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In the last few months I’ve done photography trips to South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland. Mostly working on a new coffee-tableÂ photo book of Australian climbing. I’ll have some pics from those trips soon (yes, I’ve been busy!) but first here is some breaking news…
Yesterday (18th August) 20-year-old German climber Alexander Megos capped off a productive visit to Australia by climbing the long-term open project known as The Red Project at Diamond Fall in the Blue Mountains. It took him three days of effort with at least 20 redpoint attempts. Alex has named the route Retired Extremely Dangerous. After giving it much thought, and comparing the difficulty of the route with other hard routes that he has climbed here in Australia (and of course also around the world), Alex has decided to propose the Australian grade of 35 (9a or 5.14d) for the route. Given Alex’s experience at that level (which includes being the first climber in the world to onsight a 9a graded route) I doubt there’ll be too much dispute of the grade. So this is the first grade 35 route in Australia!
The Red Project was originally bolted by Garth Miller in 1999, and since then has sat there as an open project free for anyone to try. Lee Cossey has spent some time attempting the route over the years and has made good progress on the route. Lee actually encouraged Alex to attempt the route and kindly offered some beta which may have proved useful.
On his first day of attempts Alex worked out all the moves and had several redpoint attempts. The next day he had about eight redpoint attempts and it looked as though he would do it easily — but the route has a definite crux about 3/4′s of the way up, and although Alex could do the moves easily on the dog they required a degree of precision that proved hard to link from the ground.
So then Alex took a rest day to grow skin and returned to the route yesterday (day three of attempts). It started well but after many redpoint attempts I was starting to think it was unlikely that Alex would send it that day. The route was in the sun and Alex’s fingers were getting hammered. After taking the big whipper from the crux six or seven times Alex became frustrated. He lowered to the ground, pulled the rope, re-tied andÂ immediately started climbing again. Somehow this tactic worked because this time he got through the crux — and it was a mighty fight to the end!
I went out to Diamond Falls and photographed Alex on the three days that he attempted it. I can testify that it has been cold and incredibly windy these last few days, yesterday especially so, and hanging off the cliff for hours wasn’t much fun. But at least it seems it was good conditions for hard climbing. The photos that I’m posting here are some “out-takes” whilst I’m offering my better shots to clients.
So congratulations to Alex and personally I think it is great to see some progression in the top end of Australian climbing. The last time a new grade in Australia was achieved was when Chris Webb Parsons climbed White Ladder (34) at Nowra in 2004. Despite what that time period might suggest, and considering how much the rest of the world has moved on in that time, I still think it’s probable that the top Australian standards has moved on significantly in that time. It’s likely that we do have some harder 34′s (8c+’s) already and I would not be at all surprised if Retired Extremely Dangerous now received a fast repeat from a local. In any case, I think it’s good for someone with Alex’s experience to come and set a benchmark like this.
This morning I chatted with Alex about Retired Extremely Dangerous and other routes that he has climbed out here in Australia, so here’s a bit more news. At Arapiles he climbed Somalia, he dogged it one afternoon and had three redpoint attempts that day, then sent it first shot the next morning. He said 33 (8c) is probably right for that one (although it felt more like 8c+ to him initially, he afterwards spoke with Wiz Finneron — the first ascentionist — and learned that he’d missed some drop-knee beta that would have definitely helped). In the Grampians Alex sent Groove Train, again working it one afternoon then sending it first shot the next day that he was on it. He found the crux was extremely reachy (he’s 172cm) but the rest of the route was his style, saying it was definitely 33 or 8c, not harder, even if the extremely run-out nature of the route might make it feel that way. He also said that Groove Train was “one of the best I’ve ever climbed”. Then up here in the Blue Mountains he flashed Pooferator (31), sent Truckstop 31 (32) first shot (a flash except that it shares the start of Pooferator), onsighted Fabricator (28) then sent the link-up of Keep on Trucking (33) next shot (it starts up Pooferator and finishes up Fabricator – which he’d sussed) — all in the one day. He confirmed those grades for those routes although said there wasn’t much in it between Truckstop and Keep on… And another day he sent Mechanical Animals comfortably on his third shot, confirming the grade as 8c or 33.
