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Following the Wombat Poo Trail

Wombat poo and flower

Over the years I’ve developed a fascination for wombat poo. Nothing weird, more as a subject matter for my camera as opposed to collecting them for things like making paper with (which is apparently done commercially by some mob down in Tassie!) My native Victoria is home to many thousands of wombats and this amiable ambling marsupial is a common sight when visiting our parks and reserves. There are a few things about wombat poo that make it so interesting. Firstly, the poo is essentially square. That’s right, a fresh poo is pretty much cube-shaped. It boggles my mind that somehow a wombat’s intestine can knock out square-shaped poos. Also, wombats love to do their poos on top of things. On top of stones, logs, mounds and even low fence palings. Which is why they need to have their poos square-shaped – so they don’t roll away! Wombats pump out between 80 and 100 of these marvelous marshmellow-sized wonders each night. Not a bad effort. They place them in conspicuous positions to tell other wombats that this is my place so stay well away. Over time the poos melt back into the bush, back into the grass from whence they came. Here is a bunch of my wombat poo pics (linked to my SmugMug site) to browse through – if you are so inclined…

Wombat Poo

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Open Spaces Tree Change

Open Spaces and it's new home in Natimuk, with the Natimuk Cafe.
Open Spaces and it’s new home in Natimuk, with the Natimuk Cafe.

It’s been a tough ten years in print publishing as the internet revolution continues to change the way we create and distribute information. Traditional printers across Australia have been putting off large numbers of staff or closing their doors for good. Wholesale distributors and book shops have been similarly affected. The introduction of smart-phones and tablets using e-books cut further and further into the traditional book market.

It’s no secret that we at Open Spaces have not been immune to the tsunami which has raged around us. At times it felt that we were shoeing horses in a blacksmith’s shop, all the while watching automobiles speeding past on the road outside. We changed tack accordingly and provided our newest walking titles with comprehensive GPS coordinates, which were able to be downloaded directly from our website. As far as we know this was a world first. Open Spaces also joined up with iCrag to create Australia’s first interactive climbing apps for both Apple and Android. We were very proud of how our Arapiles Selected Climbs and Rockclimbs Around Melbourne turned out as apps. We even changed the concept of our books, creating smaller print runs of slimmer, less expensive editions (such as our Western Gorges and Victoria’s Goldfields), which gave us the ability to update quickly and regularly. These innovations helped us to stay in business but despite this we at Open Spaces are under no illusions as to what the future holds for many ‘less adaptable’ publishers in the traditional print industry. We don’t believe that the end of traditional books will occur any time soon but we feel that there will be a fundamental shift in how books will be printed. High-quality, fast, digitally printed books that will have very short print runs (usually under 500 copies) will start to make more business sense. Our latest book, Law Unto Himself is a good example of this print on demand style of publishing. In the end though we have to face up to certain truths. More and more people will use the internet as a prime source for much of their information and they will have less need to purchase traditional forms of print media.

Which is why we have made some rather large changes here at Open Spaces. One of our biggest decisions was to drop the publishing and distribution of all our cycling titles. Of all of our books it was our cycling titles which suffered the most. With few book shops able to sell our product (to the general public) and with almost no support from cycling shops we had no choice but to drop them. We have sold the remaining stock of our excellent Bike Rides Around Melbourne to a leading distributor (Woodslane) and we will no longer be stocking it ourselves. We have also dropped many of the smaller less popular titles in our range, simply because we couldn’t justify holding so much stock.

Perhaps the biggest change for Open Spaces was that we have sold our premises in Melbourne and moved ourselves to Natimuk, a small town in the Wimmera region of Western Victoria. Natimuk is within spitting distance of the famous Mt Arapiles and the rugged Grampians mountains are nearby. This change in lifestyle will allow us to do more of the things we love. Tracey Skinner, our office administrator, has followed suit and moved up to near Natimuk with us. In fact, she and my partner, Karen, are now owners of the popular Natimuk Cafe, which is open on weekends for locals and visiting climbers and walkers.

Finally, Open Spaces would like to apologise to any of our customers that may have been inconvenienced by the inevitable chaos involving our move. Things should now be running smoothly again and we look forward to a bright future where we will continue selling and distributing walking and climbing books for many years to come.

 

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Healthy Parks, Wealthy People

Victorian National Parks Camping and Accommodation Fees – Regulatory Impact Statement
The Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) has released a proposal for a user-pays approach to charges for camping and roofed accommodation in parks and reserves managed by Parks Victoria.
Victorians are invited to provide comment on the regulatory impact statement by 22 November 2013.

