GBF#2019 Cancelled

As many people will have guessed, it’s with some sadness that we have to cancel this year’s Grampians Bouldering Festival.

The current situation is the Grampians/Gariwerd is a shit-show of uncertainty and mistrust. Unfortunately, many of the areas that we’ve used in previous years now fall within designated and enforced Special Protection Areas (SPAs) created by Parks Victoria (PV). Not only are the areas where we could hold the festival severely restricted as a result but there is just a lot of bad juju around.

We are surprised that some of the areas we used in the Festival have been locked up in SPAs now.


To hold the festival in the Grampians National Park/Gariwerd we have to apply for a permit from PV. The permit process is very detailed. As part of the process PV conducted an evaluation of cultural and environmental values, not only in the areas for which we applied for a permit but for some considerable distance around them. The results that were conveyed to us stated there were no cultural heritage sites found during this evaluation. Some minor environmental concerns (some vulnerable flora) were identified, which we mitigated against by ensuring that everyone stayed on already established tracks and committed to zero foliage damage (we also added photos and descriptions of the flora to the festival handbook that goes out to each participant).

As such, it’s a mystery to us why areas such as Andersens (which has a sign installed by PV pointing to it!), Hollow Mountain Cave, Loopeys and the Kindergarten, all areas we used during the two Festivals, are now closed to climbers when PVs own processes determined that there were no cultural heritage nor environmental concerns. This fact alone raises many questions about the process by which PV conceived, rationalised and implemented the bans.

On a number of other levels, it’s also a shame. About 30% of Festival goers each year were complete beginners to bouldering outdoors. This meant the Festival acted as a great way – indeed, the only formal way – to introduce boulderers (in large numbers) to the outdoors with expert tuition on safety, etiquette and Leave No Trace principles. Instead of this important site of learning, we’re back to the informal process of beginners learning either on their own or from others whose expertise is unknown.


In Year 1, then Grampians Head Ranger, Dave Roberts (pictured above), accepted our invite to the Festival opening ceremony. Dave spoke to participants about Parks Victoria and the responsibilities of park users. Noteworthy, during his speech Dave also encouraged boulderers to ‘get organised’, unfortunately we climbers did not heed his warning and the echo of these words haunts us all today. We feel this opportunity for PV to speak directly to boulderers is another great loss to both sides. Also noteworthy, a similar offer for PV to attend the opening ceremony in Year 2 was not taken up by Parks.

The Festival also brought a fair bit of money into the local community. We camped on a private property, some attendees stayed in cabins, we bought food and other supplies from Horsham, paid fees to the Horsham Rural City Council, hired equipment and employed local people, not to mention the longer term effect of introducing new climbers to the Grampians, many of whom will return many, many times, each time adding money to the local economy.


Beyond that, we feel like the Festival contributed massively to the sense of climbing community.  It brought people together in a fun and valuable way. We had the most generous and wonderful support from experienced boulderers who were keen to impart their wisdom on attendees and brands keen to nurture the community and support the values of the Festival.

While we’re disappointed that we have to cancel 2019’s festival, we hope that in the next year issues around access can be resolved and that we can again hold the Festival – that we can boulder together, spot the aged, learn together, support each other, kickstart the kids and enjoy the part of the world that we love the most.

Thanks to everyone who has supported the first two years of the Festival, with special mention to our great mates at Black Diamond Equipment, and Deirdre Baum, who’s property in Laharum acted as a most beautiful home-base for the Festival.

We love youse all,
Simon Madden & Ross Taylor, Festival Directors

NOTE: An earlier version of this piece stated that the SPA covering the areas used in the Festival was newly created. This was incorrect. The SPA was pre-existing. In 2019 PV decided to enforce the SPA to restrict climbing and bouldering in areas including Andersens, Hollow Mountain Cave and the Kindergarten.

IMPORTANT – The Comp & theCrag


This year we are partnering with the online route database, theCrag, to make the competition a smoother, easier experience for anyone. Instead of logging your ascents on a piece of paper (which is so, like, last century), everyone will be logging their ascents on their smartphone.

To make this work, we need everyone to sign up to theCrag before the weekend (don’t be one of those last-minute people). You can sign up to theCrag and register for the Grampians Bouldering Festival competition here.

Once you’re registered, you’re all set for comp day. We also recommend you watch this video by theCrag. It has instructions for how to find problems and log your ascents. We still recommend using the paper guide to get around.

And, never fear, if you struggle to log your ascents due to any of the following – lack of smartphone, lack of reception, lack of intelligence – we will have a computer where you can log your ascents at basecamp.

For more information about the competition itself and the rules, go here.

Amanda Watts – Eat & Get Strong

Amanda is not only a hyper-qualified nutritionalist with a track record of fuelling some of the best climbers in Australia, she is also a very talented climber and trainer who is dead-set keen on giving you all the tools you need to be a better boulderer. Learn about fuel for performance and fuel for recovery and then PERFORM!

What’s the focus of your session going to be?
Nutrition. And the basics of training. The nutrition part of the session will focus on locking down the basics of what you eat (with a little myth busting), food to fuel training and your day on the rock. A brief overview of weight management for performance. The training side will cover: an overview of training tools, different types of and approaches to training, and some tips to getting better and stronger.

What do you think your training as a sports dietitian/nutritionist brings to your training knowledge that a non-nutritionist wouldn’t have?
Understanding the impact what you eat can have short and long term on your body. When you have big climbing goals what you eat can make a big difference to the grade you climb or your place on the podium in a comp. I am lucky that my work means I understand how to craft an eating plan to maximise training gains, to manipulate weight and body composition and to work with long term health and quality of life goals. We need the right recipe of ingredients going into our bodies every day to be the best climbing versions of ourselves and to get to the end of our lives in the best shape possible. Its super cool understanding how to do this and being a part of the global team of people trailblazing this area of knowledge.

Amanda cruxing on Rave Heart (V8), Hollow Mountain Cave.  Lee Cossey

Amanda cruxing on Rave Heart (V8), Hollow Mountain Cave. Lee Cossey

What do you think are some of the core elements of good nutrition?
1. Critical thinking: we are bombarded with food advertising, fad diets and quick fix options. It’s so important to understand that most of the food industry is driven by profits, not driven to make people healthy.  

2. The ability to be reflective and honest with yourself. Do you know what you eat each day? Do you put as much focus and energy into what you eat as you put into your climbing and training?

3. Taking the emotional reaction away from food.   

You’ve been climbing and competing for a long time, what do you think are the core elements of continued improvement at climbing?
Being really, really honest with yourself and understanding what your strengths and weaknesses are. If there’s something you are avoiding in your sessions, it’s probably the thing you are the worst at and need to train most. Having a clear plan, actually sticking to 80% of it and trying really hard. And, lastly, treat training as training. It’s about getting stronger, not looking the strongest. You need to fail to get better.

How do you think knowledge about training, diet and performance has changed in the time you have been climbing?
I think there is a heap more terrible diet information out there now and nutrition has become like a religion. There are so many fad diets and there is so much access to low quality food. On the positive side, we know so much more about training and nutrition now because the sport has been around for so much longer, we have so many more gyms and training facilities and coaches looking at climbing. That's exciting and for climbing nerds like Tom and I, access to tons of training research is awesome.

You’re currently completing your ASCA strength and conditioning level one qualification, have you learnt anything so far that’s challenged your existing knowledge or surprised you?
Not so much. Since I started rock climbing in 1995, I have been extremely interested in training and have read a lot, have worked as a gym instructor and covered some of the principles at uni. I am very psyched on coaching women in climbing and have always liked to have something formal to underpin my work. So the ASCA qualification is about making sure I have an awesome and accessible knowledge base behind me to add to my current degrees and experience.

