First at the Grade


Like truly parochial, heart-on-sleeve Aussies, we’ve decided to celebrate the first 35 climbed by Aussie with a look back (and forward) to the first routes climbed at every grade between 17 and 35

WORDS: Ross Taylor, IMAGES: as credited // banner image Adidas/Rich Crowder

To celebrate Tom O’Halloran’s first Australian ascent of the dizzying and mythical grade of 35 (9a for Europhiles) with his establishment of Baker’s Dozen, we look back at the first routes at the grade in Australia, as well as the first Australian to climb these grades (the two sometimes happen together, sometimes they don’t).

Our list is by no means definitive, grades go up and down, and so the firsts may change. It should also be noted that we’ve borrowed heavily from Greg Pritchard’s article ‘Making the Grade’ from issue 40 of Rock magazine. Greg’s article lists all the first routes at the grade from 17 up to 32 (going below 17 the record becomes too difficult to untangle). It didn’t list the first women to climb each grade, but we’ve done our best to piece this together. However, there doesn’t seem to be have been much of an effort made to record the hardest ascents by women in the early days, so our list is at best provisional – let us know if you know of earlier ascents.

17 – Northface Route, Crater Bluff, Warrumbungles
First climbed in 1959 by Ted Batty and Ron Malor, the Northface Route is a multipitch with a crux pitch that was led onsight by Batty in his Volleys.  

First woman – Missing Link, Mt Arapiles
Possibly Ann Pauligk’s ascent of Missing Link, back then quite a bold lead, although Julie Tulloch, who Ann climbed with, may also have been leading these grades.

Mayan Smith-Gobat bearing down on final crux sequence of the world’s first 32, Punks in the Gym, Mt Arapiles. Rich Crowder/Adidas

Mayan Smith-Gobat bearing down on final crux sequence of the world’s first 32, Punks in the Gym, Mt Arapiles. Rich Crowder/Adidas

18 – Heart-Stopper, the Breadknife, Warrumbungles
A nine pitch route put up by Bryden Allen and Chris Allen in 1963.

First woman – Eurydice, Mt Arapiles
In the mid-1970s Ann Pauligk climbed Eurydice with Julie Tulloch, and recalls the ascent this way: ‘Euridice was my first big break through. I was with Julie (who was doing some leading because her boyfriend wasn’t as good a climber), she was a young, strong willed uni student. We had arranged to climb together. At the campsite we were about to head off when the group of top young male climbers asked what were going to climb, and Julie responded, “Euridice.”  They all just started to laugh and said, “No, what are you going to climb?” Her response, “Euridice.” We left them laughing, after out of hearing distance I asked her, “Actually Julie, what are we going to do?” “Euridice,” was the reply. After a few attempt of Julie trying to get up the first pitch I decided to give it a go. I managed to get up on my first attempt, we then swang leads to the top. From then on no one laughed.’

19 – Colosseum Corner, Sublime Point, Blue Mountains
First climbed in 1965 by the legendary originator of our grading system, John Ewbank, along with John Davis.

First woman – Swarthbank, First Dial, Grampians
Ann Pauligk was probably the first woman to climb 19, which she did in style in 1977 with the first ascent of Swarthbank at the First Dial. In what must have been quite unusual, it was an all-female FA, with Sylvia Lazarnick and Julie Tulloch seconding.

20 – Solomon, Mt Piddington, Blue Mountains
This classic jamming test-piece was put up in 1965 by John Ewbank and Alex Campbell.

First woman – Christian Crack, Mt Arapiles
Once again, probably Ann Pauligk with her repeat of the notoriously stout Christian Crack at Arapiles. In what was probably a comment typical of the day, Victorian climber Iain Sedgman reportedly said no woman would be able to second Christian Crack, let alone lead it (and that if they did he would run around Arapiles). Ann proved him wrong in 1977, climbing the route while three months pregnant with her first child; Iain dutifully did his lap around Arapiles.

