Grassy Arse From Chulilla
Totally got my arse kicked in Chulilla. In fact, as I was roping up for a 7a (24) I asked my encouraging 16 year old daughter if I should try the 6c instead; she said, `depends if you want to get your arse kicked.’ And after I decked out on the 7a, I then got my arse kicked on the 6c (supposed 22). This was typical of our 6 days in Chulilla. I only led 6 climbs and dogged my way up a few more, but the 7a onsight called El Muro de las lamentaciones was very satisfying and a beautiful climb.
Chulilla is a visually spectacular orange limestone gorge up to 80m high with 800 sport routes. In the last few years it has become an internationally popular destination and we are sharing our accommodation with about 30 other climbers from many different countries such as Austria, Sweden, England, Norway, France, America, Germany and Spain. The popular cliffs are a circus with every climb occupied, ten different languages being spoken and Spanish climbers with their dogs shitting everywhere. It is one of the most amazing climbing areas I’ve ever seen. The river Turia has carved two connected gorges near Chulilla with sheer unbroken orange cliffs on both sides of the river for several kilometres. Then there is the unlikely positioned village of Chulilla clinging to the side of the cliffs, all painted in white with absurdly narrow and steep streets. From a distance the cliffs look amazing, but up close it looks a bit scrappy; like the routes required a lot of cleaning and the holds look a bit temporary at times. However, with all the traffic, the climbs are perfectly solid but a bit polished at times. I found the grey coloured limestone on crags outside of the gorges such as Pesadilla and Fantasia to be much better rock.
The grades are quite flexible here depending on whether the routes were put up in the 80’s or not. I onsighted a 7a at one crag that felt like 23, but got my arse kicked on a 7a on a different cliff which locals say is probably more like 7a+, and then got my arse handed to me on a 6c+ (supposed 23) which the locals inform me should me more like 7a+.
Jemimah on a terrific 6b (20) at Chulilla
What is it with Spaniards and their dogs? At every single crag we have been to, there has been at least 4 or 5 dogs at the cliffs and of course the accompanying dog shit everywhere. Spain has more dog shit than any country in the world I reckon.
Anyway, tomorrow we are off to the Costa Blanca, about 3 hours south and a bit warmer which we are happy about. I thoroughly recommend the climbers hostel called El Altico, perched on the edge of the cliffs, comfortable, reasonably priced, hot showers, and local legend Pedro to give you all the advice you need. So Gracias (grassy arse) for reading the article and log on in 10 days time to see how we got on in Costa Blanca. The only thing I’m missing about Australia now is getting the shit scared out of me while new routing on Stacks Bluff and the cricket. C’mon Aussie c’mon and kick those Indian arses.
Fabulous 6b+ (21) at Arboli, with Siurana village in background and Monsant in far distance
Hola from sunny Spain. After a year of planning, my daughter Jemimah and I are finally here for 5 weeks of clipping bolts in the winter sun. While researching for the trip, I was staggered at the amount of rock and number of world class climbing areas in Spain. After agonizing over which areas to leave out, I decided on the following itinerary: fly into Barcelona, 8 days in Siurana, 6 days in Chulilla, 10 days in Costa Blanca, 10 days in El Chorro, then fly out of Madrid.
Some practical stuff: STA travel were very good to deal with and found us cheap flights with Qatar Airlines, which had a good layby arrangement to pay the airfares over a 6 month period. I pre-booked accommodation in all the places – Siurana Camping, El Altico at Chulilla, Orange House at Costa Blanca and La Finca Campagna at El chorro. On average we are paying 30 euros a night for a private 2 bed room with shared bathroom. I hired a car from Do You Spain for 590 euros for 35 days. I also bought all the guidebooks we needed a few months ago, to build the psyche, get a tick list and concentrate on the crags that had lots of routes in our grade range, mainly 6a (18) to 7a+ (24/25)
Jemimah insisted on a day of sightseeing per 2 days of climbing, but I said she could sight see out the window of the car on the way to the next crag. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the 2 nights in Barcelona and the La Sagrada Familia cathedral, still under construction after 100 years. It was well worth a visit.