Why do you think climbing and bouldering festivals are good?
We all get to spend 48 to 72 hours doing nothing but boulder, climb, talk climbing, hang out with climbers and eat great food! What could be better!!

Do you have an tips for boulderers going into the competition on the Saturday of the Festival?
Have a plan of attack to manage your skin!! And bring tape for when you start to bleed.

Not a problem for vegetarians; Amanda giving Butcher’s Choice (V10) plenty of juice, Trackside.  Tom O’Halloran

Not a problem for vegetarians; Amanda giving Butcher’s Choice (V10) plenty of juice, Trackside. Tom O’Halloran

What’s in your crag snack/lunch box?
I find it hard to eat at the crag, I find I’m usually not very aware of being hungry because I am to distracted by the climbing but I do notice when my performance starts to fade from lack of food. So I have had to experiment with this one a lot. I am super aware of trying to get enough protein, carb and energy in every day to be able to back up a training session after a climbing day, multiple training sessions a week and keep my immune system in the best shape I can from my diet. So, I have been taking a Sustagen popper (drinking one of them just before I walk out of the crag works well for me), six to eight Vita Wheat crackers, some hummus, red capsicum, cucumber and cherry tomatoes. Some days I will throw a little bit of chocolate in. And most days a thermos of tea.

What are the three Grampians bouldering problems that you’d most like to climb?
1. The Wheel of Life. (doesn't everyone have it on their ultimate dream list J)

2. When We Were Kings.

3. On the Beach.

It’s late at night and you’re driving back from the Grampians to the Blue Mountains and you have a choice of McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dominos and a fish & chip shop, where do you eat and what do you order?
Never KFC. I just can’t shake the image of a deep fried rat. You never know what’s hiding under that deep fried outer. I love pizza but the microbiology part of my degree, looking at food bacteria, ruined me for things like Domino’s pizza. I’d probably go for fish and chips or an egg McMuffin and hash brown from McDonalds, but I would be more likely to buy a bag of nuts or cheese and crackers and a kids’ sized iced coffee from the servo to get me through.

Charlotte Garden – Best of British

British ring-in and now Halls Gap-local, Charlotte Garden, will be competing at this year's Grampians Bouldering Festival, as well as running some clinics on Sunday. Keeping a relatively low profile based out of Halls Gap, Charlotte is a super-successful British comp climber, and we are delighted that those who signed up for the women's clinics will be able to tap into her deep climbing and competing experience.

For Australian climbers who may not be familiar with you, can you give us the Charlotte Garden climbing bio 101?
I've been climbing for 15 years. I was on the British climbing team for six years, gaining comp results like four times Junior British Champion, second in the British Boulder Championships and twice I came eighth in the European Youth Lead Championships. When I started travelling in 2015 I transitioned to mainly climbing outdoors and now I live in Halls Gap in the Grampians! (Rockclimber's paradise). I'm still dabbling in comps and managed to rank first in Australia for bouldering last year.

Charlotte climbing one of her favourite Grampians' problems, The Departed (V10), at the Valley of the Giants.  Oliver Miller

Charlotte climbing one of her favourite Grampians' problems, The Departed (V10), at the Valley of the Giants. Oliver Miller

How do you find yourself in Australia?
I was on a 'round the world' trip visiting South Africa, China, Laos and Thailand, then arrived in Australia and I loved the Gramps too much to leave.

Tell us about the first time you went bouldering in the Grampians.
My first day climbing in the Gramps was late March 2016 with a friend Zoe at Andersons. We went round a few classics but I was mainly getting used to the new rock and appreciating my stunning surroundings.

You are running some of our women’s clinics, what will these involve?
The clinics I'll be running will hopefully get women thinking about climbing. It's obviously a physical sport but I want to encourage people to climb smarter. How to plan out your session, projecting, techniques, resting, what to work on specific to yourself.

Why do you think it’s important to encourage women to get outdoors?
I think it's important to get outdoors because that's where climbing really started; out on the rocks.

Rock climbing can improve your technique. Because holds aren't obvious bright colours and specifically set out to climb like indoors you have to get creative and put more effort into looking for holds and figuring out how you're going to climb the rock.

But there's much more than that... it can open up a totally new playground.

Going out by myself can feel like my own personal adventure. I can have peaceful pottering session when I enjoy the fresh air and appreciate nature or I can have psyched and focused sessions when I project and challenge myself.

Charlotte having a crack at In the Cloud (V11/12).  Oliver Miller

Charlotte having a crack at In the Cloud (V11/12). Oliver Miller

You’ve spent a fair bit of time in the Grampians now, what are your top five boulders (and why)?
The Departed V10 (Valley of the Giants) Classic power-endurance problem. All the moves are consistently difficult and fantastic quality moves on fantastic quality rock with perfectly sloping holds.

Riding Shotgun V6 (Andersens) Fontainebleau-style boulder. It can be tricky to unlock the secret and subtle body position but once you found the key it can feel easy and awesome.

In the Cloud V11/12 (Project Wall area) Although I haven't ticked this one it's still up there in my favourites. There's no trickery or escaping the basic bearing down and powering through these savage crimps.

Sex Panther V9 (The Bleachers) The rock quality and climbing style at the Bleachers is brilliant. This one has some really fun big powerful moves.

Krusty V9 (Hollow Mountain Cave) Forces you to get creative and throw some spectacular shapes. Hollow Mountain Cave is so unique you have to have a favourite there.

You've had a lot of success in comps, and are competing at the GBF on the Saturday, without giving much away too much to your competitors, do you have any tips for the less experienced?
For the GBF, pick problems you can climb in few attempts, especially if like me you’re a boulderer with limited endurance. Get some safe easy ticks to get your score solid then try something harder later to try and boost your score. Try hard, get stuck in, have fun and enjoy the Grampians!


Oliver Miller – Safety Masterclass

Halls Gap local, Oliver Miller, will be returning to this year's festival to once again run his beginner masterclasses. If you've not done much (or any) bouldering outdoors before, then doing one of these classes – ideally on the Friday before the competition – is a must, not just so that you can compete safely on Saturday, but also so you can be a safer boulderer full stop. Oliver is a super experienced climber, who has bouldered up to V13, and has climbed many hard and high problems in the Grampians, including many first ascents. We spoke to Oliver to find out more.

Last year we were blown away by your beginner clinics, and even though we’re experienced boulderers we felt like we learnt some new things watching them. Can you give us a rundown on what you cover, and what you think are the most important elements?
I’m going to focus on safety, so I’ll cover how to deal with pads, landings and spotting – from the perspective of both spotter and climber.

What do you think is the most common mistake that beginners make when it comes to safety?
The most common mistake in terms of safety that I see is people using too many pads and don’t attend to the landing once the pads are on the ground. A big jumble of pads can be almost as dangerous as none at all if they're not placed carefully.

Oliver on the first ascent of Ways of Being (V11) at the Valley of the Giants. Matt Corbishley

Oliver on the first ascent of Ways of Being (V11) at the Valley of the Giants. Matt Corbishley

Do you have an tips for boulderers going into the competition on the Saturday of the Festival?
Pace yourself. Allow four to six minutes minimum between goes. Make your attempts count; work out all the beta before pulling on if possible! Warm up on your easy problems on the list then try the hardest one when you are warm and still fresh. Make sure you’ve got a good spotter! Be careful descending from the top of the boulders, this is actually often the most dangerous time when you aren't paying attention!