As an Australian climber I’m almost disappointed that we haven’t done a better job of sand-bagging young Alex on his trip out here to Oz. The guy is just too darn good. However I may have managed to (inadvertently) make up for it today. I went to show Alex and his climbing partner Dan the Underworld area but the convoluted track was so overgrown I could hardly find it myself. We made it, just, but I had to leave them to it. It is night now. I hope they found their way out again…
Edit 24/8/13: It had been reported elsewhere that Alex had climbed the The Wheel of Life boulder problem in the Hollow Mountain Cave in the Grampians in two sessions. Well following on from that, yesterday Alex mentioned to me in passing something else that has so far gone unreported. In the same cave he climbed another boulder link-up that which he feels is significantly harder than The Wheel of Life. Alex called it Wheelchair and gave it a route grade of 9a+. Alex said The Wheels of Life deserves a route grade f 9a, so I guess that makes Wheelchair the hardest boulder problem in Oz? For those in the know, the problem starts up The Wheel… but half way up Sleepy Hollow it traverses into Stimulation and climbs the whole of Stimulation (exept for the first move) until its end (which is also the end of Silverchair). Hence Wheelchair. Nice one Alex!
Well I’m now in Spain for a bit, climbing and shooting, and having a great time! Just seem to love it more and more over here. We have mostly been to Oliana again, one of the best hard crags in the world for sure. The scene and vibe here at the moment is insane and yesterday must have been one of the best days ever. I’m sure everyone at the crag was super psyched to watch Chris Sharma put in an inspiring effort to send his long-term project La Dura Dura (9b+ or 38); certainly the hardest route in the world at the moment. I spent a lot of time filming Adam Ondra and Chris Sharma attempting this route when I was here last year. Adam climbed it a few months back. And it seemed obvious that Chris was now getting super close; he just looked so strong on it in recent days. So when he tied in for his second shot yesterday I put the Nikon in video mode and managed to catch the send on film. The whole send took about 20 minutes. I’ll get that edited up and put it out there in some form shortly, so stay tuned for that. But I’ve got a few proj’s of my own to send first — thankfully nothing too hard!
Screenshot of the video footage of Chris’ send:
And after the send:
Yeah, great stuff Chris! More soon.
Congratulations to Mayan Gobat-Smith from New Zealand who yesterday climbed her long-term project Punks in the Gym (32) at Mount Arapiles, Australia. A superb personal achievement, hers also happens to be the first female ascent of the route.
“Punks” is a famous Australian test-piece with a colourful history. The beautiful line was first climbed by Wolfgang Gullich in 1985 and originally graded 31/32 by Wolfgang. The second ascent was by Stefan Glowacz and the third by Jerry Moffat who confirmed the 8b+ (32) grade. Despite that, for a while there the route was graded 31 whilst it was the subject of the NSW/Victoria grading wars in the early 1990s. Since then the route has seen numerous ascents and some years ago the grade firmly settled back at 32. So the route is not only the first 32 in Australia but it is often said may well be the first 32 (5.14a/8b+) climbed anywhere in the world. When Andy Pollitt was attempting the route in the early 1990′s a key crux hold disintergrated and so Andy recreated the hold out of sika. Some claimed that the recreated hold, since dubbed “the birdbath” (a harsh term given it’s only a 15mm incut edge), was bigger than the original but I think there are few people, if anyone, apart from Andy who actually know the truth of the matter. Andy eventually suceeded on the route in 1992 after three trips to Australia from the UK and a total 70 days on the route. If you think 70 days is a lot of time to spend on the route then spare a thought for Australian woman Jarmila Tyrril who moved to the area in part to be close to Punks; the route has been the main focus of her climbing for the last three years. With Jarmila spending a lot of time on the route and with Mayan making four trips to Australia with the route the main focus of those, there has been a lot of speculation who would snag the first female ascent. Recently someone was putting up posters around town hamming it up as a competition — “who will be first”? And so Mayan’s send has at last put an end to all the speculation. Successful punters are advised to make their way to the nearest TAB office to collect their winnings ASAP.
