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To Clip or Not to Clip. That is the Question.

Over the weekend I was out climbing with a bunch of friends. It was one of those half social, half serious climbing trips where sitting around the campfire was as enjoyable as crimping edges on perfect Grampians orange stone. But one particular incident got me to thinking. I’d led a bunch of stuff on the Saturday and although I was pretty tired by the end of the day I figured that I’d sneak in just one last short sport-climb. All went well until after the crux, at the last bolt before the lower-off. I clipped the draw to the hanger but every time I tried to pull the rope up to clip in to the biner it would catch between my thigh and the rock. I was flustered and apparently snookered.

It was at this point that I realised I had to disregard the draw and continue on through to the top. The climbing wasn’t particularly difficult, the last bolt was just below my feet and I still had just enough juice left in the tank. The trouble was that every time I decided to go for it I suddenly felt an overwhelming desire to try and clip the draw instead. MUST….CLIP….DRAW…! MUST….CLIP….DRAW…! Eventually I burned all my fuel, lowered off and spent the rest of the afternoon kicking myself.

So, to make myself feel better I dug out a couple of old photos of myself on the Thornton Viaduct, near Bradford in Yorkshire, England. The year was 1982 and I was staying with my grandparents, barely a stone’s throw from the viaduct itself. Over a few months during that summer I became obsessed with ticking one of those incredible arches. The one I eventually chose looked every bit as enticing as most of the local grit routes, but at 37m it had the advantage of being three times higher. I decided against scoping it out on a top-rope and planned to instead work my way up the pillar, getting a little higher each day and then reversing the moves to the ground. The initial 25m of the pillar wasn’t too technically difficult and I quickly worked out the best way to climb it. The real difficulties, however, were in the last 12m. Here the stonework was much finer and with correspondingly smaller holds. On an almost daily basis I would climb up to the top of the pillar and from it’s narrowest point push on upwards, sometimes solving only a single move before fear took hold of me and forced me to reverse back to the ground.

On that last day I reached about 28m, still barely a couple of body lengths above the pillar’s narrowest point. By now I was at my psychological limit (a technical term meaning I was a hairs breadth away from shitting myself). From this point on the moves were substantially harder and I still wasn’t convinced that they were even possible. My Get Out of Jail Free card was the confidence I so far had in being able to reverse all the moves back to the ground, but now I had to make a decision. I either had to play my card one last time or tear it up and just go for it. There was no hesitation. I reversed all the way to the ground and never tried the pillar again.

Which brings me back to the climb that I wimped off on the weekend. I’m convinced that if that draw hadn’t been dangling in front of my face I wouldn’t have hesitated. I would pulled on through. Done and dusted. Job done. But it was and I didn’t. But that really isn’t my point. My point is this. If my pillar had have had a row of bolts up it I really don’t think I’d have got anywhere near to the high-point I did. That’s because I would have probably worn a harness and carried a couple of draws (you know, just in case!) and then, already having set myself up for failure, I would have got to the very first hanger and heard that same old song: MUST….CLIP….DRAW…! MUST….CLIP….DRAW…!

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CliffCare – the lowdown

While much of my working week takes place at Open Spaces (I work here 3 days a week) I also work part-time for the Victorian Climbing Club and CliffCare as the Access & Environment Officer. Some of you may be familiar with what my role entails and what CliffCare is about but there is a pretty fair chance that many of you may have no idea what I am talking about. I did briefly touch on this in an earlier blog

CliffCare is a Trust – The Victorian CliffCare Trust. This is administered by the VCC and in simple terms is the environmental arm of the club.
In short CliffCare’s aims:
Education – promoting ‘low impact’ climbing
Advocacy – negotiating with land managers to maintain access and re-open popular cliffs.
Protection – organizing work parties and raising money to preserve the cliff environment.

CliffCare aims to take a proactive position when it comes to these aims rather than a reactive one which tended to occur in the past. With a strong partnership developing with various Parks Victoria offices, our hope is to be able to look after the areas in which we climb in a way which is more conducive with climbers as well as taking into account other park users and the environmental interests of the parks themselves. Constant budget cuts to Parks Victoria which noticeably affect their resources, including staff, mean that more and more often, these kind of partnerships with usergroups will be required if we want areas to stay open and managed well. Many of the areas in which we climb are often off track as in PV managed tracks. What this means is that as they are not official tracks etc, PV are not required to maintain them. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be maintained nor that PV will just turn a blind eye. Considering the fact that for the most part, climbers are the ones that predominantly use these tracks and areas, well – it should be that climbers are the ones to maintain them. All of this though, requires volunteers and that dreaded word… While the VCC might administer the funds and some percentage of membership fees do cover some aspects, the costs associated with having an Access & Environment Officer, materials, tools etc are all dependant on the Annual CliffCare Raffle and enough donations coming in. Some projects have been lucky enough to be funded by a grant but these are getting fewer and far between and it does seem that with the current Victorian government, that anything that has the word ‘environment’ in it, is first for the chop. So now more than ever, donations are a vital component of the continuing success of CliffCare and for the climbing community, the safeguarding of the cliffs access and care.