You’ve done a lot of bouldering in the Grampians, can you give us your top five problems?
The Departed V10
(Valley of the Giants) It’s just perfect! Long, consistent, variety of hold shapes, amazing rock and a joy to climb on.

Obelisk V6 (Halls Gap) Straight out of the Peak District. Relatively easy climbing on a stunning arete with a great view of Lake Bellfield.

Blackbeard’s Delight V8 (The Bleachers) Classic at the grade, interesting moves on varied holds and super popular.

On the Beach V13 (Stapylton) Incredible movement, glassy-hard rock, Taipan in the background… hard but approachable unlike some others at the grade.

The Wave Swoop V14 (Mt Fox) I haven’t climbed it but just look at the thing. An iconic line displaying the veins that are so special to the Vic Range.

You’ve also done a lot of first ascents, what are a few your favourite children?
Ways of Being V11
(Valley of the Giants) It climbs beautifully, has a unique undercling crux and was a big challenge for me when I first climbed it.

Juggernaut V10 (Halls Gap) A very cool dyno just done this year. It’s a relatively rare type of move on great rock, just behind Obelisk.

The Last Resort V13 (Mt Fox) By far the hardest thing I’ve climbed. Powerful, crimpy, very pure and intricate on ridiculously good rock.

The first ascent on a new highball called Deathproof (V8) in Stapylton amphitheatre. Music: 'Hunterslice' by Wagawaga Footage: Blake Wardell

Immersions V8 (Venus Baths) Had a lot of fun cleaning this and figuring it out. It’s popular, right by the track and beautiful sitting right by the river.

Blockhead V10 (Venus Baths) Obscure, rarely climbed on and the movement is utterly bizarre. One of the most satisfying first ascents as it was a real puzzle with only one solution (so far)…

Pretty much every redhead we know is strong, is there something about being a ginger that makes you better at climbing?
Definitely. Being irresistibly gorgeous gets you places in life.

Given you’re a Kiwi, we’re going to test your loyalties – which is better, the Grampians or Castle Hill?
Yin and Yang situation innit? The Grampians does all the things Castle Hill doesn’t and vice versa… There’s a reason I live in the Grampians though :)


We are delighted that Amy Fenton is making it back again for this year's festival. Last year she came in third in the open men's and women's division, so we are looking forward to seeing if she can do even better this year. For those who don't know much about Amy, she is one of the first Australian women to climb the stratospheric grade of V12, with her ascent of Deep Blue Sea, a very hard roof problem in the Black Cave in Sydney. She is once again putting on a clinic, this time focussing on roof climbing. We spoke to her about her plans for this year's festival.

You’re running a clinic this year called Intro to Roof Climbing, what are some of the main components that you’ll cover?
The efficient use of your feet! Why get stronger when you can put all of your eggs into one heel-hooking basket? We’ll be doing lots of techy toe hooks, heel hooks, drop knees and work on climbing smoothly and efficiently in a roof. Otherwise there will be some round table discussion on different styles of roof climbing and ways to strength train for roof projects.

Amy Fenton applying her powerful overbite to Midwife Crisis (V8), Jessicas Crag, Sydney.  Aron Hailey

Amy Fenton applying her powerful overbite to Midwife Crisis (V8), Jessicas Crag, Sydney. Aron Hailey

You need to be able to boulder reasonably hard to qualify for the clinic, why is that?
Roof climbing requires a pretty high baseline level of strength, keeping your body moving while horizontal can be really tough work. Hollow Mountain Cave is an amazing place but unfortunately there is very little climbing there below V5 and in order to make the most of the area we’ve put on a minimum grade.

What aspect of training do you think is most important for success on roof problems?
The obvious (and of course correct) answer would be core strength and the ability to keep tension but I do think open hand finger strength in particular can be a surprisingly large limiting factor in roof climbing. The ability to open hand hang on holds with enough gas left in the tank to generate subtle momentum and ‘swing’ between holds is quite important, there are a lot of roof moves that locking and pulling just don’t work on.

What’s your favourite Grampians roof problem?
Cave Bitch! So good. I haven’t finished it yet but any problem that has me smiling after punting off the end is a good one. It has a bit of everything, a hard start, juggy mileage and then a dynamic crux with enough tension to send you running down Hollow Mountain to the car park toilet.

Since you’re so good at roofs does that mean you are rubbish at slabs? Or are you one of those obnoxious people who are good at both?
Absolutely rubbish. Beyond rubbish. One could even say that I redefine rubbish and that in itself is a talent. For every angle less than 70 degrees my climbing goes down at least one V grade – I think that puts my slab ability somewhere in a Year 7 math class.

Amy in her preferred environment, upside down, on Roof is On Fire (V6), Rocklands, South Africa.  Gordon Fowler

Amy in her preferred environment, upside down, on Roof is On Fire (V6), Rocklands, South Africa. Gordon Fowler

In last year’s comp you placed third in the Advanced Division, are you doing any special training to be Numero Uno this year?
I’ve been so busy with 9 Degrees Lane Cove that I have hardly been climbing but I do believe Nalle rested for three months before sending Burden of Dreams (V17) so I have high hopes for the win this year. Backup plan is to do a Steven Bradbury via some underhand tactics with Dierdre’s Cafe.

Given your success last year, what tips do you have for people competing?
Get on your harder stuff early, skin and energy are precious resources. It is good to be self aware and know when to call it quits on a boulder, spending an hour working on something you may not finish is a sure fire way to burn out your muscles and your confidence. Respectfully latch on to people who have a similar climbing style or grade range and work out sequences as a group, conserve your energy via teamwork and share beta like gospel. If all else fails, a thermos full of coffee.

Do you have a special sending diet?
Carrots are so 2017 – I found this great online delivery service called Jimmy Brings and I’ve started basing my meals around that, it’s been life changing.

You can read more about Amy's ascent of Deep Blue Sea here.

Stepan Novikov – Walk like a Russian

Russian-born ex-Moscovian now Sydneysider, Stepan Novikov (no relation to the nerve agent Novichok), is a slacklining and highlining maestro. He is also one of the nicest guys we know and we are stoked to have him at the GBF 2018. Stepan has been walking the line for Donkey’s Years and has established many fine and difficult highlines including the first ever highline on Mt Geryon in the remote Tassie Wilderness. You can watch it here. (

Stepan currently teaches slacklining classes in Sydney where he transforms even the most wobbly of beginners into competent line walkers. We asked him a few questions to get an idea of what Festival goers can expect.

How did you get into slacklining?
It was almost nine years ago. I saw some people slacklining in a park. At that time I was already playing another not well known sport professionally (white water slalom) and learning juggling on my own. So it wasn't surprising for me that I got drawn to some new strange activity. On that first day I had a chance to try it only once. Obviously I sucked, like most of us do. Then a month later while I was on a sport camp for a couple of weeks someone had rigged a line and left it there. There was no one around who could walk it or knew how it should be done, but I had a lot of free time and heaps of motivation. It took me about three days to successfully send my first 10m line.

What makes a good slackliner?
Like with everything else, your willingness and ability to train regularly will make you a good slackliner no matter what you are born with (of course there are some exceptions).

What makes slacklining and bouldering so compatible?
It might be surprising, but I don't think bouldering and slacklining are that compatible. I mean, learning to slackline won't make you any better in bouldering and vise versa. But the good thing is that since they are so different you can learn one of them while you are resting from another.

Stepan on a line at Mt Arapiles.  Alex Bog

Stepan on a line at Mt Arapiles. Alex Bog

What can beginners expect to learn in your Intro class?
It's all gonna be about safe and efficient way of training.  

