A visit to the Blueys

You know your life has changed (and not necessarily for the better) when you find yourself juggling your son’s shitty nappy while in the grotty, tight confines of the toilets on the train to the Blue Mountains. As I navigated that little space and its discarded drug paraphernalia I cursed my wife for having to cancel coming up with us, for as they say “a misery shared is a misery halved”.

However, I will spare you the gory details dear reader, and while this story may contain traces of shit (writing) it is mostly about my recent journey to the Blue Mountains, which was, for the first time ever, not a climbing trip. It was also the first time my wife and one-year-old son Paddy visited the Mountains.

Of course, the truth is that there was a deeper, ulterior climbing motive to the trip – that was to introduce my cityophile, non-climbing, non-bush-loving wife to the delights of Mountain life: the culture, the great weather, the people, the bush and, of course, the accessibility of climbing. Because sadly, since becoming a father, living in Melbourne and calling yourself a climber are two incompatible states of being.

So it was that Paddy and I flew north with hope in our hearts and banana on our t-shirts, to be followed the following day by our beloved mother and wife.

As it turned out, the Mountains was not at its best. Unless you describe best as containing Arctic winds, rain and your son deciding that sleep is a tedious affair left to dull bovines. And so it was that The Dream largely died a sleepless, cold and unimpressed death.

The author.

But nevertheless, much like the long-term crack addict, I found a white lining, managing to find time to feed the rat by abandoning my family, borrowing a car, driving through the mansion-lined streets of Wentworth Falls to Sublime Point, where upon I dropped off the escarpment down a steep and sneaky climber’s track to meet up with my friend Stoph and his mate Dr Chris for a few hours of climbing.

It was my first time climbing with Dr Chris, who, aside from having reputedly the Biggest Guns in the Mountains – a set of biceps that bulge from his arms like a pair of babies’ heads – is a lovely, gentlemanly chap (unlike my friend Stoph, who is a renowned ratbag). Stoph and the good doctor had already warmed up and had just done a newish Monteith 24, so of course I was put on it to ease my way gently into the day. I ran out of arms at the roof, but managed to do it second shot. Then Dr Chris put the draws on a 26, ticking it on his next burn; I can discredit the rumour he kisses his massive guns and roars like a lion after a successful send as a total fabrication, although he does like to perform a short flexing routine ala Arnie in  Pumping Iron.

Dr Chris flexing his massive guns, which are almost certainly the biggest in the Mountains - although we are happy to be proven wrong.

After that, and with only an hour so before Stoph and I were supposed to get back for a BBQ, Dr Chris laid down the most lovely, skillful sandbag I have seen for some time. He suggested we try a new 24 of his on the nearby Bentrovarto Wall, an extension to another Monteith route.
“Are you sure we will have time?” I asked.
“Oh, you guys will have loads of time,” is how I remember it, a smile flickering across his innocent-as-an-angel face.

It was only when we got to the base of the wall that I began to see what was happening. The wall was fucking enormous.
Then Dr Chris said, “You will need 22 quickdraws…”
Twenty-two quickdraws? That’s about ten kilos extra weight I would have to carry.
“…plus the route is 45 metres long, so you have to rethread part-way back down and pull the rope to be able to lower off.”
For the last six months the most I had done climbing-wise was hang off my Beastmaker for five-second intervals. I was in trouble.

Despite my doubts, I racked up and left the ground, and as I did the wind began to pick up. I managed to crimp my way through the start, which according to Dr Chris, “is the hard bit, after that it’s pretty cruisey, maybe 22.”

And it was pretty cruisey actually, and I began to relax and enjoy myself. Picking my way up the face on positive edges, clipping the bolts at nice intervals. But the higher I climbed the more the wind grew. So much so I pulled off my cap and stuffed it down my front to stop it being blown off by ever-more savage gusts.

I reached the top of the Monteith route, where all of a sudden things looked steeper and more holdless. A voice piped up from the base of the cliff.
“So it’s 24 from here to the top,” shouted up Dr Chris, his voice snatched away by the wind.
“But I thought it was 22?”
“Oh no, it’s 22 to the first anchor, then 24 after that.”
I had been sandbagged.

Dr Chris showing off his massive guns to some old ladies in Blackheath.

But I continued on, my five-second-hang forearms burning with lactic acid, another 20 metres still to climb, and milking every decent jug for all it was worth. By now you could hear the wind around the corner of the cliff before it arrived, howling like the engine of an enormous jet. It was actually quite useful, as it let me know when to stop climbing, batten down the hatches and simply hang on.

Slowly I inched my way up, arms getting ever less recovery from each hold, the trees at the top of the cliff blowing back and forth like a crazy Kate Bush dance move. I was worried one was going to snap off and pluck me from the face.

At the penultimate bolt I looked up to the last, my forearms totally boxed – it was a long way away and I wasn’t actually sure that I could hold on to clip it. I considered taking, but instead, steeling my resolve, I kept going. I made it to the bolt, and desperately clipped it, dragging the rope up through 21 ‘draws, then I kept punching. By now my elbows were at my ears, and I was deadpointing for holds – just one more edge then I would get to a massive flake and the anchor. Somehow, perhaps with will alone, I held that edge, driving my arm upwards into the flake up to the elbow, which was lucky, because I couldn’t have held even the most enormous jug.

Of course, we were two hours late for the BBQ. Stoph led the route after me, getting massively pumped as well. Then, when he went to rethread the rope, the wind tangled it around itself and we thought we would have to abandon it and come back another day. But he worked it out in the end, untangling it with the help of a Gri Gri and a brief respite from the wind.


Climbing can be an immensely frustrating activity, and no one is harder to fool than yourself when you don’t try your best. As it turns out, that moment when I kept climbing when I thought I no longer could, turned a simple afternoon of climbing into one of the best I have had for ages. It didn’t matter that I had barely climbed outdoors for a year, or that I was super unfit, because I had climbed until I could climb no more – and nothing makes me happier than that.

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