Two hours drive from Barcelona brought us to the 11th century castle and village of Siurana, perched most unlikely on a cliff bound promontory. Several kilometres of unbroken, beautiful looking orange cliffs drop down from the plateau surrounding the village, and across the valley is another massive line of cliffs at Arboli, and the gobsmacking continuous line of conglomerate crags on the mountain of Monsant, a climbing paradise.
The accomodation and facilities at Siurana Camping, run by local legend Toni Arbones, were excellent. Toni has himself, bolted over 1000 routes in Spain. Just this week he bolted and led another 7 new routes. We bought food in Reus, 25km away, and occasionally stocked up at the limited local supermarket in Cornudella, plus treated ourselves to the delicious paella at the camp restaurant.
Jemimah at Siurana
We did 11 routes in 4 days at Siurana, 2 routes at Margalef, 3 routes at Arboli and another at Monsant. The best crag and best quality rock in the region was El Falco at Arboli, a glorious 40m sweep of perfect orange limestone, and the sustained excellence of one of the 6c’s (22) was memorable. Some of the rock at Siurana looked terrible on appearance, like compacted orange mud, but the climbing was terrific and the rock excellent and solid. Typical routes in our range were crimpy and a bit sharp, with the occasional surprising pocket. A highlight was watching Dani Andrada working a 9a (grade 35) project and his mate next to him on La rambla (9a+ - 36), one of the most
famous routes in the world – stratospheric. Funny though that every man and his dog seems to be climbing near that level in Europe. In Australia they’d be rock stars, but La rambla gets ticked pretty regularly by Joe Bloggs from Russia or some other place. One truly world class sector was at Monsant, a continuous line of conglomerate cliffs extending for 10km or so on a high mountain ridge. We did a 6b+ (21) at El Raco Missi, a 30m pitch of steep, sustained pockets the whole way – brilliant.
The crag we climbed at Margalef - Raco espadelles
El Raco Missi at Monsant.
7a (24) at Arboli
The cliffs are pretty much grid bolted, and they have bolted a lot of rubbish here, stuff I wouldn’t bother with back home – some wouldn’t get a star at Cataract Gorge – but I guess there are so many climbers visiting from all over the world, they have catered for people of all abilities. At one crag, we shared the cliff with people from Germany, France, Belgium, Norway, Russia, England, Spain and America. There is a vast amount of brilliant sport climbing here in Tarragona province, but it has also made me appreciate what we have in Tassie. While there is nowhere near the volume of routes, cliffs such as Bare Rock at Fingal, the Star Factory, Mt Brown, Organ Pipes, the Tyndalls and even some of the routes at Hillwood, really stack up well in terms of rock quality and excellence of movement.
Cliffs at Monsant
I’m writing this article at Chulilla on xmas day, about 3 hours south of Siurana. Literally a stone’s throw from the kitchen door of our hostel, is one of the most mind blowing climbing areas I’ve ever seen, an astonishing limestone gorge with a continuous line of 80m high orange cliffs with over 800 sport routes. Stay tuned for the next installment of our adventures in Chulilla. Buenas noches and a Merry Christmas
See this link to some photos of my project at Township Creek, Its the stunning knife edge arete of the 25m high pinnacle at Township Creek. I've called the route `Fireball' for the beautiful orange rock, the fiery moves, and the Deep Purple album of the same name. Got pretty close last weekend, but can still only do the 4 crux moves in isolation - it might be 27, which will be equal hardest I've ever climbed. Thanks to Steve Greig for the photography.
