Tom Oh’s new hard route at Elphinstone

Tom O’Halloran has just clipped the chains on his project at Elphinstone and in the process finished off The Milkbar (34), what sounds like an outrageous route. We thought we’d speak to him about the history of the line and the how it finally went down. Enjoy, we reckon he is insightful, hilarious and gets your salivary glands shooting out climbing froth right in time for Easter.

Images by Kamil Sustiak

Congratulations on climbing The Milkbar P2, can you tell us about the route?
When I first went to Elphinstone in late 2011 or early 2012 I was gobsmacked. It was the biggest single pitch sport cliff I’d seen in Australia (I’d not yet been to Taipan) and it had some of the coolest architecture for lines. All perched on a narrow ledge, 50m above the valley below!

There were a few of the juicy plum lines already bolted and a bit of fire hydrant pissing for  marking out future lines, however there was one section of wall that was blank. I envisaged something coming from way over right and climbing leftwards over and around some big features questing further and further left. Fifteen metres later you land on the far left side of a big blank roof. Sneak around from underneath and the line straightens out, blasting up a big flake and continuing up and up and up. It must have been 35m+ to land under a BIG featured roof. Eight meters of unknown awesomeness crowning the top of the cliff.

After climbing at the cliff a lot over the next year or so and doing a bunch of the fresh routes hot off Lee Cossey, Julian Saunders, Rowan Druce’s first ascent presses, I decided to bolt a few lines myself, Kitten Mittens (35) being the first and this other one being the second.

A few days into bolting the route was looking awesome and I was nearly done! One afternoon I was jugging out from two-thirds the way down the route, where the line straightens out, when I spied a jug. It was five meters down and left of the line I was bolting, but about 10m straight down from where the line dog legs. The hold was somewhat lost in the sea of rock but also sitting there proudly. Usually I try to avoid jugs when bolting, in the interest of producing a harder line, however this one looked different.

Tom Oh on the flying leap on the send of Milkbar. Image by Kamil Sustiak

Tom Oh on the flying leap on the send of Milkbar. Image by Kamil Sustiak

I swung over and pinned myself in with dynas and skyhooks to check out the hold. Oh lord have mercy, what a hold it was! I’d liken it to a scummy service station hand basin, the type that’s in a backwards-from-nowhere town, the toilet smells, the roof drips, nothing is safe to touch and for the life of you fitting two hands in the long but very narrow sink ain’t going to happen! It even had a scummy water puddle in the bottom. But how do you climb into it? Frantic searching resulted in no holds found. Alas I could see no holds for several feet below it. I lowered further just to check. Holy smokes! Several feet below my servo jug there was a roundy right and a lippy left and below them a line of edges all the way to the ground. You could climb straight from the deck to roundy and lippy, hold onto your hats, DYNO to servo jug, the most glorious stone sculpture around, then keep going straight up to the top of the flippin cliff. The original line circumnavigating the wall was now forgotten – this was the line. Straight up bottom to top. SICK!

I tried what I dubbed ‘The Milk bar project’ and it felt hard and totally awesome! The terrain below the roof was sooo good. My truck stop dunny dyno was rad, there was an awesome tensiony crux higher up then another cool techy crux above that and below the roof.

The roof did not yield much easiness. There was a brick hard boulder that climbed straight into another crazy dyno. This one was scaled up on the crazy scale by quite a way! At the end of a hard bouldery crux you to set up on a three-finger pocket and a mono, place your feet so high you need to watch you don’t stand on your armpit hair, buckle up, then launch. You catch a medium size campus rung with your right hand and a good incut jug for the left. Your feet swing back behind your head and you hope like hell you don’t come off! You feel like a hero! At this point, 40m+ from where the route began, you’ve climbed through enough steep rock to be out beyond the ledge Elphinstone sits on. It’s probably a 100m drop to the valley floor below! Down where one of my climbing shoes is living out its final days, but that’s another story. The jump is in the most outrageous position. It may be one of the coolest moves in the country!

Once you latch the hero dyno, there’s another six meters of not-inconsequential climbing through the roof to turn the lip at the highest most tippy top point of the entire cliff.