I just emailed the following response to the Victorian Government/DEPI (Department of Environment and Primary Industries) in relation to the Victorian National Parks Camping and Accommodation Fees Regulatory Impact Statement. If you feel strongly about these fee increases then I suggest you provide comment by the above date.

……………………………………………

As a regular park user and author/publisher of some of Victoria’s most popular bushwalking and rockclimbing guides I would like to voice my strenuous objection to the proposed increases to camping fees within our parks and reserves managed by Parks Victoria.

Having read the proposal I cannot help but be impressed at the Victorian Government/DEPI in having created one of the most confusing, inconsistent and badly worded documents that I’ve ever read. Was this proposal rushed or is it deliberately obtuse?

There are so many issues regarding these proposals that it’s difficult to know where to start. Firstly, however, I have to say that I’m astounded at the size of the proposed increase in camping fees. A fee of almost $50 for an individual to stay one night at a campground designated as having a ‘high’ level of facility and service is simply outrageous. If these massive fee increases are intended to drastically lower the number of overnight visitors to our parks and reserves then you are definitely going about it the right way. Especially affected will be those in our society who are less well off. My suggestion is that instead of promoting ‘Healthy Parks, Healthy People’, Parks Victoria can change its message to, ‘Healthy Parks, Wealthy People’.

Many park users are travelers who don’t plan ahead but simply ‘roll-up’ to various campgrounds. So who thought it was a good idea to confine those park users to an online booking system upon arrival at the campground? A smart phone and a credit card appears to be the only solution but plenty of people still don’t own a smart phone (although if you confine our parks to wealthy users then this may not be such a problem!). Unfortunately even those with smart phones are not always going to get reception. I hope that Parks Victoria will take a lenient view of all of those (roll-ups, gray nomads, etc) that will end up breaking the law through no fault of their own.

One certain result of these proposed campground increases will be that many park users will turn to bush camping to reduce their costs. Unfortunately this will result in an increase in environmental damage. This proposal indicates that substantial bush camping fees will also be introduced. As a regular bush camper I cannot wait to hear exactly how this will be policed. It’s simply not fair that an already overworked and greatly diminished Parks Victoria staff be turned into a rural version of Melbourne’s ticket inspectors.

Cheers,

Glenn Tempest

………………………………………

Written submissions should be forwarded by 5:00pm Friday 22 November 2013 via either of the following:

Post
Camping and Accommodation Fees
Land Management Policy Division
Department of Environment and Primary Industries
Level 3, 8 Nicholson Street
EAST MELBOURNE VIC 3002

 

Online
Email: camping.RIS@depi.vic.gov.au

DEPI RIS Page link: http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/forestry-and-land-use/visiting-parks-and-forests/national-parks-camping-and-accommodation-fees

Fact sheet: http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/205971/Victorian-National-Parks-Camping-and-Accommodation-Fees-Regulatory-Impact-Statement-October-2013-Fact-Sheet.pdf

RIS executive statement: http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/205519/Victorian-National-Parks-Camping-and-Accommodation-Fees-Regulatory-Impact-Statement-October-2013-Executive-Summary.pdf

RIS statement: http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/205517/Victorian-National-Parks-Camping-and-Accommodation-Fees-Regulatory-Impact-Statement-October-2013.pdf

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Dog in the Mists

Back in 1964 my father wrote a short story for possible publication in England’s Popular Camping magazine. It was rejected by the editor and the original type-written manuscript was all but forgotten. It must have meant something to my dad since he carried it with him when he migrated to Australia a couple of years later. Dad died 11 months ago and as we approach the anniversary of his death I thought it would be fitting to finally publish his story, pretty much exactly as he had written it almost fifty years ago. I think he would have been pleased.

 

Dog in the Mists

by Brian Tempest

Lake District weather has always been a tricky forecasting area for the experts, and proved no exception for us, as we found out when we planned a winter camp on Scafell. The plan was to camp and climb Scafell and any other surrounding peaks we had time for, with snow and ice climbing thrown in as a secondary thought. The patron saint of good winter weather (whoever he is) was not looking our way and towards the weekend of late January the wind drifted to the west and a thaw set in.

Saturday morning saw the four of us leave Shipley in the van and a few hours later pull up at Dungeon Gill Hotel for lunch. The weather was undoubtedly gale force winds and would be “very dodgy” on the tops. We had chosen the Band to ascend from Langsdale but changed it to Rossett Gill which afforded more shelter. After taking photographs of the climbers on Gimmer Crag we made our way up the valley towards Rosset Gill on our left, and Stake Pass winding steeply up the fell to the right. We struck left across the rough wooden bridge and over the glacial deposits of the valley floor, towards the scree slopes and the rugged gorge of Rosset Gill. As the track became steeper so the wind became stronger, until at about five hundred feet above the valley floor we were forced into the gulley which we hoped would afford us better protection from the wind.