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About 2 months ago, Ingvar Lidman and I discovered a new cliff in Township Creek, a spectacular gorge in the valley east of Bare Rock at Fingal. Funny thing is though, that a section of this cliff was climbed on by Bob McMahon and I in 1984. We did 9 trad routes on the upper RH end of the cliff, but the bigger and better sector about 100m to the left and across a small ridge was unclimbed. Maybe this was because on the approach via the creek bed, the hillside is so steep that this sector is hidden. The other reason may be that we did walk around there but dismissed it because we were only looking for crack climbs. The rock is vertical dolerite 25m high of superb quality. So far, Ingvar, myself, Andrew Martin, Jemimah Narkowicz, Steve Greig and Nick Hancock have done 14 new routes. Four are trad graded 15, 18, 22 and the best one in the area by my daughter Jemimah is grade 20. There are ten sport routes from left to right graded 23, 24, 26, 28, 24, 24, 24, 23, 23, 26. There are about 10 projects on the go. In the 80's, it was a 90 minute wade up the creek and bush bash, but now we found a good logging road which takes us to a 15 minute flat walk from the cliff. Description of access is a little complicated, so it is best to arrange a guided tour with one of us. Some Tassie hot shots such as Garry Phillips, Nick Hancock, Squib and friends have confirmed the quality of the area. See this link for photos.
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I went to Frog Buttress for my first visit last week and was very impressed with the crag. With Andrew Martin, our tick list included Carrion Comfort 25, Paranoia 25, Worrying Heights 24, Impulse 24, Insomnia 23, Deliverence 23, Child In Time 22, Black Light 22, Old Guard 22, Yankee Go Home 22, One That Got away 21, Conquistador 21, Short Order 20, Egotistical Pineapple 20, Ricketty Kate 20, Devils Diehedral 20, Termination 20, Bright Green Pleasure Machine 20, Infinity 19, Plume 19, Gladiator 18, Borderline 18, elastic Rurp 17, Chocolate wrist Band 17. The rock quality is superb, the lines were stunning and inspiring and the winter sun was lovely. Could be a regular winter pilgrimage to escape the tassie winter. It was also terrific to catch up with an old friend and legendary climber Ben Maddison, who pioneered many climbs n Ben Lomond, and with whom I did an epic first ascent on Cape Pillar in 2000.
Better than the Ben? There has been some debate about where the best crack climbing in Australia is to be found. It is nonsense to compare Ben Lomond with Frog as both are superb and world class in their style and context. The Ben is without doubt the premier multi-pitch crack venue, particularly Frews Flutes, but it is often forgotten that the parallel columns on the Flutes are only one crag on Ben Lomond and there are many other cliffs with an entirely different rock structure. Face climbing at the pavilion, Heathcliffe and Local Loser are a unique experience and the big faces at Stacks Bluff and Africa are very different - mainly cracks, but discontinuous ones connecting features such as slabs, corners, faces and roofs, and scary as hell. The pure cracks on the Flutes require a lot more endurance and continuous jamming, with hardly a foothold for a rest or a facehold. On the Ben, there is way more hands in, both feet in continuous sections, where Frog has short sections of pure jams then you get a stance to rest or place gear. The rock is much smoother at frog and I didn't tape up at all for the week. Frog was more reminiscent to me of the crags in the South and North Esk rivers, except double the height. The cataract Gorge and upstream past duck Reach have 900 climbs and the North esk 300 climbs, with a multitude of neat technical jam cracks - if the best ones were all collected at one big cliffline and doubled in height, then you would have Frog Buttress. Routes like Long Knife 13, Westham 14, Feltham 16, Lingham 18, No parking 19, Reculer 20, Expecting To Fly 20, Pelvic Thrust 21, Double dozen 22, Mac The Finger 22, No Standing 23, Northern Girls 24, Dammit 25, Seize the day 26, would be trade routes at Frog Buttress - equally as neat and classy - but at Frog they are all conveniently lined up side by side and of considerable height and stature, with very easy access, beautiful winter climate, great campsite and facilities. As a package, it is certainly the best one pitch crack climbing venue in the country.