Kim Carrigan was so close to climbing what would become Oz’s first 31, Lord of the Rings at Mt Arapiles, that he tentatively gave it a name – Serious Young Lizards – but it was not to be, as he repeated fell off the final slab. Glenn Tempest

Kim Carrigan was so close to climbing what would become Oz’s first 31, Lord of the Rings at Mt Arapiles, that he tentatively gave it a name – Serious Young Lizards – but it was not to be, as he repeated fell off the final slab. Glenn Tempest

21 – King Kong, Narrow Neck, Blue Mountains
Most people think that Janicepts at Mt Piddington was the first 21, but apparently Ewbank used a number of aids to get up it. A few months later in 1967, he put King Kong along with John Worrall, and this is almost certainly the first 21.

First woman – The Wraith, Mt Arapiles
In an extremely impressive lead, Ann Pauligk climbed the thin and runout The Wraith at Arapiles, again in 1977, clearly a good year for her. According to climbing historian, Michael Meadows, visiting US climber, Coral Bowman, was the first woman to climb 21 in Oz, doing Black Light and Insomnia at Frog Buttress in 1976.

22 – Valhalla, Mt Maroon, Queensland
Climbed in 1972 by Rick White, the first pitch was given grade 22, while the rest of the route required aid.

First woman – ?
We don’t know who was the first Australian woman to climb 22, but there is a good chance it was Louise Shepherd. However, she has no memory of what it might have been. According to Michael Meadows, US climber Coral Bowman was the first woman to climb 22 here with her first ascent of Little Queen at Mt Maroon in 1977. Kim Carrigan says that Coral was probably also the first to climb grade 23 and 24 as well.

23 – Deliverance, Frog Buttress, Queensland
Climbed in 1975 by Henry Barber. Barber barnstormed through Australia, inspiring a bunch of hard, new routes that were to come in the ten years that followed.

First woman – Tourist Buttress Direct
According to Louise Shepherd she eventually fell her way up Tourist Buttress Direct Start  in the late ‘70s, possibly 1979 or even 1980, which was her first 23.

24 – Country Road, Mt Buffalo, Victoria
Climbed in 1976 by Nick Taylor, Country Road is an epic wide crack through a roof. A photo of Nick climbing the route was featured on the front cover of the now-defunct Mountain magazine.

First woman – Warmonger, Mt Arapiles
Once again, Louise Shepherd was probably the first, onsighting Warmonger in what she thinks was probably 1981.

25 – The Undertaker at Arapiles or Ostler at Bundaleer in the Grampians
The Undertaker on Castle Crag at Arapiles by Mike Law and Greg Child and Ostler at Bundaleer in the Grampians by Chris Peisker were both climbed in 1978 (it should be noted that the current Arapiles guide states on the Undertaker one piece of gear was apparently placed using aid). Which was done first, we have no idea, as the guides only list the year and not the month. Strangely enough, the two routes are quite similar, in that placing the protection is half the problem, which means that if they were led in the yo-yo style of the day, they’re probably both a grade easier. If the Undertaker was the first at the grade, then that would mean that every step between 25 and 32 was established at Arapiles.

Visiting German star, Alex Megos, polished off Australia’s first route to be graded 35, Retired Extremely Dangerous at Diamond Falls in the Blue Mountains, in 25 shots. Nick Fletcher

Visiting German star, Alex Megos, polished off Australia’s first route to be graded 35, Retired Extremely Dangerous at Diamond Falls in the Blue Mountains, in 25 shots. Nick Fletcher

First woman – Trojan, Mt Arapiles
Louise Shepherd was the first woman to climb 25 in 1981 or 1982 (she doesn’t remember which), doing it in total style by onsighting Trojan on the back of the Pharos at Arapiles. Her ascent lead Mark Moorhead to quip, ‘I suppose we’d better start taking you seriously as a climber now!’

26 – Procol Harem, Castle Crag, Arapiles
Climbed in 1978, Procul was the beginning of Kim Carrigan’s streak of establishing the first at grade. Famously, Chris Baxter declared that he’d eat his own underpants if Procul ever went free. We are unsure if this ever happened.

First woman – Crimson Cringe, Yosemite
In Yosemite in 1981 Louise Shepherd onsighted Crimson Cringe with Craig Peacock, she also climbed Tales of Power (also in Yosemite) second shot, although that may have been in 1983. Back home in Australia, she did a second try ascent of Denim at Arapiles in 1984.