Last year I took some photos of Mayan on Punks when she was out here trying it for a few weeks. No doubt largely because of the reach factor Mayan’s sequence into the crux is entirely different to everyone elses. She links directly from the lower hard climbing straight up into the crux, entirely avoiding a really good rest just before the crux — the only good rest on the route. I’ve no doubt whatsoever that Mayan’s sequence is a really hard way to do the route but obviously sticking to her sequence has finally paid off for her. Congratulations again!
Here’s one of my shots of Mayan on Punks that I will show you now. I hate to have to mention this but I ask that people respect my work and my copyright. I say this because recently someone who runs a very popular and somewhat commercial site on Facebook recently took one of my photos from my site without permission and sprayed it widely around the internet. If people like to help support my work by purchasing a calendar or book then I really appreciate the support. If businesses want to help promote my work and my publications then I am very open to proposals and I certainly like to support people who are doing good and valuable work where I can. But Apparently I need to point out to some that I do retain the rights to my work and say in where and when my photos are used. In short, you need my written permission before taking my photographs from this web site and using them anywhere else. Thanks to everyone for your support and understanding!
Monique has been on a bit of a roll with her climbing for the last 12 months or so. It has been great to watch her enjoy the process as well as do some really cool things with her climbing lately. In the last year Monique has climbed several “routes of her dreams” including Fish Eye (her first 33) and recently she won the both the Lead and Boulder Australian Nationals. You probably wouldn’t know it but she has worked hard to overcome several injuries over the years, no woe-is-me sob stories, she was patient and just got back on the horse. Success in climbing can be fleeting and only gets harder as you get older so I think you’ve just got enjoy the good times when you can.
Whist we were up in Queensland Monique found herself a really cool project, the classic Whistling Kite (32) which tackles a beautiful proud buttress at Frog Buttress. I believe this was the second 32 established in Australia. Monique managed to make the sixth ascent of this route which had not seen a repeat in five years. It really is the most incredibly technical route I’ve ever seen. A big shout out of thanks to Duncan Steel for his inspiration, I’m sure his encouragement was instrumental in getting Monique so psyched about the route. Monique blogged about it here and now belatedly here are a few more photos from me …
Busy times indeed, hence why things have been quiet on the blog here. My apologies for that. We recently did a trip up to Queensland and absolutely loved it — but were working our little arses off however. I was mainly shooting for a new coffee-table book on Australian climbing and also a new guidebook project we have in the works. I’m delighted with my photos and satisfied that after all these years I now have some good coverage of Queensland’s awesome, varied and really interesting climbing. Between all the work Monique managed to squeeze in a send of the iconic Whistling Kite (32) at Frog Buttress. More on all those things soon but now I wanted to quickly fire of a quick news report because today I heard some very cool news…
One of the things I photographed up in Queensland was Lee Cujes and John J O’Brien (“JJ”) attempting to free climb the first two pitches of the Beerwah Bolt Route on Mount Beerwah in the Glasshouse Mountains. For those not familiar with it, the Beerwah Bolt Route (akaÂ Stainless Anticlimb) is a famous, no, THE famous, four pitch aid bolt ladder blasting up to – and through – the massive overhangs on the mountain’s north face. It is so popular it’s pretty much a rite-of-passage for Queensland rock climbers. Photographing Lee trying to free climb the second pitch (it was his first time trying the moves) was a laugh actually — the moves looked absolutely ridiculous! I thought “good luck with that”. Lee did all the moves that day but it looked to me like he was settling in for a long-term project – and a very cool one at that. But not so! I just got news that Lee and JJ returned to the route today and fired the first and second pitches at around grade 26 and 27 respectively. Well done guys, absolutely awesome job. I think Queensland just got a couple more mega-classic hard free pitches. And I’d just like to add that I had a look at the massive overhangs and I’m pretty sure they will also go free, just at grade 40 or thereabouts, so maybe we’ll have to wait a bit longer for that.
