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?