And since we all learn with very different speed, I would only say that most of the people can expect to be able to stay on a line for 10 seconds with proper posture, many will learn how to do a step, some will learn to do multiple steps in a row. It's not unexpected for me that some may even be able to send a 5-10m line by the end of the session. But as I said, the class is not about sending, it's about learning safe and efficient way of training, so you can go and do it on your own.

What can the more advanced expect to learn in your intermediate class?
My philosophy is that highline is not a place to learn new skills – it's a place to learn to manage your fear.  

So to make your first highline experience enjoyable and as safe as it can be some skills have to be learned in the park. These skills are gonna be the main focus of the class and they are:

  • being able to walk 15-20m lines confidently and consistently;
  • being able to stand up from a sitting position on a line;
  • being able to get back up on a line from hanging under the line;
  • leash management.

What are the three most important things for slacklining?
I'd say having slackline equipment or a friend who has it would be number one – no matter how much you want to learn slackline or how good you are at learning, if you have nothing to train on, it would be really hard to get any better.

And having the time and will to train I think those two things should be enough to turn most of us into an insanely good slackliners.

Even photographers can learn how to slackline, Stepan giving Kamil Sustiak a few pointers on a dry lakebed in Tasmania.  Simon Madden

Even photographers can learn how to slackline, Stepan giving Kamil Sustiak a few pointers on a dry lakebed in Tasmania. Simon Madden

How is slacklining different from highlining?
Highlining requires a lot more knowledge of rigging to make it safe and is much harder mentally as it requires you to learn how to deal with a fear of heights, which is natural to most of us.

Do the participants need to bring anything with them?
Many people like slacklining barefeet, but in case it's too cold or you don't like being barefeet, it's a good idea to bring any low profile shoes with flat sole.

Is there any rivalry between slackliners and tightrope walkers? And, if so, why do tightrope walkers suck?
No, as far as I know, but I'm not a specialist on this subject. I know that some slackliners get offended if someone calls them tightrope walkers, but I don't know why they do it.= 

But personally I do think that tightrope walking sucks :)

In rigging a tightrope they use thicker ropes or even metal cables, they put a lot of tension and to tension it you need a lot of gear and then since there is a lot of tension you need a lot of gear to make a bomber anchor and so on. Even walking tightrope requires some gear – a balance pole (not necessary, but it seems like most of them use it). Another thing that I don't understand is that in tightrope walking it's allowed to sit on a line to rest while attempting a record.

So, all of that looks more artificial and less ‘pure’ to me. The comparison is probably similar to comparison between Alpine style assent in mountaineering and fixed ropes style. They do the same thing, but some do it in one go using less gear, which looks more appealing to me.


Stepan on The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, the first highline on Mt Geryon.  Simon Madden

Stepan on The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, the first highline on Mt Geryon. Simon Madden

Lee Cossey and Andrea Hah

Lee Cossey and Andrea Hah are two of Australia’s best and well-known rock climbers, from big walls to sport routes and boulders, they’ve done a little bit of it all, a talent that they’ve also parlayed into Australian Ninja Warrior, where their fame as ninjas has almost eclipsed their renown in climbing. Apart from vying for the title of Strongest Couple in Oz Climbing, Andrea and Lee are also both health and training professionals. Andrea is an exercise physiologist, while Lee is a physiotherapist, with the two of them owning and running the Move Clinic in Katoomba. During last year’s festival they were overseas climbing big walls in Yosemite, USA, but this year we are very psyched that they are coming down from the Blue Mountains to take part and run a couple of clinics. We spoke to Lee to find out what people can expect.

The pair of you are running two of our Sunday sessions. The first is called Injuries: Avoid & Overcome. Can you give us a brief precis of what it’s going to be all about?
Injuries suck. They are not well understood. The internet as a whole probably makes people's experience of them worse. And sadly some of the messages people get from health providers can also do more harm than good. We’re aiming to arm people with some practical understanding of what's going on when something hurts, what to do about it and how you might avoid it next time round!

Lee giving the kids some real deal ninja-climbing Jedi Mind Tricks during The North Face Global Climbing Day at 9 Degrees Parramatta.  Kamil Sustiak

Lee giving the kids some real deal ninja-climbing Jedi Mind Tricks during The North Face Global Climbing Day at 9 Degrees Parramatta. Kamil Sustiak

The second is called Big Picture Training – what’s the big picture and in what medium are you planning to sketch it?
The ‘big picture’ is what you see when someone effortlessly climbs your project on their first attempt. Their body positions, movements and strength look to fit the boulder or routes’ features in a completely perfect/unfair way. Training the big picture starts with developing the ‘feel’ on the wall and then building the skill and physical capacity to do something with that feel. In what will be a mixed practical and theoretical session we will provide a framework with which to keep perspective on the multifactorial nature of improving as a climber in the face the current trend toward obsessive and singular approaches. We will play on the boulders experimenting with each individual’s own learning style to help develop the ‘feel’ and then try out some training drills that develop the big picture skills and physical capacities. Finally, participants will leave with our simple fingerboarding matrix. Which is a guide to implementing finger strength training in a safe, progressive manner that ensures consistent progress across the years.

What do you think is the biggest error climbers makes when it comes to injuries?
Emotion is the biggest saboteur when it comes to injuries. As the injured person our focus is primarily on the subjective experience i.e it hurts and I’m going to get weak and shit. This human tendency to get caught up in the immediate details and lose objectivity when we get get scared of losing what we love or worse, getting weak, means we need to outsource the objectivity to someone who knows what they’re doing. Too few climbers do this soon enough! That doesn’t mean we can’t arm ourselves with knowledge or take an active role in our rehab, in fact this is typically the best thing you can do!

What do you think is the most common error that climbers make with their training?
There could be so many answers to this! Most people are doing some really effective things, but I reckon a step that often missed in the rush to get started is to really understand what it is you’re looking to get from climbing and ‘training’. Understanding this helps to make climbing your own journey, set personally meaningful goals and allows you to be congruent with why you’re submitting yourself to all the effort and compromise that goes with sustained training. I would guess that missing this step may be the root of many people's up and down training history.

Andrea doing what she does best (after being a ninja) on Some Kind of Bliss (31), Diamond Falls, Blue Mountains. Image by Lee Cossey

Andrea doing what she does best (after being a ninja) on Some Kind of Bliss (31), Diamond Falls, Blue Mountains. Image by Lee Cossey

Andrea actually suggested that the pair of you run a ‘Mind tricks and levitation: advanced techniques with Lee Cossey and Andrea Hah’, while we said no to this because we think levitation is cheating, we were curious about some of the techniques involved?
That course was going to cover several topics around psychokinesis as well as transcending gravity and the self. But it looks like we’ll have to keep those techniques to ourselves.

Can a climber think themselves stronger?

In what way could injuries be seen to provide opportunities?
We can see most climbing injuries that result from going too hard on too little tissue tolerance as existing on a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum we hurt and can’t do as much climbing as we’d like and at the other end we are performing well and and are at our strongest. Being injured is one of the clearest insights you’ll get into understanding your weaknesses and preferences. It is also an opportunity to play your own game as you get to take a step back and reassess what is important and where you want to go. I have seen so many people for whom their most severe injuries were their biggest positive turning points after which they progressed to a level they’d not previously achieved.

Is getting injured just a part of climbing?
To some extent it probably is just as it is in day to day life. But it doesn’t mean we can’t do a lot to minimise the likelihood and severity of them.

How does a person know when they should ride an injury out and when they need to seek the help of a professional?
As soon as someone is modifying their behaviour due to pain or even just fear of injury it’s probably a good time to get some external input. It may be one consult for some reassurance that they can happily ride it out or it may involve some more in depth intervention, typically involving specific loading to either make the area stronger or more skillful.