The excess amount of water flowing made progress slower and wetter until about three hundred feet higher we climbed out of the gully and onto the frozen shoulder, just away from the worst of the wind. Higher up we were again forced into the gully and after a lot of heavy slogging over ice covered rock we reached the top of the pass and lay down behind some boulders facing the valley. The broad expanse of the Langdale valley was spread out below us with the Pikes shrouded in heavy mist. To our right Bowfell climbed sharply upwards, the top lost in swirling mist and rain. The winter sun broke through above Dungeon Gill and traced a silver pencil-thin line of the stream on the valley floor some eighteen hundred feet below us.

The temperature was still falling (it had dropped twenty degrees on the way up and was already below freezing point) and if the high winds didnt ease soon, we would have difficulty with the tents later. A dark sky in the east made us realise the time and the necessity to pitch camp soon so wepressed on to Angle Tarn and with difficulty found the only piece of unwaterlogged ground in the area. In growing darkness and a howling wind we put up the two tents and crawled inside.

Camp. 1st Feb 64. At Hanging Knott above Angle Tarn.
Camp. 1st Feb 64. At Hanging Knott above Angle Tarn.

A long drawn out baying, blown across on dark wind and rain made us look outside. High on the crags above the tarn a large dog, like some spectral hound of the fells, came bounding down the steeprock slopes, the moon lighting its gleaming wet coat, giving it an uncanny and startling appearance. It was obviously lost and hungry so wecooked it a hot meal and gave it oatmeal biscuits, and later it curled up comfortably by my tent. At about 1am we were awakened by a scratching at the tent door, the weather outside was appalling, with driving rain and high winds threatening to blow us any minute into the tarn below.

Camp at High Knott above Angle Tarn.
Camp at High Knott above Angle Tarn.

The following morning was still windy but thankfully dry as I pushed the sleepy and somewhat smelly dog out of the tent. Before breakfast I climbed the steep fell to the flat plateau of Esk House. To the east, bright early morning sunshine flooded the valley below me, making the ice encrusted peaks flash like diamonds. Behind to the west and south dark clouds were piling behind Bowfell and scudding across the silver grey sky towards me. By the time we had finished a rather later breakfast than anticipated and broke camp, sleet and rain were driving down from the high crags of Hanging Knotts, creating miniature whirlwinds across the surface of Angle Tarn, before throwing itself in a lashing fury against the black wet crags.

After fifteen minutes walk we were in thick mist with visibility down to twenty yards, so we decided against Scafell and struck south east across the track from Ore Gap to Esk House towards the summit of Esk Pike. We had noted heavy snow and ice the day before and as we had brought axes along might as well put them to some use. We negotiated the ridge of Esk Pike and across patches of wet snow and thick ice to the boggy area of Ore Gap. The marker stones to the summit of Bowfell were a great help in the thick fog, and when the stones were hidden in mist the hound had an uncanny knowledge of our direction and plodded steadily forward to the next marker, and up to the steep summit of Bowfell. We huddled together under the summit rocks and munched our mint cake (I’ve heard that somewhere before?) before descending a thousand feet to the plateau below.

Summit of Bowfell, 2960 ft. 1st Feb 1964.
Summit of Bowfell, 2960 ft. 1st Feb 1964.

The area here, to where we were to descend The Band was difficult to find, but by checking the general wind direction and trusting to cannine intelligence made the top of The Band quite easily. By this time the rain had slowed to a mere drizzle, and as the mist cleared below us we could makeout the steep valley of Oxendale with picturesque waterfalls tumbling down its steep fells. Over to our left and across the Langdale valley Pike of Stickle pushed it rugged head into the wet mists above.

Below and along the fertile valley the chimneys of Dungeon Gill called a welcome return to the weary travellers. With the bad weather conditions the whole weekend had, in our minds, been somewhat of a failure, but this unexpected and rewarding view had more than compensated us all. With light hearts and a waggingtail we descended, past Stool End Farm and on to the hotel.

We had intended to take the beagle hound to Ambleside police station, but after changing into dry clothes in the car park at Dungeon Gill the dog had disappeared. After searching the immediate area and enquiring from climbers and hikers of the whereabouts of a stray dog we had brought in, reluctantly left. Although the car park was fairly full of people the funny thing was that no one said they had seen us arrive with a brown and white dog at all.

