At the end of June my brother Tom moved to Canberra to pursue further study opportunities. Although not the other side of the world, it is still a big change for us both, as regular readers have probably figured out, we do a lot together.
Being one of our favourite places, we decided to spend one more weekend out at Girraween before he left. A big goal for the trip was for Tom to have one more attempt at his long term project climb, New Paths, and to hopefully get some good photos in the process. He’s now left for greener pastures, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect on the last few years of climbing trips to this amazing park.
Girraween isn’t known for its steep, or even vertical, climbing routes. The large percentage are found on slabs (less than vertical), with an emphasis on the delicate and balance-centric technique required from this style of route. This usually involves trusting yourself to stand on, and use as holds, tiny crystals of granite.
When you do come across some vertical rock it will often go one of two ways. Either the wall will be completely blank with no chance of climbing, or something special has happened in the formation of the rock giving you amazingly featured sections with plenty of opportunity for brilliant, steep and pumpy climbing. New Paths is found on one of these latter walls, and at roughly 30m long provides a solid test at the grade.
Tom’s first attempt at the climb was in 2012. We had spent a few days climbing at Girra and it was towards the end of a day climbing at Turtle Rock that he decided to “just rap down and have a look”. I knew this wasn’t likely to be all that happened, and sure enough we found ourselves roped up at the base looking up at this stunning piece of rock.
The start was tough, but eventually Tom got established on the route before making solid progress in between a few hangs. There is one good nut placement roughly two-thirds of the way up which takes the place of a bolt and it wasn’t until he was pushing past this placement, and the light beginning to fade, that things began looking less hopeful that he would reach the top. Sure enough, as he made one more valiant attempt, a hold broke off in his hand peeling his thumbnail off in the process, and that was it for the trip.
During those final few minutes though, as I looked up from the base, an amazing orange glow blanketed the rock and an idea was planted in my mind about somehow capturing this amazing climb, the gorgeous surrounding landscape and of course Tom on the route.
After Tom spent most of the next year overseas, it wasn’t until 2014 that we found ourselves back at Girraween together, along with some friends. After a great day climbing at The Sphinx I had to leave early. However, the rest of the crew headed back to Turtle Rock for Tom’s regular attempt the next day.
We’ve never been ones to “project” routes. Some might call ours the traditional approach to climbing where things are done ground-up, but I think for us it simply comes down to a desire not to dwell on a single route when there are so many other awesome ones to try. That, and I’m not sure if we have the patience for it.
Nevertheless, he was back on the route, and with a couple of extra years of experience and maybe even a bit of extra strength, the result was an improved high-point. Bonus points for leaving all the fingernails intact this time. Despite the positives, there was still a feeling of being overwhelmed by the work still needed to tick the route (climb it cleanly in one push without falling). One more reason to keep going back I suppose?
The following months saw Tom having great success moving up the grades at Frog Buttress. He ticked Venom (22), Deliverance (23) and a couple of other routes around those grades. He also had success in sport climbing; ticking a few more climbs 24 and above at Kangaroo Point and Slider, Mt. Tibrogargan.
2014 was also a good year for my own climbing. After setting some solid goals, and getting in a lot of hours on the rock and gym I ticked my first pair of 20’s at Frog leading up to a week at Girra. It seemed like everything was falling into place.
After starting the week on a couple of adventurous trad routes on Second Pyramid and Mt. Norman, the next stop was once again, Turtle Rock. We had Maree along this time. The shots she took from the rock shelf beside the route gave me the inspiration that this would be an excellent vantage point for my own images.
Frustratingly, Tom’s performance on the route was similar to the previous year. A couple of rests needed and a couple of falls taken. However, this year was also my first time on the route. This allowed me a fresh perspective on his struggles. Funnily enough, it was quite difficult! I was happy with my efforts though, and after much swearing and nearly repeating his efforts with the fingernail from a couple of years prior, I made it to the top.
Despite the frustrations, lessons were learnt that week. If success was going to be had, then multiple attempts within the day were going to be needed. The time between climbs was just too long, and it wasn’t until after each initial burn up the wall that Tom remembered critical details that meant the difference between success and failure. This probably seems obvious to some, but as I mentioned, this style of climbing just didn’t come naturally to us.
This brings us back to 2015. With less than a month left in Queensland before the trip south, it was now or never (or at least for a little while…). I had my photo planned out, our awesome friend Adam was locked in as belay slave, and we had a plan for Tom to have his best shot at success during the golden hours of the evening.
The first attempt for the day was a familiar affair, with a similar high point to the previous trip. This time I was there for photos though, and this time he was prepared to put in the work for at least a second attempt. In the mean time, Adam put in his own solid effort on the route, giving further confirmation that it was a climb worthy of attention.
As sunset approached my excitement grew. The clouds were looking extremely promising. Now all we had to do was get the timing right, and for me to get the shot. As I set up my tripod and prepared the shot Tom started up. He made great progress, climbing quickly and efficiently. The light was already good, so I started shooting. Onwards he pushed, and before long was approaching the technical crux, a tricky crossover manoeuvre on steep territory with minimal foot holds. For a second I was distracted from shooting as Adam and I both willed him on. He was through!!
This was new territory now. How long would he be able to hold on and ignore the burning in the forearms; maintaining the crucial concentration needed to place feet on useful holds. As Tom approached the final bolt things looked good. I was snapping away frantically as he was now in prime silhouette position. However, without warning, he dropped.
With that, the attempt was over for Tom, however it was really just beginning for me. I knew that within minutes the sun would be dipping below the bank of clouds that it currently sat behind, and with that would come an amazing show of light. Sure enough, as the sun moved into view the colours went into overdrive. Tom took the opportunity to finish the climb and I took the shot that you see at the start of the article.
As we packed up and reflected on a great day, the light show continued. Heavy mist rolled in creating an apocalyptic looking scene with the remains of the sunset colour sitting as a fiery band along the horizon.
So the saga continues… New Paths remains a challenge worthy of a return trip to the sunshine state. At least there is plenty of granite to practice on near Canberra.