Here a few pics of the route from the distance. My best work from the shoot might soon be appearing in a magazine, book, or as a limited edition print, so stay tuned for that.
Oh dear, where did the last few months go? While this blog has been quiet I’ve been busy with travel, photos, climbing, and lots of different work projects going on. Clearly, I’ve got some catching up to do, so here is a quick start.
Back in June I did a quick (maybe 10 day) trip down to Victoria. First stop Melbourne to present my show at the Annual General Meeting of the New Zealand Alpine Club; it was a small but appreciative audience and I really enjoyed the night. Next I blasted over to “The Garapiles” (The Grampians and Arapiles) –Â one of my favourites parts of the world — for six days of shooting. Always too long between drinks, there never seems to be an end to all the things that I want to shoot — let alone climb — down there. I spent a couple of days working on a photo project at Arapiles (more on that later) but the highlight for me was catching up with Dave Graham, Ian Dory (both from the USA) and Nalle Hukkataival (Finland) for a few days shooting in the Grampians. This was their second visit to Australia after a long trip out here last year. I always like hearing when foreign climbers get really psyched on Oz climbing and so I was keen to meet them and see what they were up to. Uber-strong climbers of course, no surprises there from what I knew, but also genuinely friendly, positive, open and down to earth, which I really appreciated. I really enjoyed my time with them and their friends Madeleine and Remy from Melbourne. And yep, on the rock they were crushing!
Here are a few pics that I can show at this time. We started with a day at Muline Crag where Dave had sent Flower Power (33) second shot. The route has been around for nine years yet I think Dave may have made only the second ascent.
Then we spent a long day (and some of the night!) on the boulders at Buandik and they sent several new problems that day. Nalle’s Knowing is Half the Battle (V11) is an insane high-ball — about 12-metres high! Both Dave and Ian stepped up and climbed it too.
And we had a beautiful afternoon up on the glorious orange rock of Millennium Caves, over-looking the Victoria Range.
I headed home but the guys continued to have a productive trip.Â Both Dave and Ian climbed The Wheel of Life, the famously long boulder problem in the Hollow Mountain Cave. Dave said a route grade (of 9a+), rather than a boulder grade, was a more appropriate way to grade it given the style and length of the problem, errr, route. When finally the rain held off for long enough Dave sent the run-out Groove Train (33) classic on Taipan Wall. And at nearby Arapiles, Nalle established Never Say Never (V14), perhaps the hardest boulder problem at Arapiles. Still lots to do though, so I hope we’ll see them again next year.
Busy times for Dave Graham, because in other news his new website project The Island has also just launched. With support from a lot of climbers and photographers it is going to be home to lot of really interesting climbing media. Be sure to check it out! Dave has a lot of really good ideas to build a positive online climbing community. I wish him well!
The good times have kept on rolling here in Spain. Here’s a shot I did of Monique on La Marroncita, a really beautiful and long 8b (31) which she did a few weeks ago at Oliana.
At last I’m really stoked to announce some good news of our own from Oliana, Spain. On Monday Monique sent Chris Sharma’s uber-classic Fish Eye. It’s her first 8c, or Australian 33, graded route. It proved to be a hard and frustrating process, but I think that just has made it all the more satisfying in the end. Yep – we’re celebrating!
Fish Eye is a very cool looking route blasting straight up the guts of Oliana. It has hard resistance climbing between crux’s and a red-point crux 45-metre’s up the 50-metre route. Monique first tried it on our trip out here last year. She spent enough time on it then to work out the moves start linking long sections. On the second last day of that trip she got really high on the route (on redpoint); it was enough for her to get super-psyched and confident that she could do it.