Where do you stand on the Getting Better vs Getting Stronger dichotomy?
To me getting better is about the application of all the tools: physical capacity, skill repertoire, mental capacity etc. It is about overall performance and can be measured with grade climbed, the style in which a route or boulder is completed, not dying or how much fun you have etc. Getting stronger just happens to be the more obsessed over single factors that are relevant to getting better.

‘Rest’ is held up as an important part of training, but what does it really mean?
Most people could afford to train harder and rest more. But rest doesn’t have to mean kicking back on the couch playing the Atari. The concepts of active rest and non-linear periodisation should be terms that are becoming more and more familiar to people. They refer alternating the way in which you stress your body within your shortest repeating cycle (i.e typically a week). Not every session needs to tax the same body part or energy system. For example we may train six out of seven days doing a mix of session types and be better rested than the person who trains only three days but repeats the same heavy session each of those days.

‘Mobility’ is another hot topic at the minute – how would you explain it?
Mobility, in a climbing performance sense, may be a term that is somewhat interchangeable with flexibility. It’s about having the freedom of movement at individual and groups of joints to be able to; open your hips and stay close to the wall, twist your chest in the direction you’re reaching while maintaining an efficient tight back step or rotate your shoulder in an overhead position so as to distribute force over greater distance and time. It’s something that may be trained with good old fashioned stretching, dynamic ‘mobility’ drills, strengthening at the required position or even cheated for a brief moment with techniques like massage, manipulation or acupuncture/dry needling.

You’re both more famous now as ninja warriors than climbers due to Australian Ninja Warrior, is there any transfer of ninja skills to climbing or is it all one way?
The most transferable skill is that of deflecting lame or off topic questions in written interviews.

Do you have an tips for boulderers going into the competition on the Saturday of the Festival?
Pour your heart into every moment you have on the rock.

As you know (because we keep bringing it up), we’ve been big fans of  your hair ever since you appeared on the cover of an old issue of Rock magazine with the most amazing hair that’s probably ever been seen at the crag. Will there be any hair care tips in the clinics for those who want to look their best in social media posts?
We’re all about the organic do! Let it do what it’ll do, focus on your bloody climbing and f&%# social media! :)

Tom O'Halloran on getting the job done

Hailing from the Blue Mountains, Tom O’Halloran is one of Australia’s best climbers. In fact, he was the first Ozzie to climb the much-coveted grade of 35 (9a). Besides being a monster on the rock – a fact he highlighted at last year’s festival by climbing the iconic Wheel of Life (V-plenty) – Tom has clearly thought a lot about climbing and how to succeed, and this year he will be focusing his expertise on a redpointing clinic.  We spoke to him about his plans for this year’s festival.

Deep in the Wheel.  Amanda Watts

Deep in the Wheel. Amanda Watts

The day before last year’s festival you climbed the Wheel of Life, how are you planning to up the ante this year?
I’d love to get my project at The Underworld done. It’s essentially a boulder problem. Sixteen moves, no rest, V13 into V13! It’ll definitely up the ante in terms of difficulty and it’s a bloody classic!

Can you give us a quick rundown on what you’re planning to cover in your clinic this year?
Redpoint tactics. I’ve done a fair amount of redpointing now and have learnt a few tricks along the way. There are some really simple things to drop into your day that will make a big difference.

Shoes off, job's done.  Amanda Watts

Shoes off, job's done. Amanda Watts

What one thing or piece of knowledge has made a big difference to your climbing in the past year?
Not getting complacent. There is always something to improve. It was so motivating to see how many good climbers there were at Ceuse. One day there were seven people trying routes 34 and harder at the Biographie Sector. You’d struggle to see that in a whole year in Australia. Their perspective of what hard climbing is is totally different to ours. It’s very cool!

One thing we know about you is that you’re good at trying hard. Is there a way to get better at being a try hard or it is just an innate trait?
Perhaps a touch of both. But I do think you can learn it. Working out if you are a try hard or actually trying hard is a good place to start. I see a lot of people thinking they are trying hard, but they are really just climbing to a familiar and comfortable level of discomfort then letting go. Dropping the gears and giving it some proper curry is a big part of getting things done. Be a try hard. It’s fun.

Man on Mana (V13).  Amanda Watts

Man on Mana (V13). Amanda Watts

Do you have any tips for boulderers going into the competition on the Saturday of the Festival?
Skin is your friend. Make every move count! Also, you aren't going to go all day if you don’t eat and hydrate right. Eat some proper food and drink plenty of water. And having some good pals will keep you going on the one last attempt as the sun sets, you’re skin burns and your arms stop pulling. Smile. Rock climbing is the best!!

Why do you think climbing and bouldering festivals are good?
How good is hanging out for a weekend of good times with a community of people that share your passion. Meeting new faces, catching up with old friends and hearing stories from some old school legends. And there’s some good climbing to be done as well. What’s not to love!

Last year we asked you for your top five boulder problems that you’ve done, this year we want to know what’s the one boulder problem that you still really want to do (and why)?
Ammagamma! Because it’s Ammagamma!  I would also like to get On the Beach done. I came close last year but hot and stormy conditions had me leave empty handed. It’s a beautiful looking boulder. I’d also be interested to see what V15 feels like.

Kiwi Spot v, n:

In the spiritual home of the Kiwi climbing, Castle Hill, our good friend Gomez practices the infamous art of the Kiwi spot.

Gomez is an expert proponent of the Kiwi version of 'I Got You'.  John Palmer

Gomez is an expert proponent of the Kiwi version of 'I Got You'. John Palmer

Fortunately for Rach the Mus, the Force is strong in Gomez and even from a distance he can guide a falling boulderer safely onto a mat. Sadly, the Force is not strong in most boulderers, so we encourage all Festival goers to avoid practising the Kiwi spot.

Instead, we suggest a good, attentive spot. Watch the hips especially, keep the hands raised, move pads quickly if they need to be shuffled and always communicate with your climber clearly. Guide falling climbers onto the mat rather than try to catch them, and always protect their heads from the ground.

Spotting is a serious business, stay attentive, it only takes a second for disaster to strike and the fate of the falling boulderer is literally in your hands.

And the most mangled tips win!

On Saturday night we will award the inaugural Nathan Manning Memorial Bleeding Tips Award.

Bitch Tips.jpg

Everybody loves looking at fingers that are worn through till they are translucent, bleeding for being rubbed raw, weeping like they themselves are crying, rent with gouges and flappers. Tips that have been destroyed by a will to continue climbing, falling, failing and scaling long after your biggest organ has failed, right there at the pads, the bit that connects us to the stone.

The Award itself is very uncomplicated – during dinner on Saturday night show us your tips, the most mangled win.

The only thing that we can think of that comes close in terms of prestige is the First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.

A few words with James Kassay

The owner of Bayside Rock needs little introduction. Since his early days as a teen prodigy (with shoulders several sizes too big for his age), James has been crushing small holds into dust indoors and out. A multiple time state and national champion, he’s competed regularly on the big stage – the World Cup circuit – with numerous impressive results. But for Australians, James is probably synonymous with the Hollow Mountain Cave. As a teenager he was famous for his laps of Dead Can’t Dance (V11) in his runners, while his obsession with the Wheel of Life and climbing it all the way to what he saw as the true lip resulted in The Wheel of Life Direct (instead of exiting via Rave Heart, he finished up Amniotic World, a longer and more aesthetic finish out the highest part of the cave). Which is why it made perfect sense for us to ask James to run a HMC Masterclass – who better to learn how to polish your roof skills from than the master of the cave?