How hard is it?
I tried it a bunch on and off over the years. It’s hard to remain focused on one project when there are millions around you. Autumn 2016 I gave it a good few days worth of attempts. I’d decided to break the route into two ‘pitches,’ essentially a lower anchor and an extension. Pitch one finishing at a no hands rest under the giant roof and pitch two being the 10m extension out the roof! I came close to doing the first pitch that season. I’d decided to leave the extension, which I thought could be around V11, for the future. It got colder as I got closer to redpointing and before long the season was over and my opportunity missed, other projects called.

About six months later I had just done the first ascent of Kitten Mittens. There was still daylight to burn that day so I transferred the draws from the freshly fallen project to an old undone one, The Milkbar P1. I went back up rediscovered the moves and was surprised at how good I felt on it. The next day I got out there again and managed to do it. I was stoked! I think it’s probably 33.

This year I decided I needed to put some effort in and clean up the extension (P2). After a few days work I discovered some awesome new beta for the roof crux! A new way of holding a hold and another hold found. This made the very hard boulder quite a bit easier. It felt like it went from V11 to V8, but the dyno was still there and it was still a ripsnorter move!

'Man I am so thirsty I would murder a milkshake...' Tom Oh on the rest at the end of P1. Image by Kamil Sustiak

‘Man I am so thirsty I would murder an extra double choc thick shake with extra sprinkles…’ Tom Oh on the rest at the end of P1. Image by Kamil Sustiak

The hands free rest at the top of P1 is very nice to have leading into the extension. Rest yourself and calm everything down. Although the extension is easier than I first thought, I think it still adds a good chunk of difficulty to the whole thing. It’s probably low end 34. It feels harder than the other 33s I’ve done.

It’s soooo bloody good though. There’s nothing else like it! One of the last holds you grab on the whole route is a little letterbox slot. It’s in the middle of a shield of rock hanging off the top of the cliff. You can actually see the slot from the ground, silhouetted against the sky. A small blue mouth in the big dark roof, calling for you like a Siren to come up. There’s a photo Kamil took of me dangling from the hold with the valley below. It’s one of the best positions to be hanging, especially if you get there from the ground!

How did it go down?
It was a bit tricky. I nearly fluffed it! The bolt-to-bolt warm up went well. I like to have one lap up at the start of every day to do the sequences, brush the holds, rehearse little bits and get to do sections without being super fatigued. You also get to recruit your body for the climbing you’re about to do. It’s an approach that works really well for me and I do it for most of my projects.

Anyway, that day in my warm up, I did the whole upper crux in one go for the first time. That was exciting. I’d reclimbed the first pitch the previous day out and now I’d done the extensions upper crux, it was on!

I felt good pulling on for the day’s first redpoint. I clicked into a really clear headspace where things felt easy. It’s a really long route with distinct hard sections separated by good rests so it’s not easy to stay in the zone the whole way, but I felt good when I got to the rest at the end of the first pitch. The extension’s crux literally inches above my head.

Kamil Sustiak was supposed to be climbing that day but his trigger finger was twitching so he jumped on a rope with his camera instead. He was dangling a couple of metres from me as I rested. It was a warm day and I was parched at the rest. Kamil had his camera bag there full of all his tricks and I was tempted to ask if he had any water. I thought better of it though as I didn’t want to somehow slip off while grabbing at a drink bottle. We chatted back and forth a bit, though I think he was doing his best not to distract me. He was also mucking around testing what lens would be best for the next section and I was putting off leaving the rest.

Image by Kamil Sustiak

Image by Kamil Sustiak

I set off after a few minutes. The business kicks in straight away. I clicked into my headspace and felt good climbing through the crux. Keeping tension in your core as your hands sneak out and around the roof and working harder still to swing your left heel high in line with your hands as you release your right foot from under the roof. Set your feet and now your staring down the barrel of the dyno. It’s not the hardest move on the route but certainly the highest commitment. You have to let go of the cliff with everything to move any higher! Throw the kitchen sink at it, I’m not falling off with gas to burn. I stuck it and let out a strange noise of excitement, exertion, and a tiny bit of ‘bloody hell you’ve got to do the rest of it now.’

