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.
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.
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.
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.
The following PDF topo provides approach and route details. It can be opened up in Google Docs Viewer.
Travelling is made up, like most things, of lots of little moments. Some destined to fade and escape your memory forever whilst others reach that pinnacle of moments. That one moment that whenever you think about it, brings a smile to your face. It starts your head, and your heart, off on its travels again. You might not be there physically but in every other way you are experiencing it all again. That glazed over look in your eyes, as your companions click their fingers trying to make you snap out of it.
I had many moments on my trip to Spain and then Morocco that I know will be with me for a long time, but I think that one special moment where I truly felt the country and its culture in its purity was high on a riads rooftop in Marrakech, overlooking the medina on a breezy, balmy Moroccan evening. My eyes are glazing over as I type. It sounds all too romantic to be true but sometimes those unplanned moments are just like that. A long day visiting the museums and archeological sites around Marrakech had me about as tired as I could be and about as full of culture as I thought I could be.
All that was needed to finish off the evening after our usual stroll through the Djemaa el-fna and our meal of chicken, potato and olive tajine was a sweet, sweet mint tea on the rooftop of the riad we were staying at. Like many of the riads in Marrakech there were many little corners where you could get just a little bit higher than the other riads in order to have an uninterrupted view of what lay below. And there I was. A sea of twinkling lights, faint distant music from the square and the knowledge that the crazy never ending movement of human bodies and lives, bustled and scurried through the maze of souks and streets below.
Sipping on my tea, enjoying the breeze and overlooking Marrakech, I heard the beginning of the call to prayer. Nothing new there – it’s a constant every day and it pleased me as it always did. But as I stood there and let it waft over me, I heard the beginning of another call to prayer, and another and another. Each one starting within seconds of each other. From around Marrakech all of the mosques were starting their call to prayer. Usually I happened to be down below within the throng of people and streets and would hear only the call to prayer that was in my vicinity. This particular time, up above it all on that perfect evening, I heard them all. It was a beautiful, spiritual musical moment of the call to prayer sung in rounds. Surrounded by it, the heart lifted and the goosebumps grew. And then one by one, each one ended before the next until the last few words of prayer were sung as it had begun. In singular.
I was hoping that upon my return from Spain I would have files full of the routes we climbed, posed mid sequence, with that steely look of determination in our eyes. As I noted – I was hoping. I have some bum shots. I also have a bum shot plus. A bum shot plus is so much more than the usual bumshot. There is a slight twist to the body so at least it looks like you are more than just a behind and more importantly, people know it is you. You were really there. After all, there probably aren’t that many people who would recognise you by your bum. Anyway, I digress. I was supposed to be telling you all about El Chorro and the fabulous climbing to be had. This would be highlighted by the myriad of spontaneous climbing shots! Lets just talk about the fabulous climbing to be had.
Like all the other places in Spain we had been travelling to, we were surrounded by rock. On our first day we climbed at Sector Castrojo at Frontales. With it being a bit of a suntrap, we needed to get our climbing in quick and then move out before the searing sun burnt us.
The following day we visited the Los Albercones area. A great little selection of climbs to keep you busy for a good part of the day. Gabi and Zulu express 6a and 6a+ respectively were great fun. Although our day would be shorter considering the sun factor. Still we did our best to tick as many as possible. Along with a young american guy who was on R & R from Germany, we gave our forearms a bit of a workout on the deceivably pumpy little routes. All the while chasing the shade along the cliff. Thank goodness for the shade below to belay in. If it wasn’t for that, we would have needed to leave a lot earlier. Early starts are best in this part of the world when climbing in the warmer seasons.
