Our Ascent of Ginsberg on Bluff Mountain

In the climbing world there are two very different kinds of challenges. The most modern and popular kind of challenge is usually associated with short climbs of great technical difficulty. It is often called “Sport Climbing”. This usually needs a huge amount of training, which is often done in climbing gyms. But this activity is relatively safe.
          The older kind of climbing challenge is now usually called “Adventure Climbing”. It usually involves climbing the highest rock face in a region and the routes are often not well known. This pastime is not as safe but it is very much part of the larger Mountaineering world.
            I think a true climber should be involved a little with both activities. I, as an older climber, have done a lot of “Adventure Climbing”. But I must admit in my later years, I have vastly mostly preferred to do “Sport Climbing”.

The route “Ginsberg” on Bluff Mountain” could be the most classic Adventure Climb in NSW. So this is why I am devoting a webpage to its description. At the end of this webpage, I give the description of this route from the ROCK “Warrumbungles Guide”. From this description (and the photo of the route), you can judge for yourself why this could be the case.

This picture shows our route up Ginsberg. This is the first time that the route has been shown with all the full belay and pitch details. It could be wrong – but this route fits in with my memory and the guide-book description down below. Please tell me of any errors.

John Ewbank and I did the first ascent of this route way back in 1969. But, before this in 1964, we had both made the first ascent of Elijah. (Described in my webpage https://www.brydenallen.com/First_Ascent_of_the_Face_of_Bluff_Mountain.html) So we were already familiar with the region.

The famous incident, which occurred on this ascent, involved me, leading, successfully saving my second, John Ewbank, when falling off his belay stance. John gave his version of this incident at the 1993 Escalade Climbing Festival in his talk called Ironmongers of the Dreamtime. It is essentially correct. I will give my slight clarifications on this incident afterwards.

This picture shows John Ewbank immediately after his brilliant key-note address at the 1963 Escalade Festival

          John’s version
It was during this period of rapid changes that Bryden and I did our second route on Bluff Mountain together. Unlike our first climb of about a year previously and on which we’d placed quite a few bolts, I was hoping that our collection of nuts would allow us to climb this one without placing any bolts at all. It’s a good quick cautionary tale that says a lot about the tempo of the times. About half way up I reached a sloping shelf and made an anchor with two medium nuts. When Bryden arrived he looked at it and we started having one of those funny domestics which climbers come to love. I went into my best Galileo routine and threw in the old Joe Brown look for good measure – which would normally be a knockout combination – the Ali shuffle followed by a right cross – but Bryden wasn’t buying; hard words were exchanged until I finally won him over with those three famous words – delivered with total conviction: “Mate! It’s bombproof!”
          He disappeared around a bulge and then after a while the rope stopped moving. It was very windy and we couldn’t hear each other very well so I started leaning out on the slings to see what was happening. As was standard for the time I was using a waist belay. Just as Bryden clipped into his first runner, a sling over a spike, both my bombproof belay nuts popped out. It was an early, unintentional but very effective use of what I think is now referred to as ‘hang dogging’. Bryden started screaming words to the effect of ‘What’s going on’ and I kept shouting back words to the effect of ‘Nothing! Nothing!’ – As I tried to clamber back onto the shelf with one hand and keep the rope around my waist with the other.
          It was the one time he got really angry and he even went so far as to threaten divorce and an end to our climbing partnership – the moment we got to the top! In retrospect, that’s actually the funniest and most interesting aspect of the incident: The fact that, despite the extremely volatile nature of the situation, neither of us seems to have even thought of going down. Of course, a divorce, top or bottom would have meant that Bryden would have had sole custody of the cherished crack-a-jack, and could have even denied me weekend visitation rights, so it’s just as well for me that we somehow remained friends, and good friends at that. That little spike he’d just put the sling on is one of my personal sacred sites… (John Ewbank)

Our ascent of Elijah was made in 1964. Our ascent of Ginsberg was made in 1969. During this time, jam protection was largely developed. I accepted this just as much as John did. I thought we could have a bolt at this very obvious belay point. But the jam protection wasn’t all that bad.

This picture, I think, shows where the incident occurred. John was belaying on the first pitch belay. I was moving left just before the second belay. The runner that saved us both was where the route turns left.

My Version of the Incident
The jam protection was good for a downward pull – but definitely not for an upward pull. John forgot this important point while belaying me. He was keen to see what I was doing as I moved around a bulge and out of sight. So he moved up a little. His jam protection came out because it was no longer receiving a downward pull. John fell backwards but fortunately he kept hold of the rope – around his back and with both hands in front of him. So he held on and I, leading, simply had to bear his weight. This wasn’t too bad because I was traversing left now so I was only getting a sideways pull. Fortunately the runner on the spike held. This is the only case that I know of, where the climber on lead fielded their falling belayer?
          The subsequent dramatics were a little bit like as John describes them.

The major difference that John and I had over this route was its very nature. John wanted a direct line straight up the rib. I wanted to find the easiest and safest way of getting up the face in this region. But in this case I had to give way to John. He was climbing more than I now – so he was the major climber (although we always still led through on alternate pitchs). I chose the route on Elijah. John chose the route on Ginsberg. But I still don’t know what the safest and easiest route is to do in this region – and nor does anyone else – as much as I can make out.
          John and I had a similar disagreement over Stonewall Jackson and Flight of the Phoenix. We tried Flight of the Phoenix first. But John didn’t have enough patience to work out that 19-grade pitch before the big ledge. So we did Stonewall Jackson instead. I still wish we had persevered a little bit more on Flight of the Phoenix. But I can’t complain – I have had enough success in the Warrumbungle’s. I shouldn’t be too greedy.

This picture shows me and John larking about at Ogma Gap.

This is the description of the route from the ROCK Warrumbungles guide.
Ginsberg 332 m 19
A route with a reputation. On the FA John Ewbank fell off the belay after choosing to ignore a bolt belay, placed by Allen on a previous attempt, in favour of some nuts. The nuts failed and Ewbank’s fall was arrested by Allen, who was leading at the time!
Then, in the early 80s, Warwick Baird fell 25 m on his on his belay anchors while leading. More recently, Bruce Cameron took a 15 m fall while seconding, after part of a ledge above the crux pitch gave way on Frank Moon.
Despite such horror stories, this route remains one of the finest, and most popular on Bluff Mountain.
Start at crack30 m right of Aladinsane, 15 m right of nose of rib.
1) 27 m – crack then chimney to recess.
2) 36 m – right over bulge, then wall to ledge – left along ledge.
3) 35 m – slanting corner to recess.
4) 20 m – right across slight rib (do’s go right round main rib). Up weakness to stance. (An alternative pitch – directly from belay on pitch 3 to groove/roof, has been done at grade 20 by Bruce Cameron and Frank Moon.)
5) 36 m – up then left of beer-barrel-shaped block – diagonally left past small ledge and blocks to corner – corner to overhang, then 7 m left to bolt belay.
6) 7 m – wall to ledge – bolt belay.
7) 36 m – up then right over blocks to bolt runner. Short corner to below roofs, then right on steep slab. Through roof, then up to ledge (crux). Corner to tree – poor bolt belay.
8) 30 m – up left, then diagonally right tp bolt belay below huge roofs.
9) 25 m – right over rib to base of gully.
10-11) 80 m gully’
Bryden Allen, John Ewbank 7/4/1969 (17, M1 – two sections of aid on pitch 7)
(FFA Keith Lockwood, Peter Morris 11/1975)

My next normal webpage is: “The_Original_Ascent_of_Mt_Banks“.

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 this major set of webpages),

Updated on 14/11/2016.