Little Empty Boat: the story

Queensland climber, Tom O’Halloran, has been going from strength to strength of late, culminating in his very recent ascent of Little Empty Boat (33), a new line at Porters Pass. We dropped Tom a line to find out a little more about the route.

Can you tell us a little bit about the history behind your recent first ascent, Little Empty Boat?
It all began back when I was a wee little tacker venturing down to Sail Away Wall (at Porters Pass) for the first time, perhaps the summer of ’10. I was blown away with how cool the cliff looked, my eyes wandering up the lines, linking the dot-to-dot puzzles of chalky holds. Then I noticed something swinging about in the corner of my eye. I refocused and saw it was a quickdraw, many quickdraws in fact, coming out from below the tree canopy next to the ledge Sail Away Wall sits on. The ‘draws snaked all the way up through some ridiculous looking rock, way, way up to the tippy top of the cliff. What the hell is that?! I dove into my pack searching for the guide, hurriedly flicking through pages searching for Sail Away Wall. Found it: ‘Project Much Steepness! All the way to the top in a single pitch. V Day.’ The thought of someone ever climbing that big a line seemed close to impossible.

Looking down Little Empty Boat (33) on abseil; it’s steep. Image by Tom O’Halloran

After moving down to the Blueys from Brisbane last year I was keen to sample as much of the climbing down at Porters as possible. One morning Big Dave Brailey and I ventured down to Sail Away Wall for a bit of a dangle. Dave headed up Black Heathen and I was on Returnity. I looked over at the project so many times that day. The ‘draws still swinging in the breeze and all I could do was imagine being up on it. A few months later I was around at Vince’s place having a boulder and asked him about the route. He said it had been a long while since he’d tried it and that I should have a go if I wanted. I got on as soon as I could and was blown away how involved and difficult it was.

Did it take you long to climb it?
I first got on it around May this year. After about three or four days on I had some little sequences sorted, but I could never really put any good sections together. It was just spinning my head too much. Soon life happened and I wasn’t able to get out on it for a few months. Working away, bad weather, road trips and Elphinstone projects all popped their little heads up and I almost forgot about the Porters project. I went away to Queensland in the beginning of September and did some really cool climbing while I was there. When I got back all I was thinking about was the Porters project. I rapped down it one afternoon and put all my draws back on. Next day I was on it and surprised myself with how well it went. Each day after that I was doing better and better links and was very psyched. Climbing it in a single hit still felt a long way off though. A day or two later I surprised myself getting only a few moves from the lip of the cliff. It felt like it was really going to happen now! A short battle with the sun ensued on the next couple of attempts. People talk about ‘seeing the light’ as a blissful and divine moment in their life. For me, however, seeing the light meant not seeing the holds, stinging eyes, that old familiar feeling of air and the trusty cord pulling you up before swinging you around in the middle of nowhere.
There was also the mantle incident. I figured if I was ever able to get to the lip on link then I’d pretty much have it in the bag. NOOOOOO!!! The mantle is easy, maybe V3. I’d done it a bunch of times and never had a problem. This fateful go however, resulted in falling off with the last hold in my hand. On the final moves once again, screaming like I was giving birth to Satan himself, I pulled over the lip and all that was left to do was stand up. Suddenly my foot slipped and I came tumbling down. I apologise to all who had to witness what then came out of my mouth. My second go that day I knew what to do. Stay calm and keep climbing, one move at a time. I mantled over and stood up. I’m ashamed to say the girly high-pitched victory scream which came out wasn’t my most manly moment, but we can’t have all wins.

Is there a story behind the name?
I’m quite a fan of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Little Empty Boat is one of their classics and has some typically dark lyrics. It’s a great song. Plus, more often than not, you have a
Perfect Storm moment and don’t have enough power in your little boat to navigate over the lip of the wave.

You mention that you moved down the Mountains last year, why did you move down and how have you found the move?
Basically I just wanted to climb more. It was annoying to only be able to get out on the weekends. I wanted to be able to get out every day. Greedy I know, but hey, why not? So I saved up some cash, packed all my stuff in the old Volvo and hit the road. The only person I knew was a good friend Amanda Morrissey and she was kind enough to give me the spare room in her new house. I met some amazing friends living there. The Milk Bar, as we called the house, always had some shenanigans going on. Three slacklines, blowing stuff up, nail gun firing range, plenty of music and much much more. Since then I’ve met some really great people and can see myself hanging around the mountains for a while.

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