My complete set of webpages on climbing consists of:
“My 3 Famous Big First Ascents”.
“First Ascent of the Face of Bluff Mountain”, “First Ascent of the Face of Frenchman’s Cap”, “First Ascent of Ball’s Pyramid”.
“Illegal Ascents of Sydney’s most Iconic Buildings”.
“Illegal Ascent of Sydney Central Railway Clock-Tower”, “Illegal Ascent of Sydney Town Hall + Clock-Tower”, “Illegal Direct Ascent of Sydney Harbour Bridge”, “Illegal Ascent of the Land’s Department + Clock-Tower”, “Illegal Ascent of Centre Point”.
“First Ascent of Sweet Dreams”, “My Exploits in the Warrumbungles”. “Original Climbing Guide to NSW”, “The Rock-Climbs of NSW, 1963 – book”(pdf).
“Four Deaths on the Crags”, “Climbing Days at Lindfield“, “A Proposal for a New NSW Climbers Club“, “Our_Ascent_of_Ginsberg_on_Bluff_Mountain“, “The_Original_Ascent_of_Mt_Banks“, “My_Ascent_of_Toyland“
But if you only read these items, then you may come away with a completely false impression of what I am really like as a climber.
Now I am actually just a perfectly normal climber of the sort who will immediately join their local climbing club. I have belonged to many such clubs and I have been very active in them. My chief joy, in climbing, is to go away with a bunch of other climbers and do some climbs with them (mostly just the good old classic climbs of the area). I very rarely seek to make a first ascent or try to do a climb that pushes me to the limit. Doing things like this is always a bit stressful – and it can be dangerous. Climbing will always involve these aspects of life a little. But I rarely seek this out. The joy of climbing to me is mostly about: being in a wonderful environment, getting a good physical and mental work-out, climbing with my friends, and enjoying all the teasing, bragging, exaggerating and carrying on that goes on in the pub afterwards.
This is what I will talk about here. But now I have a problem. I have regularly climbed for about 40 years, in hundreds of areas, with thousands of different partners, doing tens of thousands of climbs. So it is hard to know what to tell you about. Fortunately I never take a camera with me when I go climbing. So I don’t have many photographs of climbing. Thus from now on I will just talk about the few climbing pictures I have collected over my life.
I started my proper rock-climbing when I went to University in the UK. In those days there were very few normal climbing clubs and certainly no gyms. Previous to this I had been very active in the scouts, which is an excellent preparation for climbing. So I was very keen to go climbing when I went to university. The university I went to was UCL, London, which had its own small club and which a part of the larger London University club. It was a great club situation to join.
We climbed a lot on the sandstone rocks south of London (about 40 feet high and we usually used top ropes). The photo (left) shows a very long-term friend of mine climbing there.
The “Man on the Wall” (left) is of course me. I have just done a very delicate climbing move. I had learnt to do this move on a house with suitable tiny ledge at a few feet off the ground. So I had practised this move many, many times. It isn’t easy.
The photo shows me finishing off the move, after doing the really delicate part. After getting out of the window, the climb proper started by me grabbing the main corner with my right hand. Then I could shuffle my feet along the small ledge till my right foot was standing on ledge right on the corner. Then I could layaway using my right arm, so could drop my left hand’s hold of the window I came out of. Then came the hard move – to move around the corner itself. I first lifted my left leg till it was horizontal next to the wall – because this would help keep my centre of gravity close in to the building. Then very slowly, I could use the very small indentations of the bricks to fall from a right hand layaway position to a left-hand layaway position. And then I could fall onto the opposite wall after the inside corner. Then the move was over and I could exit into the other window. I would not advise anyone to do a move like this on a serious climb, without doing a large amount of practise before hand.
I did the climb because I simply couldn’t resist the temptation of showing off the special move, which I had learnt so carefully. I don’t think my audience appreciated the delicacy of the move.
Our little club did a bit of climbing on the college buildings at night, and our club had a little guide-book for this purpose. I did all the 9 routes already given and added four new routes to this guide myself (mostly we just top-roped them). Most of the routes were on the Victorian ornate pillars and the dome at the main entrance to the college. So I had significant amount of practice at building climbing.
The following photo (right) shows one of the climbs I did with our college group in the dolomites.
After going to uni in London I moved to Sydney where I did my PhD at Sydney from 1962 to 1965. There was the period when I was most active in climbing.
The climbing scene was very different from the UK. The photo on the left shows most of our climbing members at that time. (I am the person holding up the guy – Dave Tanner. He was the guy that introduced the song “For they were big b—s, large b—s . . .”, which I refer to in my novel “The No-Boots Club”.) It was a jolly and very friendly scene – a great group of people. But it was always hard to get the climbers to organise themselves to run climbing trips (and it still is).