James drinking in that sweet Mana (V13).

James drinking in that sweet Mana (V13).

You’re running a Cave Climbing Masterclass – without giving too much away, what can people expect from the class?
Think of it as a great excuse to climb on some amazing rock and hopefully make some progress on some old projects with some extra beta and great psych. Otherwise, it’s a great time for people to find a project if they don’t already have one.

What do you most love about the HMC?
What isn’t there to love about HMC? Sitting up there on a sunny day with great friends, food and the view… The boulders are pretty cool too!

What’s your favourite line in the Cave?
I can’t go past Wimmelfriedhof (V5) actually. I rate that as one of my all time boulders. It doesn’t matter how many times I climb it, I always want to go back for it again!

What advice do you have for boulderers preparing for their first outdoor comp?
Like most comps, the main thing is to not take it too seriously! If you go out there to have a bit of fun with friends then you can’t go wrong. Obviously it’s worth trying hard so you can have bragging rights around the fire though.

You’re married to a former national bouldering champion (Claire Kassay), and now have a son, Harvey – is Harvey part of a secret program to breed a super boulderer?
I am going to have to keep you posted on that one… Harvey is a rather big boy for his age so knowing our luck he will probably be into a mainstream sport that neither of us knows anything about. Maybe we will have more luck with Mark II. (No, Claire is not pregnant).

Dress up, look the part

Sure, you might be desperate to win the comp on Saturday, and you might be sitting there thinking that dressing up in some kind costume will hold you back because you are Serious with a capital S but have you asked yourself how if it is good enough for Toni Lamprecht then how is it good enough for you?!?

Surfing's the source, it'll change your life. Udo Neumann collection

Surfing's the source, it'll change your life. Udo Neumann collection

This photo of Toni riding the wave of psych that crashed upon the Grampians when he and the other 'Austrians' descended in 1999 to signal the start of the Modern Era is the spiritual beacon of the Grampians Bouldering Festival's competition. 

Be like the 'Austrians' – scream louder than a banshee, dress like it's all for shits and giggles but send boulders like an absolute crusher. 

A few words with Amy Fenton

Amy Fenton is a Sydney boulderer who works in a gym and boulders really hard. Having just sent her first V12 – shortly after knocking off her first two V10s – she is bringing a rich vein of form into The Festival where she will be both competing on Saturday and taking one of our Women's Clinics on Sunday. Clearly blessed with strength the equal of the Power of Greyskull and Ginger Rogers-esque fancy footwork, she is also hilarious and has a keen eye for spotting the technique flaws in climbers so we are psyched that she is coming South.

Amy on the Kindy classiqué – The Nevin rule (V7).

Amy on the Kindy classiqué – The Nevin rule (V7).

Do you believe in our mantra ‘Gramps are the best, chuck out the rest’? Why or why not? (Clearly the ‘why not’ option is to give the illusion of balance.)
As much as I enjoy a good Sydney boulder I’ve got to agree with you on this one, we just can’t compete with your proximity to Australian national gem and 2001 Tidy Town winner Horsham. Bondi is a farce*.

Do you have any advice for boulderers preparing for their first outdoor comp?
Ask me in 2 weeks! I don’t compete indoors and this will be my first competition outdoors so it will certainly be a learning experience.

Aside from a good attitude I can only recommend trying to hoard skin and energy by being picky about what you jump on - avoid slaving on problems that don’t agree with you.

What are your top five Grampians boulder problems?

  1. Mind Over Matter (V8)
  2. Sick Nutter (V5000)
  3. To Hate To Love (V8)
  4. The Nevin Rule (V7)
  5. and, of course, Wimmel Friedhoff (V5)
Amy ticking her first V5000, Sick Nutter.

Amy ticking her first V5000, Sick Nutter.

If there was one Grampians boulder problem that you could climb what would it be and why? 
Aside from the obvious Wheel of Life/Ammagamma dream lines, I think a slightly more realistic pick would be Dave Kellermann’s V11 A Puzzle About Belief, it looks unbelievably good. I absolutely love Mt Fox (walk in excluded) so doing something hard and classic there would be ultra satisfying.

What is the most common mistake you see beginner climbers making at 9 Degrees?
Leaving their feet at home.

A lot of newbies tense up on the wall and their legs very quickly become a cumbersome afterthought; it’s an easy mistake to make and one that more advanced climbers commonly fall back into when they’re trying hard.

You’re running a women’s climbing clinic, what are some of the things you’re hoping to cover?
The importance of warming up, directional footwork, a healthy climbing attitude and power! Power in all forms. It is such an important part of bouldering and too often one that is shied away from. I’m sure we’ll all be pooped after the comp so theory and the how’s and why’s of technique will be the name of the game, I think.

*Editor's note; we agree about Bondi being blahhhh.

Read more about what Amy thinks about why bouldering is better than route climbing, diets for success and sending V12 here.

Julian Saunders, sick with the FA fever

Jules surviving the Lonely Hearts Club (V7). Saunders collection

Jules surviving the Lonely Hearts Club (V7). Saunders collection

First Ascent Fever (FAF) is a relatively rare disease. Most climbers go through their entire lives without experiencing it. But amidst the small number of climbers who are struck down by this debilitating disease a few get it so severely it can have lifelong effects – Jules is one of those few. Symptoms can include all of the following: a monomaniacal obsession with projects, losing touch with the grading system, the refusal to climb anywhere but where your projects are and urinating at the bottom of any half decent piece of stone.

Jules’ career as a boulderer did not start well. More of your weak pumper than strong boulderer, on his first day of bouldering he had to be rescued off the top of a boulder in Andersens after stalling midway through a move above a pile of stacked blocks. Luckily Dave Jones and a few others were on hand to rescue him.

Jules retreated back to the rope, but it wasn’t long before the siren song of the FA lured him once again onto the blocs, with full blown obsession striking after ‘the Austrians’ – Klem Loskot and co (most of whom were Germans) – arrived and took Grampians bouldering into the modern era. During this time Andersens was better known as Saundersons due to Jules’ inability to climb anywhere else, and he climbed numerous great (and often high) problems in there. He also further developed Legoland, putting up what is probably his finest hour on the boulders, Orca (V9). A terrifying 9m-high arête with a horrible landing. Further south, Jules kicked off bouldering at the Tower.

Jules is coming down for the festival, and along with Dave Jones, he will be joining us to talk about the early day of bouldering, back when he was (relatively) young, before he ruined his life by having children and moving to the Blue Mountains.

Jules climbing the second ascent of highball Bad Moon Rising (V5) at Legoland.  Ross Taylor

Jules climbing the second ascent of highball Bad Moon Rising (V5) at Legoland. Ross Taylor

How did a horribly weak, feeble, barely able to pull the dick off a chocolate mouse pumper become one of the Grampians’ most prolific boulderers?
I know, it's ridiculous what can be achieved when you're not bright enough to recognise the immovable hurdles between you and success. That particular skill, if you could loosely call it that, when combined with a smidgeon of OCD has served myself and Donald Trump extremely well time and time again, though I'd like to think I have put it to better use.

You bouldered with Klem Loskot and ‘the Austrians’ when they were in the Grampians in 1999, basically putting the place on the bouldering map – what was it like?
In the memorable words of Ford Fairlane, Private Detective, ‘Un-fucking-believable!’ They went about their mission like a well disciplined hurricane, happy to absorb any like-minded whirly wind or two along its path.