It seems strange that people so observant as country folk are, should miss a footsore and bedraggled dog. Or is it?

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Law Unto Himself

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Last Monday Open Spaces in conjunction with the Victorian Climbing Club saw the release of Michael Law’s autobiography (of sorts) at Thousand £ Bend at Little Lonsdale Street. It was a wild Melbourne night of heavy rain and hail, yet despite this almost 70 people turned out to listen to one of Australian climbing’s most colorful and notorious characters. Michael provided the audience with a staggering 300 or so historical images, which he dispensed with in just under 1.5 hours and – unlike many slideshows – left the audience wanting more. MC for the night was Simon Mentz who opened with the classic line; “This book launch was originally organised for last week but would have conflicted with the big Chris Sharma road show. The VCC kindly changed it since it was obvious that nobody would have gone to see Chris knowing that Mike was in town”.

As it was the night was a massive success. Michael signed loads of books and got a sore wrist, the Victorian Climbing Club sold a bunch of books and hopefully broke even (after paying the venue costs), and the audience had a great time. What was really interesting was the large number of climbing’s elder statesmen that obviously shunned their nightly rituals of comfy slippers, hot toddies and an early bed to brave the elements and see the show. It’s not often to see the likes of Michael Law, Robin Miller, Geoff Gledhill, Peter Watson, Glenn Robbins and John Chapman rubbing shoulders.

A big thank you to the Victorian Climbing Club who organised everything and to Tracey Skinner, Ben Wright, Dan Miller and Mike Poore who did all the behind the scenes work.

Michael Law’s book, Law Unto Himself ($27.95), is available at most climbing gear stores and through our online bookshop.

 

Michael Law entertaining the masses.
Michael Law entertaining the masses.

Michael Law signing books.

Michael Law signing books.
Michael signing books. Gitti Bulloch waiting expectantly with Steve Pollard behind.
Michael signing books. Gitti Bulloch waiting expectantly with Steve Pollard behind.
Michael Law and Tracey Skinner looking up to Dan Miller.
Michael Law and Tracey Skinner looking up to Dan Miller.
Glenn Robbins and Josef Goding.
Glenn Robbins and Josef Goding.
Glenn Robbins, Mac and Chelsea Brunkhorst and Josef Goding.
Glenn Robbins, Mac and Chelsea Brunkhorst and Josef Goding.
Michael the Showman with a pic of Glenn Child (left) and Greg Child (right).
Michael the Showman with a pic of Glenn Child (left) and Greg Child (right).
Robin Miller, Peter Watson and Glenn Robbins.
Robin Miller, Peter Watson and Glenn Robbins.
Martin Wood, Michael Collie and Robin Miller.
Martin Wood, Michael Collie and Robin Miller.
Simon Mentz & Michael Collie.
Simon Mentz & Michael Collie.
Michael Law & John Chapman.
Michael Law & John Chapman.
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The Art of Belay

So what sort of belayer are you? Are you a fashionable belayer? A safe belayer. Attentive or casual? Which belay devices do you use? Here are a few of my favorite belay scenarios, dug out of my dusty archives.

