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Vertical Life recently filmed Lee Cossey making the first ascent of Agent of Cool (31), one the Grampians’ last great trad lines. To find out more about the history of this long-time open project, VL spoke to Oz legend Dave Jones, who first found and tried the line.
How did you discover Agent of Cool?
As Taipan baked in the afternoon sun I always used to look across to the wall on the opposite side of the amphitheatre deep in perma-shade and fantasise about it. You could see the big sickle feature and crack up the otherwise blank bit of wall, this amazing line that picked its way up the whole thing.
How did the route get its name?
It was dubbed the Wall of Cool before I was sure there was even a route on it. The name fitted in with the Wall of Fools, Wall of Fuels, etc. As far as the name of the route itself, an animator friend I was working with at the time was bringing out a new album and Agent of Cool was one of the front runners for an album name. It seemed an obvious choice.
What do you think makes a line like this so special?
Being the only line up a pretty impressive and smooth sweep of wall is always a good start. It’s not a single feature that runs the whole way either, it’s three separate features that just hang together to make a route and I really liked that about it. The wall is otherwise impossibly smooth – except for the sickle flake that starts up the middle but carves off left at half height. Off to the right a crack line drops down from the top but closes out about two-thirds of the way down. The further you head up the sickle the further it takes you from the crack that will get you to the top. However, amazingly, there is a horizontal band of pockets starting from just one arm-span above the sickle flake that links it all the way across into the bottom of the crack. It was so close to not being a line at all. The fact it all goes on natural gear just makes it even more exceptional. There really aren’t many routes above about 26 that don’t have any bolts in them (>1%?). And the harder the climbing gets the less and less common it becomes. I guess Journey Through Nicaragua (30) or Mother of God (30) are the next easiest things (in Victoria anyway). But I think Agent of Cool is in a different league to any of them. Hats off to Lee. Between them the Cossey brothers have done a pretty good job of cleaning up the ‘last great lines’ of the Grampians.
When were you trying the route?
I was trying it around the time I did Somoza (32), so maybe the following summer – around 2000ish.
How close did you get?
I spent a good few days on it and managed to do it in a few sections, but the crux in the middle always felt really hard for me and I was always too frazzled by the time I got there to give it a really good shot. I sacked it off in the end as it was too much hard work trying to lure belayers up there as there was really not much else to do. Gordy [Poultney] belayed me a couple of times while he was putting up routes around at Clické Wall and Tim Marsh was generous enough to come in a couple of times as well (he established some routes through the caves to the left).
There are two cruxes on the route – one getting from the sickle crack to the midway jugs, another on the headwall – which one was hard for you ?
Definitely the first section shuffling out of the underclings at the top of the sickle flake and throwing up to the first of the pockets. I remember thinking that the route was maybe 28ish apart from that section. I could do the crux off the rope but never got through it from the ground. There was a long, blind dyno rightwards to rejoined the crack that worried me too. It felt okay when you did it, but was totally blind and a bit low percentage.
Why do you think the line has gotten so little attention until recently?
It’s hard and it’s a bit out of the way. It’s much more of a logistical undertaking to go and do a line of that difficulty when it’s the only thing there or a couple of pitches off the deck. You’ve got to have enough margin on the route that you can get it done before you burn up the goodwill of all your friends and climbing partners. I’m sure if it have been at Arapiles, Taipan or the Gallery, it would have had dozens of ascents by now.
You were pretty excited when you heard Lee had done it; you are still climbing really strong these days, do you think it might inspire you to have another crack?
Maybe. It’s at the top of my list of ghosts really. The whole logistics things is probably even more challenging for me now than it was back then (most of my climbing needs to happen between school hours of 9am to 3.30pm). But then there are a lot more people these days who might be up for having a lash at it (CJ [Fischer] was making noises). I’d definitely be keen to have another dabble though, and if it felt like it was on I could imagine getting pretty inspired again.