Success was a mutual commodity. You really felt like they wanted, desperately, for you to succeed. The Austrians screamed at you with such ferocious purpose that success was the only possible outcome; as if it were inflicted like a sharpening steel upon a dull knife blade. I am sure at times I benefited from the unremitting force of sound waves. That they were gluttons for fun, measured by the cubic metres of  dopamine secreted in the waking hours, meant that there was very little mental baggage between them pulling on and topping out. We were simply dragged along like tin cans behind a 'Just Married' car.

Klem, in particular, owned his skin and everything in it; he was the master of his own kingdom. I liked that. You knew exactly who you were sitting next to at the fire, no masquerading, no schadenfreude as so often happens when you get a bunch of wannabe alphas within pissing distance of each other. He was chuckling to himself while staring at the fire one night and I asked him what was so funny; ‘You’, he said, ‘My throat hurts from screaming you up Amnionic World. Every move, almost from da first grip I thought you vould fall, so I just yelling louder. I don't think I have screamed this much ever. So much fun!’

Klem Loskot on the first ascent of Sweet Sensation (V8) at Wildsides.  Julian Saunders

Klem Loskot on the first ascent of Sweet Sensation (V8) at Wildsides. Julian Saunders

What’s your favourite (short) story from that time?
We were at Between The Sheeps, and Dave Jones popped in for a look, having heard about the Euro storm making it's way around Stapylton. I was about to try a problem and it was all hands on deck, so Dave shuffled into a helpful position. I guess he thought he was standing far enough back – albeit on the edge of a large drop that sits beneath the exit of several problems – that he would be a fairly safe distance from the action. Posited straight-legged and flat-footed, he had his hands up in kind of a token fashion, undoubtedly wondering why so many spotters were required for a problem barely higher than a couple of metres at its zenith. The last move is where the problem get its name, Kamikaze. I launched toward the lip jug, caught it with one hand, and as I swung out to stare down the drop, lodged a foot square in Dave's chest with sufficient force to push him well beyond the point of balance. Dave's a quick thinker. He grabbed my foot.

Also, [Chris] Jonesy telling a group of religious nutters walking to Summer Day Valley that the pads we were carrying around were portable sex platforms for a naturalist porn movie we were shooting produced some priceless expressions.

Is it true that when you first started bouldering you had a lot more hair, and also, that there were no bouldering mats?
Yes. The Amazing Boulder was where it all started. It seemed silly at the time, stopping at a blob of rock beneath the almighty Taipan, and going no further. Who would do that?? In the days before crash mats and Kiwis, when you had a spotter, they were CLOSE because the ground was hard, treacherous, and to be generally avoided. Dave Jones dragged around a bit of skanky mattress form that doubled as his bed – pointless, except for the fact that it hid the typically uncomfortable-looking landing from view that was otherwise an ongoing distraction. When, several years later, someone had the bright idea of wrapping it in gaffa tape the first Aussie bouldering pad was born.

Klem and 'the Austrians' (who were mostly German) spotting and lounging at the Hollow Mountain Cave; Toni Lamprecht (possibly the best spotter ever) is spotting and Klem is lounging directly behind him.  Julian Saunders

Klem and 'the Austrians' (who were mostly German) spotting and lounging at the Hollow Mountain Cave; Toni Lamprecht (possibly the best spotter ever) is spotting and Klem is lounging directly behind him. Julian Saunders

What are your top five Grampians boulder FAs (and why)?

  1. Orca (V9): Probably the proudest line around. I was getting my head around highballs, but this was quite hard, rather tenuous, and oh-so-very-tall. Jonesy, as he is oft to do, bestowed upon me his sage advice, ‘Julsy, as soon as you do it clean on top rope, pull the rope, take ten minutes, and launch straight up it. Don't wait.’ The first time I broke through the crux section, still with a few moves to do, these words echoed in my head and I knew that the time had come. And then I slipped off pulling for the top. THEFUCKINGTOP!! No warning. I was on the rope. It was a palm meets forehead moment. I packed up my shizzle and scurried home, shell shocked, to have a good long think. The following weekend I topped out first go on the rope, scratched out the claustraphobic 'bomb-hole' landing (basically a pit with stone walls) and placed our pitiful two pads in the middle. Unwilling to stand beneath the inescapable impact zone, my mate Tim Faye propped on the edge of the back wall. Two moves from the top I started to Elvis. Last week's slip was the pink elephant trumpeting like Miles Davis. Tim, who had said not a peep, pipes up with ‘Julsy, just relax.’ Of course, why didn't I think of that!!!
  2. Peter Parker (V5): I didn't snake this from Jonesy in so much as he generously invited me to partake in the first ascent proceedings, kinda like a friendly pistol shootout. Given that he has way more talent than I and a real head for a highball, his slip and my success could be seen as my Steven Bradbury moment.
  3. Zinc (V9): I was having some serious amounts of frustration with this one-mover. I took a fifteen minute rest and Corinne calmed my storm!!! Did it next go. Whoo-hoo!
  4. Amnionic World (V9): Probably the first time I ever completely and utterly redlined, head back, no reserve, well beyond my weight division. That success birthed an epiphany that completely reset the notion of trying as hard as you can.
  5. Crisco Love Party (V8): A beautiful sweep of hell-steep sandstone, dominated by a singular pocket in its midst. Did I mention that the landing is a little intimidating?

There are a lot to choose from, but what's your worst FA?
All the ones that I didn't do. If I did them then they are awesome by definition and everyone should do them. If I tried to do them and someone snaked me then those are beneath the barrel that we speak of – nasty pieces of skank that should be erased from the guide for fear someone might enjoy them. Actually, I am not sure I have understood your question. Would you mind repeating it please?

A few words with Dave Jones

There are many things we love about the below photo. For one, Gordy (Poultney; climbing) and Dave (Jones; spotting), look like characters out of Stig of the Dump – like they’ve escaped from another earlier, more primitive time (possibly even before the invention of boulders). And it’s true to a certain extent, they’re bouldering in the PM (pre-mat) Era, a time that must seem almost inconceivable to modern climbers. This may even possibly be before Dave carried around the pseudo-mat: a cut down piece of dirty, ragged bed foam that he’d scrounged out of his tent/humpy at Arapiles. This piece of mattress was so soft it was close to useless, not to mention the hygiene risk it posed due to the many and varied surfaces and substances it had come into contact with during its long and abused existence. In fact, not only were Dave and Gordy bouldering before bouldering was a thing but they were also buildering before buildering was a thing. (It is worth noting that it is entirely possible that buildering never was and never will be ‘a thing’.)

Image by  Nick Sutter .

Image by Nick Sutter.

While there are a few scattered examples of people bouldering earlier in the Grampians, Dave and Gordy and their extended crew were really the first to seriously develop bouldering areas around the Grampians. Which is why we are psyched that Dave is making the long journey over from Natimuk to join us on the Saturday to talk about the Good Ole Days, that halcyon time PM, the Golden Age before the Fall of Man, before the invention of soap and shoes and other such flipperies of civilisation, when every ascent was a first ascent, and when Dave and Gordy (and nameless others) still had long and lustrous locks.

The Amazing Boulder was apparently the first boulder that you guys developed in the early days. It is a pretty amazing boulder still – did you guys imagine that every boulder was going to be similarly awesome?
Not on that day… We'd walked past that boulder so many times on the way into Taipan, maybe copping a feel on the way past, but always with the Taipan new route blinkers on.

Then we decided to warm up there one time… then to dedicate a day to the activity… then another to checking out the neighbouring boulders (the Love Boulder and environs). A few weeks later I did a walk around from Sandanista to Clicke Wall, not climbing, just looking. That was the single most eye-opening day for me on the Grampians bouldering front. I still haven't gotten myself up all the things I saw that day.

You must have been pretty excited?
I still am.

