents by the light of the moon via the usual route from the south; not many climbs from the west; and those from the north you can count on one hand. At least there are not those political references that abound in our summit log books and refuge books. There’s no ‘viva o morte’ [‘long live…’ or ‘death to…’]. Blessed Australia! But the usual stupidities confirm for me that humanity in the antipodes is not so different from those in the Alps or the Apennines. ‘We are the three musketeers’, write three young people. ‘If you want trouble, come to us!’ And their signatures and addresses follow. Two young immigrants apologise if they’re not yet able to express themselves in English and describe their enthusiasm in moving tones of German. No Italian names.

The sun is close to setting as we descend by the north face. Here, according to the summit log book, a solitary climber, thinking he was grasping a piece of jutting rock, instead grabbed the tail of a carpet snake—not a poisonous snake, fortunately, but eight feet long. Only at one point it is a bit delicate and we have to use the rope and after a brief but enjoyable climb we are at the base. The forest is quieter than ever now. The sky has become the purest colour of apricot. From a farm we can hear a woman singing as coming from another world. When we get to the car, in the infinitely clear night sky, the Milky Way blazes like the whoosh of a cold flame.


Alan Frost, Jon Stephenson, Geoff Goadby and Peter Barnes: 1st ascent of Glennies Pulpit in the Fassifern valley, 1954.

The climb was to farewell Stephenson who left to study in London a short time later. Peter Barnes, Geoff Goadby and Jon Stephenson established the first regular climbing routes on the lower cliff at Kangaroo Point in the area around the present day Cox’s Buttress. This core group of climbers were passionate about climbing and their experiences on the peaks of southeast Queensland. It was nothing for them to drop everything and jump on a motorbike and head out to the crags, almost regardless of the time. This extract from Peter Barnes’ diary captures something of the climbing culture that drew these young adventurers together:

Being a most glorious night and a full moon, Peter Marendy and I decided to ‘do’ Crooky. Just before we left at 8 pm, Tom Waters (who had never before had climbed a mountain) decided to come too. Set off on T’s 100 and made Glasshouse at 9.15 pm. Pulled up past Murphy’s and arrived at summit at 10.10 pm. Tom crossed the ledge without any trouble or hesitation at all, both on the way up and down. Scene was as lovely as ever…Saw 2 paddy melons in the track before Murphy’s. Arrived back 12.45 am.
Picture: Peter Barnes collection.Posted by Picasa

Jon Stephenson takes in the Hinchinbrook Island panorama en route to the 1st ascent of The Thumb on Mt Bowen, January 1953.
Picture: John Comino collection. Posted by Picasa

Hinchinbrook Is: the 1st ascent of The Thumb, 1953

One of the last sought-after unclimbed summits in Australia in 1952 lay just off the north Queensland coast on Hinchinbrook Island—the Thumb, a granite monolith high on a ridge of the Mt Bowen massif. In August that year, John Bechervaise led a team of schoolboys to the island on an Australian Geographical Society-sponsored trip, reaching 100 metres below the summit. In January 1953, a team from the University of Queensland Bushwalking Club stepped off the train at Ingham with the prize firmly fixed in their eye—Jon Stephenson, John Comino, Geoff Broadbent, Dave Stewart and Ian McLeod (pictured). Taking advantage of the track cut by the Bechervaise expedition, they made fast time and were soon confronted by the last great problem—climbing the cliff leading to the top of the Thumb. John Comino recalls:
I was going to take a flying leap at it but they said, “No! No! Don’t be silly”, or something. And dissuaded me from jumping across. It was about [1.5 metres] away and dropped away to nothing but I reckon I could have taken a running jump…woomph!…and stuck. I suppose that would have been foolish but I was quite confident I could do it, so I expected I would have. They dissuaded me from doing that. So we went around to the left…We must have had a rope because I helped the others up. It was a very open chimney, if that. A bit of muck had to scraped away and some vegetation. I ended up standing on Steve’s [Jon Stephenson’s] shoulders and getting the rubbish scraped away. It was fairly easy but required a little bit of gymnastics.
Once above the first difficult section of the cliff, Comino recalls they could see the summit looming above them in the sweltering tropical sky:
From here there proved to be an easy climb, without packs, to the top of the Thumb, and a cairn was built and capped with a three inch diameter quartz crystal we found lower down the ridge and brought up for just such an occasion. A magnificent view to the south stretched before us, down to Zoe Bay, flanked by its lush green low lying jungle, dissected by clear streams, and bordered by drowned mountain ranges.
And a feeling of exultation on top? ‘Nuh!’ Comino admitted, ‘we just wanted to drink some water!’ Within a few days, they got their wish with the arrival of the ‘wet’ and found themselves wading through swollen creeks as they made their way back to the ferry pick-up point, looking over their shoulders for floating logs with sets of eyes in them.

Picture: John Comino collection.

Victorians make their mark


Southwest Tasmania's Federation Peak was again the focus of climbing activity in 1952 when John Young, Joan King, Brian Wells, Burnie Rymer from the Melbourne University Mountaineering Club (MUMC) climbed what became known as the MUMC Route, probably the hardest and most serious rockclimb in the country at that time. The formation of the MUMC by Thomas Cherry, Graham Laver and Eric Webb in 1944 is regarded by many as the formal start of climbing in Victoria. As the MUMC team grappled with the weather and steep rock on Federation Peak in Tasmania, a member of an Australian Museum expedition to central Australia, N. J. Camps, donned sandshoes for a solo climb-and probably the first European ascent of Uluru, losing four fingernails on one hand as he lunged for a crucial hold. Climbing in Victoria was becoming more popular and the Victorian Climbing Club (VCC) formed by Peter Crohn and John Young in 1952 with members making first ascents of routes in the Grampians that year. In the early years, there was a considerable crossover in membership between the VCC and the MUMC.

Picture: Donn Groom collection. Posted by Picasa