1. Waist belay. Bundaleer, 1976. Jerry Maddox wondering if anyone will notice that the clothes he's wearing are the same ones he used on his numerous climbing trips to the European Alps back in the 1960s. Your secret is safe with me Jerry. To be fair, winter conditions at Bundaleer are not much different to those on the North Face of the Eiger.
1. Waist belay. Bundaleer, 1976. Jerry Maddox wondering if anyone will notice that the clothes he’s wearing are the same ones he used on his numerous climbing trips to the European Alps back in the 1960s. Your secret is safe with me Jerry. To be fair, winter conditions at Bundaleer are not much different to those on the North Face of the Eiger.
2. ATC. Ormiston Gorge (Northern Territory), 1996. Damien Auton obviously believes that belaying a mate on a difficult climb and an afternoon siesta should never be mutually exclusive.
2. ATC. Ormiston Gorge (Northern Territory), 1996. Damien Auton obviously believes that belaying a mate on a difficult climb and an afternoon siesta should never be mutually exclusive.
3. Sticht plate. Manali (India), 1986. As a professional climbing instructor Michael Hampton knows that belaying is a very serious activity that requires ones full concentration.
3. Sticht plate. Manali (India), 1986. As a professional climbing instructor Michael Hampton knows that belaying is a very serious activity that requires ones full concentration.
4. Waist belay. Lake Districk (UK), 1982. Chris Baxter telling me that a single-point belay in shit rock is totally acceptable when you are twenty metres back from the edge of the cliff and using a dodgy waist belay!
4. Waist belay. Lake Districk (UK), 1982. Chris Baxter telling me that a single-point belay in shit rock is totally acceptable when you are twenty metres back from the edge of the cliff and using a dodgy waist belay!
5. Belay plate. Wilson's Promontory (Trackside Wall), 1982. Eric Jones proving that a single sky-hook belay anchor is absolutely bomb-proof (as long as the second doesn't do anything silly – like fall off).
5. Belay plate. Wilson’s Promontory (Trackside Wall), 1982. Eric Jones proving that a single sky-hook belay anchor is absolutely bomb-proof (as long as the second doesn’t do anything silly – like fall off).
6. Sticht plate. Mt Buffalo, 1996. Professional climbing instructor, playboy and entrepreneur, Simon Mentz is well known for his dedication to climbing safety. Here Simon is trying to figure out if the girl on the lookout is a blonde or a brunette. Damn that sun!
6. Sticht plate. Mt Buffalo, 1996. Professional climbing instructor, playboy and entrepreneur, Simon Mentz is well known for his dedication to climbing safety. Here Simon is trying to figure out if the girl on the lookout is a blonde or a brunette. Damn that sun!
7. Italian hitch. Ben Cairn, 1987. John (Rabbit) Rawlin proving that a (casual) belay should never get in the way of a good full-bodied red.
7. Italian hitch. Ben Cairn, 1987. Jon (Rabbit) Rawlins proving that a (casual) belay should never get in the way of a good full-bodied red.
8. Figure-eight. Phra Nang (Thailand), 1991. Greg Caire trying to work out the odds of losing his ability to ever father a child (not to mention the worst inner-thigh splinters known to medical science) should the leader take a massive winger.
8. Figure-eight. Phra Nang (Thailand), 1991. Greg Caire trying to work out the odds of losing his ability to ever father a child (not to mention the worst inner-thigh splinters known to medical science) should the leader take a massive winger.
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The Rust Bucket

This new Grampians sport-climbing cliff is located just near the Mount of Olives, a couple of minutes walk off the trail linking the Stapylton Campground with the Mt Stapylton Amphitheatre (total walk-in time is about 20min). The cliff is very short (only 12m or so) but the climbing is steep on generally good pocketed rock. There should be enough to entertain most climbers here for at least an afternoon’s moderate cranking. At present there are just five routes (not counting variations) as well as a couple of projects.

Echo Beach (22) is probably the Rust Bucket's most popular climb. It doesn't look too bad from the ground but the moves turn out to be surprisingly steep. Here Steve Holloway contemplates the crux.
Echo Beach (22) doesn’t look too bad from the ground but the moves turn out to be surprisingly steep. Here Steve Holloway contemplates the crux.

 

There are probably another six or seven possible new routes waiting to be done. The Rust Bucket is most appealing as a summer destination as it faces west, which means that it is in the shade until about 4pm. It also conveniently catches any cool breezes and has an appealing high aspect overlooking the plains. In winter the Rust Bucket would be a very cold place indeed. A few of the routes require stick clips on the first bolts.

Martin Wood on the second ascent of Echo Beach (22).
Martin Wood on the second ascent of Echo Beach (22).

 

Ian Smith pulling the initial moves on Blink (24).
Ian Smith pulling the initial moves on Blink (24).

 

Glenn Tempest leading the first ascent of African Queen (23).
Glenn Tempest leading the first ascent of African Queen (23).

 

The following PDF topo provides approach and route details. It can be opened up in Google Docs Viewer.

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Arapiles Pocket Companion: Out Soon

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It’s been five years since Simon Mentz and I released our Arapiles Selected Climbs guide. Although well-received by the climbing community, the guide did have one major problem. Weighing in at a hefty 715g meant that this was not something you could easily carry up The Bard or Skink. Great for bench-pressing but not really practicable for hauling up multi-pitch climbs. So, about three years ago, Simon and I started work on a pocket-sized version. The idea was to create a guide covering all of the Mount’s multi-pitch classics, yet would slide easily into your Prana pants back pocket. As the guide took form we also decided to include a good selection of popular single-pitch cliffs. Suddenly we had a guide that would appeal not only to the Mount’s regulars, but also to visiting dirt-bag climbers on flying visits and tight budgets.

Initially we made quick progress, but unfortunately other projects got in the way. Simon was giving birth to the Natimuk Cafe and I was having to finish off a couple of ‘real’ projects to keep the wolf from the door (not easy as the GFC descended and, coincidentally, the world of printed media began to crash and burn). Recently, however, we managed to find some time to revisit our pocket companion concept and it’s with a certain amount of pride (and relief) that I can announce that we are now nearing completion.