27 – Picking Winners, The Pharos, Arapiles
In the first version of this article we had Kim Carrigan’s Fox on the Hot Thin Roof as the first 27 (done in 1979), but we’ve since found out that Carrigan’s Picking Winners was done in 1978, a year earlier.   

First woman – Passport to Insanity, the Fortress, Grampians
Far more impressive than Fox on a Hot Thin Roof or Picking Winners was the first 27 climbed by a woman, Passport to Insanity (originally it was given 28, but it now seems to have settled at 27), which was freed by Nyrie Dodd in 1986. The first aid ascentionists, Joe Friend and Keith Lockwood, famously left a note at the lip of the roof offering $500 dollars to the first man to free the route. According to legend, when Nyrie freed the line they refused to pay because she wasn’t a man. It took ten years for the route to be repeated by a bloke.

28 – Cobwebs, Cobwebs Gully, Mt Arapiles
Climbed in 1981 by Mark Moorhead, Cobwebs was originally given 26 by the notorious sandbagger Moorhead. Cobwebs has since been upgraded to 28, meaning that in 1981 it was probably in the top ten hardest routes in the world. Today, some people think it could even be 29 – and it probably was 29 if you climbed it in pre-sticky rubber EBs like Mark did, as the route requires a lot of pasting on highly-polished sandstone.

First woman – Concrete Petunias, Nowra
Tara Sutherland’s ascent of the extremely thin and desperate Concrete Petunias in the mid- to late ‘90s was probably the first 28 by an Oz woman. The French climber, Christine Gambert, was the first to climb the grade her, leading India (back when it was 29) in 1986.

29 – Masada, the Pharos, Mt Arapiles
Climbed in 1984 by Kim Carrigan, Masada was originally the first route in the land given 30 after succumbing to an epic siege. It has since dropped a grade, making it Australia’s first 29, particularly after the route Carrigan originally gave the first grade of 29 (India), dropped down to 28.

First woman – Steps Ahead, Mt Arapiles
Tara Sutherland was also the first woman to climb 29, polishing off the extremely thin (and not totally natural) face of Steps Ahead at Declaration Crag in January 1998. She was followed shortly after by Megan Osborne, who climbed the same route. Josie Carberry was busy around that time, although probably a year or two later, climbing Jetlag at Arapiles, and Tyranny and Serpentine at Taipan Wall.

30 – Wisdom of the Body, the Pharos, Mt Arapiles
Technically Ethiopia, the direct finish to India (28) on the front of the Pharos at Arapiles, climbed in 1984 by Kim Carrigan is the first 30. The latest edition of Arapiles Selected Climbs has it at 30, saying it just sneaks in. However, many people think it isn’t much harder than India. Greg Pritchard’s Rock article gives the first 30 in land to Wisdom of the Body, a rarely repeated one-mover just to the right of India that was put up by Wolfgang Gullich in 1985 – we agree.

First woman – No More Gaps, Nowra
Tara Sutherland’s crimped her way up the thin No More Gaps in 2002 for the first 30. While it was initially reported with slash grade of 29/30 in Rock magazine,  every Nowra guide has given it 30. The name comes from the fact that first ascentionist Steve Bullen filled in holds to make it harder. Incidentally, Bullen was known for his sandbag grades.

31 – Lord of the Rings, Henry Bolte Wall, Arapiles
Climbed in 1986 by Stefan Glowacz, Lord of the Rings was an old project of Kim Carrigan’s, who apparently got so close to climbing it that he gave it a name – Serious Young Lizards. Unfortunately, Carrigan never got up it, falling off the tricky slab at the top. The first 31 put up by an Australian had to wait until 1992, when Rob LeBreton climbed Sexy is the Word at the Grease Cave in Nowra.

First woman – Mission to Mars, Blue Mountains
Monique Forestier was the first Australian woman to climb 31, doing it in style with her 2003 first ascent of Mission to Mars at Bowens Creek

32 – Punks in the Gym, the Pharos, Arapiles
Climbed in 1985 in yo-yo style by Wolfgang Gullich, Punks is the only route in this list that was not only the first in Australia, but the first worldwide – a fact we’ve taken strange pride in, despite it being done by a German. While the route has a chequered and mysterious past – it was chipped by someone and the crumbling crux hold was subsequently glued up by Andy Pollitt – these incidents seem to have merely added to the mythos of the route. Punks was also the first 32 to be climbed by an Australian, with Stuart Wyithe making the first Aussie ascent in 1993 (Nick Sutter pipped him with the first Australasian ascent in early 1993), Robbie LeBreton was the first Australian to put up a 32 – Attack Mode at PC in Nowra in 1994.