My climbing proper started with a spectacular 4-day weekend over Easter 1962. These activities are given in “My Exploits in the Warrumbungles”.
This photo (left) shows me and Chris Regean arising, after we had spent the night on the tiny rock flat-top of the second sister (Katoomba). We had belayed ourselves to the rock so we wouldn’t fall off.
This photo (right) shows me with the gear of the time.
This photo (right) shows me with the gear of the time.
This photo (left) is me climbing Abseil Wall at Lindfield rocks. This was my standard practise area and I always went there every weekend, when I wasn’t climbing in the mountains. I am wearing the great old PA climbing boots, which I introduced to the Australian scene early on. Over my life I think I have completely worn out more than 20 pairs of these climbing boots. But in my later climbing, I became a devotee of the Mythos climbing shoe.
The crowd getting our gear together in the old “PysnCave” (right).
This (left) is John Ewbank leading without almost any runners. He was only 15 years old at this stage.
During this very active climbing period, I also developed my new “Carrot Bolt Belay System”. And besides this I put up the climb, which has now become the most popular climb in NSW – see the “First Ascent of Sweet Dreams”.
After this I returned to the UK and I climbed with OUMC (Oxford University Mountaineering Club) as shown in the photos (above and left). This was a very good well-organised club. On the whole people in the UK are taught how clubs ought to be run. And this situation makes a huge difference as to how effective climbing clubs can be.
The OUMC was a good club. But by far the best club of all was the Castle Mountaineering Club in Sheffield. It was incredibly good. This club could produce a future program for the coming 6 months with both mid-week meets (in the evenings) and weekend meets (mostly days but sometimes weekends) for every week. And almost all these meets took place as planned. And the club had a small club hut at the back of a pub where we all gathered together on Wednesday nights (and there were climbs all over the hut). This club meant that the two years Jane and I spent at Sheffield was possibly the best two years of our lives. If only we could establish clubs like this in Australia.
For many years the SRC club had a week’s meet at Blue Lake, Kosciusko over the Christmas period. We both climbed on the rock and made snow ascents up the gullies.
This climb is called Clock-work Orange. This is just one of the many classic climbs in the Blue Mountains which I did several times.
I always liked the big face on King George – mostly I just followed up the original route.
From 1975 to 1990 I became involved in folk activities and so I climbed much less. When I returned to regular climbing, the climbing scene had changed considerably. And on the whole these changes were very much for the best. The equipment was a lot better and this made climbing much safer. This is terrific. People mostly did shorter climbs on good rock. And I did likewise. On one occasion I led a group of SRC climbers up the original route on King George. I found it horribly hard and I couldn’t find the route. It is good for us all to suffer a bit of the old-fashioned adventure climbing once a year. But that is enough. Mostly modern climbing is much more pleasant.
One Unlucky Day – 6/11/1999
After the summer of 1999/2000 I had intended to stop serious climbing (because it was absorbing too much of my thinking time). However as events turned out, I had no choice about the matter.
Over the past year I had scored quite a few “on-sight” 23’s and so to finish my climbing career I thought it would be nice to score one good 24 “on-sight” (but I had failed on my first serious attempt on “Language of Desire” – I had actually scored one 24 before but that was a cheat – it just wasn’t 24). At Arapiles “Orestes” was the obvious choice. The first week there was to be an easy warm up – but it was rather wet. On one wettish day Chris Jackson and I went to try “Judgement Day” on the back of the Pharos. This climb was well over-hung and so it would be mostly dry). We scrambled up the broken rock of the other side to see if the crux was likely to be wet. However the rock here, although easily angled, was wet and I slipped. Not a big fall – about 4m but I was unlucky in the way I fell – a small ledge tossed me backwards and then I landed flat on my back on a sharp rock. I was out for an hour but even as I became conscious and was being carried off it was clear that my back was probably broken.
The rescue and medical system worked well. I was helicopted to Melbourne and my back was all screwed up with bits of metal (for the technically minded the break was T9 and very complete). After 4 weeks I was flown back to Sydney and completed my recuperation first at the “Prince of Wales” and then at “Prince Henry” hospitals (I vastly prefer the more open system that seems to operate in NSW rather than Victoria). The photo show me with my family during this period.
So my climbing days were over. But I have kept in contact with the climbing scene by going to St Peters gym on Tuesday nights and the SRC monthly meeting. For a few years I organised a general climbing and barbecue meeting at Lindfield rocks once a year. The following three photos show some of the regular climbers who came to this gathering.