Interview – Cossey and Hah in Tasmania

Lee Cossey and Andrea Hah have just spent a couple of weeks coming to grips with a whole lot of Tassie awesomeness. We had a quick chat to Lee to get the low down on what went down.

We hear that you had a bit of an epic in the Tyndalls, can you tell us about it?
Oh not too epic really… An eagle just tore our stashed pack and its contents to shreds at the top of the cliff while we were climbing. Thankfully it only took fondly to Andrea’s down jacket and not our wallets and sole car key! I guess finishing the route at midnight by the dim light of an iPhone slung around my neck may classify as slightly epic in some people’s books too, but it was pretty much all part of the plan. We knew it was going to be a long day so we had a headtorch packed (unusual for me). Yet unfortunately when I went to turn it on in the complete darkness there was nothing! The thing must have turned itself on in the pack and gone completely dead! Thankfully we’d packed a phone with photos of the topo and could finger tape it to a sling that I then wore over my shoulder for the final two pitches.

The Hah's jacket, now with improved breathability. A territorial eagle telling you to piss off from their domain does this.

The Hah’s jacket, now with improved breathability. A territorial eagle telling you to piss off from their domain does this. Image by Lee Cossey

What attracted you to the route Deeper Water (305m, 27)?
Its reputation! Obviously we knew it was meant to be a mega classic but its reputation as a hard, technical and sustained multipitch seems to have grown with every subsequent attempt. As far as we know it hadn’t been onsighted and possibly not even freed by a single person in a day. (I could be completely wrong on that detail!). There just aren’t that many routes like that in the country so it’s obvious really!

What is the climbing like on it?
The climbing is outstanding, but the setting, the aesthetics of the line and the all around feel of the place is just awesome. The climbing is amazingly slow and intricate. All but the very occasional section of crack or flake climbing is painstakingly slow climbing. The rock is a type of quartz conglomerate that rarely gives you a jug or big feature. Every metre is spent delicately balancing on small slick foot-holds searching for the next handhold that is typically only slightly better than the surrounding few edges or pebbles.

How did you end up so late on the route?
Ha, ideals!  I like to go at things as optimistically as possible and try to do things in a style that gives the route a fighting chance! So rather than scope the route on rap or leave the rap ropes in place for an easy escape or have just one person climb and the second quickly jumar up we wanted to both try and free every pitch onsight or flash. This didn’t last long as Andrea was spat off the epic crux first pitch. To her credit she went on to attempt to continue freeing the rest of the route at least until she had to climb in complete darkness. I managed to summon the patience required to slowly onsight all the pitches up until the last trivial grade 20 top-out pitch, which was a waterfall.

Andrea and the staggering view from the top of the crag, the Tyndalls. Image by Lee Cossey

Andrea and the staggering view from the top of the crag, the Tyndalls. Image by Lee Cossey

Not many people climb at Tyndalls, can you give us an overview of the area and what it takes to climb out there?
The area has a very Australian Alpine feel with low scrub, pristine tarns, vast mountainous views and a serious chill in the air despite the harsh summer sun. Beyond Deeper Water, I’m not particularly familiar with the climbing as my only other visit was with Ben, which involved a five-day stay in the camp cave enduring incessant rain and snow (in January!).  As far as I know though there are a bunch of other routes of varying grades and lengths that would surely warrant a few more repeats. I wouldn’t go as far to say there’s something for everyone as the climbing and environment necessitate some experience, but I’d highly recommend it for anyone keen on an adventure!

There is a lot of rock out there, did you see any inspiring new lines that you’d like to get back to?
Absolutely! The earlier trip with Ben was actually intended to be a bolting trip. We had a very specific line planned that basically takes one of the steepest and longest sections of wall. Having climbed Deeper Water I can be pretty sure that the line we were looking at would easily be the hardest multipitch in Australia!

ewbank-1You also tried to onsight the Ewbank Route on the Tote in a single pitch, how did you go?
Great! I fell off but it was so great to have a lash! Climbing onsight on traditional (or mixed in the case of the Ewbank Route) routes is one of the great adventures in climbing. The route was originally freed in three pitches at 25, 26 and 27. The belays had historical significance as they were used on the first ascent of the Totem Pole by John Ewbank and Allen Keller Back in 1968. The belays are also pretty logical from a free climbing perspective as they are good stances or rests. Doing it in one pitch, though, definitely adds an aesthetic element to the free experience and makes the route a better journey! After the fall I continued to the top and Andrea followed and cleaned it. We then came back the next day and went from the bottom again and this time I didn’t fall off, Andrea followed it again and then decided she wanted to lead it too. We returned a couple more days and she managed to send it too.

Andrea on her lead of the Ewbank Route (27), Totem Pole, Tasmania. Image by Simon Bischoff

Andrea on her lead of the Ewbank Route (27), Totem Pole, Tasmania. Image by Simon Bischoff

What is the climbing like on the Ewbank Route? Is it dangerous or just big fall territory?
The climbing shocked me! The moves through the crux are outrageous, the route is not steep but you find yourself in these physical body positions moving really aggressively. I would say at no point is the route any more dangerous than your typical vertical arête. There are certainly a few run-outs between some of the gear and bolts but the falls are clean and there is a lot of rope in the system, which makes for soft falls. I’d definitely encourage anyone climbing at that level and who is confident placing nests of RPs to have a lash from the bottom and forego the security of a rap rope.

If you do it in three pitches the hardest pitch was given 27, what grade do you reckon it is to climb in one pitch?
With routes like this the grade is pretty meaningless, it’s the only line up the face on the only Totem Pole. I think this is kind of what Doug and Dean were thinking when they graded it too. I don’t think climbing the route in one pitch makes it any harder grade wise because the rests are so good. However, it probably makes it logistically a little trickier as you need to carry a little more gear for the low ‘pitches’ and if you did need multiple attempts it would necessitate more laps on these sections.

What else are you up to in Tassie? Any other grand plans?
Not much! It was a pretty hectic couple of weeks running around between Ben Lomond, the Tyndalls and the Totem Pole and a rest day in Hobart is needed before heading home and returning to normal life. It’s now obvious why Tasmanians have such massive legs!!


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