First woman – Intergalactic Lactic Spastic, Blue Mountains
Monique Forestier broke her second new grade in 2003 with her repeat of Nathan Hoette’s Intergalactic Lactic Spastic, again at Bowens Creek.

33 – Grey Area, Diamond Falls, Blue Mountains
The first route to be given 33 in Oz was Sperm Bitches at South Central in Nowra, which was put up by Paul ‘the Punk’ Westwood in 1995. However, Sperm Bitches has since dropped to 31. Next up was Theda Bara, which was put up by Garth Miller in 1998. Once again, though, modern ascentionists think it is more like 30/31. In the first version of this article we suggested that Grey Area, climbed by Miller in 1999, was the first confirmed 33 in Australia. But we were wrong. It has since been pointed out to us that Punks Addiction at Arapiles, a link-up of Pretty in Punk into Punks in the Gym, was climbed in 1998, making it the first 33 in the land. We have a winner. 

First woman – Fish Eye, Spain
Once again leading the way for women, the 8c grade fell to Monique Forestier with her ascent of Fish Eye at Oliana in Spain in 2012. Back home in Oz, Andrea Hah was the first to climb 33 on home soil with her repeat of Tiger Cat at Elphinstone in the Blue Mountains in 2013.

34 – White Ladder, PC, Nowra
While it may have taken 14 years to get from 32 to 33, we only had to wait five years for the next grade increase, with young Canberra climber, Chris Webb Parsons, climbing the short extension to the (also short) power-endurance test-piece, Attack Mode, to create White Ladder. 

First woman – Mind Control, Spain
Just earlier this year Monique became the first Australian woman to climb 34 (at the age of 43), repeating Mind Control at Oliana in Spain, currently the hardest route climbed by an Australian woman. The first 34 tick on home soil awaits.

35 – Retired Extremely Dangerous, Diamond Falls, Nowra
Depending on who you ask, the Wheel of Life, climbed in 2004 by visiting Japanese climber, Dai Koyamada, could be considered the first 35 in the land, given that many repeat ascentionists think a route grade gives a better representation of its difficulties. However, the first roped climb to be given the mythical grade of French 9a, is Retired Extremely Dangerous at Diamond Falls. An old project bolted by both Garth Miller and Lee Cossey, it was climbed by visiting German strongman, Alex Megos. Given it took Megos 20 shots not that long after he’d onsighted 35, we can assume it is solid at the grade. While Retired Extremely Dangerous is yet to be repeated by an Australian, just this year Tom O’Halloran became the first Australian to climb 35, with his first ascent of Baker’s Dozen at the Pit in the Blue Mountains. Form would suggest Monique might be the first Australian woman to clip the chains on a 35 but that is no given, maybe Angie Scarth-Johnson will be the shining light of Oz hard climbing’s future.

36 – ?
Who knows when 36 will come to fruition Downunder, but judging from past grade leaps it may take quite a few years. For one, it can be hard to find something this close to the limit of possible/impossible, let alone climb it. We’ve asked around though, and there are a few hard projects out there that could be 36, including a couple of Ben Cossey projects, Forlorn Rags at Boronia, Fixin’ to Die at Centennial Glen, while Ben and Tom O’Halloran’s have a shared project at the Glen, Low Down Dirty Dawg, that’s apparently very hard.

You can download the full issue of Vertical Life no 18 here.

This version of the article has been updated since it was published in the magazine.

One thought on “First at the Grade

  1. Peter Watson

    Re Iain Sedgman’s bet about a female ascent Christian Crack, the original bet was a bit bigger than in your account. Iain promised to run around Arapiles twice naked if it was climbed by a female! And Iain did run around Arapiles twice, but fortunately Anne took pity on Iain (or maybe on the rest of us!) and he was allowed to wear clothes!


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