A Punter’s Guide to Australia’s Well ‘ard Climbers

Just who will be the first Australian climber to climb a route graded 35?

Megos embracing a faith-based heel-hook on R.E.D. (35), Diamond Falls, Blue Mountains. Nick Fletcher

Megos embracing a faith-based heel-hook on R.E.D. (35), Diamond Falls, Blue Mountains. Nick Fletcher

It’s a question that keeps us lying awake at night here at VL Manor. It troubles us deeply that no Australian has managed to haul their arse up one. After all, plenty of Poms have climbed 9a, even a fried–Mars–bar–eating Scot. We know that B. Cossey has come very close to doing what was the world’s first, Action Directe, in the Frankenjura, but we say close enough isn’t good enough. It used to be we had the excuse of the Tyranny of Distance, but now that we have our very own 9a, Retired Extremely Dangerous at Diamond Falls in the Blue Mountains (albeit given to us by a foreignero), Australian climbers have run out of excuses.

So it is that we have put together this form guide (in no particular order) for who we think is in the running to be the first Australian to climb the hallowed Nu World grade of 35 aka in the Old World as 9a aka in the New World 5.14d.

And remember, just like that brilliant film Highlander where immortals all vie to lop each other’s heads off, there can only be one.

The Front Runners

Lee Cossey 3/1 on

Lee having a rare bad hair day.

Lee having a rare bad hair day.

L’Cossey is one of the main contenders. He has climbed a bunch of Australia’s hardest routes, including the first ascent of Sneaky Old Fox (34) at Diamond Falls, and Sneaky Snake (33) and Trouser Snake (33) at Taipan Wall. He lives in the Blue Mountains, and he can campus the mythical ‘Leaping Unicorn’ of 1–5–9 on the campus board.
For – strongish; lives in the Blue Mountains, conveniently home to Australia’s only 9a; has a younger brother he has to keep in his place
Against – past his prime; now has a career; doesn’t like the phrase ‘taking it to the next level’ which suggests he has psychological problems with taking it to the next level; the weak brother; expends too much energy getting his hair right

Ben Cossey 7/2
Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 9.39.37 AM
Ben has perhaps gotten closer than any Australian to climbing 9a, having been a bee’s dick away from ticking everyone’s favourite absurd line of monos, Action Directe. Back here in Oz he has done a bunch of the hardest routes in the land, including blah, blah, blah. While undoubtedly strong, some say he is just too nice (we blame the parents), and needs to find his inner mongrel a la John ‘the finger’ Hopoate (who is, we feel, an especially appropriate role model).
For – strong, lives in Stronglandia aka the Blueys; has an older brother and everyone knows family dynamics provide additional motivation for younger siblings; very close to sending Action Directe; has taken a year off going to uni to play his harmonica and climb
Against – too nice; spends too much time on Instagram; too big, not exactly fat, but big boned; Action Directe is in Germany and you don’t need a pHD in GIS to know that’s a long way from Blackheath; big brothers cast big shadows of doubt; probably depressed from listening to too much Nick Cave

Tom O’Halloran 5/1
It’s the quiet ones that you have to watch out for, can Tomoh continue to sneak under radar and be The One? He has the form, having climbed the first ascent of Empty Little Boat (33) at Porters Pass and no doubt has the ability to climb much harder.
For – strong; young and obviously virile; family bloodline hints at the luck of the Irish; moved to the Blueys to get way stronger; is in the Cossey’s Gang of Strong; has a classic Aussie nickname
Against – too busy singing nursery rhymes, burping babies and not sleeping to climb hard; Instagram handle ‘Stealthbelly’ suggests possible weight issues

Nick Sutter 20/1
Some may say the Sick Nutter is well past his best, but here at VL we say nay, his best is yet to come, and with his forthcoming move to Europe he will be closer than ever to any number of routes of the number 9a. Is there a human in the world that is as ripped or has bigger shoulders? We don’t think so. Discount him at your peril.
For – brutally strong; biggest shoulders known to medical science; abs that stick out; technical genius; has many 9a projects
Against – old; abs stick out too much for him to get close enough to the wall; too OCD to do an ascent of a route that is not technically perfect; too many projects; if he does climb 9a the Kiwis will claim him back

Punks Nathan

From the vault: Nath climbing Punks in the Gym(32) many moons ago, Mt Arapiles. Image by Ross Taylor

Nathan Hoette 20/1
Nath lays so low these days he may have already climbed 35 in Europe but no would know. When it comes to climbing not only does Nath refuse to let go, he has always had power to burn, and while he may be a veteran of the scene these days, he is far from past it.
For – no one likes to let go less than Nath; strong like an ox; hands are bent permanently into claws meaning he can hang without actually using muscles
Against – doesn’t care about grades