A move later and you’re on a rounded jug for one and a half hands. I always thought if you were pumped after the crux you’d be able to rest there for a moment and get it back for the remaining six metres of grade 26 climbing. I was now a bit pumped after the crux and set myself up to rest. Turns out it wasn’t such a good rest and I was getting more pumped! With another tricky little boulder straight away I needed arm juice! I could stay and hope I could get it back but risk pumping myself off on a ‘rest’ – punter – or hope for the best and go for it. I decided to race. Wow oh wow did I nearly drop it. I reckon as I dived backwards over my head to the jug at the end of that sequence I was on 100 to 1 odds of sticking it. I was cooked! The jug I dived to was actually a proper rest, not one of those sandbagging faux rests that nearly pump you off! I was there for a while getting it back. An easy V4 out the final section of roof was all that lay between the anchor and me. I was not dropping it! Luckily I didn’t and I got to sink my hand in that glorious blue-mouthed letterbox and dangle from one arm. It felt so sweet.

Is there a story behind the name?
It’s named after the first house I lived in when I moved to the Mountains. I met a guy called Jay there, he was friends with my housemates and would come up from Sydney each weekend to climb. Jay and I became great friends straight away and we did some fun, crazy things together. In early 2012 Jay was hit by a car and killed on his way to work. The route is a tribute to him, the house I lived in and the fun times we all had. I miss the guy!

Plus who doesn’t like a good ol’ fashion milk bar. ‘Extra double choc thick shake with extra sprinkles, please mister.’ ‘That’ll be 5c thanks son.’ Golly I fancy I’d have fitted right into the ’50s. It would’ve been a real hoot.

Is there a better place to dangle off a rope? Image by Kamil Sustiak

Is there a better place to dangle off a rope? Image by Kamil Sustiak

You have plans to head to France and try Biographie (9a+/36) at Ceuse. How far off is that trip, and how is the training going? Have you been doing any special training?
ARRRRHHHHH the trip is getting close! Less than two months now! We leave on May 16. I’m pretty psyched for it.

For training I’ve been trying to get pocketable, mostly. The meat and potatoes of Biographie is 20m of intense pocket pulling on a gently overhung wall. In this climbing there’s about five tricky boulder problems separated by bad rests, so upping my power endurance is on the agenda as well.

I’ve been fingerboarding on pockets as well as doing a small amount of easy pocket campusing and setting problems at Camp St Climbing on pockets. We have an over abundance of crimps and edges in the mountains, not many pockets, so getting comfortable and desensitised to climbing on these tweaky little devils is key.

Cliff time also plays a big part in my training. Staying really comfortable climbing on rock, climbing pumped and practicing redpointing is super important. Plus it’s the most fun!!

We find it interesting that you’re quite public about your goals. Often climbers are more private about their climbing goals, is there a strategy behind being open?
It’s fun telling people what you’re up to. Sharing stories of things you’ve done and frothing on the things you want to do is the best. I get psyched listening to and reading about people’s trips and seeing the photos or videos. It’s a really awesome way to share experiences that others or yourself may never have. Or realise that it is something you may actually want to do!

If people don’t want to do that, that’s totally fine. It can be confronting to fess up to your biggest goals to lots of people. Or maybe you don’t think people will care, or maybe you just don’t care to tell anyone and you want to keep the experience pure, man.

I was certainly of the later mindset until recently. I didn’t like social media getting in the way of climbing. It seemed such a contrast to the reasons I loved climbing in the first place. Climbing is you and your friends in nature, cutting sick and having fun, free from all the junk in the world.I thought social media was part of that junk. Now though I see it as an awesome tool to tell your story. I get psyched seeing what people are doing and people can get psyched on what I’m doing if they want to. I’ve been having fun with it. You get to put your own splash of flavour in there. If people don’t like it that’s ok, they can tune out =).

I see social media now as just another way of connecting with our climbing community and putting something positive out there! It’s pretty amazing we can instantly share our experiences at home with people all around the world. Or what we are up to all around the world with our people at home.

Tom is sponsored by Black Diamond, Beal, Tenaya, Clif Bar, Awesome Woodys, Patagonia and he can only climb the things he does as he is fuelled by Amanda Watts at Thrive Nutrition.

To see more of Kamil’s amazing adventure photography, check out his website here. If his website doesn’t get you psyched then see your doctor, you might be dead.

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