When we returned this year Monique was fitter than ever but the route did not submit as easily as we had both expected. After two weeks she was getting good linkage. Monique started getting through the main crux about, 28-metres up, and a tricky section above that, more often, and started making it through to the top redpoint crux. It was looking good. I bought some champagne and it waited, chilled, in the fridge. The first few times she fell from the top crux we thought, fine, maybe she doesn’t have the route fitness yet, or maybe she needs to refine the moves there a bit more, but after she came screaming off from there a few more times we really started to wonder “would she ever do it”? Oh no. It was frustrating. Maybe I jinxed it – buying the champas too soon? Getting that high on the route would mean she’d be too gassed for a second shot the same day.
Then the weather intervened, it rained, well flooded, and she had three days enforced rest. It was probably what was needed though — at least for the splits in her fingers to heal. So this time, eh? Errr, no, not to be again. So she took a break for a day and tried Mon Dieu (8a+), which she’d dogged earlier, and ended up sending that. So this time she came back to Fish Eye refreshed. She was looking stronger than ever and made it up to the final rest – below the top crux – again. It was her eighth time up there… but this time she darn well nailed it to perfection. Such a sweet send!
Monique has written about it all too, on her blog here — check it out!
So I lowered Monique off the climb, she got down to the ground and after a few minutes celebrating says “right, what next?”. She was chomping to get on some of the other routes she’d been putting off. “Um, not so fast babe” I say, and sent her back up there for some photos… here’s a few of those – taken right after the send!
It’s awesome watching — and being able to help — someone’s dreams come true. I know that beyond anything else, Monique was really inspired by this route and she wanted to push her climbing to a new level. Personally, I think it’s also great to see the standards of Australian climbing being raised too. I don’t doubt that Monique has the potential to climb harder too. Will she? Who knows. She’s 39, a mother, does not have any financial sponsors. We are both really grateful that she has at least had this opportunity. Many thanks indeed to everyone who has supported Monique and her climbing! The support she’s received from family, friends, and some gear companies, has really made a huge difference.
So yes, we are back in Catalunya, Spain, for a bit. We had such a good time here last year, we thought, well, why not? And wow, what an amazing time it is to be here. The climbing is great and there has been so much going on, itâ€™s a really fun place to be. The weather has been superb, primo, but last night a storm brought the first rain in weeks and so â€“ thankfully — at last we are having a much-needed rest. Itâ€™s a chance for Monique to grow some skin back, and for me to finally write about some of the things that have been going onâ€¦
This area is surely the worldâ€™s epicentre of hard sport climbing. More than a few of the worldâ€™s best sport climbers have been here recently, escaping the colder parts of Europe and North America to enjoy the early spring time conditions at awesome crags â€“ such as Santa Linya, Siurana, Margalef and Oliana. Lots of ultra-hard sends by men and women at these crags have constantly been making the climbing news of late.
In fact, if you look at the news coming out of these parts, itâ€™s the women who have dominated it. And rightly so. There is undoubtedly something going on here. Maybe itâ€™s because â€œresistanceâ€ and â€œenduranceâ€ count for so much here. Or because there are some routes which donâ€™t have stopper height-dependant cruxes. Or maybe itâ€™s because the routes are so damn good, long, and inspiring. But whatever it is, the women have stepped it up.
Weâ€™ve mostly been climbing at Oliana where, before we arrived, Daila Ojeda succeeded on Mind Control, her first 8c+ (Aus grade 34). This route is the awesome 50-metre resistance crag classic, which I first mentioned here. Soon after I arrived here I did a photo shoot on this route with Daila; here is just one photo from that –Â some are going to appear in print soon so Iâ€™ll hold off from putting them all on the internet, for now.
Daila has a really smooth climbing style, it was great to see. Brett and Josh Lovell from Big Up Productions are here and have captured some fantastic footage of Daila using an elaborate camera trolley system courtesy of Matt Madaloni and his Sea to Sky Cable Cam, definitely look out for that footage (probably at the Reel Rock Tour).