My experience on the climbs. I was climbing pretty well and my best onsight was Insomnia 23, the first 23 in Australiua by Henry Barber - an outstanding line and varied and technical. I top-roped the 25s and 24's a couple of times and checked out the gear, then led them first attempt placing the gear. Impulse 24 was one of the best trad routes I've ever done and my favorite of the trip - great movement up a stunning and improbable line. Child In Time 22 ( my favorite Deep Purple song) was the only route I took a full on leader fall - the bottom section was very pumpy, technical and hard to placed gear. For pure delightful straightforward movement, Devils diehedrall 20 was superb. I was impressed by Paranoia 25 as the parallel thin crack was hard to protect and a ground fall is possible from about 8m, and the next bit of gear is not ideal. Amazng effort by the pioneers to lead this with old gear - ball nutz were perfect for this route and made it half sane - thank goodness I didn't have to test them out though. I did Carrion Comfort 25 in less than perfect style. I dogged the gear in, then led it on pre-placed gear. I had a nasty upside down fall when a blue alien ripped and I flipped and nearly hit a ledge with my head. I was able to bridge across to the route next door until the ledge at half height, which reduced the difficulty. Is this fair enough? From about half height, most stem across to get a rest, but I could do so from the start. Seems contrived to stick rigidly to the line when it is very easy to stem across, which spoilt it a bit for me.
It was pleasing to see Andrew Martin (ex Frog local and guidebook author, now Tassie resident), get regular compliments from dozens of climbers on the excellent guidebook he wrote to Frog Buttress. It is entertaining and humorous and very accurate, as Andrew is one of the few authors who determined to climb every single climb at the crag to research the guidebook. His knowledge of the cliff is encyclopedic, and he was able to spray beta to most routes which he did over 8 years ago.
Make sure you where a helmet at Frog - the cliff tops are treacherous and there is loose rock on the ledges. With dozens of climbers all rapping off, pulling ropes and often bringing rocks down, even passers-by and spectators need to wear a helmet.
I waited over 30years to finally get to frog and I was very impressed by the inspiring lines, quality of rock and movement and the overall aspect, weather and camping. My experience on Tassie cracks certainly helped. I'll certainly be back next winter for another brilliant holiday.
The climbing season began in earnest at Bare Rock at easter now that the weather is cooling down. Since then, 6 new pitches have been added to the area. Garry Phillips completed a link-up of Angel Of Pain into Legends Never Die to produce Triple Direct, a super sustained 29, with a devastating crux move right below the anchors. On the Supernaut Face, I did a new 24 called Neon Knights, which does the first 4 bolts of Supernaut, then heads right and up for a sustained technical 40m pitch on superb rock. Andrew Martin is investing a lot of time, energy and bolts in an epic new multi-pitch route about 20m right of Sapphire Rose going all the way to the summit. Two of the five pitches have been led, a huge pitch of excellent grade 19 and one at grade 27 - 3 star climbing 120m off the deck on the astonishing upper headwall, surrendered by Andrew to Ingvar Lidman in a moment of stark reality check. Ingvar led his long standing project at New Horizons buttress and named it Judge Dredd (28), involving grade 25 face climbing up to a desperate boulder problem at three quarter height. Ingvar also completed the magnificent route Barbarella (27), a prominent line on the Boneyard face - written up in the new guidebook while it was still a project (how naughty). Other projects on the go include Garry's 3 projects on the Boneyard which will all weigh in around the 32 mark; Ingvar has bolted the big orange streak next to (and avoided by) Bisso of Orange. Initial shunting efforts seem to predict grade 29 for this one. Chris Coppand has 3 projects on the headwall above the great roof, surely one of the most outlandish positions in tassie climbing. And I'm close to ticking a new 25 on the Supernaut face.