This year has been a bumper year for works going on at a variety of areas and cliffs.I’ve made a list of workdays so far, some pictures to see some of the work, links to more pictures and if you’re feeling so inclined, the link to the donation site. And if you would like to help out on one of the many working bees we have lined up, please drop me a line and I’ll send you the details

Next workday coming up this weekend!

Araps Climb & Repair (Pharos Gully project) 10th March,2012

Mt Rosea climbers track repair 14th April,2012

Araps Climb & Repair (Pharos gully project) 28 Apr 2012

Climb & Repair You Yangs 12 May 2012

The Gallery Track Repair, Grampians 26 May 2012

Araps Climb & Repair (Pharos gully project) 9 Jun 2012

Araps Climb & Repair (Pharos gully project) 18 Aug 2012

Mt Rosea landslide gully before

Mt Rosea landslide gully after
Pharos Gully summit staircase
Bundaleer, Grampians. Protecting the Manic Depressive area for cultural heritage


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Tarilta Creek Gorge Burn. The Unanswered Questions.

A couple of weeks ago Glenn Tempest wrote a blog about the March 2012 DSE burn in Tarilta Creek Gorge. Friends of the Box-Ironbarks Forests (FOBIF) also posted a critical assessment of the DSE burning operations in the Upper Loddon State Forest here. We know that many of you who use our walking guides and who especially love the box-ironbark forests of the goldfields region will be appalled at what basically amounted to an act of environmental vandalism. The Tarilta Creek Gorge is a much loved walk and it is not expected to fully recover for many years.

FOBIF secretary Bernard Slattery wrote to DSE with a number of questions. Paul Bates, Forest Manager, Bendigo Forest Management Area responded to these questions and FOBIF posted his reply on the blog DSE Answers on Tarilta Fire. This makes for interesting reading, if only because it shows that DSE have no intention in providing genuine answers to these important questions.

Glenn Tempest, author of Daywalks Around Melbourne and the forthcoming Goldfields Walks visited Tarilta Creek Gorge only a week or so before the burn. There were perhaps half a dozen trees along Limestone Track that had been raked. According to Glenn none of the old yellow gums within the gorge had been raked.
Above are a couple of Glenn’s photos that were taken on that day as well as a selection of photos taken immediately after the burn (courtesy of Rob Simons, a local landholder of which a section of the Tarilta Creek runs through). These images clearly show just how much damage has been done and of the enormous amount of silt and topsoil now filling the creek.



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Vertical Life (#1 Autumn 2012). The Review.

Every now and then something happens and the world slightly shifts. Afterwards, nothing is ever quite the same. Over the last few years the publishing industry has been going through a monumental upheaval, one not seen since 1440 when Johannes Gutenberg perfected the printing press. The internet has taken us to places most of us could barely have imagined just a few short years ago. Sales of traditional magazine and books are plunging and the industry is clawing desperately to find ways to create new business models that are both workable and profitable.

Which brings me to Vertical Life, Australia’s first online climbing magazine. Vertical Life will be published quarterly and is to be accompanied with what the publishers call a “once-a-year, high-end printed tome”. A limited release printed magazine is a great idea and is welcome news to all of us who feel a little sheepish carrying our iPads into the toilet. The two editors have a long pedigree in adventure publishing and it shows. Ross Taylor is a talented writer who started here at Open Spaces in 2005 before moving on to Wild Publications, where he ended up editing both Rock and Wild magazines. After Wild Publications were acquired by Prime Creative Media in 2009 Ross continued on as editor before leaving in 2011 to start his own business. Simon Madden’s prolific and often witty writing skills will be familiar to readers of Wild, Rock and Outer Edge magazines.

So what do I think about Vertical Life? Put simply it’s a very welcome addition to a marketplace where most other outdoor magazines are becoming increasingly less relevant. Vertical Life looks and feels fresh. Many of the key images are evocative, the online medium allowing for larger and more vivid presentations. I was also pleased to see a broad range of feature stories. My fear of wall to wall tribes of beanie-wearing, half naked ‘mattress backs’ didn’t eventuate and instead I was treated to a very fattening slice of the climbing gamut. One thing that I did notice though, was a distinct lack of photographs showing easier climbs. Apart from the wonderful Mike Meadows historic piece Climbing for Climbing’s Sake, you have to turn to page 110 to see a route graded under 22 (okay, Titan in Ross Taylor’s Titan Free is supposed to be only 19 but I figure anything on Mount Geryon’s massive East Face has got to be harder than your average grade 19 at the You Yangs). The other thing which I found mildly annoying was the overuse of the (mainly triangular) opacities used as overlays across too many stories and photographs. This is only a minor design issue though and it certainly won’t bother most readers. My favourite articles? To be honest I enjoyed then all, but I did get a belly laugh out of Steve Kelly’s RAD BAD or Just Plain Sad. I also loved the interview with Mayan Smith-Gobat, and reading Beginnings by Andrea Hah. As a photographer myself I found the interview and video with Australia’s (and possibly the world’s) most accomplished climbing photographer, Simon Carter, especially interesting.