James Kassay 4/1
From his early days a teenage prodigy James has had talent to burn and he has gone on to prove it as an adult. The question is, does he have the desire to throw his Menergy at a 9a route?
For – the strongest man in the land?; owns his own gym; second biggest shoulders after Nick Sutter; recently tempered in the comp world where success is the only currency; might not climb routes but has climbed everything in the cave forwards and backwards and upside down and they are basically routes anyway
Against – doesn’t climb on a rope; lives in Melbourne where after they inevitably plateau Everyone moves away in order to get strong; possibly too enchanted by the bright lights of competition at the minute

Angie Scarth–Johnson 14/1

Angie ticking off her first 29, Golden Boy at the Gold Coast, Red River Gorge

Angie ticking off her first 29, Golden Boy at the Gold Coast, Red River Gorge

Increasingly this climbing hard gig is the dominion of the young, like gymnastics, and in this realm Angie is streets ahead, or behind, everyone. 35 is hard – ergo enter the yoof.
For – fingers of steel; can fit fully four fingers-of-steel in what to others is but a shallow mono; literally up and coming; has moved to the Blueys where strong is as strong does; said to have more potential than a newly discovered Central Grampians boulder field; yet to be beaten down by the cruel vicissitudes of life
Against – very short; subject to being grounded by her parents; has to do homework; has to wear socks with her shoes because no one makes shoes small enough for her and you can’t climb 35 under those circumstances

Andrea Hah 14/1

Andrea blows an 'aloHAH' to the camera on Daemon Flower (31), Muline,  the Grampians. Lee Cossey

Andrea blows an ‘aloHAH’ to the camera on Demon Flower (31), the Grampians. Lee Cossey

Andrea is a master of Getting It Done, she’s ticked hard and is only going to tick harder. Having had her spirit forged (broken) in the underage slave pits of gymnastics she trains methodically and above all knows how to execute her routine. She has more self-belief than Shane Warne on a coke bender and is sure that girls can do anything boys can.
For – is a crusHah; up and coming; graceful and powerful; as a correspondent is backed by the full resources and great wisdom of Vertical Life and its editorial team
Against – compared to Angie Scarth–Johnson probably past it; too reliant on the wisdom of the Vertical Life editorial team; spends too much time on social media instead of just living in the moment, and the moment is where grade 35 is

Chris Webb Parsons 4/1
With his ascent of White Ladder at Nowra, CWP was the one who brought the grade of 34 to the Wide Brown Land so it would be poetic indeed if the recently returned crusher were the one to usher in 35. He was also the first Aussie to repeat the Wheel of Life, a boulder problem that many ascendants give the route grade of 35.
For – very, very strong – the strongest?; best six-pack in the business; can do a one-finger one-arm chin-up; was the last Aussie to up the grade
Against – putting lots of energy into love; has to work in a job and jobs are bad for climbing; rarely puts on a rope these days and ropes are generally necessary for climbing 9a routes


Sam Bowman climbing through the crux of Friction Addiction (32), Coolum. Image by Daniel Gordon

Sam Bowman 12/1
No one knew who Alex Megos was before he swooped in underneath Adam Ondra to claim the first onsight of a 9a – it’s the young ones you have to watch out for. Clearly Sam is out to make a name for himself and there is no better way than breaking through a grade barrier, especially one as nicely rounded as 9a and/or 35.
For – bursting with the power and self-belief of youth; on the march; improving at a terrifying rate; has poster-boy good looks; as a QLDer he has the potential to be sponsored by the full resources of the Nu School Sir Jo, Clive Palmer, and those sorts of resources can make a man
Against – from Queensland; we don’t like to trade in stereotypes, but he is blonde; Clive Palmer might not be the best role model-cum-patron for a climber

Dan Fisher 11/1
Is he the quiet achiever who will achieve the achievement of grade 35 climbing? Somehow considering he has clipped the chains on White Ladder (34), Dan seems to remain as far off the radar as a Malaysian airlines jet, which could work in his favour.
For – youthful and strongful; has hard-grade form; spends a lot of time at the AU home of Power, Nowra
Against – unknown quantities are not known; good chance he could be mugged when in Nowra and assault and battery is bad for climbing

Trent Searcy 16/1
If he can drag himself away from The Hole, Trent could be the next Big Thing. He is now too strong for Adelaide’s famed gang, the Gwood-crew and so needs new challenges – and what better challenge than being the first to 35?
For – strong; quietly determined; was Justin Taylor’s prodigee until he got way stronger than his master; trains in secret like Jean Claude Van Damme in Kickboxer and we know how that ended
Against – has long hair; from the ironically named RAdelaide; nice guys finish last

