In Seek and Ye Shall Find, Simon Jesús Weill leads us to the Promised Land (new blocs around Halls Gap)
WORDS: Simon Weill, IMAGES: As credited
It feels like I have been climbing in the Grampians forever – and when I think about it, it has been more than 20 years. Despite this, I never get bored of coming here. However, many years ago I realised that I was spending the bulk of my time in the same areas, trying the same problems. Now this was mainly because my long-time climbing buddy, Julian Saunders, only ever wanted to boulder at Andersens and, being the selfish bastard he is, that is where we would invariably end up. But in fairness to the good doctor, his obsessiveness and one-dimensional attitude were not the only things limiting my opportunities. Given that bouldering in the Grampians was in its infancy there really weren’t that many areas to go to. Klem Loskot & Co had done a phenomenal job of developing an incredible amount of rock in a short time, but it was pretty limited to areas in and around Mt Stapylton. These areas are awesome and have a special place in my heart, but if someone suggests (possibly my wife) that we head to Andersens – or, worse Campground Boulders – for the day, I’m likely to crack the shits.
The day it all changed was my first day at the Tower in the southern Grampians. We had been given the lowdown from some climbing types that there might be some good blocs awaiting first ascents there. Oddly, we took their advice, and that, ladies and gentlemen, was it – I was hooked. Julian was the driving force behind our first visits to the Tower, but I quickly caught on and began to look further afield. Time in between attempts or on rest days was spent wandering through the bush, hesitantly at first, like a puppy fearful of being separated from its mother, but I was soon scoping out new blocs in far flung places. In a moment of rare genius I even discovered the Gallery, 20 years too late and already covered in bolts, but a discovery nonetheless. Sadly – I’m going to blame all the scub pre-fires – I completely missed the quality of the bouldering that would later become apparent at Buandik.
Since those early days, my love affair with developing new blocs has only grown. It’s what floats my boat, tickles my pickle, blows my hair back. My platonic ideal of a boulder is a little on the high side, with the more compression involved the better. I spend most rest days wandering, looking for new lines. Some places the landings are awful, the rock suspect or the walk too much of a slog, and these ones get filed away for Future Simon (what a glorious talented hunk he is, he may also be even stronger and more capable than Current Simon and so get a bunch of these things done).
There is no doubt that finding and cleaning blocs is a nightmare. Carrying pads, ropes, harnesses, brushes, shoes, all whilst tromping through overgrown, spiky bush sucks. It can take a whole day to clean one line only to find you can do it first try. It’s not like normal bouldering where you look up the guide book, find a problem, do it or don’t do it. Job done. No, it’s much more complex, sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you strike out, When you do stumble upon a bloc, you scour it for holds, give it a bit of a scrub (but not too much, you don’t want to over-invest in case it doesn’t go), throw a rope down, inspect the top, okay, it looks doable. Time for a proper clean. Sort the landing. Then the game starts.
When I do strike gold I get obsessed. I don’t want to go anywhere else while a quality line is still up for grabs. When a problem I have found is unsent and I am away from it I can feel the holds in my hands, picture the subtleties. It’s like I’ve morphed into Dr Saunders. I’m not a great sharer, not when a line lies unfinished, I spend too much time wandering, bashing through bush for it to be for nothing.
One of the best areas I have ever discovered (the Bleachers) was on the walk into another zone. I walked within five metres of the best bloc a dozen times before I wandered in for a proper look. The Bleachers has now yielded more than 100 quality problems and is still giving up classics, which brings us to the crux of this piece. Even though they appear in the new guidebook, both the Bleachers and the Valley of the Giants are still producing high quality lines. This year alone, myself and locals Damo Taylor and Chook Betts have added dozens more problems and have unearthed another entirely new sector. To give you a taste of some of the jewels we’ve found, here’s a teaser of the seven problems, the Magnificent Seven if you will. And yep, there’s more to do there, you just have to bash through some spiky bush to find it.
Period of Adjustment (V6/7), Much to Offer Bloc
This problem is found in the new sector that we’ve dubbed the Highlands, which is on the high side of the track before you drop down into the Valley of the Giants. The first boulder with problems on it is the Much to Offer Bloc, and on its left end (as you look uphill) is a blunt arete with some very unique holds – Period of Adjustment. Sit start on the fallen bloc before making a hard move around the corner to a good crimp. From here, wrestle your way up using heels and slopers to gain the lip. Hang on and top out straight up.
Half Forgotten (V5), Half Forgotten Bloc
After finding the Much to Offer bloc, head southwest 75m back towards the car park. As you round a corner you will see an enormous bloc. On the front side, to the left of the enormous cave, Damo has put up a problem on large slopey rails. Give it a good clean and make sure you’re confident on down climbs! From a fun jump start, head ever upwards to a delicate move onto the slab, which is then climbed to the top (don’t fall). Solo back down the other side.
Smiles and Cries (V9+; the plus is for Damo), Smiles and Cries Bloc
At the top of the Highlands sits another house-sized grey bloc. In the middle of the southwest face is a series of slashes that look like smiles. Start low on an incut smile, make a few delicate moves before a hard deadpoint to a letterbox leads to an out of control slap to the top. Awesome and as good as any problem at the grade in the Grampians.
Splatter Pattern (V4)
Same boulder, different story. On the southeast face of the bloc is a jumble of talus. Sit start amongst this and then head upward on some of the finest slopers in the Grampians. A bit tricky to start, but worth it in the end. (Check the top first, because your splatter pattern on the scree below would be messy.)
The Siberian Candidate (V11)
Compression at its best. Back to the Bleachers now. Walk underneath The Quickening and through the cave. Beneath you is a blunt arete that will probably need re-cleaning. Sit start low with terrible holds and continue the theme ever upwards. Much harder than it looks.
The Brass Verdict (V8)
On another level down from the Siberian Candidate is a long, high wall that has a series of problems. The near arête has the classic Unmatchable (V6), courtesy of Chook Betts, whilst the far arête is The Brass Verdict. Technical and balancy climbing lead to another ballsy finish. Exit rightwards. Definitely one for the dry season and not for the faint of heart.
Reindeer Games (V4)
Located in behind the Royal Box area in the gully leading toward the upper areas of The Bleachers is a highish bloc that resembles a map of Africa. Sit start on the left near the Cape of Good Hope, traverse right and then head straight up on good underclings, finishing somewhere around Morocco. Great climbing on cool holds, with a bit of a sting in the tail.