First Ascent of the Face of Bluff Mountain

I consider that the face of Bluff Mountain is the most awe-inspiring face in Australia. And many other climbers in Australia must think the same way, because this face has far more routes put up on it now than any other big face in Australia. My photos hardly do justice to the majesty of this face.

John Ewbank and I made the first ascent of this face during the winter of 1964.

This photo shows the route on the face as seen from the clearing on the track going west from Ogma Saddle. It is best to study the face from this point because it is hard understand where the routes go from the bottom.

Map of the tracks and peaks.
The important items are marked in red.

I had been trying to have a go at doing this climb for more than two years.
I first saw this huge face when the SRC had a large trip to the Warrumbungles over the Easter break in 1962, when the club camped in and around Dows hut (now dismantled). So we all walked there via West Spirey Creek – which also meant we had a good view this huge face – I was simply gob-smacked.
Then that long weekend turned out to have some great days of triumph for me. Ted Batty and I made the first ascent of the west face of Crater Bluff on the Friday (Lieben); the first ascent Cornerstone Rib on the Saturday (now the most popular route in the Warrumbungles); and Out-and-Beyond on Belougories Spire on the Sunday. (The details of these ascents can be read in my webpage “My Exploits in the Warrumbungles“.)
Finally Ted on I went to look at the face of Bluff Mountain on the Monday. But when we got to the bottom, Ted refused to even think about climbing on the bottom rock and checking it out. So I would have to find a new partner to do this face.

I next lined up Jack Pettigrew as a possible partner for this climb. But as soon as he saw the face he also changed his mind.
The next possibility was John Davis and we organised to go there for a weekend. So we went – but it rained on the Saturday. Then John insisted we leave that Saturday night and do some climbing in the Blue Mountains on the Sunday. I thought we should have at least stayed to see what the weather would be like on the Sunday. I didn’t think John had showed enough patience to do an obviously long project like this. So I had to keep looking for a partner for this climb.

This photo shows the major climbing peaks in the Warrumbungles

Finally John Ewbank arrived from England. He was really keen and he could be sucked into anything. So he would be my partner. He was still very young at that stage – he was still only 16 when I was 24. I was hoping that we could write this ascent together because he is a much better writer than I am. But, unfortunately, he died just a few weeks ago – so now it has to be just boring-old-me, who has to do all the writing. I am sorry. I did contact him and we did exchange emails on this subject.
          Neither John nor I owned a car. So we had to get there by train and hitching, which was very slow. I had to pay all the costs for the food and the fares because John was young and very poor. But that was fine. We came with food for a week and plenty of filed-down bolts and drills. So we were well prepared and ready for anything. I wasn’t going to waste this important chance through lack of time.

The walk-in with all the gear was, as usual, absolutely horrible. We then camped at Ogma Saddle – a little over a mile from the face. There is actually a good campsite just below the face with fairly reliable water hole quite close by. Since then I have used this campsite many time (shown in a later picture). But we didn’t know about this campsite at that stage.

Me and John at Ogma Saddle larking around

I definitely wanted this climb to go up the central area of the face. And I regarded this central region to be the obvious area (just beginning to receive sunlight) shown in the opening picture. (This region is bounded by the buttress on the left, which the “Flight of the Phoenix” ends up, and the buttress on the right, which “Ginsburg” goes up).
          But you can see that there is a horribly big overhang area in the centre of this central region. I decided that it would be best to avoid this overhang by going to the left. So this decision more-or-less defined the route that this climb would take. (A few years later, John and I then did Ginsberg together. This climb skirts this overhang area on the right).

Given this, the climb more-or-less follows the route that you would tend to expect (as shown in the photos). Just over 50 m up the face, there is biggish set of ledges – so of course the route first goes to here first. In those days, this entailed two longish pitches going first left and then right. Now there are two other routes, which go to this ledge more directly. From here the route goes upwards and leftwards until the route reaches the yellow rock beneath the major overhang system. At one point the climb becomes very steep (as shown in the photo below).

I insisted on doing these pitches slowly so we could put in quite a few bolts. We would retreat each night. The hardest feature of the climb was the abseil down after the end of the third day. We had to abseil directly down because we were too far to the left. This was absolutely horrible. Our ropes were only just touching the rock-face and putting in a bolt or piton in this precarious position was awful (this was before jam protection had been invented). So next day, we had to get to the top. We couldn’t bear the thought of having to do this terrible abseil again. Thus on the fourth day we had to get to the top.

Kendra relaxing on the climb a little way above the ledge system

Me climbing upwards

The final day was fine. We got back to our previous high point in about an hour. From here we dropped a little and then traversed left so we had skirted the overhang system above us. There was still some reasonably steep demanding climbing to do – but we finished the whole climb at about 3 p.m. The wedge-tailed eagles were circling above – giving us a royal salute. So the climb went well. (I am afraid I tend to be a horribly boring climber – I usually prepare carefully, climb slowly and then retreat if the climb gets too hard. But this cautious approach does not usually give rise the dangerous situations, which make for exciting reading.)

This photo shows our route (now called Elijah) looking from the left.
But the important feature of this picture is that is shows the descent gully on the left.
This is good easy descent method to a camp at the bottom. But climbers should
ascend and then go down this gully before trying to find the route from above.

The camp-site below the face.

We had a couple of days to spare so we went to Tonduron to try some climbs there. But I found I couldn’t do anything there at all. My subconscious brain had decided it had had enough climbing for the time being. I think I have a wise subconscious brain.

On the way back home, the funniest incident of my life occurred. I was well known as a person who gave off smelly farts. In those days everyone tended to believe that a high protein diet would make you strong. So I, believing this, always took a copious amount of skimmed powdered every day. So my farts tended to be smelly – because an excess of protein just results in bad smelly farts. But I didn’t know this fact at that time.
When hitching out to get to a station, John and I were given a lift in the back of a station wagon, which we shared with a sheep dog. We were very appreciative of this lift because there was almost no traffic and it was a hell of a long way to walk (and it was a horribly hot day). Presently a ghastly smell arose in the back of the van. John went brilliant red. For once, it wasn’t actually me who was making the smell. John had also eaten my too high protein diet as well. And this time it was John who had made the horrible fart.
Then the farmer spoke out loud and clear. “You rotten bastard,” he said, “get out of this van this instant.” John went redder still – he was just about to give an abject apology and leave the van, when the driver added. “I’m sorry about Fido. I think he’s got worms or something. But I can’t really leave him here. You will have to put up with him for a few more miles”.

So Fido took the blame for John’s awful fart. I still wonder what would have happened if John had apologised slightly more quickly about the fart. Then there would then have been utter embarrassment everywhere.

For me this was a wonderful experience because I had grown so sensitive about my frequent bad smells. All because I had mistakenly thought a lot of protein was good for you. This is what my diet manual actually said in those far off days. I’ve still got this old manual and I can show you where it says this.

You might now also like to look back at:
either my “Home Page” (which introduces this whole website and lists all my webpages),
or “My Climbing” (which introduces my climbing),
or “My 3 Famous Big First Ascents“, (which introduces these ascents).

My next normal webpage is “First Ascent of Frenchman’s Cap“.

Updated on 11/11/2016.