Dalia achievements have undoubtedly been inspiring to other women. The video of her on Fish Eye drew Moniqueâ€™s attention to that route, and sheâ€™s not the only one. Itâ€™s no surprise to me that once one of these classic hard routes receives a female ascent, other women are more likely to have a crack at it. And thatâ€™s what has happened on Mind Control. Nina Caprez also climbed Mind Control a few days after Daila and now the floodgates have indeed opened. Since Iâ€™ve been here Iâ€™ve seen Caroline Ciavaldini and, more recently, Sascha Digiulian also send it — with Sascha smashing it in just two days! Far out brussel sprout! (Has Sascha got a nick-name yet? What about Sascha the Dispatcher?). Eva Lopez was also trying it and will be returning soon. And the uber-strong Russian woman Evgeniya Malamid was making good progress on it before her time here ran out. Iâ€™ve seen a few men send it in the meantime too.
So we have one of the worldâ€™s premier crags for ultra-hard sport climbing, in peak season, with some of the best sport climbers in the world coming here — in peak form. The sending spree might surprise some armchair critics, but considering those factors the spree certainly doesnâ€™t surprise me — and it sure has been great to see!
On another note though, I have also noticed something a bit odd here, which could easily give the impression that some of these routes are easier than they are. And that is the way some of these ascents have ended up reported in the climbing media. I first noticed something strange when a climber sent a route second time that they were on the route that day, and their ascent was reported in the media as â€œsecond goâ€, yet the detail about them having been on the route the previous year didnâ€™t make it through to the news report. Another time, a send was reported as â€œ3rd repoint attemptâ€ with no mention of the days spent working the route â€“ of which Iâ€™d seen several. Now, I donâ€™t think there is anything deliberately dodgy going on. I asked around and it seems that itâ€™s just a way of reporting accents used by some climbers (probably very much a minority) from some European countries. Fair enough, people will report things in the way they are familiar with, and perhaps some of the detail hasnâ€™t been picked up by the media.
There are a few problems with this though. Firstly, no matter how well intended, if climbers are just highlighting the â€œshotsâ€, â€œgoâ€™sâ€ or â€œredpoint attemptsâ€, without the time also spent working the route, and thatâ€™s all that gets picked up by the media, then it hardly gives a complete picture. Secondly, itâ€™s not consistent with the way many climbers do report their ascents. And thirdly, and perhaps this one is just me, you know — an old fart, grasping to keep up with the latest lingo jingo, but the different terminology is a little confusing at times. Like, just when is a â€œtryâ€ or a â€œgoâ€ a â€œshotâ€ â€“ or not? I think Iâ€™ve got that a â€œdogâ€ is a â€œtryâ€ and not a â€œshotâ€ nor a â€œgoâ€, let alone an â€œattemptâ€. Er what!? Yeah, um maybe Iâ€™m a bit confused. Where did I put the Panadol? Anyway, if climbers want to report this stuff then whatever happened to good old-fashioned reporting of â€œdaysâ€, i.e., any day you got on the route â€“ no matter how long or for whatever reason â€“ got counted as a day? Itâ€™s not a big problem, and should be easy for the climbing media to get on top of â€“ if they just start querying these sorts of reports.
But I digress. I know the real reason you are reading this blog is to find out how Iâ€™ve been going on my latest project, and on that front I am stoked to report that after three weeks of top-roping I managed to send my 7b+ proj on my very first shot! It actually felt easy. Yeah, 7b+, and definitely soft…
Thanks for reading my blog. More soon!
Matt â€œNoryâ€ Norgrove has been making his mark in the Blue Mountains of late. On the rock he has been ripping it up and has steadily accumulated an exceptional tick list of ultra-hard routes: lots of 31â€™s and 32â€™s, some rarely repeated, many in fast time — the list is too long to get into here. His enthusiasm, positive attitude, and encouragement of others, is appreciated.
Recently Matt crankedÂ Moonshadow, his first 33 — an awesome achievement! So I coaxed him out for photo shoot on that gnarly rock and worked him till his fingers were raw…
Also, below is an older shot that I took of Matt on Mr Line (32). Check out his blog, itâ€™s a good read.
Great job Matt. And thanks for the help with the shots. Keep cranking!