Ben Cossey – Garth Miller’s chaff sack
I am viciously sentimental, horrifically nostalgic and have an unnatural ability to assign meaning and memories to unimportant and meaningless objects.
I am most definitely not a hoarder. However, I do take great pleasure in collecting pieces of junk (oil drums, railway lines, old couches, etc) and leaving them in my yard for what I call ‘stand-by’. Generally they stay on stand-by until, like we all must, they are reclaimed by nature and return to the earth.
An example of my insanity may be taken from the collection of satin I keep in an old cigar box. Well-twiddled pieces of smooth, smooth silky-silkies from various blankets from my youth that feature highly in my memories of picnics and bedtimes gone-by.
I have an ever-increasing collection of hammers (big heavy ones), as well as a ‘museum of rust’ – old pitons and bolts from famous old routes from around the traps. The hammers are kept outside on a stump and are slowly rotting; the ‘museum’ is kept in a plastic bag somewhere within the confines of my shed – I haven’t seen it for years.
Another thing I love to collect and attach unwarranted importance to are my chaff sacks. In my shed I have what’s known on the collector’s scene as a ‘Chaff Sack Tree’ – a bunch of unused chalk bags tied to a post. They have been collected over 20 years and at last count there were 113 of the little beauties.
One particular chalk bag, however, is especially special.
When I was 13 my brother Lee had a climbing video called Low Gravity, which had Garth Miller dogging Sexy is the Word (31). He had cool, super short grey-blue tight shorts, long hair and a purple Five Ten singlet. Lee thought he was amazing, and being slightly impressionable, I instantly thought he was amazing too.
The Low Gravity (pre-Euro trip) version of Garth Miller was cool, but it wasn’t until the updated, mid/post-Euro trip version of him came out that I was totally sold.
He’d cut his hair and dyed it bronze, wore Five Ten UFOs, a pink Petzl Crux harness, Bagwear type floppy pants and a beaded necklace. Needless to say I kitted myself out with all of the above quick-smart, even with a specific trip to the Hippy Shop in Springwood, magazine in hand, to accurately recreate his necklace.
Lee got shit at the time for cutting his hair in response to Garth’s new do, but I got away with total image plagiary – and I felt so fucking good.
Seeing him for the first time in real life at the Narellan Climbing Gym can only be compared to someone meeting Freddie Mercury at The Anvil men’s club in 1981 – amazing. I had to talk to him. I summoned all my courage and went and asked him the time, even though I had my own watch. He told me the time and I scurried off to debrief to Toby about how amazing it was that I’d spoken to him.
In the coming years I attended as many of his training workshops as I could. I was trying to make the transition from groupie to climbing pal. I never succeeded (for he was as elusive as a short-faced bear in the Russian wilderness), but I did manage to get out bouldering with him a few times. From memory, he was a lot better than me. He moved like a fog over a still lake on a dark night. On the most shitful edges, casually chiselling, he’d drop his feet and campus just for extra training.
At some point I realised we both had the same Prana shirt. I knew he often wore navy blue pants climbing and I also had navy pants. So one time when we went bouldering at Narrowneck I purposely wore my Garth Miller outfit in the hope he’d wear the same outfit – he did! He picked me up from the train station in his orange Kombi and said something like ‘Ah no, we’re wearing the same thing’, and I casually pretended to acknowledge the awkwardness of being dressed in exactly the same outfit but on the inside I was cheering!
My outfits were fantastic and highly accurate to what he was wearing, and in combination with his training articles in Climb Magazine, made me climb heaps harder. But there was something missing. Garth didn’t use the funny little patterned chalk bag he had been pictured using on so many of his hard routes – opting for a new Prana one. Again, I summoned my courage and asked if I could have the old one if he wasn’t using it anymore. If he was like me there’d be no way he’d part with a single piece of his past – but he wasn’t like me (thankfully) and kindly popped it in a plastic shopping bag and gave it to me at a comp in Penrith.
It was made by Gentic, a rad Euro brand from the mid ‘90s. They made the cool ¾ tights the Hubers wore that said ‘Bad to the bones’ down the leg. It was impractically minuscule – narrow and shallow, it can only receive the first two joints of three fingers. Definitely made for small, French chipolata-fingered comp climbers and NOT for the big, ‘me smash now’ boudin-blanc-man-boy hands that I had.
The final piece to the puzzle (outfit) was in place. It’s not just Garth’s chalk bag, it’s the essence. THE chalk bag he used on all the routes from Mr Carpet Burn (31) to Nicotine (32), Move Your Body (8b/31) to almost onsighting three 8bs in a day in the Frankenjura. Most importantly, he wore it (and is wearing it in the picture – Climb No. 1) on his onsight of Better Than Life (32) at Centennial Glen. The route that epitomises how great a climber he was.
My hands have only gotten bigger with the passing of the decades, less a boudin blanc and more a log of devon. And while these days I don’t use the little Gentic bag outside of my fingerboard sessions, every time I do I feel that same surge of energy that I felt when I was 16 trying as hard as I could to be as awesome as possible – like Garth.
It was the cherry on the top of my Garth Miller outfit, and now it’s the star on the top of my Chaff Sack Tree. It is autoluminescent, and every time I think of it I feel its energy running through me.