Tops for me though in the cliffs that we climbed in the El Chorro region, was Desplomandia. A good 20 minute drive from where we were staying, Desplomandia sits above a green hued lake, making for a fantastic view and dependant on which cliff you are at – that elusive requirement of warm day climbing. Shade. It was bliss. From the rock quality, the routes on offer, the view and the coolness to bask in. Saying that though, the first two warm up routes we jumped on at the Bueno Sombra sector were totally missable. Polished like you wouldn’t believe and the climbing awkward. Halfway through the second one, I thought – “Stuff that for a game of soldiers” and lowered off. Better things to do/climb with my time. A bit further up the cliff line we jumped on some great single pitches such as Alobeitor, a 6a with lots of lovely pockets.
We climbed again the next day at Desplomandia but at Poza de la Mona. Again in beautiful, beautiful shade. We had some friends with us this time. A young german couple (the very couple that had alerted and averted me from the Alhambra disaster!)
The drive throughout El Chorro and surrounding villages is stunning. Gorgeous rock, green fields, olive plantations and little villages perched on high points and winding down. The days were drawing to a close and our time in El Chorro was up. It had been great to settle for a week and develop our own el chorro rhythm.
The drive ahead to Madrid was long and it would be city life for another couple of days before we jetted off to Morocco. Spain was also drawing to a close. I felt like I had a good bash at it and was feeling content with my travel. But the desire to return was also there and still so much to see. So, a farewell with a bang. Sangria, flamenco dance, my beloved Picasso – it was all in Madrid, ready to bid me a fond farewell. Hola and Adios!
As they say – ‘Best laid plans’…..
I’m not going to go into too much detail. Just a bullet point of events. Nevertheless, apart from one really foul day, I had a good time. But also needless to say…..I will be needing to head back. I have a few unticked boxes on my trip list.
PLANNED EASTER JAUNT
Overnight drive to Point Perpendicular
Cruisy camping at Currarong Holiday Park
3 days climbing at the Point
Drive back to Melbourne
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED
Overnight drive to Point Perpendicular
Cruisy camping at Currarong Holiday Park
1st day climbing at the Point. Fab!
Early morning wake up with Gastro bug along with all attached symptoms. In tent bed until 4.30 pm next day.
Overnight rain flooded campsite and tent. All bedding wet. All clothes packed wet. Only dry item – bathers!
Rained continuously all the next morning. Road into Point Perp closed for the rest of the week.
Cut losses and decide to leave early taking 2 days to drive back along the Sapphire Coast to Melbourne.
Lovely weather and drive. Fish and Chips on the Eden pier.
A few nice pics of the trip. Some pretty speccy coastline along the way.
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.
Granada is only two hours away from El Chorro so whilst it would have been lovely to stop at Granada and stay the night, doing so would have cut into more climbing days. I wasn’t going to miss visiting the Alhambra though. I have gazed lovingly and longingly at it for many years through the glossy pages of coffee table books, historical and architectural digests. Full of history and an absolute feast for the eyes!
So thank goodness then, for a chance conversation with a young german couple staying at La Finca La Campana. The young girl was studying in Granada so of course the discussion headed towards the Alhambra. Fancy my horror, when they said that you needed to book well in advance in order to buy a ticket. Some parts of the Alhambra are free, some parts are a general visit ticket which you can often buy on the day but the Nasrid Palace which is the jewel in the crown so to speak, had limited entry per day. And your ticket only allowed entry at a specific time. Get on the website they said. Aargh, I was planning to go in two days. When I logged onto the site, my disappointment was palpable. The next available day to visit the Alhambra with the Nasrid Palace included was another week and a half away. We would be in Madrid then and ready to fly out the following day to Marrakech. I kept rereading the page, refreshing it, hoping that miraculously it would present a vacancy available.No such luck. Then a little glimmer of hope – albeit a more expensive glimmer of hope. Missed out on a ticket? Click here for guided tour where there could be vacancies. And there it was – 3 spots left in the 4 pm Nasrid Palace visit. Total tour would be 2.5-3 hours, needing to be at the Palace entry by 4pm. Three times more expensive but basically, this was it. Don’t go (not an option) or pay the price. Who knew when I would be back in Spain and what my itinerary would be when I was. Being so close, I couldn’t just drop it and not go. So out came the credit card and in a blink of an eye, our plan was set. Thankyou Cam for actually not blinking an eye to my Alhambra despair and going along with it like it was always planned that way.