The Arapiles Pocket Companion will be published in an A6, full-colour format and weigh a very svelte 115g. Its 96 pages will describe over 750 routes and have around 50 detailed topos. The Pocket Companion will also be stitch-bound for strength and have a clear plastic cover for durability. There will be NO advertising in this guide as we figured that pages dedicated to advertising could better be used for cramming in more routes and topos.

The Arapiles Pocket Companion will retail for $19.95 and be available in the shops (and on our online bookstore) before the end of June.

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Mountain Magazine: Brave New World

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I bought my first copy of Mountain magazine at Bushgear in Hardware Lane. It was the January 1974 (no 31) edition which, due to a six month sea voyage, didn’t reach our shores until almost September. It cost 30 pence in the UK, $1.25 in the United States and $3.50 here in Australia. I remember pointing out to Reg Marron (who worked at Bushgear at the time), that as a 15 year-old school-boy there was no way I could afford such a high cover price (this in an era when Simond steel carabiners were regarded as expensive at $2 each). He took pity on me, gave me a 50% discount and a handful of tricounis*, which suited me very nicely.

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On the train home I pulled the mag out and carefully studied the cover photo; Chris Vandiver leading Outer Limits (5.10) on the Cookie Area in Yosemite Valley. At that moment I knew that I would one day go to Yosemite and do that climb. I turned each page and read every single word. Interestingly there were only four major articles. Pondering the Improbable, a literary critique by Mike Pearson, was essentially a review on the literary style of some weird-ass book called D’haulagirideon by Michael Charles Tobias. Blowing in the Wind by Leo Dickinson described an adventurous ski across the South Patagonian ice-cap and an ascent of two active volcanoes. Joe Beige Meets Godzilla was an hilarious cartoon adaption of Joe Brown and Don Whillans’ recent ascent of a spider- and snake-infested sandstone prow in the jungle’s of South America’s Roriama. It had been written by Ian McNaught Davis and illustrated by an E. Lovejoy Wolfinger the third (!).

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But the article that really captured my imagination was Jim Bridwell’s Brave New World. Seven awesome pages recounting in detail the hardest new climbs in Yosemite. It was packed with spectacular images, Californian skies, smooth granite walls and even a list of the Valley’s hardest routes. I was 15 and loved lists. The photos of Nabisco Wall’s test-pieces, Waverly Wafer, Wheat Thin, Butterballs and Butterfingers, were nothing short of inspiring. The American grades meant little to me, although I knew that 5.11 was nails hard. There were even a couple of photos of local rock star, Rick White, seconding Outer Limits. The magazine had, in essence, everything an impressionable boy required to change the course of his life.

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Mountain magazine was born of the genius of Ken Wilson, a London architecture student and climber, who brought a whole new level of professional publishing design and layout to a market long accustomed to crappy standards. Mountain quickly became an international success, was published ten times a year and ran from 1969 to 1991. It really was the benchmark for all other climbing and mountaineering publications that followed.

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A few years back I donated all of my Mountain magazines to Simon Mentz for public use in the Natimuk cafe. The only one I couldn’t part with was Mountain 31. I still occasionally pick it up and flick through its black and white pages. Sure, it’s easy to laugh at the outdated advertising and bad fashions, but the truth is Mountain was like no other magazine. And for me Mountain 31 started it all.

* Tricounis are steel nails, once used on the bottom of leather-soled boots to provide better grip on smooth rock or ice. The story goes that the then owner of Bushgear (who mistakenly believed they were still in vogue) bought tens of thousands of them at a ‘great’ price from a European distributor. Of course they never sold a single one and legend has it that there are still sacks of tricounies gathering dust in an attic somewhere.

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Koh Yao Noi, Stepping Back in Time

Steve Holloway and Bus on the way back from Grateful Wall, Koh Yao Noi.

It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since I first climbed in Thailand. Of course back in 1992 Phra-Nang was nothing like it is today. Tonsai was completely undeveloped with just a few rough huts set back in the jungle. Railay had a bunch of basic bungalow systems and it was only the Dusit Rayavadee that was regarded as upmarket (in 1993 we watched Mick Jagger and his entourage arrive by helicopter). Karen and I spent our very first night in Thailand at Sand Sea Bungalows, which, for less than two dollars, provided us with an open bamboo hut that could easily have featured in the movie Apocalypse Now. On nearby Phra-Nang Beach, King and Tex were dragging hapless beginners up The Money Maker (6a+, 18) for 30 baht ($1) a pop and we were busy cranking It’s a Boy 7b (25-26) through the spectacular Princess Cave (and which is now quite rightly closed to climbing). Over the next few years I wrote a small guide to Phra-Nang for Wild Publications (in Australia) and my articles and photographs appeared in a variety of magazines including Climbing, Rock and Ice, Rock, Outdoor Australia and Action Asia. Combined with the efforts of a small group of other climbers (such as Sam Lightner) it wasn’t long before Thailand was seen for what it truly was, that is one of the most remarkable climbing destinations on earth.