There was a long tradition of bouldering at Arapiles, why do you think it took so long to become a ‘thing’ in the Grampians?
Bouldering at wraps wasn't the same ‘thing’ that it is in the Grampians now. Often it was something you did at the end of the day just to completely thrash yourself. It was much more traverse-centric (I think that was mostly to do with the relationship between no pads and ankles). There was a handful of classic problems (which are for the most part still the classic problems and except for Golden Streak & 3 Moves to Glory they are all traverses), there were maybe 20 problems with names and once you'd done them you did eliminates. Sit starts weren't really a thing.

A few boulders – Mike Myers, Edwin Irvine, James Falla? – had been out [to the Grampians] on a reconnaissance mission some years earlier, and done a few things (like the traverse underneath Mr J and a weird figure-8 thing on Flying Blind Buttress) and came back declaring that the potential was limited. We took their word for it. I just think people were looking for different qualities in a boulder problem back then.

At that point, too, Taipan was having a renaissance with a bit of a gold rush on new routes… the choice for me was going and potentially putting up a new three star route on Taipan or bouldering along the base of the crag. It’s a big call.

Doug Hockly spotted by an earlier-model Dave Jones during an early ascent of Bleausard (V5).  Image Doug Hockly collection

Doug Hockly spotted by an earlier-model Dave Jones during an early ascent of Bleausard (V5). Image Doug Hockly collection

Give us your top five Grampians boulder problems and what you love about them?

  1. Gripmaster: Perfect rock, perfect line. It's like a little, boulder-sized splash of Taipan wall.
  2. Nevin Rule: The last thing we did the first day we found the Kindergarten. We'd worked our way from left to right so it was the end of the day before we even laid eyes on it but it looked so good we didn't want to leave without getting up it. Without pads it was high enough we were worried about coming off the top and I remember getting a long stick to try and feel if the last break was decent or just a horror sloper we had sandbagged ourselves into leaping for.
  3. Bleausard: I love it, and try and do it every time or go there. I’ve always had a soft spot for aretés and the round slopey top holds were all a bit Fontainbleau and sexy. Fairly compelling in the pre-pad era as well. I even did the shitty sit-start one time just so nobody ever had to do it ever again.
  4. On the Beach: I haven't done this but I remember dabbling on it back in the late ‘90s. Such an obvious line overhanging the track up to Taipan. So obviously a climb but a pretty daunting thing (especially without pads or spotters). I had a few bad falls on it and sacked it off. Was surprised how long it took for this to get an ascent given the amount of talent that walks right by it. I'd love to again get fit enough to do that one.
  5. Wheel of Life: Also on the ‘haven't done it but still... phwoar!’ front. I mean it’s amazing isn't it? A pretty unique feature. I remember years ago walking out from the bottom of the cave checking holds all the way thinking ‘all this will go…’, but it was so obviously out of my league I never really put any time into it. It never occurred to me that being low to the ground you could start or stop anywhere you liked. Those little chunks are all good problems in their own right and I did most of them at the time but seeing it all gradually evolve into the full climb. I think it undersells the line to call it a link up.

What’s your favourite first ascent (and why)?
I’m going to say Gripmaster. Although I think Klem (Loskot) might have pipped me to the FA by a day or two, I didn't find out till after I'd done it, so the process was an FA for me.

I'd done it from a move in years before but there was a winter when I got fixated on adding in the sit start. I love that you can see it from the carpark and walk straight up to it seeing it almost all the way in. From Nati you drive out along Rifle Butt Road, staring down Taipan all the way in and when you get to the car park you can see the Gripmaster line from the car and then you just make another beeline for that. And then you're sitting at the bottom of it and it’s all too obvious what you have to do. It was one of the first problems I spent more than a few of days on and I just remember one winter driving out through blue skies and ice covered fields really, really focussed.That one was a change for me to just going out somewhere and wandering around to see what I could find.

What’s your favourite area for bouldering in the Grampians?
My favourite thing about the Grampians is going to spots I've not been before and exploring. That you can still wander into the bush and find whole new areas is what is special to me about the Grampians. In terms of actually getting up boulders though, rather than just finding them, the strip from Andersens around to the Kindergarten probably holds the most fond memories for me.

I'm a noob, can I play too?!?

‘Is the Festival suitable for beginners?’, is a question we are getting asked a lot.

Yes. Is the short answer.

Transitioning from indoor to outdoor bouldering can feel pretty intimidating. For a start, the Grampians is a long way away (Where do you stay? Where do you boulder?), you’re moving from the very controlled environment of indoor walls and massive gym mats to one that is wild with rugged, boulder-filled landings, relatively small, thin mats and sometimes very high boulders. That’s a big change.

There is nothing like the close attention of a great spotter to give you the confidence to throw yourself at a problem. Under the watchful Reuben Bennet-Daly, Stefan Niedermeyer latches a crimper on Far Left el Westwood (V9).  Simon Madden

There is nothing like the close attention of a great spotter to give you the confidence to throw yourself at a problem. Under the watchful Reuben Bennet-Daly, Stefan Niedermeyer latches a crimper on Far Left el Westwood (V9). Simon Madden

But it’s a change that the festival has been in part designed to help you with. We’ve specifically got a bunch of experienced boulderers on hand to show you the ropes (or more accurately, the not-ropes). Whether you’re taking part in the competition on the Saturday or doing a beginner’s clinic on the Friday or Sunday, our climbers will be there to show you some of the best places to get started in the Grampians, and provide the basic skills you will need to become a boulderer – how to spot correctly (one of the most important skills), place your mats, assess risk, as well as teach you some basic technique and bouldering tactics. They will also fill you in on bouldering ethics, like How Not to be a Dickhead 101, the terror of the Kiwi spot and minimal impact bouldering.

And if you’re worried about the competition, don’t. This year we're running beginner classes on the Friday to educate first timers, while the format of the competition is designed to be super relaxed and encouraging, with everyone able to choose problems that match their skills and experience. Plus, many of Black Diamond’s best sponsored athletes will be on hand to provide pro tips or a spot. If you want it to be it will be a fun, relaxed day.

Rulz of the Comp

The Black Diamond Grampians Bouldering Festival includes the only outdoor bouldering competition in Australia (insert froth here). 

We call it a 'Casual Bouldering comp' not because the competition is casual but because there are no official judges nor set problems that you have to climb. You just head out to the blocs and crush whatever you can. When you send, get another competitor to sign off on your ascent to validate that no one is telling any porkies. The better the send, the bigger the score, the biggest scores win.

The JS Memorial Slab (V4), about as much fun as you can have on a slab eliminate.  Simon Madden

The JS Memorial Slab (V4), about as much fun as you can have on a slab eliminate. Simon Madden

Scoring: A problem gets 100 points for each V-grade, ie V1 is worth 100, V8 is worth 800, V12 is worth 1200. You get a bonus 10% if you flash a problem, you lose 10% if you have done the problem before (be honest!). A person's top six ascents combine for their over all score, highest score wins. In the event of a tie, a person's seventh, eighth etc problems will come into play. (Note that a V0 is worth 50 points.)

 Available areas: All problems must be at Andersens, Echidna Wall (a brand-new area! We will provide a topo with your entry sheet), Hollow Mountain Cave, Loopeys and the Kindergarten. This provides a wide grade and style range with enough footprint to spread the competition out whilst remaining compact enough that you will always hear your fellow competitors power screams of joy and the bellows of anguish.

Gold coin donation entry: Entry to the competition for Festival attendees is via a gold coin donation to CliffCare. We support CliffCare for the work they do to ensure we can keep bouldering in the Gramps.

If you want more info about bouldering in the Grampians here.