Vertical Life speaks to the author of Canberra’s new, all-singing, all-dancing bouldering guidebook, Duncan Brown, about the gestation and birth of his new baby.
You can get a full copy featuring about 10 times more problems than Jay Z has here.
Here at VL we have always assumed that Canberra was only home to lying politicians, porn merchants, dope fiends and desperate, run-out slabs, but apparently it also has some excellent bouldering. Can you give us a little bit of info as to what Canberra bouldering is about?
Much like the climbing, the bouldering around Canberra itself is all about the granite. Hundreds and thousands of granite blocks litter the forests around the area and there is more to develop into the future than anyone could imagine developing in lifetime. But within two hours of Canberra there is also a mass of other areas featuring rhyolite, limestone and sandstone rock types, and there truly is something to suit everyone.
Can you break down what the main areas covered by the guide?
The guide covers all of the main developed granite boulder areas on the south and south-western side of the ACT, from the Orroral Ridge to Pierces Creek, then it covers North Black Range which is to the east of the ACT, then the Goulburn Region including the limestone of Bungonia and the sandstone of The Monastery, then it covers all the old school sectors of Nowra, arguably the birthplace of hard bouldering in Australia.
What are some of the killer lines that must be on the tick list?
There are just so many! But if I had to name one it would have to be Zac’s Arete at the Main Area at North Black Range. It’s a stand alone line on beautiful big granite boulder in an idyllic forest setting. Perfect rock, stellar moves and just tall enough to feel bold at the top without it being too crazy. At only about 30 seconds walk from the car and with a reasonably moderate grade of V8 it is certainly something any aspiring boulderer should at least have a play on.
If you were going to suggest just one area for a visitor to Canberra to check out, what area would it be?
I might be a little biased because the area is one I discovered personally, but in my mind North Black Range is the one MUST visit crag in the area. Beautiful setting, free camping nearby, perfect granite, hundreds and hundreds of classic problems at every grade and potential for hundreds and hundreds more. One of my favourite crags of all time.
Fingers of steel, the mind of Kasparov or Arnie’s guns, what’s the best asset for bouldering in the nation’s capital?
That’s a tough one because depending on the crag and the problem you could need any, or all of them! I would definitely say the ability to crimp and some good footwork are almost universally essential, but some of our blocks get taaaaaall and some of them get buuuuuurly so a good all round bag of tricks will see you up some classics at every crag.
Take access to the main range, mountain biking that’s good enough to get the best in the world excited, the big cliffs of Booroomba, the proximity to Nowra and the Blueys and chuck in a shit-ton of bouldering and the ACT looks like an attractive proposition for the outdoorsperson – is Canberra the best place to live in Oz for a climber?
It’s funny, I’ve always been a bit of a defender against the Canberra bashing that is pretty popular with Australians, but I honestly believe it is an amazing place to live if you love the outdoors. It may not have the easy access to world-class bolt clipping that the Blue Mountains does, but considering that within three-and-a-half-hours drive of Canberra you have all of the Canberra-region trad and sport crags plus the bouldering, Nerriga, Wingello, Nowra, Point Perpendicular, Bungonia, all of Sydney, the Blue Mountains, and so on, plus access to the beach in two hours, the snow in two hours, the mountain biking, the hiking, the fishing, the list can go on…it really is a pretty alright place to live as a climber or a general outdoors person. But hey, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I might just be a little bit biased.
Why a guidebook, which is more work than sequencing a genome and pays somewhere in the same range as volunteering a paper round?
It was just time for it to happen before too much of it was lost to history.
Why are you releasing it for free rather than printing it?
A tough question to answer without pointing fingers, but someone else who wants to make their own guidebooks in years to come found a legal loophole that would make going to print hard without risking some legal trouble. So it’s going out to everyone for free as a pdf instead rather than see the work come to nothing at all. If people want to they can make a donation, but the main thing I want to do is see that the info gets out there.
It can’t hurt to have Chris Webb-Parsons swanning about putting up hard FAs but what does that mean for the state of outstanding projects in the area?
He’s a strong lad and he’s making quick work of some stand out classic projects, but there are A LOT of REALLY hard projects on the granite. More than anyone could do in a lifetime, so there will still be plenty of stellar hard lines out there for the next generation to leave their mark on the place well into the future.
Can you give us a brief history of Canberra development in 200 words or less?
This is a topic that could fill an entire book on its own, but basically grab a big old pot, throw in an endless supply of boulders all around a town containing the likes of George Fieg, Andrew Bull, Chris Warner, Glenn Jones, Robyn Cleland, Tara Sutherland, Chris Webb Parsons, and many, many more, stir for 20 odd years (and more for some areas) since bouldering became an actual pursuit of it’s own in the area, and the end result is what we have now – endless problems of every grade across multiple rock types with a vision into the future of endless potential.
Is there a patron saint of Canberran bouldering?
No one person has been more important than any other. Nearly everyone who has every bouldered around Canberra has found a new boulder, scrubbed it up and done an FA… Everyone that has been a part of the ongoing development has played an important role what it has become today.
If you had the funds to airlift one boulder and put it in your backyard, which one would it be and why?
None of them – the fact that they all sit in beautiful forested hills is part of what makes them so special. I think taking away the environment would detract from them in some way…that said, Zac’s Arete, just so that I could work the sit start project into submission…
Can you list your top five moderate boulder problems?
This is always such a hard question to answer!
- Death Of The White Rabbit (V5), The Monastery, Goulburn Region
- The Gift (V5), Atlantis, Mooney Sector, North Black Range
- Sisyphus (V2), Frost Hollow, North Black Range
- The Joker (V6), Cantaloupe Hill – Main Area, Corin Dam Road
- Snake Bite (V4), Red Rocks, Southern ACT
We know you have done a massive amount of development personally, what’s the favourite problem that you have put up yourself?
Another really hard one to answer! I think I have too many favourites to really pick one, but probably the best one that I have put up in the last year would be Single Female Lawyer (V6), Atlantis – Lower Main Sector, North Black Range. An amazing proud arete and rail compression problem on impeccable stone with tricky optional V8 sit start.
Finally, boulderers and coffee go together like crimping and granite, what’s the best place in Canberra for a boulderer to get encaffeinated?
Up around The Monastery which is just out of Bundanoon the crag coffee options are fantastic with Bundanoon having several stellar cafe options only five minutes from the crag. Most of the other crags are a little far from cafes, but Canberra is a small place so head into the city, into Braddon, and you’ll find a bunch of sensational cafes to fill your coffee needs. From Braddon it’s really less than an hour to most of the crags in the book, so it’s a pretty realistic pre-crag coffee option.
If you want a very big PDF file of the guide to print it out in all its massive glory then follow this link