Doug McConnell 15/1
After emerging like a phoenix from the wreckage of a collapsed telecom tower, Doug has quickly become one of the best climbers in the land, particularly since moving to the Mainland from Tasmania. Among his best ticks are the Groove Train (33), which visiting American Ethan Pringle has said would get 9a in Spain, but, of course, it is here, in Australia, so it is not 35.
For – two heads are better than one; now lives on the Mainland with all the other strongies; strong; ferociously determined trainer; cannot be killed
Against – two heads are heavier than one; has caught the dreaded BRD (Blackheath Renovator’s Disease), which leaves victims weak and poor

Josh Grose 18/1
There is no doubt that Grosey has the skills to the pay the bills, he has also proven himself to be impervious to death, which can only help you in the Highlander-like race to be the one – is he Oz climbing’s Christopher Lambert?
For – talent to spare; rangy aka tall and skinny; is quitting his job and jobs just hold you back; rarely complains; is moving out of the crippling Vortex (Natimuk); great abs
Against – struggles to find a belayer due to giving out too many ‘Douche Bag of the Month’ awards on his blog; sub-par beard; party boy – climbing’s answer to Corey Worthington

The Dark Horses

Crazy John Fisher 200/1

CJ on Hubris (29) at the Star Factory, Tasmania. Get a Dog Up Ya Productions

CJ on Hubris (29) at the Star Factory, Tasmania. Get a Dog Up Ya Productions

Some people may think we are crazy for including CJ, after all he puts the mercury in mad as a hatter, but if CJ could divert some of the energy he expends on preparing for the Collapse of Society and End Times, not to mention the incessant talking, then he could climb anything.
For – rapidly improving; crazy like a fox, can harness the incredible strength of the insane; unbreakable as evidenced by the ‘Hammer in the Pines’ incident; no longer American
Against – lives in the Vortex (Natimuk); mad as a cut snake; now has a proper job where he has to wear a suit; plays too many computer games at the crag; is becoming an auteur; probably too old; gelded

Mike Law 999,999/1
Some might say that Mike is 40 years and 20 kilos past his peak, but if VL was going to put its money on a geriatric being the climber to first climb 35, then that geriatric climber would be the master of the arcane, the alchemist of the dark arts, Mikl.
For – cunning; guile; ‘creative’; very cunning
Against – ancient; not in the best shape; ruined his life by having a child

Simon ‘Arnie’ Weill VL’s odds 100/1, Simon’s 2/1 on

Simon on the first ascent of First Blood, Venus Baths, the Grampians.

Simon on the first ascent of First Blood, Venus Baths, the Grampians.

The self-proclaimed ‘Strongest Man in the World’, Herr Weill definitely has the potential to climb a lot harder, particularly if he gives up getting pummelled by enormous half-naked men in his spare time.
For – strong; self-belief; thinks he is the best; confident; modest; has never had to do a day’s hard work in his life and work impedes climbing
Against – rarely gets further than four metres off the ground without getting totally boxed; doesn’t know how to drop–knee; probably too bald; growing demands of a business empire; mummy’s boy

VL editor, Ross Taylor 1,000,000/1
Dark horses don’t come any blacker than VL’s very own Nero, Rossco Taylor. Has climbed sort of hardish and has a burning desire to climb harder now he realises how little time he has left ‘at his peak’.
For – is a ruthless baron with almost 100 per cent media ownership a la Silvio Burlusconi and such an unchallenged empire leaves him perfectly positioned to do a ‘Rich Simpson’; experienced, having climbed since forever; refuses to fall; loved by all
Against – suffers from non-specific, general shitness; suffers from specific shitness; old and not strong; balder than Arnie; refuses to fall; very big boned; addicted to pastries; most inflexible man on earth; Oz Climbing’s equivalent of the giant Kurgan and (spoiler alert) Christopher Lambert kills the Kurgan in the end of the film; ruined his life by having a child

Alex Megos 500/1
Australia has a long history of appropriating other countries’ sports stars, so why stop with athletics, cricket, football, weightlifting, skiing, shotput, wrestling, rugby, pole vaulting, diving, and chess when we could simply ’yoink’ Alex Megos from the Germans and make him our own? He’s not only climbed 35, he was the first to onsight it! It would be a coup equal to the time we poached that Canadian mogul-skier-cum-internet SPAM baron.
For – already climbed 35 in Australia and overseas; he’s white and European, so acceptable to our Government; who wouldn’t want to move to Straya?
Against – may fail the citizenship test because he doesn’t understand that ‘Australian Values’ include cruelty and general arseholishness, plus he probably doesn’t know enough about Dan Bradman



5 thoughts on “A Punter’s Guide to Australia’s Well ‘ard Climbers

  1. Campbell

    I should not have read this at work, people are looking at me strangely wondering why I’m laughing so hard….

  2. Guilhem CASTET

    I would like to contact Andrea Hah and Lee Cossey about the nice picture “Andrea blows an ‘aloHAH’ to the camera on Demon Flower (31), the Grampians. Lee Cossey” of your article.
    Could send me e-mails ?
    Thanks a lot !


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