A glass or two of Sangria further cemented my happy feelings of the outcome and I could also tell that One Ear Malloy was truly pleased with my happiness. Just to share the love I gave him and his tagalongs an extra ear rub ( or what was left of it) and cracked open a tin of tuna for their celebratory enjoyment.
We headed off to Granada mid morning with a plan to arrive, find best parking and then have a nice civilized lunch, quick wander around the town itself before meeting the tour guide for the tour. I generally much prefer to visit places and wander around on my own steam but was heartened to hear from a number of people before our visit that the Alhambra was probably one of those places that could benefit from a guide. So extensive – the information a guide could present ,would help with the understanding of the site, its history and culture.
Granada’s history has an interesting mix of the Spanish, the Moors with their islamic culture and the Jewish community. Granada was long under the rule of the Moors, where the Jewish community also flourished. In 1492 this was to end though with the taking of Granada and other Moorish strongholds by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Enter the Spanish Inquisition.The Moors and Jews were given the option of conversion to Christianity or expulsion from Spain. Right. There you go. My one little foray into the history of Granada.You will of course need to fill in the huge amount of gapsThe old jewish quarter next to the Alhambra is a promoted area to vist. This older quarter of Granada certainly contains a charm to it and wandering about it’s small streets and alleys, one could get lost for a good part of the day.
After lunch, we joined the masses eager for a viewing of one of the most beautifully decorated historical places in the world. As I noted above, this is a history lesson that I won’t go into any detail here – far too much over such a long period of time to do it justice. There are numerous sites that can fill you in on the rich history that the Alhambra has. Instead some photos that hopefully show the beauty, that for me was breathtaking. The details in the carving – someone must have had some mighty big blisters from chiselling away at that with such control. Colours. Shapes. Viewpoints. Everything had been thought about for maximum effect. This was coupled with the beautiful light in this part of the world. The carved windows, glass work, arches and doorways that seemed to lead to another doorway and yet another all within view of each other, all vied for another photo on the camera card.
My brain had definitely reached overload by the end of the day and was screaming out for rest. Eyes were sore, feet were aching, tired of being around so, so many people. Having said that though, it was worth it. By the time we reached home late that night, there were no visits from One Ear and his cronies – and just as well. Cam and I stumbled into bed. I had a swirling mess of geometric patterns, fountains and arches trying hard to keep me awake. Cam just stumbled. The drive home had wiped out his remaining brain cells and it was all he could do to stay on the right side of the wrong side of the road for us. More rock tomorrow.
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.
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 (!).
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.
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.
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.
I love travelling from place to place and it suits my propensity for boredom – doing one thing for too long. Having said that though, I am a homely creature in many ways and love to find a spot to settle in and call home even if for only a little while. It’s a constant fight in my head really. So the opportunity to stay still for a little longer was appealing and El Chorro in Malaga was it! El Chorro is a small village in Andalusia, southern Spain. Being located next to the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes (“Gorge of the Gaitanes”) means that rockclimbing is pretty high on the things to do list in the area. No denying that we were there to sample that but there were other delights of the area and the the Camino del Rey (being a climber helps) was a definite for me. More on that later.
Granada, which houses the Alhambra (design obsession coming to the fore again) is two hours away so rather than stop and stay overnight there, we decided to do a day trip from El Chorro. Stay tuned for my Alhambra experience – look away if you don’t like architectural and archeological design! More of that in another blog post.
We had obviously timed it just right as the roads in the area had only just opened after being washed away from the floods over the past couple of days we were in the Costa Blanca. There were tell tale signs as we drove closer, of mud washed houses and deep ruttings in the olive plantations situated on the steep hillsides. People had been working diligently in order to get these narrow roads open. For many of the smaller villages in the area, these roads are vital. I am glad we drove in whilst in was still light. It allowed us to see the washed away and collapsed sides of the road. This meant that we were at least aware of them when driving along them in the dark for the following week. Always important to know when the road is really only wide enough for one car. My girly protestations of not playing chicken with the other oncoming car were thankfully taken on board by Cam.
