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’.)
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.
Give us your top five Grampians boulder problems and what you love about them?
- Gripmaster: Perfect rock, perfect line. It's like a little, boulder-sized splash of Taipan wall.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.