Few climbing experiences compare with the pure delight of gingerly padding your way up two or three rope lengths of sweeping slabs in spectacular locations. So, having mastered the shorter local classics of the You Yangs, Black Hill and Tenneriffe, intrepid slab enthusiasts will be eager to explore the vast majestic slabs further north, with their graceful, clean and adequately protected lines, generally following water streaks, faint seams or scoops. The largest and most popular granite slab areas are The Hump at Mt Buffalo Vic and the Central and Northern Slabs of Booroomba Rocks in the ACT.
Many routes established before the bolting craze rely entirely on flexible camming devices and fine wires as the mainstay of both protection and belays. The standard is 4 cam units for the deeper cracks, though 3 cam devices are preferred for placements in shallow seams, pockets and horizontal breaks as these are approximately 40% narrower, providing increased confidence. No.3 cam units tend not to walk in cracks.
Small wires can at times be a little tricky to place in seams and cracks of a highly crystalline nature (particularly when new), and it is therefore strongly recommended that climbers practise their placements thoroughly before launching up any of the local test pieces. Slab aficionados really are the masters of securing a placement in the most unlikely weakness.
Guidebooks generally indicate any potential seriousness in the lack of protection, and more importantly the crucial piece or pieces to protect the runout section. When in doubt, back up everything!
Mt Arapiles: Brolga 16
Booroomba Rocks: Balance 18, Equilibrium 17
Black Hill: Milawa 17, Echidna 19, Rough Diamond 18, Just In Passing 19, Astradyne 20
Tenneriffe: White Hart 18, Nothing Left 23, Finger Lichen Good 19
Mt Buffalo: Peroxide Blond 20, The Icing On The Cake 22, Dr. Worm 23, They Might Be Giants 24
Back in the dark ages of traditional climbing, generations of climbers had taken great pride and placed great reliance on their crack climbing prowess to achieve the heights and searing lines of their dreams. Images of the spectacularly famous crack lines of Yosemite Valley and Utah adorn the walls of practically every establishment connected with climbing and instantly spring to mind as the quintessential essence of rock climbing.
Within the modern era of rock climbing, however, the fine art of traditional crack climbing has become much maligned, and to a large extent avoided like the plague. Young rock athletes can be seen tying themselves in knots, applying outrageously intricate techniques to surmount relatively straightforward lines, while the old guard are falling about in fits of laughter.
The necessity for an entry-level understanding of jamming techniques may in time save a great deal of thrashing about, loosing skin and face. Quite simply, a climber embarking upon the start of the famous three star classic wall Twentieth Century Fox (20), encounters an overhanging hand crack, widely regarded to be the crux unless you can jam; Without a sound grounding in the fine arts of jamming, the climber shall arrive at the beautiful wall thoroughly spent and quite sore.
The thought of jamming ones flesh into cracks, twisting it to fit and suspending full body weight from it may instill visions of excruciating pain and gut wrenching exertion. However, with practice and a little experimentation with finger jams and locks, climbers can master the crack climbs of their dreams with a minimum of wasted energy and loss of skin. With practice the techniques become second nature In time the movements become graceful.
From the thinnest finger crack to the widest offwidth, precise footwork is the key to conserving energy in each form of crack climbing technique. This reduces the load on the hands and the force required to hold the jams. Try to avoid ramming your feet too deeply into cracks, as a thrashing panic to dislodge a trapped foot can sap ones strength. In the event that the crack is too thin to receive toe jams smear the toe of the boot against any irregularity in the crack line to gain height and better purchase.
Finger to hand cracks require a camming, or torque motion, of the fingers or back of the hand to hold in parallel cracks. To increase the torque and efficiency of the jam, lean to the left or right of the crack. Keep the hands low, between head and waist height, and the thumb of the leading hand facing downwards. For long reaches, turn the bottom hand to a thumbs up position. Visualise the next sequence of jams and possible foot holds. Take your time, pace yourself and when resting, do so with a straight arm to conserve energy.
Frog Buttress, Queensland: Infinity 19, Black Light 21, Conquistador 21, Yankee Go Home 22, Impulse 24
Mt Piddington, The Blue Mountains, NSW: Flake Crack 17, The Eternity 19, Psychopath 19
Mt Boyce, The Blue Mountains, NSW: Firebug 17, Gold Star 18+
Mt Buffalo, Victoria: The Initiation 19, Lift Girls Lament 19
Within Australian climbing, the use of double ropes has been associated with chubby, beard-stroking middle-aged punters who took up the activity when dinosaurs still roamed the valleys. They then travel overseas (Britain), drink warm beer, eat cold pies and contract some sort of nervous condition that compels the inflicted to forsake the single rope and take up doubles: living happily ever after. However, over the last two decades, leading British sea cliff and hard gritstone climbers, through necessity and self-preservation, have placed a high level of trust in and devoted a great deal of time refining double rope skills.
Invariably, ascents of sea cliffs and mountain crags involve traverses and rising diagonal pitches, which have a tendency to reduce climbing partners to jibbering wrecks at the sight of long unprotected sections above swirling seas or gaping zawns. The only way of protecting the second and third climbers on these pitches is by the use of double ropes and high runners. Climbers embarking on the large faces and weaving lines of Frenchmans Cap Tasmania or the Warrumbungles NSW without double ropes would be considered quite foolhardy, if not completely insane. In the event of having to bail out on a climb through bad weather or injury, an additional 50-60 metres of rope comes in rather handy.