We stayed at La Finca La Campana which I have to say was a great choice. A choice of accommodation options is on offer, camping, bunkhouse etc but we chose one of the great little bungalows. I am an interior and design obsessed climber so whilst I am more than happy to just camp wherever there is a bed, I do love to stay where my eyes can feast on interesting details. So indulge me here for a moment. A cute and quaint little bungalow with Spanish and Moorish little design details, painted white stone and shuttered windows to lock out the hot midday sun. A private courtyard with wrought iron doors. Nothing fancy mind you – just a rustic moorish feel to the residence. Perfect for whipping up a quick meal after a day at the cliff, sipping on a Spanish red and planning the next day by spreading guidebooks across the hand hewn table. A pool with slackline about 10 metres away, a number of shared community recreation areas, bar, kitchen, small shop and regular visits of resident cats that will either give you the attention you want or leave you alone. I’m a cat person so loved sitting down with my glass of wine whilst attending to the needs of the finca’s cat population.
First morning saw us waking up to a sunrise fighting it’s way through the low lying mist. There was a lovely calmness about it and I just knew that we were going to have a great week. We chose to start off our climbing adventures in a nearby area that was home to a variety of climbs from 4a up to about 7a. Once again, after a few quick warm-ups which were pretty unmemorable, we jumped on a couple of 5b+ and 6a’s. These were much more enjoyable but the sun was starting to develop it’s bite for the day so it was time to head off for less strenuous activity. When I say less strenuous, I don’t mean, chilling out on the lounger by the pool. I mean climbing and walking along the Caminito de Rey. (the Kings little path).
This was a path built along the gorge walls in 1905, that gave access to a hydro-electric plant and took its name after an official visit by Alfonso X111 of Spain in 1921. In quite a dilapidated state, it was officially closed to the public in 2000 by removing some of the path access at the start. There are numerous reports that people have died on the walkway but from my research, whilst people have died, it hasn’t been because of the state of the walkway, or from it collapsing. More from human error such as a tyrolean traverse that went wrong.
Being a climber, and also someone who has no issue with heights, my experience would no doubt be different to someone who doesn’t climb much and who does feel nervous at heights. I am not going to go into too much detail about the complete access as that would be a complete blog in itself but basically, the first part is the sketchiest. You need to access it via a number of steel posts that stick out from the cliff. There is a thin cable that has been installed so you can use it as a via ferrata of sorts. This first section does require you to hug the cliff face and take steps of about a metre apart to reach each steel post. Once you have passed this section and up a number of stacked blocks you reach the walkway proper. As you can see by the photos, some sections of path are ‘solid’ whilst other bits are ‘holey’. Another missing section of path requires you to step long and reach long.
For long limbed ‘ape factor’ people like Cam, not a problem. For short limbed normal people like myself it was reachy. Still not an issue for me though – I loved it.
As the day was hot, walking the path was a cool adventure. Both in terms of temperature and of awesome rating. For me, I would recommend doing it if you had the chance. From reports, it appears that the pathway will be rebuilt to make it safe and accessible for all. Inevitable I suppose, considering the interest in it, but no doubt the element of fear or adrenaline that people may experience in its current condition will be lessened.
For those interested in the history of this kind of infrastructure, it really is a great spot to visit. Walking along it and seeing the various little caves and tunnels that were used by the workers throws your mind back to the goings on of the time. And might I say, there are a couple of cool looking climbs you can access from there. Just a couple of grades out of my current reach though. Next time……
Boy, was I tired at the end of that day. One glass of red, plate of rice, beans and chorizo, a pat of the brutish but friendly beaten up tomcat that I named One Ear Malloy and the bed was calling my name. I collapsed. And I think there was a smile on my face.