Triple Direct 30m. 29. ***
Start up Angel Of Pain (26), then cross over Passchendaele (0.75 and 0.5 cam) and move left to gain the upper section of Legends Never Die. Super sustained with a desperate crux below the anchors on flailing arms. FA: Garry Phillips 24/5/14
Neon Knights. 40m. 24. **
Climb the first 4 bolts of Supernaut, then head right and up on perfect orange stone for sustained, excellent technical climbing. An old fashioned bridging problem in the upper corner may provide a redpoint crux for some. FA: Gerry Narkowicz. 22/4/14
Judge Dread 15m. 28. ***
The main face at New Horizons buttress. A beautiful line of natural holds on perfect dolerite. Grade 25 face climbing to a desperate boulder problem at three quarter height. FA: Ingvar Lidman 25/5/14
Over the last few months the dolerite crag on the summit of Mt Blackwood has undergone a renaissance with 8 excellent new routes put up by Andrew Martin, Ingvar Lidman and myself. The cliff was first climbed on in 1969 by Mike Douglas, and then in 1971 by Bob McMahon. Bob McMahon and various partners did the major trad lines ground-up in the early 80's, and apart from 2 routes by Andrew McGifford and myself about 10 years ago, the cliff lay dormant for 30 years. The cliff was brought into the 21st century 3 months ago when 2 bolted routes were added, a rap station and cleaning the remaining trad lines. One of the original routes from 1978 by Humzoo is in my opinion, the best crack for the grade in Tasmania - Who Among Them (19). Tracks have also been cut up both access gullies. With the addition of the new climbs, Blackwood Summit is seriously worth a couple of days visit by locals and interstate visitors alike. Download the full Blackwood Summit guide.
Last weekend Ingvar and I did a new route called Falling Off The Edge Of The World, 125m (23) at Stacks. It involves several bold sections with runouts of up to 5m with climbing in the 21-23 range, and some of the gear placements are subtle and not obvious. The route was made possible by extensive preparation including 2 days of cleaning on abseil and sussing out gear placements and 3 sessions of shunting on a solo device, and then the route was led ground up with all the gear racked in order.
A repeat ascensionist going ground up is going to face a greater challenge than I did, because I had the moves and the gear wired, and if the climber went past and missed one of the crucial gear placements, they would be in deep shit. This is the fifth multi-pitch route I have done at Stacks Bluff using this method of preparation in recent years. All of them are routes of great quality and all of them tackle the faces in between the major crack lines. The most difficult one is the Trinity Split (24) up the face left of Aqualung which involves grade 24 face climbing leading 3m diagonally out from a small wire (difficult to locate), with the next runner 5m below. The route `Surmounting Terror (24) involves a 4m runout through some intimidating steep ground, and the 8-10m fall you would take from the crux might have you hit the belayer on a hangng belay. The route Brave New World (23) was declared by my seconder as the best trad pitch for the grade in Tassie, but you have to be confident enough to climb 21+ with a runout of 8m.
Some may say why are you writng this Gerry, just to boast how big your balls are doing these bold routes? No - 3 reasons - I don't want to die doing these climbs and to be up front and honest about the style; secondly that any repeat ascensionists are fully aware of the style of the first ascent and any attempt will be a serious undertaking and thirdly, to defend the style against the critics.
When I publicised some of these climbs, someone congratulated me on the climb, but remarked that it was a pity about the style. In the 80's, everything we did on Ben Lomond was done ground up, trundling as we went, but nothing harder than 23 was managed. Such route names as `Nightmare In A Damaged Brain ' reflect the horror show of some of these climbs. Then I witnessed an American climber take a 50m cartwheeling upside fall at Africa going ground up on a new route, as a hold broke and all the gear on the pitch ripped. He ended up 15m off the deck with a 3m section of the rope shredded from being caught on a flake. I determined that for anything harder than your average crack, once you venture onto the faces it is foolhardy and potential death without rap cleaning and inspecting gear, and if technically challenging - some rehearsal of moves. If you go underneath Rudigers Castle at Stacks, it looks like a bomb blast - rocks the size of mini-bar fridges have come of the faces with the slight pry of a claw hammer. Gear placements have materialised on blank looking walls as thin seams and cracks were scraped with a nut key, making the climbs at least semi-sane. As a near 50 year old overweight git has-been, 23-24 is about my technical limit and am not ashamed to admit that I needed to rehearse the moves to get up these climbs. With bulging discs in my back from a bad leader fall, I don't want to take the 10m slamming fall into the corner that is possible on `Falling Off The Edge Of The World.' While the first ascent was done ground up placing gear on lead, the gear was racked in order and tick marks on the cliff for the placements. Sill a legitimate trad style I would have thought.