When dealing with dubious rock, or protection that is somewhat less than confidence inspiring, double ropes allow numerous pieces of backup or directional gear to be easily arranged (without rope drag lifting it out) distributing the force of a fall between ropes and equipment, reducing the impact on everything. Double ropes also provide additional security and confidence when climbing in areas with sharp rock, such as slate, limestone or quartzite.
Long gone are the days of the beefy 11 mm single and 9-mm half ropes, the now preferred rope diameters are 10.1-10.4 mm for the single or main rope, which is held in reserve for the crux or potential nasty section, and 8.5-9 mm as the second or half rope, used predominantly to eliminate rope drag. Significant advancements in modern rope construction, with increased core strength and sheath density, have allowed for a reduction in the overall weight and bulk of ropes. Sterling Ropes USA for instance, have increased the woven material in the sheath construction of their Marathon range by 25%, producing a series of five ropes that have become highly favoured by full time climbers and guides alike. In the modern era of climbing, very few ropes are retired due to exceeding the fall factor specified by the manufacturer. More commonly, ropes are retired due to wear of the protective sheath. However, many manufacturers now recommend that ropes be retired after 5 years of use, regardless of any visible wear.
The advantages of using double ropes over the single far outweigh the slight disadvantages of additional weight (approx. 2 kg) and rope management issues (the addition of an extra rope in the belay system) with one rope often being taken in as the other is being fed out. To ease proceedings, the two ropes should be of different colours; the leader indicates which colour should be payed out or taken in as he/she progresses. With time, the processes become second nature. With the absence of rope drag, the belayer can feel every inch of their climbing partner’s progress.
It is strongly recommended that parties wishing to enter the big beautiful world of double roped climbing should practise on relatively safe routes at a lower grade than normally climbed with a single rope so that they become familiar with all aspects of managing double ropes.
blue lake ice climbing
A couple of winters ago now, myself and a few other adventurous souls planned a trip to Blue Lake, in Kosciuszko National Park NSW. Accessing the area from Guthega provides generally sheltered, all-weather access. Gentle climbing up the Snowy River valley proved not to be so gentle on my legs! A full week’s pack was burdened down with additional ice-climbing gear; a rope, ice axes, crampons, harness and helmet. A small group of trees, just East of the Crummer Spur at 1870 metres, must be at about the highest altitude that trees grow in Australia. They provided reasonable shelter for our week-long campsite.
Next morning, a short half-hour traverse around the Crummer Spur took us into the Blue Lake cirque. This is a wonderful glacial remnant; the terminal moraine wall of a long gone glacier creates the barrier that allowed the lake to form. Although blue in summer, wintertime saw something more akin to a moonscape. The lake was like a white flat crater, surrounded by black cliffs encrusted with snow and ice. The depth of the snow and ice on Blue Lake made it quite safe to ski across. Having said that, I am always happy for someone else to try it first. Many years ago in spring, the ice on the lake was beginning break up into individual ‘bergs that bounced up and down in the water as we crossed them. A foolhardy undertaking, but someone else went first!
Some low cliffs on the East side of the lake provided a place to play on this first day of climbing. David soloed up, did not feel comfortable making the last move, and backed off. A top rope was set up, allowing some of the group who had not climbed before to “have a go”! It was quickly obvious that a firm but gentle controlled swing with an ice axe works well. Attempting to belt the ice into submission does not!
A day spent in the tent during a blizzard, and 2 days ski touring, broke up the climbing. Mount Tate is a great destination, providing sensational views back over Mount Twynam, Watsons Crags and the Main Range . A second day was spent visiting Watsons Crags. This is Cornice Country with a capital “C”. I think the telemarking runs in this area are the best in Australia!
Our last full day saw us heading back to Blue Lake. South facing cliffs had more ice. David had spotted a line of 3 bluffs, broken up by a steep snow slope between each one. He led up each one, placing ice screws for protection, while Jannie belayed. Some flailing around with axes by climbers following up saw the snow stakes belay anchor being tested as they fell onto the rope. It was extremely cold in the shade, waiting your turn to climb. Eventually we all topped out in the warmth of the afternoon sun. The following day, it was pack-up time. Off to the cars, then indulging ourselves at the bakery in Jindabyne.
choosing rock climbing shoes
Finding a rock-climbing shoe can be a very confusing task. There lace ups, Velcro shoes, shoes with slingshot heels and even some with patents on their fancy lacing systems!
Trying to differentiate between the shoes and then finding one that suits your foot is a mammoth task but La Sportiva (our most stocked rock shoe) from Italy have come up with a helpful way of trying to categorise their shoes. They have broken down their shoes into three basic different types of fits. There are shoes with low asymmetry, medium asymmetry and those with high asymmetry. They then classify shoes depending on whether the toe is pointed (P) or rounded (R), and whether the shoe is pointing downward or neutral (N). These simple categories help us all know the differences between the shoes and which might be a more suitable one. Below is a representative sample of shoes that we have.
High Asymmetry: Miura VS (PD), Miura Lace (PD)
Medium Asymmetry: Katana (PD), Jeckyl (PN), Mythos (RN), Red Chili Spirit Impact (RN)
Low Asymmetry: Tarantulace (RN), Red Chili Spirit (RN)
Shoes that have a low asymmetry are going to be the most comfortable for longer climbs, whilst those with a high asymmetry will give you the best performance on high-grade climbs with cracks and tiny edges. It is important to find the correct balance between comfort and performance, to suit your level of climbing. As always, feel free to ask any staff about our great range of rock shoes.
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