Sunrise at 6am. Koyao Resort on Koh Yao Noi.

Of course all this came at a price. These days climbing at Railay and Tonsai during the peak season can be uncomfortably crowded. Popular cliffs such as the Keep, Fire Wall or Monkey World are often packed and it’s not uncommon to have to wait in queue. Tonsai Wall and Dums Kitchen are overflowing with muscular brown torsos, writhing tattoos, jostling guides and some of the most polished routes you’ll ever have the misfortune to slip off. As for 123 Wall at Railay East, do yourself a favour and get there early (well before 7am) and make sure your off your climb and heading for breakfast by 8.30am. After that it will be wall to wall chaos.

HD Wall (facing) and Big Tree Wall profile. Koh Yao Noi.

So is there anywhere in Thailand that you can still climb and avoid the crowds? Indeed there is. Koh Yao Noi is an island about an hours long-tail ride west of Railay Beach and is situated smack bang in the middle of Phang-Nga Bay. Koh Yao Noi means Small Long Island and its southern (larger) neighbor is called Koh Yao Yai (or Big Long Island). The two islands are separated by a narrow channel. Koh Yao Noi is home to about 4000 people, mainly Muslim, most of whom earn their living by fishing, farming and agriculture. Unlike nearby Phuket, Koh Yao Noi is a very quiet place and is more like the Thailand I remember from 20 years ago. There are no glitzy resorts, no traffic, no nightclubs and no crowds. Here the locals are much more relaxed, friendly and with smiles as wide as an Andaman sunrise.

The Climbing

There are about ten cliffs currently under development, all of which are located on the northern tip of Koh Yao Noi and its nearby islands. The area has been developed mainly by Mark Miner (and his mates Drew Spalding, Justin Day etc) who co-runs (with his wife, Heather) the Mountain Shop in Tha Khao village. These guys have put in one hell of a lot of hard work, having spent a small fortune in bolts and glue. There are currently about 160 climbs. Most are single pitch but there are some that reach four pitches. Almost all of the routes are protected with titanium bolts combined with Hilti RE-500 glue. To be honest the climbing isn’t anywhere near as convenient as Phra-Nang as all of the crags on Koh Yao Noi require some form of transport to reach them (either by boat or by scooter). Forget about cliffs towering above white sandy beaches, here on Koh Yao Noi the cliffs rise from either the jungle or directly from the sea. The payoff is that you will enjoy some superb climbing, no crowds and barely a polished hold in sight. Here is a quick overview of three of the better cliffs on Koh Yao Noi.

 Grateful Wall

This remarkable orange and gray cliff is arguably one of the best ‘more moderate’ crags in Thailand. Grateful Wall hangs over the sea, which means it requires a boat to reach it. A bamboo ladder provides access to a narrow ledge that runs the length of the cliff about 10m above the water. Grateful Wall is also blessed with shade all day. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Romano Frosio, owner of La Luna Pizzeria on Wharf Rat 6b (20), Grateful Wall.

There are currently ten routes here, ranging from 6a (17) to 7a (24). Every route is an absolute pocket-pulling classic of between 25m and 60m. Bring along a 70m rope to be safe (and tie a knot in the end of the rope). Standout climbs include Candyman (6b, 20), New Speedway Boogie 6c+ (23), Monkey and the Engineer 6b+ (21) and Franklins Tower 6a+ (19). The two pitch Fire on the Mountain is also well worth ticking, if only to experience the trouser-filling exposure and exquisite moves on the final 6c (22) pitch.

Signpost in the jungle, just so you don’t get lost.

The Mitt

This steep white wall looks vaguely like the side of a collapsing wedding cake, rising straight out of the jungle and literally dripping with massive stalactites. The Mitt has around 30 climbs ranging from 6a to 7c. Here you will be confronted with the most concentrated collection of harder routes on Koh Yao Noi. Most climbs require at least a 60m rope with some routes requiring 70m and 80m ropes. Remember to tie a knot in the end of your rope.

Amanda Holloway bridging on Daddy Long Legs 6b (20), the Mitt.