As I said, anyone repeating the route will face a greater challenge than me, but they will be rewarded with one of the best pitches on Ben Lomond, equally as good as the immortal Aqualung. So congratulations to Crazy John Fisher who repeated Surmountng Terror (24) recently, who led it ground up and onsight - way better than my achievement - but at least the route was clean, described in detail with gear required, and a challenging, outstanding climb is there for those who are up to it.
See link to topos of the new bold routes mentioned in this article, extracted from the new selected best climbing guide to Tassie.
Gerry Narkowicz, accompanied by Ingvar Lidman, completed a new route at Stacks Bluff last weekend called `Falling Off The Edge Of The World', 125m, grade 23. The crux pitch of 55m is equal in quality and stature to the immortal 4th pitch of Aqualung. It goes up the far left hand side of Rudigers Castle on Denison Crag, the same buttress with Overhangng Like A Sausage etc, and tackles a big blank looking corner which eventually fuses below some overhangs, and some very unlikely territory above that.. Protection is good but spaced.
*First Ascent Style: Be aware that the route was done in headpoint style, that is rap cleaned, gear inspected, and 3 sessions of shunting on a solo device to rehearse the moves. It was then led ground up placing gear on lead. While the route is not dangerous in terms of loose rock, it would be a greater challenge for a repeat ascensionist to do this climb ground up.
Description: Falling Off The Edge Of The World, 125m 23 ***
1) 35m, 19. Shares the same start as Ghost Country on the LHS of Rudigers Castle, at a thin right leaning corner crack about 30m L of the central pillar (the sausage). Up thin corner to ledge at 15m, then L up seam/groove to belay below prominent light grey corner. 2) 55m, 23. Up finger crack in grey corner to small stance below a short blank corner capped by a small roof. Gear at base of corner, then boldly up to the roof and over it to gain the prominent big corner. Fantastic finger tip laybacks for 20m or so up the corner to where it fuses below some overhangs. Delicate run out bridging for several metres above a 2RP to the very top of the corner and two bombproof large wires. Now comes the crux, an exhiliarating 5m traverse across the face to the right, to gain the next crack system. Some small crimps and two good footholds materialise as you commit to this most unlikely series of moves. A tiny wire goes in a flake halfway across the traverse. Its not over yet as another 10m of strenuous and steep crack (about grade 21) follows to a v-slot and small ledge where a big loose rock came off. Belay here. 3) 35m, 19. Up pleasant thin corner to stance below dirty loose section, which is avoided by moving right to neat finger crack on arete. From ledge, follow the thin, awkward jam crack for 15m to another ledge, then up easy blocks to the top. Descent: Vegetated scramble to ridge top and walk down narrow gully about 100m to the west. FA: Gerry Narkowicz and Ingvar Lidman. 8/3/14
The latest guide of selected climbs will be available for delivery from 12 January 2014. This comprehensive guide includes over 850 routes at Tassie’s 25 best crags, makes it the ultimate guide for visitors and a concise guide for locals.
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Check out the reviews at:
Simon Mentz's: http://www.chockstone.org/Forum/Forum.asp?Action=DisplayTopic&ForumID=15&MessageID=25927&Replies=1#NewPost
Ross taylor of Vertical Life Magazine: http://www.verticallifemag.com.au/category/review/