Sometimes you arrive at a destination steeped in history. A place where pioneers pushed the boundaries of what was possible with improbable equipment. Home-made protection, hemp ropes and swamy belts. The walls are filled with stories of heroism and mateship and when you get your chance to climb these inspiring lines, you can’t help but imagine what it was like to be the first ascensionist. The French Alps is one, Australia’s own Mt Arapiles and Warrumbungles NP are others, though Yosemite is perhaps the most famous of them all.
I arrived in the Valley a little over a week ago and will be here for a total of five weeks. Barely enough to scratch the surface. To be surrounded by such history is a surreal feeling and from the small taste I have had thus far, the hype is well and truly justified.
On my second day Jaz Morris from the New Zealand Alpine Team suggested we go climb his favourite 5.9 route – the Central Pillar of Frenzy. “The second pitch is yours mate” he casually mentioned as we hiked up the short approach.
What awaited me was a twin crack system ranging in size from 0.4” to 0.75”. Enough to get a tight hand jam or loose fingers for holds as well as the very tips of your feet. The left-hand crack would sometimes fuse completely shut only to re-appear again five meters or so further up.
On-sighting the route I thought it was a little stiff for 5.9 (Ewbank 17) and thought it would be similar in grade to the Frog classic, Infinity at Ewbank 19 (YDS 5.10b). Arriving at the anchors having nabbed the on-sight I was stoked. An absolute classic pitch. It wasn’t until later than night that I read about the first ascent and truly appreciated the invention of camming devices.
The below is Steve Grossman’s account of the second pitch during the first ascent with Jim Bridwell. Keep in mind that their rack consisted entirely of nuts and two knife blade pitons.
On the second pitch, those great cracks were full of dirt and grass, and there were large hummocks beside the crack. Jim was flailing away, cleaning the cracks, knocking the hummocks off, getting pumped, and cursing. With all the dirt and grass, he was working very hard.
Reading these stories gives me a better appreciation of what the generations of climbers went through to establish the lines we love to climb today. Thankfully this area is full of them!
Before you start booking your flights, there are a few things you should know. Firstly, there are few sport routes in this area, and practically all of the classics go on traditional gear. That means you will want to know how to correctly place different types of protection and clean them efficiently. Being comfortable will long runouts and thin protection will also help.
Secondly, the grades can be brutally sandbagged. It is said the world’s hardest climbing grade is Yosemite 5.9 (Ewbank 17), so be prepared to take a knock or two to your ego if that type of thing is important to you. It is also worthwhile ensuring your crack climbing skills and trad lead game is well sorted before arrival. Many a hard sport climber has come here only to be humbled.
Thirdly, as you would expect, most of the classics are long multi-pitch routes. Often a dozen pitches or more. So you will want to have some endurance to keep up with the long days.
Luckily for you, Australia has some amazing places to prepare!
Just over an hour drive from Brisbane is Frog Buttress, a world class crack climbing crag in it’s own right. Steeped in Australian climbing history, Frog will provide you with more than enough territory to practice your hand jams, finger locks, burly off-width and thrutching techniques. Not to mention getting accustomed to placing cams, nuts, hexes and all sorts of traditional pro.
Also local to Brisbane is Mt Tibrogargan. Tibro has several ‘heady’ trad routes filled with tricky protection and runouts. Spending time on these routes will help get your head in the game. For longer routes, look no further than the Warrumbungles NP. With the highest concentration of long trad routes in the country, you can hone your multipitch techniques to a point. Be sure to jump on ‘The Flight of the Phoenix’ and Crater Bluff’s ‘Cornerstone Rib’.
Yosemite Valley offers a lifetime of climbing on high quality routes. Incredible granite, aesthetic lines set against a landscape photographer’s wet dream with pitch after pitch of fantastic climbing and entertaining history to boot. Get started, get prepared and come and get a slice of the action!