Of the easier routes Daddy Long Legs (6b, 20) is a standout classic. The route overhangs 8m in 25m as you swing from stalactite to stalactite. Watch out for nearby Black Widow, which is a sandbag at 6c! Spiderman 6c+ (23) is a 30m endurance marathon at the grade. You have to approach the Mitt via a very rough 30min scooter ride up the spine of the island to the Paradise Koh Yao Resort. From the resort it is a 15min walk up through the jungle. To avoid the scooter ride (which can be dangerous in wet weather) you should consider renting a long-tail boat for the day.

Amanda and Karen at the base of the Mitt.

Big Tree Wall

In some ways this is Koh Yao Noi’s answer to Thaiwand Wall over at Railay. True, Big Tree Wall isn’t quite as impressive, but what it does have is a dozen or so mega-classic routes of between two and four pitches at grades that are generally more ‘tickable’ for the majority of climbers. Big Tree Wall is accessed as for the Mitt and requires a 25min jungle walk. You can also approach Big Tree Wall from the sea via a long-tail boat, which is generally much quicker and easier.

Upmarket Koyao Resort, Koh Yao Noi.

Accommodation

There are plenty of bungalows and resorts on the island, most of which are concentrated along the southeastern coast. A lot of climbers seem to stay at Namtok Bungalows, which charge between 450 and 1300 baht ($15 and $43) per night. For those looking for a bit more comfort you could check out Lom Lae Beach Resort or Sabai Corner Bungalows. For the last two seasons Karen and I have stayed at the rather more upmarket Koyao Island Resort, which (like many resorts) have good deals before the start of high season on 01 November. Rooms here are upwards of 5500 baht ($180) per night.

Hanging the gear out to dry. Koyao Resort, Koh Yao Noi.

Tips

Get yourself a Thai sim card for your phone. We have had great results with the local carrier AIS, which has a surprisingly good service throughout the Andaman islands including Phra-Nang and Koh Yao Noi. You can purchase a 3G sim card from the arrivals hall at Bangkok Airport and top it up at any Seven Eleven or Mini Mart. I usually go for a 669 baht ($22) card which allows for 1GB of internet data as well as plenty of free local calls. If you just want local phone calls (no internet) then purchase a sim card from any Seven Eleven or Mini Mart. Note that there are different sizes of sim cards depending upon your smart phone model.

Fill her up. Scooters at the gas station, Koh Yao Noi.

Rent a scooter for your entire stay on the island. Scooters cost around 200 – 300 baht ($7 to $10) per day. You will need a scooter to access some of the crags (if you don’t decide to rent a long-tail) and you will need it to get to cafes, restaurants and visit nearby villages.

Some of the best cliffs are accessible only via a long-tail boat. The daily rental of a long-tail will set you back about 1800 baht (about $60) per day. The Mountain Shop can arrange everything and will also help organise other climbers that may want to share the cost.

The Koh Yao Noi Rock Climbing guide is available only from the Mountain Shop. To be honest I’ve so far been unable to purchase a copy as they always seem to be out of print. Luckily, during my last two visits to the island, I’ve been able to borrow a copy (on both occasions we left a donation for the use of the guide, which will go towards more titanium bolts and glue). If you’re heading over this season I’d suggest dropping the folks at the Mountain Shop an email and asking if the guide is currently available. If you have the King Climbers Thailand Route Guide Book then you at least have the descriptions for The Mitt and for Grateful Wall.

Replaced carabiners showing signs of advanced wear.

Take a few spare ‘leaver biners’ and slings. Quite a few of the lower-offs at Koh Yao Noi are just opposing carabiners, many which are showing signs of advanced wear. Do the right thing and replace any biners or slings when necessary.

Restaurants

There are lots of cafes and restaurants on the island. A few of the better places that I’ve eaten include La Luna Pizzeria (the owner, Romano, is a climber and his pizzas and pastas are simply amazing), Je T’aime restaurant (sort of a Thai, French and Danish fusion!), Good View Restaurant (great sunsets, tasty Thai seafood) and the Para Bar (super Thai food, fantastic atmosphere).

Getting There

You can reach either Manoh or Tha Khao Piers (both on Koh Yao Noi) via speed boat directly from Tha Lane Pier on the mainland, which will cost you about 250 baht ($8). A taxi between Krabi and Tha Lane Pier will cost you about 800 baht ($27). Boats also leave from Ao Nang (near Railay), which can be more convenient for climbers. This trip via speed boat will take about 50min and cost you maybe 500 baht ($17). The most convenient option though (if you’re coming from Railay) is to simply rent your own long-tail boat for 4000 baht ($130), which will take you directly to Tha Khao Pier on Koh Yao Noi.