My only real criticisms tend to be technical ones. Vertical Life is created as a PDF, but for some reason it isn’t formatted like a normal PDF for use as an online magazine. This means that it opens using a browser such as Firefox, Internet Explorer 9 or Safari (all of which I tested with no apparent issues) and in Adobe Acrobat. What I really wanted to do was to save the PDF to my desktop and then open it in a digital ebook reader such Adobe Digital Editions. It’s a real inconvenience to not be able to save Vertical Life into my personal book and magazine collection for later reading. When I did finally open it in Adobe Digital Editions it appeared with no cover thumbnail on the Table of Contents, nor was there an interactive contents list. I also found that navigating through the magazine to be cumbersome. The contents page was not interactive and there was no obvious way of moving easily from one story to another (other than page by page). The other thing that slightly annoyed me (when using a browser) was that when I did click on a link (video, link or whatever) I lost my place in the magazine. I’d much rather the link opened in a new tab. All this sounds like nitpicking and to some extent it is as I’m sure that all of these issues will be ironed out in the second edition. Perhaps the editors will eventually look at releasing Vertical Life in both PDF and ePub versions.

Overall the first issue of Vertical Life is an impressive debut and both Ross and Simon should be very proud of what they have achieved. Australian climbers now have a new and vibrant magazine to look forward to. For the Australian climbing community I’d like to think that Vertical Life has slightly shifted our world. Surely climbing magazines will not be the same again.

Vertical Life is available as a free download from and is published by Adventure Types.


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Parks Victoria: Death By a Thousand Cuts.

This Easter weekend some state and national parks are facing industrial action by Parks Victoria rangers belonging to the Community and Public Sector Union. Most likely this will involve the locking of gates to parks which have single points of entry. The union has been in ongoing enterprise bargaining negotiations with the Victorian Government, having stated that Parks Victoria staff have not had a pay rise in almost two years. The sticking point is that the Baillieu government is refusing to increase its offer of a 2.5 per cent annual pay rise, plus whatever trade-offs can be obtained via productivity improvements. What makes this all the more unpalatable to the rangers is that 48 executive officers in the Department of Sustainability and Environment (the department that overlooks Parks Victoria), have shared a windfall bonus of $655,000 for the last financial year. That is an average of $13,645 for each officer.

Interestingly, the Baillieu government has declared that they will have no hesitation to putting on non-unionised strike breakers’ to re-open the park gates to the public. Environment Minister Ryan Smith commented that “It’s extremely disappointing to hear that the unions are trying to lock Victorian families out of our parks this Easter weekend”.

On the surface this may appear to be a simple wage dispute, but in fact it’s just a symptom of a larger and much more serious disease. It’s no secret that Parks Victoria is suffering from chronic underfunding. Parks and reserves across Victoria are seeing the results of decades of government cut-backs. These funding cuts effect our parks and reserves in many ways. From the supply of basic amenities (such as toilet rolls), all the way to establishing and maintaining user facilities such as walking and mountain bike trails as well as creating new management and environmental plans for the future. Looking after our public spaces is, quite simply, a massive job and if it is to be done correctly it will require substantial government funding.

The Cathedral Range State Park (just outside Melbourne) is a good example of just how much things have changed. Fifteen years ago there were three rangers looking after this very busy park (and the nearby small Buxton Gum Reserve). Over the intervening years the number of rangers have been reduced until today there is only one ranger visiting the park on two days a week. Other Parks, such as Mt Beckworth Scenic Reserve and Mt Alexander Regional Park are good examples of public lands that have been all but abandoned due to lack of funds.

Regular readers of this blog know that although I’m a big supporter of Parks Victoria I’m also very critical of the gradual disintegration of our parks and reserves. Many Parks Victoria rangers do an amazing job in increasingly difficult circumstances. One of my ranger friends commented that ‘productivity improvements’ was in fact government speak for ‘saving money’. For bushwalkers this usually means letting walking trails and signage vanish. Fewer trails and lower maintenance means less money spent. Projections indicate that Melbourne will have a population of 5 million by 2020. With increasing numbers of users visiting our parks the question we should be asking is how exactly are Parks Victoria supposed to do a good job with correspondingly less money to spend.

Over the Easter period the following parks may be closed. Before we start getting angry with the rangers who are closing these parks perhaps we should consider the much bigger picture.

1. Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens
2. Braeside Park
3. Buchan Caves Reserve
4. Cardinia Reservoir Park
5. Churchill National Park
6. Coolart Historic Area
7. Dandenong Valley Parklands
8. George Tindale Memorial Gardens
9. Lysterfield Park
10. Maribyrnong Valley Parklands
11. Maroondah Reservoir Park
12. Mount Buffalo National Park
13. National Rhododendron Garden
14. Organ Pipes National Park
15. Pirianda Gardens
16. Point Cook Coastal Park
17. Serendip Sanctuary
18. Silvan Reservoir Park
19. Tower Hill Reserve
20. Upper Yarra Reservoir Park
21. Werribee Gorge State Park
22. Wilsons Promontory National Park
23. Woodlands Historic Park
24. You Yangs Regional Park